Benazir Bhutto was the first female to lead a modern Muslim country; she was prime minister of Pakistan from December 1988 to August 1990 and again from October 1993 to November 1996. Bhutto’s father was Zulfikar Bhutto, who founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Benazir Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan. She attended Harvard’s Radcliffe College starting in 1969 and graduated, cum laude, in 1973. She then attended Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, where she studied politics, philosophy, and economics until 1977. She was elected president of the Oxford Union and became the first Asian woman to lead their debating society. She returned to Pakistan in 1977.
Shortly after her return to Pakistan, a military coup led by General Zia overthrew her father’s government, imprisoned him, and hanged him two years later. Over the next seven years, until her exile in 1984, she was imprisoned several times because of her opposition to Zia.
In January 1984 she went into exile in London. From there she worked to build the PPP’s strength and in January 1986, after martial law was lifted, she returned. Because Pakistan is a Muslim country, she decided that she needed to be married and arranged a marriage to Asif Ali Zardari in December 1987.
With Zia’s death in August 1988, elections were held and Bhutto ran for prime minister. The PPP was unable to win a majority of the seats in parliament, but did put together a coalition government with Bhutto as the prime minister. Bhutto and the PPP worked to improve the conditions of the poor of Pakistan as well as to improve social justice in the country. She also believed in a free economy and private control of business. She worked to improve human rights in Pakistan.
Throughout Bhutto’s term, the opposition tried to get her removed from office. Their attempts had been unsuccessful until 1990 when violence broke out in several cities in Pakistan. This violence, along with support from the military, gave the Pakistani president the excuse he needed to dismiss the government.
Thus on August 6, 1990, Bhutto was removed from office and charged with corruption, nepotism, and misuse of her office. In elections in October the PPP lost all but a few of the seats it held in parliament.
Bhutto spent the next several years improving her reputation. The government that replaced her coalition proved unable to deal with the problems of Pakistan and new elections were held in 1993. The PPP, while holding a large number of seats, did not have a majority. When a PPP candidate was elected president, it appeared that the government would be stable.
However, corruption and criminal activity by politicians continued to be a problem. She was dismissed as prime minister in 1996 and went into exile. Bhutto vowed she would triumph in new elections scheduled for February 1997, but she lost to Nawaz Sharif, whom she had replaced in 1993. In January 1998 corruption charges against Bhutto and her husband widened.
Bhutto denied the charges and said they were politically motivated, but during her five years in office, Pakistan’s treasury was drained, and she was unable to deliver the programs she had promised. In spite of the charges, Bhutto maintained her position as leader of Pakistan’s major opposition party, the PPP.
In 1999, Bhutto fled Pakistan to avoid corruption charges, and she was convicted in absentia by a Pakistani court. In October of that year, Sharif lost power when General Pervez Musharraf took over the country in a military coup. Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 after President Musharrarf granted her and others amnesty from corruption charges. She was assassinated shortly after.