by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
December 27, 2007
BENAZIR BHUTTO LEFT A LIFELONG IMPRESSION
I met Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated this morning in the largest cities in Pakistan, Rawalpindi. It was at the 1972 Indo-Pak Summit Conference in Simla, India, high in the Himalayas not far from the borders of Pakistan, India and Tibet.
She was then a very attractive young woman who was on summer vacation from her classes at Harvard. I was a work/study student at Antioch University's Baltimore-Washington campus in Columbia, Md., studying writing and then on an 18-month trip around the world writing for the Village Voice - the largest alternative weekly in the United States in 1972 - to study partition as an instrument of foreign policy. The trip had taken me to Northern Ireland, where an IRA bomb had practically blown up in my face, to Pakistan and India, where I witnessed the signing of the historic peace treaty that created Bangladesh and brought peace to the two South Asian neighbors after a short, bloody war won by India, and then to South Vietnam.
A few days earlier, in Karachi, Pakistan, the largest city, I attended a crowded press conference with her father, then-President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the Presidential Palace and got to ask an important question about the future of Jammu and Kashmir.
In Simla, where we could see the mountains of Tibet in the distance. I witnessed the arrival of Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi and Bhutto, and of the "father of Bangladesh," Sheik Mujibur Rahman, India's popular ambassador to the United States, Swaran Singh, was also there, as was one of Indian's richest men, industrialist J.R.D. Tata. It was a heady time for a 24-year-old young journalist in the company of some of the mopst famous reporters in the world.
We were in a large ceremonial hall where the 1972 Simla Agreement was about to be signed, settling the war and the creating the nation of Bangladesh. Benazir was off to the side in a little alcove, and some other American journalists had already crowded around her. I made my way through them and was greeted by her with a warm smile and delicate bow. She wore a traditional head covering and beautifully embroidered burqa in red and gold with a silk scarf that looked like it came from Hermès. She was seated, so I went to the nearest chair - a highly ornate one at a small, exquisite desk - and dragged it over beside her. Soon we were talking about Harvard, her plans for the summer and her return to the States.
Suddenly a tall, angry Sikh guard in full ceremonial regalia - even a spear or a sword, if memory serves - came striding up to me in high dudgeon. I had just grabbed Indira Ghandi's chair frpm the table where she would sit when she signed the treaty! My embarrassment was profound, but was cured a few minutes later when Indira Ghandi gave me the blue Parker pen with which she signed the treaty.
That ended our brief conversation, but it left me with a lifelong fascination with her career. I was delighted when she eventually rose to the nation's highest office, and deeply dismayed when she was forced to flee the country for England when her husband faced what were called trumped-up charges of corruption. Unfortunately, there seemed to be plenty of evidence of wrongdoing on her husband's part, yet I always harbored a hopeful belief that she had nothing to do with it, and I never saw any evidence to the contrary.
Today's assassination grieves me deeply. She was a vibrant, beautiful woman with high ideals and great hopes for her country, a Kennedyesque figure for Pakistan. It's a nation that badly needed her broad cultural experience and deep political insights, and the in the wake of her murder - probably by Al-Qaeda terrorists who saw her as a strong U.S. ally - the blow to her family is incalculable. Her father, of course, had been hanged by President Zia-al-Haq, the general who succeeded him, and her two brothers were murdered. I heard just now on CNN that her 19-year-old son is inconsolable, and on behalf of our staff and me, I send the American Reporter's deepest condolences to him.
The world is poorer for her loss. It was John Donne who wrote, "Because I am involved in mankind, every man's death diminishes me." I know that I feel diminished, and so must many Pakistanis, who lost the bright, vital leadership she promised to a nation benighted by intolerance, violence, poverty and now chaos. In my prayers today, I'm asking our Creator to bring her legacy to life for her nation, and her soul to His side.
I'd like to share one of my poems, in her memory: