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Benazir aide for legal action against author

A close aide of Benazir Bhutto has threatened to bring a lawsuit against the author of a recent book on the slain leader, reports Vinod Sharma.
By Vinod Sharma | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 11, 2008 01:38 AM IST

A close aide of Benazir Bhutto has threatened to bring a lawsuit against the author of a recent book on the slain leader containing allegations that she swapped Pakistan’s nuclear secrets for data on the North Korean missile programme in 1993.

Besides seeking “damages and an apology” from London-based journalist Shyam Bhatia, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) spokesman Farhatullah Babar wants a ban on his book Goodbye Shahzadi. “If the party is not inclined, I’ll ask the leadership’s permission to bring the case in my personal capacity,” he told HT in a telephonic interview from Islamabad.

Babar’s objection primarily is to Bhatia’s recollection of a 2003 meeting with Benazir in Dubai in the course of which she allegedly let out her secret role as a “two-way courier” between Islamabad and Pyongyang while on a visit to that country as Prime Minister of Pakistan. She carried CDs containing data on uranium enrichment her hosts wanted in return for North Korean know-how on missile systems.

For his part, Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books said that as a publisher, he had to trust a journalist of Bhatia’s reputation and seniority. “Questions now being raised can only be answered by the author, who is traveling,” he said.

Kapoor apologised, nevertheless, to Benazir’s family if they were hurt by any personal references to her. His regret is very much in order as Babar has also taken exception to Bhatia’s claim of her marital overtures being spurned by two Pakistanis whom he has not identified in the book.

Responding to a phone call from Babar, BJP leader L.K. Advani has already regretted being associated with the book’s release. He was unaware of Shahzadi’s “disturbing” contents when he launched it in Delhi in the presence of Pakistani diplomats and NDA colleagues, including George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad. Babar was all praise for Advani’s response to his protestations: “I have met him only once. But the respect and admiration Benazir had for the BJP veteran came out tangibly in her accounts of their meetings to party colleagues.”

The PPP spokesman considered it his “moral responsibility” to correct the wrong done to the leader he served for two decades. “Shahzadi isn’t serious work. It contains objectionable personal details of Benazir’s stint at Oxford where the author claims to have become friends with her,” he said.

If Babar is to be believed, a couple of months before her death, Benazir thrice rejected Bhatia’s requests for an interview, a photo opportunity and a telephonic chat. “I can reproduce his letter of October 7, 2007 in which he sought time for an interview.” Babar said it was at his instance that Benazir finally agreed to an email interview. “The six questions Bhatia sent were answered from my platform (on Benazir’s behalf) and not by Benazir herself.”

Be that as it may, in publishing circles here, Babar’s activism is linked to the publication of the book’s excerpts in the Washington Post and the reaction in the US to passages relating to Benazir’s visit to North Korea.

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