|Late Edition W/Wolf Blitzer
Interview Benazir Bhutto
CNN – August 5, 2007
BLITZER: Welcome back to “Late Edition.” Islamic extremists and a pro-democracy movement are posing very difficult challenges for Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. There’s also deep concern here in the United States that his government isn’t necessarily doing enough to crack down on Al Qaida and Taliban forces operating along the Pakistani-Afghan border. All this comes amid speculation that President Musharraf may, repeat, may be prepared to form an alliance with his longtime political rival, Benazir Bhutto. I spoke with the former Pakistani prime minister just a short while ago from New York.
BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for joining us on “Late Edition.”
BENAZIAR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: It’s very nice to be with you, Mr. Blitzer.
BLITZER: Thank you. How did your meeting — or meetings, shall I say, with the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, go?
BHUTTO: Well, Mr. Blitzer, the presidency has said that there are no direct contacts, and we haven’t officially admitted such contacts. But on the other level, we have admitted negotiations with the present regime to find a way to get Pakistan onto the democratic track through the holding of fair, free and impartial elections open to all political parties.
We’re still working some of the issues. And the time is running out. So I hope that we can make the deadline.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, it’s been so widely reported around the world, including in Pakistan, that you had at least one, maybe two meetings with President Musharraf in Abu Dhabi, perhaps, or other places. Are you not prepared to confirm that at this point?
BHUTTO: Well, you know, there are certain issues which under the code under which they take place are deemed to be private. So, I would like to just confine myself to saying that there have been contacts between the military regime and the Pakistan People’s Party, including myself, and that we have been trying to search for a solution that could take Pakistan peacefully towards a democratic setup.
My concern is that if the elections are rigged, there will public protests, and certainly the extremists will try to take advantage by creating anarchy and chaos. And Pakistan can’t afford that, not with the threat within and the threat the extremists are using our territory, imposing on Afghanistan.
So I think it’s important that the talks succeed. But we haven’t reached there just yet.
BLITZER: So just to be precise, and then I’m going to move on, you’re not prepared to either confirm nor deny that you actually met face to face with President Musharraf, although you are confirming you’ve met with people in his government.
BHUTTO: That’s right.
BLITZER: All right. So let’s talk about something that was written in The Washington Post at the end of July: “The talks carry considerable risk for both leaders. Each has a party whose members may revolt at the prospect of an agreement. And it is unclear how a Musharraf-Bhutto government would function given the bad blood between them.”
Could a new government that included President Musharraf as president and you as prime minister, could that government function given the history of bad blood between the two of you?
BHUTTO: Well, actually, it’s mutual interests that bring people together. And I think that while General Musharraf and I have been on opposite sides of the pole where issues of dictatorship and democracy are concerned, we have both stated our determination to move Pakistan onto the path of moderation.
And we have worked together on issues such as women’s rights. But I do agree with you that it does carry risks. It carries risks because at the moment, independent surveys showed that two-thirds of Pakistanis are unhappy with General Musharraf.
But I still believe that if we can get an agreement for a smooth transfer of power and we can get a balance of power between the presidency and the parliament, we’d be able to come up with a situation where we can undermine terrorism and address the real needs of the people, which I believe are now being neglected.
BLITZER: So clearly you feel that under the right circumstances, you could work together with President Musharraf in the same government.
BHUTTO: Well, if the people of Pakistan gave me a mandate, yes. But there would need to be a balance between the powers of the presidency and the powers of the parliament. And as I said, there are many issues to be discussed: whether the elections are going to be fair, whether the reforms are going to be implemented, whether restrictive bans on a twice-elected prime minister being elected a third time are going to be lifted.
So, there are still issues that are outstanding. And while theoretically it is possible for the elections to throw up such a combination, until we actually get an agreement, it’s a little premature to say.
BLITZER: Is it possible that as part of an agreement, President Musharraf not only stays on as president of Pakistan, but also stays on as the military leader, the commander of the Pakistani military? In other words, wears both a civilian suit as well as a military uniform?
BHUTTO: I don’t think that realistic because you — when the president of a country also wears a uniform, it blurs the distinction between democracy and military rule. So I think it’s very important for General Musharraf to take off the uniform.
And I would also point out, Mr. Blitzer, that our supreme court has recently become more independent, and issues pertaining to General Musharraf’s reelection from the present assemblies are bound to be challenged.
General Musharraf’s side has told the Pakistan People’s Party that he doesn’t need our votes for president. He has told our party that he is going to get elected on his own steam and on his own back through the present assemblies.
Now, we have our reservations on that, because we think there are other parties involved like the law. And we feel that this issue is going to land up in the supreme court, and it could cause yet another crisis and yet another round of legal protests. But that’s a decision that General Musharraf must make.
BLITZER: You’ve been living in exile these many years. At the end of May I interviewed the current prime minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, here on “Late Edition.” I want you to listen to what he told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAUKAT AZIZ, PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: She has to decide and get a legal answer as to what will happen. But we have said publicly that she will not be able to participate in the elections because of her own legal complications which she has to settle with the courts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What are the legal issues right now that have to be settled before you could return to Pakistan?
BHUTTO: Well, one of the legal issues is a petition that I filed five years ago against an absentee decision against me. Under that absentee decision, I cannot participate in a parliamentary election.
Now, that decision was arbitrary, and it was illegal. I challenged it. But the government of Pakistan has refused to allow my petition to come up for a hearing by pressuring the judiciary.
So I am pressing for this matter even now, that justice delayed is justice denied. And I waited five years, and this petition should come up. I’m more hopeful that our courts are asserting their independence that this petition of mine will be heard, set aside and pave the way for my participation.
There are no criminal convictions against me, and this arbitrary absentee decision, which I’m hopeful will be removed, is the only one barring me from contesting the elections.
BLITZER: Would it be OK for the U.S., if it had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al- Zawahiri in Pakistan, to go in and kill or capture him and violate, in effect, Pakistani sovereignty?
BHUTTO: I don’t think it would be right to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty by unauthorized military action. But I do believe that Pakistan and the United States and NATO and Afghanistan must work very closely together in restoring law and order to the tribal badlands in Pakistan, which are undermining Pakistan’s standing in the international community, giving rise to a threat to Pakistan’s internal well-being as well as aggravating our relations with nearby Afghanistan.
We cannot tolerate people using our soil to mount attacks on NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, speaking with us here on “Late Edition.” Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for coming in.
BHUTTO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.