former Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first woman ever to lead a modern Islamic nation, did not plan to be a politician. She became active in politics after her father, the late Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was ousted from office in a 1977 military coup and later executed. Having sworn to carry her father's political flame, Benazir Bhutto overcame government persecution and a lack of political experience, leading her Pakistan Peoples Party to victory in the November 1988 and October 1993 parliamentary elections. As Prime Minister, Bhutto has been praised for moving swiftly to restore civil liberties and political freedom, suspended under military rule. During her terms of office, she has faced enormous challenges in governing a poor, politically fractious, and ethnically diverse nation.
She discusses her personal life and political career in her autobiography "Daughter of Destiny", which was published in 1989 to favorable reviews. Born into a wealthy landholding family with a tradition of political activism in southeastern Sindh province, Bhutto enjoyed a privileged childhood and went on to study political science and philosophy at Radcliffe College and Oxford University. She excelled academically and planned to work with her father's government as a professional diplomat upon her return to Pakistan in June 1977.
Only two weeks later, however, military officers led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq - capitalizing on public protests of disputed parliamentary elections - overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a bloodless coup. Benazir Bhutto spent the next eighteen months in and out of house arrest as she struggled to rally political support to force Zia to drop fallacious murder charges against her father. The military dictator ignored worldwide appeals for clemency and had Zulfikar Bhutto hanged in April of 1979.
Bhutto writes in her autobiography of her last meeting with her father just before his execution. She also vigorously defends her father's government. Zulfikar Bhutto's government had mass support and was a democratic regime that worked for down trodden and have-nots.
Bhutto's persecution began in earnest after the dismissal of her father's government in 1977 and his execution in 1979 as she intensified her denunciations of Zia and sought to organize a political movement against him. Repeatedly put under house arrest, she was finally imprisoned under solitary confinement in a desert cell in Sindh province during the summer of 1981. Bhutto described the hellish conditions in her wall less cage in "Daughter of Destiny."
"The summer heat turned my cell into an oven. My skin split and peeled, coming off my hands in sheets. Boils erupted on my face. My hair, which had always been thick, began to come out by the handful. Insects crept into the cell like invading armies. Grasshoppers, mosquitoes, stinging flies, bees and bugs came up through the cracks in the floor and through the open bars from the courtyard. Big black ants, cockroaches, seething clumps of little red ants and spiders. I tried pulling the sheet over my head at night to hide from their bites, pushing it back when it got too hot to breathe."
Weakened but still defiant, she was finally allowed to travel to England in 1984 to receive treatment for a serious ear infection, and she remained in exile there until after Zia lifted Martial Law in December of 1985. A huge crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands turned out on the streets to greet her - by then the leading symbol of the anti-Zia movement -- when she returned to Lahore in April of 1986. Formally elected chair in the following month, Bhutto lost no time in organizing mass protests and civil disobedience campaigns to pressure Zia to relinquish office and call national elections. Bhutto's stirring oratory, familiar name, and striking appearance helped give her a strong mass appeal, but she had to struggle to wrest real power from the PPP's old-guard leadership, members of which were wary of her gender, youth, and political wisdom.
"An arranged marriage was the price I had to pay for the political path my life had taken," she writes in "Daughter of Destiny". "My high profile in Pakistan precluded the possibility of meeting a man in the normal course of events, getting to know him, and then getting married." But Bhutto had hopes that the relationship would deepen. "We were coming to marriage with no preconceptions," she observes. "Our love could only grow."
General Zia's death in a mysterious airplane crash in August of 1988 instantly thrust Bhutto to political center stage. In November, she led the PPP to victory in the first free Pakistani elections in eleven years. Sworn into office as Prime Minister the following month, Bhutto acted quickly to release Zia's political prisoners and guaranteed basic civil and political freedom. A strong and contentious rightist parliamentary opposition of former Zia allies and Islamic fundamentalists accused the new Prime Minister of packing the civil service with PPP supporters.
Relations with Pakistan's longtime enemy India showed early signs of improving when Bhutto met with former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but Muslim unrest in the disputed territory of Kashmir threatened to renew tensions in early 1990. Despite these problems, political observers credited Bhutto with keeping the country's chronic ethnic and regionalist tensions in check and developing a working relationship with the coup-prone military during her first year in office.
Notwithstanding, she decided to face the system and accepted the challenge to guide people in the transition from military dictatorship to the management of democracy. Her government gave a high priority to social sectors like health, education, clean drinking water, sanitation and energy. The budgetary allocations in these sectors were increased so that fruits of democracy and freedom could reach the common man. Similarly, in the domain of foreign policy, her government pursued an aggressive and dynamic policy.
Addressing a historic US Joint Session of Congress during her state visit to the United States in 1989, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called for the establishment of an Association of New Democratic Nations.
On August 6, 1990 after having been in office less than half of her tenure, President Ghulam Ishaque Khan dismissed her government unilaterally and called for fresh elections.
While ensuring that her Party was not returned to power, the President and the Caretaker Prime Minister filed a series of references against Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Her husband, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari was arrested and imprisoned for over two years on a number of trumped up charges.
In July 1993, the President of Pakistan dismissed the Government of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges and called for fresh elections. The Pakistan Peoples Party went to the people in October, 1993 with a new "Agenda for Change". The programme envisaged government at the door-step of the people and priority to the social sectors. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was again elected Prime Minister with a broad mandate after achieving strong popular support in all the four provinces of Pakistan.
She has been mentioned as "The world's most popular politician" in the New Guinness Book of Record 1996. The "Times" and the "Australian Magazine" (May 4, 1996) have drawn up a list of 100 most powerful women and have included Benazir Bhutto as one of them.