Here's a headline for you - The Daughter of the East has fallen victim to the regions' time honoured tradition of filicide. Benazir Bhutto assassinated by bullets and bombs at a fateful Rawalpindi rally pictured to the left...with the word Shahid chillingly emblazoned below her in a fitting final shot...rendering captions superfluous.
I'm surprised by how sad I feel. I never thought much of Benazir after her two failed prime ministerships. She made a mess out of two precious opportunities that her countrymen gave her - discredited democracy for several years along with her inept alter ego, Nawaz Sharif - and made it easy for the military establishment to take over her country each time. So much so that its taken 7 years of an incompetent, though largely benevolent, dictatorship to bring democracy back in fashion in Pakistan.
But Benazir first came to power around the time that I first started following politics and so she's been part of the political world as I've known it, forever. She was like a slightly crazy aunt that I'd gotten used to having around, periodically noisy but largely irrelevant. Her 15 minutes up, she seemed destined to live out her years in affluence in London...seemingly delusional about her achievements and importance and seemingly paranoid about how just about everyone was out to get her.
Well today, I guess this can be said - She was important and They were out to get her. And though she was an imperfect leader. Though she was smug and self-important. Though she was corrupt. She was also Pakistan's only real liberal, moderate, secular voice of any importance. She was also, I think, courageous. Of all the condolences that poured out on the news, I think Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi was the one that really put that into perspective for me. He said, she was "a woman who chose to fight her battle until the end with a single weapon - the one of dialogue and political debate." And whatever else she was, that is true of Benazir and I think given the way things are in Pakistan today, using only dialog and debate is immensely courageous. I think she came back despite the danger, to get one last chance to redeem herself and with her courage and in her martyrdom, I think she succeeded.
The sad thing is that her attackers have probably succeeded not just in her murder but also in their wider objective of driving Pakistan in a more Islamist direction. An assassination is such a horrible thing. All the possibilities and hopes eliminated just like that in a flash - I hate assassinations. Among other things, I think they're responsible for the rise of rampant right-wing Republicanism in the US (JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King) and of the end of the Israel-Palestine peace process (Rabin)...and the sad thing is its always the extremists who assassinate the moderates because by definition moderates won't do such things. Those unable to win the debate with ideas and inspiration have often succeeded in winning the debate with assassinations. And in causing so much more misery for thousands, even millions of people for years and even decades, before another leader comes along to show the way out.
Through the course of the day, I found my thoughts veering in directions agnostic. I should say first, that I've always believed in God(s). Always. Even as I turned completely, vehemently away from religion, I continued to believe in God and to pray to Him/Her/Them. But today as I thought about assassinations and their intolerable effectiveness, I wondered. Would God, if he exists, really choose to test us by allowing these things to happen? Would he, like a bad soap opera script-writer who builds up a beautiful romance and then kills off one of the audience-beloved pair, manipulate our emotions just to keep us interested in him? And even if he allowed assassinations to happen, wouldn't he make sure that the vision of the fallen leader was miraculously realized? Wouldn't that be the best way to teach a lesson to those b***ards out there - Instead of deepening the misery of the largely-innocent?
Going by history, I have little hope that Benazir's killing will not lead to more turmoil in Pakistan and a move away from a modern liberal path...leading either to years of violence or years of suppression under a tyrannical military or theological regime.
I pray it won't happen. But I'm increasingly not very confident that there's some non-denominational being or beings out there listening.