Minutes before she was assassinated in Pakistan, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told a rally in Rawalpindi that, “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis.”
No serious observer of the circumstance into which Bhutto had thrust herself as a flawed but determined proponent of democracy doubted the truth of those words.
The daughter of an executed former prime minister who had herself been the first woman to lead a Muslim state, Bhutto lived with danger even when she was in exile from Pakistan. She symbolized secular, modern, western-oriented and democratic instincts that were at odds with the values both of Islamic fundamentalists and military dictators in the Muslim world. Al-Qaida had attempted, at least twice, to kill her.
When she returned to Pakistan on October 18, Bhutto accepted the danger, saying that, “If you fight for a cause you believe in, you have to be ready to pay the price.” Bhutto believed it was the only way to address the crisis that is Pakistan under the crudely cynical rule of the dictator Pervez Musharraf.
The severity of the threat became immediately clear.
Bhutto was the subject of an assassination attempt that killed 140 people on the day of her arrival. That attempt that was never adequately investigated by security forces controlled by Musharraf.
She had been placed under house arrest by Musharraf’s government, which declared a sweeping state of emergency that was lifted in time for the election campaign in which Bhutto was engaged at the time of her killing.
Could anything have been done to prevent the assassination? Of course. Bhutto and her aides had repeatedly appealed for greater physical protection during the election campaign. Those appeals were directed to both Musharraf and his primary benefactor, American President George Bush. But there was never an adequate response.
Bush and his aides may have recognized that Bhutto was an essential ally for the United States, particularly as an enthusiastic supporter of global efforts to confront Islamic militancy. But they never sent a clear signal to Musharraf or those around him regarding the need to investigate the October assassination attempt, to confront threats to Bhutto and other opposition leaders or to provide basic security.
Just as the dictator was allowed to neglect the task of tracking down Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida operatives within his country, just as he was given a pass when Pakistani officials shared nuclear secrets and technologies with rogue states, just as he was allowed to thwart democratic initiatives in his country and the region, Musharraf never faced a serious demand from the Bush administration to protect Bhutto.
And in the absence of that demand from the government that props him up as what George Bush once referred to as “our guy,” Musharraf – who has survived so many assassination attempts himself – failed to take the steps necessary to save Bhutto or to foster democratic processes.
The Bush administration failed Benazir Bhutto and now she is dead.
With her died the prospects of stability and democracy that she embodied and that the president, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and those around them claim as the goals of their so-called “war on terror.”
This is a time for mourning. But it is, as well, a time for somber reflection on the utterly failed and fully dysfunctional foreign policies of the Bush-Cheney administration.
The world is a more dangerous place today.
The failure of George Bush and those around him to premise their relationship with Pervez Musharraf on the absolute demand that Benazir Bhutto be kept safe and alive made it so.
Now, the question is whether members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — will step forward to say that the relationship that George Bush has established and maintained with Pervez Musharraf is no longer morally or practically tenable.