Oxford contemporaries remember Bhutto's vibrancy and ambition

Contemporaries of Benazir Bhutto from her Oxford days spoke today of her warmth and courage, as well as her determination and ambition.

Alan Duncan MP, a close friend of the two-time prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated yesterday, paid tribute to the "extraordinary courage and resolve" which he said helped her overcome the execution of her father in 1979.

"She felt fatalistically duty-bound to carry on despite the risk," Duncan told Guardian Unlimited.

Duncan and Bhutto became friends when he worked on her campaign in the autumn of 1976 to become president of the Oxford Union. Some reports say that Bhutto, a graduate student in her early 20s, drove around the city in a yellow sports car, but Duncan's recollection is slightly different.

"I remember driving up the high [street] in this snot-coloured MG. It was rather a slimy green, so we called it snot-coloured."

Another university friend, former Labour MP Barbara Roche, said today that Bhutto had been a "warm, fantastically friendly woman" who had been very fond of the UK.

"When people are assassinated, we dwell on their role as an international figure and do not think of them enough as a person."

"I remember Benazir as this vibrant young woman ... and I will remember my time with her incredibly fondly," Roche told Sky News.

Bhutto spent four years at Oxford at two different colleges between 1973 and 1977, after studying for an undergraduate degree at Harvard.

Michael Crick, political editor of Newsnight, said she showed great determination to become president of the union - a position that had been filled by many future politicians. According to Crick, several years her junior at Oxford, she actually failed to win the election three times.

"She put all this effort into becoming president of the union, which was a bit pointless given she intended to scale much higher peaks," commented Crick.

He added that while he had taken him out for lunch in his first year, he subsequently voted for her opponent.

Crick said that Bhutto had dominated the Oxford political scene with friends in both the Labour and Conservative camps, without being entirely popular. "Some people thought she was using her name and money to buy the presidency," he explained.

During her time at Oxford her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, faced accusations of murdering the father of a dissident leader. Crick recalled that one speaker at the Union "brought the house down" when he said, introducing Benazir, "your father is, I believe, a butcher".

Although he said they were not close friends, Crick remembered that Bhutto was always very friendly towards him.

Author and historian Victoria Schofield also met Bhutto at Oxford, and remained friends ever since. She said yesterday that Bhutto still looked back to her time in Britain as a "very happy period".

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, was also close to Bhutto. He said had shown great physical courage over the years, and had visited Rochester only a few weeks before returning to Pakistan to campaign in next January's elections.

"She gave a very good speech. I was impressed by it, and I thought that if this is the sort of leader Pakistan will get, it is its good fortune," he told Sky.

Duncan has also revealed that he exchanged emails with Bhutto just a few days before her death, in which she spoke of her optimism that her PPP party would win the upcoming elections as long as they were fair.

"If the elections are not rigged, PPP will definitely win and you can fly in for the inauguration. Problem is that we still face an uphill task unless certain measures including getting rid of the Mayors takes place. Still, better to be an optimist and what man proposes and God disposes," she wrote.

The last line of the email is thought to be a paraphrase of "Man proposes but God disposes" from Of the Imitation of Christ, a popular spiritual text. ( Guardian )

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