In our shock and sadness over Benazir Bhutto's murder, a question haunts my Westernized thoughts: Why wasn't she more cautious?
The former Pakistani prime minister and current opposition leader was standing up and waving to cheering crowds through the sunroof in her white SUV, judging by photos taken just before she was killed.
She was greeting crowds in the same cheerful, open-air way two months earlier when a suicide bomber killed 140 people at her welcome-home parade in Karachi. A great tragedy might have been avoided this time had she only stayed in her seat.
She knew the odds, yet fear was a luxury she refused to afford. Bhutto was vying for leadership again after living in exile for almost a decade. The television ad wars, familiar to American campaigns, are not enough for an opposition leader in Pakistan. Pakistanis had to see her, hear her and even touch her. She accommodated them.
Ever since her first campaign in 1988 she would climb with relish on top of her vehicle and delight crowds with a bullhorn. They loved her for that. Many of us outsiders admired her for that, too.
Her undeniable courage bordered on the fanatical, some would say. But it took extraordinary zeal for her to challenge foes as powerful as those that she took on.
They included homicidal dictators, religious fanatics, military conspirators, intelligence agents and, let us not forget, male supremacists.
Behind her cool, upper-class, Harvard- and Oxford-educated demeanor, her life was tempered by years of blood, brutality and intrigue that would make Shakespeare gasp.
Her father, Pakistan's first democratically elected leader, was overthrown by Pakistan's military dictatorship in 1979 and later hanged. While he was in prison, his daughter angrily confronted the new dictator, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. For her troubles she spent five years in and out of prisons, too.
After Zia died in a plane crash in 1988, Bhutto was elected prime minister in a landslide at age 35, the first woman to be elected the leader of a Muslim country. She was later removed amid allegations of corruption and re-elected in 1993.
Who killed her? There's no shortage of suspects in Pakistan's entangling power rivalries. Particularly blameworthy is President Pervez Musharraf for failing to provide adequate security, despite urgent requests from Bhutto and others, even if he did not conspire directly against her.
But among the usual suspects, Islamist radicals are the best bet. Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Pakistan's domestic crop of Islamists have long wanted Musharraf, who has survived two assassination attempts, and Bhutto dead. In their effort to hijack Islam, radical Islamists want to turn Pakistan into another Afghanistan - or Iraq after Saddam Hussein.
Bhutto's resolute refusal to be daunted by death threats reminded me of the Rev. Martin Luther King's prophetic sermon on the night before his assassination: "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now."
No, King said he had seen "the promised land." "I may not get there with you," he said. "But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land."
Pakistan, by comparison, looks less like the Promised Land than the nuclear-armed powder keg that a recent Newsweek cover truthfully called the "The Most Dangerous Nation in the World."
What does Bhutto's death mean for the United States? Our top presidential candidates aren't voicing many specifics, beyond expressions of outrage. That's just as well. Pakistan is a complicated place. It is too complicated to fit neatly into President Bush's decree that "You're either with us or with the terrorists." Musharraf's control over his own intelligence services is questionable. Bhutto, in her efforts to extend power into Afghanistan, encouraged the Taliban.
Facing such complications, the United States is best advised to keep a low profile for now. An independent poll in late August showed Musharraf with only a 38 percent approval rating, President Bush with nine percent and Osama bin Laden with 46 percent. Any blessing by the United States sounds like a curse in the ears of many Pakistanis.
Bhutto, it is worth noting, held a 63 percent approval rating in that same poll. Had she lived, she might have used that political capital to move her country closer to
democracy and the West and away from political and religious extremism of all types. Unfortunately, there is no one quite like her on the horizon.
Instead, to paraphrase a former secretary of defense, we have to deal with the Pakistan that we have, not the one that we hoped to have.