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Youth icons who held out hope

Both Benazir and Rajiv, England-educated scions of political dynasties who had struck a good rapport, met a similar fate, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Dec 28, 2007 03:50 IST
Nilova Roy Chaudhury

Days before she died, an anguished Benazir Bhutto said she had, but Rajiv Gandhi had not kept his "promise" made during their one-on-one talks back in 1988. As she succumbed to an assassin's bullets on Thursday, analysts recalled that during her first tenure as Pakistan's Prime Minister, between 1988 and 1990, Benazir and Rajiv (who also fell prey to a terrorist attack in 1991), as youthful leaders, held out hope for peace in the sub-continent.

"India was in a complete mess at that time," Benazir told a news magazine. "Does anyone remember that it was I who kept my promise to Prime Minister (Rajiv) Gandhi when we met and he appealed to me for help in tackling the Sikhs. Has India forgotten December, 1988? Have they forgotten the results of that meeting and how I helped curb the Sikh militancy?" she asked.

Like the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Bhuttos of Pakistan are one of the world's most famous political dynasties. Benazir and Rajiv, as England-educated scions of those families, personally struck up a good rapport.

Benazir and Rajiv, children of leaders who faced each other in the 1971 war, met for the first time at the end of December, 1988, on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Benazir, who had assumed the PM's office barely a month before the summit, held a meeting with Gandhi at which they decided to not attack each other's nuclear installations. That agreement and the annual exchange of lists of each other's nuclear installations continues today.

Describing those talks as "very warm, very cordial," Indian officials present in Islamabad said there was hope for "a new face on the relationship between the two countries, one of warmth, trust and confidence". A former Indian diplomat said: "They got along famously".

At their next meeting, in 1989, the two leaders came close to an agreement on Siachen, which however, did not happen.

Then and during her second tenure, from 1993 to 1996, analysts said she was largely responsible for fomenting the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and in raising the Taliban as a force in Afghanistan.

Claiming she was "very, very surprised and extremely hurt" by National Security Adviser MK Narayanan's comments that she had not kept "a number of promises" made to the late Prime Minister during their meeting in Pakistan that year, Benazir said, "If anyone kept their word, it was me. Not Rajiv."

"Does India really believe I am not a friend? I thought India always regarded me as a factor for peace, as a factor for India-Pakistan stability."