Benazir Bhutto was one of the most complex and fascinating characters of our time. Hers is an epic tale of Shakespearean dimensions, of a privileged girl born into Pakistan’s equivalent of the Kennedy family. She would trade her Western lifestyle to become the first Muslim woman elected in history to lead an Islamic nation.
Benazir Bhutto was born into a wealthy landowning family that became Pakistan’s dominant political dynasty. The Bhutto family’s painful history of triumph and tragedy has played out on an international stage.
Educated at Harvard and Oxford, and with an eye on a foreign-service career, Benazir’s life changed forever when her father, Pakistan’s first democratically elected president, chose Benazir to carry his political mantle over the family’s eldest son. In the late 1970s, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown and executed by his handpicked Army Chief, Benazir swore to avenge her father and restore democracy — or to die trying.
Benazir Bhutto may have broken the Islamic glass ceiling, but she was not liberated in all of the ways the Western world might expect; she was wed in a traditional arranged marriage to a notorious Karachi playboy, Asif Ali Zardari (who is now president of Pakistan).
She served two terms in power as the Prime Minister of Pakistan marked by acts of courage and controversy. She eradicated polio and championed the rights of women while fighting the male-dominated political elite and a nervous military leadership, but was constantly defending herself against accusations of corruption and scandal.
In 2007, with the South Asian country in turmoil and under the thumb of yet another military dictator, Benazir was called back onto the world stage as Pakistan’s best hope for democracy. With her assassination she transcended politics, but left a legacy of simmering controversy and undeniable courage that will be debated for years.