Monday, 19 December 2011 16:42
Benazir Bhutto took the mantle of power from her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, getting elected twice as Prime Minister of Pakistan. She inherited her bearing and physical presence from her mother Nusrat Bhutto. Her family and close friends knew her as "Pinky."
As a Muslim woman leader, Bhutto was almost an iconic figure in the West. She became the first woman prime minister of an Islamic state.
However, her career was a cycle of exile, house arrest, ascent to power and dismissal. Jailed and then exiled after her father's fall, Bhutto returned to campaign in 1986 after Zia's military government gave in to international pressure to slowly restore democracy.
In a scene reminiscent of her second coming in October 2007, she was greeted in April 1986 by hundreds of thousands of supporters, who enveloped her motorcade and staged a daylong demonstration that was the largest display in memory of discontent with Zia's government.
Zia's death in a plane crash in August 1988 helped to further loosen the military strictures around the country, and Bhutto became Prime Minister by December of that year. As a ruler, Bhutto got few favorable reviews in Pakistan. Her government passed no legislation except a budget during its first 14 months in power. Much of its energy was squandered feuding with the opposition.
Among the first acts of Bhutto's party after coming to power was a campaign to bribe and threaten legislators in Punjab. The goal was to overthrow Bhutto's opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Punjab's chief minister, a close associate of Zia's.
Worse yet, her Cabinet stank with corruption scandals, including allegations against her husband Asif Ali Zardari and her father-in-law Hakim Ali Zardari, who was chairman of the parliamentary public-accounts committee. With so much fscandal, Bhutto's first government lasted only until August 1990, dismissed by the country's President for "horse-trading for personal gain." Soon after, in November 1990, Nawaz Sharif, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, became Prime Minister.
Bhutto returned to power in 1993, after Sharif was felled by his own corruption scandal. But despite her claims, she did not have a working majority in parliament and had to wobble through her next few years in office as head of a fractious coalition, beholden to contentious blocs of power.
At the same time, Pakistan owed huge amounts to the International Monetary Fund as part of servicing its enormous $28.6 billion in foreign debts. Bhutto had raised taxes, which raised the level of discontent in the country. But even so, her government did not collect enough revenue. In an effort to appease the IMF, Bhutto gave up the finance portfolio she had held since retaking the government. "The debt servicing is breaking our backs — debt that I didn't incur," she told TIME. "But as Prime Minister, I have to pay it back." Rumors soon spread that her government would be dismissed. "Rubbish," she said. But that is exactly what happened. Soon, Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister again.
Nawaz Sharif himself would be overthrown in a coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Musharraf became an ally of the U.S. after September 11, 2001, when he became the guarantor of Pakistan against the tide of Islamic radicalism.
The popularity of Musharraf collapsed while the world looked at the future of Pakistan. In exile once again and with corruption charges against her, Benazir struck a deal with Musharraf, who was under pressure to restore democracy. Washington welcomed the process and she returned to retake what she always believed was hers.
Thousands showed up to welcome her and more than 100 died when the parade was attacked by unknown bombers. The last quarter of 2007 was filled with political maneuverings between herself, Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif, who had also returned from exile.
After one more stint under house arrest while Musharraf imposed a brief emergency rule, she seemed set for another triumph at the polls. But in the end, the violent cycle of Pakistani politics claimed another victim. She was killed on December 27, 2007 by an unkown assailant.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2011