No Time For Revenge
'It's a reality that India has political continuity unlike Pakistan'
India Today Editor Prabhu Chawla spoke to former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto recently. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Q. You left your country eight years ago and since then, you have been fighting your battle from outside. How do you do it? How do you manage to encourage your party workers from so far away?
A. Life is never easy. You have to face hardships. I am hoping to be in Pakistan this year and I hope to play a role in the future of Pakistan.
Q The Benazir of the past used to be a fighter. Have you become soft or are you afraid now?
A. If I was frightened, I would have signed an agreement with the government long back, there wouldn't have been so many cases.
Q. Benazir Bhutto grew up in luxury, had the best of education. How is it living like a gypsy now?
A. It has not been easy. It was all so different when my father was alive. We were happy and were spolit by him and never thought that the day will come when our lives will be reduced to this.
Q. Have you ever thought of quitting, sort of throwing in the towel?
A. Never. Because whenever I meet Pakistanis, I feel encouraged when they tell me I should not disappoint Pakistan. It's my people who gave me the honour of being the prime minister of Pakistan. I owe it them to give them democracy. That's a commitment.
Q. Given a choice, who are what will you choose? Pakistan, or your husband and children?
A. Well my country's s children are also like my own children. I stay for long periods away from my children but they understand that whatever I am doing is for the country. Their sacrifice is that they do not place any demands on their mother.
Q. Don't your kids think that the way their grandfather was sacrificed, their mother could also be sacrificed, considering the way in which you talk about the regime?
A. No they have never told me so. When my son turned 18, I asked him what gift he wanted. . He said that he wanted to go back to Pakistan, that I should take him with me.
Q. You have been in exile for nine years. How do you manage financially, considering that the regime froze your bank accounts etc?
A. The first two or three years were difficult. But after the Supreme Court intervened, all decisions against me were nullified, things got easier.
Q. I understand you make a lot of money on the lecture circuit.
A. I earn some money there.
Q. Elections will be held soon. Are you sure you will go back to Pakistan?
A. Absolutely, even if they disqualify me, I will go back.
Q. There were reports in the papers about a secret understanding between you and President Musharraf. For example, several cases against you have been closed.
A. There is no such thing. Of course, there are back channel talks taking place, not just with me just with me but also with Nawaz Shariff. What we want is democracy in Pakistan and we will settle for nothing less.
Q. But Musharraf is doing a lot of good. Like constructing roads etc.
A. We have heard about that. But poverty in Pakistan today stands at 60 per cent.
Q What was the figure in your time?
A. When I took over, poverty was 35 per cent and was reduced to 29.
Q . Even if you go back to Pakistan, there is a constitutional amendment that a person who has been prime minister twice cannot occupy the post again.
A. Well, the chief of army staff has given himself extension thrice.
The man who takes over as president through coup is elected again and again in eyewash referendums.
The people of Pakistan love me, the party workers also want to see me as the PM. That is why it has been decided that I will be the prime ministerial candidate of the party.
Such a ban had been in place in Turkey too, but when a party was successful there, the ban was removed legally. So this ban on me can be removed as well .
Q. Who will lift this ban?
A. Parliament. If someone has the majority in Parliament, then we will change the laws.
Q. In his book, President Musharraf has said many things about your father, that he was a dictator and an uncultured man.
A. These are his views, not of the people. After the Qaid E Aazam, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is the greatest leader Pakistan has produced and the whole world knows that he was a democrat and socially emancipated.
We don't need certificates from a dictator.
Q. He has been very uncharitable about you also, saying you talk so much about democracy but elected yourself president of the People's Party.
A. I didn't become president of the party through a coup. It is the party workers who have made me so.
Q Is it true that you met (former prime minister) Nawaz Shariff in London, that you worked out an agreement with him?
A. This is instigation and is wrong. We met in London to prepare a charter for democracy. We have a good working relationship and our goals are quite clear, we do not want a military dictatorship and we want democracy in the country. There should be provincial autonomy and an independent judiciary.
Q. So are you going to fight the elections together?
A. We have not decided this right now. But both parties have to see what is in their party’s interest. Whatever is necessary in national interest, we have kept that in the Charter of Democracy.
Q. Elections are going to take place in 2007, do you think they will take place?
A. Yes. They will.
Q. If both the parties fight the elections together, whom will you fight against?
A. The ruling party PMLQ, independents, some regional parties, military-backed candidates. Elections will take place.
Q. But who will be the prime minister be if both the parties fight the elections together?
A. The party that gets the majority votes will have its PM in place.
When I met Miyansaab two years ago, he wanted that PP should get the first chance.
Q. You met him a few days ago too.
A. Yes I did. But these things were discussed at a meeting two years ago.
Q. So Miyansaab has declared you as the prime ministerial candidate?
A. I cannot speak for him. You must speak to him.
Q. Why should people vote for you when there are so many corruption charges against you? And Shariff also?
A. They are all false. These charges have been framed to divert attention from those people who are in reality the corrupt ones.
Pakistanis want a people's government - the kind that takes care of them. I am the people's sister, I will take care of them.
Q. In the last 25 years, in your governance too, fundamentalist politics has dominated Pakistan as also the Kashmir issue?
A. There was no extremism during the five years of the PP rule.
Kashmir is a separate issue.
Q. But you encouraged the Taliban.
A. We didn't. When the Taliban came in, we thought maybe these people will bring peace.
Q. How can people with guns bring peace?
A. Let me put it this way, when the Taliban came in at the time of the PP, they were a national group.
After PP's exit, they became a trans-national group and invited Al-Quada and started a war. Taliban is dead because of that and Pakistan was harmed too.
Q. Now they have started their activities again.
A. When Kashmir becomes peaceful, the other border becomes hot.
Q. You feel Kashmir is getting peaceful?
A. That is why the Afghan border is hot.
Q. President Musharraf has given some new proposals for Kashmir. Why do you think he is making such proposals now? Is it because of the general elections?
A. I think General Musharraf can alone answer that. But many promises are made. In Pakistan, such proposals are never debated. Our Kabeena never debated such issues nor did the national security council. We listen to this from our press.
Q. Do you believe him?
A. Right now, what he is saying means that he realises that the world is saying that he should improve relations. But whether he is saying this truthfully or just like that, if I say that he is lying, it won't look good and if I say that he is saying that truthfully and if it is a lie, it won't look good either.
Q. So you are confused too?
A. No I am not confused. I know what he is doing. But I am just being diplomatic.
Q. Talking about the Indo-US nuclear deal, you must be supporting the deal.
A. The reality is with India's size, its market and the new world order, it will have crucial contact with the US and the international community. Obviously, I would want that Pakistan gets all such offers that India gets. But it's a reality that India has a continuity in terms of political institutions unlike Pakistan. And we won't get such offers.
Q. This means that Pakistan's nuclear button is not in safe hands?
A. It should be safe.
Q. Is it or is it not?
A. I do not know. Since we are in the Opposition, we have not been taken into aitemaar (confidence) on the issues of control and command.
I do not think in a military dictatorship, nuclear weapons can be in safe hands. I feel that only in a legitimate government that respects rules will it be in safe hands. This entire A.Q. Khan affair proves that. Directly or indirectly, there has been a military or establishment rule in Pakistan. There are a lot of internal challenges in Pakistan, we have to make an impression that we are a law-respecting country.
Q. Another complaint that India has with Pakistan is that terrorists are sheltered in Pakistan?
A. I hope that all the terrorists run away from our country because terrorism is a bad thing and I have never given any permission of this sort.
Q. So will you return all those terrorists whom India wants?
A. Yes we will return all the terrorists who are present in the country.
Q. If they are present in Pakistan, you will hand them over to us?
A. Yes we will, if they are there in Pakistan, we will hand them over.
And I would like to say that when the PP was in power, no Bombay blasts took place. Indian Parliament wasn't attacked, WTC wasn't attacked.
Terrorists were fear-stricken as PPP adopts a zero tolerance approach towards terrorism. We feel that not only do terrorists spoil our relations with our neighbours, but also bleed our own country.
Q. If you came to power, how will you treat President Musharraf?
A. This depends on the way he treats the Pakistani people. If he holds fair elections ...
Q. About his assets ...
A. Yes. We have the corruption charges in the steel mills in front of us. And I told you about the crash in the stock markets, land mafia.
No one is investigating into these scandals. Transparency International said that corruption has increased under his rule, not lessened.
Q. How will you treat him? The way he treated you?
A. No I don't believe in revenge. There are 24 hours in a day--- either you do good work or take revenge. I don't have time for revenge. But as far as his being treated by me goes, that will depend on the way he conducts himself during these elections.
Q. But you are convinced elections will take place?
A. Elections will take place but there will be rigging and munsafana.
Will people accept this decision or take to the street? In Ukraine, Nepal, Lebanon, people took to the street when they understood that wrong has been done. And I am telling you if something wrong is done in these elections, people will take to the streets.
Q. And after that you will decide what treatment will be meted out to Musharraf?
A. It depends on him and the way he conducts these elections
What does Benazir Bhutto and her party hope to gain by collaborating with the present order, especially when it is creaking at the joints, its inherent weaknesses more and more exposed with every passing day? The great legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — already much dented and tarnished by Benazir’s numerous twists over the years — finally sacrificed at the altar of a cheap bargain. Is reprieve or relief in the Swiss or Spanish cases worth the ignominy of such a wretched transaction? And for what? For crumbs from the table of power, for the privilege of collaborating with the present order, which means serving it, like the Q League is doing, like the MQM is doing, and like the holy fathers of the MMA have done so brilliantly.
The choice before Bibi By Ayaz Amir