Bhutto, Benazir

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bhutto, Benazir

Benazir Bhutto (bĕn´əzĬr´ bōō´tō), 1953–2007, prime minister of Pakistan (1988–90; 1993–96), daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Educated at Radcliffe and Oxford, she returned to Pakistan shortly before her father was overthrown by General Zia ul-Haq in 1977. Under detention and then in exile, she returned in 1986 to lead the Pakistan People's party (PPP) and to fight military rule. In Nov., 1988, three months after President Zia ul-Haq died in a plane crash, Bhutto's alliance gained a narrow majority in parliamentary elections, and she became prime minister, the first female leader of a Muslim nation. Her government, marked by continuous intrigue and able to accomplish little, was dismissed by President Gulam Ishaq Khan in Aug., 1990. He accused her, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and her party of corruption. Zardari was held (1990–93) on various charges, although eventually acquitted, and the PPP lost the late 1990 elections.

In 1993, Bhutto again became prime minister. By then a more seasoned politician, she made alliances, including with the military, that enabled her to deal with some of Pakistan's deep-seated problems. In Nov., 1996, though, her government was again dismissed. Zardari was accused of murdering Bhutto's brother, a political rival, as well as of accepting kickbacks, and was imprisoned; sweeping corruption charges were brought against Bhutto. In 1999, Bhutto and Zardari were both convicted of corruption; Bhutto appealed the verdict while living in exile in England and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2001 the Pakistani supreme court set aside the corruption charges facing Bhutto and Zardari and ordered their retrial, but a Swiss court convicted the couple of money laundering in 2003. Bhutto was barred from running in the 2002 Pakistani parliamentary elections. Zardari was released from prison in 2004, a move that appeared designed to improve the Musharraf government's relations with the PPP; he subsequently left Pakistan.

In Oct., 2007, after extended negotiations with the government, Bhutto returned to Pakistan, intending to run for prime minister in the scheduled Jan., 2008 elections. On her return, she survived an attempt on her life that killed more than 130 persons, but was assassinated two months later in an attack, widely ascribed to Islamic militants, that followed a political rally in Rawalpindi. (A UN report, released in 2010, said Pakistani intelligence agencies had hampered the investigation into her murder.) Her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 1988–, assisted by her husband, succeeded her as PPP leader.

See her autobiography, Daughter of Destiny (1989, repr. 2008) and her Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West (2008).

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