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This Happened

This Happened—November 16: Pakistan Makes Political History

It was 34 years ago today when voters elected Benazir Bhutto to be the youngest ever and first female Prime Minister of Pakistan.

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Who was Benazir Bhutto?

Bhutto was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister who was executed by his political rivals after a coup.

Benazir Bhutto decided to run for prime minister to pick up her father's secular legacy and opening of Pakistan toward teh rest of the world. After a tumultuous round of elections, and the death of rival and incumbent Muhammad Zia Ul-Huq, Bhutto led the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to victory in 1988, becoming the nation’s first female Prime Minister.

During her time in office, Bhutto prioritized advancing women’s rights in Pakistan despite its fundamentalist Islamic laws. She created a women’s division in the government, opened numerous all-female police stations to make women feel safer, and appointed female judges to deal with family matters in the courts, all with hopes of increasing women’s representation in Pakistani society.

Was Benazir Bhutto popular in Pakistan?

Bhutto’s administration was under constant scrutiny from day one. She was opposed by the conservative islamist opposition, and her power was restricted by Pakistan’s strong military and powerful politicians, including president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

In 1990, Bhutto was removed from office on grounds of corruption and nepotism, while conservatives are widely believed to have rigged the election to secure their power.

Bhutto would win again in 1993, and serve as Pakistan’s leader until 1996. On December 27, 2007, Bhutto was waving out of her vehicle after delivering a PPP speech when she was shot at three times. The shooter detonated a suicide vest and Bhutto was pronounced dead, leaving behind a legacy of women’s empowerment in Pakistan. She now rests with her father — who had been executed by his political rivals — in the Bhutto family mausoleum.

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