Did Benazir Bhutto Hold Great Leadership Qualities?


Mustafa Akın
ENG 102 – 69
Aynur Kadıoğlu
Research Paper



    Benazir Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim country. She was Pakistan’s hope for true democracy, she had determination and vision to succeed and effects of her personality can easily be seen in her government term. Pakistan advanced very rapidly in very short time. However, conditions in Pakistan were not easy. Even though Benazir succeeded many, she had to deal with the great opposition that came from past and even now it continues.  Even Laurence Gourret, who criticizes Benazir harshly, in her book, Benazir, l’envers du voile, considers Pakistan as the “A country that is impossible to lead” (Gourret, 69) and this strong opposition she suffered causes her to be dismissed from office twice with charges of corruption and maladministration. After ten years, she decided to return and join elections for the fourth time but unfortunately, she was assassinated after a speech in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Return of Benazir may be considered as her biggest mistake her life; she should let another determined leader to be the candidate, who did not attract the attention of the opposition as much as she did.
    To have enough idea about Pakistan’s conditions, firstly, one must know about Zufliqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir, who was the former, executed prime minister of Pakistan. In 1979, General Zia-ul Haq has executed the prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto was elected from PPP, which stands for Pakistan People’s Party. He was the first democratically elected prime minister; however, military of Pakistan was never in the same line with democracy. Military always wanted military coup and Islamic Law to rule the country completely; and democracy proponents like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his “dearest daughter” Benazir Bhutto was always in the military’s and Islamic Fundamentalists’ target.  Neither the military nor mullahs were happy with democracy. Also, the biggest problem was that the leader was a woman and according to their interpretation of Islamic Law, the country must be ruled within strict rules of Islamic Law and by a strong male leader. As a result of oppositions’ desire to maintain the true law, both Bhutto leaders were murdered; father by court, daughter by Al-Qaeda. Benazir Bhutto’s governing period was so complicated; many events occurred positively and negatively in terms of her leadership and now it is very hard to determine her true leadership qualities, because many people lack the objective point of view including the opposite side and her supporters. Opposition always hides behind the Islamic Law, and her supporters support her due to their respect to her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, regardless of what she has accomplished. In addition, Benazir Bhutto was the only hope for Pakistan as there was not any leader or leading figure, so Benazir was the only choice for military opponents and supporters of democracy. However, being the sole preference does not imply that Benazir Bhutto was a bad leader; indeed it forced Benazir Bhutto to struggle the retrogressive force in Pakistan alone and be more powerful. In this research, to understand whether Benazir Bhutto was a great leader or whether she was just a place holder for her father, firstly her life will be examined objectively in the section “From Birth to Death: Benazir Bhutto”. After getting enough knowledge of her short life, one of the biggest catastrophes of her life, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former and executed president of Pakistan and militaries opposition and hate against proponent of westernization will be flicked through. After having a quick overview of military’s desire on governance, the period in which Benazir Bhutto was most active, her government term will be scanned, her successes and failures will be covered deeply. In addition, for understanding the strong opposition that Benazir faced will be examined objectively. Finally, this research paper finishes with the concluding remark.
From Birth to Death: Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi, on 21 June 1953. In the age of 16, she left Pakistan to study at Harvard’s Radcliffe College. After completing her study at Radcliffe, she studied at Oxford University and graduated in 1977. After graduating from Oxford, she came back to her homeland, where her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was recently elected as the prime minister. However, military detained the power and Ali Bhutto was imprisoned. In 1979, General Zia-ul Haq’s military government executed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
During military coup, Benazir was arrested many times and captivated for three years. After her imprisonment, she was allowed to leave the country and she went to live in London. She found an underground resistance to military dictatorship according to the Achievement web site. When her brother died in 1985, she returned to Pakistan to bury her brother, but again got arrested for anarchistic conventions. After her release, she returned to London. In the following months, martial law was dismissed at the end of the year, and Benazir returned to Pakistan safely. Achievement web site points out that Benazir joined anti-Zia protests and called resignation of Zia Ul-Haq. In 1988, free elections were held and as co-chairwoman of Pakistan People’s Party, she became Prime Minister at the age of 35 and she was the first woman to work as a prime minister in an Islamic country.
Despite all, in two years, as stated in website Achievement, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Bhutto from office because of the charges of corruptions. Although Benazir Bhutto was terminated from the office, she was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1993. While in her duty, she brought electricity to countryside and constructed many schools all over the country. She dealt with starvation, housing and health care and worked to modernize Pakistan.
However, Bhutto was dismissed from office by President Leghari of Pakistan, being accused of poor management and corruption. After forcible transfer from the office, Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari was arrested, re-election campaign for Bhutto failed, and the military established the downfall of the next government of Nawaz Sharif. Benazir Bhutto had to leave the country for once again and she went to London to live in exile as the Achievement web site points out.
In 2007, despite the threat of Islamic extremists and the hostile government, Benazir decided to return to her homeland. She was welcomed with crowds, however her convoy was attacked. Although the attack failed on Bhutto, over hundreds of people died in the attack. In the elections in 2008, PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) chose Benazir Bhutto for elections, to be a prime minister candidate. However, in an election campaign in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, she was attacked again and unfortunately she was not lucky this time as before, this suicide attack has ended Benazir’s painful life.

Path of Being First Woman Leader of an Islamic Country

Her Father’s Death

    Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first prime minister of Pakistan that came with free elections. He was a member of Pakistan People’s Party. According to his daughter, Ali Bhutto challenged the feudal system and tried to take the lands from chiefs of tribes and give back to the public and also created new employments, built schools and modernized Pakistan in 6 years (Bhutto, 23). However, the army leader of Pakistan, General Zia, claiming to be loyal to her father, made Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto be arrested in 5 June 1977, overthrew PPP (Pakistan People’s Party)’s government, and ruled the country with force for nine years. In these nine years, Bhutto family was under pressure and each member was arrested many times during military coup. Benazir considers herself as an opposition to Al-Qaeda and Taliban and as the symbol of modernization which the jihadists strongly disagree with (Bhutto, 10).
Democratization Process
    According to Bhutto, military did not think that a pregnant woman would join elections (Bhutto, 11). Benazir knew this and despite all the difficulties, after her child’s birth, she joined and won the elections. Her ambition has always affected her life. In 1987, Pakistan and India were so close for a conflict and military had prepared a simulated military operation. Although Bhutto was pregnant, she kept this from everyone and watched the operation in the high grounds, where she and her baby could suffer from lack of oxygen. However, whenever the defiance learnt this pregnancy of their prime minister, they started campaigns for dismissing Benazir Bhutto from office, claiming that Benazir would not rule the country adequately while being pregnant and after birth of her child. This reason was a cloak; military and defiance were always annoyed of a woman leader in an Islamic country and military itself was not able to tolerate sharing the power with a civilian government.
    In his book Women Who Led Nations, Axelrod-Contrada states that when Bhutto was elected, Pakistani people considered Benazir Bhutto as a savior and called her “Jiye Bhutto” meaning “Bhutto Lives” (Axelrod-Contrada, 5). Almost everyone from the public, except military of course, was seeing her as liberator against the dictators. Although Bhutto promised to save her people, mostly she was challenged with political opposition and especially Nawaz Sharif, head of the Islamic Democratic Alliance, who wanted Islamic Law to dictate the civil law. Additionally, according to the women rightists, Benazir was not performing enough to restraint the power of Islamic fundamentalists. However, in her autobiography, Daughter of The East, she claims that she is proud of her performance on reforms (Bhutto, 455).
    Charges of corruption against herself and her husband were one of the major problems she was suffering. Surprisingly, according to Axelrod-Contrada, cabinet seats were exchanged for support in her policies in Parliament. This accusation is huge but hard to prove and seems like the phrase of a fanatic opponent within the military and Islamic fundamentalists. However, combined with other problems mentioned above and from a different point of view, once can have doubts about Benazir’s leadership; and also claim that Benazir Bhutto was not the savior of Pakistani People and did not actually think of bringing democracy back; she was trying to hold her position. The refuting argument here is not hard to guess: if she were just trying to hold her position, she would not face the threat of death and would come back to Pakistan in 2007 although she was warned from Al-Qaeda directly, as mentioned in the biography part.
    Despite the accusations mentioned above, her government was successful in reforming the country. As an example, in her governance term, she brought mobile phones, brought CNN Television, maintained a few woman ministers in the parliament, founded “Supporting Woman Bank”, gave the involvement in international sports competitions back to the women and the limits that were crushing the women under the Islam cloak were removed (Bhutto, 455-456). Additionally, 18.000 schools were built and export was increased by 25 percent.
    Shortly, in the democratization process of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto has played a huge role; she saved her people from the military for a while and brought much advancement from the Western such as electricity and television. Despite all the good things she accomplished, puritanical force in her country was always humiliating her personally and obstructing her reforms. Unfortunately, obsession of military on Benazir Bhutto and PPP (Pakistan People Party) caused Benazir’s government to fall two times and made them lose the elections in 1997.



    The best phrase summarizing Pakistan and the democracy is the graffiti on Karachi walls that was mentioned by Christina Lamb, in her book Waiting for Allah (Lamb, 276). In the graffiti says in Arabic, “We apologize for this temporary democratic interruption. Normal martial law will be resumed shortly.” Even if Benazir’s government was overthrown by so called democracy, President Khan used the law brought by General Zia in the military coup, which allows President to dismiss the current government from the office and in 1990, President Khan overthrew Benazir government. Khan interpreted the reasons as the following: Government’s corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and general incompetence (Economist, Vol. 316, Issue 7667). Although President promised to have elections sooner or later, Benazir Bhutto considered this action as "a constitutional coup d’état". To soften the results of this “coup d’état”, opposition in parliament suggested a vote of confidence; however no voting was made because of Benazir’s majority in Parliament; the results would probably not please army and Ishaq Khan and military.
    Despite all the challenges Bhutto has faced; she was determined to get back to office and rule his country with true democracy. It was her determination that opened her the doors and created the way to success in whole life; this can easily be seen from her biography. What’s more, the advice she got from British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, which suggests avoiding quarrel and letting her other enemies to attack each other (Axelrod-Contrada, 5) helped her to gain the power back and Bhutto joined and won the elections again from PPP in October 1993. President Khan dismissed Nawaz Sharif from the office, in charges of corruption.
    In her second term of governance, Bhutto faced family problems. Her brother, Murtaza Bhutto, came back from exile, stated that he also had the right to inherit his father’s political legacy and her mother, Nusrat Bhutto supported her son; claiming that “strong male line” should be heirs of her husband, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Axelrod-Contrada, 5). However, according to Nusrat Bhutto, her daughter was turning into a “little dictator”; because when Nusrat and her supporters went to visit former executed Prime Minister Ali Bhutto’s grave Bhutto ordered local police to detain them including her own mother. Even if Benazir Bhutto wanted the police to arrest her own mother, her mother was a serious threat to her governance and was clearly expressing that Benazir should not govern while there were his son, in the words of Nusrat Bhutto, “strong male line”. However, it seems that Benazir was stronger than his brother and got into politics with a great determination very quickly.
    The problems which are being increased cumulatively caused her government to fall for the second time. In 1996, her government was dismissed with same reason again, but by a different president Farooq Leghari . After facing her second major hit from the opposition and losing the elections to Imran within 1997 (Gourret, 198); Benazir Bhutto left the country because of the corruption accusations, and then she was sentenced to prison for 3 years. She lived in England and Dubai, far from her country, but in peace, at last. However, should a leader run away from 3 years prison? Compared to Nelson Mandela, this act of Benazir Bhutto can be considered as a runaway; a great leader like Mandela should not escape from trouble. In any condition, solution should not be running away. In Pakistan; pressure of mullahs and other Islamic fundamentalist opponents can be tough; however, a great leader should be able to deal with the problem, not eliminate it. The conditions may be very tough for her, even tougher than anyone else’s, but a leader’s greatness comes from facing the problems, not running away from them. 
    When living a free life without pressure, Benazir Bhutto probably had missed her own land and her own people but the years in London and Dubai must have been rougher than her governance years; she did not even mention about these years a single word in her autobiography. According to the information on the back side of her autobiography Daughter of East, she completed her autobiography only two months before of her death and she concentrated on every event until her election defeat in 1997, including her first exile in London. It would be better if she clarified the main question that she needs to answer: What did Benazir do in 10 years? At least, she answers the other major question that why she joined the elections in 2007:
    “Some people may not understand why I left a comfortable life and faced these threats. So many people has sacrificed much for so many things, so many died and so many see me as the hope of liberty. Now, I cannot run away from the battle. Dr. Martin Luther King’s phrase comes to my mind: “Our lives ends when we keep our silence in important issues.”. And I confide myself to my own people by my belief on god.”
    While military-based president was ruling Pakistan, time was rough and once she left the country with a huge defeat election, she thought it was the best to stay away from her country for a while. However, Pervez Musharraf signed a dismissal of corruption accusations and this was a new hope for Benazir. Nevertheless, even if she was cleared from accusations, it could be a better option to leave the elections to a new or younger person, who did not attract attention of opposition for years. But Benazir must have thought that she could deal with opposition best among others, without giving up.
    Although forgiveness by Musharraf guaranteed that no arrestments will be made, it would not stop Al-Qaeda from killing Benazir Bhutto. In 2007, Benazir Bhutto was again running for elections for her country, however, this time oppositions’ response was cruel and inhuman, and far from democracy and even far from the Islamic Law that they stand for. As mentioned above in Democratization Process part, Bhutto was always ambitious; however her ambition caused her death. Pakistani people were devastated by Benazir Bhutto’s death and today, Pakistan’s hope for true democracy is almost lost.


    From the perspective of opposition; Benazir Bhutto was always a threat to Islamic Law and good of the country. In the book Benazir, l’envers du voile, Laurence Gourret states that President Leghari who dismissed Bhutto from the office expressed that the guiltiest person was Benazir’s husband (Gourret, 203); she and her husband together, consumed the resources of country, got richer every day and she was trying to overcome the Islamic Law. In the same book, it is argued that Zulfiqar Ali had chosen her as his successor in politics when she was only a teen (Gourret, 39). She is just a place holder for his father and her leadership is not adequate for Pakistan. These main points of opposition in Pakistan may be considered exaggerated and untrue. However, she faced great problems in her leadership period and she could not handle many problems; she should have been able to deal with her problems; instead of running away from the country in 1996. Also, Benazir Bhutto knew the situation better than everyone else and maybe she could have reconsidered being pregnant at that time, for the good of the country. As mentioned in the previous parts, her pregnancy caused opposition to act against her government. Additionally, trying to get and win elections for the third time can be considered as a failure. Because, when she decided to leave Pakistan, she should have abandoned her political career there. She had great opposition from Al-Qaeda and mullahs, and they had threatened her for to not come back to country again. 11 years had passed and obviously nothing had changed; she was still not wanted by opposition. It would be better for anyone new to be elected from PPP as stated before in the De-democratization part; someone younger and who did not create hatred against himself/herself. Shortly, returning to Pakistan after 11 years was clearly a mistake, but a sign of true vision and determination to accomplish things she believes.
    Although all the accusations and mistakes stated, she did great things to her country, in the means of improvement; she opened many schools, brought technology, gave many rights back to women and made roads. She may not be a great leader, but she is definitely a good one. She had very strong determination as it can be seen his life and her decisions. Also she had vision, she knew that Pakistan must advance, she brought many technologies and provided many opportunities to her people, which any military coup before her could not. Considering the political turbulence in Pakistan and the strict rules of Islamic government before her, what she has at least “tried” to accomplish can also be accepted as a success in itself.   

Works Cited

Axelrod-Contrada, Joan. Women Who Led Nations , 1999


Biography, <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/bhu0bio-1&gt;

Bhutto banished. Economist, 00130613, 8/11/90, Vol. 316, Issue 7667

Bhutto, Benazir. Daughter of the East. Pegasus, 2008.

Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali. My Dearest Daugter. Classic, Lahore.

Bhola, P. L. Benazir Bhutto, opportunities and challenges / P.L. Bhola. Yuvraj Publishers &

Distributo New Delhi, 1989.

Gourret, Laurence. Benazir, l’envers du voile.<I style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal"> </I>Milliyet Yayınları, İstanbul, 1998.

Lamb, Christina. Waiting for Allah : Pakistan’s struggle for democracy, Viking, New Delhi ;


2 thoughts on “Did Benazir Bhutto Hold Great Leadership Qualities?

  1. alperensaylar

    Sana bir ara margaret thatcher’ın liderlik anlayışını göndereyim mustafa hayattan soğursun, ben soğudum şahsen yazarken😀

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