Authors: Benazir Bhutto

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Pakistani politician and historian

Author Works


Foreign Policy in Perspective, 1978

Pakistan: The Gathering Storm, 1983

The Way Out: Interviews, Impressions, Statements, and Messages, Mahmood Publications, 1988

Daughter of Destiny, 1989 (also known as Daughter of the East)

Speeches and Statements, 1989-1990 (3 volumes)

Issues in Pakistan, 1993


At the age of thirty-five, Benazir Bhutto (BEW-toh) became the prime minister of Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country. She was then one of the youngest heads of state in the world. Her hard-won victory in 1988 changed the course of her nation and recast the way in which women, particularly Muslim women, see their role in the world.{$I[AN]9810002027}{$I[A]Bhutto, Benazir}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Bhutto, Benazir}{$I[geo]PAKISTAN;Bhutto, Benazir}{$I[tim]1953;Bhutto, Benazir}

Born to Zulfikar Al Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto was destined to follow in her father’s footsteps and enter public life. A wealthy feudal landowner and at one time prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Al Bhutto sent his daughter to the United States to study international relations in preparation for her political future. His intention was for her to become foreign minister in his government.

When Zulfikar Al Bhutto became prime minister in 1971, it was virtually the first time a nonmilitary ruler had led the country in Pakistan’s history. Pakistan had been formed only twenty-four years earlier, at the time of the formation of India as an independent nation. Pakistan’s history had always been turbulent, beset by internecine conflicts between differing cultures and regions.

Benazir attended Radcliffe College in the United States, at the age of sixteen. She was an intelligent and gifted student. She kept to Islamic laws in diet and dress, specifically refusing to wear dresses or to dance. She engaged in some antiwar protests in Washington, D.C., and was nicknamed “Pinkie” by her friends. She subsequently attended Oxford University in England, her father’s alma mater, where she continued to study international relations and headed the debating club. However, plans for her to return to her father’s government went awry when, in 1977, General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup, overthrowing the Bhutto regime and returning the country to military rule. Zia was able to sustain the military coup amid widely accepted allegations of the possible rigging of Prime Minister Bhutto’s 1971 election.

The elder Bhutto was imprisoned and executed under savage conditions in 1979. Benazir Bhutto returned to her country in 1977 and was imprisoned. Her brother died of poisoning in Paris, a death believed to be a murder by rightist political extremists. His wife was convicted under French law of not assisting a person in danger after it was discovered that he had not died instantaneously. Bhutto’s mother spent time in prison as well, where she contracted tuberculosis. Benazir Bhutto, too, suffered brutal imprisonment: She served six months of her sentence in the Pakistani desert, and her hearing was permanently damaged. Several months in solitary confinement and then house arrest followed. She was finally freed by Zia in 1984 and was exiled to Great Britain.

While Bhutto was in Great Britain, General Zia lifted martial law (but not before passing a law which exonerated his regime of any transgressions committed during his rule). In 1986 racial and ethnic divisions began to threaten the already tenuous unity of Pakistan. Drug traffic, already high, increased to staggering proportions. Angry mobs and violence threatened any semblance of peace. These developments led Bhutto to attempt a return to Pakistan. Her return was greeted by more than a million supporters (some accounts place the number at three million) who met her at the airport. The drive to the site where she would give her homecoming speech, which normally would have taken fifteen minutes, took ten hours because of the crowds. She was briefly jailed once again by Zia but slowly began her political rehabilitation.

Her arranged marriage to the wealthy Asif Ali Sardari in 1987 was one step intended to shield her from criticism by Islamic Fundamentalists who thought she had strayed too far from traditional Islamic women’s roles. Islamic extremists generally had favored Zia and were very much against Bhutto’s political activity. In her autobiography Bhutto states, “An arranged marriage was the personal choice I had to pay for the political path my life had taken.”

In May, 1988, General Zia dissolved Parliament and called for elections. Some observers speculated that the elections were timed to coincide with the latter stages of Bhutto’s pregnancy, and so possibly to influence the election. The elections were influenced, but not by her pregnancy. General Zia and thirty others died in an unexplained airplane crash on August 17, 1988. Without Zia’s military leadership, Bhutto’s People’s Party was able to gain enough seats in the election to build a coalition and rule the country. After a grueling political campaign in which Bhutto was vilified as a puppet of the West and an enemy to Islam, the election itself was peaceful. In fact, it was the first time that power had been transferred peacefully in the country’s history. Bhutto inherited the country’s vast troubles: It was, at the time, the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and it had intransigent domestic problems such as debt, drugs, crime, ethnic divisions, and a 75 percent illiteracy rate.

In 1988 Bhutto wrote her autobiography, Daughter of Destiny, in which she displays the fierce family loyalty that propelled her rise to power and demonstrates her family’s belief in the Justice God. She also discusses her unwavering dedication to achieving democracy in her country. “Just as a flower rarely blooms in the desert, so political parties cannot flourish in a dictatorship. The people of Pakistan . . . realized that their rights could be restored and protected only if they banded together . . . we were and are . . . the future and the hope. Our day, I know, will come.”

Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990, when she was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khah, who dissolved the government on grounds of widespread corruption. Bhutto’s husband was arrested and Bhutto herself worked to regain power. The Pakistan People’s Party regained control of the government in 1993 and Bhutto was once again named prime minister, but in 1996 she was once again ousted on charges of corruption and nepotism. When the People’s Party’s representation was drastically reduced in the next elections (in 1997), Bhutto announced that she was no longer interested in regaining the premiership. Both Bhutto and her husband were sentenced to five years in prison and a five year ban on political activity in 1999 as a result of the corruption charges against them, but the Pakistani Supreme Court set the convictions aside on appeal in 2001, calling for a retrial. While her husband remained in jail, Bhutto went into exile in the United Arab Emirates and continued to write and speak on world events, especially the role of Pakistan in its conflicts with India over Kashmir and in the United States’ war against the Taliban in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October, 2007, to seek office in upcoming elections, but this effort was ended by her assassination on December 27, 2007.

BibliographyAkhund, Iqbal. Trial and Error: The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A biography concentrating on Bhutto’s role as a female political leader in an Islamic nation and her persistent problems with accusations of corruption.Indurthy, Rathnam. “Pakistan: Can Democracy Survive?” USA Today 124, no. 2606 (November, 1995). Provides a profile of Bhutto as political leader that paints a less flattering portrait than does Bhutto’s autobiography.Lamb, Christina. Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy. New York: Viking, 1991. A history of Pakistani politics between 1971 and 1988, with special attention paid to Bhutto and her family.MacFarquhar, Emily, and Jennifer Griffin. “Under Attack in Pakistan.” US News and World Report, March 20, 1995. Examines Bhutto’s role as prime minister in a politically difficult environment.Talbot, Ian. Pakistan: A Modern History. London: Hurst, 1998. A thorough and well-researched history of the country which covers Bhutto as well as other political leaders in their historical context.Ziring, Lawrence. Pakistan in the Twentieth Century: A Political History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Bhutto is covered as part of a wide-ranging and insightful political history of her country.
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