Benazir, Rajiv were beacons that have been snuffed out


New Delhi : The year was 1988, the occasion the SAARC summit in Islamabad, the two main players – Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi, two prime ministers, two scions of political families, two leaders expected to take South Asia to a bright new millennium.

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Within three years, in 1991, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had Rajiv Gandhi assassinated.

Nineteen years after that bright new dawn in 1988, it was the turn of Benazir.

From 1972, when she accompanied her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at the Shimla talks with India, Benazir has been popular in this country, seen as a new generation leader who could potentially take India-Pakistan relations beyond the bitterness of partition and its aftermath.

That was the hope that flared at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in 1988, when the two young leaders were at the helm of the two largest countries in South Asia.

The promise was never quite fulfilled, despite another bilateral meeting in July 1989 in Islamabad.

When in power, Benazir often took strong anti-India positions. And just two days before her assassination, Benazir told western journalists that Rajiv had not come across as sincere in his desire for peace between India and Pakistan.

But in this country there were always lots of people who felt she didn’t really mean her anti-India statements, but she had to make them for domestic political reasons.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah remembered Thursday night how elated Rajiv had been after that 1988 SAARC summit, how hopeful that there would be lasting peace between the two countries under the two forward-looking leaders.