Benazir Bhutto

updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Her given name means "without comparison," and in the long history of Islam, Benazir Bhutto stands alone. For more than a decade she waged a tireless political battle against the repressive military regime of Pakistan's President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq—who had deposed her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and presided over his execution. Finally, after Zia's death in a plane crash last August, Benazir was named Prime Minister following Pakistan's first free elections in 11 years—and thus became, at 35, the only woman ever to lead a Muslim country.

It was a harrowing, heroic journey for the pampered aristocrat who had been nicknamed Pinkie (for her coloring) as a child. Educated at Radcliffe—where she demonstrated against the Vietnam War, adopted a Joan Baez jeans-and-sweatshirt look and became an ardent feminist—and later at Oxford, she was planning a career in Pakistan's diplomatic corps when history intervened: Her father was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 and killed two years later. It fell to Benazir to lead the struggle to unseat Zia, and she paid dearly for it, spending five years in squalid prisons or under house arrest before living in exile in London. After martial law was lifted in 1986, she returned to Pakistan to lay claim to her father's mantle.

Even greater challenges await her. She has never before held public office, and there are lingering doubts in Pakistan's tradition-bound society that a Western-educated woman is fit to rule. Partly to allay such concerns, she agreed to an arranged marriage last year with Asif Ali Zardari, a wealthy businessman from a politically active family. In September, a month before starting her election campaign, she gave birth prematurely to a son, Bilawal. If her life sounds like a somewhat farfetched Gothic novel, Benazir faces the next chapter with aplomb. "Power is no big deal," she told her jubilant supporters after she took the oath of office. "What is more important is that the people always have respect for you."

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