Recalling Bhutto's impact, struggle
Posted May 1, 2009
Stephanie Arellanes

Professor Ahmed Ispahani gave a April 23 lecture in La Fetra Auditorium in remembrance of his late cousin, Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan. The lecture took place before a standing-room-only crowd.

Marla Bahloul
Staff Writer

Economist and educator at the University of La Verne Ahmed Ispahani lectured before a packed La Fetra Auditorium last week about the late Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto, Ispahani’s cousin, was assassinated when a bomb was detonated in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

“Benazir Bhutto has been a lasting icon for democracy in Pakistan, a hostile, political environment,” Ispahani said.

He began the lecture by giving a brief history of Pakistan. Immediately after, he began speaking of Bhutto and her many accomplishments.

Bhutto came from a prominent political family. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party and served terms as the president of Pakistan and prime minister until his death in 1977.

Bhutto continued her father’s legacy by attending prominent universities like Harvard and Oxford and was the first woman to head the Oxford Union Debate Team.

Her political battles with Pakistan began in 1977 when she was placed under house arrest. In 1984, Bhutto was exiled.

She moved to Britain where she co-founded the Opposition Pakistan People’s Party.

She returned to Pakistan in 1988, becoming the first female prime minister, and thus, the first female head of a Muslim state.

“When she returned to Pakistan, she was well received,” Ispahani said. “She began to campaign ruthlessly upon her return.”

Bhutto’s tumultuous relationship with Pakistan continued, when in 1990 she was defeated following corruption charges by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. She was re-elected as prime minister in 1993, only to be forced into exile again in 1996.

Her last visit to Pakistan came in 2007 when she, for a third time, sought re-election as prime minister.

“It was Dec. 27. I was in Bali, vacationing. I received a one-line e-mail from Benazir, which was very strange,” Ispahani said. “The e-mail read: ‘Dear Ahmad, thank you for your encouragement.

“She would always send me long e-mails instructing me on what to do,” Ispahani said.

“I came back to my hotel and turned on to CNN news. And there she was on TV, assassinated. She had several enemies,” Ispahani said.

Her efforts came to an abrupt end when she was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2007. She was leaving a Pakistan People’s Party rally in the city of Rawalpindi. A bomb was detonated during the campaign stop. Her death fell short of the scheduled Pakistani general election by two weeks.

“We were very close. Extremely close. The last time I saw her was a few months before her assassination. She confided in me,” Ispahani said.

“Another thing that touched me about Benazir was that she was campaigning in a small village. She promised jobs to those who complained about not having jobs. After her death, many more jobs became available. She kept her word. Even after death,” Ispahani said shakily, as he began to weep for his late cousin.

Ispahani ended his lecture on that note and received a standing ovation.

The Benazir Bhutto and Ahmed Ispahani International Lectureship was sponsored by Jeanne and Paul Moseley, students of Ispahani’s, who were deeply impacted by him. They funded the lectureship as a gift to Ispahani, allowing for high-profile international speakers to come to the University.

Ispahani was well received with a large audience as the La Fetra auditorium surpassed the maximum capacity. Students, faculty, and others in attendance resorted to sitting on the auditorum stairs in order to listen to Ispahani’s lectureship.

Ashley Roy, a junior psychology major at the University, spoke of the impact the lecture had on her.

“Prior to the lecture, I had not known about Benazir Bhutto. Professor Ispahani’s lecture was truly informative as well as inspirational. I was touched at the end when he began to tear up. It’s really hard to see someone cry because of a death,” Roy said.

Vivian Ramos, a political science major at California State University Northridge, drove over 40 miles to attend the lecture.

“I was told by one of my professors about the event. I looked on the University’s Web site for more information in regard to Professor Ispahani’s lecture. I was also encouraged by a friend that attends La Verne to come. I was taken away by Ispahani. His lecture inspired me deeply. The drive was definitely worth it,” Ramos said.

Marla Bahloul can be reached at

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