The world will long remember Benazir Bhutto as a modern Muslim woman who served two terms as Pakistan’s first woman Prime Minister: bright, attractive, articulate, talented, courageous, charismatic, an astute politician and political leader who called for a secular democratic Pakistan. Benazir was all of these but – like her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a number of other Pakistani political leaders – she also left a flawed political track record that both reflected and contributed to many of Pakistan’s problems. [...]
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto
Violence has been accepted, then, by jihadis, warriors defending Islam, as a necessary step in creating a purer Islamic society. They are motivated at least in part by Muslim teachings on tolerance, charity and service. Many Pakistanis, however, see violence legitimized by religion as signaling the demise of civil society, and it is hard to believe that violence, rooted in the fabric of society, can be uprooted without great turmoil and bloodshed. And this can only be accomplished by Pakistani leadership.
While pundits are busy debating who was responsible for Benazir’s tragic death, the larger tragedy of Pakistan’s political history should not be overlooked. A country whose name literary means “the Land of the Pure” and which was intended to become a free and flourishing promised land for Muslims in the subcontinent has become sullied with chronic poverty, political violence, ethnic strife, and religious extremism.
In a recent conversation regarding the effects of the Cold War, in particular the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the long proxy war that followed, an academic who regularly works on policy regarding South and Central Asia told me that among policymakers in the US any such reference immediately meets with the response: “That’s ancient history”. This seems regrettably to be the general tenor of reporting on the present global war against terrorism as well, of which the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has now become a part. [...]
The first time I met Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, many years ago, I bought a new suit for the occasion. He was Prime Minister of Pakistan at the time and I was representing Berkeley in an attempt to launch a new Urdu language program for American students to be based in Lahore. We needed the government’s approval, and that meant a nod from Bhutto. Being a young Californian, I was not used to wearing suits, but Bhutto was Bhutto, the very model of urbane sophistication, and I wanted to impress him. [...]
Benazir Bhutto was my classmate at Oxford in the 1970s. That is not the opening sentence of a feel-good encomium to cosmopolitanism. Nor is it the start of a personal reminiscence or statement of regret, though I am sad. It is a small note of personal connection to the growing political tragedy in Pakistan. What follows is a reflection on that tragedy. It is also a warning to those who would think their personal connections offer adequate bases for understanding an ever more integrated but deeply troubled world and a plea for pursuing necessary knowledge. [...]