Thursday, December 27, 2007
One of my heroines died today. Benazir Bhutto, a modern-day Joan of Arc, succumbed to an assassin's bullets after a rally in Pakistan, the country she returned to after many years in exile. She was 54 years old.
It was believed that her party, the Pakistan People's Party, would win the upcoming election in January, making her Prime Minister once again. She had occupied that office twice before, the first time at age 35. She was one of the youngest chief executives in the world, and the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of an Islamic nation.
Modernizing Pakistan was her priority, She brought electricity to the countryside and built schools all over Pakistan. She dedicated herself to solving the problems of hunger, housing and health care and bringing her country into the 21st Century. Her agenda was one of reconciliation among various factions, peace, ending militancy, eradicating poverty, building institutions of civil rule and democracy, spreading education and providing hope to the people of Pakistan for a better future.
Ms. Bhutto was born in Karachi in 1953 to a prominent political family. At age 16 she left her homeland to study at Harvard's Radcliffe College. After completing her undergraduate degree in Political Science, she earned a second degree at England's Oxford University, followed by a law degree a few years later.
Meanwhile, her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected Prime Minister, but within days the military seized power and her father was imprisoned. In 1979 he was hanged by the military government of General Zia Ul Haq.
She was arrested many times and served three years in solitary confinement before being permitted to leave the country in 1984. She settled in London, where she and her two brothers founded an underground organization to resist the military dictatorship. When one of her brothers died in 1985, she returned to Pakistan for his burial, and was again arrested for participating in anti-government rallies.
Despite her prestigious Western education, she agreed to an arranged marriage in 1987. The couple had three children.
Bhutto's husband was imprisoned in 1997 on charges of corruption and served eight years in prison. Once again, she was forced to leave her homeland. For nine years, she and her children lived in exile in London, where she continued to advocate the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
In October of this year, she returned to her native country despite death threats from radical Islamists and the hostility of the present government.
She was greeted by enthusiastic crowds but within hours of her arrival, her motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. She survived this first assassination attempt, although more than 100 bystanders died in the attack. Even this did not deter her from her mission to finally restore peace to her country.
Today in Rawalpindi a gunman fired at her car, fatally wounding her. The assassin then detonated a bomb, killing himself and numerous bystanders.
Rioting erupted throughout the country, intensifying the dangerous instability of a nuclear-armed nation in a highly volatile region.
The world has lost one of its most eloquent voices for peace, moderation, and democracy, and also one of its bravest citizens. We are all diminished for it.
"I find that whenever I am in power, or my father was in power, somehow good things happen. The economy picks up, we have good rains, water comes, people have crops. I think the reason this happens is that we want to give love and we receive love."