A Brief History
On December 2, 1988, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, thus becoming the first ever female head of government of a modern Islamic country. Not only that, but she twice became Prime Minister, the first time from 1988-1990 and the second time around from 1993-1996. And to think, the United States still has never had a woman as President…
Bhutto was born into a political family in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1953. Her father served as Prime Minister in the 1970’s until he was ousted in a military coup in 1977. Benazir and her family spent time in and out of house arrest for the next 2 years, and her father was hanged in 1979.
Benazir, educated at Oxford (England) and Harvard (USA), was bright and energetic, and quickly became active in opposition to the military regime. She left Pakistan for London, England in 1984, but returned in 1988 running a successful campaign for Prime Minister. Ousted once again in 1990, Bhutto and her allies were accused of corruption and misdeeds, par for the course in Pakistan where social and economic chaos resulted in tenuous control by any government.
Elected back into office in 1993, Bhutto faced stiff opposition from the other political parties and elements of society that did not agree with her views. During her second term as Prime Minister Bhutto’s husband was charged with murder, though acquitted. Bhutto’s government was dismissed in 1996, and her husband was jailed for bribery and corruption for the next 8 years. Bhutto even had to endure a coup attempt in 1995, making her time in office about at tempestuous as it can get.
Benazir left Pakistan for Dubai in 1998, and at this time New York Times investigators traced over $100 million in money embezzled by the former Prime Minister. Benazir was convicted of accepting bribes/kickbacks from a pair of Swiss companies in Swiss court in 2003, but avoided incarceration when she went back to Pakistan and was granted amnesty against all corruption charges in 2007.
Later in 2007 Benazir survived an assassination attempt that cost the lives of some of her supporters (dozens) while she campaigned once again for office. A couple months later, on December 27, 2007, the assassins were more successful and Benazir Bhutto died in this second assassination attempt while leaving a Rawalpindi campaign event. She was 54 years old.
Bhutto’s political career has been held up as inspiration for those who would champion women’s rights in Islamic countries, but is also reviled for the apparent corruption that tainted her time in office. Her legacy is decidedly ambivalent, with positive and negative points alike. Bhutto did write 2 books, and she is said to be an inspiration for Malala Yousafzai (Nobel Prize winner), the young woman advocate of women’s rights in Pakistan that made international news in 2012 at the age of 11 when she was shot in the face by Islamic extremists attempting to stop girls from going to school.
Question for students (and subscribers): Please share your thoughts about the legacy of Benazir Bhutto and what that legacy means for women in the Islamic and non-Islamic world in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Allen, Brooke. Benazir Bhutto: Favored Daughter (Icons). New Harvest, 2016.
Bhutto, Benazir. Daughter of Destiny: An Autobiography. Harper Perennial, 2008.