By Mahlia Lone
The tempestuous 15 year relationship of Z.A. Bhutto and Husna set against the backdrop of his meteoric rise and fall
WhenÂ Zulfiqar Ali BhuttoÂ metÂ Husna SheikhÂ atÂ BilloÂ andÂ Khalil Omerâ€™sÂ house in Dhaka in 1961, he was, at only 34 years of age, Ayub Khanâ€™sÂ young and fiercely ambitious foreign minister, a Sindhi feudal and an Oxford educated barrister, while she was married to aÂ bourgeouisÂ nationalistic Bengali lawyer Abdul Ahad and mother to two toddler girls. Not the girl next door, Husna was a rivettingly attractive, sari clad, husky voiced, tall, svelte, dusky beauty, with a mixed Pathan-Benagli ancestry.
Husna challenged Bhutto that evening, she recalls, on West Pakistanâ€™s imperialism towards the East and how it would lead to the Bangladeshi movement, thus capturing his attention with her â€œaggressive confidenceâ€ and oozing sex appeal. But Bhutto was a nefarious philanderer. Not happy in her marriage, she reportedly played hard to get with Bhutto at the outset because, knowing his reputation, she didnâ€™t just want to be his latest conquest. Bhutto already had one cousin-wife at his estate in Larkana and a second, the glamorous and elegant Kurdish-Iranian,Â NusratÂ ensconced in his Karachi home at this point.
Bhutto and Husna were not only physically compatible, but had formidable intellects to match and the affair progressed to a stage that in 1965, Husna, leaving her husband behind in Dhaka, confidently moved to Karachi with her daughters, virtually penniless.
â€œThe chemistry was undeniable,â€ said Husna toÂ Jugnu MohsinÂ in her 1990 interview forÂ TheÂ FridayTimes.Â â€œBothÂ ZulfiÂ and I were charged with something beyond each other. It was a vital, exuberant feeling.â€
In her autobiographical novel,Â My Feudal Lord,Â Tehmina DurraniÂ writes thatÂ Mustafa KharÂ facilitated the still hush-hush affair, picking and dropping Bhutto in Karachi to Husnaâ€™s residence. On one occasion he even he witnessed a defiant Husna slamming the door shut in Bhuttoâ€™s face. It became a stormy, tumultuous affair between two head strong and independent minded people. Though he was a powerful and charismatic leader revered by millions, it must have been a novel experience to have a woman dependent on his good will stand up to him, unlike his sycophantic followers.
With second wife, Kurdish-Iranian Nusrat
â€œThe chemistry was undeniable,â€ said Husna to Jugnu Mohsin in her 1990 interview for The Friday Times. â€œBoth Zulfi and I were charged with something beyond each other. It was a vital, exuberant feelingâ€
Managing an introduction toÂ Sheikha Fatima of Abu Dhabi, Husna got a contract to decorate her Abu Dhabi palace in 1967. It was with these proceeds, Husna said, that she became the owner of two Karachi properties, a Moorish style villa called Manzil, in close proximity to Bhuttoâ€™s Clifton abodeÂ Al Zulfiqar, as well as a cottage at Hawkâ€™s Bay, and later a flat in London, amongst other investments. It is anybodyâ€™s guess whether Bhutto himself or those seeking his favour were her actual benefactors.
Finally in 1969, Ahad divorced his errant wife. Bhutto was on the verge of marrying her when he got arrested, writes Mohsin.Â Disenchanted, she stayed out of his way for many months. The first day she returned to her home in Karachi, he silently came and stood behind her. Thinking it was her sister, she asked her what she wanted, turning around to see him weeping uncontrollably.
â€œHow can you do this to me?â€ he asked her. â€œYou are my destiny.â€
â€œHe cried like a child and made me promise I would never leave him,â€ said Husna,Â â€œI realized that day how much I loved him.â€
Bhutto had charisma, charm, ambition and a keen intelligence
A rare photo of Husna Sheikh from the 70s
Stanley WolpertÂ in his 1993 biographyÂ Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and TimesÂ writes that though Husna was aÂ ravishing beauty, it was not simply her physical charms that hypnotised Bhutto. She told Wolpert that she was the first woman the philandering politician had ever loved who could think, talk and understand power politics as he did. Even as she sated Bhutto, she stimulated his mind, body and spirit, â€œrousing him to peaks of excitement he had never knownâ€.
Pandering to his massive ego, Husna and ZAB discussed politics and world affairs after â€œthe flames of passion had died downâ€¦.For Zulfiâ€™s proud, vain, arrogant, insecure, clever, scheming, easily bored, spoiled psyche nothing was as comforting as a beautiful woman who devoted herself fully to his needs, desires, and dreams, rousing his hopes and calming his darkest fears,â€ Wolpert writes.
According to Husna, soon after Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1971, he married her in December of that year. The clandestineÂ nikkahÂ was performed byÂ Maulana Kausar NiaziÂ and was witnessed by Mustapha Khar. As a marriage gift she received a Koran inscribed simply in Bhuttoâ€™s own hand with the words, â€œTo my wife Husna.â€ Neither the Koran, nor theÂ nikkahnamaÂ were ever found though years later the martial law government conducted many raids to recover them.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan
Bhutto & Qaddafi greeting each other at the
historic Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting 22nd-24th February 1974 in Lahore
ZA & Benazir Bhutto with Indian PM Indira Gandhi at the signing of the Simla Agreement in 1972
With Shah of Iranâ€™s Empress Farah Deeba Pahlavi, 1972
Stanley Wolpert in his 1993 biography Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times writes that though Husna was a ravishing beauty, it was not simply her physical charms that hypnotised Bhutto. She told Wolpert that she was the first woman the philandering politician had ever loved who could think, talk and understand power politics as he did. Even as she sated Bhutto, she stimulated his mind, body and spirit, â€œrousing him to peaks of excitement he had never knownâ€Â
Rumour has it that upon hearing the news of the marriage, Begum Nusrat Bhutto tried to commit suicide with an overdose of pills in Islamabad and was hospitalised at the Civil Military Hospital Rawalpindi. Husna had wanted Bhutto to claim her publicly, but he ended up promising Nusrat that she would remain the official First Lady, and he would refrain from giving Husna his name.
However, Husna was compensated handsomely by becoming the power behind the throne.Â From the time Bhutto became Prime Minister in December 1971 until the coup in 1977 when Husna sought refuge in London, she ran a shadow kitchen cabinet at her Karachi residenceÂ Manzil. Bhutto would meet her at least 4 to 5 times a month and never stayed away from her for more than ten days at a time. She even accompanied him on official trips abroad, though in an unofficial capacity. What better way was there to seek out the Prime Minister than when he was in a relaxed and jovial mood while being entertained by his favourite? Ministers and senior party officials desirous of currying the PMâ€™s favour eagerly sought an invitation toÂ ManzilÂ and Husnaâ€™s ear. Many political appointments were decided in this way.
Socialist Bhutto, founder of the PPP
From the time Bhutto became Prime Minister in December 1971 until the coup in 1977 when Husna sought refuge in London, she ran a shadow kitchen cabinet at her Karachi residence Manzil….What better way was there to seek out the Prime Minister than when he was in a relaxed and jovial mood while being entertained by his favourite?
â€œHusna Sheikh was theÂ Madame de PompadourÂ (official mistress of Louis XV, who helped him run France) of Pakistan,â€ said PPP politicianÂ Salman Taseer.
Husna recalls of Bhutto, the political leader and PM, â€œHe believed in his own mission, but he believed his hands were tied.Â Kemal AtaturkÂ was his great hero. I would ask him why he was in such a hurry. To which Zulfi would reply that he was in a hurry because he knew they were going to kill him.â€
She also said that the elections of 1977 were not rigged by him, but by his Chief Ministers. â€œWill someone tell my CMs not to ruin 20 years of my hard work?â€ he asked her. The situation soon snowballed out of his control.
The Bhutto family taking the air in Murree
When the General Zia led military coup occurred, Husna said she was already in London where her eldest daughter was delivering a baby. She did not return. Though she was deeply resented by Benazir, who had obviously sided with her mother, Husna said Murtaza kept her in touch with Bhuttoâ€™s ordeal over the next two years, while ZAB was confined in a cramped prison cell, rapidly losing his health.
First, Husna hired British lawyer John Mathews to defend Bhutto in his murder trial held before the Lahore High Court, but the Pakistan government disallowed it on grounds that a foreign lawyer could not appear in a court until he had practised in Pakistan for a year. Then, she claimed to have pleaded with Sheikha Fatima to have theÂ Emir Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al NahyanÂ ask Zia for clemency in the sentencing, but Zia turned a deaf ear. When Nusrat and Benazir visited Bhutto in jail in April 1979, Murtaza told Husna, it would be the familyâ€™s last meeting with him. He was hanged the next day.
At the Dir helipand on 11th Nov 1976â€”Can you tell from the Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul Haqâ€™s duplicitous smile with which he is greeting PM Bhutto that he will overthrow him in a coup and have him hanged the very next year?
Generals Zia ul Haq & Akhtar Abdur Rehman with PM ZA Bhutto in Murree
Under arrest, Bhutto being made to the rounds of the court houses
An ailing and weakened Bhutto at the prison hospital
When the General Zia led military coup occurred, Husna said she was already in London where her eldest daughter was delivering a baby. She did not return
After Bhuttoâ€™s hanging, a deep depression took a hold of Husna and she contemplated suicide she said. However, she managed to pull herself out and has gone on to live out the rest of her life in relative peace and prosperity. Her union with Bhutto produced her youngest daughter ShahmeenÂ and it was the thoughts of her family that gave her the strength to continue.
Husna is now a beautifully preserved octogenarian. She never remarried. And onÂ April 4th 2016Â falls ZABâ€™s 37th death anniversary.