In 1986 Benazir Bhutto returned to her home country of Pakistan after spending two years in England as the joint leader in exile of the Pakistan People’s Party. Three years on she was the 1st women to lead a Muslim state.Benazir was born on 21st June 1953. She was the eldest child to former Prime Minister of Pakistan (1971-77) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and founder of the socialist People’s Party. Benazir completed her higher education in the United States, at both Radcliffe College and Harvard, and then when on to study International Law and Diplomacy at Oxford University in the UK before returning home in 1977. She was soon to inherit the leadership of the People’s Party as General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s military coup overthrew her father’s government and culminated in his execution in 1978. However, the years leading up to her exile in 1984 were mostly spent under house arrest.
Her return to Pakistan in 1986 was part of a campaign for a return to the ‘free elections’ (alongside international pressure for Zia, a key ally of the West, to restore democracy) which had been removed when her father became a martyr for democratic thought, and she grew a political base on her opposition to the military dictator. Zia ul-Haq’s mysterious death in a plane crash in 1988 catapulted her to the Office of the Prime Minister barely three months after giving birth to her first child, after her party won the most seats in the first democratic election in 11 years and formed a government in coalition with smaller parties and independent groups.
Ultimately, her premiership was a failure, Pakistan’s widespread poverty, lawlessness and governmental corruption was not dealt with. No legislation, besides a budget, had been passed. She found herself facing charges of corruption and misconduct and was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, losing the 1990 election. However, she was able to salvage her reputation somewhat and led another election victory in 1993 (the PPP won the most seats despite losing the popular vote to Nawaz Sharif’s conservative Pakistan Muslim League), for a second stint as Prime Minister. She, again, led a fractious coalition through corruption allegations and poor economic management, owing huge amounts to the International Monetary Fund. She lost, again, to Sharif in 1997. Much was made of the death of her brother Murtaza Bhutto, a vocal critic of Benazir’s government, in a 1996 police encounter. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari was convicted for his murder but acquitted in 2008. As the new government convicted her of corruption, she exiled herself to Dubai and then Britain.
History seemed to repeat itself in 1999 when another coup d’etat, this time led by General Pervez Musharraf, overthrew the democratic government, and its figurehead became an important nuclear-armed US ally in the aftermath of 9/11.
Although Benazir’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2001, Musharraf imposed a decree preventing her from standing for a third term, and charges were still held against her. The PPP split in order to create a legally separate entity which contested elections. The President acquitted her of all charges in 2007 in a power-sharing deal with the military regime, supported by the USA who wanted to restore the country’s democratic credibility, and she returned. Her homecoming rally was infamously marked by a suicide attack which killed 136 supporters, the President subsequently put her under house arrest for several days whilst she called for his resignation. Just as victory in the next election looked likely, Benazir was assassinated at a campaign rally on 27th December that year, by a similar attack allegedly the responsibility of Al-Qaeda.
Benazir Bhutto, although a champion for Muslim women in politics, carries a legacy of corruption and failure to deliver. Namely her failure to revert the controversial Hudood Ordinance, which keeps women legally subordinate to men, exemplified her lack of significant achievements in office. The ‘Iron Lady’ of Pakistan will be remembered for her determination to restore democracy in her legacy of her father (the most popular leader of Pakistan).