Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto  بينظير بھٹو 

21 June 1953-27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto  was the 11th and 13th Prime Minister of Pakistan, serving two non-consecutive terms in 1988–1990 and then 1993–1996. A scion of the politically powerful Bhutto family, she was the eldest daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister who founded the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). In 1988 she became the first democratically elected woman leader of an Islamic nation. Earlier as chairperson of the PPP in 1982, she became the first woman in Pakistan to head a major political party. Noted for charismatic authority and political astuteness, Bhutto drove economic and national security initiatives, and implemented capitalist policies for industrial development and growth. Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasized deregulation, particularly of the financial sector, flexible labour markets, denationalization of state-owned corporations, and the withdrawal of subsidies to others. . Bhutto’s popularity waned amid recession, corruption allegations and high unemployment. Eventually conservative President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed her government.

Bhutto was elected for a second term in the 1993 parliamentary elections. She survived an attempted coup d’état in 1995. Her hard line against the trade unions and tough rhetorical opposition to domestic political rivals and to India earned her the nickname “Iron Lady.” She was also referred to as “BB”. In 1996 more charges of corruption led to another dismissal of her government by President Farooq Leghari. Bhutto conceded her defeat in the 1997 Parliamentary elections and went into exile in Dubai in 1998. Nine years later, in 2007, she reached an understanding with President Pervez Musharraf, and returned to Pakistan. He granted her amnesty and withdrew all corruption charges against her.

Bhutto was assassinated in a bombing on 27 December 2007, after leaving a PPP rally in Rawalpindi two weeks before the scheduled 2008 general election. She was the leading candidate, and projected winner. She is buried next to her father in the Garhi Khuda Baksh, the Bhutto family graveyard. Her party won the election and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, served as President of Pakistan from 2008 to ’13.

Her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari presently leads the PPP, which as of 2016 was the second largest party in the National Assembly, and the largest in the Senate.

Early Life, 1953-77


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father, was Prime Minister of Pakistan and founding chairman of the PPP.

Benazir Bhutto was born at Karachi’s Pinto Hospital on 21 June 1953.  She was the eldest child of Sindhi Rajput Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Ispahani, of Iranian Kurdish descent. She had three younger siblings, Murtaza, Shahnawaz and Sanam. According to Benazir, her mother’s Kurdish culture played a big role in Bhutto becoming Prime Minister.

Bhutto grew up speaking both English and Urdu, with English her first language. While she spoke fluent Urdu, it was often colloquial rather than formal. According to various interviews given by former household servants, she and her father would speak to them in their native Sindhi.


  • Lady Jennings Nursery School Karachi
  • Convent of Jesus & Mary Karachi
  • Presentation Convent Rawalpindi
  • Convent of Jesus & Mary Murree-O-Level
  • Karachi Grammar School-A-Level

Higher Education

  •  1969-73, Radcliffe College at Harvard University United States–BA with cum laude honours in comparative government; also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Bhutto later called her time at Harvard “four of the happiest years of my life” and said it formed “the very basis of her belief in democracy”. In 1995, as Prime Minister, she arranged a gift from the Pakistani government to Harvard Law School.
  • 1973-77, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (LMH); studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Additional courses in International Law and Diplomacy.
  • Attended St Catherine’s College, Oxford
  • December 1976, elected President of the Oxford Union. President of Oxford Majlis Asian Society

Marriage: On 18 December 1987, Bhutto married Asif Ali Zardari in Karachi. The couple had three children: two daughters, Bakhtawar and Asifa, and a son, Bilawal. When she gave birth to Bakhtawar in 1990, she became the first modern head of government to give birth while in office.

Zia’s Pakistan, 1977-88

Zulfikar’s assassination and her arrests

Bhutto’s father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was removed from office in a 1977 military coup led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Chief of Army Staff. Zia imposed martial law and promised to hold elections within three months. But instead Zia charged her father with conspiring to murder the father of dissident politician Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Zulfikar’s family opposed Zia’s imposition of the ultra-conservative military dictatorship, despite the consequences to themselves drawn by their opposition. Benazir Bhutto and her brother Murtaza spent the next eighteen months in and out of house arrest while she worked to rally political support and attempted to pressure Zia to drop the murder charges against her father.

On behalf of Zulfikar Bhutto the Bhutto family filed a petition at the Chief Martial Law Administrator Office asking reconsideration of his sentence as well as the release of his friend Mubashir Hassan.The application was initiated by former law ministers Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Fakhruddin Ibrahim,

General Zia said he misplaced the petition. Although the murder charge remained “in doubt by the public”, and many foreign leaders appealed for clemency, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was convicted; then hanged on  4 April 1979 under the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Bhutto and her immediate family were held in a “police camp” until May 1979.

Benazir and Murtaza were arrested after a PPP victory in local elections. General Zia postponed national elections indefinitely and moved Benazir, Murtaza, and their mother Nusrat from Karachi to Larkana Central Jail. This was the seventh time Nusrat and her children had been arrested in the two years since the coup. After repeated placement of  the family in house detention, in March 1981, the regime finally imprisoned Benazir in solitary confinement in  Sukkur Jail in Sindh.

In her autobiography, Daughter of Destiny, she described conditions in her wall-less cage in that prison: “The summer heat turned my cell into an oven. My skin split and peeled, coming off my hands in sheets. Boils erupted on my face. My hair, which had always been thick, began to come out by the handful. Insects crept into the cell like invading armies. Grasshoppers, mosquitoes, stinging flies, bees and bugs came up through the cracks in the floor and through the open bars from the courtyard. Big black ants, cockroaches, seething clumps of little red ants and spiders. I tried pulling the sheet over my head at night to hide from their bites, pushing it back when it got too hot to breathe.”

She was provided even an air conditioner and medical check up trips to Karachi by air at the Mideast Medical Centre in Clifton

After six months of this,  Bhutto spent months in the hospital, and then was moved to Karachi Central Jail, where she remained until 11 December 1981. She was then placed under house arrest in Larkana for eleven months, and transferred to Karachi where she spent  another 14 more months under detention.

Release and self-imposed exile

In January 1984, after six years of house arrest and imprisonment, General Zia bowed to international pressure and allowed Bhutto and her family to leave Pakistan for medical reasons. After surgery, she remained abroad and resumed political activities, raising awareness about mistreatment of political prisoners in Pakistan at the hands of the Zia regime. In exile in the United Kingdom, Bhutto became a leader in exile of the populist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Bhutto’s efforts intensified political pressure on Zia, forcing him to holding a referendum to prove his government’s legitimacy. The vote held 1 December 1984, was a farce. Despite the best efforts of the government, only 10% of the electorate turned out to vote. In 1985 Benazir’s brother Shahnawaz died, apparently poisoned. The Bhutto family believed the murder was ordered by Zia and went into hiding.

 Jamshed Marker, Pakistan ‘s Ambassador to France has stated in his autobiography that General Zia had no hand in this. It was a drug overdose. Her brother who was a user.

Further pressure from the international community forced the president to hold elections; he scheduled them on a non-party basis for a unicameral legislature. Bhutto called for a boycott of this election because it was not in accordance with the constitution. She continued to raise her voice against the human rights violations of the Zia regime, and addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1985. In retaliation for this speech, Zia pronounced death sentences against 54 members of her party, through a military court in Lahore that he headed himself.

Zia died in a plane crash in August 1988. In November Pakistan held the first open general elections in more than a decade. Bhutto’s PPP won several provinces and won the largest percentage of seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament. As head of her party, Bhutto therefore became Prime Minister of Pakistan.

First Term as Prime Minister, 1988-90


Benazir Bhutto on a visit to Washington, D.C. in 1989

Benazir Bhutto became the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan on 2 December 1988.  Bhutto formed a coalition government on December 2 with the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, an ally she required as head of a minority government. Over time, Bhutto quietly isolated MQM from power, later ousting them to establish a single-party government that claimed a mandate from all of Pakistan. The effects of Zia’s domestic policies began to reveal themselves, and she found them difficult to counter. Bhutto had vowed to repeal the controversial Hudood Ordinance in her first term, and also to revert the Eighth Amendment, General Zia’s modification of the Constitution giving himself the power to dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections. Bhutto also promised to shift Pakistan’s semi-presidential system to a parliamentary system. But none of these reforms were implemented and Bhutto began to struggle with conservative president Ghulam Ishaq Khan over issues of executive authority.

Relations with India and Afghanistan War

Bhutto took office at the end of the Cold War, and aligned herself closely to United States President George H. W. Bush based on their shared distrust of communism. However she strongly opposed US support for the Afghan Mujahideen, and told George W. Bush he was creating a Frankenstein. Bhutto’s government oversaw major events in the alignment of the Middle East and South Asia. In the west, the Soviet Union withdrew from  Afghanistan in 1989-1990, and in 1990, the US-Pakistan alliance broke off due to US government’s suspicions about Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.

Bhutto attempted to revive good relations with neighbouring India and met with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. She negotiated a trade agreement when the Indian premier paid a farewell visit to Pakistan. The goodwill in Indian-Pakistani relations continued until 1990, when V. P. Singh succeeded Gandhi as premier. The influence of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Singh forced him to abrogate the agreements. Tensions also began to rise with Pakistan after the BJP enforced hardline policies inside Kashmir which the Pakistani government denounced. Soon the Singh administration launched a military operation in Kashmir to curb secessionists. In response, Benazir allegedly authorized covert operations to support secession movements in Indian Kashmir. In 1990 Major General Pervez Musharraf, then head of the Directorate-General for the Military Operations (DGMO), proposed a strategy against India to Bhutto that called for Kargil infiltration, but she declined because he didn’t have a contingency plan for dealing with any international fallout that might result. In 1988, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), met with Bhutto and advocated for supporting the Khalistan movement, a Sikh nationalist movement. Gul justified this as the only way to pre-empt new Indian threats to Pakistan’s territory. Bhutto disagreed and asked him to stop playing this card.

Bhutto also authorized further aggressive military operations in Afghanistan to topple the fragile communist regime and Soviet influence in the region. One nota authorization was military action in Jalalabad in Soviet Afghanistan to retaliate for the Soviets’ long unconditional support for India, a proxy war in Pakistan and Pakistan’s loss in the 1971 War. This operation was “a defining moment for her government”, proof of the loyalty to the armed forces. Planned by Hamid Gul and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Robert B. Oakley and known as the Battle of Jalalabad, it intended a conventional victory over withdrawing Soviet troops. The mission brutally failed within a couple of months with effectively no results. The morale of the involved Mujahideen slumped and many local commanders ended truces with the government.

Angered and frustrated by the outcome of the operation, Bhutto, already displeased with Gul, now sacked him. The decision to dismiss Gul was an authoritative move that surprised many senior statesmen, although they did back her. Gul’s replacement, Lieutenant General Shamsur Rahman Kallu, proved a more capable officer. Bhutto favoured a political settlement between all the Afghan Mujahideen factions and hence international legitimacy for the new government. This was never achieved and the factions began fighting each other, further destabilising the country.

Science policy: Bhutto followed the science and technology policy her father laid out in 1972, and promoted military funding of science and technology as part of that policy. However, in 1988, Bhutto was denied access to the classified national research institutes run by the military, which remained however under the control of the civilian president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the Chief of Army Staff. Bhutto was kept unaware about the progress of the nuclear complexes, even when the country passed the milestone in 1986 of fissile core manufacturing capability U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley was the first diplomat notified about the complexes, in 1988. Shortly afterwards Bhutto summoned chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Munir Ahmad Khan to her office; Khan brought Abdul Qadeer Khan with him and introduced him to the Prime Minister.At that meeting Bhutto learned the status of this program which had matured since its beginnings in 1978, and on request of A. Q. Khan, visited Khan Research Laboratories for the first time in 1989, much to the anger of Ishaq Khan. Bhutto also responded to Khan when she moved the Ministry of Science and Technology’s office to the Prime Minister Secretariat with Munir Ahmad Khan directly reporting to her. Bhutto had successfully eliminated any possibility of Khan’s involvement and prevented him from having any influence in science-research programmes, a policy which also benefited her successor Nawaz Sharif. During both her prime-ministerial terms Bhutto funded many projects entirely devoted to the country’s national defence and security. The dismissal of Lieutenant-General Gul by Benazir Bhutto had played a significant role on Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Beg, who did not interfere in matters pertaining to science and technology, and remained supportive towards Benazir Bhutto’s hard-line actions against the President.

In 1990 Benazir declined to allot funds to any military-science projects that would be placed under Lieutenant-General Zahid Ali Akbar, despite Akbar’s being known to have been close to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1990 she forced Akbar to resign from active duty, and as director-general of Army Technological Research Laboratories (ATRL); she replaced him with Lieutenant-General Talat Masood as E-in-C of ATRL as well as director of all military projects.

“If we don’t, India will go ahead and adopt aggressive designs on us . . . To preserve the minimum deterrence, tests should be performed this month or year . . . —Benazir Bhutto, 1998

In the 1980s, Benazir Bhutto started aerospace projects such as Project Sabre II, Project PAC, Ghauri project under Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1990 and the Shaheen programme in 1995 under Dr. Samar Mubarakmand.

During her second term, Benazir Bhutto declared 1996 as a year of “information technology” and envisioned her policy of making Pakistan a “global player” in information technology. One of her initiatives was the launching of a package to promote computer literacy through participation from the private sector.

Nuclear weapons program

In opposition to her conservative opponent Nawaz Sharif, whose policy was to make nuclear weapons program to benefit the economy, Benazir Bhutto took aggressive steps to modernize and expand the integrated atomic weapons program begun by her father in 1972, who was one of the key political administrative figures of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent development. During her first term, Benazir Bhutto established the separate but integrated nuclear testing program in the atomic bomb program, requiring the authorization of the Prime minister and the military leadership. Despite Benazir’s denial that she authorized the nuclear testing program in her second term she continued to modernize the program which she termed a “contractual obligation”.

“It took only two weeks and three days for Pakistan to master the [atomic [field . . . and (detonate) the nuclear devices of our own . . .”—Benazir Bhutto on first nuclear tests in May 1998

It was during her regime that the Pressler amendment came into effect, an attempt to freeze the programme. During frequent trips to the United States, Bhutto refused to compromise on the nuclear weapons programme, and attacked the Indian nuclear programme on multiple occasions. Benazir Bhutto misled the U.S. when she told them that the programme had been frozen; the programme was progressively modernized and continued under her watch. Under her regime, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) conducted series of improvised designs of nuclear weapons designed by the Theoretical Physics Group (TPG) at PAEC. Benazir Bhutto also carried messages to Munir Ahmad Khan from her father and back in 1979 as her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had instructed his daughter to remain in touch with the Chairman of PAEC. In this context, Bhutto had appointed Munir Ahmad Khan as her Science Adviser, and he kept her informed about the development of the programme. In all, the nuclear weapons and energy program remained a top priority, along with the country’s economy. During her first term, the nuclear program was under attack and under pressure from the Western world, particularly the United States. Despite economic aid offered by the European Union and the United States in return for halting or freezing the program, Benazir continued the program in both her first and second terms.

During her first term, Bhutto approved and launched the Shaheen programme and advocated for the programme. Bhutto also allotted funds for the programme. On 6 January 1996, Bhutto publicly announced that if India conducted a nuclear test, Pakistan could be forced to “follow suit”. Bhutto later said that the day will never arise when we have to use our knowledge to make and detonate a [nuclear] device and export our technology.

The People of (Pakistan) … are “security conscious” because of the (1971) severe trauma, and the three wars with (India). Our (Pakistan) nuclear development was peaceful … but was “an effective deterrence to India” … because (New Delhi) had detonated a nuclear device. She (Pakistan) …, thus, had to take every step to ensure its territorial integrity and sovereignty…-— Benazir Bhutto, on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons

Space program

Benazir Bhutto continued her policy to modernise and expand the space programme and as part of that policy, she launched and supervised the clandestine project integrated research programme (IRP), a missile programme which remained under Benazir Bhutto’s watch and successfully ended in 1996. Benazir established the National Development Complex and the University Observatory at Karachi University and expanded facilities for space research. Pakistan’s first military satellite, Badr-I, was also launched under her government through China, while the second military satellite Badr-II was completed during her second term. With launching of Badr-I, Pakistan became the first Muslim country to launch and place a satellite in Earth’s orbit. She declared 1990 a year of space in Pakistan and conferred national awards on scientists and engineers who participated in the development of this satellite.

1989 military scandal

In 1989, the media reported a sting operation and political scandal, codenamed Midnight Jackal, in which former members of ISI hatched a plan to topple the Bhutto government. Midnight Jackal was a political intelligence operation launched under President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg, whose objective was to pass a no-confidence motion in Parliament by bribing PPP members. Lieutenant-General Asif Nawaz had suspected the activities of Brigadier-General Imtiaz Ahmed, therefore, a watch cell unit was dispatched to keep an eye on him. This operation was exposed by ISI when it obtained a VHS tape containing the conversation between two former army officers and former members of ISI, from the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The tape was confiscated by ISI director-general Lieutenant-General Shamsur Rahman Kallu, who showed it to Benazir the next day. The video tape showed the conversation of Major Amir Khan and Brigadier-General Imtiaz Ahmad ; revealed that Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Aslam Baig wanted to end the government. Though the Brigadier failed to prove General Beg’s involvement, General Mirza, on the other hand, sharply denied the accusation and started full-fledged court martial of these officers, with Benazir being the civilian judge of JAG Branch to proceed the hearings. The officers were removed from their positions and placed at Adiala military correctional institute in 1989. The officers were released from the military correctional institute by order of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1996.


By 1990 the revelation of Midnight Jackal lessened President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s influence in national politics, government and the military. Bhutto was thought by the president to be a young and inexperienced figure in politics, though highly educated. But he miscalculated her capabilities; she emerged as a ‘power player’ in international politics. Bhutto’s authoritative actions frustrated the president; he was not taken in confidence when decisions were made. By 1990 a power struggle between the prime minister and president ensued. Because of the semi-presidential system, Bhutto needed permission from Khan to impose new policies. Khan vetoed many, as he felt they contradicted his point of view. Bhutto, through her legislators, also attempted to shift to a parliamentary democracy from the semi-presidential system, but Khan always used his constitutional powers to veto Bhutto’s attempts.

Tales of corruption in public-sector industries began to surface, which undermined the credibility of Bhutto. The unemployment and labour strikes began to take place which halted and jammed the economic wheel of the country, and Bhutto was unable to solve these issues due to the cold war with the President. In November 1990, after a long political battle, Khan used the Eighth Amendment to dismiss the Bhutto government following charges of corruption, nepotism, and despotism. Khan called for new elections in 1990, where Bhutto conceded defeat.

First term as leader of the opposition, 1990-93

The Election Commission of Pakistan called for the new parliamentary elections in 1990. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, or Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, won a majority in the Parliament. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, conservatives had a chance to rule the country. Sharif became the 12th prime minister of Pakistan and Bhutto was the leader of the opposition for the next five years.

In November 1992, Bhutto attempted to perform a 10-mile march from Rawalpindi to Islamabad. However, she was forced to discontinue the rally due to a threat of arrest from Prime Minister Sharif. The demonstration was an anti-government rally that upset Pakistan officials.  She was placed under house arrest and vowed to bring down the Pakistani government. In December 1992, a two-day march was conducted in protest of Nawaz Sharif. In July 1993, Nawaz Sharif resigned from his position due to political pressure.

From 1990 to 1993 Bhutto began to regularly attend lunches at the Institute of Development Economics (IDE), a think tank founded in the 1950s; she had been visiting IDE and reading its publications since the mid-1970s. During that time, the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA) launched a secret campaign against Benazir Bhutto’s image to demoralize party workers; the campaign brutally backfired on Nawaz Sharif when the media exposed the campaign and its motives. More than ₨. 5 million were spent on the campaign and it undermined the credibility of conservatives, who also failed to resolve issues between them.

Despite an economic recovery in late 1993, the IDA government faced public unease about the direction of the country and an industrialization that centered only in the Punjab Province. Amid protest and civil disorder in Sindh Province following the imposition of Operation Clean-up, the IDA government lost control of the province. The Peoples Party attacked the IDA government’s record on unemployment and industrial racism.

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the conservative government when Sharif attempted to revert the 8th Amendment and was unsuccessful. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto would unite to oust the president who lost the control of the country in a matter of weeks. Khan was forced to resign along with Nawaz Sharif in 1993, and an interim government was formed until the new elections. A parliamentary election was called after by the Pakistan Armed Forces. Both Sharif and Benazir Bhutto campaigned with full force, targeting each other’s personalities. Their policies were very similar but a clash of personalities occurred, with both parties making many promises but not explaining how they were going to pay for them.

Sharif stood on his record of privatisation and development, and pledged to restore his taxicab/taxi giveaway program. Bhutto promised price supports for agriculture, pledged a partnership between government and business, and campaigned strongly for the female vote.

Second term as Prime Minister, 1993-96


Benazir Bhutto being greeted by supporters.

Though the PPP won the most seats (86 seats) in the election but fell short of an outright majority, with the PML-N in second place with 73 seats in the Parliament. The PPP performed extremely well in Bhutto’s native province, Sindh, and rural Punjab, while the PML-N was strongest in industrial Punjab and the largest cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. On 19 October 1993, Benazir Bhutto was sworn as Prime Minister for second term allowing her to continue her reform initiatives.

Benazir Bhutto learned valuable lessons from the presidency of Ghulam Ishaq Khan, and presidential elections were soon called after her re election. After carefully examining the candidates, Benazir Bhutto decided to appoint Farooq Leghari as her president. Leghari was sworn in as the  8th President of Pakistan on 14 November 1993 as well as the first Baloch to have become president since the country’s independence. Leghari was an apolitical figure who was educated Kingston University London receiving his degree in same discipline as of Benazir Bhutto. But unlike Khan, Leghari had no political background, no experience in government running operations, and had no background understanding the civil-military relations.

She appointed Julius Salik as Minister for Population Welfare which was the first time a  main ministry was given to the minority community. The previous government had only appointed a minister of state or parliamentary secretary for them. Julius Salik,  a very popular leader among minorities won the seat to the National Parliament (MNA) by getting highest votes in Pakistan.

Domestic affairs

Benazir Bhutto was prime minister at a time of great racial tension in Pakistan. In confidential official documents Benazir Bhutto had objected to the number of Urdu speaking class in 1993 elections, in context that she had no Urdu-speaking sentiment in her circle and this discrimination was continued even in her government. Her stance on these issues was perceived as part of rising public disclosure which Altaf Hussain called “racism”. Due to Benazir Bhutto’s stubbornness and authoritative actions, her political rivals gave her the nickname “Iron Lady” of Pakistan. No response was issued by Bhutto, but she was soon associated with the term. The racial violence in Karachi reached a peak and became a problem for Benazir Bhutto to counter. The MQM attempted to make an alliance with Benazir Bhutto under her own conditions, but Benazir Bhutto refused. Soon the second operation, Operation Blue Fox, was launched to wipe the MQM from country’s political spectrum. The results of this operation remained inconclusive and resulted in thousands killed or  missing, with the majority being Urdu speaking. Bhutto demanded the MQM to surrender to her government unconditionally. Though the operation was halted in 1995, but violence continued and, Shahid Javed Burki, a professor of economics, noted that “Karachi problem was not so much an ethnic problem as it was an economic question.” Amid union and labour strikes beginning to take place in Karachi and Lahore, which were encouraged by both Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif to undermine her authority, Benazir Bhutto responded by disbanding those trade union and issuing orders to arrest the leaders of the trade unions, while on the other hand, she provided incentives to local workers and labourers as she had separated the workers from their union leaders successfully. Benazir Bhutto expanded the authoritative rights of Police Combatant Force and the provisional governments that tackled the local opposition aggressively. Bhutto, through her Internal Security Minister Naseerullah Babar, intensified the internal security operations and steps, gradually putting down the opposition’s political rallies, while she did not completely abandon the reconciliation policy. In her own worlds, Benazir Bhutto announced: “There was no basis for (strikes)… in view of the ongoing political process…”

In August 1993, Benazir Bhutto narrowly escaped an assassination attempt near her residence in the early morning. While no one was injured or killed, the culprits of this attempt went into hiding.  In December 1993, news began to surface in the Swat valley when Sufi Muhammad, a religious cleric, began to mobilise the local militia calling for overthrow of the “un-Islamic rule of [Iron] Lady”. Benazir Bhutto responded quickly and ordered the Pakistan Army to crack down n the militia; leading to the movement being crushed by the Army and the cleric was apprehended before he could escape.

However, corruption grew during her government, and her government became increasingly unpopular amid corruption scandals which became public. One of the most internationally and nationally reported scandal was the Agosta Submarine scandal. Benazir Bhutto’s spouse Asif Ali Zardari was linked with former Admiral Mansurul Haq who allegedly made side deals with French officials while acquiring the submarine technology. It was one of the consequences that her government was dismissed and Asif Ali Zardari along with Mansurul Haq was arrested and a trial was set in place. Both Zardari and Haq were detained due to corruption cases and Benazir Bhutto flew to Dubai from Pakistan in 1998.

Women’s issues

During her election campaigns, she had promised to repeal controversial laws (such as Hudood and Zina ordinances) that curtail the rights of women in Pakistan. Bhutto was pro-life and spoke forcefully against abortion, most notably at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where she accused the West of “seeking to impose adultery, abortion, intercourse education and other such matters on individuals, societies and religions which have their own social ethos.” However, Bhutto was not supported by the leading women organisations, who argued that after being elected twice, none of the reforms were made; instead controversial laws were exercised more toughly. Therefore, in 1997 elections, Bhutto failed to secure any support from women’s organisations and minorities also gave Bhutto the cold-shoulder when she approached them. It was not until 2006 that the Zina ordinance was finally repealed by a Presidential Ordinance issued by Pervez Musharraf in July 2006.  Bhutto was an active and founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, a network of current and former prime ministers and presidents.

Economic issues


The total GDP per capita stood between 8.4% (in the 1970s) and 8.3% (in 1993–96), periods of nationalization.

Pakistan suffered a currency crisis when the government failed to arrest the 30% depreciation in the value of the Pakistani Rupee from ₨. 21 to ₨.30 compared to the United States dollar. Soon economic progress became her top priority but her investment and industrialization programs faced major setbacks due to impressions formed earlier by investors of the People’s Party nationalization program in the 1970s. By the 1990s, Khan and Bhutto’s government had also ultimately lost the currency war with the Indian Rupee,  which beat the value of Pakistan rupee for the first time in the 1970s. Bhutto’s denationalization program also suffered from many political setbacks, as many of her government members were either directly or indirectly involved with the government corruption in major government-owned industries, and her appointed government members allegedly sabotaged her efforts to privatize the industries.

“Justice is economic independence. Justice is social equality . . .”—Bhutto, 1996, cited source

Overall, the living standard for people in Pakistan declined as inflation and unemployment grew at an exponential rate particularly as UN sanctions began to take effect. During her first and second term, the difference between rich and poor visibly increased and the middle class in particular were the ones who bore the brunt of the economic inequality. According to a calculation completed by the Federal Bureau of Statistics, the rich were statistically were improved and the poor declined in terms of living standards. Benazir attributed this economic inequality to be a result of ongoing and continuous illegal Bangladeshi immigration. Bhutto ordered a crackdown on and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Her action strained and created tensions in Bangladesh–Pakistan relations, as Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia refused to accept the deportees and reportedly sent two planeloads back to Pakistan. Religious parties also criticised Bhutto and dubbed the crackdown as anti-Islamic.

This operation backfired and had devastating effects on Pakistan’s economy. President Khan saw this as a major economic failure despite Khan blamed Bhutto for this extensive economic slowdown and her policies that failed to stop the illegal immigration. Khan attributed Bhutto’s government members corruption in government-owned industries as the major sink hole in Pakistan’s economy that failed to compete with neighbouring India’s economy

Privatization and era of stagflation


The GDP growth rate was at ~4.37% in 1993, which fell to ~1.70% in 1996, before Bhutto’s dismissal


During the periods of 1993–96, the local production of coal remained steady.

During her second term, Bhutto continued to follow former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s privatisation policies, which she called a “disciplined macroeconomics policy”. After the 1993 general elections, the privatisation programme of state-owned banks and utilities accelerated; more than ₨ 42 billion was raised from the sale of nationalised corporations and industries, and another US$20 billion from the foreign investment made the United States. After 1993, the country’s national economy again entered in the second period of the stagflation and more roughly began to bite the country’s financial resources and the financial capital. Bhutto’s second government found it extremely difficult to counter the second era of stagflation with Pressler amendment and the US financial and military embargo tightened its position. After a year of study, Bhutto implemented and enforced the Eighth Plan to overcome the stagflation by creating a dependable and effective mechanism for accelerating economic and social progress. But, according to American ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam’s bibliography, Bangladesh and Pakistan: Flirting with Failure in South Asia, the Eighth Plan (which reflected the planned economy of the Soviet Union) was doomed to meet with failure from the very beginning of 1994, as the policies were weak and incoherent.

On many occasions, Bhutto resisted the privatisation of globally competitive and billion-dollar-worth state-owned enterprises (such as Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Steel Mills). Instead the grip of nationalisation in those state-owned enterprises was tightened in order to secure the capital investment of these industries. The process of privatization of nationalized industries was associated with the marked performance and improvement, especially the terms of labour productivity. A number of privatized industries such as gas, water supply and sanitation, and electricity general, were natural monopolies for which the privatization involved little competition. Furthermore, Benazir did not privatize Pakistan Railways in spite of the calls made in Pakistan, and was said to have told the Planning Commission chief Naveed Qamar, “Railways privatization will be the ‘blackhole’ of this government. Please never mention the railways to me again”. Bhutto also resisted privatization of United Bank Limited Pakistan (UBL), but its management sent a recommendation for  privatisation which dismayed the labour union. The United Group of Employees Management asked Bhutto for issue of regulation sheet which she denied. The holding of UBL in government control turned out to be a move that ended in “disaster” for Bhutto’s government.

Foreign policy: Benazir Bhutto’s foreign policy was controversial. In her second term, Bhutto expanded Pakistan’s relations with the rest of the world. Like her father, Benazir Bhutto sought to strengthen relations with socialist states, and her visit to Libya strengthened the relations between the two countries. Benazir also thanked Muammar al-Gaddafi for his tremendous efforts and support for her father before and during Zulfikar’s trial in 1977. Ties continued with Libya but deteriorated after Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in 1990 and again in 1997. Gaddafi was said to be very fond of Bhutto and was a family friend of Bhutto family, but disliked Nawaz Sharif due to his ties with General Zia in the 1980s.

Benazir Bhutto is said to have paid a state visit to North Korea in early 1990 and again in 1996. According to journalist Shyam Bhatia, Bhutto smuggled CDs containing uranium enrichment data to North Korea on a state visit that same year in return for data on missile technology. According to the expert Benazir Bhutto acted as a female “James Bond”, and left with a bag of computer disks to pass on to her military from North Korea.


Benazir Bhutto in the United States, 1989

Major-General Pervez Musharraf worked closely with Bhutto and her government in formulating an Israel strategy. In 1993 Bhutto ordered Musharraf, then Director-General of the Pakistani Army’s Directorate-General for the Military Operation (DGMO), to join her state visit to the United States, an unusual and unconventional participation. Bhutto and Musharraf chaired a secret meeting with Israeli officials who travelled to the US especially for the meeting. Under Bhutto’s guidance Musharraf intensified the ISI’s liaison with Israel’s Mossad. A final meeting took place in 1995, which Musharraf also joined. Bhutto also strengthened relations  with communist Vietnam, and visited Vietnam to sign an agreement for mutual trade and international political cooperation the two countries. In 1995 Benazir Bhutto made another state visit to the United States and held talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Bhutto urged him to revise the Pressler Amendment and launch a campaign against extremism. She criticized US non proliferation policy and demanded that the United States honour its contractual obligation.

During her second term, relations with Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao further deteriorated. Like her father, Benazir Bhutto used rhetoric to oppose to India and campaign in the international community against the Indian nuclear programme. On 1 May 1995 she used harsh language in her public warning to India that “continuation of [Indian] nuclear programme would have terrible consequences”. India responded to this saying she was interfering in an “internal matter” of India, and the Indian Army fired a RPG at the Kahuta, which further escalated events. When this news reached Bhutto, she responded by alerting the Air Force Strategic Command. It ordered  armed Arrows, Griffins, Black Panthers and the Black Spiders to begin air sorties to patrol the Indo-Pakistan border on day-and-night regular missions. All of these squadrons are part of the Strategic Command. On 30 May, India test-fired a Prithvi-1 missile near the Pakistan border, which Bhutto condemned. She responded by deploying Shaheen-I missiles; however, they were not armed. Benazir Bhutto permitted the PAF to deploy the Crotale missile defence and the Anza-Mk-III near the Indian border, which escalated the conflict, but effectively kept the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force from launching any surprise attack.

In 1995 the ISI reported to Bhutto that Narasimha Rao had authorised nuclear tests, and that they could be conducted at any minute. Benazir put the country’s nuclear arsenal program  on high-alert made emergency preparations, and ordered the Pakistani armed forces to remain on high-alert. However the United States intervened, Indian operations for conducting the nuclear tests were called off and the Japanese government attempted to mediate. In 1996, Benazir Bhutto met with Japanese officials and warned India about conducting nuclear tests. She revealed for the first time that Pakistan had achieved parity with India in its capacity to produce nuclear weapons and their delivery capability. She told the Indian press, that Pakistan “cannot afford to negate the parity we maintain with India”. These statements represented a departure from Pakistan’s previous policy of “nuclear ambivalence.” Bhutto issued a statement on the tests and told the international press that she condemned the Indian nuclear tests. “If (India) conducts a nuclear test, it would forced her (Pakistan) to..”follow suit…” she said.

Bhutto also ratcheted up her policy on Indian Kashmir, rallying against India. At an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting at the United Nations, Bhutto, who was accompanied by her then-Speaker and future prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani (future prime minister) upset and angered the Indian delegation, headed by prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with a vehement criticism of India. Vajpayee responded, saying: “It is Pakistan which is flouting the United Nations resolution by not withdrawing its forces from Kashmir…You people create problems every time. You know the Kashmiri people themselves acceded to India. First, the Maharajah, then the Kashmiri parliament, both decided to go with India”.

Bhutto described Indian held-Kashmir as the worst example of “Indian intransigence” and dismissed Indian allegations of putative Pakistani nuclear tests as “baseless”. Bhutto criticized India’s bid to hide its plan to explode a nuclear device, and failure to cover up its domestic problems including its failure to suppress the freedom struggle in Kashmir.

Relations with military


Benazir at Social International’s 50th Anniversary held at Lisbon, Portugal

During her first term, Benazir Bhutto had strained relationship with the Pakistan Armed Forces, especially with Pakistan Army. Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg had cold relations with the elected prime minister, and continued to undermine her authority. As for the military appointments, Benazir Bhutto refused to appoint General Beg as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, instead invited Admiral Iftikhar Ahmed Sirohey to take the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto appointed Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah as the Chief of Air Staff and Admiral Jastural Haq as the Chief of Naval Staff. In 1988, shortly after assuming the office, Benazir Bhutto paid a visit to Siachen region, to boost the morale of the soldiers who fought the Siachen war with India. This was the first visit of any civilian leader to any military war-zone area since the country’s independence in 1947. In 1988, Benazir appointed Major-General Pervez Musharraf as Director-General of the Army Directorate General for Military Operations (DGMO); and then-Brigadier-General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as her Military-Secretary.  In 1989, the Pakistan Army exposed the alleged Operation Midnight Jackal against the government of Benazir Bhutto. When she learned the news, Benazir Bhutto ordered the arrest and trial of former ISI officer Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmad and Major Amir Khan, it was later revealed that it was General Beg who was behind this plot. General Beg soon paid the price in 1993 elections, when Benazir Bhutto politically destroyed the former general and his career was over before taking any shifts in politics. During her first term, Benazir Bhutto had successfully removed senior military officers including Lieutenant-Generals Hamid Gul, Zahid Ali Akbar Khan, General Jamal A. Khan, and Admiral Tariq Kamal Khan, all of whom had anti-democratic views and were closely aligned to General Zia, replacing them with officers who were educated in Western military institutes and academies, generally the ones with more westernised democratic views.

During her second term, Benazir Bhutto’s relations with the Pakistan Armed Forces took a different and pro-Bhutto approach, when she appointed General Abdul Waheed Kakar as the Chief of Army Staff. General Abdul Waheed was an uptight, strict, and a professional officer with views of Westernized democracy. Benazir also appointed Admiral Saeed Mohammad Khan as Chief of Naval Staff; General Abbas Khattak as Chief of Air Staff. Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan was appointed chairman Joint Chiefs who was the first (and to date only) Pakistani air officer to have reached to such 4 star assignment. Benazir Bhutto enjoyed strong relations with the Pakistan Armed Forces, and President who was hand-picked by her did not question her authority. She hand-picked officers and promoted them based on their pro-democracy views while the puppet President gave constitutional authorisation for their promotion. The senior military leadership including Jehangir Karamat, Musharraf, Kayani, Ali Kuli Khan, Farooq Feroze Khan, Abbas Khattak and Fasih Bokhari, had strong Western-democratic views, and were generally close to Bhutto as they had resisted Nawaz Sharif’s conservatism. Unlike Nawaz Sharif’s second democratic term, Benazir worked with the military on many issues where the military disagreement, solving many problems relating directly to civil–military relations. Her tough and hardline policies on Afghanistan, Kashmir and India, which the military had backed Benazir Bhutto staunchly.

After the assassination attempt, Benazir Bhutto’s civilian security team headed by Rehman Malik, was disbanded by the Pakistan Army whose X-Corps‘ 111th Psychological Brigade— an army brigade tasked with countering the psychological warfare— took control of the security that directly reported to Chief of Army Staff and the Prime Minister. Benazir Bhutto ordered General Abdul Waheed Kakar and the Lieutenant-General Javed Ashraf Qazi director-general of ISI, to start a manhunt to hunt down the ringmaster, Ramzi Yousef. After few arrests and intensive search, the ISI finally captured Ramzi before he could flee the country. In matter of weeks, Ramzi was secretly extradited to the United States, while the ISI managed to kill or apprehend all the culprits behind the plot. In 1995 she personally appointed General Naseem Rana as the Director-General of the ISI, who later commanded the Pakistan Army’s assets in which came to known as “Pakistan’s secret war in Afghanistan“. During this course, General Rana directly reported to the prime minister, and led the intelligence operations after which were approved by Benazir Bhutto. In 1995, Benazir also appointed Admiral Mansurul Haq as the Chief of Naval Staff, as the Admiral had personal contacts with the Benazir’s family. However, it was the Admiral’s large-scale corruption, sponsored by her husband Asif Zardari that shrunk the credibility of Benazir Bhutto by the end of 1996 that led to end of her government.

Policy on Taliban

1996 was crucial for Bhutto’s policy on Afghanistan when Pakistan-backed  religious group Taliban took power in Kabul in September. She continued her father’s policy on Afghanistan taking aggressive measures to curb the anti-Pakistan sentiments in Afghanistan. During this time, many of the international community at the time, including the United States government, viewed the Taliban as a group that could stabilise Afghanistan and enable trade access to the Central Asian Republics, according to author Steve Coll. He claims that her government provided military and financial support for the Taliban, even sending a small unit of the Pakistan Army into Afghanistan. Benazir had approved the appointment of Lieutenant-General Naseem Rana who she affectionately referred to him as “Georgy Zhukov“; and he reported to her while providing strategic support to Taliban. During her regime, Benazir Bhutto’s government had controversially supported the hardline Taliban, and many of her government officials were providing financial assistance to the Taliban. Fazal-ur-Rehman, a right-wing cleric, had a traditionally deep influence on Bhutto and he convinced and later assisted her to help the Taliban  regime as she established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In a reference written by American scholar, Steve Coll in Ghost Wars, he dryly put it: “Benazir Bhutto was suddenly the matron of a new Afghan faction—the Taliban.”

Under her government, Pakistan had recognised the Taliban regime as legitimate government in Afghanistan, allowing them to open an embassy in Islamabad. In 1996. The newly appointed Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef presented his diplomatic credentials while paying a visit to her. Other authors also wrote extensively on Bhutto’s directives towards Taliban. According to one author it became a fact that it was Bhutto, a Western-educated woman, who set in motion the events leading to the September 11 attacks in the United States.  However, in 2007, she took an anti-Taliban stance, and condemned terrorist acts allegedly committed by the Taliban and their supporters.

Coup d’état attempt

In 1995, Benazir Bhutto’s government survived an attempted coup d’état hatched by renegade military officers of the Pakistan Army. The ringleader of the coup was a junior level officer, Major-General Zahirul Islam Abbasi, who had radical views. Others included Brigadier-Generals Mustansir Billa, and Qari Saifullah. The ISI learned of this plot and tipped off the Pakistan Army and at midnight before the coup could take place, it was thwarted. The coup was exposed by Ali Kuli Khan, the Military Intelligence chief, and Jehangir Karamat, Chief of General Staff. The Military Intelligence led the arrest of 36 army officers and 20 civilians in Rawalpindi; General Ali Kuli Khan reported to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto early morning and submitted his report on the coup. After learning this, Benazir was angered and dismayed, therefore a full-fledged court martial was formed by Benazir Bhutto. Prime Minister Benazir issued arrests of numbers of religiously conservative leaders and denied  amnesty and clemency calls made by the Army officers. By 1996, all of the dissident officers were either jailed or killed by the Pakistan Army and a report was submitted to the Prime minister. General Kuli Khan and General Karamat received wide appreciation from the prime minister and were decorated with the civilian decorations and awards by her.

Death of younger brother: Since 1989, Murtaza and Benazir had a series of disagreements regarding the PPP’s policies and Murtaza’s opposition towards Benazir’s operations against the Urdu-speaking class. Murtaza also developed serious disagreement with Benazir’s husband, Zardari, and unsuccessfully attempted to remove his influence in the government. Benazir and Murtaza’s mother, Nusrat, sided with Murtaza which also dismayed the daughter. In a controversial interview, Benazir declared that Pakistan only needed one Bhutto, not two, though she denied giving or passing any comments. Her younger brother increasingly made it difficult for her to run the government after he raised voices against Benazir’s alleged corruption. Alone in Sindh, Benazir lost the support of the province to her younger brother. At the political campaign, Murtaza demanded party elections inside the PPP, which according to Zardari, Benazir would have lost due to Nusrat’s backing Murtaza and many workers inside the party willing to see Murtaza as the country’s Prime minister as well as the chair of the party. More problems arose when Abdullah Shah Lakiyari, Chief Minister of Sindh, and allegedly her spouse created disturbances in Murtaza’s political campaign. On 20 September 1996, in a controversial police encounter, Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead near his residence along with six other party activists. As the news reached all of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto hurriedly returned to Karachi, and an emergency was proclaimed in the entire province. Benazir Bhutto’s limo was stoned by angered PPP members when she tried to visit Murtaza’s funeral ceremonies. Her brother’s death had crushed their mother, and she was immediately admitted to the local hospital after learning that her son had been killed. At Murtaza’s funeral, Nusrat accused Benazir and Zardari of being responsible, and vowed to pursue prosecution.

President Farooq Leghari, who dismissed the Bhutto government seven weeks after Murtaza’s death, also suspected Benazir and Zardari’s involvement. Several of Pakistan’s leading newspapers alleged that Zardari wanted his brother-in-law out of the way because of Murtaza’s activities as head of a breakaway faction of the PPP. In all, after this incident, Benazir Bhutto lost all support from Sindh Province. Public opinion later turned against her, with many believing that her spouse was involved in the murder, a claim her spouse strongly rejected.

Second dismissal: In spite of her tough rhetoric to subdue her political rivals and neighbouring India and Afghanistan, the Bhutto government’s corruption heightened and exceeded its limits during her second regime; the most notable figures among those suspected were Asif Ali Zardari and Admiral Mansurul Haq. Soon after the death of her younger brother, Bhutto  became widely unpopular and public opinion turned against her government. In Sindh, Bhutto lost all the support from the powerful feudal lords and the political spectrum turned against her. In 1996, the major civil–military scandal became known internationally and nationally when her spouse Zardari was linked with the ex-navy chief and former Admiral Mansurul Haq. Known as Agosta class scandal, many of the higher naval admirals and government officials of both France and Pakistan governments were accused of getting heavy commissions when the deal was disclosed to sell this sensitive submarine technology to Pakistan Navy.

On 20 July 1996, Qazi Hussain Ahmed of Jamaat e Islami announced the start of protests against government alleging corruption. Qazi Hussain resigned from senate on 27 September and announced the plan to start a long march against Benazir government. Protests started on 27 October 1996 by Jamaat e Islami and opposition parties. On 4 November 1996, Bhutto’s government was dismissed by President Leghari primarily because of corruption and Murtaza’s death, who used the Eighth Amendment discretionary powers to dissolve the government. Benazir was surprised when she discovered that it was not the military who had dismissed her but her own hand-picked President. She turned to the Supreme Court in the hope of charging Leghari’s actions unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court justified it and affirmed President Leghari’s dismissal in a 6–1 ruling. Many military leaders who were close to Prime Minister than the President, did not want Benazir Bhutto’s government to fall, as they resisted the Nawaz Sharif’s conservatism. When President Leghari, through public media, discovered that General Kakar (Chief of Army Staff), General Khattak (Chief of Air Staff), and Admiral Haq (Chief of Naval Staff) had been backing Benazir to come back in the government; President Leghari aggressively responded by dismissing the entire military leadership and bringing pro-western but neutral military leadership that would supervise the upcoming elections. This was the move that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (elected in 1997) repeated in 1999, when Nawaz Sharif deposed General Jehangir Karamat after developing serious disagreement on issues of national security.

Criticism against Benazir Bhutto came from the powerful political spectrum of the Punjab Province and the Kashmir Province who opposed Benazir Bhutto, particularly on the nationalisation issue that led to losses in Punjab’s privatised industries under the hands of her government. Bhutto blamed this opposition for the destabilisation of Pakistan. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Jehangir Karamat at one point intervened in the conflict between President and the Prime Minister, and urged Benazir Bhutto to focus on good governance and her ambitious programme of making the country into a welfare state, but the misconduct of her cabinet ministers continued and the corruption she was unable to strike down with full force. Her younger brother’s death had devastating effect on Benazir’s image and her political career that shrunk her and her party’s entire credibility. At one point, Chairman of Joint Chiefs General Jehangir Karamat noted that:

In my opinion, if we have to repeat of past events then we must understand that Military leaders can pressure only up to a point. Beyond that their own position starts getting undermined because the military is after all is a mirror image of the society from which it is drawn— General Jehangir Karamat commenting on Benazir’s dismissal

Soon after her government was terminated, the Naval intelligence led the arrest of Chief of Naval Staff and convicted him through a running court-martial set up at the Naval Judge Advocate General Corps led by active duty 4-star admiral.  Many of her government members and cabinet ministers including her spouse were thrown in jail and the trials were set up at the civilian Supreme Court. Faced with serious charges by the Nawaz Sharif’s government, Bhutto flew to Dubai with her three young children while her spouse was thrown in jail. Shortly after rising to power in a 1999 military coup, General Pervez Musharraf characterized Bhutto’s terms as an “era of sham democracy” and others characterized her terms a period of corrupt, failed governments.

Second term as leader of the opposition, 1996–99: Benazir Bhutto faced wide public disapproval after the corruption cases became public, and this was clearly seen in Bhutto’s defeat in the 1997 parliamentary elections. Bhutto left for Dubai soon afterwards taking her three children with her, while her husband was set for trial.

Bhutto acted as Leader of the Opposition despite living in Dubai, and worked to enhance her public image while supporting public reforms. In 1998, soon after India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests, Bhutto publicly called for Pakistan to begin its own nuclear testing program, rallying and pressuring Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to make this decision. Bhutto learned from sources close to Sharif that he was reluctant to carry out the nuclear tests. Therefore, she felt, her public call for the test would increase her popularity. However, the strategy backfired—Nawaz authorized and ordered the scientists from PAEC and KRL to perform the tests. It was another political setback for Bhutto and her image gradually declined in 1998.

However, 1999 brought dramatic changes for Bhutto as well as the entire country. Bhutto criticized Sharif for violating the Armed Forces’s code of conduct when he illegally appointed General Pervez Musharraf as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan also criticised the Prime Minister.  In early 1999 Sharif enjoyed widespread popularity as he tried to make peace with India. However, all this changed when Pakistan became enmeshed with an unpopular and undeclared war with India. Known as the Kargil war, the conflict brought international embarrassment to Pakistan, and the prime minister’s prestige and public image was destroyed in a matter of two months. Bhutto criticised the prime minister, and called the Kargil War, “Pakistan’s greatest blunder”. Ali Kuli Khan, Director-General of ISI at that time, also publicly criticised the prime minister and labelled the fighting “a disaster bigger than East Pakistan”. Religious and liberal forces joined Bhutto in condemning Sharif for the conflict, and she made a tremendous effort to destroy his prestige and credibility, says historian William Dalrymple. Then in August 1999, an event completely shattered the remains of Sharif’s image and support. Two Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighters shot down a Pakistani Navy reconnaissance plane, killing 16 naval officers. Bhutto criticized Sharif for having failed to gather any support from the navy. The Armed Forces began to criticise the prime minister for causing the military disasters. Bhutto’s approval ratings were favourable and the Armed Forces chiefs remained sympathetic towards Bhutto as she continued to criticize the now-unpopular Sharif.

Bhutto was highly confident that her party would secure an overwhelming victory in the coming Senate elections in 1999, due to the prime minister’s widening unpopularity. Controversially, when the Pakistani armed forced initiated a coup d’état, Bhutto neither criticised nor issued any comment, remaining silent on supporting General Musharraf, as Dalrymple notes. She continued to support Musharraf’s coordinated arrests of the supporters and staff of Sharif. Musharraf destroyed Sharif’s political presence in Sindh and Kashmir provinces. Many political offices in Sharif’s constituency or district were forcibly closed and many sympathisers were jailed. In 2002, Bhutto and the MQM made a side-line deal with Musharraf that allowed both to continue underground political activities in Sindh and Kashmir, and to fill the gap after Musharraf had destroyed Sharif’s presence in the both provinces. The effects of the arrests were seen clearly in the 2008 parliamentary elections, when Nawaz Sharif failed to secure support back in those two provinces.

Charges of corruption: After President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto’s first government on 6 August 1990 because of corruption allegations, the government of Pakistan directed its intelligence agencies to investigate. Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in the ensuing elections and intensified prosecution investigation of Bhutto. Pakistani embassies through Western Europe—in France, Switzerland, Spain, Poland and Britain—were directed to investigate. Bhutto and her husband Zardari faced several legal proceedings, including a charge in Switzerland of money-laundering through Swiss banks. While never convicted, Zardari spent eight years in prison on similar corruption charges. Released on bail in 2004, Zardari hinted that while in prison he was tortured; human rights groups have supported his claim that his rights were violated.

A 1998 New York Times (NYT) investigative report claims that Pakistani investigators have documents that outline a network of bank accounts, all linked to the family’s lawyer in Switzerland naming Asif Zardari as the principal shareholder. According to the NYT article, documents released by the French authorities indicate that Zardari offered exclusive rights to Dassault, a French aircraft manufacturer, to replace the aging fighter jets of the Indian Air Force in exchange for a 5% commission to be paid to a Swiss corporation he controlled. The article also said that a Dubai company received an exclusive license to import gold into Pakistan, for which it paid more than $10 million into Zardari’s Dubai-based Citibank accounts. The owner of the Dubai Company denied making the payments and said the documents were forged.

Bhutto maintained that the charges against her and her husband were purely political. And report by  Pakistani auditor-general (AGP) supports Bhutto’s claim. It presents information suggesting that Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power in 1990 as the result of a witch hunt approved by then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The AGP report says Khan illegally paid legal advisers 28 million rupees to file 19 corruption cases against Bhutto and her husband in 1990–92.

Yet the assets held by Bhutto and her husband continue to be scrutinised and to generate speculation. Prosecutors have alleged that the couple’s Swiss bank accounts contain £740 million. Zardari also bought a neo-Tudor mansion and estate worth over £4 million in Surrey, England. Pakistani investigations have tied other overseas properties to Zardari’s family. These include a $2.5 million manor in Normandy owned by Zardari’s parents, who had only modest assets when he his married. Bhutto has denied owning substantive overseas assets.

Despite numerous investigations, court cases and charges of corruption registered against Bhutto by Nawaz Sharif between 1996 and 1999 and Pervez Musharraf from 1999 to 2008, she has yet to be convicted in any case, after twelve years of investigation. The Pakistani cases were withdrawn by the government of Pakistan after the return to power of Bhutto’s PPP in 2008.

Panama Papers: Bhutto was a client of Mossack Fonseca, whose customer records were disclosed in the Panama Papers leak. In 2001 the firm set up a company registered in the British Virgin Islands for Bhutto. She shared ownership of Petroline International Inc. with her nephew Hassan Ali Jaffery Bhutto, and her aide and head of security Rehman Malik, who later became a Senator and Interior Minister in the government of Yousaf Raza Gillani. Mossack Fonseca had declined to do business with Bhutto’s first company, similarly-named Petrofine FZC, established in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2000. Petrofine was “politically sensitive” they said, and “declined to accept Mrs Bhutto as a client.” A United Nations committee chaired by former head of the US Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, concluded in a 2005 investigation into abuses of the oil-for-food program that Petrofine FZC had paid US$2 million to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein to obtain US $115–145 million in oil contracts.

In 2006, the Pakistani National Accountability Bureau (NAB) accused Bhutto, Malik and Ali Jaffery of owning Petrofine. Bhutto and the PPP denied this. In April 2006 a NAB court froze assets owned in Pakistan and elsewhere by Bhutto and Zardari. The $1.5 billion in assets were acquired through corrupt practices, the NAB said, and noting that the 1997 Swiss charges of criminal money-laundering were still in litigation.

Early 2000s in exile



Benazir Bhutto interview during Socialist International meeting in 2007.

Once populist, by the end of the 1990s, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had become widely unpopular, and following the military coup, Sharif’s credibility, image and career were destroyed by Musharraf who formed the Pakistan Muslim League (Q)(PMLQ) in order to banish the former prime minister’s party support across the country. The PMLQ consisted of those who were initially part of Sharif’s party but then switched to Musharraf to avoid persecution and jail. 2000 brought positive change for Bhutto, who became widely unpopular in Pakistan in 1996.

In the 2000s, following the declassification of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission papers and other secret documents from the 1970s, Bhutto’s support in Pakistan began to grow. Her image became more positive and the PPP seemed likely to return to government, perhaps as soon the 2002 elections. Amid fears of Bhutto’s return, a threatened Musharraf released from imprisonment many members of the liberal-secular force MQM who had held beeb as political prisoner. Musharraf saw MQM as a vital political weapon to stave off and hold back the PPP. But MQM support was limited to Karachi at the time, and very lacking in the urban areas of Sindh, which remained a critical electoral threat for Musharraf. Therefore, in 2002 President Musharraf amended Pakistan’s constitution to ban prime ministers from serving more than two terms. This disqualified Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from holding the office again and was widely considered to attack them directly.

While she lived in Dubai Bhutto cared for her three children and her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She also travelled to give lectures in the U.S. and kept in touch with PPP supporters. She and the children were reunited with her husband in December 2004 after more than five years.

At the request of Pakistan, Interpol issued a request in 2006 for the arrest of Bhutto and her husband on corruption charges. The Bhuttos questioned the legality of the request in a letter to Interpol. On 27 January 2007, she was invited by the United States to speak to President George W. Bush and Congressional and State Department officials. Bhutto appeared as a panelist on the BBC TV programme Question Time in the United Kingdom in March 2007. She also appeared on the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight on several occasions. She rebuked comments made by Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq in May 2007 regarding the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, noting that he was calling for the assassination of foreign citizens.

In mid-2007, Bhutto declared her intention to return to Pakistan by the end of the year. But Musharraf said he would not allow her to enter the country before general election, scheduled for late 2007 or early 2008. Still, speculation circulated that she might have been offered the office of Prime Minister again. At the same time, the US appeared to be pushing for a deal in which Musharraf would remain president, but step down as head of the military, and either Bhutto or one of her nominees became prime minister.

On 11 July 2007, in an article about the aftermath of the Red Mosque incident, the Associated Press quoted Bhutto saying “I’m glad there was no cease-fire with the militants in the mosque because cease-fires simply embolden the militants.” This assessment was received with dismay in Pakistan, as reportedly hundreds of young students had burned to death. Their remains were untraceable and cases were being heard in the Pakistani Supreme Court, as a missing person’s issue. This and subsequent support for Musharraf led Elder Bhutto’s comrades like Khar to criticize her publicly. Bhutto however advised Musharraf in an early phase of the latter’s quarrel with the Chief Justice, to restore him. Her PPP did not capitalize on its influential CEC statesman, Aitzaz Ahsan, the chief Barrister for the Chief Justice, in successful restoration. Rather, he was seen as a rival of Bhutto, and isolated on that issue with PPP.

2002 Election: The Bhutto-led PPP secured the highest number of votes (28.4%) and won 80 seats (23%) in the national assembly during the October 2002 general elections. Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) managed to win only 18 seats. Some of the elected candidates of PPP formed a faction of their own, calling it PPP-Patriots, which was being led by Faisal Saleh Hayat, the former leader of Bhutto-led PPP. They later formed a coalition government with Musharraf’s party, PML-Q.

Return to Pakistan

Possible deal with the Musharraf government: In mid-2002 Musharraf implemented a two-term limit on prime ministers. Both Bhutto and Musharraf’s other chief rival, Nawaz Sharif, had already served two terms as prime minister.

In July 2007, some of Bhutto’s frozen funds were released. Bhutto continued to face significant charges of corruption. In an 8 August 2007 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Bhutto revealed the meeting focused on her desire to return to Pakistan for the 2008 elections, and for Musharraf to retain the Presidency with Bhutto as Prime Minister. On 29 August 2007, Bhutto announced that Musharraf would step down as chief of the army. On 1 September 2007, Bhutto vowed to return to Pakistan “very soon”, regardless of whether or not she reached a power-sharing deal with Musharraf before then. On 17 September 2007, Bhutto accused Musharraf’s allies of pushing Pakistan into crisis by their refusal to permit democratic reforms and power-sharing. A nine-member panel of Supreme Court judges deliberated on six petitions (including one from Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic group) asserting that Musharraf should be disqualified from contending for the presidency of Pakistan. Bhutto stated that her party could join one of the opposition groups, potentially that of Nawaz Sharif. Attorney-general Malik Mohammed Qayyum stated that pendente lite the Election Commission was “reluctant” to announce the schedule for the presidential vote. Farhatullah Babar of Bhutto’s party stated that the Constitution of Pakistan could bar Musharraf from being elected again because he was already chief of the army: “As Gen. Musharraf was disqualified from contesting for President, he has prevailed upon the Election Commission to arbitrarily and illegally tamper with the Constitution of Pakistan.”

My dialogue with Musharraf aims to move the country forward from a dictatorship that has failed to stop the tribal areas from becoming havens for terrorists. The extremists are even spreading their tentacles into Pakistan’s cities—Benazir Bhutto writing for The Washington Post

Musharraf prepared to switch to a strictly civilian role by resigning as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He still faced other legal obstacles to running for re-election. On 2 October 2007, Musharraf named Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani vice-chief of the army starting 8 October 2007, so that with the intent that if Musharraf won the presidency and resigned his military post, Kayani would become head of the army. Meanwhile, Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed stated that officials agreed to grant Benazir Bhutto amnesty from pending corruption charges. She had emphasised a smooth transition and return to civilian rule and asked Musharraf to shed his uniform. On 5 October 2007, Musharraf signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance, giving amnesty to Bhutto and other political leaders—except exiled former premier Nawaz Sharif—in all court cases against them, including all corruption charges. The Ordinance was signed a day before Musharraf faced the crucial presidential poll. Bhutto’s opposition party, the PPP, and the ruling PMLQ, were involved in negotiations beforehand about the deal. In return, Bhutto and the PPP agreed not to boycott the Presidential election.

On 6 October 2007, Musharraf won a parliamentary election to become President. However, the Supreme Court ruled that no winner could be officially proclaimed until it finished deciding whether it was legal for Musharraf to run for President while an Army General. Bhutto’s PPP party did not join the other opposition parties’ boycott of the election, but did abstain from voting. Later, Bhutto demanded security coverage on-par with the President’s. Bhutto also contracted foreign security firms for her protection.

The Assassination Attempt: Bhutto was well aware of the risk to her own life that might result from her return from exile to campaign for the leadership position. In an interview on 28 September 2007, with reporter Wolf Blitzer of CNN, she readily admitted the possibility of attack on herself.


While under house arrest, Benazir Bhutto speaks to supporters outside her house.

After eight years in exile in Dubai and London, Bhutto returned to Karachi on 18 October 2007, to prepare for the 2008 national elections. En route to a rally in Karachi on 18 October 2007, two explosions occurred shortly after Bhutto had landed and left Jinnah International Airport. She was not injured but the explosions, later found to be a suicide-bomb attack, killed 136 people and injured at least 450. The dead included at least 50 of the security guards from her PPP who had formed a human chain around her truck to keep potential bombers away, as well as six police officers. A number of senior officials were injured. Bhutto, after nearly ten hours of the parade through Karachi, ducked back down into the steel command center to remove her sandals from her swollen feet, moments before the bomb went off. She was escorted unharmed from the scene.

2007 state of emergency and response

On 3 November 2007, President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, citing actions by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and religious extremism in the nation. Bhutto returned to the country, interrupting a visit to family in Dubai. She was greeted by supporters chanting slogans at the airport. After staying in her plane for several hours she was driven to her home in Lahore, accompanied by hundreds of supporters. While acknowledging that Pakistan faced a political crisis, she noted that Musharraf’s declaration of emergency, unless lifted, would make it very difficult to have fair elections. She commented that “The extremists need a dictatorship, and dictatorship needs extremists.”

On 8 November 2007, Bhutto was placed under house arrest just a few hours before she was due to lead and address a rally against the state of emergency. The following day, the Pakistani government announced that Bhutto’s arrest warrant had been withdrawn and that she was free to travel and to appear  at public rallies. However, leaders of other opposition political parties remained prohibited from speaking in public.

The big thing is I’m back home and I’m glad that General Musharraf’s regime has not interrupted my welcome—Benazir Bhutto, the Daily Telegraph

On 24 November 2007, Bhutto filed her nomination papers for January’s Parliamentary elections; and two days later, she filed papers in the Larkana constituency for two regular seats. She did so as former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, following seven years of exile in Saudi Arabia, made his much-contested return to Pakistan and bid for candidacy.

Musharraf announced his plan to lift the Pakistan’s state of emergency rule on 16 December when sworn in again on 30 November 2007, this time as a civilian president after relinquishing his post as military chief. Bhutto welcomed the announcement and launched a manifesto outlining her party’s domestic issues. Bhutto told journalists in Islamabad that her party, the PPP, would focus on “the five E’s”: employment, education, energy, environment, equality.

On 4 December 2007, Bhutto met with Nawaz Sharif to publicize their demand that Musharraf fulfill his promise to lift the state of emergency before January’s parliamentary elections, threatening to boycott the vote if he failed to comply. They promised to assemble a committee that would present to Musharraf the list of demands upon which their participation in the election was contingent. On 8 December 2007, three unidentified gunmen stormed Bhutto’s PPP office in the southern western province of Balochistan. Three of Bhutto’s supporters were killed.


On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was killed while leaving a campaign rally for the PPP at Liaquat National Bagh in the run-up to the January 2008 parliamentary elections. After entering her bulletproof vehicle, Bhutto stood up through its sunroof to wave to the crowds. At this point, a gunman fired shots at her, and subsequently explosives were detonated near the vehicle killing approximately 20 people. Bhutto was critically wounded and was rushed to Rawalpindi General Hospital. She was taken into surgery at 17:35 local time, and pronounced dead at 18:16. The cause of death, whether it was gunshot wounds, the explosion, or a combination thereof, was not fully determined until February 2008. Eventually, Scotland Yard investigators concluded that it was due to blunt force trauma to the head as she was tossed by the explosion. She was buried next to her father in the Bhutto family mausoleum, Garhi Khuda Baksh, her family graveyard near Larkana.

The events leading up to Benazir Bhutto’s death correlated with the protest in 1992 when in December, Bhutto met with Nawaz Sharif and expressed frustration with his government. In response, a rally was conducted in Rawalpindi, at the same place then.

Al-Qaeda commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Pakistani government stated that it had proof that Baitullah Mehsud, affiliated with Lashkar i Jhangvi—an al-Qaeda-linked militant group—was the mastermind. However this was vigorously disputed by the Bhutto family, the PPP, and by Mehsud. On 12 February 2011, Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi issued an arrest warrant for Musharraf, claiming he was aware of an impending assassination attempt by the Taliban, but did not pass the information on to those responsible for protecting Bhutto. After the assassination, there were initially a number of riots resulting in approximately 20 deaths, of which three were of police officers. President Musharraf decreed a three-day period of mourning.

Bhutto’s 19-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari succeeded his mother as titular head of the PPP, with his father effectively running the party until his son completes his studies at Christ Church, Oxford. On 26 April 2013 a court ordered house arrest for Musharraf in connection with the death of Bhutto, and on 3 May 2013, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation of Bhutto’s murder was killed in Islamabad when attackers on a motorcycle sprayed his car with bullets as he drove to the courthouse.


Atomic proliferation with North Korea

The defence cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan started sometime in 1994 and the country led by Benazir Bhutto and her personal role had a much deeper and more controversial role in North Korea’s nuclear program. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had lasting friendship with Kim Il-sung— founder of the North Korean communist state. In a state visit paid by Benazir Bhutto in 1994, Benazir Bhutto closed the deal with the transfer of North Korean missile technology in return of nuclear technology, an allegation Benazir Bhutto had strongly dismissed. According to Zahid Hussain, author of “Frontline Pakistan”, there was a huge respect for Benazir Bhutto in the North Korean military, and they persuaded Bhutto to go and meet with Kim Jong-il.

Shyam Bhatia, an Indian journalist, alleged in his book Goodbye Shahzadi that in 1993, Bhutto had downloaded secret information on uranium enrichment, through Pakistan’s former top scientist Dr.Abdul Qadeer Khan, to give to North Korea in exchange for information on developing ballistic missiles (Rodong-1), and that Benazir Bhutto had asked him to not tell the story during her lifetime. David Albright of the Institute of Science and International Security said the allegations “made sense” given the timeline of North Korea’s nuclear program. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called Bhatia a “smart and serious guy.” Selig Harrison of the Center for International Policy called Bhatia “credible on Bhutto.” The officials at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. sharply denied the claims and the senior U.S. State Department officials dismissed them, insisting that, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who had been earlier accused of proliferating secrets to North Korea (only to deny them later, prior to Bhatia’s book), was the source, in spite of Pakistan Government’s denial. In 2012, senior scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, summed up to The News International that “the transfer of atomic technology was not so easy that one could put it into his pocket and hand it over to another country.” Abdul Qadeer Khan also asserted that: “The-then prime minister (Mohtarma) Benazir Bhutto summoned me and named the two countries which were to be assisted and issued clear directions in this regard.”

The members of PPP and the government strongly dismissed the “allegations” made by Qadeer Khan regarding Benazir Bhutto’s role in atomic proliferation. The Foreign Office categorically rejected Qadeer Khan’s claim, and maintained the fact that “the proliferation activity was an individual act, and did not carry authorization of Pakistan Government, at any stage.” The spokesperson of the People’s Party, Farhatullah Babar, also rebutted the claims as “a desperate attempt to wash his own guilt.”

Position on 1998 tests: In May 1998, India detonated its five nuclear devices in the Pokhran test range, and established itself as the world’s sixth nuclear power. Later it was confirmed that Bhutto and the PPP had made political gains by the call for conducting atomic tests and had an increase in their popularity in the country, which had suffered in the 1996 scandal.  In recent declassified and undated papers released by Wiki leaks in 2011, Bhutto assured the American diplomats that she was against conducting nuclear tests, and similar assurances were given by Nawaz Sharif to the American diplomats. But it later turned out that Bhutto had publicly sought for the conductance of tests in response to India. She justified the “eat grass” statement – frequently used by her father Zulfikar Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to assure the people of Pakistan that austerity measures would be adopted, and national security would not be compromised. In undated leaks, Bhutto was sought by the American diplomats multiple times to soften her stance of support for nuclear tests, and cautioned that her reaction to Indian tests had been criticized in the Western media.



Memorial at the site of the assassination

Commenting on her legacy, William Dalrymple writes that “it’s wrong for the West simply to mourn Benazir Bhutto as a martyred democrat since her legacy was far murkier and more complex”. Despite her western and positive image in the world, Bhutto’s controversial policies and support have made her legacy much more complicated. Benazir Bhutto failed to revert the controversial Hudood Ordinance — a controversial presidential ordinance which suppressed women’s rights, making them subordinate to men. In 2009, the CBS News, described her legacy as “mixed”, and commented that: “it’s only in death that she will become an icon—in some ways people will look at her accomplishments through rose-tinted glasses rather than remembering the corruption charges, her lack of achievements or how much she was manipulated by other people.”

By courtesy of