Benazir Bhutto: A moderate voice, silenced

BhuttoShe was not a household name in this country, but cable news junkies knew her well.

Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was killed along with at least 20 others by a suicide bomber Thursday morning, had been on a non-stop media tour during the past few months after she decided to return to Pakistan in October to run once again for prime minister.

On American TV news programs, the telegenic, articulate Bhutto, who was 54, played the part of a reformer who was eager to modernize Pakistan and prevent it from being taken over by Islamic extremists. She had the made-for-Hollywood backstory of being the daughter of the country’s first democratic leader, Zulfikar Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979 after a military coup when she was 25.

Bhutto was dogged by charges of corruption during her term in office in the 1990s, specifically regarding misappropriation of United Nation aid funds. But on American television, for all her flaws, Bhutto was an important voice of moderation out of a region that mystifies, and often terrifies, many of us. Her assassination only reinforces the worst of those fears about a part of the world that seems increasingly far removed from the West’s sociopolitical comfort zones.

“Right now the Islamists are threatening the unity and integrity of my country,” Bhutto told “BBC World News America” in an interview with anchor Matt Frei on the program’s inaugural Oct. 1 broadcast (pictured above). “We have suicide bombers taking lives of people, we have the army being attacked by militants, so I think there is a real need for the nation to come together and undermine the forces of extremism and militancy before, God forbid, Pakistan breaks up.”

In an interview to be published in the Jan. 6 edition of Parade magazine, Bhutto was chillingly, prophetically blunt about the risks she faced and the volatility in her homeland.

“I am what the terrorists most fear,” she told writer Gail Sheehy, “a female political leader fighting to bring modernity to Pakistan. Now they’re trying to kill me.”

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