Published — Friday 7 December 2012
Last update 7 December 2012 12:01 pm
Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan was a unique leader for more than one reason. She was the country's first lady prime minister. She was highly educated — from Oxford and the USA — and lived with an educated father who despite his mistakes, made a great impression on Pakistani life and a good name for himself abroad. She was an attractive woman and a good public speaker although at times she would lose her temper publicly or at press conferences.
I followed her fortunes through two terms as prime minister until her tragic death in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad. Although she was traveling in a semi-armored wagon in the middle of hundreds of thousands of well-wishers, the assailants succeeded in killing her. She was pushed by the force of the explosion, hit her head against the metal in the car and died immediately. Until this day the whole truth about her murder has not been revealed.
Investigations into her assassination have been fruitless and inconclusive so far. Shortly before her death she had named publicly those who would attempt to kill her for various reasons.
I had a first meeting with her in Jeddah before her first election victory. I was invited to a house where I had the opportunity to talk to her. The conversation was full of news and there were no questions that she would not answer. Her photos and interview appeared in this newspaper. She was frank and fearless besides being determined to contest the upcoming election and win. The interview was published and flashed in Pakistan through news agencies and other media outlets. By the time she left for Lahore the news of her impending arrival had spread in the country, which drew hundreds of thousands of her supporters to the airport. She was assured of victory and she won.
I did not detect any fear in her face or voice although I could have cautioned her against contesting the elections for the third time as it was obvious to any observer that there were too many people and groups who would want to prevent her from scoring another victory. She was so outspoken that she spelled out her agenda in interviews that envisaged striking at powerful groups. I sincerely thought that she should not have done so because the situation in the country had immensely changed and the powers that stood against her were too formidable to beat. And if they could kill President Zia-ul-Haq by blowing up his well-guarded plane minutes after takeoff from Islamabad while in the company of the American ambassador in 1988, getting rid of her was much easier and it proved to be so.
She died I think because of her overweening confidence in her popularity and that of her party founded by her father.
I read as much as I could about the tragic killing but could not find more than newspaper analyses and speculation. There were only guesses although some of them were educated ones.
Ethiopia and Eritrea
A letter to the editor sent by Mr. Abdulgadir Ismail said that while he enjoyed reading my article on the late emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia he disagreed with me on the part played by him regarding Eritrea because he said I claimed that he had liberated the land whereas he was guilty of exterminating the people. Well, I did not exactly say so. What I said was as follows:
Besides Ethiopia proper the Italians had captured and occupied a vast territory called Eritrea with its access to the Red Sea facing the British colony of Aden. So the emperor liberated it, I meant from the clutches of Italy and called it his own for many years until a coup toppled him leading to a protracted war between the two — meaning peoples — ending with the independence of Eritrea, now a member of the United Nations.
My story was clear that the emperor had liberated it together with Ethiopia from the Italians with crucial help from the British forces who were fighting Italy because the latter was allied to Nazi Germany during the World War II. I said that he called it his own meaning that before it was not his own.
Mr. Abdulgadir's analogy with Imam Ahmed and Aden was inaccurate and unjustified. Actually Imam Ahmed of the Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen had claimed Aden and the whole British occupied Protectorates as part and parcel of the Mutawakilite Kingdom of Yemen. Those territories had been captured by the British India-based forces because they needed a base striding the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. That was in 1839. When they left in 1967 the country became independent and a few years later quietly joined Yemen and is still part of it.
Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.