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Biography of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to hold the post of Prime Minister of a Muslim country. She led Pakistan twice. She was president of the Pakistan People’s Party, affiliated with the Socialist International.
This beautiful and intelligent Pakistani woman, trained in the best universities in Europe, was a hopeful outbreak for her country.
All this was cut short due to the uncompromising Muslim religious fanaticism and the selfishness and greed of Pakistani landowners.
Benazir Bhutto’s Family and Studies
Benazir Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953 in Karachi, the most populous city in Pakistan. Karachi is an important financial, commercial and port center.
Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967. He became the fourth president of Pakistan.
Her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, of Kurdish / Iranian descent, was first lady of Pakistan and participated as a high-ranking member of the presidential cabinet.
Benazir Bhutto’s paternal grandfather was from the city Bhatto Kalan, which is located in the Hindu state of Haryana.
In Benazir Bhutto’s family men and women were always considered equal in skills and possibilities. Her father recommended the study of important characters in history: Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Bismark, Lenin, Ataturk, Mao Tsetung.
Benazir Bhutto began her studies at the school that had the “Presentation Convent” in the Rawalpindi district.
Two years later, she continued at the “Jesus and Mary Convent”, located in a mountain station, in Punjab, Pakistan.
Later, she studied at the “Lady Jennings School of Nurses” and at the “Grammar School” in Karachi.
After completing this select initial formation in Pakistan, in 1969 she continued her studies at Radcliffe College and then at Harvard University, where she obtained the university degree with mention “Summa cum Laude“, in 1973.
Benazir Bhutto repeatedly stated that her stay at Harvard was the happiest time of her life. In those years, she reaffirmed the idea of fully realizing herself as a woman and a Muslim in an environment of democracy.
Between 1973 and 1977, Benazir Bhutto studied Philosophy, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Oxford in England.
Also there, she completed a course in International Law and Diplomacy. In this prestigious institution she demonstrated her exceptional intelligence and ability in public debates.
Whenever he could, President Ali Bhutto was accompanied by his daughter Benazir on the trips he undertook in his capacity as President and Prime Minister.
In this way, Benazir Bhutto met and was known by the world’s leading politicians. Among which were Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt and Indira Gandhi.
Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan 1977-1984
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father and President of the Republic of Pakistan, was deposed in 1977 after the military coup by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.
In these circumstances, Benazir Bhutto returned to her country immediately, to support her family and the Pakistan People’s Party.
Benazir Bhutto’s father was sentenced to death and was under house arrest with his family, until he was executed by hanging in 1979.
After the tragic execution of her father, Benazir Bhutto joined the fight against the military dictatorship. She represented the political party Popular Party of Pakistan (PPP), a center-left party.
She suffered continuous persecution and was confined to a cell on different occasions. In total, she was five and a half years behind bars.
In April 1984, she was forced to leave the country; She decided to go into exile in London, from where she led the Pakistani People’s Party in exile.
Benazir Bhutto replaced her mother as leader of the PPP and of the pro-democratic opposition to the regime of the dictator Muhammad Ziaul-Haq.
Benazir Bhuto returned to Pakistan in 1985
In late 1985, Benazir Bhutto took advantage of the martial law lifting to return to Pakistan.
She immediately organized a policy of mass mobilization openly confronting the dictator; Due to her strong personality and great charisma, Benazir Bhutto gained an international dimension.
In 1987, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the overthrow of her father, she was arrested again; but this time the Popular Party of Pakistan (PPP), imposed on the dictator to set a date for the holding of democratic elections.
When the dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq died in August 1988, in a mysterious plane crash, it was possible to hold democratic presidential elections in Pakistan, after ten years of dictatorship.
On December 18, 1987, Benazir Bhutto married Asif Ali Zardar. The couple had three children: Bilawal, Bakhtwar and Aseefa.
In what were the first democratic elections in Pakistan in over a decade, on November 16, 1988, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP won the majority of seats in the National Assembly.
On December 2, 1988, Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister of her country. She was 35 years old and was the first woman appointed to lead the designs of a country with a Muslim majority.
In 1988 she received the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights.
At Radcliffe College, in 1989 she received the Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Award.
The “Liberal International” awarded her the Prize for Freedom in 1989.
That same year, “People” magazine included Benazir Bhutto in its list of the “50 Most Beautiful Personalities“.
The policies sponsored by Benazir Bhutto were opposed to the traditional feudalism prevailing in Pakistan. So powerful landowner families openly criticized the government.
During the electoral campaigns, Bhutto’s party expressed its concern for the health of the population and the situation of social inferiority of women. Benazir Bhutto announced a battery of programs aimed at improving the inferior conditions of Pakistani women.
However, the PPP party was unable to carry out these promises due to the great pressure exerted by the opposition parties.
These enemies of the PPP included some friends of the extremists, whom they helped to finance and who were kept out of justice. They were powerful people, who paid false evidence of corruption.
Efforts to eliminate ancestral customs were also unsuccessful, since the right-wing religious parties dominated the parliament at that time.
The wealthy and powerful families that made up the elite of landowners opposed the reforms that Benazir Bhutto proposed against feudalism that had been implanted for centuries in the Muslim region.
Benazir Bhutto was always concerned about health and social issues that concern women. She made many promises aimed at the betterment and development of women.
In her electoral campaigns she promised the abolition of the laws of Hudood and Zina, imposed in Islamic Law.
The catalog of these laws included cruel and expeditious punishments (spanking, stoning, banishment, amputation of both hands, jail, stoning) for the crimes typified by these Islamic laws (blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, theft, drinking alcohol, swindling, espionage for infidels, illicit sex, adultery, fornication).
Benazir Bhutto’s proposals for laws in favor of a democratic state never came to light due to the great pressure exerted by the right-wing religious parties that dominated Parliament at this time.
Her development programs to improve the living conditions of women, with independent courts of both religious and political power, with police headquarters where everyone could make their complaints effective and so many other ideas, were definitely relegated to oblivion.
Benazir Bhutto in the period 1990-1996
The opposition of the economic elites and religious leaders to the policies of Benazir Bhutto was so violent that in August 1990 she was removed from her post by order of the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, on charges of corruption and violation of the Constitution.
In October 1990 the Islamic Democratic Alliance coalition won the elections and Benazir Bhutto was deported to Karachi.
Three years later, in October 1993, the PPP won the elections by a simple majority, and Benazir Bhutto again became head of a coalition government.
They began three years of hard work successfully trying to stop the escalating terrorism that plagued the country.
In 1996, she faced new corruption charges, more virulent than in 1990. They accused her of political ineffectiveness, but the truth is that the opposition parties did not admit that a woman was at the head of the Government.
One of the mistakes the Benazir Bhutto government made was believing that the Taliban political-religious group was capable of stabilizing Afghanistan and that this would allow commercial access to the Central Asian republics.
Her Pakistani government provided financial support to the Taliban, even sending military aid to them.
Subsequently, because of terrorist acts committed by Afghan Islamic groups, and to win the support of the United States, Benazir Bhutto distanced herself from the Taliban.
What seriously damaged Benazir Bhutto’s government were the corruption allegations in France, Switzerland and Dubai, skillfully orchestrated by the opposition.
She and her husband had to face a number of legal proceedings, accused of money laundering in Swiss banks.
In fact, Asif Ali Zardari (her husband) spent eight years in prison. When he was released in 2004, he denounced torture in prison, which was corroborated by groups in defense of human rights.
Benazir Bhutto always alleged that the charges against her and her husband were purely political in nature and that most of these documents presented to public opinion were altered and that the information was absolutely wrong.
The report by an Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) argued that the head of the opposition to Benazir Bhutto illegally paid large amounts of money to legal advisers, between 1990 and 1992, to accuse her and her husband of 19 cases of corruption.
However, on charges of corruption, economic mismanagement, and deteriorating public security, the Benazir Bhutto government was toppled in November 1996.
A woman in a Muslim country who was also known for leaning toward the West was viewed with suspicion by the military and by elite families.
So Benazir Bhutto was again removed from office as Prime Minister of Pakistan, this time by President Farooq Leghari.
The brave and determined Benazir Bhutto exiled herself.
Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan
From 1996 to 2007, Bhutto lived in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and London, from where she maintained contacts with the PPP and its followers. She continually traveled abroad where she was invited to give lectures.
On October 18, 2007, Benazir Bhutto returned to Karachi after, thanks to the mediation of the United States and Great Britain, the President of Pakistan, Musharraf, issued a decree nullifying accusations of corruption cases against her.
However, one of Benazir Bhutto’s advisers and journalist Ron Suskind later claimed that Musharraf telephoned her, urging her not to return to Pakistan.
Benazir Bhutto herself told them that President Musharraf had threatened her and that he had told her that he would not be responsible for what might happen to her on her return.
The association with the USA and Great Britain lit the fuse of ultra-Islamic groups like Al-Qaeda. The entourage that accompanied Benazir Bhutto on the day of her return suffered a series of attacks.
Two suicide bombers attacked their convoy and killed more than 150 people. This was one of the deadliest attacks organized by violent jihadists in Pakistan. The authorities’ investigative work was so weak that the attackers were never identified.
On December 4, 2007, the dictatorial government of President Musharraf decreed the abolition of individual guarantees in Pakistan.
The harsh criticism of Benazir Bhutto, who called for widespread protests, led by the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), were immediate.
The former prime minister hoped to win the elections to establish a democracy in Pakistan similar to the democracies of free countries.
She wanted a country where employment and education were pillars of a solid consolidated democracy, and she said that the only way she saw it possible was to take to the streets and speak directly to the people.
True to her ideals despite the shadow of the attack, she decided to try everything for the good of the country.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007
On December 27, 2007, two weeks before the date of the elections in which Benazir Bhutto was leading the candidacy for Prime Minister, the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP) organized a demonstration welcoming Benazir Bhutto in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.
Bhutto was murdered on December 27, 2007 after finishing a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi.
The executor was a suicidal teenager, 15 years old, who approached her convoy, on a motorcycle. He shot at her and hit her in the neck and in the head.
Later, the boy immolated himself by detonating an explosive that also caused the death of 22 more people, and several wounded.
The real killers were the Muslim religious fanatics and the powerful, who viewed with fear a possible triumph of democracy in a country overpowered by fanaticism and ambition.
A UN commission of inquiry was appointed to examine the circumstances of the murder of Benazir Bhutto. This commission was blatantly blocked not only by the military but by many people from the political elite.
It is beyond doubt that there was a cover-up of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.
President Musharraf was charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, and having facilitated the murder of Bhutto. The legal process against Musharraf is stalled because he is in self-imposed exile in Dubai.
Her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari succeeded her as leader of the Pakistan People’s Party.
The life and sad ending of Benazir Bhutto has a strong parallel with that of Indira Gandhi, from India.
Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.