Stephen Bubb: Memories of Benazir from the 'Bollinger Bolshevik'

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The Independent Online

Benazir Bhutto: I still have in my office a photo of her and me on top of the Christ Church boathouse. It makes a good party game to ask visitors who they think the two sweet youths are. People rarely guess. I was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1972, studying PPE. I dabbled in politics and gained a reputation as a "Bollinger Bolshevik". (I saw this as a compliment.) It was through the political networks that I met Benazir.

Dynamic, personable, with great charisma and a huge sense of humour, she had a wide circle of friends. She became a very successful president of the Oxford Union, dealing with errant behaviour with a mix of patrician sternness and humour.

There was also a certain Anthony Blair at St John's. I can't say I had him marked out as a man of destiny. But Benazir was clearly going to take her place on the world stage. I had the strong sense her father, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, had marked her out to take a leading role in her country and that she was preparing for that role.

Once, she decided I needed cheering up and arrived at Christ Church in her red MG. We were off to Stratford-upon-Avon for lunch and a dose of Shakespeare, a typical example of her generosity. While Benazir kept out of the party political activity, it was clear her politics were on the progressive left. And she was no fan of political posturing. She helped me organise a fundraising event to support the families of political prisoners held on Robben Island by the South African apartheid regime. She was as outraged at their brutal treatment as I was.

She was fiercely protective of her father's reputation, inviting me out to meet him, although student penury prevented me. A year later, he was hanged. But I did meet her family. One summer, a High Commission car rolled up in the Kent countryside – Benazir and her sister thought they would pop in for tea. Mother was honoured, the neighbours deeply impressed.

It has been a personal tragedy for Benazir that she has had to cope with family deaths in the glare of international publicity and with outrageous suggestions of skulduggery and family feuding. A weaker character might have buckled. Not Benazir. Behind the charm lies a steely determination. The years of exile and the allegations have left their mark. Did she make the wisest marriage? Who knows, but my guess is the criticism makes her still more determined. She wants to serve the people of Pakistan in the way her father did. She has much to offer and it's vital that countries like the UK support her in her quest to take Pakistan back on the democratic path.

She is a clear voice of moderation, who believes a democratic future for Pakistan will lead to economic and social regeneration. As a Muslim leader and a woman, she can demonstrate that the strength and power of an Islamic state is fully consistent with progress for her people and friendship with the West. The tragedy that befell her triumphant returning cavalcade will merely increase her will to succeed. I am wishing her well. We should all do so.

Stephen Bubb is head of Acevo, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations