Benazir Bhutto

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Benazir Bhutto; a formal portrait from when she was Prime Minister

Benazir Bhutto (born June 21, 1953) became the first woman to lead a Muslim country in modern times when she was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, only to be deposed 20 months later by the President of Pakistan Ghulam Ishaq Khan using the 8th Amendment to dissolve the parliament and allowing for re-elections within 90 days. She was re-elected in 1993 but was dismissed three years later amid various corruption scandals by the then President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari again using his discretionary powers under the 8th Amendment. Some of these scandals involve contracts awarded to Swiss companies during her regime and remain unresolved. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, has been implicated as well, and remained in jail until November 2004.


Early Years

The daughter of former Pakistani premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was educated in the west, notably at Radcliffe College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She temporarily left Radcliffe for New York City in 1971, when India sent troops into East Pakistan -- soon to be called Bangladesh -- and her father, as Pakistan's foreign minister, travelled to the United Nations to resolve the issue. Benazir Bhutto joined her father in New York City and acted as a kind of assistant to him. This seems to have been a formative experience for her, in that watching her father in action brought her out of academia and showed her the ways of power politics. Her remaining years in the United States included active participation in various social causes.

During her time at Oxford, she was the first Asian woman to be President of the Oxford Union, after the election had to be re-run because she accused her rival of illegal canvassing. Her entire undergraduate career was fuelled by controversy, coming in the middle of a period when her father's administration was being challenged both at home and abroad.

Imprisonment, Elections and Exile

After graduating, she returned to Pakistan, but in the course of her father's imprisonment and execution, she was placed under house arrest. Having been allowed in 1984, to go back to the UK, she was leader in exile of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), her father's party, but was unable to make her political presence felt in Pakistan until the death of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

Then in the first open election in more than a decade, on November 16, 1988, Benazir's PPP won the single largest bloc of seats in the National Assembly. Bhutto was sworn in as Prime Minister of a coalition government on December 2, becoming the youngest (35 years old) and first woman to head the government of a Muslim-majority state in modern times.

After being dismissed by the then President of Pakistan under charges of corruption, her party lost the elections held in October 1990. She served as the leader of the opposition while Nawaz Sharif became PM for the next 3 years. Again in October 1993 elections were held which were won by the PPP coalition, thus returning Bhutto back into office till 1996 when once again her government was dismissed on corruption charges.

Benazir Bhutto at a  event in Newark, CA,
Benazir Bhutto at a Pakistan Peoples Party event in Newark, CA, 28 September 2004

Bhutto has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999 when she left Pakistan to avoid arrest in a corruption case.

Charges of corruption

While she still heads the Pakistan People's Party and says she wants to return to office, most people in Pakistan are convinced that she and her husband were indeed extremely corrupt. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, served a seven-year prison term in Pakistan on charges of taking kickbacks. He was released in November 2004 [1] ( It is alleged that they stole hundreds of millions of dollars by demanding 'commissions' on all types of government contracts and other dealings. The Bhutto governments also threw many journalists in jail and engaged in extra-judicial killings, especially against the MQM in Karachi. Her foremost contribution without any doubt was Pakistan's Foreign Policy which was strengthened and revitalized. Pakistan made new friends and maintained better relations with many countries.

Afghanistan Policy

It was during Bhutto's rule that the Taliban gained prominence in Afghanistan whether or not with the assistance of her government is still unclear. She and her government have said that they only provided moral support and nothing more. The Taliban took power in Kabul in September 1996 and Bhutto's government became one of three nations to recognize it (The other two being Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates).

Policies for Women

Despite many allegations of inept governance and corruption, Ms Bhutto gave importance to women while in power. Social issues of women, health and discrimination against women were all given importance. She aimed to set up women's police stations, courts and women's development banks.


Current Scenario

In 2002 Pakistan's current President, Pervez Musharraf introduced a new amendment to Pakistan's constitution, banning Prime Ministers from serving more than two terms. This disqualifies Bhutto from ever holding the office again, and some said it was largely implemented due to the President's own fear of maintaining his power once democracy returned to the country.

Bhutto is currently (as of September 2004) based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where she cares for her children and her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and from where she travels around the world giving lectures and keeping in touch with the Party faithful (see photo at left).

Benazir and her three children were reunited with her husband and their father in December 2004 after a period of more than five years.

Books by Ms Bhutto

See also

Preceded by:
Muhammad Khan Junejo
Prime Minister of Pakistan
First Tenure

Succeeded by:
Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (Caretaker)
Preceded by:
Moin Qureshi (Caretaker)
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Second Tenure

Succeeded by:
Miraj Khalid (Caretaker)

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