Friday, December 28, 2007

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

The tragic, raw assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan Thursday has unleashed worldwide emotions. But one group of retailers and suppliers, and reporters, no doubt has some poignant, personal memories of meeting the charismatic ex-prime minister during the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) annual conference in Maui.

While he was president of the trade group, Ron Ziegler, the former press secretary to president Richard M. Nixon, reveled in bringing national and world leaders to the NACDS stage. For its 1992 meeting in Hawaii, Ziegler called upon the Western-educated Bhutto to talk about women’s rights and democracy in her native land and the rest of the Muslim world. Bhutto’s appearance came between her two elections as prime minister. She was first elected in 1988, at age 35—the first woman to head a Muslim state. Twenty months later she was removed from office on grounds of alleged corruption. After winning re-election in 1993, she suffered the same fate in 1996. From 1998 until October 2007 she lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai.

I cannot recall details of her talk to the drug store industry leadership that day. But I do remember how she enthralled all who listened with her sincerity, passion and beauty. She had star quality, and even if you did not fully understand the complexities of the world she lived in, she provided a personal link to a part of the world that we in America still have trouble fathoming.

Whenever a recognized figure dies, whether from the sphere of politics, industry or the arts, it is natural to feel a sense of loss even if the closest one got to the person was through a ballot box, a dividend check or a picture screen. Pakistan’s politics is far beyond my personal understanding. But I can say I felt diminished by her death, and frightened that another voice of reason and tolerance has been snuffed out.

—Murray Forseter

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