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Benazir Bhutto: Background

Published: 8:22AM Friday December 28, 2007 Source: Reuters

Benazir Bhutto only entered politics after her father was executed by the military.
   
On Thursday she was assassinated, a depressingly predictable end for a member of one of South Asia's seemingly cursed political dynasties.
   
Powerful families from the Bhuttos of Pakistan to the Gandhis of India and the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka have dominated politics in this diverse and polyglot region since independence from Britain.
   
But none have escaped tragedy at the hands of rebels, extremists or ambitious military leaders.
   
It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who founded Pakistan's troubled dynasty. He became the country's first popularly elected prime minister but was toppled by the army in 1977 and later hanged.
   
Both his sons died in mysterious circumstances.
   
His daughter Benazir, a former prime minister, was lucky to survive when a suicide attack on her motorcade killed nearly 150 people as she returned to Pakistan in October after eight years in exile.
   
Later that month she paid an emotional return to her father's grave in their ancestral village in southern Pakistan.
   
"There is still danger of attack, but Allah can protect everyone and I am not scared," she said.
   
In India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot by her Sikh bodyguards as she walked in her garden in 1984, cradled by her Italian daughter-in-law Sonia as she lay dying.
   
The tragedy propelled her son and Sonia's husband Rajiv into politics and into her shoes as head of government.
   
He in turn was blown up by a female suicide bomber in 1991 at an election rally.
   
With grim prescience, Sonia wrote she had "fought like a tigress" to prevent Rajiv entering politics.
   
After he died, she desperately wanted to stay out of politics, only to yield in 1998 after enormous pressure from the Congress party. Today she is India's most powerful politician.
   
"That's part of political lives, and my mother-in-law and my husband lived and died for the country," she said in an interview in 2004. "I don't believe they wished to die in any other way."
   
This crowded region has faced an array of violent uprisings by groups who felt excluded by democracy. The military has often felt it could do a better job of ruling than politicians.
   
That's helped to make politics a risky career path.
   
"In this region there is this struggle between the ballot and the bullet," said Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst and Delhi University history professor.

"There are elements and groups who wish to settle political scores by ending debate," he added.

Unhappy families
   
The murders have ironically helped sustain those dynasties the assassins tried to destroy, propelling sometimes reluctant heirs into the limelight, giving them both a powerful sense of a legacy to be fulfilled and a wave of sympathy on which to ride.
   
In Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike was killed by a Buddhist monk in 1959.
   
His wife Sirimavo succeeded him to become the world's first female prime minister.
   
His daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, also became prime minister and then president, only to lose sight in her right eye after an assassination attempt by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels in 1999.
   
In Bangladesh, which split from Pakistan in 1971, the country's two leading politicians had similarly violent starts to their political careers.
   
Sheikh Hasina entered politics after her father, independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was killed in a military coup in 1975.
   
The man who came to power after that coup, General Ziaur Rahman, was himself killed in an abortive military mutiny in 1981. His wife Begum Khaleda Zia was not daunted, giving up life as a housewife to join politics herself.
   
She became the Muslim country's first female prime minister in 1991, before bitter rival Sheikh Hasina took over the top job in 1996. Today, both have been detained by a military-backed government and face prosecution for corruption.
   
It is not only dynasties which have suffered.
   
Mohandas K. Gandhi, also known as the Mahatma or Great Soul, was assassinated in 1948. Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot and killed in 1951 in Rawalpindi, the same city in which Benazir Bhutto died on Thursday.
   
In a family interview with India's Outlook magazine in Dubai last year, Benazir said she hoped her three children would choose a different career path.
   
"Even though I come from a political family with a strong sense of duty to my country I would strongly advise them to stay away from politics, to serve the country in other ways," she was quoted as saying. "As a doctor, a social worker, anything."
   
"My children have told me they are very worried about my safety. I understand those fears. But they are Bhuttos and we have to face the future with courage, whatever it brings," she said.