|Benazir hopes for victory if polls are fair
Chicago Tribune – BENAZIR BHUTTO
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
Tribune Staff Writer – June 18, 2000
Benazir Bhutto caught the world’s attention in 1988 when she was elected prime minister of Pakistan, the first woman to rule a modern Islamic state. Educated at Harvard and Oxford Universities, her rise to power paralleled Pakistan’s turbulent, chaotic history. Her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was deposed in 1977 and hanged. Benazir Bhutto returned from her studies abroad and was put under house arrest until 1984. She went into exile and returned in 1986 to lead her Pakistan People’s Party to victory two years later. But now, more than a decade later, she lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, while her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, sits in a Pakistani jail. Bhutto could face a similar fate. Bhutto, 46, was ousted from office in 1996 amid corruption allegations and convicted in absentia for taking kickbacks. In Chicago last month, she denied the charges and discussed the October military coup that removed rival Nawaz Sharif from office.
Q: How do you explain to your children, now in England, why their father is in jail and why their mom can’t be with them?
A: My children were even smaller when this happened. They were 3, 6 and 7. It’s difficult to explain to little children why their mother and father can’t be with them. But I tell them that their father is being held a political prisoner and I point out the example of South African President Nelson Mandela and of my own father and others in history who suffered so that the society would improve and be a better place. I try to spend as much time as I can with my children, but working women everywhere have obligations and responsibilities to their work as I do.
Q: You’ve been criticized for defending your husband, who many believe is at the heart of your problems. Why stand by him?
A: Because my man is innocent. And because he’s suffering due to me. When my government was overthrown, one of the generals went to my father-in-law and said, `Tell your son to leave her, and he’ll walk out a free man.’ When my husband found out about it, he said, `No. This is wrong. I’m an honorable man. I will never commit dishonor.’
If he’s innocent, imagine the grave injustice that has been dealt to a young man to separate him from his wife, to separate him from his children. He’s sick. He’s got spondylitis [inflammation of the vertebrae]. The regime says it’s treating it but obviously they’re not doing a good job because his height has shrunk due to nerve compression.
Q: Which regime are we talking about?
A: Actually there’s only been one regime since I was overthrown in 1996. They just have different masks that change. I’m talking about those generals that supported the Afghan jihad [Islamic war against the former Soviet Union] and could not reconcile to democracy. Twice they destabilized my government. Twice they rigged the elections and are presently playing a game of musical chairs between [former Pakistani President] Farooq Leghari, Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Who knows if by the end of the year they will bring somebody else? Their policies are all the same: opposed to liberalism, pluralism and economic growth.
Q: Many believe that the allegations of corruption against you led to the downfall of democracy in Pakistan.
A: I never heard I was to blame for the fall of democracy. I’ve heard my government was overthrown due to charges of corruption. I’ve come into power with democratic means and been removed through undemocratic means.
Q: But the corruption charges marred the whole idea of democracy.
A: No. I don’t think democracy failed because of trumped-up charges of corruption. I think democracy failed because of constitutional corruption, because of constitutional sabotage. Twice my removal [in 1990 and in 1996] led to fiscal bankruptcy. Twice my removal led to heightened tensions with India. Twice my removal led to Pakistan being on the threshold of being declared a terrorist state. I can get elected if there are fair elections, but unless this mafia is exposed, Pakistan isn’t going to make progress and I want Pakistan to make progress.
Q: Why are you using the term `mafia’?
A: When a group of people abuse power, it’s called a mafia in my book. I refer to jihadi elements. They are the ones who want to have a Taliban style of government. They want to destroy democracy. They want to create a vacuum which clerics can fill.
Q: But what about the charges of corruption and money laundering that were leveled against you and your husband?
A: The problem is we have these sweeping statements, saying billions of dollars were earned in corrupt deals. After the entire witch hunt, they’ve come up with one contract of $6 million which they say I influenced. I didn’t influence it. Not a single witness says I influenced it. Despite all the propaganda they have not been able to provide any proof because there isn’t any. They provided a set of papers that were basically computer forgeries and they have based an entire case against us on this set of papers. Now it becomes wrong if I influenced the award of a contract to benefit my husband, which I did not do. My husband, who is a businessman, was not the consultant on this contract.
Q: And what of allegations that your husband had ties to Pakistani drug lords?
A: They were all trumped up. The drug charges were made on the basis of a statement by [a man] who later testified that he never met my husband, how he was picked up on a theft case and tortured, and his thumbprint taken to make a confession that he never gave. I’m also saying the judge who tried us was biased. His father had sentenced my father to death. He should never have sat on my case. He didn’t allow me a single defense witness.
Q: Many Pakistanis believe military rule is better for the country than democracy.
A: Well, I disagree with that totally. Our people have never supported martial law. Our people have always risen against military dictatorship and last October, the people were happy that the military’s puppet, Nawaz Sharif, went. Gen. Musharraf made a mistake in thinking they were happy over him. See, they were happy over Nawaz going but they didn’t support military rule. And the euphoria has evaporated. I’ve told Musharraf, `Call the political parties together. Let’s all sit down and come up with a law for corruption.’ You can’t have people prejudged as guilty; you can’t have a political agenda. That’s not law; that’s murder of law.
Q: Do you plan to return to Pakistan soon?
A: I just have to wait for the situation to be right. I can go back tomorrow, but they won’t let me out of the country again. I’ve got three small children.
If my husband was free, perhaps I’d go back. But with my husband behind bars, it’s very difficult for me to leave my children like that.
The other reason is that I spent three years in Pakistan from ’96 to ’99 and I regretted it. Those were such barren years. I was shuttled from city to city from courtroom to courtroom from morning to night. I was mentally exhausted, physically exhausted and emotionally exhausted. I wouldn’t prepare a defense.
Q: As a woman how were you able to come into power and rule an Islamic country?
A: No. 1, because my father was a popular leader. So when he was arrested, imprisoned and assassinated, his followers looked toward me to continue his mission.
Second, I earned my own position in their eyes through the long years of imprisonment [after her father’s execution].
Third, when I came into office, my government concentrated on poverty alleviation programs. And also in our own Islamic culture, those who fight for justice, they have to face many hardships. So people also say that we are following in the footsteps of Islamic history by fighting the usurpers of today.
Q: Do you think it was because you are a woman that you faced opposition and allegations of corruption?
A: I found that being a woman, while it invoked great hatred, it also invoked great respect because in Muslim society, women are also treated as daughters and as sisters.
So while from one social class I received a lot of dignity, with another social class I frightened them, especially the people who are old-fashioned, who keep their women behind closed doors. They were frightened.
I think the great opposition that I invoked–bitter, venomous, vicious–has also to do with fear.