Benazir Bhutto: Freedom’s Martyr
By Asa Hutchinson

Editor’s Note: This column initially ran in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Dec. 29th.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was not an attack on this brave woman alone; it was an attack upon democracy, freedom and the United States. It was an attack upon all of us who oppose terrorism throughout the world.

When I last spoke to Benazir Bhutto, shortly after her return to Pakistan, she admitted to her fear of the “assassins” who were determined to kill her. Nonetheless, she was determined to overcome that fear and continue the fight to restore democracy to Pakistan. If this meant standing on the foremost rank in the war against terrorism, so be it. If it meant challenging the repressive measures of the current government under Pervez Mursharraf, and possibly being arrested again alongside the justices of the Supreme Court, then she was ready for that too.

Benazir’s steely-eyed determination gave hope to freedom lovers all over the world, and today we grieve for her children and for the children of freedom everywhere.

There are some who will ask why we should care about what happens half way around the world. Benazir Bhutto answered this question for me, herself. The war on terror is not an American war; it is a global war. While not as well known to many Americans as Iraq or Afghanistan, neighboring Pakistan is one of the central battlefields in this war. Its despondent borders provide fertile breeding ground for extremist ideologies, where children are taught radical beliefs by extremists fleeing the violence they have wrought behind them. It is where the world’s most notorious terrorists find safe haven to operate – to plan and train for their next attack on the United States.

In short, she patiently explained: the future of our war against terrorism depends upon what happens in Pakistan.

If Pakistan continues to falter in its nascent steps toward democracy; if its government continues to arbitrarily jail leading citizens and silence an independent media; if it continues to focus its security measures against legitimate political opponents and civic leaders rather than the violent extremists and terrorists; then the resulting discontent and repression will make it that much easier to recruit and motivate more terrorists. And if the rule of law and the justice system collapse, and they are teetering on the edge now, then the terrorists will surely operate with even greater freedom and efficiency.

If Benazir Bhutto was right that America’s war on terror is dependent upon the stability and progress of Pakistan, and I think she was, then the latest developments in that troubled nation do not bode well for us.

Benazir Bhutto served her country as prime minister, as an advocate for democracy and as a leader of her party; but I saw her as a mother providing loving care for her children. I also remember her as a world leader willing to put herself in ultimate danger to restore democracy to her country of Pakistan. She died fighting for the universal values of freedom and security.

Benazir Bhutto cared deeply about the views of the United States because she believed in its goodness. She understood the importance of the upcoming elections and believed that fair elections would support a freer and safer Pakistan. These are the ideals, she told me, that motivated her to return to Pakistan.

She has now become a martyr to those ideals. We in the United States should show the same courage and ensure that she has not died in vain. We should be equally committed to supporting the same values of democracy for which Benazir gave her life.

Asa Hutchinson of Little Rock is a former Congressman and Undersecretary of Homeland Security. He was scheduled to be an international observer to the Pakistani elections on Jan. 8, 2008.