Sunday, December 30, 2007

Benazir Bhutto -- A Great Loss

Benazir Bhutto was the most dynamic and charismatic female leader the world has seen. She leaves a gaping hole in the center of a hope that a woman of energy, brilliance, grace and beauty could in fact change the course of a country that is at the center of both terrorism and the possibility of seriously diminishing it. As Peter Galbraith wrote in the Washington Post on December 30, My friend died. Now her country may not make it. A human being and an indispensable leader.
Her recent, brief return to Pakistan, where she rode from suicide bomb on arrival to house arrest by the illegitimate General Musharraf, to candidate to lead her party into elections in a few days, and her assassination, telescoped in a brief arc the whole of her life.
Born to wealth and elite standing in an impoverished country, educated at Radcliffe and Oxford, elected prime minister at 35 and again at 39, she also spent five years in prison (much in solitary confinement), was married to a man who spent over 8 years in prison for corruption, and spent the last years before her return raising her children.
Many were skeptical of her bona fides going into her next campaign, but as Amina Khan, a lawyer and colleague of Pakistani heritage stated, when she heard Bhutto speak last year at Johns Hopkins of her record in office and commitment to fighting terrorism in Pakistan, "I really believe from hearing the tone of her voice, and the fervor of her voice, that it was a renewed and a very courageous leader," Khan, 38, said. "That's why I think this is especially sad. Because she was, I think, a great leader-in-the-making this time around."
For me personally, and as my friend Judy Shapiro pointed out, Bhutto's assassination contrasts hugely with that of Princess Diana. While the world may have mourned Diana's death in deeply emotional ways, we will mourn Benazir Bhutto's death in larger ways and for longer. She was the best hope of this generation to bring Pakistan out of deepening chaos, and her death is a tsunami that will trigger instabilities not only in Pakistan, but in India and Afghanistan as well as across the Muslim world and beyond to global oil and related markets.
Her death will ultimately be laid at the feet of the Bush administration that cynically brokered her return to balance out the failed presidency of Musharraf while allowing her to be under protected in a climate of extreme danger. Her death was avoidable, and neither Bush nor Musharraf took the necessary measures to prevent it.
Would she have been an effective Prime Minister again, this time around, we will never know. But her death leaves a gaping hole that will be impossible to fill. The next weeks are unpredictable. There are no good options and all of them are high risk. One can only meditate strongly to wish a return to centered coherence. And keep working to make it possible for disputes to be settled by negotiation instead of violence.