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Asia

Bhutto's legacy five years on

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto five years ago sent shockwaves around Pakistan and the world. Her Pakistan People's Party has still not recovered.

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first female prime minister and the head of the Pakistan People's Party founded by her father, belonged to the fortunate few in Pakistan born with a silver spoon in the mouth.

Her assassination on December 27, 2007 shocked the country and the international community. Political pundits and ordinary people drew their own conclusions;

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (photo: B.K.Bangash, File/AP/dapd)

Bhutto's assassination came as a shock

conspiracy theories abounded. A UN commission failed to bring about much clarity, and the current PPP government stands accused of not doing enough to solve the case.

"The leadership vacuum created by Benazir's death has not been filled to date," political analyst Brig (Retd) Farooq Hameed Khan told Deutsche Welle.

No novice

Benazir Bhutto was no political novice. Her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhuttto remains one of the most important figures in Pakistani history. His daughter learned important lessons from his life and death.

She followed the middle path at home but was not afraid to confront the military dictator Ziaul Haq, criticizing him in her 1988 election campaign. Her brave political stance secured her victory and she was able to strengthen her democratic credentials abroad.

Supporters of Pakistan's slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto AP Photo/Shakil Adil

There was an outpouring of grief when Bhutto died

"She had an appeal within her party and outside," Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Deutsche Welle. "Her opponents also accepted that. She was Pakistan's identity internationally. No other Pakistani got as much global recognition as Benazir."

However, here lies the dilemma of the political process in Pakistan. Electioneering based on personal charisma, the struggle against military dictatorship and the fact that she was the "daughter of a martyred father" did not suffice.

To deliver on the national stage, Bhutto needed recognition from local power centers, which she was unable to secure during her two terms as head of government from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996.

She was charged with corruption and in 1998 she went into self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Return to Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan only in 2007 after former President Pervez Musharraf issued the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that granted amnesty to politicians and bureaucrats accused of corruption.

There was speculation that a grand coalition between the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) might be formed and that Benazir Bhutto might run for the premiership again although the federal constitution does not allow a third term.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

Zardari benefitted from the sympathy vote

However, Bhutto's sudden death changed the whole scenario. There was a wave of sympathy for the PPP which won the election and Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, became president.

Rizvi says that her death had two consequences. "The positive impact is that people came to know that extremism was a threat and they should opt for democracy. The negative impact was that her death created a leadership crisis within the party, which isn't over yet."

Zardari shares the leadership with his and his late wife's only son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. However, neither of them have been able to build upon Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's legacy as Benazir was able to.

Observers continue to ask today whether Pakistan would be better off today if Benazir had not been assassinated.

"She had more foreign policy experience than the present leadership," says Rizvi. "She would have shown effective leadership but other circumstances and players in domestic politics are also very important."

"One can only speculate that with Benazir, Pakistani politics would have been a bit different, but not decisively."

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