| Benazir Bhutto with Priyanka and Rahul in Delhi after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Oct. 19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh banked on pen, person and phone to convey his deep concern to Benazir Bhutto but a persistent L.K. Advani managed to speak to the fellow Sindhi first.
A “horrified” Delhi issued a swift and forceful condemnation of the Karachi attack but the response of the two Indian leaders was distinctive.
Earlier in the day, Singh sent letters to Benazir and President Pervez Musharraf and ensured that the Indian ambassador called on her. A little before 11 tonight, the Prime Minister spoke to Benazir on the phone to wish her well.
Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was in Birbhum to celebrate the Pujas, followed the same pattern. He, too, sent Benazir a message and spoke to her later.
However, Advani had called Benazir — both hail from Sindh — at lunch itself to express relief at her escape. The BJP leader, who tried calling her since the morning, got through around noon.
During their brief conversation, Benazir invited Advani to visit Pakistan as she was not in the country when he visited last in 2005.
The BJP leader is unlikely to forget that visit ever. The comments he made in reference to Mohammed Ali Jinnah had unleashed a storm among the Sangh parivar, which eventually cost him the BJP president’s job.
The aborted destination of Benazir’s procession last night — Jinnah’s tomb — holds significance for Advani. It was there that Advani recalled the famous secular speech of the founder of Pakistan, which landed the BJP leader in trouble back home.
Today, too, Advani steered clear of the parivar rhetoric and issued a statement expressing solidarity with the people of Pakistan.
But he also sent a reminder on the need for democracy. “Last night’s shocking incident leaves no doubt whatsoever that the battle for democracy and the battle against terrorism are inter-related,” he said.
“I have always been of the view that Pakistan’s stability and progress, as also the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations, are best guaranteed by the establishment of genuine democracy.”
The messages from the Prime Minister and the foreign minister were sent through Satyabrata Pal, India’s high commissioner in Islamabad.
Mukherjee asked Pal to convey India’s deep concern and condolences, especially to the families of those who lost their lives in the Karachi attack.
Pal told Benazir that India was horrified by the loss of innocent lives. Terrorism is a common challenge, he said, adding that India looked forward to working with Benazir to “defeat terrorism in all its forms”.
B. Raman, a former Indian intelligence officer, said Benazir’s outer security ring was handled by local Pakistani intelligence (the inner ring was managed by her own party activists), headed by Brigadier Ejaz Shah, formerly with the ISI and a close friend of Musharraf.
According to Raman, Shah, who became home secretary of Punjab after Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, was responsible for “handling” Omar Sheikh, the man alleged to be responsible for the kidnapping and eventual murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.