The eldest of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s four children, late former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi on June 21, 1953. Her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto was of Kurdish-Iranian origin while her paternal grandfather was Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, a Sindhi landlord and a key figure in Pakistan’s Independence Movement. She attended Lady Jennings Nursery School and then the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi. After two years of schooling at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, she was sent to the Jesus and Mary Convent at Murree. She passed her O-level examinations at the age of 15.
In April 1969, she was admitted to Harvard University’s Radcliffe College. In June 1973, she graduated from Harvard with a degree in political science. During her time at college, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She attended Oxford University in the autumn of 1973 and graduated with an MA degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. She was elected President of the prestigious Oxford Union.
After completing university education, she returned to Pakistan shortly before her father was overthrown by General Ziaul Haq on July 5, 1977. She campaigned for her imprisoned father in 1977-79 along with her mother Nusrat Bhutto, who became chairperson of the PPP. From 1977 to 1984 she suffered long periods in detention. She provided a detailed account of this traumatic period in her autobiography: ‘Daughter of the East’ (1988).
Having been allowed in 1984 to go back to the United Kingdom, she became leader in exile of the PPP but was unable to make her political presence felt in Pakistan until the death of General Ziaul Haq on August 17, 1988 despite receiving a tumultuous homecoming in April 1986.
In July 1987, she married Asif Zardari, a member of a landowning family from Sindh.
Her party won 1988 elections although it did not obtain an absolute majority and much of her energy was dissipated by her conflict with Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was also leader of the national opposition Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic Alliance). Following the collapse of the PPP-Muttahida Qaumi Movement alliance in October 1989, there was mounting ethnic violence in her home province. The May 1990 Pucca Qila incident in Hyderabad intensified the violence throughout Sindh. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan cited the deteriorating law and order situation when he dismissed the Bhutto government on August 6, 1990. Benazir Bhutto was charged with corruption and misuse of power, while her husband was arrested on a kidnap charge.
When Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of the country after the October 1990 elections, there was continuous conflict between him and Benazir Bhutto during the next two years. In January 1993, however, a more conciliatory atmosphere emerged which saw Benazir Bhutto elected as chair of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Zardari was released on bail shortly afterwards.
Benazir Bhutto returned to power following the October 1993 polls after the president dismissed Nawaz Sharif, his reinstatement by the Supreme Court in May and the deal brokered by the army in which both the president and premier resigned. Benazir’s relations with her mother were strained over her becoming sole PPP chair and by claim of her brother Murtaza Bhutto to his father’s political legacy when he returned from exile in November 1993.
The greatest threats to her government, however, emanated from the 1994-95 unchecked violence in Karachi and the deteriorating economic situation in 1996. She was dismissed from office by President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari in November 1996 and her husband was arrested in connection with the death of her brother along with his six supporters in an encounter with police on September 19, 1996 as well as of accepting kickbacks. Again accused of nepotism and corruption, Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest, though never officially charged with anything.
It was during Benazir Bhutto’s rule that the Taliban gained prominence in Afghanistan due to her support. Benazir and the Taliban were openly opposed to each other when it came to social issues, however, she saw the Taliban as a group that could stabilise Afghanistan and then allow economic access to trade with Central Asian Republics. Her government provided military and financial support for the Taliban, even as far as sending a very small number of the army into Afghanistan. The Taliban took power in Kabul in September 1996.
Less than a year later, she again attempted to regain power but in February 1997 elections, Nawaz Sharif celebrated a landslide victory over the PPP as his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) won a resounding 134 of 217 seats in the National Assembly while the PPP was reduced to a mere 19 seats and virtually erased from the Punjab Assembly.
In 1999, Benazir and Zardari were convicted of corruption. Benazir appealed the verdict while living in exile in England and the United Arab Emirates. In 2001, the Supreme Court set aside the corruption charges against the couple and ordered their retrial but a Swiss court convicted them for money laundering in 2003. Benazir was barred from running in the 2002 parliamentary election. Zardari was released from prison in 2004 and Benazir and her three children (Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari and Asifa Bhutto Zardari) reunited with Zardari in December 2004 after more than five years.
Since then, Benazir and her family lived in Dubai, where she cared for her children and her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. From Dubai she travelled around the world giving lectures and keeping in touch with the PPP supporters.
On the request of the Pakistan government, Interpol issued a request for her arrest and that of her husband in 2006. She was a dual national with Pakistani and British citizenship.
In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf introduced a new amendment to the Constitution, banning prime ministers from serving more than two terms. This disqualifies Benazir from ever holding the office again. However, the PPP got the highest number of votes and 62 seats in the National Assembly in the October 2002 general elections.
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from the UAE on October 18, 2007 and millions of people from across the country gathered in Karachi to welcome her. She was leading her homecoming process along with other party leaders onboard a bullet-proof lorry when a bomb blast occurred her vehicle, killing nearly 150 people. She was leading her party in January 8, 2007 elections and filed her nomination papers to contest election to the National Assembly on two seats. However, she also filed her nomination for election on a reserved seat for women.
Twice-elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was running campaign of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for January 8, 2008 election and was shot dead when she left Liaquat Bagh— a park named after the country’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan because he was shot dead while addressing a rally there on October 16, 1951— after addressing a rally on December 27, 2007.
She was waving to the supporters from the sunroof of her vehicle when the assailant fired two gunshots at her and simultaneously triggered a suicide blast. One of the two bullets pierced her skull. She had already died when rushed to the Rawalpindi General Hospital. She had a hole in the front side (almost) of her skull. The bullet left from the rear side tearing her brain apart.
Her dead body was handed over to her spouse, Asif Ali Zardari, who had reached Rawalpindi from Dubai along with his three children. The body was taken to the Chaklala Airbase from where a C-130 plane flew it to Sukkur for onward journey onboard a helicopter to Larkana, hometown of Bhutto. She was laid to rest next to her father in their ancestral graveyard at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. Thousands of people attended her funeral.
As the news of Bhutto’s death broke, violence gripped the country and at least 19 persons were killed and rioters burnt hundreds of shops, vehicles and government offices in various parts of the country in the first 24 hours since her death.
Benazir Bhutto authored two books, ‘Foreign Policy in Perspective’ (1978) and her autobiography, ‘Daughter of the East’ (1989). Several collections of her speeches and works have been compiled, including ‘The Way Out’ (1988). Three books about Benazir have been published in India: ‘Benazir’s Pakistan’ (1989); ‘The Trial of Benazir’ (1989); and ‘Benazir Bhutto: Opportunities and Challenges’ (1989).