Benazir Bhutto's assassination adds one more chapter to the maze of intrigue and death that has plagued her family name since the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979.
Charged in the murder of a political opponent some two years after his dismissal as prime minister, he was hanged.
Benazir was 16 years old at the time.
In December 1967, Z.A. Bhutto became the founding chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the party to which former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto dedicated her political career and finally life itself.
There are conflicting stories with respect to those who are responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. However. Al-Qaida appears somewhere on everybody's list of suspects.
There are also conflicting stories regarding the actual cause of her death.
The first story was that she stood up through the open sunroof of her "blast-proof, bullet-proof" car and was shot through the neck by a bullet from an assassin's gun.
This version, according to Khaleeq Ahmed of Bloomberg News, was contradicted by an Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, who claimed that she struck her head on a lever in the open sunroof as she ducked down, causing a fatal skull fracture. She wasn't hit by a bullet or shrapnel, he said. "What we give you are facts, absolute facts corroborated by the doctors' reports." In effect, what Cheema was saying was these are the facts and there will be no more facts.
Following the death of her father, she shared the leadership of the PPP with her mother, Nusrat Bhutto. Her mother was later disqualified in February 1978.
At that point, Benazir became chairman in her own right and remained so until her untimely death on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007.
During the years of her leadership, she guided her party through unbelievable repression where hundreds of her party members were put to death.
She saved the party and rebuilt it from the bottom up.
Finally in 1988 she became Prime Minister Bhutto, the first woman in the Muslim world to be named the leader of a Muslim nation. Her attempts to work independently were thwarted by then-President Ghulam Ishaque Khan, who dismissed her government.
Following several more years of political turmoil, at one point beaten and arrested, she became prime minister again in 1992. Her government was dismissed the second time on Nov. 5, 1996. The irony of the second dismissal was the fact that she was betrayed by her personally selected president, Farooq Leghari.
After her government's second dismissal in 1996, she and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, were charged with corruption, including multimillion dollar kickbacks, in return for award of government contracts and using a web of bank accounts to hide money. They were charged with embezzling $1.5 billion in government funds.
During Benazir's two terms as prime minister, her husband’s corrupt activities were so blatant that he became known as "Mr. Ten Percent."
Mr. Zardari was arrested and, without a trial, served eight years in jail until later freed by President Pervez Musharraf and permitted to leave the country. He moved to Dubai where he has been living since.
Benazir went into eight years of self-imposed exile, beginning in 1999, after she was charged with taking kickbacks on state contracts. She was never tried on the charges.
She lived in Dubai and London since that time. The charges were finally dismissed by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in October 2007, paving the way for a deal with the United States for her to return to Pakistan to take part in the elections scheduled for January 2008.
The Pakistan Peoples Party has already selected a successor to Benazir. As requested in her will, it is her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who will accept as party co-chairman, nominating their 19-year-old son Bilawal to lead the party.
Benazir Bhutto's life had been one of triumph and tragedy.
As a young girl of 16, she suffered the loss of her father.
Both her brothers met tragic deaths.
The younger of the two, Shahnawaz, died of poisoning in a Bhutto family apartment in Cannes, France, in 1985. Police suspected it was the result of a family struggle over a multimillion dollar inheritance from their father, A.Z. Bhutto.
The older brother, Murtaza, was killed along with six others in 1996 during a shootout with police at his home in Karachi. Ghinwa, Murtaza’s widow, blamed Benazir and her husband for the murder.
Pakistan is of vital importance to the United States, both politically and militarily. The seven-year alliance with Pakistan’s military leader, Musharraf, must continue in spite of America’s dislike of his strong arm tactics in governing the country.
The absence of Musharraf’s influence in fighting Islamic extremism and terror could lead to serious consequences. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal must not fall into unfriendly hands.
The loss of Benazir Bhutto’s influence in encouraging the Musharraf government to move closer to moderation will be felt.
Hopefully, in the coming election the electorate of Pakistan will make a strong statement, strong enough to begin opening the doors of democracy to the Pakistani people.
Then Benazir’s life will not have been sacrificed in vain.
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E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by email sent to email@example.com.
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