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Remembering Benazir

Women’s Film Festival screens ‘Bhutto’

To learn more, or to see a schedule of screenings and special events, visit www.womensfilmfestival.org.

BRATTLEBORO—Benazir Bhutto didn’t consider herself a feminist.

“She just happened to be the best,” state Sen. Peter Galbraith said of his long-time friend and the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Galbraith, who had known Bhutto since their “teen days,” said that the two-time Prime Minister saw herself as a politician, a patriot, and a leader. She viewed those roles as her destiny.

Although she recognized the “historically terrible” conditions for women in Pakistan, and set up organizations like the Women’s Police stations, she did not think of herself as a trailblazer.

Bhutto, a documentary by Duane Baughman, was screened as part of the Women’s Film Festival at the Latchis Theatre on Sunday night. In 2010, the film was an Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival and at Canada’s Hot Docs festival, and it took a Special Jury Selection for the Outstanding U.S. Historical Documentary award at the Sonoma International Film Festival.

Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and a former United Nations deputy envoy to Afghanistan, answered the audience’s questions after the film Sunday.

“There’s so much I could say about her and her life,” said Galbraith, who described his friend as “intense,” “reflective,” and “courageous.”

He remembered a birthday in April 1971, when both were students at Harvard University. Bhutto arrived with a cake she’d baked and decorated with Halloween candy.

He said he also encouraged his friend to leave politics and “have a normal life.”

Bhutto, the eldest child of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, served as the first female Prime Minister in an Islamic state. A member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), she was elected first in 1988 and for a second time in 1993.

“She had the position of Prime Minister. but she had very little power,” said Galbraith.

According to interviews in Bhutto, she took up her father’s political mantle after his 1977 imprisonment by General Zia ul-Haq and his later execution.

Galbraith, who had aspired to become a politician, said that before her father’s imprisonment, Bhutto had wanted to become a diplomat. But their goals reversed: he went into the diplomatic corps, and she became the politician.

According to the film, the Zia government also imprisoned Benazir Bhutto in the 1970s. She almost died.

About the same time, the U.S. was entangled with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan

The Reagan administration was committed to fighting against the Russians, but wouldn’t do anything about the human rights of the Bhutto family, said Galbraith.

The administration perceived Bhutto as a radical, pinko, socialist, said Galbraith. But she was the most vocal pro-democracy, pro-Western, and anti-terrorism leader in South Asia.

Bhutto believed in the sanctity of the vote over the bullet, said one of the people interviewed for the film.

Charges of corruption plagued Bhutto’s second term. The charges went unproven. Galbraith doesn’t believe them and said that “corruption” is an easy word to throw around.

Amidst death threats, Bhutto, wife and a mother of three, returned to Pakistan in 2007 after eight years of exile to run for a third term.

According to the documentary, in October 2007, she survived a double-blast suicide bombing that killed 130 people.

A few months later, she was assassinated.

“Murdered,” said Galbraith.

According to Galbraith, before returning to Pakistan in 2007, Bhutto had reached out to the Iraqi government to get “jammers” — devices that scramble frequencies from objects like cell phones, which are often used by suicide bombers.

The Iraqi government had plenty, Galbraith said, but they wouldn’t share.

Galbraith said Americans should pay attention to what happens in Pakistan. It has nuclear weapons, a high number of terrorists, and an army and intelligence agency that are unaccountable to the government.

He urged audience members to contact Congress and ask members to support the Kerry-Lugar Bill, currently a victim of GOP budget cuts, which would invest money in education, sanitation systems, and employment in Pakistan.

According to a BBC article dated April 16, 2010, a United Nations report stated that then-President Pervez Musharraf’s government did not provide Bhutto with adequate security. Later, the police didn’t properly investigate the crime because of fears about the involvement of intelligence agencies.

Earlier this year, Musharraf was accused of removing Bhutto’s security detail right before her assassination.

For Galbraith, Bhutto’s legacy was her commitment to democracy. Her first term helped restore democracy after 11 years of the Zia dictatorship. She also helped ease the tensions between Pakistan and India, which Galbraith described as creating one of the most “dangerous bi-lateral conflicts in the world.”

Galbraith, who appears in the documentary, said that Sunday was the third time he had seen the film. And “it was equally moving each time I’ve seen it,” he said.

He said the film was very good, although some information is out of historical order. The film stated that Bhutto published Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West as a political manifesto for her second term. Galbraith said it came out after her death, and that she intended it to stand as a lead-in for her third term.

Also, said Galbraith, Bhutto married because she wanted to, not for political reasons, as the film stated.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Film Festival. The all-volunteer festival showcases films by and about women.

According to its website, the festival is the longest-running women’s film festival in New England and one of the oldest in the world.

“We actually tried to get this film for last year’s festival, but it was so new that they didn’t have their distribution plans in place. I already knew that Peter Galbraith had been her friend, so the opportunity to not only give a portrait of a charismatic and powerful woman, but to shed light on this particularly worrisome part of the Muslim world was important,” said Merry Elder, a member of the film selection committee.

All proceeds benefit the Women’s Freedom Center, formally known as the Women’s Crisis Center, which provides workshops, advocacy, support, and shelter to women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

“No one is turned away,” volunteer Lisse Weinmann told the audience before Bhutto.

“There are lots of pre-judgments and misconceptions out there regarding Muslims. It’s a good thing to see films like this to gather more knowledge of Pakistan and the chain of events that have ended up affecting Americans and the world so much,” said Elder.

The film festival continues through March 20 with a closing reception at the New England Youth Theater, located at 100 Flat St. A reception begins at 6 p.m., followed by a “Best of Fest” showing at 6:45 p.m.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #92 (Wednesday, March 16, 2011).

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