Bhutto: 'Don't let militants set the agenda'

Bhutto can be honored by a swift return to democracy in a land that is terrorism central.

Before her return to Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto said this about the risk of assassination: "What I really need to ask myself is: Do I give up, do I let the militants determine the agenda?" It is a question every Pakistani, indeed everyone, must now ask after her Dec. 27 killing by a suicide terrorist.

Ms. Bhutto's legacy will be measured by her final sacrifice in trying to set a democratic agenda for her country and to reverse the agenda of Islamic militants who feared her possible success.

The first way to honor her legacy would be for President Pervez Musharraf to set up an independent and respected panel of investigators to uncover the group and circumstances behind her assassination.

Knowing the hand behind this killing will help wake up Pakistanis to forces they must confront – rather than continuing to say the fight against terror is only an American problem.

When she returned Oct. 18 after years of exile, one person who openly vowed to arrange for her killing was the top commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, a man with ties to Al Qaeda. But there may also be elements within the Army's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency that may be behind the attack.

Another way to honor Bhutto's legacy is for Musharraf to pick up her banner of relentlessly trying to bring back democracy to Pakistan.

He must ensure that the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections are delayed only long enough for her Pakistan Peoples Party – perhaps the largest in the country – to regroup under a new leader and to allow better security measures to be given to major candidates. The president, who himself has been the target of repeated jihadist assassination attempts, must not use this latest violence to further put off the end of his authoritarian rule.

As the export center for global terrorism, Pakistan must quickly overcome its long history of political violence and religious-ethnic-class divides to unite under democratic principles. For a country of 165 million people – more than in Russia – that will require standing up to forces of division that violate freedoms and civic rights.

Bhutto understood the sacrifices that must be made. The former prime minister cited the 1983 return of political opposition leader Benigno Aquino to the Philippines and how his assassination helped inspire Filipinos to rise up together and oust a dictator in the name of "people's power."

But even in the Philippines, that democratic success took three years to play out. Pakistan may indeed face a long period of turmoil after her death. But Pakistanis must now realize from this tragedy that their future lies not so much in political personalities like Bhutto but in the principles that she stood for and in suppressing militancy.

One other legacy of hers must also be honored: Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim country. In many Muslim countries, women have taken heart from her leadership to challenge their lesser roles in society.

Before her return, Bhutto updated her autobiography, "Benazir Bhutto – Daughter of the East," writing that she knew the stakes for herself and Pakistan in reentering a turbulent nation. But she also wrote she was doing it for "the entire world." She set the agenda for anyone threatened by militants.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.