LONDON, Dec 28: Former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called on Britain 30 years ago to correct historic wrongs by returning a precious diamond which left the subcontinent during the colonial times, newly declassified documents showed on Friday.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote to his then counterpart, James Callaghan, in August 1976 about the Kohinoor diamond, which was once the largest known diamond in the world and was set in a royal crown on being presented to Queen Victoria in 1852. The historic dispute over its ownership again flared up in 2002, when the crown sat on top of the coffin of Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, as her body lay in state in London. But it remains in the Tower of London as part of the British crown jewels collection.

The 108-carat gem has also been claimed by countries including India, Iran and Afghanistan.

In his letter, Mr Bhutto told Mr Callaghan that “little is left in our land from what was bequeathed to us by the centuries of pre-colonial history” and decried the disappearance of “the unique treasures which are the flesh and blood of Pakistan’s heritage”.

The diamond's return to Pakistan “would be a convincing demonstration of the spirit that moved Britain voluntarily to shed its imperial encumbrances and lead the process of decolonisation,” Mr Bhutto added.

“Indeed, it would be symbolic of a new international equity strikingly different from the grasping, usurping temper of a former age.” When Mr Callaghan replied to him in September, he did not agree to hand the gem over, though.

The diamond had been transferred to Britain under a peace treaty signed to end the second Sikh war in 1849, he said. “In the light of the confused past history of the Kohinoor diamond, the clear British title to it and the multiplicity of claims which would undoubtedly be made to it if its future were ever thought to be in doubt, I could not advise her majesty the Queen that it should be surrendered to any other country,” Mr Callaghan said.

But a scribbled note in the margin of a briefing paper on the stone’s history betrays his concern that the issue could damage Anglo-Pakistani relations if not handled carefully.

After an official wrote that the crown in which it is set was worn by the queen mother at the coronation of her husband George VI, father of the current Queen Elizabeth II, Mr Callaghan added: “I thought it was very awkward!”

According to legend, the diamond brings misfortune or death to any man who wears or owns it but good luck to women. The documents were released by the National Archives in London, under rules which state that official papers can be made public after 30 years.—AFP