|Interview of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto
by Ralph Joseph-Mirani,
United Press International – Toronto, Canada – 19 November 2001
1. You say in your article in the Globe and Mail that there is a danger the situation in Pakistan will quickly deteriorate into an Islamic fundamentalist revolution if Gen. Pervez Musharraf does not seize the “window of opportunity” and set a course for a rmeturn to democracy by October 2002. Were you thinking about a military coup led by fundamentalist generals or a street-level revolution led by radical clerics?
Ans 1: I believe that Pakistan does face dangers of a fundamentalist backlash. General Musharaf heads an unelected and unrepresentative military regime. He relies for his support on the military security apparatus where sympathy for the extreme Mujahedeen groups run high. After the World Trade Center bombings, the democratic parties gave political support to the coalition against terror . That marginalised the demonstrations by the religious parties to a few areas. Had the democratic parties with-held that political support, there could have been more turmoil. General Musharaf’s military regime has a window of opportunity to prevent the slide down. That window of opportunity is offered by the restoration of democracy, revival of constitutional rule and taking into confidence the representatives of the people through their political parties. The Western governments have a stake in Pakistan’s satbility too. A democratic government, enjoying the support of the people of Pakistan is better positioned to counter the religious parties at the grass roots level and through public debate. Moreover, the third model of a democratic society is necessary to the two models of Taliban backed dictatorship and Military dictatorship.
I am concerned that the military regime may exploit western sympathy for it into an attempt to marginalise the democratic political leadership of the country. That could result in manipulating the election results. My Party has called upon General Musharaf’s regime to release political prisoners, allow exiles to return safely to the country and implement a series of steps to ensure that the next elections are indeed fair, free and impartial. The meetings are yet to bear fruit.
In my view, undemocratic governments provide an ideal breeding ground for extremism and fanaticism. Disgruntled youth turn to the armed religious groups to bring change rather than putting their faith in peaceful means of change.
Once extremism and fanaticism are allowed to breed then a social and political disaster is not far behind. That is what I mean by saying that the situation threatens to quickly deteriorate in the country. It could result in a street agitation forcing change as happened with President Ayub Khan in 1968.
2. Do you believe that the bigger parties, including the PPP, the Muslim League and the MQM would join the clerics in a street-level revolution, if Musharraf does not restore democracy by next year? (You are no doubt aware that the secular parties joined the clerics in the 1978-1979 revolution against the Shah of Iran, and were later themselves crushed by Ayatollah Khomeini).
Ans 2; I am unaware as to what the bigger parties, including the PPP, the Muslim League and the MQM, would do were General Musharaf to postphone or rig the elections promised for October 2002. That situation has still to develop. The point to keep in mind is that bitterness and resentment increases in an atmosphere of political suffocation. And when a people denied freedom feel suffocated then disparate political groups can join hands against the common foe. The example of Iran when secular parties joined the clerics in the 1978-1979 revolution against the Shah of Iran is one which we need to try avoiding by ensuring that free elections are held.
3. You have rejected responsibility for the rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which occurred while you were prime minister of Pakistan. Are you saying that even though you were the head of government, the ISI generals were acting on their own initiative to nurture the Taliban, supply them with weapons and equipment, and set up a client government in Kabul, with the civilian authorities having little or no say in the matter?
Ans 3: The Taleban were confined to Qandahar during my second tenure as Prime Minister. They rose to take over Kabul single-handedly only when my political star diminished. There is a perception that my government created the Taliban. That perception is wrong.
The Taleban came into power on their own. They were then a different breed. They promised peace and ended war lordism. They were prepared to negotiate with the Northern Allaince and build a broad based government. They did not harbour terrorists nor allow their territory to be used for Al Qaeda or other struggles. They were subsequently hijacked by the Al Qaeda and the extremist elements in the Pakistani Establishment. These same elements sponsored the overthrow of my government. As my government disintegrated, the Taliban went it all alone in Afghanistan. They adopted a harsh attitude towards women and practiced cultural terrorism. Most significantly, it appeared that Al Qaeda took over the country through the Taliban leadership. My Party called upon Islamabad to break relations with the Taliban in 1998. Regretably, the pro Taliban elements in the Establishment ensured that Islamabad maintained relations with Taliban, through one excuse or another, even after others broke ties. These same elements want the military regime to go on a collision course with the democratic forces.
4. It is widely believed in the Pakistani media (though never overtly said in print) that a group of faceless generals in the ISI were in fact acting as a “state within a state,” giving orders to the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry, and that the decision to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan came from them, not from the civilian government. Do you believe that these same faceless generals, acting behind the scenes, played a role in your removal from office in November 1996 (three months after setting up the Taliban in Kabul), and that the then president of Pakistan was acting under pressure from them when he (illegally) interfered to dismiss your government?.
Ans 4: Yes, I believe that a group of retired generals, acting through supporters in intelligence conspired to overthrow the two governments I led. In the first overthrow, they took money from Osama Bin Laden and brought him back from Saudi Arabia (where he had gone after the Soviets withdrew) to continue the “struggle for Islam”.
In 1993, Ramzi Yousaf, the man who bombed the world trade center, made two failed assassination attempts on me. He was unsuccessfully used to stop my electoral return in 1993.
These retired Generals are behind my judicial persecution as well as the continued incarceration of my husband and difficulties of my other Party colleagues. They have their creations in the judiciary as well as in the political field and parts of the press. They are well organised but they lack political support.
Incidentally, none of the major attacks of global terror took place when I was Prime Minister. The two attacks on the World Trade Center, the bombings of the Embassies in Nairobi and Kenya, the attack on the USS Cole as well as the Bombings in New Delhi and Bombay took place when I was in Opposition. Safe access across Pakistan is important to those hiding in Afghanistan who believe in acts of terror. Pakistan was not safe for them when my government was in power. Today, every critical appointment and decision is made by the faceless retired Generals through their appointees in the civil and military administration. Their control is complete. It makes me concerned for Pakistan’s future.
My Party has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as reform of the military apparatus. First, we want the victims of state terror acknowledged. We want the officials who perverted justice to expose the hidden hands at whose behest the fundamental rights of the elected representatives was systematically violated. Secondly, we need reform of the military apparatus so that it becomes a professional, non political body free of the drive to implement a ideological or political vision in the country and elsewhere. Today most of the junior officers are brought up to hate the civilians and the elected representatives. They are kept in the dark about how military rulers led the country from one debacle to another.
Incidentally, Army officers are under oath not to take part in politics but the military is the country’s biggest political party having ruled it for half the country’s existence. Two senior generals associated with this security apparatus have publicly admitted to having formed political parties and doled out state funds stolen from public sector banks to keep my Party out of power.
I believe President Leghari fell prey to the machinations of the retired Generals. He should have known better.
5. Can you name some of these ISI generals, and can you say that they have all been purged from the military by Gen. Musharraf? Do you believe they should be put on trial for treason, for putting the country and the region, if not the world, into an extremely dangerous situation by acting without authority from an elected civilian government?
Ans 5: The conspiracy to overthrow my first government was led by Army Chief General Beg, Director General Military Intelligence General Asad Durrani–Musharaf’s present Ambassador to Saudi Arabia– and Corp Commander Multan General Hameed Gul aided and abetted by their close subordinates. The conspiracy to overthrow my second government was led by General Mahmud then DGMI and Musharaf’s DGISI recently removed, General Shujaat, then ISI Internal now Musharaf’s Ambassador to Morrocco. They were aided and abetted by others.
The Chief of Army Staff General Beg, General Hameed Gul and Ambassador General Durrani admitted to forming a political party in 1988 and 1990 to stop my success. Two of them admitted to taking funds from public sector banks to prevent my re-election in the general elections of 1990 and making pay outs to numerous political leaders for that purpose. Under Musharaf, General Mahmud as head of ISI, with his subordinates, formed a political party headed by Mian Azhar in Punjab and Imtiaz Shaikh in Sindh. The new DGISI has just taken charge and it is too early to say what he would do. A handful of Military officers openly campaigned for favourite candidates in the local elections held this august. The constitution bars the military from taking part in politics yet our complaints against such officers fell on deaf ears.
The National Accountability Bureau and National Data Research body (NADRA) are front organisations for the so called Islamists. Brigadier Saghir, who was accused of genocide in 1983, controls the National Accountability Bureau since my overthrow in 1996. He is still there under General Musharaf to take care of my Party and me through false cases.NADRA is to fix the electoral rolls so that the elections can be manipulated through computers being set up as command and control wing in the presidency. I know this from our supporters in the government.
We have called for accountability of officers who broke the law but they enjoy positions of power in the military apparatus. We also do support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine state sponsored perversion of justice and state sponsored electoral fraud.
At the end of September 2001 two colonels, Javed and Manzur, of NAB arrested and tortured to death a party worker of ours known as Mian Arshad. No action was taken against them. General Maqbool was caught by US authorities (around 1994-1995) with counterfeit dollar bills. Amazingly, he was made head of the anti-corruption drive and is now the Governor of Punjab. The military officers are above the law and this is wrong.
6. It seems that interference by faceless ISI generals in the civilian government has become a serious disease in the body politic of Pakistan, and that if Musharraf does restore democracy, the same kind of thing could happen again a few years later. Obviously, the purging of one set of generals may not solve the problem. The disease in Pakistan’s body politic is now under intense scrutiny by the world democracies, and will continue to be for some time, in view of what happened in Afghanistan. Do you have any thoughts on how the disease can be cured, or would you say a commission of enquiry should be set up by the next civilian government to look into the problem and make recommendations? As prime minister, would you follow their recommendations to the letter, as the heads of democratic governments often do?
Ans 6: The faceless Generals control Pakistan today. Electoral charge will not make them accountable. A real transition to democracy is needed for that where power passes from the military through the President to Parliament and the cabinet. Then the faceless Generals will be largely curtailed. The reason they had power was because constitutional tinkering gave the President the power to dismiss the Prime Minister. Presidents were manipulated by the extremist Generals well versed in the art of intelligence and subterfuge. As Prime Minister I was unable to constitutionally transfer, investigate or hold accountable the officers who were violating their oath of office and conspiring against the government they were sworn to obey. I would personally support my Party considering a commission of enquiry set up by the next civilian government to look into the problem and make recommendations. As prime minister, I would follow their recommendations as democratic governments do.
7. You have called for Musharraf to hand over power to an interim government before holding general elections. Could you please elaborate? Are you calling for an all-party government, or an administration made up of technocrats with affiliations to none of the political parties? Who would lead such a government? What role would the military play (since there would still be need for security in the streets while elections are being held). What role, if any, would the judiciary play?
Ans 7: The Opposition Alliance of which my Party is a member has called for the establishment of an interim political government made up of all political parties to supervise the elections. To my own view, this is important but far more important are the modalities for ensuring a fair election. I have seen elections robbed by the retired Generals under the nose of the caretaker governments in 1990 and 1997. I would like to see the military regime accept our suggestions to ensure fair play in the next elections. The role of the military should be out of the polling booths. Their establishment of command and control centers was abused in the past to electronically enter every precinct and electronically change the results. Some Military officers openly canvassed for candidates in the recently held local elections. Complaints against them fell on deaf ears. That must not happen again. Moreover, at present the key appointees in the civil administration, including the Governor Punjab, home to more than half the future parliament, are highly politicised appointees opposed to the front runners in the elections. We need substantive changes in personnel and law to ensure that the faceless retired Generals are unable to abuse the electoral process for their own ends. I speak less out of concern for partisan benefits and more out of concern for the future direction of my country and its impact on the region.
8. Considering Pakistan’s past record of election-rigging and voting fraud, do you believe that an international team of observers should be allowed into the country, with perhaps well-known figures from such places as Canada, the United States, South Africa and the European Union taking part. Observer teams of this kind have successfully overseen recent elections in South America, where several countries had similar records of election-rigging.
Ans 8: Yes, I believe the presence and monitoring of elections by international observers has been a plus factor and we would encourage it. In addition to this we have proposed some specific measures to ensure fairness and transparency and to minimise the chances of electoral fraud. One such measure is the authorisation to local election officers to declare the election results rather than wait for the centralised count taking place with post voting fraud as happened in the past elections. I would like to see well known figures assist the Election Commission of Pakistan as the South African Election Commission was assisted. Its important to come before the elections and stay after the elections.
9. Do you believe that constitutional changes should be made, perhaps after the next election, to ensure that a future president cannot dismiss a prime minister if he or she has the support of a majority in the National Assembly?
Ans 9: I am in favour of the Parliament making constitutional amendments as mandated by the constitution. This can be done only by the Parliament when it is in place. I believe the power to dismiss a prime minister led to the turmoil of the last decade. Bangladesh has a good system where power is transferred before the General Elections to an interim set up to conduct elections. Perhaps Pakistan can consider something similar.
10. Do you believe that Pakistan should have a French-style directly-elected president to ensure stability, but without the power to dismiss a prime minister who has the support of a majority in Parliament, or indeed without the power to arbitrarily dismiss the National Assembly? No doubt these questions need to be thoroughly thrashed out in public.
Ans 10: I prefer Parliament to have the power to take foreign policy and domestic decisions. Ours is a federation and the federal system suits us best. Parliament could consider a French style President dealing with foreign policy rather than give the President right to dismiss the Prime Minister but it would want the President elected by the Senate rather than directly. This should be decided by Parliament.
11. What role do you believe Gen. Musharraf can plan in Pakistan’s future politics, if indeed he keeps his pledge to restore democracy? Could he, for example, run for president, to be either directly elected, or indirectly elected?
Ans 11: General Musharaf has still to talk to me or my Party about his future role. If indeed he keeps his pledge to hold fair elections in an atmosphere free of political persecution and wishes to run for elections, he needs to talk it with the political parties. The constitution spells out the procedure for the election of President.
12. In the United States, the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In Canada, the governor-general (appointed by the queen after being chosen by the prime minister) is the c-in-c. Do you have any thoughts on how the power of the civilian head of state or government in Pakistan can be consolidated vis-a-vis the military, to avoid repeated coups d’etats? Or would you say, again, that a commission of inquiry should thoroughly examine the issue and make recommendations?
Ans: The power of the civilian government can be consolidated when the military is answerable to the Parliament. My power rested the mood of the military to obey or disobey the constitution. The intelligence concocted stories and created crises to turn the corps commanders against the government. An intelligence sponsored whispering campaign would start maligning the government spreading the word that the military was getting rid of it.
I learnt around October 1995 that the ISI was working against me. In January 1996 I knew Director Genreal Military Intelligence was pushing the movement to overthrow my government. In my assessment, the army chief was pressured into believing the President wanted me removed and would remove him if he disagreed. The President believed that the military wanted me out and he would be removed if he disagreed.
The army chief sent the Director General of ISI to me in August 1996 with a report. That report minuted a former General telling the Army Chief that the President wanted my removal and was concerned over the army chief’s cordial relations with me.
I returned to Islamabad and met the President’s relative. The Military Intelligence had told him, “Tell the President he sacks the Prime Minister or we remove both of them”.
I saw first hand how the faceless retired Generals played a machiavellian game of bluff, playing to the insecurities of the key players. I have stayed the course out of a commitment to democracy and future democratic leaders.
I want my people to know that the elected leaders may have made mistakes but Pakistan’s democracy failed because of the military establishment. I know there are many good Generals but a few played dangerous politics.
I love my country and want to see the military and political leadership agree to resolve this power struggle which is harming society. I do support a commission to examine how future direct and indirect military coups can be stopped. Pakistan needs stability to build its political institutions, develop economically and to enable political parties to modernise themselves.