From the archive, 3 December 1988: Bhutto promises to dismantle martial law

Originally published in the Guardian on 3 December 1988


Measures to dismantle the repressive legacy of martial law were announced last night by Pakistan's new Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In a televised address to the country hours after being sworn in as the first woman head of government in the Islamic world, Ms Bhutto said there would be an immediate review of all cases of political prisoners. Student unions would be revived and bans on labour unions lifted. All laws which deprived women of legitimate rights would be cancelled. Women would be given equal treatment on wages and working conditions. There would also be measures to consolidate media freedom, including "autonomy" for radio and television.

The address was seen as a signal of the new government's liberal but essentially cautious approach. The Prime Minister stressed the Islamic virtues of amity, equality and tolerance and the need to heal the wounds of the 11 years since the last democratic government was overthrown by the army. "Ours is the message of peace and hope," she declared. With economic problems looming, Afghanistan and other foreign issues unresolved, and likely political turmoil in reborn democracy, the Bhutto Government will not wait long for the challenges of which its leader talked last night.

Already, Ms Bhutto's most bitter rival for the Prime Minister's post, Mr Nawaz Sharif, is emerging as a renewed force. As Ms Bhutto took over the central government in Islamabad, Mr Sharif retained his powerful job as Chief Minister of Punjab, home for almost 60 per cent of Pakistan's 105 million people.

Supporters of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People Party walked out of the Punjab Assembly as the Speaker ruled that the election be held on show of hands – a display of petulance which promises to be the first of many storms in the new order. But for the moment all Pakistan seems to be in the euphoric grip of peaceful and hopeful change.

Until a few days ago Ms Bhutto was a non-person on Pakistani TV, never pictured or mentioned. Last night she appeared on television with the dignity and respect due to a leader. Behind Ms Bhutto as she spoke were framed portraits of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan and – only a couple of inches lower – of her martyred father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was deposed as prime minister in 1977 and hanged two years later.

These archive extracts are compiled by members of the Guardian's research and information department. Email:


Derek Brown

The GuardianTramp

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