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Andrew Buncombe's Asia Diary

The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.

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Imran and Benazir - a love story too good to be true?

Posted by Andrew Buncombe
  • Friday, 21 August 2009 at 08:18 am

It had 
all the ingredients of the perfect romantic tale; two good-looking, intelligent and gifted students from
Pakistan finding love amid the gleaming spires of Oxford. The only trouble, it seems, is that the story is not true.

 That at least was the insistence from Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain yesterday, in the wake of claims that cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and the late Benazir Bhutto briefly became an item while studying in the UK. The claim was made in a new biography of Mr Khan by Christopher Sandford, which said the cricketer and Ms Bhutto, who went on to twice serve as prime minister of Pakistan, had enjoyed “a close and even a ‘sexual’ relationship” while students. The book even claimed that Ms Bhutto had been obsessed with the handsome cricketer and that his mother once tried to arrange their marriage. 

 In any event, it seems fairly clear that, for at least a month or two, the couple were close. There was a lot of giggling and blushing whenever they appeared together in public,” said Mr Sandford, in a comment that could hardly be considered conclusive.
 Allies of the late Ms Bhutto have been quick to leap in and save her reputation, though had she fallen for the charms of Mr Khan, the so-called Lion of Lahore, she would hardly have been alone.
 Pakistan's H
igh Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, who has been close to Ms Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, currently the country’s president, said the claims were both “scandalous and malicious”.  He said Ms Bhutto did not have any affairs and that the claim was a “brazen and most despicable attempt to malign and undermine Pakistan’s most popular leader”. He added: “This is nothing but the cheapest possible way for marketing the new biography of Imran Khan.”

 Mr Sandford, who has previously written biographies of Roman Polanski and Curt Cobain, suggests the pair became close in 1975 when Ms Bhutto was aged 21 and in her second year of studying politics at Lady Margaret Hall. For his research he interviewed both Mr Khan and his ex-wife Jemima.

 Previous biographies of Ms Bhutto have claimed she did have boyfriends while she was a student. Mr Khan, however, has insisted he was not among them. Last night he was unavailable for comment but he previously told the Daily Mail: “Yes, I was interviewed, but I know nothing about the rest of what has been written. So it is not official. It is absolute nonsense about any sexual relationship or my mother and an arranged marriage. We were friends - that’s all.”


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