Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

This morning a New Year card arrived from beyond the grave, from Benazir Bhutto, with whom I was always on good terms, though I didn't think she was an effective Prime Minister. She wrote kindly about me in her autobiography, for the efforts I made to save her father from execution as Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group in 1979, and to oppose the persecution of democrats including her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto and many PPP members by Zia ul-Haq. When she was living in exile in the Barbican in the early 80s I sold her an Apricot computer - at that time I was running a business selling PCs - and my daughter Victoria taught her to use it. We knew Dr Niazi, a gentle man who had been her father's dentist and then acted as her factotum. He had a flat in the same block, and was at her beck and call day and night, for which he got little thanks.

Although the vicious persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan was given a huge boost under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship, with the infamous Ordinance XX and the subsequent incorporation of the blasphemy laws in the criminal code, attacks on the community had started earlier on and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had done little to curb them. When Benazir became Prime Minister and I appealed to her personally to repeal the notorious blasphemy laws, she told me that it was all very difficult, and she was forced by the pressure of the mullahs to withdraw even a modest proposal to make it an offence to accuse someone of blasphemy without good cause. Now her failure to confront the extremist followers of Maudoodi when she was in power has come home to roost in the present epidemic of terrorist atrocities in Pakistan, amongst them her own murder.

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