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Bhutto: Symbol of Hope with a Checkered Past

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto speaks to the media after breaking through police lines outside her home on Nov. 9 in Islamabad.
Warrick Page
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Getty Images
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto speaks to the media after breaking through police lines outside her home on Nov. 9 in Islamabad.

As the unrest in Pakistan continues, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is being hailed as a symbol of hope, says Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia and a longtime journalist in Pakistan.

Citizen support for Bhutto is strong — but hardly universal — despite her having been twice ousted under suspicion of corruption. Bhutto still faces charges of money laundering in Switzerland and other accusations in Pakistan. "She's had certainly a very mixed past," Rashid reports.

Bhutto is presently under house arrest as the nation remains under a state of emergency declared this month by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Police in Pakistan have responded to pro-democracy protesters with tear gas, batons and mass arrests. Bhutto and her supporters have continued to rally the demonstrators and are now said to be working toward a partnership with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf deposed in a 1999 coup. Musharraf has said general elections will take place in January.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan after nearly a decade of self-imposed exile. Rashid argues that not everyone there remembers the former prime minister fondly, but many consider her better than the alternative. "This is the hand that Pakistanis have to play at the moment, against continued military rule," he says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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