Benazir Bhutto: An intimate portrait

Agha Feroze, Benazir Bhutto’s personal photographer, documented every moment of her life

Through my lens, I may have seen it all. Her childhood, her marriage, her children and her politics. I spent 45 years of my life photographing the Bhutto family. My first assignment was with Begum Nusrat Bhutto, the former first lady. I was only 17-years-old then. I am 65 now. Yet, in all these years, my favorite subject was Benazir. There was and is no one like her. She truly was Benazir, “without comparison.”

I watched her grow. And then, unfortunately, I watched her die.

Benazir  Bhutto.—Photo: Agha Feroze

You may not know this about her but she loved spending time with ordinary people. Hearing their stories and telling them her own. This was a trait she shared with her father, the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. When capturing such candid frames, I would be careful to not disturb her. I have a collection of such clicks; her sitting cross-legged on a road pavement sipping tea with her workers.

No one tells you that about her anymore.

I have seen her happy. Her face would beam with excitement when she had jobs, pieces of land or any other kinds of benefits to distribute to the poorest of the poor.

But I have also seen her sad and broken twice in her life. Once, on her father’s soyem. Only four women were present that day. She kept looking out the front door, waiting for the men to arrive. But none came. No men came to Bhutto’s soyem. I could see the grief in her eyes. 

The second time was right after her brother, Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s killing. When she arrived at the hospital she was sobbing softly, but then they showed her his body. Benazir collapsed. Her cries grew loud and uncontrollable. I had never seen her in such pain.

The last time I saw her was on Dec. 27. I was at the rally in Rawalpindi, but honestly I do not remember many of the details. The day was hectic. There were meetings and preparations. Yet, she was full of joy. 

One thing that struck me as odd was that on the day Bibi chose to wear a garland of flowers around her neck all day. It was very unlike her. She did not wear decorated garlands, not even on her own wedding. She had a habit of removing them quickly after someone placed them. Choosing instead to hold the string in her hands or give them away. It was her own way of silently mourning for her father. But on that day she let it stay, draped around her, during meetings, the rally speech and when she sat in the car.

At one point I turned to a friend and said, “Allah khair kare. There must be something wrong for Bibi to keep the flowers around her neck.” I wish I had never uttered those words.

Photo shows Agha Feroze walking past hundreds of his photographs of Benazir Bhutto on display at an exhibition in Karachi in December 2017.—Photo: Ali Tariq/Geo.TV

Today, I have seven cartons full of Bibi’s pictures. These are custodians of history. They should be in a museum. 

For the last two years, I am jobless. I have tried to arrange exhibitions of her images but no Pakistan People’s Party leader has ever come to them. 

I appeal to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to take her memories from me, before they turn into dust.

Feroze was Benazir Bhutto’s personal photographer. As narrated to Natasha Mohammad Zai.