The Light That Will Never Go Out

Benazir Bhutto

by Mark Siegel

I met Gen. Zia-ul- Haq in Islamabad in 1987 as part of a small delegation of Democratic Party officials. After the formal meeting‚ Haq pulled me aside and told me he knew who I was. “The worst mistake of my life‚” he sneered‚ “was letting your friend live.”

I shared this encounter over lunch the following day in Karachi with that friend‚ Benazir Bhutto. Without a hint of emotion‚ she said: “He is absolutely right.” Bhutto was a very shy, quiet young woman when we first met after her release from dictator Haq’s jail. Her face betrayed the enormity of the responsibility burdened on her shoulders‚ the daunting challenge before her: defying her father’s killer‚ Haq‚ and returning Pakistan to democracy.

At the first dinner party my wife and I hosted in her honor in Washington‚ D.C.‚ in 1984‚ Bhutto enraptured our guests with her intellect‚ poise‚ and passion. But she was also clever‚ witty‚ and warm. She was the whole package. People in the salons of Pakistan’s cities may revel in criticizing her‚ even now after her assassination‚ but who among them would have selflessly sacrificed a good and happy life out of civic responsibility‚ who among them could possibly understand the limitlessness of her commitment‚ courage and love of Pakistan.

Bhutto did not tolerate any form of bigotry or intolerance. When she was elected prime minister in 1988‚ she asked me to represent her government. I initially hesitated‚ thinking it might be politically difficult for her in Pakistan to have a Jewish lobbyist in America. “Don’t be ridiculous‚” she said. “You stood by us when we were fighting for democracy‚ and you’ll be with us as we make a new Pakistan.”

When she was out of power‚ we hit the lecture circuit to keep Pakistani democracy alive in world opinion. It was then that I came to fully understand Bhutto’s intellectual depth‚ and the pain and loneliness she endured because of her political victimization. I think she particularly enjoyed the company of her Western friends because we treated her neither as an icon nor a goddess.

We would battle about politics and policy‚ about when to compromise and when to fight. And then sometimes we would battle over little things. The time we were in Maui‚ she insisted on us having dinner at an Italian restaurant (her favorite international cuisine). I put my foot down. We hadn’t come to the Pacific to eat Italian. She reluctantly agreed to the Polynesian cuisine‚ but grumbled about it. It was one of my few victories.

Some thought she was arrogant because she didn’t suffer fools lightly. Her responsibility to her country always took precedence over personal happiness. In 2002‚ in my presence‚ Bhutto got a call on her mobile phone from her husband‚ Asif Ali Zardari. Her Pakistan Peoples Party had won the 2002 elections‚ despite the process having been clumsily rigged. Zardari was in jail‚ languishing there since 1996‚ convicted of no crime other than being married to Bhutto. He was with an Inter-Services Intelligence officer who had offered to drop all trumped-up charges against the family‚ and even install Zardari as a minister in the new cabinet‚ if Bhutto would agree to abandon leadership of the PPP. Before she could react‚ Zardari stopped the conversation by saying‚ “No‚ absolutely not‚ out of the question. I’d rather rot in prison for the rest of my life than have you give in to them.” She welled up and smiled a sad smile.

Bhutto was not intimidated by generals or jihadists. Once she was convinced she was right‚ she would never back down. This was true to the very end. Many of us begged her not to go back to Pakistan in 2007. I told her that she had done enough‚ sacrificed enough‚ and deserved more than anyone to have a life. She sighed over the phone‚ and said‚ “Mark‚ this is my life. You should know that by now.” That life was snuffed out on Dec. 27‚ 2007‚ in Rawalpindi.

But when I see the inspired pushback of the government and people of Pakistan against the extremists‚ as I watch the Pakistani military courageously taking on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Swat and in the Waziristans‚ as I watch the implementation of the PPP manifesto‚ and as I see the 1973 Constitution restored‚ I realize that my friend is alive‚ and that she will always be alive.

Originally published in Newsweek Pakistan on 27 December 2010. The author, Mark Siegel, is a producer of Bhutto and coauthor of Bhutto’s last book‚ Reconciliation: Islam‚ Democracy and the West.

The Woman who Carried Herself like a Queen was Accessible to the People and Press, Chicago Tribun

By Kim Barker

The last time I spoke to Benazir Bhutto, she was on a cell phone inside her home in Lahore, behind a razor-wire police cordon to prevent her from holding a mid-November rally after President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency.

In between tongue-lashings for Musharraf, she joked she had fielded so many calls from Western and Pakistani media that she hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast or lunch.

Just as she always tried to remain accessible to the Pakistani people – a tendency that left her dangerously exposed – Bhutto kept an open pipeline to the media. Having been educated at Harvard and Oxford, she understood how important a tool it was, whether she was planning her return to Pakistan in October or trying to outmaneuver her opponents once there.

It was normally fairly easy for a journalist to get at least a telephone interview with her, if the journalist pushed a little and then waited a day or so.

In person, she could comport herself like a queen, captivating you with her gaze while snapping at aides for mistakenly reaching in front of her. If you sat next to her at one of her news conferences, she would chitchat, maybe ask your advice on how to conduct it.

In a phone interview Oct. 14, just four days before her return from exile in Dubai, Bhutto said she was not worried about threats from Islamic militants in her homeland.

“I don’t think about the threats that have been made to me, because I have faith in God,” Bhutto told me. “If there is a threat, there is a threat from inside the government.”

On the day of her return, even in the moments before a suicide bomber attacked her caravan, killing 140 people, she seemed almost oblivious to the risk. She ignored government requests for her to take a helicopter from the airport, and she stood at the front of the platform roof on a truck, waving at the crowd.

At a news conference the day after that first attack, Bhutto said she would not be surprised if there was another attempt on her life. She blamed elements of the Pakistani government, although not Musharraf himself.

“The attack was not on me,” she said. “The attack was on what I represent—it was an attack on democracy.”

In that last cell phone conversation in Lahore, which I shared with five other journalists sitting in a car outside the police cordon, unable to enter the house, Bhutto had scathing words for Musharraf. He had just declared the state of emergency, and she vowed she would not proceed with a power-sharing deal promoted by the U.S.

“I feel very let down,” she said. “I will not be able to work with Gen. Musharraf, because I simply would not be able to believe anything he said to me.”

She said a crackdown on her party members and other opposition activists “left my party with the conclusion that he does not really want to do business with us. It made it clear that he was using us as icing on the cake to make sure no one notices the cake was poisoned.”

This piece appeared in The Chicago Tribune.

Scotland Yard Brought in For Bhutto Murder Probe But With Limited Scope

By Tariq Butt

ISLAMABAD: The government move to invite foreign detectives to get to the bottom of a high profile political assassination (of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto) came a bit too late, though outsiders’ close collaboration with Pakistan in netting terrorists exists since the 9/11 episode.

In the words of an official, the scope of success in the probe that a small team of Scotland Yard sleuths will conduct is limited in view of the evaporation of most of the vital evidence, which was usually available immediately after the occurrence of the crime.

A senior police officer told this correspondent that the British investigators’ probe would be mainly limited to close sophisticated dissection and scrutiny of video tapes, which captured the terrorist action to some extent. They would be using special gadgets for the purpose, he said.

“When the crime scene has been washed away and there is no autopsy of the assassinated leader, not much has been left for the British police to investigate,” the officer said. The government was prepared to carry out Benazir Bhutto’s post-mortem, but her spouse, Asif Zardari, had refused the permission.

However, the officer said that of utmost interest for the foreign detectives would be a session with the panel of doctors that treated Benazir Bhutto at the Rawalpindi General Hospital where she was brought from the Liaquat Bagh attack.

He said the investigation would be considered incomplete if the Scotland Yard did not have a meeting with Zardari whose briefing could be useful for them. Asif Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have expressed no-confidence in the involvement of the British police and instead demanded investigation by a United Nations panel.

The last important political murder of Pakistan that the Scotland Yard probed was the 1951 assassination of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan which took place at the same venue then known as the Company Bagh; however, its report never saw the light of the day.

The officer said the British investigators would meet a number of senior officials, including Superintendent of Police Maj (retd) Imtiaz, who was deputed for Benazir’s security on her demand, and several Rawalpindi policemen, who were on duty at the time of the tragedy.

One of the apparent objectives of inviting the Scotland Yard is to assuage the public ire, particularly the PPP, and signaling the government’s intention of holding a just probe leading to the arrest of killers.

President Pervez Musharraf has declared that those named in a letter written to him by the slain PPP chairperson (which was made public by the PPP later) following the terrorist attack on her welcome reception in Karachi on Oct 18 would not be allowed to be questioned by the Scotland Yard.

Her naming of the senior most leader of the PML-Q had ignited an intense war of words between the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and her. The other day Musharraf said the question that he had “blood on his hands” was “below my dignity”, but he wanted to give a public answer in any case.

“I am not a feudal, and I am not a tribal. I have been brought up in a very educated and civilized family with beliefs and values, which believes in character. My family by any imagination is not a family, which believes in killing people, assassinating, intriguing. That is all that I want to say.”

Scotland Yard is globally known for its professional excellence. Of interest may be the fact that its name was derived from its headquarters’ original location on Great Scotland Yard, a street off Whitehall in London.

The exact origins of this name are unknown, though popular explanations include: that it had once been the site of a diplomatic mission owned by the kings of Scotland prior to the Union of England and Scotland; that the street was owned by a man called Scott during the Middle Ages; or that stagecoaches bound to Scotland once departed from the street.

This piece appeared in The News (Pakistan).