A Complicated Legacy: Duane Baughman on <em>Bhutto</em>

A new documentary includes firsthand testimony from former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's supporters and detractors. Will it lead to a broader discussion about the country she led?
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Duane Baughman makes his living as a political consultant with the Baughman Company, but he became a filmmaker because a movie he wanted to see simply hadn't been made. When he wasn't advising New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius on their career ambitions, Baughman became intrigued by the life and career of the slain Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto. 2011-01-28-baughman.JPG In a telephone interview conducted last November, Baughman recalls, "I was looking around my college campus, and I'm a 47-year-old man. This was in 1988, thinking that I can't wait to hear the story about this woman, Benazir Bhutto who's been elected the first woman leader in Pakistan. I figured that it wouldn't be long before there would be a movie that would explain to me how she accomplished the shattering of the Islamic ceiling in Pakistan. And here it is 20 years later, and only after her death did it fall to me to actually make the film, to tell the story I always hoped somebody else would make."

His new documentary Bhutto includes new firsthand testimony from the former Prime Minister's supporters and detractors. While Baughman is clearly an admirer of Bhutto and her legacy, the film also includes plenty of information that explains why she remains a controversial figure in Pakistan. She was the daughter of a previous prime minister named Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was deposed and later executed in the wake of a military coup. Because of corruption charges against her and the instability that has plagued Pakistan's government since its founding, her achievements are difficult to determine.

Nonetheless, Baughman, who spent three years and a considerable sum of money from his own pocket, argues that Bhutto was able to destroy several myths about the Muslim world simply by coming to power, and that she had plenty to teach the rest of the world. Far from presenting a definitive view of Bhutto, Baughman says he hopes the film he and writer Johnny O'Hara (Fuel) have directed will lead to a broader discussion about what she did and the country she led: two subjects that have been badly neglected in western media. Full disclosure: The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, a college friend of Bhutto's, appears in the film, and Fatima Bhutto, her niece and a vocal detractor, has blogged for the HuffPost.

I'd like to learn a little bit about what you did before you started on this film. Weren't you a consultant on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign? Yeah, he was one of my clients. I own an American political consulting firm that has done similar work for Hillary Clinton, dozens of governors, senators, members of Congress, institutions like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Community and the Lieutenant Governors Association, and so on. But I've done other international races against dictators around the world as well, with NGOs and stuff like that.

So this topic was in some ways right up your alley? It was in the only way--I give most all of the credit to (Bhutto producer) Mark Siegel (who coauthored Bhutto's autobiography Daughter of Destiny), who is a colleague and the person who made the family connection possible and available to me. It was through Mark's original contact with me about wanting to get my firm involved in the return of Benazir for a third term, which never came to pass, obviously, and was in the very early stages. It was then that I realized he had the access I needed immediately after she died that I needed to try to make the film.

In the film, you indicated that the definition of the term "corruption" is very fluid when applied to Pakistani politics. Is that correct? That's a great point, but that's not limited to Pakistan. Almost everywhere else in the world, when you're talking about Third World countries, you're talking about the entire continent of Africa, you're the Middle East and in South Asia. The entire political realm needs to be looked at from a completely different perspective. That's why as a Westerner, as an outsider looking in, it was so important for me to get on the ground there and spend a month, a month and a half there. I was shooting to just reorient myself and to be able to try to do justice to their culture, to Islam, to the family, to Pakistan itself and its history and to do something that showed respect for all of those things. It was a great fear of mine that I wouldn't succeed, and I'm pleased to say that I think I have.

The film was released last July in Pakistan. How was it received? Actually, June 12. It opened the exact same day that it opened in the UK. It enjoyed an extended run. It was supposed to run for two weeks and it ran for a month in rural towns as well as in major cities across Pakistan. It caused kind of a small YouTube flare up of some folks arguing up in front of the Karachi movie theaters with a burning garbage can in the background arguing about the legacy of Benazir. And I think it's a real testament to the openness of the political classes, of the freedom of speech and political expression there that a lot of American may not be aware of. They played the same version of the film that played at Sundance last year at this time.

I was surprised with how much time you had with Mr. Zardari, her widower and the current president of Pakistan. Obviously, he has a country to run.

Obviously, one of the assets to this film was the timeliness with which we were able to get over to Pakistan and to be 2011-01-27-AsifZardari.jpgable to actually sit down with the grieving children and her broken husband. We were there some three months after her assassination. It was the very first time. To date, it's the only time that all of them were speaking on the record and putting into some kind of a firm thought for the first time the recollections about the mother they had just lost and the wife they had just lost.

So at that time, Asif Ali Zardari was not President. He became President some two months later.

Because you intended to help her campaign, how much did you know about the political scene in Pakistan when she was trying to return to power?

That's the thing. I didn't know much. I probably knew as much as the average American or westerner who reads The New York Times, The Guardian or whatever it is. I didn't know any more than that. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I simply saw an opportunity I believe to gain access that I didn't think anyone else could get. I knew if I was going to do it, I wanted to control the project from start to finish, which meant I going to have to spend a considerable amount of my own very small fortune to do that. But the story was so politically volatile and was so politically sensitive that I knew I was going to have to demand total control over the film. I knew the only way I could do that was if I paid for it myself, and that's exactly what I did. You've also included some of Ms. Bhutto's detractors as well. You've got her niece Fatima Bhutto and General Pervez Musharraf (who was ruling during the period she was assassinated). Did it take a lot of effort to get them to speak on the record with you? That's a great question. It's a real testament to the openness of the political discourse in Pakistan. It's actually easier to get people who want to tear down a Bhutto legacy or Benazir's legacy as it was to speak than in some cases it was to get people who wanted to stand up for her. It was quite easy to set up the camera and to have General Musharraf, who was in exile at the time and actually gave us the interview in Philadelphia when he was on his redemption tour, which I imagine he's going to be on for some years to come. We set up the camera, and we 2011-01-27-PervezMushariff.jpglet the camera roll and he spoke his piece. He's a politician to the core and had a message that he wanted to get out, and I believe he got it out: the main message being he wanted people to know he didn't have anything to do with Benazir's untimely end. And of course, the U.N. report on the investigation on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto says exactly the opposite of that. Fatima Bhutto, of course, has made a cottage industry out of tearing down her aunt and her aunt's family, and she has made a name for herself, as it said in the movie, based on one thing, that is the 24 hour a day, seven day a week detractor of Benazir Bhutto. Is there any legitimacy to what she has to say? Fatima's complaints about Benazir are universal from she wasn't a feminist to she was corrupt to they were involved or it was their decision to murder Fatima's father. All I tried to do in this film was to set the camera down, ask questions, let them the answer and put up both sides of the argument and let the audience make their decision. If I allowed only one side to speak, there would be no decision to be made. In these cases where Fatima spoke or General Musharraf or John Burns from The New York Times spoke about corruption or murder, all I can say is that she was never convicted. She was deposed from power once by the military and the second time by an acolyte of former dictator Zia-ul-Haq. With the Asif Ali Zardari having served in prison 11 years out of a 17 year marriage being held hostage to Benazir's political career without any convictions, look, Pakistan's courts are just as capable if not more so as any other courts, maybe even more so of handing down convictions as any other country in the world, whether they're crooked or legitimate. In both cases, Benazir's and Asif's, it never once happened. You would think they could get water two of these things to stick, but I leave it up to the audience to tell me what they think. And they do. They tell me all the time. Do you get a mixed reaction from people? That's exactly what we get, and it's exactly what I'd hoped for. It's funny, I've traveled all over the world with this film. Just a few weeks ago I was in Quatar. And it was the very first time I was privileged to sit with a majority Muslim audience, and a majority of those, I believe 60%, were women. 80% of those women were covered women. And to hear the diametric reactions between Muslim men and Muslim women, who have a completely different reason for and enjoying the film or being upset by the film. Muslim women have a much more of an inspirational or aspirational reaction to Benazir as a woman because I believe this is the first time they got to see the non politician, the human being. We have put a human face on somebody they weren't used to knowing as a politician or a leader. We rarely hear how good a father some male politicians are. 2011-01-27-BenazirBhutto1.jpgExactly. It's a good point, and it also brings out the point that Asif Ali Zardari has become president of this country and was not around for 11 years of his very own children's upbringing. Benazir was both the mother and the father if that's possible in a South Asian country. At the same time, she was trying to remain relevant as a force for tolerant Islam and a force for a woman's voice in South Asia's political existence. Obviously she succeeded in juggling some of the largest obstacles that can confront any of us. In the film, you bring out that she was kind of a Cassandra about the forces that would later become Al Qaeda. That's absolutely true. The record speaks very plainly, very loudly in how adamant Benazir was that the West specifically needed to be paying closer attention with nonmilitary relationships with not only countries in the Middle East but with Pakistan and South Asia specifically. Ironically, her warnings were only heeded unfortunately after the fact. That is going to be one of the largest signs of her legacy. With the passage of the Kerry-Lugar bill, which is a $7.5 billion aid package that is the very first time in the relations between America and Pakistan, which is an aid package that has no military strings attached. It is a purely civilian package that goes directly for health care, education, electricity and infrastructural benefits for Pakistan. It's truly an effort for the first time to win hearts and minds without there being a military bludgeon at the other end.

In the film you pointed out that public education is really wanting in Pakistan and that it has opened the door for madrasas. It hasn't just opened the door; it has made them absolutely necessary in an impoverished country where parents want to feel as if they are giving their children some kind of an opportunity to have some kind of, any kind of, an education. These extremist madrasas are a huge majority of funded education where these kids can go, live and unfortunately become indoctrinated. The amount of money spent on education in that country is a fraction of what is spent on defense. That is something that is pointed out very early in the film. And I think it will lay out a foundation of understanding for how it is how things have come to be at this stage in Pakistan today and with the hole up there trying to dig themselves out of. I believe there taking very positive steps but at the same time very small steps to doing something. Didn't the Taliban take over Afghanistan during one of Bhutto's administrations? Absolutely. I don't think Fatima bashes her aunt more and twists the facts to say that there were only three countries in the world that actually recognized the Taliban rule in Afghanistan: besides Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Benazir's Pakistan. The fact is that any historian with an open mind knows about it knows that Benazir had always believed that there needed to be a negotiated coexistence in order to negotiate down. They hoped to be able to negotiate truces, using carrot and stick incentives that were all economic based in order to be able to coexist until Pakistan was in a position where they had the opportunity for people to want to lay down arms and become members of a civil society. In discussing Pakistan, your film argues that it's important to understand the disproportionate role the military takes in Pakistan. It would be an accurate statement. One would have to leave behind everything we have learned as westerners and everything we have learned as Americans. What I tried to lay out at the beginning of the film, is that it's a country that is on the border with an aggressive enemy (India) that within the past century has invaded and has had military skirmishes repeatedly with this country and is also a nuclear armed country with nukes next door pointed right at Pakistan. The level of their insecurity is something we couldn't possibly begin to understand. The role of the military in Pakistan is a double-edged sword, but it's definitely one that people understand and people have been willing to live with because literally they believe every single day that their security is under threat.

At the same time, the military has a respect in some circles in Pakistan that the civilian government can't hope to have. I had a Pakistani friend who initially welcomed Musharraf's coup.

That's a good point. This is part of the understanding of a Pakistani's perspective rather than a westerner's perspective of what if a dictator or a military general wearing a uniform was to roll into Washington D.C. and seize control. That country has as much history and understanding how dictators run their country, and some would say bring stability to an unpredictable and unstable political discourse as they do with civilian government. People responded I'm sure in similar ways when (Muhammad) Zia-ul-Haq in a much more volatile coup from (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto, who was the equivalent of George Washington in Pakistan, the first democratically elected Prime Minister or President of that country. Musharraf represented some level stability in a highly unstable time, but he never will be, and I believe we are seeing it now--it will never be an acceptable in a country with any kind of history with stable civilian leadership. That's why I think one of my most effective fact cards at the end of the film is this little known fact: If Asif Ali Zardari should serve out his full five year term, he'd be the first civilian president in the history that very young country, 64 years old, to ever do so. And I believe firmly if he does, just the psychological advantage at that point would mean democracy would have wind at its back for all freedom loving people of Pakistan. After your introduction, you actually have Ms. Bhutto telling her own story throughout the film. Other than having the children and Asif speak just three months after their mother and their wife, the most powerful part of the film was being able to find these microcassette tapes that actually had been forgotten about for 15 years. They were locked up in an attic in New England, and Mark Siegel, my producer and Benazir's very close friend, reminded me as we were speaking of the direction of the film. I was about 50 percent of the way through the film at the time, which is another reason it cost me so much money. He told me that these tapes existed. He didn't know in what shape they were in or what was on them. We found these tapes. There were over 100 hours of tapes. They had to be restored by some of the best sound people in Hollywood at a considerable cost. It completely made the movie. I can't imagine the movie any other way. Benazir literally narrates the film from cradle to grave in very prophetic and profound ways. It is interesting that both Pakistan and India have had female heads of state before the United States has.

It was one of strongest motivating forces behind me wanting to make this film. Obviously, I was a key player in the (Presidential) campaign of Hillary Clinton, and I'm a very, very strong believer in women's involvement in politics around the world. But it says a lot about places that Muslim countries is that one wouldn't think of them associated with being on the forefront of feminist leadership actually having beaten us to the punch by a long margin by electing women to their highest offices. Even before her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been deposed and executed, she had served as a lieutenant of his.

Exactly. If you want to talk about the true visionary leadership of the Bhutto family, all you have to do is look at the epicenter of it all with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In the 50s and 60s, he had the foresight and vision to be able to grooming not his sons, but his oldest child to take over and carry on his legacy. And he did it without flinching. That is probably one of the most astounding political gambits that any international leader anywhere in the world has done, without the benefit of an army behind him, to install his hand-picked choice. You've also documented her impact on American political figures because you feature Arianna Huffington, Condoleeza Rice and commentator Reza Aslan. Were you surprised about influence Bhutto has had here in the States?

No. If anything I was more surprised about the lack of necessary coverage, the lack of necessary credit that this woman for all of her flaws and for all of her failures as a leader, which every political leader suffers, that her story wasn't used, wasn't told more, wasn't written about more, wasn't the focal point of more short documentaries, long documentaries or even Hollywood films. I mean the woman had Hollywood good looks. Her family's story was a Greek tragedy in itself. It was a story that told itself. It was truly a riveting story regardless of how I decided to tell the story. You have a majority of her family who have died of unnatural causes. By the way, none of their murders have ever been solved. Her father was hung by the man who went on to depose him. It's a Hollywood story that could be considered fictitious if it wasn't true. So I was always more amazed and amused by the fact that this story wasn't told long before her death. I think it really gets to the heart of how women aren't just underrepresented in politics and in board rooms. They're underrepresented as heroines in true-life stories on the big screen as well. I do believe, and I don't think anybody is going to argue with you or I that women are sorely underrepresented in, and all the more that strong women who have done so in a muscular way--intellectually muscular, physically muscular are invisible in Hollywood and invisible on the big screen. And that was another reason I felt that if I was going to make this and if I was going to get this made, I was going to have to spend what wound up being $3 million of my own to do it. And I'm glad that I did even though I'll never see the money again. Half of that was the fee for being a beginner. It was my first film obviously, and I had no idea what I was doing. As I said before, I started it. I tore it down. I started it again. I tore it down. The third time was the charm. Basically, I think I paid for three movies. It was helpful that you included Iranian-born American commentator Reza Aslan (the author of No god but God) because he does a really good job of making Islamic concepts comprehensible to outsiders.

He's amazing. He's been such a successful professor without seeming stuffy. He's like "The Middle East and South Asia for Dummies." That's what he is. That's what he's successful at. That's exactly what western audiences need, and that's what I tried to do with this movie, which was give it some Hollywood elements2011-01-27-ResaAslan.jpg that would keep them entertained, while at the same time try to give them some really important life or death issues out there on the table to be debated or to be learned by an audience that knows zero about the subject. It's something that's so rife with contradictions. It's the story. It's the woman. It's the country. Ironically, you can't tell one story without telling all of them. How do you do that and talk to an audience that knows nothing and is resistant to this kind of stuff and at the same time keep them interested and allow an audience to get up and leave and feel that it was something more just a lot of facts, figures and statistics. With the Pakistanis, it's a whole other issue. To give legitimacy to one of their leaders in the eyes of western audiences, it took a westerner to come in there and do it. I don't blame them for feeling as if some real hometown sensitivity to say, "What can you possibly know about this woman, this family, this country? You've got this wrong; you've got that wrong. You weren't hard enough, or you were too soft. You fell in love with your subject or whatever." I don't blame them. It's exactly what I expected. With what I do for a day job, I eat that stuff for breakfast. I'm just happy that people are looking at it.

All photos Copyright © 2010 Bhutto Film, LLC, except the black-and-white photo of Baugham, which is © 2010 Mark Dean, www.MarkDeanPhotography.com. All pictures used by permission.

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