The whole assassination situation in Pakistan is really sad and as I thought about it I tried to think like Bhutto and play it out. What would I think about in the months before the assassination if I were her?
My thought on this is that she knew she was going to get killed. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she said her goodbyes to her children and to her husband and struck a deal with her husband that said, you stay out of the country and take care of the kids after I’m killed. Her father was killed, her brother was killed, she knew if she went back she’d be killed; if not now then after she won the election and became prime minister. And that’s why she left the country in a self imposed exile while her kids were young a decade ago. She was smart enough to not have them lose their mother at a young age, so she raised the kids, got them to be young adults and then went back.
Why go back if you know you’re going to die?
a) It’s a sure-fire way to become immortalized and deified. Getting killed at the height of your popularity means everyone remembers you that way and everyone starts to inflate your importance because in death they feel the need to honor you. Basically if you die young you become a martyr. I don’t think Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or even Jesus would be as powerful figures as they are if they hadn’t been killed.
b) It’s a sure-fire way to foment revolution in an unstable country. I think she understood that if she were killed off, regardless of who did it, people would blame Musharaff and sometimes all you need is that little bit of a spark in an unstable country to topple the establishment. If you give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she truly wanted democracy, she knew that it wouldn’t happen so long as Musharaff was in control and he was able to keep people relatively happy most of the time. There needed to be some sort of a national or international incident for which he would receive the blame and that would force him from power. I think she thought this was one such incident and given that it was likely to happen, she wasn’t going to stop it from happening. If it was something like, like a nuclear weapon getting into the wrong hands, then that would work too but she figured her assassination may just be enough. Only once he is out of the way could democracy really take root; otherwise he would always get in the way.
This is clearly a sort of messed up way to think about your life. Most normal people wouldn’t be willing to accept death like that but I think she was the type of person to do this. I think most world leaders and politicians are more concerned about their legacy and their impact than with longevity; they wouldn’t pursue power so hungrily if they really cared about being normal and balanced.
To summarize, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that she knew she was going to die and understood what that would mean and willingly put herself in that situation. Which, in my opinion, is really courageous and just as diabolical. I’m not suggesting she wanted to die. I’m just suggesting that she ran through this sort of an analysis and concluded that even if she did die, the result would not be the worst possible outcome.
Update: Based on some feedback I wanted to reiterate and clarify that I am not suggesting she set out to martyr herself or willingly die. I’m just asserting that she knew she would likely be killed and in thinking about whether or not it was worth it, this is the analysis I would imagine she went through, with the ultimate conclusion that this would further her cause and likely further her name.