By Don Simpson | December 1, 2010
Director: Duane Baughman
Duane Baughman’s biographical documentary Bhutto may focus on Benazir Bhutto — the first (and to date, the only) female Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988–1990; 1993–1996) and the first (and to date, the only) woman ever elected to lead a Muslim state — but it also does an excellent job of synopsizing the political history of Pakistan, a history to which the Bhutto family (once referred to as the “Kennedys of Pakistan”) has found itself fatefully entwined.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan adopted its constitution in 1956 and in 1957 Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, began his political career as the youngest member of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations. He soon became the head of the energy ministry; then the head of the ministries of commerce, information and industries. In 1962, he was appointed as Pakistan’s foreign minister. In 1967, he founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served as the fourth President of Pakistan (1971 – 1973) and as the ninth Prime Minister of Pakistan (1973 – 1977). After being ousted in a bloodless coup d’état led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was imprisoned and eventually hanged.
Benazir Bhutto was democratically elected as Prime Minister soon after Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s death. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Benazir Bhutto was beloved by a majority of the people of Pakistan and hated by a majority of the nation’s male-dominated military establishment and ruling class. Following charges of corruption, for which she was never tried, Benazir Bhutto was replaced by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s protégé Nawaz Sharif in 1990. Then, in 1993, Benazir Bhutto was elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan; only to be ousted again by President Farooq Leghari, in 1996, amidst a plethora of corruption allegations. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during her return to Pakistan on December 27, 2007.
Almost three years after her assassination, Benazir Bhutto remains a polarizing force in the Muslim world — glorified by some for advancing democracy and the rights of women while disdained by others primarily because of the alleged corruption charges; unfortunately, privilege, violence, controversy, and assassination have remained the hallmarks of the Bhutto family’s political legacy. The current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto’s widower), has not been able to shake that reputation of corruption.
Bhutto features a wide variety of personal perspectives on the Bhutto family with profound interviews ranging from political experts to surviving Bhutto family members: Benazir Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari, the current President of Pakistan; Benazir Bhutto’s children Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari and Assefa Bhutto Zardari; Benazir Bhutto’s friend and co-author on her third book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, Mark Siegel; Pervez Musharraf, former Pakistani President now living in exile in London; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State; Peter Galbraith, former U.S. diplomat; Arianna Huffington, Benazir’s college friend; Benazir’s sister Sanam Bhutto and niece Fatima Bhutto; along with some newly discovered audio tapes that allow Benazir to tell her own story in her own voice.
The strength of Baughman’s documentary is in its seamless blending of primary sources — talking head interviews with archival footage — while also allowing other experts and friends, who did not have the opportunity to experience the events firsthand, to weigh in with their opinions. Bhutto is obviously edited with a favorable slant towards Benazir Bhutto; but Baughman does permit those who disagree with him some airtime as well, lending Bhutto the air of being fair and balanced. Being that I see Benazir Bhutto as a seminal figure in the history of Pakistan and the Muslim world, I personally believe that Bhutto handles the claims of privilege, violence, corruption and other controversies very well. Bhutto features an array of beguiling accusations and intriguing cover-ups, but Baughman studiously refrains from making any gross judgments; he understands that the ambiguity — frustrating as it is — of these matters will probably never provide us with any absolute answers.