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Benazir Bhutto: A champion of democracy
Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi, Pakistan to a prominent political family. At age 16 she left her homeland to study at Harvard's Radcliffe College. After completing her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe she studied at England's Oxford University, where she was awarded a second degree in 1977.
Later that year she returned to Pakistan where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had been elected prime minister, but days after her arrival, the military seized power and her father was imprisoned. In 1979 he was hanged by the military government of General Zia Ul Haq.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Bhutto herself was also arrested many times over the following years, and was detained for three years before being permitted to leave the country in 1984. She settled in London, but along with her two brothers, she founded an underground organization to resist the military dictatorship. When her brother died in 1985, she returned to Pakistan for his burial, and was again arrested for participating in anti-government rallies.
She returned to London after her release, and martial law was lifted in Pakistan at the end of the year. Anti-Zia demonstrations resumed and Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in April 1986. The public response to her return was tumultuous, and she publicly called for the resignation of Zia Ul Haq, whose government had executed her father.
She was elected co-chairwoman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) along with her mother, and when free elections were finally held in 1988, she herself became Prime Minister. At 35, she was one of the youngest chief executives in the world, and the first woman to serve as prime minister in an Islamic country.
Only two years into her first term, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto from office. She initiated an anti-corruption campaign, and in 1993 was re-elected as Prime Minister. While in office, she brought electricity to the countryside and built schools all over the country. She made hunger, housing and health care her top priorities, and looked forward to continuing to modernize Pakistan.
At the same time, Bhutto faced constant opposition from the Islamic fundamentalist movement. Her brother Mir Murtaza, who had been estranged from Benazir since their father's death, returned from abroad and leveled charges of corruption at Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Mir Murtaza died when his bodyguard became involved in a gunfight with police in Karachi. The Pakistani public was shocked by this turn of events and PPP supporters were divided over the charges against Zardari.
In 1996 President Leghari of Pakistan dismissed Benazir Bhutto from office, alleging mismanagement, and dissolved the National Assembly. A Bhutto re-election bid failed in 1997, and the next elected government, headed by the more conservative Nawaz Sharif, was overthrown by the military. Bhutto's husband was imprisoned, and once again, she was forced to leave her homeland. For nine years, she and her children lived in exile in London, where she continued to advocate the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. In the autumn of 2007, in the face of death threats from radical Islamists, and the hostility of the government, she returned to her native country.
Although she was greeted by enthusiastic crowds, within hours of her arrival, her motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived this first assassination attempt, although more than 100 bystanders died in the attack. With national elections scheduled for January 2008, her Pakistan People's Party was poised for a victory that would make Bhutto prime minister once again. Only a few weeks before the election, the extremists struck again. After a campaign rally in Rawalpindi, a gunman fired at her car before detonating a bomb, killing himself and more than 20 bystanders.
Bhutto was rushed to the hospital, but soon succumbed to injuries suffered in the attack. In the wake of her death, rioting erupted throughout the country. The loss of the country's most popular democratic leader has plunged Pakistan into turmoil, intensifying the dangerous instability of a nuclear-armed nation in a highly volatile region.
Who killed Benazir Bhuto ?
A day after Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack, there is much speculation about who was behind the assassination. Many people and organizations in Pakistan wanted Bhutto dead. There are doubts that the perpetrators will ever be identified any way t he main suspects in the assassination are the foreign and Pakistani Islamist militants who saw Ms Bhutto as a Westernised heretic and an American stooge, and had repeatedly threatened to kill her.
But fingers will also be pointed at the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, (ISI) which has had close ties to the Islamists since the 1970s and has been used by successive Pakistani leaders to suppress political opposition. Ms Bhutto narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in October, when a suicide bomber struck at a rally in Karachi to welcome her back from exile. Earlier that month two Pakistani militant warlords based in the country’s northwestern areas had threatened to kill her. One was Baitullah Mehsud, a top militant commander fighting the Pakistani Army in South Waziristan, who has ties to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban. The other was Haji Omar, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban, who is also from South Waziristan and fought with the Afghan Mujahidin against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ms Bhutto said after the attack that she had received a letter, signed by someone claiming to be a friend of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, threatening to slaughter her like a goat. But she also accused Pakistani authorities of not providing her with sufficient security, and hinted that they may have been complicit in the Karachi attack. She indicated that she had more to fear from unidentified members of a power structure that she described as allies of the “forces of militancy”.
Analysts say that President Musharraf is unlikely to have ordered her assassination, but that elements of the Army and intelligence service stood to lose money and power if she became prime minister. The ISI includes some Islamists who became radicalised while running the American-funded campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan and were opposed to her on principle. Saudi Arabia is also thought to have frowned on Ms Bhutto as being too secular and Westernised and to have favoured Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister.
An uncompromising champion of democracy and a moderate face of Islam, Benazir Bhutto's death in a suicide attack today brought a gory end to her volatile political career.
Pakistan's first woman Prime Minister followed her illustrious father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto into politics and both died because of it - he was hanged in 1979 while she fell victim to a suicide attack.
Like the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Bhuttos are one of the world's most famous political families who ruled Pakistan for a number of years without the support of the powerful army. Elected twice as Pakistan's Prime Minister, she was sworn in for the first time in 1988 but removed from office 20 months later under orders of then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on grounds of alleged corruption.
In 1993, Bhutto was re-elected but was again removed in 1996 on similar charges, this time by President Farooq Ahmed Leghari.
Abdirahman ibrahim Abdilahi