Monday, December 31, 2007

Of all the encomiums I've seen for Benazir Bhutto over the last few days, I was most struck by a passage from this reminisce from the brother of a college friend:

Her family, for reasons never explained to me, had told her that someday she would be the leader of her home nation and in order to achieve that she would need the credibility in the eyes of the western world that would come from a premier western education--they decided that the Harvard/American connection would be more valuable than the connections she would get if she was educated in Europe.

She seemed to believe in this preordained destiny and did not fight it. She said it was her obligation. I thought the whole thing sounded crazy, how could her family just DECIDE to make her a national leader? I mean, a Harvard education is a wonderful thing, but not every Harvard graduate goes on to lead a nation. I used the word "preposterous" more than once to describe her life plan. Later, I learned just how wrong I could be.

She was so convinced that she would become Pakistan's leader, she said the only one way that could not happen, would be if her brother killed her first. One of her brothers was furious that she, a worthless girl, had been chosen by the family instead of him--a not girl. I read in the newspapers years later that one of her brothers had been killed and that her niece blamed Bennie for it. I always wondered if that was the brother who had threatened her so many years before.

De mortuis, said the Romans, nil nisi bonum. I'm not Roman.

With a brother like that, her family didn't exactly adhere to Western standards of good governance much --- they were formal feudal landholders saw themselves as dynasts, and Bhutto's rule was of a piece with that heritage. In the huge bribes she took from Western interests. In her tolerance and support for Muslim fanatics (including the Afghan Taliban), from which her assassination may have been blowback. And, at the end, in her political will and testament, which nominated as successor not some trusted, experienced lieutenant (of which she apparently didn't have any), but the obvious dynastic successor --- her callow, nineteen-year-old son.

The family didn't send her to Harvard and Oxford to become Western. She left as she came --- as one of their own. They sent her for the reasons she said they sent her --- to make contacts, and to learn to play the part of the friendly, Westernized leader for as long as there were Westerners in the room. It's a way that third-world elites have of dealing with our own --- Europeans and particularly Americans who seem to always think that they're too smart to be fooled by anyone with a brown skin and a third-world pedigree. Witness, say, Ahmed Chalabi, on the run from a conviction for massive bank fraud in Jordan, who had half the White House primed to make him our savior in Iraq, while all the while he was playing footsie with Iranian intelligence --- among numerous other sad examples strewn across the globe.

That's what Bhutto went to learn at Harvard and Oxford. And the proof of her determination and talent is the hagiography that we've been drowning in over the past few days. She did spectacularly well.

More: In the Guardian, William Dalrymple memorializes the Benazir that hung out with the rich and powerful in London, and the one that ruled Pakistan --- which he describes as two very different people. Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden

(Most links from Matthew Yglesias, who's been all over this).


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