In April of 1979, 26 years old Benazir Bhutto witnessed the beginning of a bloodied epoch, only to be destined to a fate similar to that of her father and her brothers’ years later. The Oxford University graduate, assumed command of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1980 following the hanging of her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Chairperson PPP and elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, he was convicted of criminal charges and faced the death penalty one year after dictator Zia Ul Haq overthrew Bhutto’s elected government.
Benazir Bhutto was the first elected female Prime Minister in the Muslim world. Till today, she is described as a woman of substance – empowered and courageous – she stood graceful and dignified with her chin up despite witnessing the horrific death of her father and brothers. Nothing could bring this woman down – she had survived immense tragedy. After the hanging of her father in 1979, her brother Shahnawaz Bhutto was murdered in his apartment, in 1980, it is said that Shahnawaz was poisoned to death, however, no charges had been brought forward. Another tragic atrocity occurred in 1996, whilst Benazir was in power, when her brother Murtaza was assassinated in a police encounter in Karachi.
In a country like Pakistan where women like Ayesha Gulalai are subjected to abuse for raising their voice against sexual harassment or women like Malala are shot in the face for demanding an education, the nation where women such as Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy are welcomed with a string of online abuses and threats, even after returning to Pakistan being the only Pakistani to receive two Oscars for raising awareness on acid attacks and honour killings, in such a country Bhuttto stood as a powerful woman, firm and brave, speaking up for what she believed in. She was the symbol of resilience and defiance, every time she stood on stage she shattered the stereotype of a Muslim woman, her speeches were so passionate you could almost romanticise her presence, she was a symbol of victory for Muslim women around the world, she posed a threat to the military and the Islamists of Pakistan. It is unfortunate that this very triumphant courageous persona of hers later became the reason behind the tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto.
The men of this country were so intimidated by her presence that one army General is said to have refused to salute Bhutto because she was a “female Prime Minister”, she won her first election in 1988, soon after she gave birth, but her tenure came to a halt in 1990 and she was instead found defending herself in court against charges of misconduct. She won another election in 1993 before once again having her tenure terminated on grounds of corruption. In 1996, she fled to Britain and remained there in a self-imposed exile, and finally in the year 1999 she was convicted and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007 – in a triumphed return to Pakistan, she aimed to regain her seat after spending 8 years in exile. She describes her return as emotional, and states in her book that this was the first time she had cried in public –“tears are a symbol of weakness” Bhutto stated and didn’t want her opposition to believe that she was weak. She tried to hold back her tears but upon seeing her homeland after 8 years the tears were uncontrollable, however, her homecoming rally was hit by suicide attack, which killed over 100 people. Bhutto survived the attack by the skin of her teeth she backed down behind her bombproof vehicle and survived.
Unfortunately the next attempt to take her life did not go in her favour.
December 27th 2007 a gloomy day in Pakistan’s history – Bhutto had just finished her homecoming rally and was standing in her carwaving to her diehard supporters, through the sunroof of her car, in Rawalpindi when an assassin opened fire followed by a suicide bomb. It is said that Bhutto’s cause of death was not in fact the bomb or gunshots but she hit her head in a metal piece of the sunroof.
Ten years later, the anti terrorism court of Pakistan located in Rawalpindi finally came to a verdict declaring General Pervez Musharraf a fugitive, two police officers party to the crime have been sentenced to 17 years in jail for “mishandling the crime scene”, whilst five alleged Taliban militants have been acquitted. Musharraf fled Pakistan in 2016 in a self-proclaimed exile. The verdict has angered PPP supporters and her son Bilawal Bhutto stated that the verdict is “disappointing” and “unacceptable”, saying they will explore other legal options.