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This Day in History: Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto


Twenty-eight years ago today, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan, becoming not only the first woman to head a Muslim country, but at the age of 35, its youngest.

​Her charismatic father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, served as both Pakistan's president and prime minister, and founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Born into a wealthy and educated family, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Benazir Bhutto's most influential political mentor.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, is shown in this undated file photo.

A populist who was recognized internationally as an skilled diplomat and impressive leader, he ultimately was deposed in 1977 by his army chief General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq. He tried Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for authorizing the murder of a political opponent in 1979. He was executed later that year.

Zia, a militant Islamist, ruled Pakistan with an iron fist. Benazir Bhutto and her siblings spoke out often against the military government, becoming the political opposition.

She was jailed for several years, released and fled to London to live in exile. By the time she returned to Pakistan in 1986, Benazir Bhutto had become a beloved opposition politician, and much of the population had tired of living under a dictatorship.

Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, arrives in Lahore on April 10, 1986.

After she became prime minister in 1988, running as a moderate Muslim, who pressed for women's rights and providing basic services to Pakistan's poor. But as a young and inexperienced woman in a deeply conservative country, she faced intense backlash by the political remnants of Zia’s dictatorship and conservative Islamist. She lost the 1990 election and was charged, along with her husband, of corruption.

Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with her husband Asif Zardari during dinner party at the state guest house in Islamabad, April 19, 1990.

She returned to power in 1993 but lost again three years later.

While in self-imposed exile in Britain and Dubai, she was convicted in 1999 of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison. She directed the PPP from abroad, she was reaffirmed its leader in 2002.

Five years later, Benazir Bhutto was determined to return to Pakistan to challenged the military government, then led by President Pervez Musharraf, who had granted her amnesty on the corruption charges. That very day she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

Less than two months later on December 2007, she was assassinated during a gun and suicide bomb attack at a rally. She was 54 years old.


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Muslim Global: This Day in History: Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto
This Day in History: Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto
This Day in History: Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto
Muslim Global
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