Benazir the Martyr: an Anniversary on the Brink of War

01/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination comes and goes, some people in Pakistan have quietly concluded that getting assassinated was the best thing she ever did.

Not because she saved Pakistan by doing it but, as the logic goes, because she hadn't done a great deal of good before that and at least she passed with the legacy of a martyr. No doubt something her fellow Shiite Muslims have recognized without a little irony.

The fact is that even though in the tradition of a Sonia Gandhi or a Queen Elizabeth II she got her top spot thanks to the family name, Bhutto spent her last days, indeed her last moments, more fiercely independent and more of her own person than she had ever been.

It was Bhutto herself -- not her name, or her father's legacy -- that got up every morning in those last campaign days and put her life on the line to meet the crowds. She knew the threats but whether it was the blinding glory of long lost public attention or the constant reassurance by her backers -- including the Americans -- that she would be kept safe, for some reason Bhutto risked it all day after day.

Her brutal assassination in Rawalpindi on December 27th, 2007, was the start of a complicated series of maneuvers aimed at convincing the Pakistani people and the world of two still dubious things: that it wasn't an assassin's bullet that killed her and that she had specified her long estranged husband Asif Ali Zardari and her underage son as the successors to her party's leadership. As one retired Pakistani politician told me in Lahore recently, there's an old saying that it doesn't matter how a politician dies, the answers all lie in identifying who benefited most from the death.

Considering all that's transpired in the last year, some Pakistanis are asking themselves if things would have been better with Benazir. Would she have quelled the growing discontent among the independent Pashtuns (or Pathans as they are called in Pakistan)? She did, after all, fully support the Talibanization of Afghanistan in its infancy -- a movement comprised of Afghan Pashtuns who now increasingly disagree with their Pakistani counterparts. Would she have handled the Mumbai bombing accusations differently? She wasn't exactly known for her security prowess.

And most importantly, would she have been able to placate the growing numbers of Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan into a more moderate and less aggravated segment of society? Not likely, considering their greatest grievance is Pakistan's role in the War on Terror -- a war that will soon be focused primarily on Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to President-elect Obama's recent statements.

Looking at the voting record of the election she was hoping to win, even with the added numbers of sympathy voters following her death (she died 2 weeks before the election), her party was not able to obtain a majority and was left to form a coalition government with that of ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Benazir, it seems, would not have won that election anyway. She was in fact, just another Western-elevated "champion of democracy" whose own public was well aware of her paltry record on that and all other fronts.

This half-Iranian (her mother Nusrat Begum was from Esfahan) Pakistani icon had a checkered political history, most notable for its accusations of corruption. She was ousted from office her first time as Prime Minister because of corruption charges and her husband is still referred to as Mr Ten Percent because he allegedly always skimmed a bit off the top of the business deals he had access to during his wife's Prime Ministership. There is still a court case pending in Switzerland against both her and her husband for nearly 12 million dollars of laundered funds acquired during her leadership. And to top it off, there is still no rest to the rumors that she and Zardari were closely associated with the police ambush and murder of her brother Murtaza in 1996 during her second term as Prime Minister.

Considering all these charges and the fact that Bhutto did little to nothing to help the plight of Pakistani women, to improve education and healthcare or indeed to do a great deal of other things she promised that she would, it is perhaps not so surprising what many Pakistanis are saying about her martyrdom and the legacy it has embellished.