|Benazir Bhutto: ‘We want to save Pakistan’
The former prime minister details attempt on her life and why she returned
TODAY – October 22, 2007
In her first American television interview since the assassination attempt against her, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto sits down with NBC News’ Ann Curry. The exclusive interview will air Monday, October 22, on TODAY.
Bhutto tells Curry she knew an assassination attempt would be made against her and that people would be at risk.
Curry will report live from Karachi, Pakistan, Monday on TODAY. Middle East bureau chief and correspondent Richard Engel will join Curry to report on why Pakistan could become the most dangerous nation in the world.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
* Please note: This is a rough transcript; there may be some misspellings and unintelligible remarks. *
Bhutto on whether she knew about a possible assassination attempt and whether she regrets returning to Pakistan:
Ann Curry: “If you had not returned these, people would not have died. These women would have their husbands. They would have their children. These 140 people would be alive. These 500 people would not have been wounded.
This must feel very painful for you to know that with your decision to come back would cause not suffering but started this chain reaction. Do you regret coming back now seeing what has happened?”
Benazir Bhutto: “I don’t.”
Curry: “You knew it was going to happen.”
Bhutto: “I knew an attempt would be made.”
Curry: “So, you knew that people would be at risk.”
Bhutto: “I knew people would be at risk.”
Curry: “So, was it worth that risk, given what has happened?”
Bhutto: “And the people who came knew that there would be a risk. They put their lives on the line. And I put my life on the line. And we did it because we believe in a cause. We want to save Pakistan. And we think saving Pakistan comes by saving democracy.
We know democracy means the empowerment of the poor people, the ordinary people, the dispossessed, the downtrodden and the discriminated. So, the people who can put their lives on the line, I put my life on the line. Because God forbid if there is a Taliban takeover, well, everybody’s life will be at risk anyway. They went around killing people. They went around denying girls knowledge. They went around bankrupting Afghanistan to the extent that people were poor and desperate and hungry. And the only jobs on offer were to join the Taliban irregular forces to wage war against other countries and other innocent people.”
Curry: “Even if you don’t regret returning, because your ideals, as you just described them, are high, do you regret how they returned [unintel phrase]? That is a 20-minute drive. It took 10 hours. It was a very slow-moving motorcade surrounded by millions of people. When you knew — when you knew you were at risk, that you could be putting them at risk, did you make the right choice to come back in this way?”
Bhutto: “I … Ann, I find this question very uncomfortable.”
Curry: “Of course, you do [unintel phrase] …
Bhutto: “The reas— no, let me tell you why. Let me tell you why, for me it validates terrorism and extremism. I know that’s not how you mean it.
But for me it validates terrorism and extremism.
It means that terrorists can force us to change our values. It means that terrorists can dictate the agenda. It means that terrorists, by threatening violence, can take over nations and destroy the quality of life of their people. And that’s the reason it makes me uncomfortable.
It was no secret to me that I could be attacked. I chose to return and put my life on the line to defend a principle I believe in. I never forced [unintel] anyone to come out to the airport to receive me. They chose to come because they wanted to bring change, to bring democracy and to save their motherland from disintegrating.
And I don’t think the terrorists succeeded because we took 10 hours. I think the terrorists succeeded because the lights were off and they could move under cover of darkness without being intercepted by us. But even on the outside chance, even if the lights had not been off, even if we had failed to detect them, at the end of the day, I have to ask that can we validate terrorism and extremism and say, “Let’s give up. Because if we don’t give up trying to save our values and trying to save our land then we’ll get killed.”
Curry: “To risk so much there must be strong evidence that what you’re risking for might come through. What is the real chance that your coming back will bring democracy, democratic freedom back again given the complications, given Musharaff difficulty, given the dilemma — given the extremists? What is the real chance that all of these lives that have been lost, and with the risk still ongoing, the lives still threatened will be worth your return?”
Bhutto: “Well, I feel as I can only answer for myself. Everybody has to make this choice for themselves. I can only say I feel saving Pakistan by saving democracy is worth putting my life on the line.
This is my country. I’ve seen what happened to Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. I saw what happened in Iran when there was a revolution. There were millions of refugees. Homes were destroyed.
Dictatorship came. And it — decades — decades since that happened, both events happened in the ’70s. I don’t want people of Pakistan to be made into refugees. I don’t want people of Pakistan to live in fear that some terrorist is going to come knocking on the door and kill them inside their homes.”
Bhutto describing the attack:
Curry: “You have survived one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan. What is your strongest memory of it?”
Bhutto: “My memory was of the light and the dead bodies. Because when we were moving in the procession, the street lights had been shut. And all along I was very worried about the street lights shut. I knew my security wouldn’t be able to spot a suicide bomber with a heavy jacket or a car bomber coming toward us in the darkness. So, we kept trying to contact people in the government to get the street lights turned on.”
Curry: “You’re saying while you’re in the motorcade, you were at that moment worried about the suicide bomber enough that you were calling the government asking for help?”
Bhutto: “That’s right. That’s right. I had been cautioned. General Musharaff had asked me to delay my return to Pakistan. And he had very kindly shared with me information that he had received about four possible suicide squads being sent to kill me.
But I felt that if I did not return then they would threaten me the next time and the next time. And that the objective was to stop the transition to democracy, not just my return on October 18th. So, we took a lot of precaution of security. And we were confident about the caution as much as a person can be.
But when the sun set and it got dark we got worried. Because we knew that in the darkness we couldn’t see. Then we got some floodlights.
And we tried to move the floodlight over the crowds and over the bridges. But the floodlight could only show a sliver of people. And most of the people we could not see.
And — after the bomb blast, the vaheco [PH] squad fire. So — we could then see what had happened. And as the vehicles burned I could see twisted bodies, glass, blood all over. And it was a dreadful sight because these [unintel] had been walking alongside our truck. And suddenly they’d been thrown. And people from our truck had also been thrown. But luckily they survived.
So, my first sight — I’d never seen a sight like this. This was, I hope, my last but definitely my first sight. And it’s just too much blood and gore on everybody’s clothes.”
Curry: “When you heard the first blast and the … second blast, what went through your mind?”
Bhutto: “I knew it was a suicide attack or a car bomb. Because after the first attack went off I would doing my speech of my political secretary. So, we were sitting and reading the speech which I was to give later in the day. And when the first noise came she tried to get up saying, “Let me see if it’s a firecracker.”
And I at once stopped her. I said, ‘Wait. Let’s wait and see what is,’ I respond to her. She [unintel] to me. And then came the second sound, much louder than the first sound, and a sort of crunching noise and glass shattering.
Curry: “Was your vehicle affected? Did it move, jump, anything? Did you feel anything? Or was it just the sound?”
Bhutto: “No, no, the vaheco rocked from the first blast. We had this armored truck that had been prepared. And if we had been lower on the ground, we would be dead. And we still don’t know whether it was a suicide bomber or a car bomb. Because later on we felt that a car had come up. And that there was a car that moved.
We don’t know whether the bomber came in the car or whether there were two different groups of bombers. But I have asked the government of Pakistan to hold an independent inquiry headed by a credible police officer and ask them to seek international assistance. When I talk to the British — the British government as well as the secretary of state, I mention to both of them my conversation with the government inviting international assistance to a Pakistan-led inquiry. Because that …”
Curry: “Why? Why do you want international assistance into the investigation as to why you were attacked? Do you not trust the government to do the investigation on it?”
Bhutto: “No, I trust the government. But I think that the international community has greater expertise. I also feel that there are elements within our administration who were associated with the past military dictatorship which had founded the Afghan mujahadeen, and because of the friends of — the friendship or the bonds that grew up at that time, they might not be able to do such a thorough job. Or because of a lack of expertise they might not be able to such a thorough job. So, I would like to see an independent, credible investigation assisted by the international community with — expertise in anti-terrorism so that we can get to the bottom of the militants.”
Bhutto on naming three people she believes are plotting against her:
Ann Curry: “You have named three people. Before you arrived you sent a letter to President Musharaff naming three people, all three high-ranking officials in this government. And you accused them or said they were plotting against you. What is your evidence? Who gave you this evidence?”
Bhutto: “I know who the — my enemies are. I know the forces that supported dictatorship. Because they feel that dictatorship provides the environment in which militancy, extremism and terrorism can thrive.”
Curry: “But how did you know these three enough to write a letter and name them. You must have known something to do so.”
Bhutto: “Well, they had been against me for a very long time. They have tried to stop me. They’ve tried to stop my party from returning. And I had information that they were continuing to meet with my political opponents.
And I knew that these are — [unintel phrase] political opponents, it’s a long history. It goes back to 1977 when military dictator of the ’80s, all through my father’s government, and said that he was acting in the name of Islam and that he wanted to bring an Islamic system into the country. So, this battle that has now erupted onto the international stage was actually a — a battle that began long ago in the streets of Pakistan.”
Curry: “Did the United States tip you off that you were in danger? Did the United States, I mean, help you name these three?”
Bhutto: “No, no, United States didn’t tip me off about the attacks. Nor did they help me name these three people. In fact, these three people, when named by me, a brotherly country gave information — a Muslim country gave information to the government of Pakistan, to General Musharaff, which General Musharaff shared with me about the suicide bombers.
But my enmity and [unintel] people who want to stop me, who want to stop democracy, I know who they are. I know they stop me earlier. I know that these — some of them destabilize my government in 1996. And I know they don’t want me returning. Because they think that democracy will — weaken their stranglehold on power and will basically undermine their whole agenda of taking on another superpower after having defeated one.”
Curry: “One of these three is a close friend of President Musharaff. He is the chief of intelligence.”
Bhutto: “Well —”
Curry: “So, is it not risky to name a close friend of the president to the president as being someone who’s plotting against you?”
Bhutto: “Well, at that time I did not know whether there would be an assassination attempt that I would survive. And I wanted to leave on record the suspects. I also didn’t know that he was a friend of General Musharaff.
But I asked myself that even if I knew that he was a friend and I thought of him as a suspect, would I have not written? No, I would have written. Because I must name the people who I think will go to any expense to stop me because they want to stop democracy, because they feel without me the People’s Party will become factionalized and that there will be not national alternative to forming a government through an election. So, they will always be able to influence the cobbling together of coalition.
And all I want is an independent inquiry. If the man is innocent, let a credible international inquiry show that. But there are forces that want to stop democracy. And those forces are trying to stop me because they know that I have the support of the people of Pakistan.”
Curry:“Are you saying you believe you were targeted my members of Musharaff’s government?”
Bhutto: “I won’t — don’t want to be misinterpreted on this.
Curry: “I know you don’t. But you are saying that three members of his government, high-ranking members are those you are worried may be plotting against you.
Bhutto: “Not all three, not all three, one of them — I mean, not all three are members of the government.”
Curry: “Well, I mean.”
Bhutto: “And one of them — no, no, let me tell you. One of them is not a member of the government. And — General Musharaff says that that person is already under some observance. As far as another member is concerned, he has openly made his opposition to me known, which I don’t mind.
Because politicians have opposition. But it is my information that his son fought — was associate with the militant group called Natiterabom [PH]. And it is now in the newspaper that under his influence one of the People’s Islamist militants has been released from prison and taken to the VIP — ward of the hospital. So, I mean, there are these — I know he has connections with militant groups. And then, of course, there is a third individual who you have named which I have not named. I’ve not named about publicly other than in my letter. And I want these people —”
Bhutto: “Well, yes, I — I want — let me say I want the terrorist attack that killed 140 people and wounded — 300.
Curry: “It could have been 500.”
Bhutto: “More than …”
Curry: “The numbers are above 500 now.”
Bhutto: “Some say 500, yes, that’s right. Wounded so many people investigated. Because I do not believe that militancy in Pakistan could have succeeded until the sympathizers of the militants had infiltrated the administrative and security apparatus.”
Curry: “You’re saying —”
Bhutto: “And now I’m to —”
Curry: “That, in fact, the government did not — did not — that members of the government did not organize this. You’re saying that it could not have been — it could not have happened had it not been for the collusion of of some members of the government?”
Bhutto: “I know some members have ties with the militants. I just — I know it. They’ve defended suicide bombings. They’ve done this publicly.”