In early evening of December 27, 2007, as Benazir Bhutto was leaving a Rawalpindi political rally in a white armour-plated Land Cruiser, a gunman detonated a bomb after shooting her in the neck and head, killing her instantly. That ended the career of perhaps the most charismatic of rulers that Pakistan had in its sixty odd years of existence. Daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an arrogant and feudal landlord who owned some 12,000 acres of land in Sind, Benazir (the word meaning ?the incomparable?) did what any daughter of an overtly rich landlord would do, study in Britain and the United States.
At Oxford, she happended to be a contemporary of a young Indian, Shyam Bhatia, who, despite some early differences with her, turned out to be a friend and confidante. Bhatia had also, in due course, become a correspondent for London'sObserver, based in Cairo and Jerusalem, and understandably his political background gave him a chance to see her often and interview her off and on at some length. That will explain this highly readable and shockingly revelatory biography that gives us insights into not only the working of Benazir'sown mind, but that of her contemporaries as well, both in the military and civilian fields. Like her father, she revelled in her aristocratic and feudal background. She could lose her temper and throw ashtrays like flying saucers at her obedient servants. At Oxford she epitomised the classic spoilt rich girl, self-obsessed and always wanting to have her own ways. Though at Oxford she fell madly in love with two extremely handsome Pakistani students, in the end she went for an arranged marriage to a man who, as Bhatia describes, ?was the son of a provincial cinema-owner, coming from a very poor third in the scale of her lifetime needs and desires.?
Not many people would be aware that Zulfikar was born to a Hindu-born Lakhibai, allegedly a courtesan, who had married his father Sir Shahnawaz, and got converted and took the name of Lady Khurshid. Bhatia recalls unverified gossip that before marrying Sir Shahnawaz, Lakhibai allegedly had been a devoted partner of Motilal Nehru and the real mother of his only son Jawaharlal, a shocking statement to air. Against this background, Zulfikar'sIslamic credentials reportedly were highly suspect to the point that after his death body was taken out of the noose and laid bare on the floor, a Pakistani intelligence agency authorised a photographer to take pictures of Zulfikar'sprivate parts to check if he had been circumcised in the Islamic manner. Indecent, but tells us a great deal about the then Pakistani military dictator, Zia-ul-Huq, described by Benazir as ?Cobra Eyes?. Bhatia had come to be accepted as a friend to the point that Benazir was to tell him that it was she who was ?mother of the (Pakistani) missile programme?.
She told Bhatia in private: ?I have done more for my country than all the military chiefs of Pakistan combined?. It turns out that it was she who visited North Korea at the end of 1993 and carried ?critical nuclear data on her person?. She got along well with Rajiv Gandhi also with an ?aristocratic? background, which was to lead to a series of confidence building measures, including force reduction along borders, an agreement that India and Pakistan would not attack each other'snuclear installations. Bhatia says that some time before she was assassinated Benazir told him that it was she who ?chocked off assistance to militant Indian Sikhs who had been afforded refuge in Pakistan by General Zia?. According to her, termination of that support it was that finished off militant demands for an independent Khalistan. That did not mean that she was pro-Indian in other ways.
When asked about her views on Kashmir, she told Bhatia: ?You have to understand the Pakistani point of view on Kashmir, that for long the Hindu Pandits in Kashmir exploited and dominated the Muslims who are getting back at them today?. Benazir also threw some more light on Pakistani attitude towards India, apart from supporting the Kashmiri demand for self-determination. She told Bhatia: ?It should be clear also that Pakistan never forget the humiliating loss of Bangladesh at the hands of India. Zia did one right thing. He started the whole policy of proxy war by supporting the separatist movements in Punjab and Kashmir as a way of getting back at India?. For all her support to Pakistan'snuclear policies, Benazir, apparently, had come to the conclusion that Pakistan and India ?could no longer risk head-on confrontations?. Did she ever feel like ?nuking? a few thousand Indians, Bhatia once asked her. Her reply was sharp and to the point. She told Bhatia: ?For God'ssake, never for moment have I woken up with such a thought, because I know that nuking any Indian?if I was mad enough to think about it?would end up nuking my own people.?
But the more Benazir tried to enforce a policy of nuclear restraint, Benazir explained, ?the greater were the number of conspiracies hatched to bring her down?. It would seem that at one time the ISI and military intelligence had planned to abduct A.Q. Khan ?so that political responsibility for failing to ensure his safety would fall on Benazir and prompt the early dismissal of her second government?. Benazir had apparently little respect for Musharraf'sanalytical skills, such as they were. Musharraf'splan was to infiltrate into Kargil and ultimately take over Srinagar, and would not listen to Benazir'swords of caution. The net result, Benazir told Bhatia, was for Pakistan to lose some 3,000 of its soldiers and officers. During her second rule, Benazir apparently stopped Musharraf from embarking on his major project.
She was overthrown and in the end Musharraf paid for his folly. Benazir had her problems not only with her Generals but even with her own mother and brothers.
She was solely devoted to her father and, writes Bhatia, after Zulfikar'sdeath her bonds of loyalty were transferred to her husband. The perfect daughter had become an ideal wife. But death took her away. It is anybody'sguess whether, if she had been alive, she would have been a party to Pakistan'smisadventure in terrorising Mumbai in November 2008. But then she was aware of her limitations quite early when she realised that policy was made largely by the President, the Army Chief and the ISI. She could only be helpless bystander unable to lay down the law. That said, this is quite an extraordinary biography, short in content but extensive in revelation, essentially a friend'stribute to a dead friend. In the end Bhatia writes: ?Khuda hafiz (God be with you), Benazir. Shahzadi, goodbye?. But the family controversies she raised, warns Bhatia, are unlikely to end for a long, long time.
(Roli Books, M-75, G.K.-II Market, New Delhi-110 048)