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Mother, sister and brave daughter

London, Dec. 27: After Benazir Bhutto had written a series of articles for The Telegraph, I told her, half jokingly, she had missed her real calling.

She laughed. “Maybe that’s what I will have to do,” she joked back.

We were sitting not so long ago in her London flat, discussing whether she could have a more fulfilling life outside politics.

I tried to convince her that perhaps she could have greater influence as a writer-cum-lecturer, pointing out that in India they really liked her. She could attend seminars, write articles, give talks and attend workshops.

Up close and personal, she came across as a very attractive woman. In private, she did not even bother with the dupatta. In her high heels, she looked even taller.

“Why not write a novel about the life and loves of a young Pakistani girl?”

She laughed again. But we both knew she felt ruling Pakistan was her birthright.

We got round to talking about India’s attitude to President Pervez Musharraf. India had to deal with the de facto head of government if any progress towards normalisation was to be made, I said. But that also gave legitimacy to a military government.

“That is the dilemma for India,” I said. She looked at me with big eyes. “It’s the same dilemma for me.”

We spoke about why she did not move to London, which was almost a second home for her, and felt the need to stay in Dubai where her children went to school. She explained that the time zone meant she had the same working day as in Pakistan.

It was clear she missed her husband, Asif Zardari, during all the long years he was in prison. “He cannot be with the children while they are growing up,” she commented. “When they have a toothache and I take them to the dentist, he cannot be with them. I am like any normal mother.”

We talked about her brother, Murtaza, with whom I had been friendly. He had come round for dinner a couple of nights before his father was hanged. “Do you think General Zia will go ahead with the execution?” he had asked.

I assured him that with so many international appeals for clemency, it was unthinkable Zia would carry it out.

As Murtaza left that night, he bowed with great courtesy and remembered to thank my wife for dinner.

The morning — April 4, 1979 — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, I went round to the flat in South Kensington where Murtaza and his younger brother, Shahnawaz, were staying.

Later, Shahnawaz was mysteriously poisoned in the south of France in 1985. He was only 27. During the years Murtaza lived in the shadows, he would occasionally telephone and have a chat about what he was up to. Once he disclosed that during a trip to Libya, Col Gaddafi had been very kind to him.

Then, in 1996, Murtaza was gunned down in Karachi, for which his daughter, Fatima, now 25, has pointed the finger of suspicion at Benazir.

While I talked about Murtaza, Benazir made no comment. Perhaps the memories were too painful but personally I cannot believe she was implicated in the death of her own brother.

When Benazir first became Prime Minister in 1988, I, like many, had high hopes of her though these were dashed by the years.

I have before me the profile I had written then for The Sunday Times in London, which had quoted from a play written by Tariq Ali, in which he had imagined Bhutto’s last meeting with his daughter. “Benazir,” he tells her, “a lot will depend on you. You must finish what we have started. Our time will come again.”

In 1988, it seemed Benazir had ushered in a new dawn: “Realities may change, as Bhutto was fond of saying, and Benazir may be overwhelmed by her task.”

But I was keen to end on an optimistic note: “But, for the moment, his brave daughter seems to be the best thing to have happened to Pakistan in its 41 years.”

Now, like her father and her brothers, she, too, is gone.

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