Benazir Bhutto: History, Assassination, & Major Facts
In the Muslim nation of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto made history by becoming the first female prime minister and the first female head of state to be democratically elected. The politician led as Pakistan’s 11th and 13th prime minister, serving from 1988–1990 and 1993–1996, respectively. Up until her tragic assassination on December 27, 2007, she was a liberal and secularist who advanced Pakistan’s foreign policy, economics, and social programs.
She attended Harvard University and the University of Oxford, studying philosophy, economics and political science. She later obtained an M.A in international law from the latter institution.
Before her father was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 and then executed in 1979, she went back to Pakistan. She and her mother Nusrat took over the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and founded the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the nation. She was often detained by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime until fleeing to Britain in 1984 on her own accord.
After her 1986 return, she changed the PPP’s socialist program to a liberal one guiding it to victory in the 1988 election. During her tenure as prime minister, conservative and Islamist forces stifled her attempts at reform. In 1990, after allegations of corruption and favoritism, the President removed her from office.
In the heart of Pakistani politics, President Zia’s death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988 left a void of power. In the subsequent elections, Her party secured the single-largest bloc of members in the National Assembly.
Prime Minister of Pakistan
She took office as the nation’s first female prime minister and leader of its first civilian administration on December 1st 1988 since her father’s administration was overthrown in 1977. However, two years later, Ghulam Ishaq Khan ousted her administration and called for fresh elections on the grounds of corruption and other misdeeds.
The PPP obtained a majority of the votes in the elections conducted in October 1993. She made strides toward bringing the economy and state as a whole back to normalcy with president Farooq Leghari as a key ally. When her brother accused her husband of corruption, a dynastic feud erupted entangling her in a scandal. Leghari ousted her cabinet in November 1996 as a result of the public’s declining trust in her amid her growing problems.
A Lahore court found her and her husband guilty of corruption in 1999; the verdict was reversed by the Supreme Court in 2001 due to evidence of judicial meddling. Since the late 1990s, she lived in exile in London and Dubai due to the threat of standing arrest warrants should she return to Pakistan. She returned to Pakistan with intentions of taking part in the 2008 general election, but she was slain in a 2007 attack at a PPP rally.
A 15-year-old suicide bomber named Bilal murdered her on December 27, 2007. He approached her convoy, opened fire on her, and then detonated himself as she was leaving a Rawalpindi electoral event. It was alleged by US intelligence agencies and the Pakistan government that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the attack.
Frequently asked questions about Benazir Bhutto
Who were Benazir Bhutto’s parents?
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Benazir Bhutto’s father and a central figure in Pakistani politics. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served as the 9th Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 to 1977 and prior to that as the 4th President of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973. He was the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and played a significant role in shaping modern Pakistani politics. His tenure was marked by efforts to draft Pakistan’s first civilian-led constitution and his nationalization policies. In 1977, following a controversial election, he was deposed in a military coup led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was later tried and controversially sentenced to death; he was executed in 1979.
Nusrat Bhutto (née Ispahani) was Benazir Bhutto’s mother. Born on March 23, 1929, in Iran to Kurdish parents, Nusrat Bhutto moved to British India (later Pakistan) after her marriage to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After her husband’s arrest and subsequent execution, Nusrat Bhutto played a significant role in leading the PPP and opposing General Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship. She was arrested several times for her political activities. Later in life, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and passed away on October 23, 2011, in Dubai.
When did Benazir Bhutto serve as Prime Minister?
Bhutto served two non-consecutive terms: first from 1988 to 1990 and then from 1993 to 1996.
Which political party did she represent?
She was the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), a major left-wing and progressive political entity in Pakistan.
How did she come into politics?
Benazir was drawn into politics after the assassination of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. He was deposed in a coup and later hanged by the military regime. Following his death, Benazir became a vocal critic of the military dictatorship and an advocate for democracy, naturally stepping into a leadership role within the PPP.
Was she ever imprisoned?
Yes. During the military dictatorship of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, she was detained several times, facing solitary confinement, house arrest, and was even imprisoned for several years.
What were the main challenges she faced during her tenure?
Bhutto’s time in office was marked by allegations of corruption, economic challenges, and tensions with the military establishment. She also faced significant resistance due to her gender in the male-dominated realm of Pakistani politics.
When was she assassinated?
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. She was 54 and was survived by her husband and three children.
Where and how did the assassination occur?
She was killed in a combined shooting and suicide bomb attack after an election rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Who was responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?
The exact perpetrators remain a matter of debate. The Pakistani government blamed the Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani branch of the Taliban. However, many of Bhutto’s supporters believe that elements within the military or intelligence services were involved or complicit. Despite several investigations, the full truth behind her assassination remains elusive.
Who were Benazir Bhutto’s husband and children?
Benazir Bhutto’s husband and children played significant roles in Pakistani politics and public life:
- Asif Ali Zardari: Born on July 26, 1955, Asif Ali Zardari is a Pakistani politician and businessman. He married Benazir Bhutto in 1987 in an arranged marriage. Zardari served as the President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013. Throughout his political career, he faced numerous allegations of corruption but remained an influential figure in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). After Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, he co-chaired the PPP alongside their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
- Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born on September 21, 1988, Bilawal is the eldest child and only son of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari. He is a prominent political figure in Pakistan and has been the Chairman of the PPP since December 2007. Educated at Oxford University, Bilawal returned to Pakistan to continue his mother’s political legacy.
- Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari: Born on January 25, 1990, Bakhtawar is an education enthusiast and actively participates in various charitable endeavors. She is also involved in Pakistani politics, supporting the PPP.
- Aseefa Bhutto Zardari: Born on February 3, 1993, Aseefa is the youngest of Benazir Bhutto’s children. She is an advocate for polio eradication and has also shown an active interest in politics, following in the footsteps of her family.
Why is Benazir Bhutto significant in global politics?
Beyond being the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim-majority nation, Bhutto represented a hope for democratic processes in a country with a history of military coups. Her leadership and her tragic end have made her an emblematic figure for struggles against authoritarianism and for women’s rights in South Asia and beyond.