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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Memorial for Benazir Bhutto at the Pakistani High Commission

On the 27th December 2008, the first anniversary of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a memorial was held for Benazir Bhutto whom I interviewed in Pakistan and met with in London. There were photos of her all over the walls and staircases of the High Commission in Knightsbridge, and the bright lights and candles heightened memories of her personality and achievements that day. Benazir with Margaret Thatcher, Benazir with Shimon Peres, Benazir with different world leaders; but in all the photos, it is her, not they, drawing the eye. She had a luminosity and a charismatic presence and as I discovered from some of the lady mourners with whom I sat for prayers on white sheets after taking off our shoes, she was affectionate and respectful to them too. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, now Pakistani High Commissioner to London for the second time, has written how he considered Benazir to be a sister to him. I went to the High Commission with Mohammed Ziauddin, of the Dawn Group whom I quote in my articles sometimes; he is one of those veteran respected journalists whom I take very seriously and he will be sorely missed when he finishes his tenure in London this year.

There were a few cameramen taking footage of the photographs for news reports later in the day covering world-wide memorial events marking the occasion. After segregated prayers, we all came together in a marquee in the garden with heaters round the insides to keep us warm. While Wajid with his tinted glasses sat quietly watching us on a chair looking cute and sanguine in a fur hat and snug coat, a friendly Imam, Abduljalil Sajid, said in English to the mostly Pakistani audience that this was not a day for speeches but he wanted to tell us that he was called to Dubai by Benazir whom, he observed, was punctilious in making sure that all three of her children were given moral and religious instruction every Thursday, and Fridays she would take them for prayers. This was an interesting insight into her private devotion and gave a sense of her family discipline.
After the Imam finished his brief address, cries of 'Bibi Jinda hey!' (Bibi, Benazir, still lives) arose form PPP supporters, an emotive rally which was picked up a few times.

Afterwards some of the senior journalists went to sit in the office of the High Commission Press attache who was busy issuing a press release to Pakistan and who was quite distracted because someone had apparently walked off with her son's mobile.

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