Bhutto's assassination adds to bloody family history

Other News Materials 28 December 2007 11:50 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - The ostentatious white-domed mausoleum where Benazir Bhutto was to be buried alongside her father bears grim witness to the bloody story of one of Pakistan's pre-eminent political families.

It contains the remains of her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, ousted as prime minister in a military coup and later hanged.

Recalling standing at his grave, she once wrote: "At that moment I pledged to myself that I would not rest until democracy had returned to Pakistan."

Also in the family tomb, whose domes rise above rice paddies deep in rural southern Pakistan, are the bodies of two brothers, who also died violently.

Now Benazir Bhutto, slain in a gun and suicide bomb attack Thursday as she left a party rally, will herself be laid to rest there at the age of 54.

The two-time prime minister of the turbulent Islamic republic embarked on her political career while still in her teens after her father was hanged by then military dictator General Zia-ul Haq.

Bhutto senior, who laid the foundations of Pakistan's nuclear capability as president and later prime minister, was toppled in 1977 by Zia who sent him to the gallows despite international appeals.

Zia fostered Islamic militancy in Pakistan and made it his mission to crush the Bhutto family and its Pakistan People's Party (PPP) until he died in 1988 in a plane crash.

The PPP, founded in 1967, kept going despite persistent persecution by the powerful military establishment, and despite a string of tragedies the Bhuttos have remained one of Pakistan's top political families.

In 1985, Benazir's brother Shah Nawaz died of poisoning in his apartment in the south of France.

Her older brother Murtaza, who was accused of involvement in terrorism, was shot dead in Karachi 11 years later.

Benazir blamed Pakistan's intelligence services for his death.

Despite the apparent failure of her two corruption-tainted terms in power, she continued to enjoy huge support, particularly among the millions of urban and rural poor in this impoverished South Asian nation.

Her family, however, is disliked by the military because of Bhutto senior's insistence on civilian rule -- this in a country that has spent more than half its existence since 1947 under the thumb of the army.

He forced a number of senior officers into retirement against the backdrop of Pakistan's military debacle with India in 1971, when East and West Pakistan split to become Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Bhutto took on his mantle after his death, becoming the first woman to lead a Muslim nation when she was named premier for the first time in 1988.

She was deposed in 1990 amid corruption allegations, but was premier again between 1993 and 1996.

Last October she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-exile amid hopes of a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf and, later, to contest upcoming January 8 elections.

But again it came at a bloody price -- her homecoming parade was targetted in the deadliest terror attack in Pakistani history, leaving 139 dead.

Abdul Ghafoor Leghari, who runs a small team of caretakers at the family's tomb, recalled in October how, then 18, he accompanied his father in preparing Zulfiqar Ali Khan's body for burial and checking that Islamic customs such as washing the body had been followed.

Benazir Bhutto and her mother, then in detention, were flown in later that day to pay their last respects after his burial on April 4, 1979.

"They cried and fell on his grave. They asked my father what condition his body was in and he told them," said Leghari, who later took over his father's duties.