Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

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Benazir Bhutto

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Anon
    December 27, 2007

    At least one news channel is noting that the closeness to the people (and refusal to stay behind a wall of security) is culturally common in Pakistan, and that to have protected herself more would have been seen as insulting; It was not a choice of martyrdom, but a different view of the role of the politician and the politician’s closeness to the people.

    I wonder if that will change.

  2. #2 andythebrit
    December 27, 2007

    Flaunting security, or did she just not want to live in a cage? I wonder. So many of our “leaders” live in this bubble of security. It must be very isolating.

    My impression is that Bhutto had some faults as a leader…but she had no lack of courage. Unfortunately, courage does not stop bullets. A sad loss.

  3. #3 wile_e_quixote
    December 28, 2007

    Blaming the victim, nothing to see here, move along, move along.

  4. #4 NYC Educator
    December 28, 2007

    It may not be that simple. On NPR yesterday, they were discussing Benazir’s security. A guest said that she’d requested many security measures from the government, and that the government failed to deliver on most of her requests.

  5. #5 nathan bowling
    December 28, 2007

    I take issue with this part of your post:

    “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.”

    So a person engaged in a struggle against a violent oppressive regime, despite apparent threats to their own safety is a “self-guided martyr”? Would you also call Medgar Evers, Safia Ahmed Jan, or Steve Biko self-guided martyrs? In doing so you empower and legitimize those who rule through violence and campaigns of fear and marginalize the sacrifices of people of tremendous personal courage.

    More than anything, Bhutto was exceedingly courageous. She was more courageous as an activist than she was effective as a prime minister. Her courage in opposing Musharraf far outstrecthed her skills as an executive or as a reliable force for government transparency during her corrupt term as prime minister.

    I thought to myself she was a “goner” when it was reported she was contemplating a public “sit-in” to protest martial law, however that did not lead me down the same road that you seem to have ventured. In blaming the victim of this crime you rhetorically validate the actions of those who murdered her and further empower those who fight for the destabilization Pakistan.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    December 28, 2007

    Nathan,

    You have chosen to see in what I wrote an attempt to blame the victim. You could not be farther from the mark.

    I could say that “I must not have made myself clear” or I could say that you are seeing what you want to see even if it not there. Depends on how much of an asshole I feel like being.

    Perhaps you don’t have he same understanding of self martyrdom that I do. I am not using that phrase as a marker for pathology, but rather, for a decision someone makes to die for a cause.

    Please readjust your understanding of this phrase and re-read. Let me know how that goes.

    G

  7. #7 nathan bowling
    December 28, 2007

    IMO, the term “self-guided martyrdom” is problematic; it reads as a pejorative. It leads one to conclude that you feel she decided she wanted to die for her principles–instead of that her principles were worth dying for.

    To this reader there is a difference between those two.

    n.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    December 28, 2007

    Ah, now I understand where you are not getting it. You see, for her, I feel that both … yes, different … were true. She felt that her principles were worth dying for. There was almost no way could have been both active in her political efforts and lived. That is pretty clear. She knew this.

    You could have characterized her position as deciding that she wanted to die for her principles, or you could characterize her position as her knowing that dying for her principles was an almost inevitable outcome of working towards the ends she wanted to work towards. She chose to leave Britain under these circumstances.

    If she was thinking “I will die doing this” vs. “I could die doing this” is probably not knowable to us, nor is it important.

    If you think there is some way that this distinction to a person struggling with these issues is somehow determinative of victim-hood vs. not then you have never been in a position where you needed to choose to potentially die on one hand vs. not over some principle. Try it some time, it is enlightening. And rather refreshing.

    For now, please go away.

  9. #9 Margaret
    December 28, 2007

    “Self Guided martyrdom” is not problematic for me. “Courage to die for her convictions” is. It appears, from what I have read, she was aware that attempts would continue to be made to assassinate her. It seems that for one who wanted change for her country and believing she was the catalyst to begin the transformation, she was not making wise decisions about surviving in order to do so.

    As for pathology, there could be some. Having know martyrdom and execution from childhood can radically change perceptions of your ability to survive anything.

    I don’t see it as blaming the victim. Bhutto’s decision to ride in an open car in the middle of chaos was her’s alone. Should it have happened? How could it not?

  10. #10 Asif Mohammad
    December 30, 2007

    I am so surprised how the media is playing this whole Bhutto assasination out. They make it sound like every Pakistani, even the ones living abroad, think she is a real hero and was only choice for the upcomming election. I live in Vancouver,B.C. Everyone Pakistani here is sad she died as a person, but rather happy she is out of politics as a whole. She has alot of bad luggage when she was in power as well. Let us not forget.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    December 30, 2007

    Asif: I was wondering about that.