Benazir Bhutto

Lived:September 21, 1953—December 27, 2007 (aged 54)
Chairwoman of Pakistan People's Party, 1984-2007
Prime Minister (Pakistan), 1988-1990 and 1993-1996
Finance Minister (Pakistan), 1988-1990 and 1994-1996
Party:Pakistan Peoples Party
Education:Radcliffe College at Harvard University; Oxford University

Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at age 54 in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, spent three decades navigating the turbulent and often violent world of Pakistani politics. In 1988, she became the first woman to be democratically elected to lead a modern Muslim country.

Bhutto was born on June 21, 1953. After attending a private Christian-run school in Karachi, Bhutto studied at Radcliffe College, earning a Harvard B.A. in 1973, and later at Oxford, where she gained a second B.A. in 1976. At Oxford, she was the first Asian woman to become president of the Oxford Union, the prestigious debating society that nurtured several British prime ministers.

From Oxford, Bhutto was thrust abruptly into the heart of Pakistani politics by General Zia's arrest of her father in 1977, and by her father's execution 18 months later. In August 1988, the general and the American ambassador, Arnold L. Raphel, were killed in a military plane crash in southern Pakistan. Three months later, when she was 35, Bhutto won a general election and formed her first government, only to be ousted by Pakistan's president in 1990, having served less than half her term. In 1993, she won a second election, but was again dismissed in 1996.

After her second dismissal from office in 1996, Pakistani investigators accused her of embezzling as much $1.5 billion from government accounts. British and American private investigators working for the government of her political rival, Nawaz Sharif, produced documents tracing what they said were multimillion dollar kickbacks paid in return for government contracts, and a web of bank accounts across the world that were used to hide the money. Bhutto rejected the allegations, saying their accusers wanted to drive her from power.

Criminal probes were opened in Britain, Spain and Switzerland as well as Pakistan. The cases against Bhutto were ultimately quashed by an amnesty granted by Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, as part of an American-brokered deal that cleared the way for Bhutto to return to Pakistan in the fall to participate in elections that Musharraf set for January.

The American bid to restore her to power in Islamabad reflected her tireless efforts during her years in exile to maintain a network among the political and media elite in Washington and in London, where she never ceased to predict that Pakistan would one day need her back, and in power.

Bhutto married Asif Ali Zardari, who was also accused of embezzlement, in 1987. The marriage was an arranged one, in the Muslim tradition; Bhutto's mother acted as marriage broker. Zardari was an important figure in her two governments, serving in her cabinet in her second term in a role that gave him a major role in approving foreign investment.

Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, at a campaign rally, just weeks before the January election in which she was expected to be elected prime minister once again.