Benazir Bhutto was the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was assassinated in late 2007. She has the distinction of being the first female leader of a Muslim state, and played a pivotal role in Pakistani politics until the time of her death.
Benazir Bhutto was born in 1953 to a well-to-do Shia Muslim family, in Karachi. After finishing her basic education in Pakistan, Bhutto traveled to the United States to attend Harvard University at the age of 16. She got her degree at the age of 20 in Comparative Government. She then attended Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford, studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.
Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, served as President of Pakistan from 1971 to 1973, and then as Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977, founding the incredibly influential Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1977, Benazir Bhutto’s last year at Oxford, the Prime Minister was removed from office when the military took over the government in a coup d’etat. Free elections were promised, but martial law remained in effect, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ultimately hanged in mid-1979.
Following her father’s execution, Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest by the government, where she remained for the next few years. In 1984 she was allowed to travel back to the United Kingdom, where she immediately took over as head of the PPP, replacing her mother, and began agitating for democratic reform. The next year her brother was killed while in France, and the details surrounding his death are still unknown.
In 1988, following the death of the ruling General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, open elections were held in Pakistan. The PPP swept the election, and Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as the new Prime Minister. Two years later Bhutto and her PPP government were dismissed following contested charges of corruption. In 1993 the PPP once again came to power in open elections, and Bhutto was once again appointed Prime Minister. Three years later the president again dissolved the government, again amid allegations of corruption.
The charges of corruption that were leveled repeatedly against Benazir Bhutto ultimately led to a conviction, with large fines and suspended jail time. The corruption charges mostly involve payoffs by large corporations for exclusive contracts with the Bhutto government. Some groups, however, claim that the charges were largely fabricated, and the result of a political desire to have Bhutto removed from office, alleging massive buyoffs and forgeries.
In 2002 the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, implemented a change to the constitution allowing for Prime Ministers to serve only two terms. This was widely viewed as a ploy specifically to stop Benazir Bhutto from being able to become Prime Minister again. Bhutto began preparing to return to Pakistan, and in 2007 she did finally come back, agitating for massive political reform.
For a time it appeared that Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf would be able to reach some sort of an accord. Funds which had been frozen were released by the Pakistani government, and overtures of reconciliation were attempted. Suggestions were made that a power-sharing deal would be reached between President Musharraf and Bhutto, allowing him to remain president if he stepped down as head of the military, and her to become Prime Minister again.
In October of 2007 a suicide bomber targeted at Benazir Bhutto occurred, killing nearly 150 people, including her personal guard, who formed a wall in front of her to protect her. Further attacks occurred over the next few months, and in late December of 2007 Bhutto was shot by a single assailant, and died of her wounds less than an hour later.