Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Interview with The News
December 28, 2000
LAHORE, Pakistan, 28 December 2000 (The News): Chairwoman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Benazir Bhutto (BB), was asked a number of questions through e-mail by The News. Following is the text of her interview:
Question: If the Military Government approaches you, what quid pro quo will you be willing to offer? Will you accept a National Security Council while providing indemnity in exchange for fair and free elections and transfer of power? Will you accept the kind of conditions you accepted before coming to power in 1988 and 1993? Will you allow amendments in the Constitution? Will you accept elections in 2002? Will you insist on withdrawal of cases against yourself and Asif Ali Zardari?
BB: When the military approaches the PPP, I will consult allies and liberal elements before the party takes its final decision. The PPP is on record as having called for the withdrawal of all politically motivated cases, the repeal of the NAB [National Accountability Bureau] ordinance, a date for elections and the establishment of an interim government of national consensus.
There are certain other conditions too. Basically the question arises: is our support being solicited to move towards a change or is it being solicited to bring a PPP civilian face to an order which has run the country since 1996 under different faces and run it aground.
Q: What are the possible top priorities and main features of your party in the changed political scenario? What would be your future course of action?
BB: The party sees an opportunity in the political vacuum created (by Nawaz Sharif’s exile). It intends working with the ARD and other political forces in insisting on general elections. Please note I said general elections not NADRA elections.
Q: What measures are you willing to take to overcome the crisis of credibility of political leadership. What changes do you intend to bring to make democracy work and for rule of good governance?
BB: The following three measures can set the tone to overcome the crisis of credibility presently pertaining in a section towards the political leadership:
First, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to determine how far cases of corruption, murder and abuse were born of an attempt to pervert the course of judicial [justice] by a powerful establishment bent upon crushing the popular forces.
Second, either ourselves initiating a judicial misconduct process or inviting the United Nations Rapporteur on Judges and the Judiciary to do so to cleanse the judiciary of a handful of politically motivated judges maligning the otherwise honest judiciary.
And thirdly, authenticity and accountability of intelligence reports submitted by the security apparatus on the political situation in the country in the last decade (should be established).
The rogue element factor in security — by establishing a National Security Council (NSC) to oversee intelligence and ending the military’s role in political intelligence should be set up. This NSC proposal is at variance with the one proposed by military leadership.
Q: How do you see the civil-military divide and its repercussions for the society?
BB: There is a divide on decision making for the future direction of the country. The military wishes to dictate the security agenda and the popular forces want it to bow before the will of the people. There is also a difference of opinion on a centralised versus devolved state and differences on the role of minorities and women in decision making in the country.
Q: What role do you see for yourself and in what way you can give a new direction to the country?
BB: I see myself leading the popular forces in building a federal, liberal and moderate Muslim state at peace with itself and its neighbours. The PPP and I are asking the people to give us a two third majority to bring about constitutional restructuring.
Q: How would you address the concerns of International Community on terrorism and Pakistan’s relations with India?
BB: The PPP is opposed to the use of force to settle issues. It is also opposed to private armies fighting non-state wars, which is what is happening today. A PPP-led Pakistan could work with the international community in dealing with the issue of private armies. The PPP respects the right of every individual to choose their own religious and political beliefs. Although the PPP disagrees with the politics of extremism, it recognises the right of those parties to function so long as violence is abandoned and internal and international laws are respected.
Q: Do you think Pakistan has become unmanageable?
BB: Pakistan has traditionally been a difficult country to govern. It is presently caught in a Cold War prism and unmanageable. However, it is very much manageable if it develops a post Cold War identity for the 21st century.
Q: You are accused of running the party in an undemocratic manner by assuming the party office for life and through nominations. Why don’t you let elections in the party and bring in fresh blood?
BB: It is incorrect that the party is being run undemocratically. I am the most elected party leader in the nation’s history. I was elected first in 1977 to take the party leadership in certain circumstances. I was elected again this year. We do hold elections. Finally, people are free to judge our functioning in a national election by voting for or against us. The PPP is keen to see new blood come in and work its way to winning the hearts and minds of the people.
Q: What about the accountability drive? Will you agree to an across-the-board accountability if an independent and autonomous accountability commission is formed?
BB: The PPP believes in an accountability with evidence and due process. It believes in an ongoing system of accountability where credible chartered accountants begin the process by going through the mountain of documents. The documents speak for themselves: who invited the tenders, were the rules changed, what were the bids, did the tender achieve results or resulted
in financial loss. It believes in arbitration and prosecution when arbitration fails.
Q: How your party intends to fill the gap in Punjab created by [Nawaz] Sharif’s exit. Are you confident that your party will regain constituencies it lost?
BB: The PPP disputes the elections of 1997 on the basis of conflicting data. International observers said 16% voted in the 1997 elections. The Election Commission said 50% in Punjab voted. Those were ghost votes to defeat the PPP which had brought progress and prosperity to the country. I am confident of winning a fair election and have advised my party to look for good candidates.
The PPP is interested in professionals coming forward to avail of its platform. We’re a party of the youth and the next generation. We can win an election where the security apparatus keeps out. That means ending NADRA, updating the computerised lists of 1995, allowing minorities to vote in every precinct, allowing multi-identity cards and doing away with the centralised count introduced in 1990. The time gap allows computer hacking and electoral rigging.
Q: What measures would you like to take to separate party from family?
BB: Every individual is a separate legal entity with their own fundamental rights. There is some concern about my husband that is expressed by some non-party quarters. It’s for him to decide what’s best for him.
Q: How do you view the current peace initiative in the sub-continent?
BB: It’s a positive development. The chance for peace is here and we should take it as long as it is an honourable peace, keeping in mind the aspirations of the Kashmiri people led by the APHC.
Q: Your second government actually supported Taliban. What will be your attitude towards them in future?
BB: Yes, my second government supported Taliban which were then confined to Kandahar and Herat. We encouraged Taliban to form a broad-based government. Now there are additional complications. First, Taliban have gone into Kabul unilaterally. Second, they have given refuge to Usama bin Laden. The PPP would ask the Taliban to address these issues with respect to a broad-based and multi-ethnic government and respect of international law.
Q: What do you feel were mistakes apart from perceptions in your last two governments and how would you assure that the same will not be repeated if at all you come to power for the third time?
BB: The stories of corruption hurt. Foreign policy was hawkish. Defence purchases were controversial. I hope to have the support of the press next time round through a more open policy enabling full facts to reach them and the public. The young demand a more transparent government and public representatives need to respond to the challenge.
Q: You have once said that you will be happy to preside over Senate or play the role of an elder guide instead of becoming a candidate for premiership and nominate candidate for the job of premiership. Do you feel it is still relevant in a completely changed political scenario?
BB: I’ve been through a lot in the last two decades and more. I’ve been honoured and humbled by the opportunity given to me by the Pakistani citizens to govern them twice. It’s doubly honouring that I was voted in despite being a woman in an election which broke the barriers of the past in the Muslim World. There’s much that my leadership changed and a legacy is there.
I’d much rather be an elder guide. Right now my party and allies insist that I lead them instead. Given the state of crisis, I believe my leadership is needed to steer the country out of troubled waters. So lets see how it works out.