Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s first female prime minister. Bhutto was born June 21, 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan, the oldest child of former premier and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) party leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Benazir completed her early education in Pakistan, and then pursued higher education in the United States and United Kingdom.
In 1969, at age 16, Bhutto enrolled in Radcliffe College at Harvard University. For the first time in her life, Bhutto was not famous for being her father’s daughter, and she relished the privacy. Known as “Pinkie,” the Eliot House resident participated in campus life, even joining student protests against the Vietnam War. She later described her time at Harvard as “four of the happiest years of my life” and the “the very basis of my belief in democracy.”
She earned a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in comparative government in 1973. Next, Bhutto studied international law and diplomacy at Oxford University and became president of the prestigious Oxford Union debating society.
Daughter Of Destiny
Within weeks of Bhutto’s return to Pakistan in 1977, a military coup ousted her father’s government. Then 24 years old, she took her stand opposing General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator who imprisoned the deposed premier and imposed martial law. On April 4, 1979, despite all calls for clemency, Zulfikar Bhutto was hanged. His wife and children had been arrested repeatedly after the military coup, and the detentions continued after the execution. Benazir suffered squalid prisons and house arrests, experiences she would later describe in her book, Daughter of Destiny. In 1982, she succeeded her mother as chair of the PPP, the party that Zulfikar Bhutto had co-founded. She held this position until her death in 2007.
The Bhutto family went into exile abroad in 1984. Benazir returned to Pakistan in 1986 at the end of martial law. The following year, she married Asif Ali Zardari, and their first child was born just three months before Bhutto won the first democratic election in Pakistan in over a decade. On December 1, 1988, she became, at age 35, the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation and the youngest head of state ever in her country. She visited Harvard in 1989 to accept an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree and deliver the commencement address, in which she called for support of fledgling democracies around the world.
Bhutto’s policies sought reforms in Pakistan, but her administration was a troubled one. In 1990, the president dismissed her on charges of inefficacy and corruption. She was later acquitted, and was reelected to the same office in 1993, only to be removed again three years later. Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in Britain and Dubai, and was convicted of corruption in absentia. She continued to lead the PPP from abroad.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, after President Pervez Musharraf granted her amnesty. Relations between Bhutto and Musharraf quickly deteriorated as Bhutto and her supporters were attacked several times, with hundreds killed, and she blamed members of Musharraf’s inner circle. At a PPP rally on December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack. Her death sparked riots that claimed even more lives. Benazir Bhutto was posthumously awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.
Benazir Bhutto’s Commencement Speech