As you have surely heard, Benazir Bhutto and at least 15 other people were killed by a suicide bomber. Bhutto was in shot in the neck by the attacker, who then set off the bomb. This happened in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. This was expected.
And it was expected for years. The main difference between Benazir Bhutto and other leading figures in Pakistan is that the latter pay a lot of attention to security, and Benazir flaunted her freedom and minimized the importance of security. It was easy to get to her.
Otherwise, the situation in Pakistan is normal. Out of control mayhem.
Bhutto went to Harvard, and studied with John Galbraith, the two becoming close friends. So when she came back to Harvard years later to give the keynote address at graduation, she stayed with Galbraith at his house, which happened to be behind the lab I worked in at the time. It was pretty common in the days that Galbraith was alive for the graduation speaker to stay at Galbraith’s house, or at least, attend a small reception there and hang out for a while (I’m not sure how that tradition started). Security at the house was tight, as it always was when visiting dignitaries were there. Galbraith’s pad was on that short list of private homes that the Secret Service knew inside out.
My friend Irv was in the graduation processional, and tells the story of Benazir Bhutto and the issue of security. The plan that came down from the head of the Secret Service security detail assigned to Bhutto was for Irv, a couple of other guys, then Galbraith to walk out onto the stage first, followed by Bhutto. Galbraith recognized this immediately as different from the usual course … normally, the keynote speaker would walk out at the head of the line. As master of ceremony, Galbraith objected, asking why they would do this. The head of the security detail explained that if anything was going to happen, it would be better if Bhutto was not first. This would give the security officers more time to react and likely result in a better outcome.
Thinking this absurd, not because he disagreed with the security officer about the facts or about how to do his job, but because he believed that security needed to come second to the symbolism of the day, Galbraith had a different idea. He approached the Secret Service agent in charge and placed his large hand on the agent’s shoulder, peering down at him (almost all Secret Service agents are large, but Galbraith was a very tall and imposing figure with one of those basso voices that made windows in need of reglazing rattle when he spoke in his normal tone). Looking down at the agent, Galbraith simply said:
“Sir, I overrule you.”
And Bhutto walked out first.
From the moment I started hearing that Bhutto was returning to Pakistan, I remembered this story, as well as other things I had read by and about the former Pakistani prime minister. Between these memories and snippets of information gleaned from her most recent brushes with death, I was fully resolved to the fact that she would not live very many weeks. There is no way, I am certain, that she did not know this herself. The man who shot her could reasonably be called a suicide bomber, but in some ways, he was merely a pawn in Bhutto’s own self-guided martyrdom. I may be wrong about this, and I do not understand the reasoning or the plan, but that is what I strongly suspect.