Sunday, January 20, 2008

Personal History – Fish Out of Water

Bina Shah - Pakistan's Most Promising Young Writer

A Pakistani-American returns home to re-discover her culture, language and religion.

[By Bina Shah]

The author is a noted writer, journalist, editor, and blogger. She has published two novels and two collections of short stories. She lives in Karachi.

If you want to convince people that you're insane, tell them you're moving back to Pakistan.

When I told people that I had come back to Pakistan after six years of college, graduate school, and work, I always received one of two replies. "Wow, are you sure? Life out there is tough, especially for girls." The other: "Are you crazy?!?!"

So according to them, my decision to come back to Pakistan was based neither on logic, reason, or simple desire. It was either that something was fundamentally wrong with me - I wasn't tough enough to brave it out - or that I was mentally unstable.

My first experience with America had been when I was two months old; my parents traveled to Virginia hardly a few weeks after I was born so that they could attend graduate school. They sent for me soon after that, and I grew up for the first five years of my life in an idyllic small university town, nestled in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up no different from any other little American girl, watching Sesame Street, eating hot dogs, drinking Kool Aid, playing with friends in the snow and at the pool. There are photographs of me in a Raggedy Ann dress for Halloween; sitting with my Montessori class on a wooden bridge in the back garden of the school; on Virginia Beach with my best friend wearing a red-striped bathing suit.

For me, America was home, Pakistan, the home of my parents, a strange place that I couldn’t remember. Twice a year my parents dressed me in Pakistani clothes and took photographs, recorded my voice on a tape to be sent back to my grandmother in Karachi. They taught me words to say in Urdu and fed me aalookeema, but I had no sense of what being a Pakistani really meant. It was as much a costume as my Halloween costumes were.

My father eventually earned his PhD and it was time to go back home to Pakistan. What was meant to be a joyful journey back to the loving arms of family instead turned into a nightmare for me, as I faced absolute and total culture shock. All of a sudden, I was in a hot, dirty, dusty place, where people spoke a language I didn’t want to understand; ate food that I hated; pinched at my cheek and questioned why I spoke with an American accent or why I couldn’t speak my native tongue.

I hated Pakistan. America was my home. I wanted to go back there with all the yearning of a salmon needing to go back to its birthplace, even if just for a moment, to beat its way upstream, and then eventually die.

My parents enrolled me in a private American school, probably the best of its kind, for the children of diplomats and foreign businessmen. I excelled academically, but socially I became even more confused. The American children told me happily that I was “half-American and half Pakistani”, while the Pakistani children just called me “angreze” and nobody really understood what I was all about.

This was in the days before the influx of Pakistan-American children back to their homeland – travel to and from America was lengthy and costly. There was a divide between both worlds, and nobody really dared to cross it. Except that I had already crossed it once; and I was planning to do it again. I studied hard and got such good grades that my grade point average was above the 4.0 maximum, thanks to AP classes.

Determined to flee back to what I saw as my homeland, I planned to return toAmerica after graduating from high school, but I faced some tremendous opposition when it came time to make the dream a reality. I was to be the first woman from my conservative Sindhi family to go to America to study further, and for a while it looked like the cultural constrains and traditions would overwhelm my dreams and goals.

But with the help of my incredibly supportive mother and my overprotective but ambitious father, I made it to America, gaining admission in first a top-level college, then an Ivy League university for a master’s program in education. I was only seventeen and I had enough energy to propel a rocket to the moon. What I didn’t realize was that the quest to go to America was really a search for that mythical homeland that I thought I’d left behind so long

Four years of college became one year of graduate school were easily the most amazing and fulfilling experiences of my life. I met people, learned things, went places, had ideas that nothing but an American liberal arts education can give you. Anyone who’s been through it already knows; those who haven’t can only dream.

My education in America was the first thing in my life that made sense to me. I felt as though I was a goldfish who’d been tipped out of her bowl at the age of five and had been gasping for air ever since. Only now had I been put back into my bowl.

I made friends, argued with professors, ate clam chowder, went to rock concerts. I changed and mutated so many times over those six years that a chameleon would have been jealous of me. First I was an innocent; then a tough girl; I experimented with being a punk and a goth, and then I was a sophisticated grad student, and finally, a career woman.

My American dream progressed from degrees and diplomas into a full-time job and an apartment, roommate, and car. Except that sometimes the dream, which I'd worked so hard to make a reality, wasn't so pleasant. I found myself alone on holidays. I found myself lonely. I was cold all the time. I burst into tears for no apparent reason in the evenings; right after the sun had gone down. When I was sick, I had to go to the doctor all by myself. This despite the mountains of friends I'd made in school…

Things changed once I was working and commuting and living in a cold impersonal apartment block. I was stubborn, and more than a little foolish. I would never have admitted that I was sad and missing home; I was torn between the idea that America was my chosen home and Pakistan my birth home. I struggled with this dilemma throughout all the years that I spent in America as an adult, and many times I tried to sweep the entire issue under the carpet of my beautiful apartment.

But when things took an unexpected turn and I came to a crossroads in my life – should I stay or should I go, in the words of those immortal punk rockers, the Clash – Pakistan was the first and the only place I thought of going. It took one month to wrap everything up and then I was on a plane out of Logan Airport and on my way home.

Did I make up my mind too quickly? Did I make a mistake in leaving so fast? I didn't think so. After six years in 'exile', the need to return home - to my family, to my country, to people that looked and thought and felt and worshipped like me - was instinctive, unshakable, and utterly true. I suppose I was returning to the home of my heart, in a way.

But everyone around me here in Pakistan questioned my reasons. "I wanted to come back" just wasn't good enough for them. Who would want to come back to Pakistan? And why? They seemed even more astonished when I told them no, there was no family pressure, no, not to get married, no, no boyfriend here. So in addition to the not insignificant task of adjusting back to living with my family, making new friends and reestablishing contacts with old ones, and finding a job, I had to contend with a lot of very weird attitudes which probably said more about them than it did about me and my reasons for coming back.

I became aware that Pakistanis living in Pakistan carry a feeling of failure with them. If you have made it to the West and to America, you have "made it". If you are trying to go, your life is on hold or in limbo until you get the anxiously awaited call from the Embassy. If you go and come back, you are undoubtedly the biggest jackass that ever walked the earth. This is true whether you are the richest family living in Defence or a lower middle-class one from Gulshan. No matter how powerful your connections and how influential your reach, if you don't have some sort of connection to the West - a child studying abroad, an apartment in London, money in a bank account somewhere overseas - you have failed.

Not only this, but there is a bad feeling between Pakistanis that live here and those that are there. Whenever someone overseas criticizes Pakistan and its inhabitants, the immediate reaction is "Who the hell are they to say this? Why don't they come back here and then they'll have a reason to talk." The feeling behind this being that if you are living in the West, you are enjoying all the amenities denied to us back here (especially after you have gotten your education, your funding, and all your emotional support from this country).

If you have running water, electricity on a regular basis, and can go to work or school without fear of getting shot or bombed, you have no right to criticize anything in your country of origin. There is a deep-seated and little-admitted jealousy of the riches that expatriates have.

In Pakistan, we try to cover it up with claims that we have a better family life here, a
better culture, higher morals. This is supposed to compensate for the low standard of living.

Some days I agreed with these ideas, other days I fought them and told myself they were irrational, mean-spirited, and untrue. All this contributed to my nagging fear that perhaps I really had made a mistake coming back here. Things were taking longer than I expected to settle down. A year on, I still hadn't made many friends, I hadn't found work I really liked, and conditions in Pakistan were incomprehensible to say the least.

I missed America, I missed what I had given up. I wondered if I had made the right choice, but a “no” was not the answer that I really felt in my heart.

I did feel from time to time that I had failed; that the purpose of my entire life – to get to America and stay there no matter what - had been thwarted. It's hard to give up a life purpose and start all over again, especially when your own mother says to you, "I wish you had stayed on in America". I heard about other girls that were still in America, working dream jobs, engaged to suitably lovely desi boys. I saw them at weddings and engagements held here in Pakistan for the benefit of adoring families. They had succeeded. I hadn't.

But something in my head - or maybe it was my heart - told me to have patience, to stick it out, to wait and see. You could say that I learned to swim in strange waters. I learned the language properly, I grew comfortable wearing Pakistani clothes as well as jeans and trousers. I learned to like Pakistani food. I picked up the ragged edges of my faith and reclaimed my religious heritage as a practicing Muslim. I learned to appreciate Eastern cultures and values, and I found friends that were like me in spirit, as well as in background and appearance.

It was the first time I was spending life as an adult who wasn’t “the other”. Again, I was growing and adapting, and I liked the person I was becoming. With more and more exposure to the West, I was no longer the oddity I had been back in my childhood. People didn’t question my accent, except to ask in a friendly manner if I “was visiting”. “No,” I said, and say, to this day. “This is my home.”

Ten years on my return, I have “made it” in a way that I couldn’t fathom if I’d stayed on in America. I’m now a productive writer, with popular columns in newspapers, on Web sites, and several books to my name. I’m ever active in finding out all I can about women’s issues and writing about them, raising awareness for issues such as honor killing, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and the need for girls’ education. I found consulting work with an NGO that creates educational opportunities for rural and urban underserved populations throughout Sindh, the province where I live. I started to teach Personal Management and Oral Communications at a local university.

All this while being able to reconnect with my family and my culture, to see my siblings grow, my cousins marry, my best friends have children. It’s been a thrilling and fascinating decade in this city, this country.

I’ve also been able to witness the coming of age of Pakistan through some very difficult and intense recent events. September 11 was a moment that changed history for more than one country – all of a sudden Pakistan was center stage, and the world looked to see what the newly installed President would do in the face of incredible international pressure to throw his lot in with those who were waging the war on terror.

Political issues in Pakistan have become ever increasingly complex. Not only this, but Pakistan is approaching modernization and globalization in ways that are fast-paced, exciting, and sometimes daunting.

Karachi, the city where I live has blossomed: the media has exploded, with cable and satellite television, mobile phone technology, print media freedom, and FM radio stations and private television channels testament to the fact that Pakistanis have a lot to say and need plenty of space to say it.

And I have something that I never had in America – a rootedness, a belonging, that I never felt over there. America took me in and accepted me in a way that soothed the tumult in my soul: that of a girl looking for her home. America was kind to me and gave me a home until I was ready to face my real home, and for that I will be forever grateful to that country and its people, no matter what happens in the outside world of politics and world events.

That is not the America that I knew, the America that loved me for who I was and what I could bring to the table. Now that I’m in my real homeland, I can look upon my time in America as a crucible that formed me and melded me into a woman that any country would be proud to claim its own.

Coming back to Pakistan? I may be crazy, but at least I'm happy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Parda Faash – Britney spears Pak Hearts

Benazir is gone, Britney is coming.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; the picture has been removed followig 'friendly advices'.]

Ms. Benazir Bhutto has gone to Allah. Mr. Pervez Musharraf is not loved 100%. Mr. Nawaz Sharif looks too sweaty for his life. Mr. Imran Khan can win votes in Bombay's Malabar Hill, not in Karachi's Clifton. Mr. Zardari is Mr. Ten percent. While Bilawal, cute and freshly motherless, is still waiting for his milk teeth to appear.

There’s no one.

Who would unify the country? Will Pakistan breakup?

Not yet. Our great nation has a new savior—Ms. Britney Spears. It has been reported that the pop star has got a Pakistani boyfriend and that she is seriously considering converting to Islam, perform nikah with a certain Mr. Adnan Ghalib, and shift—with bras, panties, prozac et al.—to Pakistan.

This move could have far reaching consequences. Ms. Spears is sure to attract the attention of the lusty Mr. Musharraf who, despite his advancing years, remains a typical Pakistani womanizer (ask Begum Saheba Musharraf). Ms. Spears too would find it difficult to resist his advances since the cunning General has, very conveniently, taken out his uniform. If all goes well, this bedroom alliance could help bring the wild West closer to what the Economist describe as the world’s most dangerous place.

C. Christine Fair, a former U.S. official now at Rand Corp., said it would be a “silver lining” if Ms. Spears’ oomph causes Pakistani security establishment to re-consider a long-standing reliance on militant groups who frown at anything, including fruits like water-melons, that looks like a woman or a woman’s body parts.

It helps that Ms. Spears has it in her to spear Pak hearts. Most Pakistani men would happily lap up Ms. Spears on their lap. She is beautiful, sexy, twice married (society ladies in Pakistan always marry more than once), and white.

However not all are optimistic.

Peter W. Rodman of the Brookings Institution, who was the top international security affairs official at the Pentagon until last month, said Ms. Spears is “a wild card and not to be trusted.” He pointed out the disappointments by other white women who were besotted by rugged Pakistani men like Princess Diana, Jemima Goldsmith, and the nearly forgotten Sita White who had a natural daughter by Mr. Imran Khan. Each of them could have easily shouldered the white woman’s burden of Pakistan but the fate decided otherwise.

Ms. Britney Spears is now Pakistan’s hope. Inshah Allah.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Opinion - The Sufi Links of Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto displayed the sufi trait in her death.

[By Raza Rumi of Jahane Rumi and Pak Tea House; the picture was taken during Ms. Bhutto's trip to Ajmer Sharif dargah in 2001.]

It was in the dargah compound of Ajmer when our phones started buzzing with friends and relatives wanting to share grief on the loss of a woman who was both loved and hated but never ignored. This was the typical winter dusk and we were returning from a soulful traditional dua-i-roshnayee (pre-sunset prayer) where candles are lit in remembrance of the much revered Khawaja. Amidst frantic phone calls from grieving friends, the shock was cushioned in the mystical atmosphere as one reaffirmed that God's will was above everything. But the aching sense of loss for Pakistan haunted us despite the calming effect of Ajmer.

It was this strong faith in God and in her mission that brought Benazir Bhutto back to Pakistan after an exile of nearly a decade. She returned despite the knowledge that she was on borrowed time; and there were heinous elements who wanted to physically eliminate her. Benazir was a lover of the mystics and had visited Ajmer thrice as we found out from the deeply-shocked residents of this small medieval town. Coming from Sindh, the land of the Sufis and poets, Bhutto was a devotee of Khawaja Ghareeb Nawaz. Like a true Bhutto she was not afraid of death as the believers consider it to be ordained by God in the first place. But the truth is that she is no more; and this is hard to reconcile with.

One cannot miss the symbolism of the location where Bhutto was killed. The place, Liaquat Bagh, is named after Pakistan's first prime minister who was also shot here. The reasons for his death are still not known other than the simple imperative that in Pakistan, legitimate politicians need to be eliminated. This tragic place in Rawalpindi is also not far from the place where Benazir's father was hanged in 1979; and whose legacy refuses to go away.

At least in Benazir's case, the battle lines were clearer. A patently violent brand of political Islam masking itself as anti-imperial and aided by powerful elements within the Pakistani establishment is hell-bent on destroying Pakistan's political and social fabric. Contrary to what many believe, this embedded dysfunction is above all a threat to Pakistan and its burgeoning population. The region and the world come next. In India, the comparisons between Rajiv and Benazir have been unavoidable as the two countries have suffered from the endemic violence, dynastic politics and a symbiotic relationship defined by cyclical political turbulence.

Today's subcontinent has all but forgotten the tolerant and inclusive Islam that was practised by the Sufis and which in large measure shapes the belief system of a vast of majority of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is what the militancy and its official backers are now set out to achieve but they forget that centuries of tradition of peace and inclusion can be dented but cannot be reversed.

Bhutto's mass appeal remained a formidable challenge to the Pakistani establishment that failed to undo the legacy of people-centred politics for three decades. The Bhutto brand of politics came about without the manipulations of the bureaucratic steel-frame that shaped Pakistani politics, often in tandem with foreign interests. Benazir's return in October showed that her popular support was intact despite the corruption charges, trials -- real and media-led – and continued impression of incompetence and opportunism in a culture of misogyny and violence against women. Her worst opponents could not deny her dazzling articulation and grasp of global politics. And, now like her father she also demonstrated an uncanny sense of history, of seizing the moment and dying for the cause of political process in the militarized Pakistan.

This fearlessness of death is a Sufi trait as death is just another phase in our journeys and struggles. The inclusive and multicultural legacy of the Sufis is endangered by the rise of militant Islam and politics of elimination. Benazir Bhutto had drawn on this legacy and in her death we are reminded of the urgency to revisit and build on that legacy.

[This article was originally published in the op-ed page of the Pakistani daily The News]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Viewpoint - Benazir is Dead, Long Live Pakistan

Benazir is Dead, Long Live Pakistan

A young Pakistani remains hopeful even after Benazir's assasination.

[By Salman Ravala. The author is a Pakistani-American student is a JD and MA Economics Candidate at Syracuse University. He was a former summer law clerk for the Attorney General for Pakistan at the Supreme Court in Pakistan and is currently a Visiting Legal Scholar at the Office of Legal Affairs at the United Nations; picture by abro]

I pray to God five times a day and each time I stand up, I ask God to guide me. Guide me and my fellow Muslims. More than one billion Muslims around the world ask for the same. I am not sure if guidance has arrived?

What I am sure of though is the fact that my generation of Pakistanis, like that of our fathers, and their fathers, has seen the brutal death of a leader. Our grandparents saw Liaquat Ali Khan murdered, our parents witnessed Zulfikar Bhutto executed, and we watched Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Of course, there are others like Zia-ul-Haq who we know died under suspicious circumstances.

The question that has plagued us and is even more pertinent now is, whether things will change or will Pakistan once again go through a roller coaster ride of democracy and military rule so that our children too, will have to see bloodshed on the clothes of the Head of State of our beloved country?

We all watched Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister as we sang to the Junoon and played with our Ninja Turtle figurines. Maybe that is why this assassination is so painful to us. So, even though most of us did not like the “Daughter of Pakistan”, I believe that my generation of Pakistanis can truly make a difference as a result of this tragic event.

Today, there is the largest number of students of Pakistani origin studying in well-established universities around the world. In Pakistan itself, we have some of the most hardworking and passionate people currently living. Historically, not a single migration has occurred that compares to the mass migration to Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world that has been able to acquire nuclear capabilities. So, this event may put forward great challenges for Pakistan but it must never be forgotten that the people of Pakistan are still greater. I am confident that this time around we can make a difference. God-Willing. All we need are everyone’s sincere prayers. I am sure, then, we will see guidance from above and Pakistan will truly be able to move forward with a renewed sense of unity, faith, and discipline.

I sincerely pray that God blesses this generation of Muslims and Pakistanis. May He ease the suffering of those who were hurt the most. May He allow Pakistanis to be forever united and loving, in good times and bad.

As a conclusion to this note, I hope the observers of the situation can think, not about whether democracy will prevail in Pakistan or if elections will be held as prescribed, but rather if the common man on the street in Pakistan will get food and shelter, today, and years from today.

Pakistan Paindabad.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Exclusive - 6:16 pm, 27/12, Benazir Bhutto is Dead

6:16 pm, 27/12, Benazir Bhutto is Dead

Eminent Pakistanis–Begum Nawazish Ali, Ishtiaq Ahmed, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Khalid Hasan, Shandana Minhas, Kamran Shafi, Raza Rumi–relive the fateful moment with Pakistan Paindabad.

[Picture by Toby Melville]

Rawalpindi: Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack.

Begum Nawazish Ali, TV Host, Karachi

I was in Karachi, sitting at Aaj TV’s director-entertainment office. In fact, it was Aaj TV which first broke the news. We all screamed and could not believe it. I have met Benazir thrice in my entire life and she was always extremely gracious towards me. I owe my career to her. As a child I always wanted to be Prime Minister. I could not become PM but I became an actor by mimicking Prime Minister Benazir. Her death has been a great loss.

Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed, Columnist, Singapore

I was watching the first India-Australia cricket test match at Melbourne when a woman journalist from the Singapore Asian News Channel called me and broke the news. She wanted a telephone-based interview for my reaction. I was quite shaken to hear the news but it was nothing surprising. I just felt very sorry for Benazir.

Ardeshir Cowasjee, Columnist, Karachi

I was watching TV in my bedroom. The obvious reaction of a human being about the violent death of a fellow human being – enhanced because one had known her father and met her.

Khalid Hasan, Journalist, Washington DC

I was in Burlington, Vermont, when a morning TV programme I was not quite watching was interrupted for the flash announcement that Benazir Bhutto had been injured in an attack. She was also said to have survived. But the sense of relief was short-lived because the next announcement said she was dead. My reaction was (and remains) utter disbelief.

Shandana Minhas, Novelist, Karachi

I was in my apartment with my sister and her four-year-old daughter, visiting for a week from abroad, when my mother called with the news. I thought she was joking. Then I turned on the TV and realised she wasn't. I was shocked; half convinced it was a hoax. It took a day to sink in. BB wasn't a saint, but that doesn't make what happened to her any less tragic or horrific.

Kamran Shafi, Columnist, Wah

I was recording a long TV programme at Dawn News in Karachi with some other people. At first the news did not sink in - when it did, 3 minutes later, I just burst out howling. I am devastated.

Raza Rumi, Blogger, Lahore

I was in Ajmer Sharif, India, on my annual visit to pay respects to the great Khawaja when I heard about this ghastly incident. Having returned from the famous dua-i-roshnaye (the pre-sunset prayer), the state of calm, my friends and I were jolted by this news. For the first few minutes I could not believe it and hoped that this was a repeat of the October 18th suicide bombings where BB was miraculously saved. But it turned out to be horrifyingly real and painful. I was numb for a few minutes and thought of my beloved homeland and our collective lives.

To say that this was a great loss would be an understatement. Benazir was always a symbol of hope and change; and to imagine a country without hope is pretty drastic. Thus the shattering of the individual and collective hope, the faces of her three young children and her larger than life, and beautiful persona mingled with tears and a deep pain that refuses to go away.

My leader is not dead, she is immortal now - she faced the bullets with grace and proved that she was the most courageous Pakistani politician of the recent time. Pity for Pakistan that lost her.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Bibi Special - My Life with Benazir Bhutto

Eminent Pakistani columnist and Bibi's friend looks back on the late leader.

[By Khalid Hasan]

If Benazir Bhutto was to be summed up in one word, that word would be kind. Indomitable though her will was, and extraordinary the courage she was gifted with, behind her sometimes steely exterior lay a deeply humane woman who felt for the poor and the deprived, a quality she had inherited from her father.

In many respects, she resembled him, but in several ways she was quite different from him. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto found it hard to forgive those who had once crossed him, or who he thought had crossed him. Even minor incidents, sometimes quite innocent, he found hard to overlook or let go. That was his great failing. When I mentioned this once to Maulana Kausar Niazi, he took a deep breath and replied philosophically that the failings of great men were also often great.

Benazir was forgiving. She had an amazing capacity to take personal abuse – and that was one count on which she was never to want. She would shrug her shoulders and move on. She preferred to concentrate on the essentials of her relationships with people, not the trivia that often gets to define them. She was by nature a generous person. She did not harbour a grudge; but being a Bhutto, she was born with a photographic memory. She remembered but she did not settle scores.

During her two stints in office, both cut in the middle, one by the renegade Farooq Leghari, she who had a lot of scores to settle had the grace not to settle any. I went back with her a long way. A week after ZAB took office in the dying days of that catastrophic year of 1971, he sent for me and asked me to work for him. Until then, the press officer to the president – which ZAB then was – was called a public relations officer, which I thought was more appropriate to someone selling soap. I said that much to ZAB and suggested that I should be his press secretary. “Fine,” he said, “but not the kind they have in America.” Benazir was in school in the US by then. She came home for a visit around then and that is when I first spoke to her. From amongst ZAB’s children, my rapport was with the precocious Shahnawaz who had a sharp mind and on whose face I always saw a smile full of mischief. But I’ll leave that story for another day.

As I sit here in faraway Washington trying to write this, my mind goes to and fro over the vast stretch of years that divide then from now. Let me cite one example of Benazir’s ability, her gift I would say, to refuse to take offence where most others would. Some years ago, in a long memoir I wrote of her father, I described an incident involving the teenager Benazir in New York in 1971 when ZAB had come to the United Nations to try to retrieve what he could of his disintegrating country’s honour.

This was what I wrote, “My friend Hayat Mehdi, who was deputy permanent representative at Pakistan’s UN Mission, Agha Shahi being the permanent representative, told me that as he went to Bhutto’s room to pick up some papers that he wanted, he nearly fell to the floor with shock when he heard the teenage Benazir, who had come from her school in the East to be with her father, chattering away on the phone to a friend telling her what her father was going to do the next day at the UN and that she should not miss it on television. I am not sure if Mehdi snatched the phone from her hand or put his hand on her mouth as she was giving away the best-kept secret of the day. Next day, Bhutto entered the Security Council looking grim and made the most emotional, though well-prepared, speech of his career. It was in that speech that he said, ‘I have not come here to accept abject surrender. If the Security Council wants me to be a party of the legalisation of abject surrender, then I say that under no circumstances, shall it be so. The United Nations resembles those fashion houses which hide ugly realities by draping ungainly figures in alluring apparel’.”

I never sent Benazir the book that included my Bhutto memoir for fear that some of what I had written might offend her.

A few years ago, on one of her visits to Washington, she told me that she had read the book and liked it. “But there is one thing that you got wrong,” she added. When I asked her what it was, she replied that the 1971 incident I had described had never taken place. “I am sorry,” I said, “but I wrote what Hayat Mehdi had told me, word for word.” “Then that is not your fault, but of the person who told you,” she said. Having worked with her father and been in situations where he took umbrage at something written about him, I could never imagine him just dropping the matter and moving on. She was like that.

She was not bitter and she had this tremendous capacity to go on, no matter what the odds and how difficult the situation in which she found herself. When she came to America on one of her lecture tours, she always found time to meet her party workers, her friends, whose number always remained large, and even those who merely wanted to meet her because she was Benazir Bhutto. Some of them had no interest in politics or in her as such. I suppose they met her in order to be able to let drop casually at a later social evening that they had spent time with her the other day. Her brow never furrowed when in company that could not possibly have been the source of any pleasure or benefit to her. Like her father, she remembered names, especially of her party workers.

Benazir did not attend the all parties conference organised by Nawaz Sharif in London last summer. While she sent three members of the party, including what I described in a piece as “the fragrant Sherry Rehman,” she herself went off to Paris, though she remained connected to what was going on - laptop to laptop. I wrote about it tongue in cheek but she was not offended.

When she came to the US this year after the living arrangement with Musharraf had been successfully brokered by the Americans and the British, she stayed in New York for more than two weeks. Once again, she was not offended by what I had written, which was, “The Musharraf-Bhutto arrangement is viewed as one best equipped to deal with the ‘spectre of terrorism and extremism’ – as the mantra has it. To that end, high-gloss exposure of Ms. Bhutto, the acceptable face of the Musharraf regime, has been facilitated. There is the long arm of the government and then there is the well-financed and well-connected, high-powered public relations and lobbying network to which the United States is home. Selling, be it soap or politicians, local or foreign, has been perfected to an art form in this country. Ms. Bhutto stands sold.”

She phoned to say before she left New York that she was finally returning home. When I asked her if journalists would be going with her, she asked me to come along. The next day, I received a mail from Farhatullah Babar asking for passport number and the rest. As it was, I did not go, having had things to do here requiring my presence.

She had a puckish sense of humour and there was a glint in her eye and a childlike expression of mischief on her face when she wanted to tease someone. Her loyal follower, former Senator Akbar Khawaja, who would not leave her side whenever she came to the US – and she let him do that because she obviously must have liked him – was and remains a good friend of mine.

Writing about her last visit to Washington, I took a gentle dig at Akbar Khawaja when I wrote, “Benazir Bhutto was in town for three days, but had it been left to former Senator Akbar Khawaja, who followed her like a shadow and never let her out of his sight till such time as he would be told to go home and grab some shut-eye, we would never have known she was here. That being so, if there is a prize for keeping secrets, Akbar Khawaja should get it.” Akbar told me later that in Karachi, where he had gone with her from London, she turned around and found him standing behind her. That was at Bilawal House. She said, “Oh! it is you. I am going to tell Khalid.”

She also told him once, “Khalid is family.”

I think one reason she always treated me with great affection and much respect was because I had never asked her for anything when by any measure, I should have been at least accorded what I had voluntarily turned my back on after the July 1977 coup. I was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service and posted at London – by ZAB personally – and I resigned rather than serve the military government or, in Lillian Hellmann’s words, “cut my conscience to suit today’s fashion.”

The only time I broached the subject with her was when I asked her several years later what I should say to those who ask me why I alone of all the Bhutto people had been left out of the camp of victory. She did not answer that but I could see from her expression that she was sensitive to what I had said.

Once someone who knew about such things and how they work, told me that she had tried both times she was in office to find me a position to suit my wishes and my experience but both times it was the ISI that had shot it down. One day, I am going to ask the ISI – to quote Gen. Yahya Khan – at what point did I inadvertently “untie its tethered goat.”

In 2001, while I was rifling through some old papers, I came across a photograph of Benazir, sent to her father and mother from school in the United States with a long, loving note scribbled to them on the back. She must have been around seventeen then. I mailed it to her in London, saying it belonged to her. She wrote back to say how time had passed and how wistful one felt thinking of those young and early years.

In Simla, Benazir who had accompanied her father because Begum Bhutto was ill at the time in Karachi, was put under my charge, so to speak. She had barely turned 19 and was a big hit with the Indian media. I remember one headline that ran, “Benazir is benazir.” Everybody wanted to interview her but I was under instructions from ZAB himself to say no to all such requests. The only exception made – after due permission from the President – was a meeting with the late Indian journalist Dilip Mukerjee who had published a hurriedly written biography of Bhutto. He told me that more than him, it was his daughter, also Benazir’s age, who had her heart set on meeting her.

When I asked ZAB if an exception could be made in this case, he told me to go ahead as long as I remained present at the meeting. Mukerjee was thrilled when I told him that he could come along with his daughter to the Vice Regal Lodge where we were staying. The two came but Benazir paid little attention to the starry-eyed girl, instead going hammer and tongs after Mukerjee, whom she faulted for having got several facts about her father wrong. Mukerjee, one of India’s most respected journalists, and a great Bengali gentleman of the old school, spent the meeting fending off Benazir’s blows. At one point I asked her if we had not had enough of that and if we could perhaps move on to other things. She reluctantly let go and Mukerjee heaved a sigh of relief. She then turned to the girl and spoke to her for quite some time to put her at ease.

The Indians wanted ZAB to see Pakeezah, a “Muslim social” as the Bombay film industry classifies such productions. ZAB was not interested but felt that it would be rude to say no and asked me to escort Benazir to the cinema on Simla’s fabled Mall, which I did. We later took a walk and also visited a bookshop where I bought many books for ZAB that he had asked me to do.

Except for the last year and a half or so, I kept a steady to and fro email correspondence with Benazir. She was a great email sender, though the last time we spoke I said to her that for long we had not exchanged emails, whereas I often ran into people who bragged about getting emails from her all the time. “Not emails, but SMS,” she replied. I was not into SMS – one gadget less to fiddle with – but I had decided to SMS her from now on. But that was not to be.

I have more pictures of Benazir than anyone I know – all my own work. Off and on, while rifling through my piles of photographs, I would pick up some of hers and email them to her. I have a message from her dated December 3 2003 which says, “Dear Khalid bhai, Thank you for sending me the pictures taken at Dr. Javed’s House (Dr Javed Manzur, Washington PPP president at whose house she always met journalists and party workers). Your picture collection is phenomenal, covering many a decade and many an era. Bibi.” Another mail dated January 3 2004 says, “Such beautiful pictures you have. Thank you for sending it to me. It brought back many memories of a happier time.” A birthday greeting I sent her in 2002 brought back this response: “I am writing to thank you for the greetings on the occasion of my birthday on June 21, 2002. It was kind of you to remember the occasion. I appreciate the prayers and the good wishes. It is such gestures which give me strength to work for the restoration of a democratic process in our country Pakistan.”

A set of pictures I took of her in 1992, when she was living in a rented house in Islamabad’s F-8 sector, I sent to her in early August 2003. She wrote on August 22, “Thank you for the photos which I received. I was thin and wish I could be so again. It is too much effort. Nice to know about Nadira becoming Lady Naipaul.” (When I took the pictures, Nadira was interviewing her along with Roshan Dhunjibhoy for a German TV channel.)

When a scandal involving Pakistan’s UN ambassador striking his woman friend broke in New York four years ago, the PPP issued a formal condemnation. I wrote to Bibi about it, reminding her that Munir Akram was Pakistan’s most brilliant ambassador and one of the few Sindhis in the foreign service. She replied on January 14 2003, “Dear Khalid bhai, Munir is a woman beater and PPP feels strongly about the rights of women. A man who beats a woman is unfit, to my mind, to represent Pakistan.” She wrote to me on May 31 2003, in response to my early birthday message, “It is kind of you to remember my birthday so early on. Thank you for the good wishes for the occasion. I am going to be half a century old and that makes for reflection. I have written a poem called Banazir’s Story inspired by Marvi of Malir, written by Shah Latif. Marvi was in exile from her land and pined for it as I do too. I was moved when I read it and adapted it to the present circumstances.” Lahore-based Daily Times newspaper published the entire poem.

When Ijaz Batalvi died, I wrote a column on his passing The Friday Times. I stated that he was never the same after ZAB’s execution and in later years and in private regretted his role in the case. Rao Rashid wrote a letter to TFT castigating Batalvi’s role. Benazir who saw the column wrote to me, “Dear KH, I saw this article. It made me think the better of Rao for taking exception to the obituary on Batalvi. It also cooled the heart to know that Batalvi was never the same again and in private regretted it. Wish it could have been at a public level. Batalvi would have had so much knowledge about what went on behind the scenes. I firmly believe that someone has to come forward to tell the truth, someone who was part of the fray and knew exactly what went on with the assurance that what is wanted is an end to perversion of justice and not retribution. This is why I keep calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission knowing how many were tortured and how justice was shredded in the name of justice itself. Bibi.”

When I passed on to her a suggestion someone had made asking her to become Pakistan’s Sonia Gandhi, she wrote, “Luckily, I come from a village in Larkana rather than Italy.” In 2002, certain stories were planted in the press by the regime or its friends that Benazir was not a graduate of Radcliffe. I got in touch with Radcliffe, which confirmed that she was not only a graduate but had passed with honours in 1973. Daily Times printed my story on July 13 2002. When Benazir saw it on July 16, she wrote, “Khalid bhai, Got the message upon my return. The regime began the wrong propaganda and I was to nail them on the day of filing the nomination. They seized my papers previously and now thought they could do ‘dada-giri’. However, I was alerted when FL (Farooq Leghari) dismissed the government and argued that I was never a graduate. Thank you for working to defending my reputation in the face of the manifold lies of the regime. Insha Allah, all their lies will be caught. Bibi.”

Yusuf Buch, who worked for several years as ZAB’s special assistant for information, told me that ZAB wanted Benazir to be spared the rough and tumble of politics. Instead, he wanted her to go into foreign service, get married to a nice young man and raise a family. I mentioned this in a column, which Benazir saw. She wrote to me, “I am surprised Yusuf Buch told you that all my father wanted me to do was to join the Foreign Service and get married and have children. Those close to my father all know that he wanted me to go into politics. It was I who wanted to join the Foreign Service. In fact, mother contested in 1977 to pave the way for me to enter parliament when I turned twenty-five. When my father was imprisoned, destiny took hold of my life and I followed the path that he had chosen for me. He was proud of my having done that. The greatest consolation I have is that I lived up to his expectations and faced each crisis with fortitude as (he) would have wanted me to do. Bibi.”

Benazir was a beautiful person. But she was not free of faults. Once she said to me – it was her first term as prime minister – that she was always judged harshly. I replied that she was judged harshly because much was expected of her. The never-to-go-away charges of corruption that hovered over her head bothered me deeply, as they did all those who admired her and wished her well. Although she kept denying them, the fact is that she was not pure as driven snow. Was it Asif Zardari who led her to that path? Or was it something innate to her? She told me in Casablanca in 1995 – if I have the year right – where she had gone for the Islamic Summit, that when she was ejected out of 70 Clifton, all she had on her were the clothes she was wearing, She told me that had her husband not had “some money,” they would have been on their own.

I recall walking on a Casablanca road, having just filed my report to my Lahore newspaper from the telegraph office, when Benazir’s prime ministerial cavalcade with sirens blaring passed me by. She saw me and had her car and the rest of the motorcade come to a stop. Khalid Shafi, then chief of protocol and ZAB’s ADC when I was his press secretary, jumped out of the car and said, “The prime minister says get Khalid in the car and bring him over.”

I spent that entire afternoon with her, talking about old times and about ZAB whom we both adored. Not always was she the best judge of people, however. In her first term, it was people like Happy Minwala who roosted around and pretended as if the sun rose every morning not from the east but from some orifice on their person. When she fell, they abandoned her without wasting a minute. I also could not understand how she could come close to people like Gulzar Chaudhry (a dismissed patwari) who because of her munificence became a millionaire. It always bothered me that she would stay at his residence when in Lahore. That someone like Rehman Malik, a policeman of dubious reputation, became such a close companion of hers, I never quite understood. He christened himself as her chief security adviser and yet he failed to protect her, first in Karachi, where she was lucky to have survived, and then in Rawalpindi, where she wasn’t. He has not even had the decency to offer an apology to the nation and confess that he failed in the task he had assigned to himself or that had been assigned to him.

But let all that is now laid to rest with her in the eternal earth of her beloved Sindh. She is one with Marvi with whom she had once compared herself. She is gone and as the Quran says, speak only well of the dead.

I asked three people – Husain Haqqani, fellow correspondent and friend Iftikhar Ali in New York, and VOA broadcaster Murtaza Solangi - to share with me briefly their memories of Benazir. Let me end this long, rambling piece with their words. Husain Haqqani, who came very close to her in her last years and did a lot of work on her behalf in Washington and with the US media, wrote, “Benazir Bhutto was the most amazing, loving and lovable person I have ever known. For those who only saw her as a distant political figure, her human dimension clearly did not matter. For everyone whose life she touched, her humanity transcended the politics. Most powerful figures in Pakistan know how to turn friends into enemies, but Benazir Bhutto had the capacity to turn critics into admirers. When I first met her, I worked for her opponent but she won me over by her charm and persuasion, leading to fifteen years of close relations and my absolute personal loyalty to her. She was told many things about me but she never believed any and on more than one occasion put her appreciation or praise in writing. ‘I know something about vilification, Haqqani Saab’ she would say.

“The day after Farooq Leghari dismissed her second government I showed up to meet Bibi who was under house arrest at the Prime Minister’s House. She turned to someone present there and said, ‘See, I told you Haqqani Saab will remain with us. He is not like (and then she named someone who had joined Leghari’s cabinet even though he was a PPP senator after working as her spokesman earlier). We disagreed vehemently once when I was Information Secretary and she asked me to suggest a way of “keeping our friendship while relocating you from here.” She asked why I did not consider electoral politics in Karachi, which led me to move back to Karachi and engage in direct politics for a while. Our relationship became much closer after my marriage to Farahnaz Ispahani. Bibi sent a gift from Dubai she said she had chosen herself and invited the two of us to visit her. She said she knew this was the beginning of personal happiness for me. When Farah and I moved to Washington in 2002, Bibi called us and arranged a meeting every time she visited the US. I told her I did not have a home big enough to entertain, unlike some of her rich doctor and Pakistani businessmen supporters. She said she would be happy to meet me in my office. Everyone at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was surprised when Benazir Bhutto arrived unannounced at the reception one morning and spent the entire day in my small cubicle. She spoke on the phone to Asif Zardari, who was still in prison and being advised by the then head of ISI’s Internal Wing to break with her and find happiness. I heard her side of the conversation and she filled me in on what was said from the other side. Then she told me, ‘You will now understand why Asif remains so precious to me.’

“For the next five years, I assisted Bibi as she tried to convince a sceptical Washington of the merits of democracy in Pakistan. Hundreds of emails and text messages were exchanged between us. She went over every word that was written on her behalf and wrote significant portions of her own statements and articles. I was always elated by emails that said ‘Excellent’ or ‘I will share these points with the party’ in response to some article of mine. After I became a professor at Boston University she introduced me to her American friends as ‘my favourite professor.’ I probably wasn’t but she said it anyway and it made me feel good. She had the capacity to make people feel good, which is the most important attribute of a politician – something cold-blooded analysts and technocrats cannot understand. Yesterday, I printed out one of her recent emails and framed it alongside her portrait in my office. It read, ‘Ur judgement is invariably correct haqqani sahib. So nice to work with someone with such a good mind. Bibi.’ Even if she wrote it just to make me feel good, I would rather believe that than the news that she is not there any longer to lead the fight against the butchery of nihilists and the arrogance of Pakistan’s authoritarian state machinery.”

Iftikhar Ali, who was APP correspondent at the United Nations in 1971, wrote, “I first saw Benazir in November of 1971 when she came from Boston to join her father in New York who had come to fight Pakistan’s case at the United Nations – a losing battle with Pakistani troops failing to defend the country’s frontiers in what was East Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto stayed at Pierre Hotel on Central Park. She appeared to be Mr. Bhutto’s secretary as she picked up the phone virtually every time I called. Mr. Bhutto had asked me to keep him informed about the developments on the war front at any time of the day or night. He was not the type who would rely on the information providedby the Pakistan Mission. Whenever I called Mr. Bhutto’s hotel room, she would invariably ask me, ‘Anything big?’ And I would tell her. Reuters had given me access to their UN office and I would pick up the news from the ticker and read out to him. When Mr. Bhutto was not in his room, she would ask me to tell her the news and she would listen with great attention.

“But she stayed in New York just over a week before returning to her college. During that time, she came to the UN with her father a couple of times, dressed in pantsuits. As far as I know, she never sat on the official meetings which her father was having with diplomats at the UN. She always waited outside talking to Mission officials. Whenever she spotted me, she would ask me, ‘What’s the news on your net?’ She was remarkably thin, in fact, skinny in those days. She could get along with everyone, and never behaved like the daughter of a Deputy Prime Minister. Subsequently, I met her a couple of times at Ambassador Iqbal Akhund’s residence where she stayed during her holiday breaks at the college. She was into American politics, especially as the race for 1972 presidential election was picking up. My impression was that she was inclined towards Democrats – her preferred candidate seemed to be Edmund Muskie, a liberal, who subsequently couldn’t get the Democratic nomination. The party nominated George McGovern, who lost to Richard Nixon badly. She was up-to-date on American politics and generally dominated dinner conversations. And like most young people in those days, she was against US involvement in the Vietnam War.

“I never saw her until she was released from jail and was allowed to travel out of Pakistan. In New York, she addressed a number of highly emotional meetings of Pakistani supporters of Mr. Bhutto and organised her party - Shabbir and Zulfiqar were her lieutenants. Because of the news clampdown during Zia days, not many people knew about the Bhutto case and she worked hard to apprise not only the Pakistanis but also opinion leaders here. She lived very simply here mostly with family friends, especially Shama Haider, Mrs. Bhutto’s secretary. There were no parties or eating out in fancy restaurants. Shama always drove her around; sometimes she also used PPP workers’ cars. She developed close relations with her party workers, visited their homes and even knew the name of their wives and children. During her Oct. visit, she was in the big league. While she was invited to top class events in think-tanks and other forums, she held two press conferences in the homes of her workers who lived in such obscure places in New York that even taxi drivers have difficulty getting there. There was hardly any place to sit in those homes with dozens of reporters chasing her. I never had her direct phone number but whenever I called Shama and told her that I wished to speak to herabout some matter, she would call back within hours. She was a very decent and charming person. May she rest in peace!”

Murtaza Solangi, who is from Sindh, became close to her in the last three years of her life, exchanging emails with her and speaking to her on the phone with great frequency. He wrote, “She was the leader of the next century who had completely changed her lifestyle to meet the political demands of this age. No Pakistani politician has harnessed the Internet to political advantage as she did. If she thought anybody would help advance her cause, she was in instantaneous contact with that person. She traveled a lot in the last eight years, but no matter what part of the world she was in, she was accessible to those she wanted to stay in touch with. I have seen her “sent by blackberry device” emails replied within two minutes of being received. No matter how critical a question asked of her, she would find a way to handle it with a cool answer. No matter what she thought of you, she was always respectful. Like her father, she had an amazing memory. She would always call you by your name. I think she had realised that this could be her last trip to the US. She came here many times in 2007. And every time she came, she was on every network, every radio station, in every newspaper, at every think tank and forum in order to advance her cause. The difference between 2006 and 2007 was that Musharraf was here all over the place in 2006. In 2007, Benazir had conquered every American institution and every American media outlet. She knew that she was running out of time. She had to speak her mind before life quit on her.”

I would like to close this tribute to that gentle lady whose like we will not see again with something my friend Ziauddin wrote for Dawn from London where he now lives: “She listened, defended and argued but never for a moment did I find her losing her patience or her cool. I had gone to (one) meeting after hearing many stories about her arrogance, hot temper and short fuse. But the Benazir I met was a person one could communicate, enter into heated debate and argue with. After this meeting I had several longish debates with her mostly in the company of the late H.K. Burki. On these occasions, I would listen mostly to the monologue of Mr Burki who would dissect her policies and actions like a surgeon without mincing words. She would listen attentively and would never make even the slightest unpleasant response to the most unpleasant and uncharitable criticism of Mr Burki. He was perhaps the first person to tell her on her face that her choice of Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari as the president was wrong and he even went on to predict that Mr Leghari would betray her. In my discussions with her, I found her to have a deep understanding of economic issues. She was very well versed in the subject and could stand her ground in a debate on economic issues even with the experts.”