Bhutto Knew a Return to Pakistan Was Risky Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, daughter of an executed president and prime minister, was killed in a gun attack and suicide bombing Thursday in Rawalpindi. The 54-year-old was a fixture in Pakistani politics and was the Muslim world's first female prime minister.
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NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on All Things Considered

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Bhutto Knew a Return to Pakistan Was Risky

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on All Things Considered

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17654778/17654758" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan this past October, she knew that she was a target, but she went back anyway and spoke out forcefully against Pervez Musharraf.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has this report on the life of the woman her supporters called the Daughter of Pakistan.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Just this past September, Benazir Bhutto talked on CNN about the risks she faced returning to Pakistan.

(Soundbite of CNN interview)

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): I feel that what I am doing is for a good cause, for a right cause, to save Pakistan from extremists and militants, and to build regional security. I know the dangers are there, but I'm prepared to take those risks.

TEMPLE-RASTON: They were risks her family had taken in the past. Bhutto's father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first popularly elected prime minister. He was overthrown by General Zia ul-Haq in 1977 and was executed two years later. His daughter, Benazir, then in her 20s, and her mother were the only two people allowed to see him just before he was put to death.

Ms. BHUTTO: My father was killed. It was a very terrible moment in my life. But I also learned from him that one has to stand up for the principles they believe in. And I'm standing up for the principle of democracy. I'm standing up for moderation. And I'm standing up for hope for all the people in Pakistan, who today are poor and miserable and really quite desperate.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, repeatedly warned Bhutto he could not guarantee her safety if she were to return after eight years of self-imposed exile. But she was defiant. Her homecoming was greeted almost immediately with violence. Just hours after she touched down in Karachi, suicide bombers attacked her motorcade. She narrowly escaped and nearly 150 of her followers died. More than 400 were injured. She held a press conference in Karachi a short time later, characterizing the attack, not as an assault on her, but a salvo against Pakistan itself.

Ms. BHUTTO: For me, the attack was not on an individual. The attack was on the - on me. The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy. And it was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Hyperbole and flamboyance were part of Bhutto's political style. First elected prime minister in 1988 at the age of 35, she came to personify the populous Peoples Party. She anointed herself the chairperson for life of the PPP, and more recently, cast herself as the only leader able to fight the growing religious extremism that has gripped Pakistan.

She said as much in an interview with NPR in September.

Ms. BHUTTO: My party has a much better record of dealing with terrorism. Many people forget that the World Trade Center was first attacked in the '90s. And it was shortly thereafter that I became prime minister. And we took on the forces of extremism and militancy. It was only after the overthrow of the Pakistan Peoples Party government that the extremist forces began to regroup and declare war on America and the civilized world.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto was often a polarizing figure in Pakistani politics. Nevertheless, she was hoping for a third run at the prime minister's office. She had started to negotiate a controversial power-sharing agreement with Musharraf earlier this year, but talks broke down soon after she returned to Pakistan. Her two previous tenures as prime minister ended in allegations of corruption. Bhutto said the charges were all politically motivated. Her husband ended up serving eight years in prison. Bhutto said she wanted to return to power, among other reasons, to restore her husband's reputation.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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