By Daphne Barak
“ I don’t care about HIM, about anybody in Pakistan. There is no one person I would call right now…Everybody I care about is dead.” These were the words of an extremely bitter Sanam Bhutto on Sunday afternoon.
I was shocked so I repeated once again how bad the political situation under controversial president Asif Ali Zardari is. I briefly told her the trouble is escalating by the minute and may turn into bloodshed. This didn’t change the uncaring manner of Sanam Bhutto. She simply reiterated that the only people she would care to help are dead.
Sanam is the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s sister. Her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, two brothers and eldest sister Benazir have all been killed. She lives in London with her children, after an abusive marriage; according to her
(“I married him because I wanted to escape life in Pakistan. It has become a nightmare: life with him, separation from him”).
Benazir had introduced me to her younger sister Sanam in New York. We reconnected after Benazir was murdered. I told Asif, who was running the election campaign in her place that I wanted to see Sanam.
Although Sanam told me later on, that “I don’t have any relationship with HIM. I don’t even have his private phone…” – Sanam’s emotional first ever TV interview with me, mourning Benazir and the rest of her legendary family, revived the emotion right after Benazir’s assassination on December 27, 2007.
I chose to air it and print it worldwide just because Pakistanís elections which were postponed by the then president Pervez Musharraf because of Benazir’s assassination.
Asif who has been one of the most reviled politicians in Pakistan, nicknamed “Mr. 10 per cent” and was relying on the support of his assassinated wifeís memory. He was scared that this emotional support would be less overwhelming in the postponed elections that Musharraf had smartly initiated.
My worldwide interview with Sanam was part of my “spin” to correct that and help my friend’s widower who told me he believed in democracy and the freedom of the press and wished to be elected and continue what Benazir had hoped to achieve by returning to Pakistan.
Musharraf acknowledged the importance of Sanam Bhutto’s interview as a major factor in Asif’s victory in the elections of February 2008, when we met recently in London. Many others did too. However, Sanam Bhutto has not been treated like a political asset to say the least. She told me that she was struggling financially and, “my brother-in-law is doing nothing to help me.î She added that ì Benazir helped me with my children’s education.”
In fact, when she went for a beauty treatment, she used to go with Benazir, she was so nervous when they asked for her credit card. When I took the trembling Sanam to dinner afterwards, she told me: “Daphne, I was so nervous when they asked for my credit card. I thought it will not go through. I was scared, I would have to ask you to loan me money immediately…”
Sanam made an appearance at Benazir’s birthday in Pakistan, and the swearing-in ceremony of Asif Ali Zardari as president. She had showed up with Bilawal and Benazir’s two daughters. But behind all that she was forced to remain distant from Benazir’s kids.
She had been a very involved aunt, almost a mother figure up until then. I have witnessed her close relationship with Bilawal after Benazir’s death. That is why I almost hit the roof when Bilawal emailed me in April 2008 saying that, “I hardly see Sanam any more…”
Sanam who rarely talks about politics lost it after an emotional dinner with Bilawal, myself and my producer Erbil. On our way back from dinner, Sanam’s anger came out: “I will never forgive HIM. Why is he taking over the party? Let democracy happen.
Let the people in the PPP decide who will be the leader. He always criticised my sister that she did not have the right people around her, that she does not know… that he knows better… She was working so hard. He always criticised her… She wanted so much to spend time with him. He always preferred to spend time with his friends. And she tried so much to please him… So now, let us see what he can do. Whether he can do any better…”
I chose not to use angry words which were repeated more than on one occasion. I wasn’t sure if Sanam wanted her real opinion and pain to surface. But her blunt statement, earlier today, spoke volumes.