ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 30, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 31

She was full of life, hope and guts

By Anura Bandaranaike, MP

She came to Sri Lanka in 1964 with her father, the then Pakistani Foreign Minster Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when my mother was the Prime Minister. That was the first time I met her and thereafter I met her several times. We were very close and we got on very well. We had the same interests. I had great regard for her, for her commitment to democracy and what she went through for Pakistan. I think her death clearly is a much bigger blow than anyone can even imagine. Only time will tell.

Even as a young girl, she had a go-getter attitude and she was always in the forefront, not politically but always doing something others would not do. She was a remarkably gutty woman and a woman of courage. Her father was killed by the military, her husband was jailed for nine years without any charges and she was not allowed to come back to Pakistan for eight years while her mother was dying of cancer. But she took all these in an amazingly easy going fashion, never complaining. She was a woman of tremendous capacity. The difference between Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, though it is not fair to make comparisons, is that Indira was groomed to take over from the father, but Benazir was not. She was brought to the forefront by tragedy after her father’s death.

Benazir with Anura Bandaranaike outside his Rosmead Place residence when she came to Sri Lanka in 1997 to celebrate his 20th year in Parliament

She came to Sri Lanka in 1997 on my invitation when I celebrated my 20th year in Parliament. She stayed for four days in Colombo, made a superb speech at the BMICH and we had a great time. She wanted to go shopping here. She wanted to go to Odel and Barefoot so I had a friend accompany her. She was very fond of jewellery.

The amazing thing about her was, she was very bohemian. I once went for the Zulfilkar Ali Bhutto Lecture in Pakistan. We were going in the car and she suddenly said “Let’s stop at the book shop.” And when we came out there was a large crowd shouting “Benazir Zindabad” (Long Live Benazir). There was a huge coffee shop nearby and then she said “Let’s have coffee.” I said we can’t have coffee now with all these people shouting around and I had to really dissuade her.

She had this very bohemian outlook. She could talk on any subject. From films, to theater to books to politics and she always has something funny to say about them. She had a tremendous sense of humour.

It was in Dubai that I met her about six months ago for the last time. Someone had given her my number. She called me up and invited me over for dinner. It was big Pakistan affair with tents, and music. She had invited about 40 people. She was upbeat and sure of herself when she spoke of returning to Pakistan. I told her “you are dealing with a military dictator who is power hungry and he is capable of anything.” I warned her about returning because I was worried about her.

I knew her husband .Not a very pleasant man but she had wonderful children. She was a wonderful mother, hugging them and caring for them while entertaining guests. The down side of her life as I saw it, was her husband. He had a very bad reputation rightly or wrongly, and she had to take the flak for his behaviour. That had a very bad effect on her.

She was not afraid of death. Her father’s death had a tremendous effect on her like my father’s death had an effect on our lives. So really, we are not afraid of death and neither was she. Her father was killed, she was jailed and suffered a great deal, her mother had cancer, she herself was pursued by the Musharaff government and she faced them all bravely. She lived with death and for her to stand up and wave through the sun roof on that fateful day was suicidal. That is destiny. The political dynasties in South Asia have been touched too much by tragedy and this will continue.

She was very concerned about the region and very concerned about the nuclear capability of Pakistan and India. Without her Pakistan is doomed. It is a very difficult country to govern. It is full of various factions. She was the only one who stood between anarchy and democracy and she was the only hope. Without her I don’t know what President Musharaff will do now but whatever he does Pakistan will become ungovernable.

I like to remember her as a delightful, intelligent person, full of life, full of hope and full of guts. I will miss her a great deal. When she came here in 1997, during the course of her speech she said,”Anura, it is long enough we have met in opposition, it’s time we met in government.” That meeting will never take place now.

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