Thursday, December 27, 2007
On the Road: Pakistan
-- Peter Bergen, CNN Terrorism Analyst

We are at JFK airport on the way to Pakistan to report on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto who I first met in 1989 when she was Prime Minister. I was then a young associate producer for ABC News 20/20 and we interviewed her for a story on the legal status of women in Pakistan. She was beautiful and intelligent and had the air of someone who is rarely contradicted.

I met her again a decade later in 1999, first for tea at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington and then at the suburban house of one of her supporters in New Jersey. Then she was very much out in the political wilderness; two years into a self-imposed exile and bedeviled by corruption charges. Many felt her political career was over. I had the sense that official Washington was treating her as something of a pariah.

One story she told me then is relevant to what happened today in Pakistan: She said that a young Saudi militant named Osama bin Laden had bribed some politicians to vote against her in a no-confidence vote in Pakistan's Parliament in 1989. Al Qaeda has long despised the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country.

And then I met Bhutto for the final time at a dinner at the Mayflower hotel in Washington a couple of weeks before she returned to Pakistan in October of this year. She was in great spirits, enormously charming and dominated the conversation because of her intellect and infectious brio. I spoke with Asif, her husband, who agreed with me when I suggested that the imminent return to Pakistan of his wife was a moment of great triumph for her and her family. Asif agreed but he also warned, "You know there are also dangers in returning. We have agreed that I will remain out the country in case anything goes wrong." Today something went terribly wrong.

As we are about to get on our flight I can't help but think that we will arrive in a Pakistan made terribly somber by this tragedy, for this is Pakistan's Kennedy assassination.
Posted By CNN: 10:42 PM ET
It is very clear that Mrs. Bhutto did not have a perimeter of security surrounding her. Had that been the case, neither the gunman or the vehicle would have been able to approach, and perhaps she would be alive tonight. Malcolm
Posted By Anonymous Malcolm : 11:00 PM ET
You were very lucky to get to meet such a great lady not once but several times! It seems like she was a person that really cared for her country and the people there! She will be greatly missed I am sure!!

Have a safe trip to Pakistan and back! You all PLEASE be extra careful!!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 11:02 PM ET

I had the same thought on the assassination today - just like the Kennedy assassination. I was thinking Bobby Kennedy though and all the promise he showed rather than John Kennedy. Bobby showed such promise and the foresight to guide America through the shoals of Vietnam and other problems. Bhutto seemed to have that same promise for her country and countrymen.

Be careful as you travel and report. I am looking forward to your reports and thoughts on Bhutto's death and its long term consequences. Stay safe though.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Blogger Annie Kate : 11:06 PM ET
I am curious why Bhutto felt it safe to poke her head out of her armored vehicle with so many extremists in her midst. Did she have a death wish or perhaps this was her sacrifice for the greater cause? There is no amount of security in my opinion that could have saved this sitting duck target. To blame anyone for her lack of sound judgement to be "close to the people" is equally curious.
Posted By Anonymous CJ : 3:12 AM ET
Thank you for the personal update and the brief review of your interactions with Bhutto. I beg you and all your team now traveling to Pakistan: take extra special care. I leave fellow CNN viewers and general admirers with this paraphase attributed to another great woman: 'By giving over to the visceral pain, not fighing it, I gained unprecedented strength each passing moment. With it came the overwhelming power to survive and to quicken the vibrations of the whole earth.'--Gloria Vanderbilt. Perhaps there is yet some good to come of this 'Kennedy' assasination.
Posted By Blogger T. Karim : 3:55 AM ET
Thanks for the personal update and the brief account of your interactions with Bhutto. I beg you and your team take extra special care on this perilous assignment. I leave fellow CNN viewers and general admirers with this paraphrase attributed to another great woman: 'By giving over to the visceral pain, not fighting it, I gained unprecedented srength each passing moment. With it came the overwhleming power to survive and to quicken the vibrations of the whole earth.'--Gloria Vanderbilt. Maybe there is yet some good to accompany the specter of this nearly inexplicable horror.
Posted By Blogger T. Karim : 4:01 AM ET
Be careful and god speed! Watch each others backs!

Don't worry about NYE AC we can handle it without you ... you stay and do the job you love, we would expect nothing less.

Marcy, Mobile, AL
Posted By Blogger beaslma : 8:58 AM ET

It was interesting to hear your account from your meetings with Mrs. Bhutto and her husband.

What will the world feel from her loss? My takeaways are the fact that all people rich, poor, formally educated or not all have a voice.

Use it your voice and use it frequently. If you see in injustice at work or in your neighborhood use your voice. Be wise with it. Mrs. Bhutto was a living example that all things are possible for women. Nelson Mandela is another great leader that I would love to meet.

I know, Peter, women do have their limitations and we have to be careful not to dominate the conversation because of our intellect and infectious brio.
(My husband loved that comment.)

So ladies and gentlemen, what will you stand up for today? Women's rights, democracy, gay rights, children's education, increased property taxes, corruption, drug dealers, poverty, violence around the world. What action will you take?

Let's use our voice and remember the leaders and maybe our own parents that have gone before us to make the world a better place.

Bless the people of Pakistan and the family of Mrs. Bhutto because they could use a little love right now.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 9:51 AM ET
Al Queada has struck yet another blow to the free people of the world. Unlike the assassination of JFK, this tragedy is very clear. Al Queada will not stop until they bring down the western world. We must dedicate ourselves to doing what ever is necessary to stop this brutal movement before it is too late.
Posted By Blogger Dan Campbell : 10:45 AM ET
I am from Pakistan and would just like to add that if US had not supported the Musharraf govt in all its illegal activities this monster of terrorism would not have reared its ugly head here in the country.Although i did not agree with Bhuttos political ideology...never the less it is an extremely tragic murder and will plunge the country further into Chaos.
Posted By Anonymous pkblogger : 10:53 AM ET
Hello Peter:

Yesterday I said the same thing to some friends of mine via e-mail how the Bhutoo assassination of Pakistan is like Kennedy's assassination here in the States. So I figured I'd drop you a line.

Take care in Pakistan.
Posted By Blogger Shreya : 11:29 AM ET
The world is a little sadder, we have lost another voice, when will this hatred ever end. Please keep in everyones thoughts that Mrs. Bhutto had a husband and a family, please keep them in your prayers, It is very hard to lose your mother, let alone in this manner, fighting for what we here in the USA take so for granted. We should all aspire to do something in 2008 for freedom in rememberance of Mrs. Bhutto, anywhere, locally or regional or globally get involve we are running out of peace around the world.
Posted By Blogger Nelsy : 11:35 AM ET
Thank you for your story. By your reference to the Kennedy's I believe you are referring to JFK.
However, as I cried yesterday at this sad news, I was much more reminded of Bobby Kennedy's assasination. Both were courageous charismatic leaders trying to unite their very volatile countries. And both were on the verge of achieving that by nearing the end of the election process, only to have more volatility ensured by murderers who had no repect for the rule of law or the election process to pick our rulers.
Posted By Anonymous Mark (USA) : 11:38 AM ET
Though it may sound strange, I hope that your comparison of this tragedy to Kennedy's assassination is ultimately the most accurate. Personally, I cannot help but be reminded of another assassination in 1914; that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in an eerily similar fashion which touched off World War I.

If the struggling, oppressed people of Pakistan use Bhutto's death as a rallying cry for the democratic movement, then her death will not have been in vain and there is still be hope for the region to pull out of an increasingly violent tailspin. If not, if the supporters of democracy give in to their natural impulses of rage and fear after this attack, then Al Qaeda and those who desire chaos and death have already won and we will all suffer the consequences. Either way, this tragedy marks a watershed moment in history.

American policy right now will be absolutely critical. I believe our response to this event as much as any other will define Bush's legacy and set the course of our future. Bush needs to make it clear to Musharraf that not only does the U.S. want to know who murdered Bhutto, we want to see those responsible brought to justice. If that means using American soldiers and weapons to finally go into the Tora Bora, then that is what must be done. It is time restore our international credibility. Prove to the Pakistanis and the rest of the world that we will fight on the side of democracy and equality. We must fight for the people even and especially when that fight runs counter to the agenda of a dictator whose corrupt government we support.
Posted By Blogger Joshua : 11:40 AM ET
There is enough blame to go around pointing fingers at Musharraf, al-Qaeda, other extremists, even possibly Hillary Clinton!

But who in Bhutto's situation, knowing that attacks were being planned, if not imminent, would stand up in the sunroof of her car? And what kind of personal security detail would allow her to stand up in the car?

Every country has terrorists or other insane people who would love to kill their leader and these leaders and their security details would know well enough not to allow the kind of exposure allowed yesterday. This was one assassination attempt that was completely preventable and unfortunately the world will come to regret this tragic loss and tragic mistake.
Posted By Blogger harrykatz : 12:12 PM ET

Your exchange with Bhutto is very reminiscent of Joe Klein's recollection on Swampland. He wrote:

I had a brief, but telling conversation with Bhutto that day. I asked her how the country had changed since she was a girl. She immediately railed against the increasing religious orthodoxy. "I used to be able to go out intot the streets wearing jeans," she said. I asked her why that had changed. "The Saudis," she said, disgustedly. "The schools they are funding," she said referring to the radical madrasas. "They are undermining this country."

In fact, the Saudis reportedly financed an attempt on her life by Ramzi Yousef back in 1993, as reported by investigative journalist Jason Burke in his book Al Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror (pp. 99-100).

I wonder how long before we see a similar connection to the Saudis this time. In light of all that's happened since '93, it seems inevitable:
Posted By Anonymous Bill in Chicago : 2:41 PM ET
I appreciate all the surreal emotions from the previous comments, but frankly, if this assasination throws Pakiston into a civil war, I'm scared-no, make that terrified -of the implications beyond those borders.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie, Denham Springs, LA : 2:59 PM ET
Obviously the only thing to do now is for the U.S. to go into those Taliban enclaves on the Pakistan border and just blow them away. Bhutto would have allowed that. Mussharaf will never allow that, so we must finish what Bhutto intended to do. If al-Qaeda took her away from us, we must make Pakistan Taliban and al-Qaeda free, even if Pakistan won't allow us to. If we don't, these assassinations will continue, both within and outside of Pakistan as al-Qaeda continues to get stronger.

We must do what we must do. I'm glad Bush is in the driver's seat. I only hope he/Cheney/Gates/Rice are up to the task.

God Bless America.
Posted By Blogger harrykatz : 4:53 PM ET
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