Death of an icon

29 December, 2007

Jemima Khan may have referred to her – somewhat unkindly, I felt at the time – as a “Kleptocrat in an Hermes scarf”, but Benazir Bhutto was much more than a flawed politician.

I, too, was disappointed at her inability to advance the cause of women’s rights in Pakistan when she was Prime Minister, but she faced almost implacable oppostion by the army – an enormously powerful force in Pakistan – during her tenure. It was interesting to listen to a friend of hers on the Today programme yesterday morning, talking about how she felt that Benazir had perhaps lacked the leadership/management skills necessary to force through the changes she genuinely wanted to see.

Whatever it was that held her back from achieving all that she had set out to, Benazir Bhutto was still the first woman ever to be elected as the democratic leader of a Muslim country; an achievement in its own right, even if it owed more to notions of dynastic inheritance than meritocracy.

She was perhaps the best chance Pakistan had of bringing together the three apices of power: President, head of the army and Prime Minister, to work together against the twin scourges of extremism and poverty.

Whatever the truth of her assasination (is it just me, or does it strike you as nit-picking, to argue that the fall from the blast of a suicide bomber killed her, rather than the bullet that was aimed at her?), she will remain an icon in international politics, someone in whom the west had invested great hope, it is true, but with a core of steel that would doubtless have seen her prepared to argue with us if necessary, when it came to the country about which she cared so passionately.


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