Benazir Bhutto (1953 – 2007)

March 25, 2022

Benazir Bhutto was a Pakistani politician who, in modern history, became the first woman to head a Muslim country. She was born on June 21, 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan and died on December 27, 2007, in Rawalpindi. She was Prime Minister of Pakistan for two terms, from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996.

Bhutto is the daughter of Pakistani politician Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who served as the country’s leader from 1971 until 1977. She graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in 1973 and went on to Oxford to study philosophy, political science, and economics (B.A., 1977).

After her father was killed in 1979 by the military dictator Mohammad Zia-ul-regime, Bhutto became the nominal leader of her father’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party. Haq’s From 1979 to 1984, she was subjected to periodic house imprisonment. She was in exile from 1984 to 1986, but once the martial rule was lifted, she returned to Pakistan and quickly rose to prominence in the political opposition against Zia. President Zia died in a mystery aircraft crash in August 1988, leaving a power vacuum in Pakistani politics. Bhutto’s PPP gained the single largest bloc of members in the National Assembly in the subsequent elections. On December 1, 1988, she became Prime Minister, leading a coalition government.

Bhutto was powerless to address Pakistan’s severe poverty, governmental corruption, and rising crime rates. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Pakistan’s president, dissolved her administration in August 1990, accusing it of corruption and other misdeeds and calling for new elections. In the national elections of October 1990, Bhutto’s party suffered defeat. She then became the leader of the parliamentary opposition against Nawaz Sharif, her successor.

The PPP gained a plurality of votes in October 1993 elections, and Bhutto was re-elected as the leader of a coalition government. Pres. Farooq Leghari dissolved her government in November 1996, citing additional corruption charges, economic incompetence, and a breakdown in peace and order.

In the 1997 elections, voter turnout was low. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party defeated Bhutto’s PPP. Sharif’s administration pursued the corruption allegations against Bhutto with the help of the British and Swiss. In 1999, a Lahore court found Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, a controversial businessman and politician who had been imprisoned since 1996 on various charges, guilty of corruption. 

The Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2001 due to evidence of governmental interference. With Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s takeover of power in a 1999 coup d’état, Bhutto’s demands for the charges against her and her husband to be dismissed were refused, undermining discussions with the Musharraf regime over her return to Pakistan from her self-imposed exile. Bhutto stayed in exile in London and Dubai from the late 1990s, fearing imprisonment if she returned to Pakistan.

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