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1977-2007: 30 daunting years for Bhutto
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October 18, 2007 17:57 IST

Benazir Bhutto's [Images] second homecoming in two decades had some of the trappings of her first return from exile in 1986 to successfully take on the dictatorship but challenges to the Muslim world's first woman premier this time are more daunting.

Hoping for her political revival after being in self-imposed exile in London [Images] for eight years, the charismatic 54-year-old leader of the Pakistan People's Party is pinning her hopes to become the country's premier for the third time after getting a rousing welcome in her hometown of Karachi.

About three million people had greeted Bhutto when she returned from London in 1986.

Hailed as the "Daughter of the East" ever since she confronted military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1986 and became the country's premier two years later when she was just 35, Bhutto left Pakistan on her own before a court convicted her of corruption charges in April 1999 when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister.

The conviction was later quashed and Bhutto's brush with law turned a full circle this month. As part of a possible power-sharing deal, Musharraf signed a corruption amnesty on October 5 covering other cases against Bhutto, paving the way for her return.

Born on June 21, 1953, into a wealthy landowning family in southern Pakistan, the mother of three children inherited the heavy political legacy of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was hanged by Gen Zia in 1979.

The former president and prime minister sent his eldest daughter to study politics and government at Oxford and Harvard. But his ouster in a 1977 military coup and execution over the death of a political rival put Benazir, just in her twenties, on a violent brush with the country's treacherous politics.

Benazir was detained several times during the rule of Gen. Zia-ul Haq then released into exile in England [Images] in 1984. Two years later, she returned to lead mass rallies for the restoration of civilian government.

After Zia's death in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, Bhutto gave birth to the first of her three children, led her party to an election victory and became the first woman to lead a modern Muslim nation.

However, she soon clashed with Pakistan's powerful military-led establishment and her administration was dismissed 20 months later amid allegations of corruption. She was re-elected in 1993.

But three years later, her family suffered another blow when her brother Murtaza died in a gunbattle with police in Karachi. Her youngest brother, Shahnawaz, had died under mysterious circumstances in France [Images] a decade earlier.

Benazir accused President Farooq Leghari of involvement in Murtaza's death, and Leghari dismissed her second government amid fresh allegations of misrule. After defeat at the hands of archrival Nawaz Sharif in 1996, Bhutto was hit by a deluge of corruption allegations.

She left in 1999, just before a court convicted her of corruption and banned her from politics. The verdict was later quashed, but she has stayed away. Bhutto says she has had on-off contacts with President Gen.Pervez Musharraf [Images] since he ousted Sharif in a 1999 coup, but that only now has the general agreed to restore democracy.

"I know I am a symbol of what the so-called 'Jihadists,' Taliban and al-Qaida, most fear," Bhutto once wrote in her autobiography "Daughter of the East." "I am a female political leader fighting to bring modernity, communication, education and technology to Pakistan."

During her years in exile, Bhutto was shuttling between Dubai and London. She was joined by her husband after he was freed in 2004. In the past year or so, Bhutto has emerged as a strong contender for power.

She had a year ago joined hands with deposed premier Nawaz Sharif and signed the Charter of Democracy aimed at ending the rule of Musharraf. However, the pact fizzled out with talks of Bhutto's leanings towards Musharraf.

Bhutto now hopes to get another foothold on power and is expected to start campaigning for the upcoming polls. After a series of family tragedies, Bhutto is the last bearer of her father's political legacy.

Her brother Murtaza, once expected to play an important role as a party leader, fled to Afghanistan after his father's fall. He then led a campaign against Pakistan's military government and won elections from exile in 1993 and became a provincal legislator.

He died under mysterious circumstances in 1996. Benazir's other brother Shahnawas was found dead in his French Riveria apartment in 1985.

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