On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to head a democratic government in Pakistan as well as in a Muslim majority country, was assassinated by a gunman/suicide bomber. She was leaving a political rally for her own party, as she was a favorite to become Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 2008, when she stood up out of the escape hatch of her bullet proof car to wave at supporters.
It was then that a man fired gunshots at her and detonated a suicide vest packed with ball-bearings, killing Bhutto and 22 others. And the wildest part of all: still no-one has been convicted of her murder. So, Owen Bennett-Jones and the BBC World Service investigate in “The Assassination.”
“The Assassination” was released in 2018, ten years after the death of Bhutto and still no convictions. Despite the Bhutto family being to Pakistan what the Kennedys are to the United States, by 2012, the Pakistani official enquiry’s final report named 27 different militant groups responsible for the attack. One year later, the state’s main prosecutor in murder, Zulfikar Ali, was assassinated in Islamabad. No conclusive evidence has ever been found as to who killed her, but many in Pakistan had wanted her dead, from military establishments to Islamic fundamentalists.
A political powerhouse
Who better to tell the story of this controversial and complicated woman than a man who knew her, befriended her, and admired her: Owen Bennett-Jones. While working as a BBC correspondent in Pakistan, trying to work out what was going on in one of the most complicated political systems on Earth, he cheekily invited her to a party of his, not at all expecting her to show up.
But show up she did, drawing everyone who was leaving the party at the late hour she arrived back inside. Both with children around the same age, they bonded, Bhutto inviting our host to her ancestral home where she was like a queen.
Earlier, her family was compared to the Kennedys: her father, the Pakistan Peoples Party leader Zulfikar Bhutto, was elected Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977 when he was ousted by a military coup. He was then controversially tried and executed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1979 for the murder of a political opponent. After her father’s ousting, Bhutto and her mother Nusrat took control of the PPP; Bhutto was repeatedly imprisoned by the new military government before she self-exiled to Britain in 1984.
Her political history is long, wrapped in the tangled realities of Pakistani politics. She was often accused of corruption and nepotism, political inexperience, and her opposers grew in numbers as she continued to hold power in the country. She knew the danger she faced in Pakistan’s lethal politics, but nevertheless, she continued to return to her home country. Bennett-Jones starts her story with when he met her, just before the start of her eight-year self-imposed exile from Pakistan.
“The Assassination” takes us through her return to Pakistan in the late 2010s, the many near misses and assassination attempts on her life, her murder, and the failed investigation. You’ll even hear interviews from those accused of her murder. While she was despised by her military opponents and the Islamist groups of Pakistan, she is seen as a champion for women’s rights for her political success in a male-dominated political system and society, as well as a champion for democracy. Hear her story in “The Assassination.”