As just about everyone knows by now, twice former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed yesterday morning in Pakistan.
It is still not clear exactly how she died. Early reports had her being shot at least twice and then being struck by shrapnel from a bomb that exploded nearby. Now a Pakistani government spokesperson has offered a more mundane though no less tragic explanation for the cause of Bhutto's death.
Here is an excerpt from this article on the BCC's web site:
Talking about the cause of Ms Bhutto's death, the spokesman said she had died from a head wound.
It was, he said, sustained when she smashed against the sunroof's lever as she tried to shelter inside the car from the gunman, who set off a bomb after opening fire with a gun.
"The lever struck near her right ear and fractured her skull," he said. "There was no bullet or metal shrapnel found in the injury."
Time will tell if it is true. I don't know much about Pakistani culture, but I wonder if peddling a story like that might be an attempt to minimize Bhutto's death. If she died by an assassin's gun shot or a bomb, she becomes a martyred leader like India's Indira Gandhi. But if her death was a tragic accident, like what befell this late American congressman and entertainer, her death can be portrayed by her opponents as nothing more than the consequences of her own clumsiness.
While I have known who Benazir Bhutto was since I was a high school student, I don't know much about her personally. During her two stints as Prime Minister of Pakistan, she does not seem to have been a particularly effective ruler, and she was removed from office both times before completing her term. Her opponents would claim that her administration was incompetent and corrupt, while her supporters would argue that the powerful interests who opposed her undermined her ability to govern. Knowing that such things are never black and white, I would say it is likely that it was a combination of the two.
An historian named Arthur Herman, in this piece that originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, declared that "As prime minister of Pakistan, Ms. Bhutto proved to be one of the most incompetent leaders in the history of South Asia."
But as flawed as Benazir Bhutto was, her death is still a terrible tragedy. Even if the actual cause of her death was as described above, it was still caused by the attempt on her life. While her life in and of itself was no more important than the dozen or so of the other people who were killed in the assassination attempt, the attack was not just against Bhutto, but even more important, it was an attack against the very idea of representative democracy itself. The whole idea of democracy is that issues are settled at the ballot box, and the loser, however grudgingly, must accept the results. The figures who were behind the assassination attempts on Bhutto struck a blow against the right of the people of Pakistan to choose their candidate at the voting booth.
Hopefully this weekend I will be able to do a post focusing on Pakistan, as I have felt for some time that Pakistan is the true central front in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
UPDATE: Here is an article on cnn.com about the controvery surrounding the conflicting accounts of Benazir Bhutto's death.
For me, the most interesting part was this short paragraph:
"CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, who worked in U.S. intelligence in Pakistan during the Clinton administration, said he suspects Bhutto's enemies are attempting to control her legacy by minimizing the attack's role in her demise."
"They're trying to deny her a martyr's death, and in Islam, that's pretty important," Robinson said.
Looks like I was right on the money regarding the possible explanation I offered above about why the Pakistani government was claiming she died from banging her head against a sun-roof lever instead of from gunshot or shrapnel wounds.