- Zia’s Pakistan, 1977–88
- Zulfikar’s Assassination and Benazir’s Arrests
Bhutto’s father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was removed from office in a 1977 military coup led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Chief of Army Staff. Zia imposed martial law and promised to hold elections within three months. But instead Zia charged Zulfikar with conspiring to murder the father of dissident politician Ahmed Raza Kasuri.
On behalf of Bhutto’s former law minister Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Fakhruddin Abrahim, the Bhutto family filed a petition at the Chief Martial Law Administrator Office asking reconsideration of Zulfikar Bhutto’s sentence as well as the release of his friend Mubashir Hassan. General Zia said he misplaced the petition. Although the murder accusation remained “widely doubted by the public”, and many foreign leaders appealed for clemency, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was condemned, then hanged 4 April 1979 under the effective orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Benazir and Murtaza were arrested. After a PPP victory in local elections, General Zia postponed national elections indefinitely and moved Benazir, Murtaza, and their mother Nusrat from Karachi to Larkana Central Jail. This was the seventh time Nusrat and her children had been arrested in the two years since the coup. After repeatedly placing the family under house arrest, in March 1981 the régime finally imprisoned Benazir in solitary confinement in a desert cell at Sukkur in Sindh. After six months of this Bhutto spent months in the hospital, then was moved to Karachi Central Jail, where she remained until 11 December 1981. She was then placed under house arrest in Larkana for eleven months, and transferred to Karachi where she spent 14 more months under house arrest.
- Release and self-imposed Exile
In January 1984, after six years of house arrest and imprisonment, General Zia bowed to international pressure and allowed Bhutto and her family to leave Pakistan for medical reasons. She resumed political activities, raising awareness about mistreatment of political prisoners in Pakistan at the hands of the Zia regime. In exile in the United Kingdom, Bhutto became a leader in exile of the populist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Bhutto’s efforts intensified political pressure on Zia, forcing him to holding a referendum to prove his government’s legitimacy. The vote held 1 December 1984 was a farce. Despite the best efforts of the government, only 10% of the electorate turned out to vote. In 1985 Benazir’s brother Shahnawaz died, apparently poisoned.
Further pressure from the international community forced the president to hold elections; he scheduled them on a non-party basis for a unicameral legislature. Bhutto called for a boycott of this election because it was not in accordance with the constitution. She continued to raise her voice against the human rights violations of the Zia régime, and addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1985. In retaliation for this speech, Zia pronounced death sentences against 54 members of her party, through a military court in Lahore that he headed himself.
When Zia died in a plane crash in August 1988. That November Pakistan held the first open general elections in more than a decade. Bhutto’s PPP won several provinces and won the largest percentage of seats in the National Assembly. As head of her party, Bhutto therefore became Prime Minister of Pakistan.