'Benazir was a different person with me'
During the publication of Benazir's autobiography in Delhi, BJP leader L.K Advani recalls his informal meetings with the former Pak PM.Updated: May 22, 2008, 13:45 IST
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and the slain Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto shared a very special bond - that of Sindh, the land of their birth.
"When she first met me at former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's funeral, along with Nawaz Sharif for the first time, she asked me whether she could speak to me in Sindhi.
"She spoke to me somewhat in Sindhi and in English. And since then contact between us remained through exchange of books and letters," L.K. Advani recalled at the launch of Benzair Bhutto's political biography, "Goodbye Shahzadi: A Political Biography of Benzair Bhutto" at the India International Centre in the capital on Wednesday evening.
"My personal interactions with her were very informal. She was different from the image she had built for herself in India and Pakistan," Advani reminisced. The BJP leader said his family visited Bhutto's ancestral home in Larkana for a special reception during a visit to Pakistan.
According to Advani, Benzair was a witty woman. "Once my daughter Pratibha told her a joke and she took a print of the joke back to Pakistan with her," Advani recalled.
"The last time I spoke to her was in October 2007 after her convoy was attacked and she had a narrow escape," Advani said. And the next time, it was her husband Asif Zardari, whom he met, after her assassination, to condole the death. "That was the first time, I saw Zardari," Advani said.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Dec 27 while campaigning for the election in Rawalpindi.
Recalling her political views, Advani said Benazir had always felt that an apolitical army in India contributed a lot to its democracy, unlike Pakistan. "She regretted the fact that there was no democracy in Pakistan," the BJP stalwart said.
According to her, constitutional independence guaranteed under the Constitution of India made the Election Commission independent and the process of election free and fair in India. Advani, however, dodged a query whether Pakistan was ready for another woman leader with a smile and a wave.
The biography, written by Shyam Bhatia, senior London-based journalist and a close friend of the slain PPP chief from her Oxford days, is based on a series of interviews spanning roughly 100 hours of tape that the writer recorded over more than two decades.
According to the publishers of the biography, Roli Books, only 27 hours of tape has been used for the book which deals almost every period of life right from her Oxford heydays, years in the limelight as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter, her wedding, her India link, the nuclear game, her years in power and exile. Till the day she died. Bhatia recorded his last interview barely weeks before her death.
The hard-bound 196-page book with photographs and letter is priced at Rs. 295
When asked about his one most enduring memory of his Oxford buddy Pinky, Bhatia narrated a chilling tale. "I have one haunting, rather shocking memory. In October, just before Benazir was returning to Pakistan, I had a strange dream. I dreamt that I was seeing her off at the Heathrow airport and the aircraft in which she flew had crashed," Bhatia said.
The author immediately warned her not go return. "I asked her why are you going back," Bhatia said. To which she replied, "I have to go," the author said. The return proved fateful.
Bhatia, whose friendship with Benazir spanned more than 30 years, said Pinky (as Benazir was known at home) could never get over the trauma of her father's death. Benzair's father former president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged for alleged treason.
"One day, she broke into tears and told me, 'do you know what they did to my father after they brought his body down (from the noose)?'" Bhatia told the media.