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Benazir's daughter: Meet Pakistan's first lady

March 12, 2024 14:44 IST
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Quite the spitting image of her late mother, both in looks and bearing, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari joins a long line of Pakistani first ladies.

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari was just 14 years old when her powerful mother, former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was brutally assassinated in Rawalpindi in 2007.

That did not deter the London-born, youngest daughter of Benazir from having political ambitions. Her mother was after all the first woman prime minister and head of state of a Muslim-majority country, when she took office in 1988, while being mother to three and wife.

Aseefa studied sociology and politics at Oxford Brookes University, was the youngest Pakistani to speak at Oxford Union at 21, and made her debut in 2020 in Multan as a member of Pakistan Peoples Party, founded by her maternal grandfather, Zulfikar Bhutto.


Now as Pakistan's first lady for her father Asif Ali Zardari's second presidency, Aseefa, 31, effectively became the top woman leader in the country, when Zardari was sworn in as the 14th president on Sunday, March 10.

Quite the spitting image of her late mother, both in looks and bearing, she joins a long line of Pakistani first ladies, the most visible probably being Sehba Musharraf, ie, Mrs Pervez Musharraf, Shafiq Zia, General Zia-ul-Haq's wife, and also her Iranian-born, doughty grandmother Nusrat Bhutto.

Author, artist and activist Tehmina Durrani, ensconced at Islamabad's Prime Minister House, as the wife of newly-re-elected prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, is Aseefa's opposite number and is new to the job too, given she is Sharif's newest and fourth wife.

IMAGE: Donning a very Pakistani shade of green, Aseefa was proudly present -- along with her elder sister educationist Bakhtawar and eldest brother Bilawal, who had run for the prime minister's post -- when Zardari was sworn in as president and tweeted 'Making history as the first Pakistani elected as Pakistan's President for the second time'.
Do you see the mother-daughter resemblance?
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa B Zardari/X



IMAGE: Escorting her 68-year-old presidential dad down the red carpet. Aseefa started her career as an acitvist working for eradication of polio as a goodwill ambassador from the young age of 19. Interestingly, she was the first child in Pakistan to receive the polio vaccine during her mom's second PM tenure.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa B Zardari/X


IMAGE: Zardari took his oath before a roomful of Pakistan heavyweights at the grand Aiwan-e-Sadr (the presidential palace) in Islamabad, where Aseefa will preside. The oath was administered by the chief justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa.
Seen in the first row, left to right, General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah, Pakistan's current chief of army staff; General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff committee; Bilawal Bhutto Zardari; Samina Alvi, former first lady and wife of outgoing Pakistani president Dr Arif Alvi; Aseefa Bhutto Zardari; Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari; Bakhtawar's husband Mahmood Younas Choudhry Arain and their sons Mir Hakim (not visible) and Mir Sijawal.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa B Zardari/X


IMAGE: Aseefa's nephews, Mir Hakim and Mir Sijawal came to see their 'President Nana Baba' being sworn in. When Aseefa spends time with these little tykes she terms it 'Massi Mode Activate'.  She is seen here with them and their nanny, her sister Bakhtawar and brother-in-law Mahmood.
Bakhtawar commented on Instagram: 'We were babies when my mother served as the prime minister of Pakistan twice & yesterday I brought my babies to witness my father becoming the first civilian to be elected as president of Pakistan for a second term'.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: Aseefa campaigned vigorously and tirelessly for her brother Bilawal, the PPP's candidate for prime minister of Pakistan. She waves an arrow, the party' symbol, as she moves through Nawabshah district in Sindh, that was renamed Shaheed Benazirabad district for her mother. Larkana, specifically, and much of Sindh, is a Bhutto family stronghold.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: Like her mother, 'Bibi' Aseefa cut a gracious figure on the campaign trail in her neat salwar-kameez outfits, sunglasses and elegant shawls, as she was welcomed everywhere with showers of rose petals. She dived into throngs, took selfies, sloganeered, orated plenty and worked the crowds, while crisscrossing Pakistan this winter.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: Aseefa and Bilawal visited their mother and grandfather's graves, which they call the shrine of martyrs of democracy, at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Sindh. They also stopped by to pay their respects at the tombs of Nusrat Bhutto and her slain maternal uncles, Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto.
Violence has haunted the Bhutto family for decades.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: Bilawal won two seats in the election concluded in February -- NA-194 seat in Larkana and the NA-196 seat in Qamber Shahdadtkot-I -- in part, no doubt, due to Aseefa's strenuous efforts.
Above: She spoke to the women of Chanisar Goth, in Karachi, asking for every mother, sister and daughter of Pakistan to support her brother, so 'Jai Bhutto will echo across the country on 8th February'.
PPP won 54 seats among 336 in this general election.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: Aseefa has a keen interest in animals, she recalled from when she was very small, befriending goats, cats, dogs and more. When not busy with PPP party business, she often spends time at stray dog shelters along with her sister.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram


IMAGE: In the presidential elections that followed the general elections, Aseefa's father, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party’s co-chairperson, in a round of voting by parliament and regional assemblies, won 411 votes, while his nearest rival Mehmood Khan Achakzai got 181 votes. Zardari was supported by the ruling coalition.
When Zardari became president in 2008, for the first time, after his wife Benazir's killing, he did not appoint a first lady.
Nearly a decade and a half later, he has opted to have his youngest fulfill that role. Even before assuming the title of first lady, Aseefa has often been firmly and affectionately at her father's side 'accompanying Pres @AAliZardari to all his court hearings to fighting for his release from jail' says her sister Bakhtawar on Instagram.
Aseefa's tasks, as first lady, will entail hosting functions and banquets, running her own social work initiatives and other public duties. Aseefa is Pakistan's youngest first lady and the first daughter to be officially awarded the job. President Muhammad Ayub Khan was also supported by his daughter but she was not formally appointed.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Aseefa Bhutto Zardari/Instagram
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