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Home > News > PTI

Bhutto: A champion of democracy and moderate face of Islam

Rezaul Hasan Lashkar in Islamabad | December 27, 2007 20:37 IST
Last Updated: December 27, 2007 21:21 IST


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An uncompromising champion of democracy and a moderate face of Islam, Benazir Bhutto's death in a suicide attack on Thursday, brought a gory end to her volatile political career spanning over two decades.

Pakistan's first woman prime minister followed her illustrious father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto into politics and both died because of it - he was hanged in 1979, while she fell victim to a suicide attack.

Image: Benazir's last moments

Like the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Bhuttos are one of the world's most famous political families who ruled Pakistan for a number of years without the support of the powerful Army.

Elected twice as Pakistan's prime minister, she was sworn in for the first time in 1988, but removed from office 20 months later under orders of then president Ghulam [Images] Ishaq Khan on grounds of alleged corruption.

In 1993, Bhutto was re-elected, but was again removed in 1996 on similar charges, this time by president Farooq Ahmed Leghari.

Born in Sindh province on June 21, 1953, and educated in Harvard and Oxford, Benazir walked into politics at the age of 31, albeit a bit reluctantly, in the footsteps of her father and gained credibility from his high profile.

Images: Benazir's last engagement

Reflecting a young and glamourous face in a conservative and male-dominated Pakistani society, Benazir represented a refreshing contrast to an array of military rulers who threw all norms of democracy and the rule of law to the wind.

Almost right from the start, Benazir displayed a resilience and determination to take on the military rulers despite heavy odds when she was imprisoned just before her father's death and spent most of her five-year jail term in solitary confinement.

It was during one of her stints outside the prison for medical treatment that she set up the Pakistan People's Party in London [Images] and began a campaign against the then Pakistani ruler Gen Zia-ul Haq.

After Zia died in an air crash in 1988, Benazir became one of the first democratically elected woman prime ministers in an Islamic country.

Benazir had succeeded her mother as leader of PPP and the pro-democracy opposition to Zia-ul-Haq regime but she could make her political presence felt only after the death of the military ruler.

Video: Benazir Bhutto assassinated

On November 16, 1988, in the first open election in more than a decade in Pakistan, Benazir's PPP won the largest bloc of seats in the National Assembly and she was sworn in as prime minister of a coalition government on December 2, at the age of 35 - the youngest person and the first woman to head the government of a Muslim-majority state in modern times.

However, Benazir's government was dismissed in 1990 following charges of corruption, for which she never was tried.

Benazir was re-elected prime minister in 1993, but was dismissed three years later amid corruption scandals by then president Farooq Ahmed Leghari.

The Interpol issued a request for her arrest and that of her husband Asif Ali Zardari, whom she married in Karachi on December 18, 1987.

The criticism against Benazir came largely from Punjabi elites and powerful landlord families who opposed her as she pushed Pakistan into nationalist reform, opposing feudals she saw as forces of destabilisation of Pakistan.

During her two stints as prime minister, the role of Zardari was highly controversial and was accused by successive Pakistani governments of stealing millions of dollars from state coffers - charges he and Benazir denied.

None of the nearly 18 corruption cases against Zardari has been proven in court even after ten years, but he had served eight years in jail.

Bhutto: Beauty personified, media darling of West

For her part, Benazir faced corruption charges in five cases but none of them brought her conviction until she was given amnesty in October.

Benazir's dismissal as prime minister on both occasions typified her tempestuous political career marked by peaks and troughs.

She rode the crest of popularity soon after becoming the prime minister for the first time and went on to become one of the most high-profile women leaders in the world.

But much of that sheen was lost, especially after her ouster from power for the second time and her name came to be associated with typical characteristics of politicians in the sub-continent - corruption and bad governance.

Benazir went into self-imposed exile in Dubai in 1998 but questions of the wealth accumulated by her and Zardari continued to buffet her. She appealed against a conviction in Swiss courts for money laundering charge.

During her years outside Pakistan, she lived with her three children in Dubai where she was joined by her husband after he was freed from prison in 2004.

Benazir returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007 after secret talks with president Pervez Musharraf [Images] and an understanding by which she was granted amnesty and all corruption charges were withdrawn.

Death had been stalking Benazir ever since her return from exile. En route to a rally in Karachi on 18 October 2007, two explosions occurred shortly after she had landed and left Jinnah International Airport, which killed 136 people but the PPP leader was not injured.

Analysts said the Musharraf regime saw Benazir as an ally in its efforts to isolate religious extremists and militants. But her critics viewed her negotiations with Musharraf as a 'betrayal' of the fight for democracy.

In the run up to the January 8 general elections, Benazir had again emerged as a strong contender for power but fate had ordained otherwise.




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