Indira sought Thatcher’s aid for

Bhutto’s ailing mom


London, 10 Feb - Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi intervened for humanitarian reasons on behalf of the Bhutto family, newly released British government documents have revealed. The intervention came in the form of a letter that Gandhi wrote to her British counterpart Margaret Thatcher in October 1982. From the British side the letter was stamped “personal message, serial no T200B/82”. One of Thatcher’s aides wrote, “Prime Minister, We shall let you have a reply.”
It shows that despite any prevailing regional tensions, Gandhi was a big enough personality to overcome any personal or national prejudices to seek help for Begum Bhutto, who was described as suffering from a “serious illness and deteriorating condition.”
Gandhi’s letter — never before disclosed — was typed on headed stationery from the Prime Minister’s House, New Delhi, and addressed to “The Rt. Hon. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, London”.
The first line, “Dear Prime Minister”, was written in Gandhi’s personal hand. The letter stated, “I do not believe in interfering in the affairs of other countries. However, once in a while there is an issue which moves one.
“I have earlier spoken to you about Benazir Bhutto. Now the news that her mother Mrs Bhutto is being denied the necessary medical treatment in spite of serious illness and deteriorating condition, is disturbing. The Bhutto family have not been friends of mine at any time. But in the present circumstances, it seems cruel not to allow Mrs Bhutto to go abroad for medical treatment.
“There is strong feeling in India, especially amongst our women. Several organisations are approaching me to take up the issue. I have written to President Zia-ul-Haq requesting him to consider this matter on purely humanitarian grounds.
“With regards and good wishes, Yours sincerely, Indira Gandhi.”
How Thatcher reacted to it, has not been made public, but soon afterwards both Begum Bhutto and Benazir were allowed to travel to London. Benazir remained off and on in London for several years and returned to Pakistan in 1986 soon after the lifting of martial law. She became Prime Minister for the first time after Zia was killed in a mysterious plane crash two years later.
Despite Gandhi’s disclaimers, her letter to Thatcher confirms how she reached out to the Bhutto family after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979.
She was reportedly impressed by Benazir during the Simla peace talks of 1972, when Benazir accompanied her father, and retained a soft spot for her. Discreet contact was subsequently maintained, especially after Zulfikar was hanged.
As for Benazir’s brothers, Murtaza and Shahzada, jointly responsible for hijacking a PIA jet to Kabul in 1981 and mistakingly shooting dead a Pakistan army officer, Gandhi is known to have received both of them at her Safdarjang residence in New Delhi.
When Benazir became Prime Minister, she invited both Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi to her home in Islamabad, but later complained that despite making the all important decision of clamping down on Sikh militants on the Pakistan side of the border, she got nothing in return.

 

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