Political voyeurism came of age with the assassination and burial of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The world looked, once again, on the face of a grief-stricken nation. This time the Pakistani people were the center of global media focus. I believed that this sad event was also a predictable one. Why? Clearly because of the return and hosanna Bhutto received in October 2007 by hordes of supporters. Her poll numbers positioned her to win the upcoming election. She returned after a self-imposed eight and one-half years of exile. On that day she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. More than 100 bystanders killed. And those who weren’t killed in the bombings were rightly incensed over this foiled attempt during her heavily guarded entourage and motorcade.
Bhutto, who led Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and was the first female prime minister of any Islamic nation, was participating in the parliamentary election set for January 8, hoping for a third term. A terror attack targeting her motorcade in Karachi (October 18, 2007) killed 136 people on the day she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile.
The conspirators succeeded this time. The immediate response from her supporters has been grief, outrage and retaliation at an unknown foe. There are riots presently, busses burned, disorder and chaos in major-city streets like Karachi post-assassination of the beloved Bhutto. CNN newscasters and others have compared her death to that of Kennedy. In fact, Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) was in Pakistan to meet with her the same night she died. This woman and her political family have deep and abiding ties to many American presidents, past and present.
She was PM when Ronald Reagan was in office, when the Berlin wall famously fell. John F. Kennedy railed against that same wall. But beneath the political cloak of Reagan and Bhutto the wall died. He died, she died. As famous comparisions abound I must ask: is it déjà vu or merely never-ending six degrees of separation in play from JFK? A touchstone, only the key words changed in the clue: where were you in Pakistan when you saw her raise her hand in a peaceful wave, for the last time?
An ironic thing happened foreshadowing her death. I rented the movie Death of a President, before leaving for Chicago on December 22nd. It is about the fictional shooting death of Bush 43 at the hands of a Muslim man. On the back cover there is a date: October 19, 2007. The day that the film proposes that President Bush would have died. That is exactly one day after the first assassination attempt on Bhutto! Like Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s go there too, three shots were fired with one fatal shot to the neck while the victim was in plain view. Like the Bush and the Kennedy family the combo of political dynasty, monarchy and Greek tragedy came together. Like King and Kennedy the exact cause of death has already come under question: did she die of a single gunshot wound to the neck, or from shrapnel lodged in her skull? We know that bullets kill people.
I tried to share the riddle of her death with those too young to recall that in her second term as PM William Jefferson Clinton was in the Oval Office. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton toured the Middle East and Asia and included Bhutto in their rounds of Islamic discovery. How would their political partnership be seen by the world? How would it look if these two powerful women could click their heels together? What would come of such a meeting first as friends and later as close political allies? Herein lay the reason behind this renewed season of political assassination.
Has the “war on terror” made Middle Eastern countries, especially espoused allies, safer from attacks? Observers, pundits and democratic candidates believe that the war in Iraq, in particular and the war on terror in general have been a mistake. And what’s worse — has not made the world safer. In addition, I planned to write an article about 'what ifs. I was going to write it in fast-forward fashion about 2009. Here are the scenarios I considered: Political projections aside, I too believed that Bhutto would have won the upcoming January 8th election, to hold a third term as PM. Hillary Clinton, at the same time, projected to be the top or bottom of the Democratic ticket would have been a clear choice to help mend wounds in the lesion of foreign policy. Historically, Bhutto was a friend to America as well as to the Clintons. With Bhutto's death there will be no meeting of parliamentary heads in a fictive Paris summit in 2009 now. There will be no soupcon of salvation for Israel through political conversations, conventions or accords that these two women on the world stage wearing high heels might have wrought. Death changes everything.
These were not the only questions that came to mind. Benazir was a woman who represented the hope of democracy in a Muslim nation. Who can keep democracy alive now in countries like Pakistan? We knew Bhutto was for us. And we knew that America should be much more skeptical of military men in macho display from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and others like him.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attempted to engineer a marriage of these two factions by trying to orchestrate Bhutto's return to Pakistan under a power-sharing agreement that Musharraf has just blown to pieces.
Musharraf obviously did not share the same democratic vision of Bhutto and the United States.The other natural question was who, excluding Musharraf; could best lead the anti-terrorism charge from U.S. shores? Enter Barack Obama. Juxtaposed with the hope of a woman at the helm; who could present a kinder, gentler America to those hardened against American Muslim fever, there is the hope that Barack Obama presents. Not only is he a man who will take leadership in bringing people together at a common table. He is a man, I believe, whom foreign governments would welcome simply because he looks like them and understands them.
But soon somewhere, someone, somehow will be asking that other question: Who was really responsible for this latest, but not last political death? Is it the signature of Osama bin laden? With a codex secured — the OK, okayed for a suicide sniper by bin Laden himself? Is this his latest political scorecard cipher: one down, one less true U.S. ally? Does he hail yet from a nearby Afghan cave saluting with one odious finger frozen at the world on which it gags? The world knows well that this finger pointed to heaven means hell–poised to snuff out life itself. Questions answered and unanswered changed not the outcome of this tale. Thus we bade the beautiful Bhutto adieu, nay Namaste until another day. But hopefully we did not bid farewell to peace in Pakistan.Powered by Sidelines