Bhutto, Benazir

Bhutto, Benazir
Jun. 21, 1953-Dec. 27, 2007
Pakistani prime minister


Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the late Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was executed by his nation's military regime in 1979, has been trying to restore civilian rule to Pakistan and oust the men who made her father a martyr to millions of her compatriots. She has drawn comparisons between her efforts and those of another Asian woman, Corazon Aquino, who ended Ferdinand Marcos' twenty-year rule over the Philippines in 1986, thereby avenging her slain husband. Testimony to the powerful appeal of the Bhutto name and legacy was the welcome that she received from a crowd numbering hundreds of thousands of people when she returned home from exile in April 1986.

A native of Karachi, Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto-who is named after an aunt who died in adolescence-was born on June 21, 1953, the oldest of the four children (two boys and two girls) of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his second wife, the Begum Nusrat Bhutto, whose maiden name was Ispahani. Ben-azir Bhutto's father belonged to the Sunnite branch of Islam, which is dominant in Pakistan, while her mother was the daughter of an Iranian merchant family in Bombay that followed the Shi'ite Moslem tradition. Long prominent in politics, the Bhutto family has large landholdings in the district of Larkana in Sind, which is Pakistan's southeastern province.

During her childhood, Benazir Bhutto's parents were often away from home while Zulfikar Ali Bhutto served in various cabinet posts in the Pakistani government. He became foreign minister in 1962 and headed his country's UN delegations from 1963 to 1965. She remembers her father regaling his children with stories of great historical figures like Alexander the Great and Napoleon, and returning from New York "with very big chocolate boxes and with clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue." By her own account "a shy but well-adjusted child," as she told Ian Jack in an interview for Vanity Fair (May 1986), Benazir spent her early years under the tutelage of an English governess, and though she retained her family's Moslem faith, attended Roman Catholic convent schools, including one in the foothills of the Himalayas.

In 1969, at sixteen, Benazir Bhutto came to the United States to attend Radcliffe College, the women's undergraduate unit of Harvard University. There she found life quite different from her former pampered existence. "I remember I cried and cried and cried because I had never walked to classes in my life before," she told Ian Jack in the Vanity Fair interview. "I'd always been driven to school in a car and picked up in a car, and here I had to walk and walk and walk. It was cold, bitterly cold, and I hated it…but it forced me to grow up. There was this huge hall and you had to serve yourself and sit down somewhere next to someone, which meant I had to talk to people, and Americans are very talkative."

"I was amazed at how people talked to their parents," Benazir Bhutto told Carla Hall of the Washington Post (April 4, 1984). "Not enough respect. Even with teachers, I used to be horrified. They used to put their legs up on the chairs and smoke in front of teachers." She was also appalled by coed bathrooms and "mystified" by football. "I just couldn't imagine all these Americans beating each other up and calling it sport," she explained. At least one extracurricular activity attracted her, however: despite her fears of deportation she marched in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.

At first, Benazir Bhutto was mortified to find that many of her fellow students had never even heard of Pakistan. Before long, however, Pakistan was making headlines as its army brutally repressed a movement for independence in the country's eastern section. Again she was dismayed, and she tried in vain to defend her country's reputation. "I couldn't believe it, you know," she told Ian Jack. "In Pakistan we grew up-at least I grew up-with the idea that the army were the noble warriors out to defend the motherland. I couldn't believe that they could rape or loot or raid homes or anything like that."

East Pakistan won its independence as Bangladesh when India entered the war in its behalf in December 1971. Later that month Pakistan's discredited military regime surrendered power, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became president. His Pakistani People's party (PPP) had proven itself the choice of West Pakistan by winning a majority of parliamentary seats there in the first national election in Pakistan's history on the basis of one person, one vote. In August 1973 a new constitution was adopted, with Bhutto continuing as head of government in the position of prime minister.

On receiving a degree in government from Radcliffe in 1973, Benazir Bhutto went to England to study politics, philosophy, and economics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. After she graduated with honors in 1976, she remained at Oxford for an additional year to complete a foreign service course. In the spring of 1977 she was elected president of the Oxford Union-the prestigious university debating society that attracts future political leaders and barristers-the first foreign woman ever to hold that office.

In mid-1977, Benazir Bhutto flew home to Pakistan. "I didn't see myself as a political activist," she told Carla Hall. "I really thought of foreign service. I thought, 'That's nice-my interest in international affairs without any of the insecurities of political life.'" But within days of her arrival, her father was ousted from power by a military coup. Although Bhutto's PPP had won an overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections held in March, his opponents charged that the elections were rigged. Demonstrations and riots broke out, mounted in intensity, and hundreds of people were killed, before the military, led by the army chief of staff, General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, assumed power. Bhutto was imprisoned in September 1977 and charged with conspiring to murder a party colleague. He was found guilty, and despite appeals for clemency from world leaders, he was hanged in April 1979.

By that time, Benazir Bhutto had also been subjected to the wrath of the new regime. According to news accounts, she was arrested on September 29, 1977 for having protested her father's jailing, and she was held under house detention until January 13, 1978. Arrested again on October 4, 1978 for having made "objectionable speeches," she was detained until May 28, 1979, almost two months after her father's execution, and she was even denied permission to attend his funeral. On October 17, 1979 she was again detained-on charges of holding an unauthorized meeting, creating alarm, and bringing Pakistan's armed forces into disrepute-and she was not freed until April 8, 1980.

Benazir Bhutto's own account is somewhat different. "I was under detention since martial law," she told Carla Hall in the Washington Post interview. "I would repeatedly be arrested, freed, arrested-sometimes in other's people's homes, sometimes in police camps, but it was never house arrest-it was a house but the jail rules would apply." By then, although her mother had become nominally the leader of the outlawed PPP, Benazir Bhutto was considered her father's real heir. One government minister told the Newsweek reporter Tony Clifton (July 23, 1979), "If they ever elect this impetuous girl to lead our country, there will be a gallows in every main square in Pakistan."

Benazir Bhutto's two brothers, Mir Ghulam Murtaza and Shahnawaz, were students in England when their father was arrested. They stayed abroad and eventually formed Al-Zulfikar, an antigovernment organization based in Afghanistan, with alleged links to Libya and Syria. Although the group was reportedly expelled from Afghanistan in 1983 and apparently disbanded, it made headlines in early 1981, when members hijacked a Pakistani International Airlines plane to Syria and forced Zia to release some imprisoned Bhutto supporters in exchange for freeing the passengers. Apparently in reprisal, the Zia regime placed Benazir Bhutto under house arrest again in March 1981 and extended her term of confinement later that year, when she refused to give assurances that she would refrain from political activities.

It was not until January 10, 1984, after she had been under detention for almost three years, that Benazir Bhutto was allowed to leave Pakistan to seek treatment for a serious ear infection. According to her account, the first five months of her confinement had been spent in prison. Then she was under house arrest, at the family home in Larkana for about a year and for the remainder of the time at another family home in Karachi. She was allowed few visitors except her mother, who leftPakistan for Europe in late 1982 to receive medical treatment for suspected lung cancer.

The years of isolation left their mark on Benazir Bhutto. Not long after her release and departure for the West, she told Carla Hall in the Washington Post interview: "Sometimes you go mad…and say 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do?'….I used to have an excellent memory….I could describe anything very well. But when you're in detention and you're not seeing people and you're not communicating and you're not talking-I-I don't know how to talk. I mumble now."

After leaving Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto settled in London. In July 1985 her younger brother, Shahnawaz, died under mysterious circumstances at his home on the French Riviera. The death, attributed to poison by French news accounts, was followed by the arrest and subsequent release of his Afghan-born wife. Miss Bhutto, who suggested that his death was inspired by government fears that he would resume guerrilla operations against the Zia regime, flew back to Pakistan with her brother's body and arranged for him to be buried next to their father's grave. The funeral procession was estimated to number about 25,000 to 50,000 persons. Soon afterward, Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest once more for taking part in rallies and other political activities, but she was allowed to leave Pakistan again in early November 1985.

Martial law in Pakistan ended in December 1985 for the first time since it was imposed in 1977. In practice, Zia, as president, remained in command, though a civilian government, headed by a civilian prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, was placed in charge of day-to-day policy and administration. A national assembly had been elected in early 1985, but its powers were purely advisory. Political parties were not permitted to take part in the elections, and many prominent politicians were barred from seeking office. Further elections were not to be held until 1990, when Zia's term of office was to expire. Nevertheless, with the end of martial law, military courts lost their jurisdiction over civilian affairs in 1986, protest rallies were held relatively free of government interference, and the press was allowed free rein.

Under those relaxed conditions, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on April 10, 1986. Her motorcade needed ten hours to travel the eight miles from the Lahore airport to the political rally in the city, where she received a tumultuous welcome from hundreds of thousands of people. The gathering was the largest antigovernment rally since Zia seized power in 1977 and perhaps the largest in Lahore since Pakistan achieved independence in 1947.

In addressing the crowd, Benazir Bhutto demanded that Zia step down and that national elections be held immediately. Calling attention to the recent exits of Ferdinand E. Marcos from the Philippines and Jean-Claude Duvalier from Haiti, she said that 1986 was "a bad year for dictators" and that "now another dictator must go." Some observers felt that a restive public was ready to oust a regime increasingly unpopular because of past heavy-handed repression, a slowing economy, and allegations of corruption at the highest levels. Benazir Bhutto said at a press conference after her rally: "We could have done anything. We could have brought down the government, we could have burned the cantonment, but the cost would have been too high." Riding the crest of her popularity, she embarked on a tour of more than fifteen cities in Pakistan.

In May 1986, Benazir Bhutto and her mother were formally elected cochairwomen of the PPP. But despite the widespread support that she was able to garner, her efforts to mount a series of "black day" rallies and demonstrations, marking the anniversary, in July, of Zia's seizure of power, were not as successful as she had hoped. Nor did her aides succeed in their attemps to recruit some 150,000 "doves of democracy" for a massive civil disobedience campaign. She was arrested once more, along with hundreds of her supporters, on independence day, August 14, 1986, as she was preparing to lead a rally of some 10,000 people in Karachi. Released on September 8, she met with members of other opposition groups and pledged that her party would continue to "exercise its constitutional rights" and stage rallies and demonstrations even if they were banned by the government. Eventually, she said, the Zia regime would become aware of the need for a "political settlement" requiring elections.

The problems faced by Miss Bhutto have been formidable. Many Pakistanis despise the legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto because of his occasional oppressiveness and alleged corruption. The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, an eleven-party coalition founded in February 1981, of which the PPP is the leading constituent, maintains a shaky facade of unity that masks deep ideological divisions. One Pakistani journalist has noted that despite her demands for greater democracy, she was appointing party officials who "seem qualified only by being loyal without question to Benazir."

The opposition to Benazir Bhutto includes Islamic fundamentalists who have been effectively courted by Zia. Since 1979 the Zia regime had rigorously enforced a ban on alcohol and gambling and imposed Koranic punishments, including flogging, amputation, or stoning, for such offenses as adultery and theft. Fundamentalists have been suspicious of the PPP because of its leftist tendencies. Moreover, Benazir Bhutto's political prominence is unusual in a Moslem country, since rule by a woman is virtually unknown in Islam.

Of particular significance has been the continued presence of a military establishment not inclined to yield power and capable of stepping in to impose martial law again in the name of preserving order. Pressed by reporters to outline her plans after the April rally, Miss Bhutto was noncommittal as to whether she would promote civil disobedience. While insisting that she did not seek revenge, she did not rule out the prospect of putting Zia on trial if he refused to surrender power and leave Pakistan. As one commentator observed, "Benazir is in a bind. If she goes too far, she risks giving the military an excuse to return. If she preaches the politics of conciliation, she risks alienating the party militants who have suffered and now want some measure of recompense."

In terms of domestic policy, Benazir Bhutto advocates a "socialist" program that would promote the PPP's populist demands-including slum clearance, food for the hungry, health care for the sick, land and jobs for the peasants, and an adequate monthly minimum wage-while at the same time cooperating with the private sector. On the international scene, Benazir Bhutto wants Pakistan to occupy a balanced position between the two superpowers. She favors a political settlement for Afghanistan that would enable the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops and permit Afghan refugees, who number over 3 million in Pakistan, to return home. By contrast, since Moscow's intervention in Afghanistan in late 1979, the Zia government had refused to recognize the Soviet-installed government in Kabul, allowed arms to be funneled to the Afghan rebels through Pakistan, and concluded major arms agreements with the United States. Miss Bhutto has indicated that if she came to power her government would continue to accept American military aid.

Benazir Bhutto is a slender woman, nearly five feet eight inches in height, with large, luminous eyes. In public she appears in the light, loose-fitting, flowing garb characteristic of women's dress on the Indian subcontinent. She is reticent about her private life. Pressed by Ian Jack as to whether she had ever had any romantic involvements, she replied, "Well, I hope not and I don't think Pakistani society would take it kindly if we discussed such a subject. I'm a Muslim woman in a Muslim society and there are certain topics that Muslim women don't discuss." She never danced during her stay abroad because, she insists, "good Muslim girls don't dance with foreign men." Asked about her prospects for marriage, she asserted: "At the moment all other aspects of my life take second position to my political commitment and cause."

The price of leadership in her country comes high for Benazir Bhutto, clearly higher than for a man. "I must always maintain a certain degree of formality." she has said. "For instance, I have to be accompanied by a proper chaperon, I must be careful how I talk to people, I can't develop the kind of camaraderie that exists among men." But she is willing to pay the price to carry on the heritage of her father, whom she calls shahid-the martyr. At Lahore she evoked her father's memory repeatedly, saying to the crowd, "He told me at our last meeting at Rawalpindi jail that I must sacrifice everything for my country. This is a mission I shall live or die for."

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