Benazir Bhutto, dubbed the “Iron Lady of Pakistan,” pioneered women’s political participation in Pakistan. She was not only the first woman to lead a major political party, but she also went on to become Pakistan’s first and only female Prime Minister. In her lifetime, she held this powerful post twice. She was raised in a renowned political family and was exposed to political ideas and ideals from an early age. Benazir Bhutto rose to prominence in Pakistan politics after her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was imprisoned and later executed. She succeeded her father as the nominal leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. Her beliefs were centered on democratic and social capitalist policies for the most part. Her magnetic personality, along with her political savvy and unwavering courage, earned her the moniker “Iron Lady.” The majority of her contemporaries and adversaries addressed her as ‘B.B.’. She implemented various political and economic programs for industrial development and growth during her two terms as Prime Minister, from 1988 to 1990 and 1993 to 1996. She advocated for the denationalization of state-owned enterprises and was a vocal opponent of labor unions and restrictive labor markets. However, severe levels of corruption, rising unemployment, and a suffocating recession forced her to step down. Continue reading to learn more about her life and background.
Childhood and Adolescence
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Ispahani gave birth to Benazir Bhutto. She was the eldest of four sisters and brothers. Her father was Pakistan’s former Prime Minister. As a result, she has been exposed to political ideas and policies since she was a child.
She finished her early schooling in Pakistan and moved to the United States to study at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in comparative government with high honors in 1973.
She studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford, England, from 1973 to 1977.
She was the first Asian woman to be elected President of the Oxford Union in 1976.
Career in Politics
Following the dethronement of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, from the prime ministership and the ascension of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq to power in 1977, she and her family were placed under house arrest.
She inherited her father’s political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and spent the next two years organizing rallies to persuade General Haq to dismiss the murder charges against her father.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in April 1979, despite local and international pressure, after which she was detained and taken to Larkana Central Jail. She was detained in a desert jail in Sindh Province in 1981.
Due to intense worldwide pressure, she and her family were allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment in 1984. She resumed her political career after her recovery, becoming a leader in exile for the PPP and increasing awareness of the situation of political prisoners and human rights violations under the Zia dictatorship.
After the martial regime was lifted in 1986, she returned to Pakistan after two years of self-exile and led a statewide push for open elections.
General Haq died in a mystery aviation accident in 1988, leaving a political vacuum in Pakistan and the necessity for elections.
In the 1988 elections, she led the PPP party to victory, capturing the biggest proportion of seats in the National Assembly. On December 2, 1988, she was appointed Prime Minister, making her the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country.
During her first term as Prime Minister, she was unable to make significant progress in combating poverty, corruption, and crime. Her goal of converting Pakistan’s semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system was likewise a failure, as conservative President Ghulam Ishaq Khan vetoed most of the proposed laws.
Following her failure to combat corruption and unemployment, as well as the country’s economic decline, President Khan removed her from the Prime Ministership in 1990, citing corruption, nepotism, and tyranny as reasons.
Her party did not win the 1990 elections, which were held shortly after her expulsion, and opposition leader Nawaz Shariff took over as chair. She conceded defeat and assumed the office of Leader of the Opposition.
Elections were held following the resignation of Nawaz Sharif and President Khan in 1993, and the PPP party triumphed. She was re-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan for a second term. Farooq Leghari was named President by her.
During the election campaign, Benazir guaranteed price subsidies for farmers, proposed a government-business collaboration, and aggressively campaigned for the female vote. Once in power, however, she was unable to carry out any of her plans and failed spectacularly.
She was unable to quell racial tensions in Karachi, as well as corruption scandals that only worsened the country’s economic situation. Furthermore, no revisions were made to address women’s difficulties, and controversial laws were instead enforced more harshly.
During her second tenure, she promised a denationalization program and economic liberalization, but neither of these things happened. As a result, inflation and unemployment rose, resulting in a drop in people’s living standards.
Her government’s legitimacy has eroded as a result of escalating corruption and the murder of her younger brother. It received heavy criticism and was widely despised by the public, leading to her government’s departure in 1996.
She and her children went to Dubai in 1997 to avoid the Nawaz Sharif government’s corruption charges. Asif Ali Zardari, her husband, was kidnapped and imprisoned.
She was the Leader of the Opposition in Exile in the Parliament from 1996 until 1999, when Pakistan’s involvement in the Kargil War brought the country international embarrassment and harmed Shari’s public image. Benazir took advantage of the circumstances to rally support for herself.
She wanted to reactivate the PPP party, but when the Pakistani Armed Forces staged a coup, she supported it. Her appeal for the corruption allegations against her to be withdrawn was denied with General Pervez Musharraf’s ascension to power. As a result, she spent the rest of her life in exile in London and Dubai.
When Pervez Musharraf altered the Pakistan constitution in 2002, prohibiting prime ministers from serving more than two terms, her chances of ever holding office were shattered. Furthermore, because a court-convicted individual is prohibited from holding political office, she was unable to run in the elections.
She returned in 2007 after an eight-year self-imposed exile. Musharraf pardoned her of all charges, and a power-sharing agreement between Bhutto and Musharraf’s military dictatorship went into effect.
She returned home and helped prepare for the 2008 legislative elections. However, her life was cut short in December 2007 when she was assassinated.
Achievements & Awards
She was designated one of seven winners of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights after her death.
Personal History and Legacy
On December 18, 1987, she married Asif Ali Zardari. Two daughters and a son were born into the marriage.
She was killed on December 27, 2007, after returning to Pakistan and campaigning for parliamentary elections.
She was on her way to a PPP campaign event at Liaquat National Bagh when she was shot by a gunman while waving to the crowd through her car’s sunroof. Following that, explosives near the vehicle were detonated, killing about 20 people.
She was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital, where she died by the evening. President Pervez Musharraf has proclaimed a three-day period of mourning.
The government of Pakistan renamed Islamabad International Airport as Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Rawalpindi Muree Road as Benazir Bhutto Road, and Rawalpindi General Hospital as Benazir Bhutto Hospital to honor her contributions to the country’s political landscape.
Estimated Net worth
Benazir Bhutto was a wealthy Pakistani politician and stateswoman with an estimated net worth of $850 million dollars. Benazir Bhutto (21 June 1953 – 27 December 2007) was the eldest child of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and was born in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan.
Benazir satisfied her thirst for study by earning undergraduate degrees from Radcliffe College in the United States (1973) and Oxford in the United Kingdom (1976).
She was Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister and the first female leader of a major political party in a Muslim country.