Early Life and Family:
Benazir Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953, in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city, to one of Pakistan’s few feudal and politically dominant families. She is the eldest of four children. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the president of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973, and prime minister from 1973 to 1977, when he was deposed in a coup led by Gen. Zia ul Haq, tried on dubious charges of “conspiracy to murder,” and executed by hanging in April 1979.
Benazir was 26 years old at the time of her father’s death. Until then, she had little intention to be a politician. She studied political science and philosophy at Radcliffe College in Massachusetts (before Radcliffe’s merge with Harvard) beginning in 1969 — wearing jeans and taking part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War before moving on to Oxford University. She was the first foreign woman elected president of the Oxford Union, a prestigious debating society. She got interested in diplomacy toward the end of her father’s tenure as prime minister, and returned to Pakistan intending to work in his government.
Political Baptism by Fire:
Instead of living the life of a diplomat, Benazir Bhutto in 1977 became her father’s most forceful defender as he battled a murder charge in court, and as martial law gripped Pakistan. Benazir, at 24, emerged as the leader of her father’s Pakistan People’s Party. She asserted herself with overconfident authority, predicting “civil war, the breakup of Pakistan, a massive and total outburst from the people” if her father was executed. He was. Parts of Pakistan rioted, but neither broke up nor devolved into civil war. She was alternately in prison or under house arrest until 1984, when she went into self-exile in London.
Return from Exile:
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on April 10, 1986 to chants of “Welcome daughter of Pakistan” and “Benazir brings the revolution,” and promised that President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq would go. She shaped an entirely new public image. She donned the Islamic veil, quoted the Koran in public speeches, and agreed to an arranged marriage to Asif Ali Zardari, a rich businessman who would later bring her to grief. “An arranged marriage was the price ... I had to pay for the political path my life had taken,” she wrote in “Daughter of Destiny,” her autobiography.
Prime Minister, 1988-1990:
Wherever Bhutto traveled after her return to Pakistan, she attracted huge crowds unrivaled in Pakistani history. President Zia had ended martial law in 1985, but maintained a one-party state. He dissolved Parliament in May 1988. On Aug. 17, 1988, his plane crashed in mysterious circumstances. Bhutto’s People’s Party won the parliamentary elections but without an outright majority. Her record was checkered. To appease the military she gave it free reign in Afghanistan’s civil war on the side of Islamic militants. On Aug. 6, 1990, Pakistani President Ghulam Ishaq Khan ousted Bhutto on charges of corruption and nepotism.
Prime Minister, 1993-1996:
Bhutto was again elected prime minister in October 1993. During that tenure, one of her most consequential decision was to support the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, financially and militarily, an odd choice considering Bhutto’s strong stance in favor of women’s rights and human rights. Bhutto considered the Taliban a better alternative to Afghanistan’s civil war. The Taliban was also Pakistan’s proxy power in Afghanistan, in opposition to Iranian influences in the region. Bedeviled by continuing charges of corruption and nepotism, Bhutto was again dismissed by the very president she had chosen, Farooq Leghari.
Corruption and Nepotism:
Corruption and Nepotism
In the late 1990s, Bhutto’s family, especially through her husband, Asif Ali Zadari, would be at the heart of a wide corruption inquiry
tracing more than $100 million in foreign bank accounts and properties her family controlled. Her husband was implicated in kickback deals with French military contractor Dassault Aviation and a Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud, and from a Middle East gold trader (Bhutto had given Zardari a monopoly over gold and jewelry imports. The Spanish and Polish governments also documented Bhutto’s and Zardari’s money laundering and corruption schemes.
Bhutto would not explain the deals, and tried to deflect criticism by downplaying her family’s wealth: “I mean, what is poor and what is rich?” she asked. “If you mean, am I rich by European standards, do I have a billion dollars, or even a hundred million dollars, even half that, no, I do not. But if you mean that I’m ordinary rich, yes, my father had three children studying at Harvard as undergraduates at the same time. But this wealth never meant anything to my brothers or me.”
Allegations, Convictions and Amnesty:
Bhutto’s husband faced 18 corruption and criminal cases over 10 years. None were proven in court. Yet he was imprisoned from 1997 to 2004, when he was freed on bail. Bhutto also faced a series of charges in five corruption cases. She termed those charges politically motivated, tied them up in various court proceedings, and in October 2007, won an amnesty.
Exile, Return and Assassination:
Bhutto again went into exile in 1999, this time to Dubai, but remained politically active. She negotiated a power-sharing agreement with President Pervez Musharraf, who signed her amnesty and cleared the way for her return to Pakistan on Oct. 18, 2007. The agreement with Musharraf was controversial, as Bhutto seemed to lend legitimacy to the very military regime she had spent a lifetime opposing. Soon after her return, she survived an attempt on her life.
Musharraf, fearing losing power as the Supreme Court was readying to rule on his recent, questionable re-election, suspended the constitution, declared martial law, and barred Bhutto from participating in political rallies. Musharraf’s stance has only strengthened Bhutto’s position as the likeliest next prime minister of Pakistan.
On Dec. 28, 2007, Bhutto was leading a political rally before hundreds of supporters at Liaqut Bagh, a park in Rawalpindi, the garrison city near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. Shots were reportedly fired and a suicide bomber detonated near Bhutto. She was killed, along with scores of others.