Few journalists are intimate witnesses to a career from political cradle to grave. Shyam
Bhatia was on first name terms alongside Benazir every step of the way and his book is a
revelation. A relationship that began among the dreaming spires of Oxford continued across
the world from Pimlico to Pakistan. Along the way she told Bhatia things that she told no
other journalist-history-making details that make this book a must-read for anyone who is a
serious student of the politics of West Asia and of the front line state that she led as the
first women prime minister of a Muslim country. We see unprecedented detail of one of the
most significant deals of this or any other century-how North Korea gained access to the
technology which gave it the capability to develop nuclear weaponry. There are insights into
Benazir's relationship with the military and politicians in her own country, and what impact
she had on their opposite numbers in India. This is Benazir as you have never seen her
before-off guard, relaxed, open and honest. The woman who embraced both the sports car and
the chador, who might have done so much for her country.
Goodbye Shahzadi is an exclusive and highly charged account of the life and times
of one of the world's most fascinating political leaders, Benazir Bhutto. Drawing on his
personal notes and tape-recorded interviews. Shyam Bhatia presents the assassinated leaders'
innermost thoughts as well as never-before-revealed secrets about Pakistan's nuclear and
About the Author
Shyam Bhatia Editor of Asian Affairs magazine, has been a staff foreign correspondent
for London's Observer newspaper based in Cairo and Jerusalem, and US correspondent and
Foreign Editor of the Deccan Herald. A frequent visitor in the past to Pakistan and an
Arabic speaker, he has won the Foreign Reporter of the Year Award in the British media and
is the author of India's Nuclear Bomb, Nuclear Rivals in the Middle East, Brighter than the
Baghdad Sun and Contemporary Afghanistan.
Bhatia and Benazir first met at Oxford where he refused to support her campaign to
obtain an honorary degree for her father and then Pakistan prime minister Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto. A bitter fight over the issue of the honorary degree later gave way to an enduring
friendship, supplemented by regular heart-to-heart talks and interviews in London and Dubai.
Some details of what Benazir told Bhatia about her family and about Pakistan's defence and
foreign policies remained confidential during her lifetime and are revealed for the first
time in this book.
Interviewed Benazir Bhutto on Innumerable Occasions, More Often Indeed than any Other
politician I have ever known. The reason was simple. We met in Oxford and remained in touch
Until I met Benazir, Pakistan for me conjured images of mad mullahs, forced
conversions and oppressed women backed up by a theology of hate that refused to accept
anyone belonging to a different value system. Benazir was poles removed from this mental
picture. She did not speak of religion unless specifically asked, did not wear a veil, was
certainly not oppressed, and, above all, was prepared to engage in open debate among equals,
male or female, on any conceivable issue.
Cynic might argue that my distaste for jihadi culture meant that I was far too
accepting of someone like Benazir, gratefully seizing upon her apparently liberal outlook at
face value and overlooking any flaws of character, such as an inbuilt opportunism. In
retrospect, such a judgement seems less than fair. Like so many of us at the time, Benazir
was more a free-thinking student than a two-faced politician. Insofar as she had any plans
for the future, they had to do with her desire to join her country's diplomatic service.
When we got to know each other better, she would theorize that the Bhuttos, Bhatias,
and Bhattis were all part of the same Rajput family tree that had its roots in southern
Afghanistan. Over the centuries, branches of this vast extended family moved eastwards, she
believed, modifying their clan name and their religious persuasion in keeping with the local
circumstances in which they found themselves. If that was true, our common Rajput ancestry
gave us something in common, as did the time we spent at Oxford. Our family circumstances
were however very different. My father was a journalist who strayed into the Indian Foreign
Service and back again into journalism. His journalism gave him access to all manner of
people from all walks of life, including Benazir's father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
I still recall the story my father related of meeting and interviewing Zulfikar for
the Indian Express in the early 1960s. The interview was in Calcutta and my father was
accompanied by the Indian Express cartoonist who proceeded to hastily sketch Zulfikar, then
the foreign minister of Pakistan. Asked by the nervous cartoonist if he would autograph his
work, Zulfikar, who was balding, looked at the cartoon and commented, 'I've got more hair
around my private parts than he's given me at the top of my head.'
The Bhuttos were wealthy feudal landlords from Sindh, not dissimilar to old
fashioned English squires who lived off the land and the rents of their tenants. Zulfikar,
later tried and executed for a murder he protested he never ordered, was the first casualty
in a dynasty of death that would go on, before their time, to claim the lives of his older
daughter and two sons. When Zulfikar died, his widow and children inherited at least 12,000
acres of land in Larkana, about an hour's flying time from Karachi.
What set Benazir apart from many of her Pakistani contemporaries was a
self-evidently progressive outlook that found expression in a book she wrote only months
before she was assassinated. The vast majority of the billion Muslims in the world embrace a
peaceful, tolerant, open, rational, and loving religion,' wrote Benazir. This is the
interpretation of Islam that my father
taught my brothers
and me.' Some
of Benazir's critics have questioned the sincerity of these apparently liberal convictions;
in her own defence she argued that she had changed and matured with the passage of time.
Flitting between Oxford and London, where the Pakistani High commissioner had
invited her to treat his residence as a second home, she was extremely glamorous and brought
a zing of excitement to our day-to-day lives as university students. It did not seem obvious
at the time, but now, looking back, Benazir seemed to be almost bubble-wrapped in a kind of
all-encompassing innocence and that added to her appeal.
Our last contact was in October 2007, just before she went back home after a decade
of exile to take part in national elections planned for early 2008. The setting was a
crowded press conference in London where we just managed to exchange a few words. She was
looking much older than I remembered, and jowly. There was no sparkle to her voice, or her
face. Why are you going back, I asked in bewilderment? She muttered something about it being
too late to back out. How about an interview? I continued. Send me the questions, she
replied, and I will get back to you. I didn't follow up my request, but to my surprise a few
weeks later I had a phone call from Pakistan with a familiar voice asking, 'So where are the
questions? I had no alternative but to respond, and the result was one of the last
interviews she gave before she was shot dead in front of her adoring supporters.
Some of the students who were at Oxford in 1972-75, including Indians and
Pakistanis, stood out because they were from famous families, although a few but not all
them would go on to make a name for themselves in their own right. They included a young
English aristocrat at Christ Church, Benazir's brother's college, who had neither the
intellect nor the application to be admitted to such a world-renowned university. Rumour had
it that he was accepted because his college or university libraries, in exchange for his
son's guaranteed admission.
Then there were the Americans, usually supported by extremely generous grants, who
always seemed to come across as the most gifted and hard-working members of the student
body. They included Peter Galbraith, son of the American economist and former US ambassador
to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, who had been friendly with Benazir during her earlier
Harvard years. He would play a vital role in later years in freeing her from the clutches of
the Pakistani military.
Among those from South Asia, many, whether they knew it or not at the time, destined
for greater things. Imran Khan became a world-class cricketer, Vikram Seth, who would bob up
unexpectedly on the narrow winding streets that linked the colleges of Oxford, would develop
into a writer of international renown. Benazir was different. She arrived as a ready-made
celebrity because she was the daughter of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of
an important country that was in the process of rebuilding itself after the 1971 war with
India and the loss of its eastern wing that emerged as the independent state of
The war had led to the loss of thousands of innocent lives, and millions of
refugees. When we first met, Indian and Pakistani, reading for our respective degrees on the
same English university campus, Benazir and I were soon at daggers drawn. We could not agree
whether or not her father was responsible for the war and whether, in the wake of such a
disastrous conflict, he should be awarded an honorary degree at Oxford.
To her abiding credit, Benazir did not allow our subsequent dealings to be
permanently affected by my negative views about her father; for my part, I sent a letter of
condolence to her in Pakistan after Zulfikar was executed and then made the effort to call
on her in London. I also took the time to call on her in London after her younger brother,
Shahnawaz, was killed by poisoning in Cannes. After she was toppled from office in 1996 we
met more regularly, sometimes two or three times a year, in London or Dubai. She always
inquired after my wife, whom she had met, and our two children who were in the same age
bracket as her own. Our conversations occasionally degenerated into bracket as her own. Our
conversations occasionally degenerated into farce because of her fondness for mimicking the
political leaders she and I knew in common. Benazir was also curious about war reporting and
my life experiences as a Cairo-and Jerusalem-based journalist, repeatedly asking what it was
like to live among the Jews in Israel. In 1995 she sent a message to me in Jerusalem to say
that she was thinking of visiting Gaza and inquiring whether I would be around. That visit
never materialized, but Benazir ensured that she was always up to date about the historic
Middle East conflict dividing Jews and Arabs.
In 2003 and 2004 she agreed to a series of searingly honest interviews on the record
with me about herself, her family, and he political life. At the time I did publish some,
but not all the material from the tapes of those interviews. Some tapes containing much of
the unpublished material, including her revelations about Pakistan's nuclear programme,
remained locked away in my filing cabinet. They only came to light by chance soon after she
was assassinated when I was scouring through my personal papers in search of some other
documents. I realized then that the tapes contained exclusive information about contemporary
issues that had never before been revealed.
I also got to know her brother Murtaza at Oxford. A year younger than Benazir, he
and I shared the same academic supervisor in our postgraduate research about the history of
the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan. Some years later, when I encountered Murtaza
in exile in Damascus, he told me with some bitterness that it was he who had been designated
as the political heir of their father Zulfikar. As evidence, Murtaza told me how it was he
and not Benazir who had been asked to manage their father's Larkana constituency during the
1977 General Election. This was a conviction shared by at least one senior member of
Zulfikar's who had been asked to manage their father's Larkana constituency during the 1977
General Election. This was a conviction shared by at least one senior member of Zulfikar's
staff, Yusuf Buch, who told his friend and fellow staffer Khalid Hasan that the prime
minister would rather his daughter was spared the rough and tumble of politics, preferring
that she join Pakistan's Foreign Service.
It was a point of view vigorously disputed by Benazir during her lifetime, claiming
that her father had always wanted her to enter politics. She was, however, wrong on one
count when she cited as evidence her father's decision to deliberately include her in the
delegation that went to the famous India-Pakistan summit in Shimla in 1972. There was
nothing deliberate about that decision. Zulfikar had originally intended to take his wife
Nusrat to that summit, but she fell ill and Benazir was a hurried, last minute choice to
fill in for her mother. Now that Benazir and Murtaza are both dead, the baton has been
passed on to their respective sets of children. Pakistan's future could well be affected by
how this next generation of Bhuttos manage their competing interests. Benazir, Murtaza,
Shahnawaz, and their father cannot expect to rest easy in the family graveyard in
Back of the Book
Benazir Bhutto and Shyam Bhatia were at Oxford together and remained close friends until she
was assassinated in Pakistan last year. Over the years Bhatia recorded a series of
interviews with Benazir in which she talked with amazing frankness about her life, her
family, her ambitions and her plans. Some of her revelations were so personal and sensitive
that she made Bhatia promise to keep them secret during her lifetime. Now he is free to tell
the story of a powerful yet tragic woman whose loyalty to her dynasty cost her life.
Bhatia's book casts new light on such crucial matters as Pakistan's race to build an
atom-bomb and Benazir's own undercover role in fooling the world over this. It is a timely.
Revealing, sympathetic and important book about a remarkable woman.
Shyam Bhatia's revealing portrait of Benazir Bhutto is readable, first-rate
reportage, by far the best book so far written on Bhutto, her marriage and her family. Based
on a 34-year friendship dating back to student days, it is up close and personal in its
style and filled with hitherto-undisclosed bombshells on a wife range of topics ranging from
Pakistan's relations with North Korea and India to the corruption charges that still swirl
around her husband, Asif Zardari. Must reading for all those interested in South Asia.
Graciously written with some astonishing revelations based on a friendship spanning
more than 30 years. A riveting read for the specialist and layman alike.
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