NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan is following the traditional route to power by women politicians in the Asian subcontinent.

She capitalized on family ties and played on the emotions of crowds who remembered her executed father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

But an iron will behind the tears served her well in her foray into the male-dominated political arena in a region where most women have yet to achieve economic, educational and professional parity.

Like the daughters and widows of fallen leaders in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, she is a savvy, charismatic, intelligent student of politics who graduated into leadership ranks in her own right.

The most famous - and the one who left the deepest mark on her own nation and on the world - was Indira Gandhi of India.

Mrs. Gandhi was considered a pliable young lady and the ideal compromise candidate when the squabbling cronies of her late father, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had to anoint a new leader of India's dominant Congress Party.

She proved to be anything but pliable.

Mrs. Gandhi governed India as prime minister from 1966 to 1977, turning a country where bullock carts and bicycles are major means of transportation into a nuclear power and a mighty military force.

Her increasingly authoritarian measures handed her a crushing election defeat after her first 11 years in power, but she bounced back into office in 1980 with a resounding comeback victory.

She governed another four years until she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the army raid she had ordered to flush out gunmen holed up the Sikh faith's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The first woman political leader in the Asian subcontinent was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Her husband, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.

The following year, with his Sri Lanka Freedom Party in a shambles, the male politicians turned to his widow as the person most capable of restoring unity.

Mrs. Bandaranaike governed from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1977, when voters rebelled against her stringent economic controls. But she has rebounded again and is now the leading opposition candidate in the presidential election set for Dec. 19.

In Bangladesh, women have not captured the top office. But the two strongest opposition leaders are women: Sheik Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Hasina is the daughter of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, the prime minister who was assassinated in a coup in 1975. Mrs. Zia is the widow of another assassinated prime minister, Ziaur Rahman, who died in a 1981 coup.

All the women leaders have invoked the memories and the popularity, as they perceive it, of their fathers and husbands. But none has done it as eloquently as Benazir Bhutto.

In the opening chapter of her recently published autobiography, ''Daughter of the East,'' she recounts the moment of her father's execution, which was sanctioned by the man who overthrew him, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq:

''They killed my father in the early morning hours of April 4, 1979, inside Rawalpindi Central Jail. Imprisoned with my mother a few miles away in a deserted police training camp at Sihala, I felt the moment of my father's death.

''I suddenly sat bolt-upright in bed at 2 a.m. 'No 3/8' the scream burst through the knots in my throat. 'No 3/8' I couldn't breathe, didn't want to breathe. 'Papa, Papa 3/8' I felt so cold.''

And then she resolved to avenge his death, in her oft-repeated campaign words, by ''restoring democracy in Pakistan.''