At the age of thirty-five, Benazir Bhutto (BEW-toh) became the prime minister of Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country. She was then one of the youngest heads of state in the world. Her hard-won victory in 1988 changed the course of her nation and recast the way in which women, particularly Muslim women, see their role in the world.
Born to Zulfikar Al Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto was destined to follow in her father’s footsteps and enter public life. A wealthy feudal landowner and at one time prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Al Bhutto sent his daughter to the United States to study international relations in preparation for her political future. His intention was for her to become foreign minister in his government.
When Zulfikar Al Bhutto became prime minister in 1971, it was virtually the first time a nonmilitary ruler had led the country in Pakistan’s history. Pakistan had been formed only twenty-four years earlier, at the time of the formation of India as an independent nation. Pakistan’s history had always been turbulent, beset by internecine conflicts between differing cultures and regions.
Benazir attended Radcliffe College in the United States, at the age of sixteen. She was an intelligent and gifted student. She kept to Islamic laws in diet and dress, specifically refusing to wear dresses or to dance. She engaged in some antiwar protests in Washington, D.C., and was nicknamed “Pinkie” by her friends. She subsequently attended Oxford University in England, her father’s alma mater, where she continued to study international relations and headed the debating club. However, plans for her to return to her father’s government went awry when, in 1977, General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup, overthrowing the Bhutto regime and returning the country to military rule. Zia was able to sustain the military coup amid widely accepted allegations of the possible rigging of Prime Minister Bhutto’s 1971 election.
The elder Bhutto was imprisoned and executed under savage conditions in 1979. Benazir Bhutto returned to her country in 1977 and was imprisoned. Her brother died of poisoning in Paris, a death believed to be a murder by rightist political extremists. His wife was convicted under French law of not assisting a person in danger after it was discovered that he had not died instantaneously. Bhutto’s mother spent time in prison as well, where she contracted tuberculosis. Benazir Bhutto, too, suffered brutal imprisonment: She served six months of her sentence in the Pakistani desert, and her hearing was permanently damaged. Several months in solitary confinement and then house arrest followed. She was finally freed by Zia in 1984 and was exiled to Great Britain.
While Bhutto was in...
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