For Mark Siegel December 27 is always going to be a difficult day to get through. This year, on his friend Benazir Bhutto’s fifth death anniversary, however, he felt a sense of pride as he saw her son make his first major political speech.
“I believe there is going to be a shift in politics now,” he told The Express Tribune over the phone from Washington. “Bilawal is an emerging politician and will be successful.”
Siegel is an American lobbyist who was the former prime minister’s speech writer for two decades and helped her update her autobiography ‘Daughter of Destiny’. “It’s been five years, and I still don’t believe it,” he said. “The term ‘jeay Bhutto’ means a lot to us, it means that she is still alive.”
Siegel, who caught snippets of Bilawal’s speech which was in Urdu, has known him since he was a child. It is a little strange for him to call him a man now, he remarked, adding, however that the speech should not be seen as the ‘launch’ of his public career as Bilawal has been participating in politics since his mother was assassinated.
Siegel did not comment about his relationship with the young politician but said that Benazir always wanted Bilawal to be happy and have choices. “His happiness was her first priority,” he said. “If he wanted to go into the civil services, she would have supported him with her whole heart. This is why in her handwritten will she left the chairmanship of the party to her husband and not Bilawal – because she wanted him to have choices.”
Siegel also knows Bakhtawar and Aseefa. “I am proud of all three of them - with their father in jail and their mother running a party alone and watching her die in front of their eyes - I cannot imagine a more traumatic childhood. But they survived and flourished into kind and compassionate human beings. I see a lot of their mother in them. All three of them are devoted to make sure that she did not die in vain. They want to fight for what she believed in and stood for.”
Siegel, a partner at Locke Lord Strategies has worked with former American President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Hubert H Humphrey. He collaborated with Benazir on Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, which was published after her assassination.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.
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