Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18, 2007.
Two months, one week and five days after her triumphant return, she was dead.
Bhutto’s homecoming was a victory that had come after eight years of exile. She had been prime minister of Pakistan twice and was back for a third round, fighting fiercely for democracy and challenging the emergency rule that current President and Chief of Army Staff Pervez Musharraf had declared. The rally that greeted her in her home city of Karachi quickly erupted into chaos as a suicide-bomb attack exploded in the crowd, eventually leaving over 130 people dead.
Bhutto’s time in Pakistan was never easy. As the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and the daughter of a political family, her legacy was a violent one; a political rival had hanged Bhutto’s father and both of her brothers were murdered. Both of her terms as prime minister ended with accusations of corruption, the second time leading her to a life of exile in Dubai.
Under penalty of almost certain death, Bhutto later returned to her home, determined to make a difference — and was killed before she had that chance.
It’s interesting to look at international relations in the wake of the former prime minister’s death. President Bush was open about trying to broker a power-sharing agreement in Pakistan, and the Bush administration encouraged Bhutto to return to her country. Perhaps Bush was hoping for another democracy in a state that was on the verge of falling under the rule of a dictator and Islamic fundamentalism. There are also reports of al Qaeda rebuilding itself in Pakistan, along with the question of the over $5 billion that the United States has given to the country to help bolster its military. All of these elements make it understandable that Bush would push for Bhutto’s return.
So then was Bhutto foolish for coming back, or brave?
Did she truly accomplish anything, or was the state of Pakistan lifted out of her control and embedded within the varying agendas of the War on Terror?
These questions will probably not find concrete answers, at least not any time soon, but they must be asked. Bhutto was a figure whose life became greater than her own daily existence. In her career she proved that the Pakistani people still had a lot to say, and she planted the seeds of gender equality that were growing in the region (Bhutto was the first female prime minister in the Muslim world). She became the center of a populist party, a symbol for what people believed was right. Bhutto became a rallying cry, and now in her death we will see her next transformation. Her life has come to represent the actions of many nations, and many movements. Hopefully her death will not be in vain.
This is how history is made. This is how figures rise and become so much more than one life — it starts with someone’s voice and someone’s actions recorded in books, and in the end it shapes the way the rest of us see the world. And while each human life is of equal value and legitimacy, it is not often that we circle around one figure and mourn his or her death. Perhaps Bhutto’s legacy will be greater than the individual; perhaps it will make everyone stop and think, at least for a bit, and take a closer look at what’s really going on.