Benazir Bhutto did five years of hard time in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, after her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown and hanged by the worst of Pakistan’s military dictators, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
But she liked her privileges and luxuries and was never a very effective politician.
I got to know Bhutto a bit in the mid-1970s when she had finished her degree in comparative government at Harvard and was doing graduate work at Oxford. She spent much of her time in London, in a grand flat she kept just off Hyde Park.
If you knew a lot of people in town who took an interest in Middle Eastern and Subcontinental affairs (I had been studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies) and you weren’t too old or too boring, you were likely to end up at her flat, at what I would call a party.
A fairly decorous party as those things went in 70s London, with everybody showing off their sophisticated knowledge of the region’s politics.
The hostess was well informed and quite clever, and she obviously had money coming out of her ears. We knew her dad had been prime minister of Pakistan before Zia overthrew him in a coup, of course, but she was neither a serious scholar nor a budding politician.
She seemed more American than Pakistani in her style and attitudes. And beneath the Radcliffe veneer, she also seemed like thousands of other young upper-class women from Pakistan and India floating around London at the time, who called one another girlish nicknames like Bubbles and seemed destined for a life of idle privilege.
Then Bhutto went back to Pakistan in 1977, just about the time that Zia had her father sentenced to death in a rigged trial. He was hanged in 1979, and Benazir was thrown into jail.
When she came out, she was already head of the Pakistan People’s Party her father had founded, and by 1988 prime minister. She was only 35.
She served as prime minister twice, in fact, 1988-90 and 1993-96, and was removed from power both times on corruption charges.
The charges have never been proven in court, but the evidence of kickbacks and commissions, especially to her husband, Asif Zardari, whom she foolishly made investment minister, is pretty overwhelming.
The real problem was that she never seemed to have any goal in politics apart from vindicating her father by leading his party back to power.
At the start, she was hugely popular, but she wasted her opportunity to make real changes in Pakistan because she had no notion (beyond the usual rhetoric) of what a better Pakistan would look like.
Pakistan is already pretty good for her sort of people, so it should not surprise us that there was almost nothing to show for her years in office.
If she had become prime minister again, which was a quite likely outcome of the current crisis, there is no reason to believe that she would have done any better. Her assassination just makes it harder to solve the crisis at all.
Ex-general Pervez Musharraf, who had himself “re-elected” president in October – and imposed emergency rule in order to dismiss the supreme court judges who would have ruled his “election” illegal – is totally discredited and unlikely to last much longer.
The most probable outcome is a new period of military rule under a different head, simply for lack of a good alternative. The vast majority of Pakistan’s politicians, and of the people who run pretty much everything else in the country apart from the armed forces, are drawn from the 3 or 4 per cent of the population who constitute the country’s traditional elite.
It is a very shallow pool of talent made up of people who have a big stake in the status quo and a huge sense of entitlement. So long as that remains the case, it is absurd to imagine that democracy will solve Pakistan’s problems.
I admired Bhutto’s courage and I am very sorry that she was killed, but she could never have been Pakistan's saviour.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 email@example.com