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‘She was dead when she fell in my lap’

Benazir died instantly, without a groan, a wail or a cry for help, says her political secretary Naheed Khan. Vinod Sharma reports.

world Updated: Jan 07, 2008 01:43 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times

Benazir Bhutto died instantly, without a groan, a wail or a cry for help. She sank down through the sun-roof of her car — out of which she risen seconds earlier to wave at the milling crowds — directly into the lap of her political secretary, Naheed Khan.

“I was taken aback. Her head in my lap, I thought maybe she was exhausted. I said, “Bibi kya hua, aap uthth kar baithen”(What’s happened?Why don't you sit up?) There was no response. Just then, I noticed to my horror that she was bleeding profusely. My clothes were drenched in blood,” recalled Naheed. “I believe she was dead when she fell in my lap.”

Moments earlier, she had heard gunshots that sounded to her like firecrackers going off. A close Benazir aide since the latter’s exile in London in the 1980s, Naheed is a prime witness to the assassination that shook the world.

Her hitherto unpublished account was shared with the Hindustan Times by Pakistani journalists who met Naheed and her husband Senator Dr Safdar Abbasi in Larkana last Friday.

According to Naheed, seven people travelled to Liaquat Bagh in a B6 bullet proof Land Cruiser on December 27. The former premier’s security in-charge, Major Imtiaz sat in front next to the driver, while Naheed and Makhodoom Amin Fahim, now the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) prime ministerial candidate, flanked Benazir on either side, in the middle seat. Dr Abbasi sat in the rear seat next to a security guard.

When Naheed raised an alarm, Abbasi leaned forward to check Benazir’s pulse: “My gut reaction as a physician was that she’s dead,” he said later. “I had no courage to tell the others. I told them to pray for her long life.”

The Land Cruiser’s wheels were blown up in the explosion that followed the gunshots. Benazir had to be lifted into her media advisor Sherry Rehman’s car. “I could feel she was lifeless. There was no movement in her body,” said Naheed.

At the Rawalpindi General Hospital, Dr Tassaduq, one of the doctors who attended on Benazir told PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babbar that part of her skull had chipped off with brain matter hanging out. “I’ve never seen such a wound. It was neither a gunshot nor a shrapnel injury. It was the imprint of a very sophisticated weapon,” Babbar quoted the doctor as saying. Babbar had reached the hospital with Rehman Malik, a former Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) official who was Benazir’s security advisor.

The Rawalpindi doctors have since disowned their original observations. The probe into the assassination so far has raised more questions than it has answered. They include: the alacrity with which the police had the scene of the crime washed; the authorities’ silence on the identity of the other victims and the outcome of their autopsies, if any were indeed conducted; the identity of the sharpshooter in dark-glasses whom millions of TV-viewers saw aiming a pistol at Benazir.

Malik has alleged the security detail at Rawalpindi was without the mandatory jammers. The escort vehicles in Benazir's cavalcade were stopped outside the Park, where the entry and exit gates were crowded and had not been sanitised by the police.

Recounting the tragedy, Naheed wept incessantly, said Amir Mateen of Rohi TV. Dawn’s New York correspondent Masood Haider quoted her as saying the PPP leader had a premonition about her death.

How else to explain the handwritten will in which she also left a birthday present for her February-born older daughter Bakhtawar, or the off-the-cuff remark that she might not be in Larkana on her father’s birth anniversary on January 5? Benazir asked Asif Ali Zardari to organize a gift for their younger daughter Aseefa on her birthday too.