Even the utterance of the word 'assassination' has a profane sound to it.
Thursday morning I was sitting on my living room floor playing with my 23-month-old daughter trying to stretch out every last moment of joy left in the holiday season with her when I realized it was time for her favorite TV program on Nickelodeon. Suddenly I found my holiday joy and spirit being tempered by a feeling of nausea that descended over me. Staring back at me from my TV screen was a CNN “Breaking News” headline: “Benazir Bhutto Assassinated.” Even though I wasn’t surprised, the fact it had happened in exactly the way one would have expected it still had the shocking and sickening impact the perpetrators intended.
Other than this description of the feelings and horror I was experiencing there isn’t much more one can say about her murder in context with the current situation in Pakistan. I’ll leave that to the brilliantly informed and analytical mind of Juan Cole. Having said that, there are a couple of observations I would like to add from a personal perspective and one of them is to ask the obvious rhetorical question the American mainstream media seems incapable of asking: where is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?
From Dr. Rice’s point of view, which always seems to be from the back of a milk carton under the header “missing,” whenever a foreign policy initiative pushed by her goes awry, she continues to demonstrate one of the two major aspects of consistency in her tenure as head of the state department. First, she always seems to be conspicuously absent at those critical moments of failure when the world stage demands a clarification of some kind on the American position and what actions or inactions need to be taken. As for the other aspect, it is the ever present state of shock and surprise on her face whenever she does happen to appear publicly before the reverberations of one of her monumental blunders has had time to settle down to the level of normal confusion that is now standard under her tenure. After all it was the New York Times that reported on the moves initiated by her and the WH to pressure Musharraf into talks over a power sharing arrangement with the former Prime Minister. This was all due to the hope of introducing an ingredient of stability into a critical Middle Eastern ally with a fluid political environment awash in volatility from a variety of directions both internally and externally. Dr. Rice’s reverse German WWI gambit paralleling Lenin’s passage through their country to Russia as a destabilizing factor was sure to fail on its own terms considering Bhutto’s family history and legacy.
Dr. Rice’s stunning inability to read history and misinterpret its parallels with today’s international political climate continues to stagger the mind. Progressive tendencies to pejoratively compare her and the team of stumbling and bumbling jingoists that continue to serve as the arbiters of policy in the rump U.S. government of the executive branch to Machiavelli does a disservice to the cold, antiseptic, and pro-monarchist philosophy of the Italian diplomat. Though in contrast, humanizing Machiavelli's policies is quite a feat for this group.
The main reason for my shock and near sickening sadness is the fact I liked the public face of Ms. Bhutto. I liked her intellect and seemingly fearless motives, as she acted on what she believed was the best interest of her country at the risk of her own life. I am positive the intellect she always publicly demonstrated made her keenly aware of the Deus ex machina role she was expected to play for American regional interests. Despite this handicap from the Islamic world perspective, I also don’t believe for one moment she cared what that role implied. She was an incredibly shrewd politician who found herself in a position to use the American State Department for her own means to an end as much as it was the other way around. I once saw a quote from her autobiography where she gave the reason she left the comforting world of Western stability: “I didn’t chose this life, it chose me.” These are words that could have just as easily been uttered by the likes of Robert F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, or Mahatma Gandhi. She was the first female in her family to appear in public without a burqa, which, despite Salmon Rushdie’s lampooning, was an early indication of her strong will. I like to think my affinity for the public aura she emitted had noting do to do with the prejudicial reasons indicated in an obituary from one of the United Kingdom’s online news services, The Telegraph:
“Her glamorous good looks and fluent English led to a sustained love affair with Western politicians and journalists, many of whom had known her at either Harvard or Oxford. For those with the standard Western prejudices against the Islamic world, she had the added assets of a pronounceable name and a tolerant religious outlook. She did not organize anti-American rallies or issue fatwas against best-selling authors.”
I’m not sure what would have been had she lived and there is no doubt she had her flaws both personally and politically. I’m only sure of what the possibilities she offered were despite the somewhat negative and sobering analysis offered from the Telegraph on the legacy she carried with her upon her return to the Pakistan:
“In Pakistan she was often far less popular than her foreign press made out. To her opponents she was more English than Pakistani, more Western than Eastern. Her Urdu, although fluent, was ungrammatical, while her Sindhi, her family's mother tongue, was almost non-existent. It was also said hat she lacked a coherent political philosophy and tended to dissipate her energies on party politicking. During her first 20-month spell as prime minister, from 1988 to 1990, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation, admittedly due in large part to the constraints imposed on her by a hostile and still-powerful military. […]Her tight monetary policy produced a dramatic reduction in the budget deficit, pulling the country's economy back from the brink of collapse, and earning it a clean bill of health from the IMF and World Bank.”
Yes. ‘Assassination’ is an ugly and profane word. Its use has always demonstrated the inhumanity of the person and individuals who employ it and overwhelm and undermine the cause they support. Though martyrdom’s plight seems to serve a higher cause for the unjustly murdered its result is always short lived when the realities of the long view set in.
As I said, I liked the public face of Ms. Bhutto. Without putting a finger on the exactness of it let’s just say she seemed be a tranquil oasis in a dessert empty of sanity and reason, whether real or illusionary.