Benazir Bhutto was one of the most authentic political leaders I have ever met.
Our single meeting lasted only about two hours, but in that brief time I came to know Mrs. Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated by a terrorist earlier today, as warm, intelligent, and fervently dedicated to the restoration of democracy in her homeland. What's more, she was both modest and unassuming despite her clear intellectual and emotional strengths.
Her modesty was apparent, if through nothing else, then through the setting of our meeting. A colleague and I were invited to meet with her in the living room of a Fairfax County townhouse. She graciously offered us tea, which she served herself; there was no entourage present, no servants, no hangers-on. In the adjacent kitchen, a supporter made dinner while a couple of toddlers watched cartoons on television. Our conversation was periodically punctuated by giggles from a few feet away, and the atmosphere was enhanced by the aroma of a homemade Pakistani meal in the oven.
Through the course of our conversation, Bhutto displayed a firm grasp of international affairs and of U.S. government policy toward the Middle East and South Asia. Her commitment to democracy and her refusal to concede that the Muslim world lacks the capacity to participate in modernity were apparent. She was quiet and reflective yet firm in her well-informed opinions.
Although Pakistan is not my regular "beat" as a writer or consultant, I had been following Bhutto's election campaign with particular interest. Just yesterday, I was part of a team that launched a web site for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party to raise campaign funds world wide. Less than 18 hours ago, I was distributing a news release that contained an optimistic statement from her with regard to her party's January 8 election prospects.
Needless to say, waking up to the news this morning of Benazir's murder was emotionally numbing. My colleagues and I are still trying to process the information, much of which arrived in chaotic bits and pieces through CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.
Benazir Bhutto -- the first female leader of a government in a Muslim country, Harvard-educated, Western-oriented, wise, and warm -- was truly a martyr for democracy. Her loss is a loss for her family, for the people of Pakistan, and for the world.