Many thought Benazir would leave politics and devote herself to her family. But this summer the army tired of her successor and rival, Nawaz Sharif, and forced him out of office. Under her leadership, the Pakistan People's Party scraped home in the elections earlier this month.
Since the judicial murder of her beloved 'papa', the deposed President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, by a military government in 1979, Benazir has been a driven woman, motivated by a desire to avenge his death and ensure the preservation of the dynasty. And she has always always been at her best in opposition. After her dismissal three years ago, she criss-crossed the country tongue-lashing Sharif and the soldiers who, she claims, rigged the ballot that put him in office in her place.
There is no doubting Benazir's courage and sheer stamina. Consider how she returned home in 1986 from exile in London, in the knowledge that she was risking imprisonment or death. Hundreds of thousands thronged the streets as she barnstormed her way across Pakistan, rehearsing the tale of her father's martyrdom and campaigning for an end to the military government of General Zia ul Haq, who had ordered her father's execution. In November 1988, five months after Zia's apparent assassination when his plane exploded in flight, she was finally elected prime minister.
And there, at the point of triumph, things fell apart. 'She is superb in opposition,' says a family friend. 'But she has no idea about governing.' Party activists who wanted their reward moved into positions of power. In best Pakistani tradition, family and friends took up senior posts. Benazir's husband, commonly known as Mr Ten Per Cent, entered the cabinet. So did her mother, Begum Nusrat, a woman with no political experience or judgement. Girl friends who referred to the new prime minister as 'Bibi' filled her office with trivial chatter.
By Pakistani standards Benazir's first administration was neither particularly corrupt nor particularly vicious. It simply lacked direction and delivered so much less than ordinary people had hoped. Some of the blame for this failure can be placed at the door of the army, the civil service, the president and opposition politicians led by Nawaz Sharif, who, after 22 months, was to replace Benazir. But some of it, most of it, must be down to Benazir's inexperience and her preoccupation with achieving power rather than exercising it.
It is easy to see how the obsession began. On the day before they killed her father, Pakistan's ruling generals made what they regarded as a concession to Benazir. What happened was this: A group of army officers arrived at the disused police training camp at Sihala, outside Karachi, where she was detained with her mother. She was told that her weekly vist to her imprisoned father - the first directly elected ruler of Pakistan - could be brought forward. Benazir guessed, rightly, that her father's execution was imminent.
In Rawalpindi Central Jail the humiliation continued. Benazir stood for 30 minutes grasping the bars of the squalid condemned cell that kept her from touching her father. Wasted from malaria and dysentery, unshaven, his gums rotting, stood the most charismatic leader Pakistan had ever known, in a cell from which all but his bed roll had been removed.
'You are my jewel,' he whispered, according to Benazir. 'You always have been.' He attempted to persuade her to leave the country. She refused, saying that the struggle must go on. The Pakistan People's Party that he had created had to survive. 'I'm so glad,' he said, and - again, according to Benazir - went on to discuss the legend that would arise around his name after his burial in the vast family estate in Sind.
Such is the stuff of which myths are born. It was the evening of 3 April 1979. Benazir Bhutto was 25 years old and a Western-educated woman in an Islamic man's world. But, from that moment on, she was a woman with a mission:
a father to avenge and a dynasty to maintain.
Benazir Bhutto was born into one of the great feudal families that rule Pakistan. Her father was an aristocrat of the kind who move effortlessly between East and West. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto practised law and politics in Karachi. He served in military administrations in the early Sixties before breaking with the armed forces and, briefly, being jailed between September 1968 and February 1969. Friends remember Benazir turning up to class at the exclusive Karachi Grammar School wearing an amateurish badge bearing her father's face with bars across it and the inscription in Urdu 'Release Bhutto'. 'She was uptight and shy and generally difficult, but, by golly, that took some courage,' said a schoolmate. 'The teachers were scared to let her wear it and scared to tell her to take it off.'
On his release Bhutto embraced the then-fashionable rhetoric of revolutionary Third World socialism, chauvinistic and anti-American. He criss-crossed the country, stirring up Pakistan's masses as they had never before been stirred. A Mao cap perched on his head, the dapper and cosmopolitan feudal landlord had somehow metamorphosed into the first populist leader in the history of the state.
Although Zulfikar had two sons, it was clear from the start that Benazir was to play a special role in the family's affairs. From her childhood he had taken to writing long letters to her musing on politics and advising her on what to read (Lincoln, Bismarck, Lenin, Ataturk, Mao Tse-Tung and the history of Islam) and how to behave. As she grew up she was brought to the table when visitors as diverse as Henry Kissinger, Hubert Humphrey and Chou En-lai came to dine.
On her father's insistence, she became the first female member of the clan not to wear that leather face mask, the burka. Instead, in Pakistan she wears the dupatta, or head scarf, sometimes merely draped across her shoulders. (In the West she used to appear undraped.)
Zulfikar insisted, too, that his daughter should follow in his academic footsteps. She studied first at Harvard which she entered in 1969, aged 17. Her first two years were a mix of rock concerts, protest marches and more formal occasions with Professor John Kenneth Galbraith and his wife, who had been appointed 'parents-in-residence'.
There were advantages to being Zulfikar's favourite child that made up for the shyness and loneliness she claims to have felt at this time. For example, in December 1971 the 18-year- old took time off from her international relations course to work with her father. Now foreign minister, he was at the United Nations in a dramatic bid to to avert the split between West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) following the civil war and India's military intervention. It was heady stuff, fielding phone calls from the likes of Kissinger and Huang Hua, head of the Chinese delegation at the UN.
Bhutto failed to save his country but became president of the rump Pakistan on 20 December. 'At Harvard I was no longer known as Pinkie (a family nickname) from Pakistan but Pinkie the daughter of the President of Pakistan,' Benezir notes with satisfaction in her autobiography.
She was a star by the time she moved to Oxford in 1973, where she was to spend 'the best years of my life'. She loved the limelight. The strikingly elegant Pakistani became president of the Union in 1976, drove a nippy yellow MG, wore Anna Belinda dresses and was generally regarded as an asset on social occasions. She recalls with particular pleasure punting on the Cherwell, picnics at Blenheim Palace and Eights Week parties in college boathouses.
Some of those who were at Lady Margaret Hall with her complain of her imperiousness and her belief that the rules and regulations of undergraduate life did not apply to her. But then Benazir's background was unique, and she was older than those who had come up straight to Oxford from the cosy Home Counties.
She returned home on 27 June 1977 after a monumental farewell party on her 24th birthday in the grounds of Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford. The plan was for her to claim her glittering prizes. First she would work directly for her father in the prime minister's office for the summer, then join the Pakistani delegation to the UN.
Instead, disaster struck. General Zia ul Haq, Bhutto's nominee as chief of staff, seized power only eight days after her return. From then until 1984 Benazir was to live under various forms of detention, often in foul conditions - including 10 months in solitary confinement - and house arrest.
By the time she was allowed into exile in London, Benazir was in a fearful state, in need of urgent microsurgery for an untreated ear infection that was affecting her balance and causing blackouts. The work was too advanced for hospitals in Pakistan. It eventually took a five-hour operation to clear up the mess.
Friends who saw her immediately after her arrival in London were shocked. 'Her skin was pale and blotchy, and her hair lank. She swayed on her feet, she produced one conspiracy theory after another and talked obsessively about what she was going to do to the usurpers.' The surprising thing was the speed and determination with which she pulled herself together, physically and psychologically, and re-entered the fray.
This month, still only 40, Benazir has been given a second chance to vindicate her father and herself. If she has finally learnt to exercise power, she could dominate the politics of south Asia well into the next century.Reuse content