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By the time her season’s greeting card and a handwritten note arrived in my office, my old friend Benazir Bhutto was already dead. The card mailed in Pakistan days before her murder, remains on my desk to this today, a touching last link from this remarkable lady. So, too, the names of the men who may have murdered her.
Five years ago last Thursday, Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, was murdered in Rawalpindi during a campaign rally. This charismatic lady was adored, even venerated by her supporters, who called her the savior of Pakistan. She was equally hated by her foes who accused her and husband, Asif Ali Zardari, of robbing Pakistan and acting as agents of the United States.
Shockingly, five years after her death, we still don’t know who was behind it even though her family political fief, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has held power ever since. We are not even sure what killed her: a suicide bomber next to the vehicle from which she was waving to crowds, a sniper, or a fractured skull caused by hitting her head on a roof latch as a result of the explosion.
UN investigators reported she had been denied proper security by the regime of then president, Pervez Musharraf whose grip on power was faltering. Washington’s plan was to replace him with US ally Benazir.
The Bhuttos and I had been at scimitar’s drawn since the 1980’s, when I exposed a major corruption scandal involving her father-in-law. In my columns, published in North America and Pakistan, I hammered away at charges of embezzlement and kickbacks that dogged Benazir and her husband, Asif Zardari. I was repeatedly threatened by acid attacks by Bhutto supporters.
Benazir and I met in Washington during the early 1990’s at a mutual friend’s home. She was exiled from Pakistan and quite alone in Washington, low on both money and hope. I offered to help her. Perhaps it was her beauty and charm, or my weakness for underdogs. Some Pakistani readers wrote in claiming I had been "bewitched" by Benazir. I confess she was indeed quite bewitching.
Benazir and I brainstormed in London about what to do for long-suffering Pakistan. We spent some days in Toronto. I drove her to visit awe-struck Pakistani supporters who looked as if a goddess had descended from heaven to their homes. To Americans, Harvard graduate Benazir showed her liberal, westernized side; but to Pakistanis, she was as imperious and commanding as a Mogul empress. I sat next to her one night as she went into sugar shock (I suspect she was diabetic), and began muttering hair-raising curses against her enemies, wishing their children to die and their arms rot off.
The last time I was with Benazir was in London, just before she returned on her ill-fated trip to Pakistan. We met in a tony West End hotel, along with her security advisor and today Pakistan’s strongman, Rehman Malik, and her teenage son, Bilawal. Malik told me how he had almost captured Osama bin Laden. Young Bilawal was shy and tactiturn. Today, he is being groomed to run for office when he reaches the minimum age of 25.
Benazir clearly said to me, "powerful Punjabi allies of President Pervez Musharraf are planning to kill me." She reeled off five names. "If I am killed, you will know where to look." For the record, they deny any guilt.
Musharraf, whom I had interviewed in 1999, denied any connection to the murder. He and the US blamed Islamic militants of Lashkar Jangvi and al-Qaida.
Ironically, late one night when we were alone, I asked Benazir, "who really murdered President Zia ul-Haq," Pakistan’s late leader I knew and admired for standing up to Soviet imperialism. "It’s not important who killed him," snapped Benazir, annoyed "Who cares," she sneered. Benazir’s government shut down Pakistani and US investigations of Zia’s murder in a sabotaged C-130 transport. Zia had hanged her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and that was that.
Benazir was beautiful, charming, and highly intelligent. Her tragedy was being leader of a nation with murderous politics, wed to a husband who was rarely an asset. The unsolved mystery of her death confirms that Pakistan remains a country without justice or law.