Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When Arafat Almost Kissed Benazir Bhutto!

A book dedicated to Benazir Bhutto by a former aide says that the slain Pakistani former premier was paranoid about shaking hands with men, but Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat came close to kissing her one day!

Retired Pakistani diplomat Arshad Sami Khan, who served Bhutto when she became prime minister for the first time, says that although she was "a liberated Muslim woman... she was extremely careful about her personal deportment and demeanour".

Bhutto's first instruction to Khan as the Chief of Protocol was that she does not shake hands with men, the author says in his book "Three Presidents and An Aide: Life, Power and Politics" (Pentagon Press, New Delhi), which former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral will release in New Delhi on Thursday.

Khan quotes Bhutto as telling him: "Sami, make sure everyone knows this as I don't wish to appear rude by not taking a man's extended hand. So make it clear to all that I don't shake hands with men."

Bhutto was so paranoid about this that she would repeat it to Khan every now and then.

The instruction, Khan says, was duly followed until one day Arafat came visiting Karachi. The Palestinian leader had held Benazir's late father Z.A. Bhutto in great esteem "and thus looked upon her with the affections of an uncle".

As Khan climbed the gangway to receive Arafat, Bhutto whispered: "Don't forget to remind him that I don't shake hands with men."

The author says he told Arafat as much: "Excellency, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is downstairs waiting to receive you and may I take the opportunity to remind you that she does not shake hands with men!"

Arafat replied: "Yes, yes, yes, I've been told, I've been told. Thanks for reminding me again anyway."

But as Arafat alighted from the aircraft, "in one straight go he elegantly extended his hand to shake hers. She gave me the worst stare possible and then hesitantly pulled out a timid hand from beneath her shawl and gave it to him for a friendly shake.

"He shook it with the warmth and vigour of a friendly Arab and we moved on towards a smartly turned out Guard of Honour, with me a step in the lead.

"Patience not being one of her best traits, she couldn't wait to scold me. Whispering beneath her breath in broken Urdu so that Arafat wouldn't understand, she reproachfully asked: 'Didn't you tell him that I don't shake hands?'

"Before I could respond, Arafat caught on and said smilingly: 'Madam, you are lucky I didn't kiss you. As a profound Arab custom and expression of warmth, I'm used to kissing dignitaries that come to receive me; not once but twice - on both cheeks."

Khan says that he and Bhutto, joined by Arafat, laughed after that remark. The author adds: "I made sure the media edited out shaking of hands from TV and still photographs."

Describing Bhutto's assassination as "a monumental loss", Khan says contrary to her tough posturing "often to the extent of being impolite and indecorous with a foul temper, I saw her as an extremely kind hearted and religious minded person deep inside".

He says she was a wizard in politics and foreign affairs but mediocre in the fields of management and administration.

"Like her father, in her highly politicised mind, individuals, friends and loyalties were disposable commodities...

"Again like her father, she too held her intellect way above all and was thus opinionated to the extent of being dogmatic, in fact blinkered, which often cut her off from realities of life." (DNA)
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