Benazir Bhutto

Updated on Apr 21, 2004 03:27 PM IST

She did little to promote Indo-Pak ties, but still remains a popular Pakistani PM in India.

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India had its first glimpse of Benazir Bhutto as a teenager when she accompanied her father and then prime minister of Pakistan, Z. A. Bhutto for the Simla talks in 1972.

Much water has flown since those days, she did little to promote Indo-Pak relations during her two stints as prime minister, but more than thirty years later, Benazir remains the most popular Pakistani politician in India.

Born into riches

Born in an immensely wealthy life, Benazir was raised by English governesses and educated at Harvard and Oxford.

Her life of privilege was however cut short rudely when her father, the prime minister of Pakistan, and the man she hero worships till today, was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 and hanged to death two years later.

Critiquing Zia's regime

Benazir, who was bitterly critical of the new regime led by General Zia, faced persecution and arrest before she was allowed to go to England. She returned to Pakistan in 1985 and became the leader as well as the symbol of the anti-Zia movement. In August 1988, General Zia died in a mysterious plane crash, and in the elections that year, Benazir’s PPP was voted to power. She was sworn in as the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country in 1988.

Muslim country's first woman PM

It was expected that Benazir’s elections would pave the way for better relations between India and Pakistan. Instead, the opposite happened. Anxious not to alienate the military and the hardliners in her country, she took an anti-India stand. Cross border terrorism and Pakistan’s policy of abetting terrorism in Kashmir gained momentum during her tenure.

Controversial second stint in office

However, she could never successfully sue for peace with the military, clergy and the establishment of her country. Charges of rampant corruption against her husband Asif Ali Zardari did not help either. In August 1990, the then Pakistan president removed her from office and ordered fresh elections. Her sworn political enemy Nawaz Sharif won the elections and became prime minister. Three years later, the wheel turned full circle. This time Nawaz Sharif was sacked on grounds of corruptions, and the PPP led by Benazir returned to power, in the ensuing elections.

Her second stint, if anything, was even more controversial than the first. It was during Bhutto's rule that the Taliban gained prominence in Afghanistan with the financial assistance of her government. Moreover, charges of large-scale corruption were levelled both against her as well as her husband. They were accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars through demanding 'commissions' on all types of government contracts and other dealings. In 1996, her government was dismissed for the second time, amidst various corruption scandals. Her husband is currently serving a jail sentence on corruption charges 

Political exile from Pakistan

Benazir, on her part, has steadfastly denied all charges of corruption against her husband and herself. Exiled from Pakistan since 1999, she remains the chairperson of the PPP, and nurses hopes of a comeback. She crossed 50 only last year, and certainly has age on her side. However, there can be no denying the fact that she has not lived up to the promise she had shown in the 1980s, when she was the embodiment of the pro-democracy movement in her country. 

Facts at a Glance

Personal Profile

*Born June 21, 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan 

*Daughter of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (a political leader and former Prime Minister) and Nusrat Bhutto (former Member of Parliament and Deputy Prime Minister of Pakistan) 

*Married, December, 1987 to Asif Ali Zardari (in business, twice elected Member of National Assembly and Senator)

*Children: Bilawal, Bakhtwar and Aseefa 


*Radcliffe College, B.A., 1973

*Margaret Hall, Oxford University, B.A, 1976

*Graduate study at Oxford in foreign service, 1976-77 

Political Career

*Political activist with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan

*1977-84: repeated imprisonment and later house arrest by the Pakistani government

*1984-86: political exile in London, England

*1986: returned to Pakistan in April

*Early 1986: Pakistan co-chair, Pakistan Peoples Party, Karachi

*November 1988: After elections were held she is invited to form the government and became Prime Minister in 1988 but her government was illegally dismissed in August 1990. 

*October 1993: Again comes to power after her party wins a majority in elections

*Nov. 1996: Her government was once again dismissed illegally. Current Leader of the Opposition, National Assembly, Islamic Republic of Pakistan


*Author of two books "Foreign Policy in Perspective" (1978)

*And Autobiography: "Daughter of the East" (1989)

*Several collections of her speeches and works have been compiled which include "The Way Out", Pakistan Foreign Policy, Challenges and Responses in the Post-Cold War era in "After the Cold War" by Keith Philip Lepor and Male Domination of Women offends her Islamic religion in "Lend Me Your ears: Great Speeches in History" by William Saffire.

*The most recent being "The Way Out" (1980). She has also contributed to many periodicals and to the books, "Predictions for the Next Millenium" by Kristof and Nickerson and "Book of Hopes and Dreams" published by Bookmaster Inc.

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