There was a dream that was Benazir Bhutto. Picture a young, articulate woman defying a military that had sent her father to the gallows.
The youngest person, and the first woman, to head the government of a Muslim-majority state, she was adored by a deprived Pakistani population.
I, too, was swept up in that initial euphoria as a budding political cartoonist for Karachi’s evening newspaper, The Star. I remember drawing my first cartoon of Bhutto, head scarf fluttering in the wind, tiptoeing across the political minefield that was Pakistan.
My feelings about this prime minister soon changed dramatically. That fluttering white head scarf became a symbol of excess, corruption and hubris.
When Newsline, an investigative newsmagazine I’d started working for in 1994, published articles about Bhutto’s indifference to the widespread rioting, extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and looting that had become daily occurrences in the country, she responded by banning Newsline from all Pakistan International Airline (PIA) flights. Newsline’s offices were ransacked.
Bhutto’s heavy-handedness toward the press did not stop journalists from reporting on the abuses of her government: the muddled foreign policy, rampant corruption and a taxation system that permitted the wealthy to get away with paying little or no tax.
Bhutto provided a rich vein of drawing material for a cartoonist. The stream of political incongruities was so steady that she became one of the few people I could draw from memory. But by the time she was allowed to return from exile on October 18, 2007, the Pakistani public truly had forgotten her excesses.
Instead, we mourn the dream that was Benazir Bhutto.
Cartoonist Shahid Mahmood is internationally syndicated by the New York Times. He’s a former editorial cartoonist for Dawn, the national newspaper in Pakistan.