Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Article excerpt

A Courageous Soul

I SPENT AN afternoon in London with Benazir Bhutto and her chief security adviser just before she returned to Pakistan. "You cannot afford to go into crowds," I told her. "Yes, Eric, I know that, but I must. My people want to see me and know I am not afraid."

On Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007, the courageous former prime minister of turbulent Pakistan again risked her life, this time in an open car, and was killed by an assassin. Some years back, she told me, "I am fatalistic. What will happen will happen."

Bhutto's death is an earthquake for Pakistan's political landscape and derails U.S. efforts to forge a political cohabitation between her and former military, and now civilian, dictator, President Pervez Musharraf. In Washington's laboriously developed plans, Musharraf was to retain de facto dictatorship with support from the army, while Benazir was to provide democratic window dressing for the regime. Benazir's plan, as she told me, was to regain the prime ministership, and then slowly marginalize Musharraf.

Shortly after the first attempt on her life in Karachi, Benazir, who always wrote to me as "Bibi," told me that she suspected Punjabi politicians in Musharraf's Muslim League-Q Party were behind the attempt. Her supporters will now repeat these charges. Angry mobs have been attacking pro-Musharraf party locations. But the attack also bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaida or one of its local Pakistani allies. Other Pakistanis accused the army and its intelligence agency, ISI. Bhutto had enemies across the political spectrum.

Bhutto's murder leaves her party, the Pakistan People's Party, in disarray and without strong leadership. She surrounded herself with pliant yes-men and brooked no competition in the party. The party has been decapitated.

As I write, I'm trying to analyze this frightful news with proper journalistic detachment. But it's very hard after knowing this unique woman for 20 years. Having uncovered a major corruption scandal involving her in-laws, I was long on her blacklist. But in the past decade I have come to admire her brilliant mind, willpower, courage and determination.

"Bibi" and I spent a good deal of time together after she was ousted for a second time by the army, when she was in exile in the political wilderness. …

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