|Los Angeles Times
Reproduces three year old interview of Ms Benazir Bhutto vindicating her vision
September 23, 2001The prestigious Los Angeles Times has printed an interview with former Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto taken three years back in October 1998. The interview gives the causes of Muslim alienation in the following words, “I can say for myself that part of the Western actions that perhaps inadvertently fed into the militancy was the handling of Muslim conflicts, for instance in Bosnia, Kashmir, Azerbaijan and other areas. There was a feeling that if Western powers had been involved the world would not silently have watched, but that this was Muslim blood that was being shed. So the inability to resolve Muslim disputes, particularly when they were resulting in outrages shown on television, was a factor”
The second significant portion of the interview relates to her call for Islamabad to distance itself from the Taliban as early as 1998.Following is the text of the interview.
The West and Islam: An interview with Benazir Bhutto Harvey Morris (Oct. 21 1998)
In an exclusive interview in London with Foreign Wire, the Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, spoke about Islam’s relations with the West, the Afghan crisis, the role of the renegade Saudi Osama bin Laden, and her aspirations to act as a focus of resistance to the “Talibanisation” of her country.
Q. The late Ayatollah Khomeini used to refer to “American Islam”, by which he meant a conservative current of fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere which the West exploited to serve its own purposes in the Cold War. Now even that conservative Islam appears to be turning against the West. What is the nature of the crisis between Islam and the West and what can be done to solve it?
A. I have heard many people say to me that we have defeated one superpower and we can defeat another superpower. I have turned round and I have said that the reason the Soviet Union was defeated was that satellite information was coming into Pakistan, money was coming into Pakistan, arms were coming into Pakistan. So it was a collective global effort to defeat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It wasn’t the effort by a single one nation.
I can’t really say what is the desire of this (fundamentalist) class, other than that they do dream of establishing a theocratic state. And they say that it’s better to have peace than to have freedom. And they say its better to live in poverty and pride than to live in openness and what they term vulgarity. Certainly there’s a certain reaction against the openness of Western society where sexual mores are discussed far more openly than in traditional societies.
I cannot speak for them because I am not one of them, but I can say for myself that part of the Western actions that perhaps inadvertently fed into the militancy was the handling of Muslim conflicts, for instance in Bosnia, Kashmir, Azerbaijan and other areas. There was a feeling that if Western powers had been involved the world would not silently have watched, but that this was Muslim blood that was being shed. So the inability to resolve Muslim disputes, particularly when they were resulting in outrages shown on television, was a factor. The fight is still continuing inside Pakistan and inside the larger Muslim world. Do we want the more open models of Southeast Asia, or do we want the examples or Iraq or Libya where you accept sanctions, or Iran where you say you don’t mind if you have sanctions because you’re going to stand on our own two feet?
So do we want the closed model or do we want the open model? Do we want the introverted model where we turn in on ourselves and then say it’s all right if our people suffer because it’s for the pride of the nation? Or do we want the more outward model which says that already we are living as part of a global community and these are the global values and we’re going to compete according to these values. This is the debate that is really going on right now.
Q. A representative of this conservative but fiercely anti-Western current in Islam is Osama bin Laden, the man said to be behind the US embassy bombings in east Africa. What do you know about him?
A. There was a no confidence move against me in 1989. At that time the same Ziaist (former military dictator Zia ul-Haq) constituency saw me as an obstacle in the path of Islamisation of the country. They offered half a million dollars each to 14 of my legislators to defect so the no confidence would be a success. Some of these came to me and I said ‘Take the first instalment and pretend you’re with them.’ So when the no confidence vote came they were my Trojan horses.
We heard at that time that the Saudi government had funded this operation, so I sent a minister to the Saudi government and the minister came back having been assured it was not the Saudi government but philanthropist Arabs who had played a part in the Afghan war and had sympathy with those who had worked with General Zia’s government, and had therefore done it individually out of their own personal finances. And that was when we first heard this name of Mr Bin Laden. We wondered who it was and we were told it was a very big construction family. But I don’t think he did it so much against me, he did it more because he knew the people involved and they must have asked for a donation. Subsequently there were many such link ups.
Q. Afghanistan under the Taliban is rapidly overtaking Iran as the West’s main bogeyman in the Islamic world. How has the Taliban succeeded in enforcing its will in Afghanistan and what is the part played by outside forces? Why is the fate of this poor, landlocked state now so vital, not only to Pakistan but to the wider region?
A. When we were growing up we used to learn in our classes on history that the Kashmir dispute formed the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. But it seems to me that ever since the seventies it is Afghanistan that has dominated Pakistan’s foreign policy, first through the Soviet occupation and subsequently in the attempt to find a broad-based and representative government within Afghanistan. Part of it may be the legacy of the old Ziaist constituency which believed that the conquests into the sub-continent had always been from central Asia. The moguls had come from central Asia to Kabul and from Kabul into Delhi. So some of the people in the Ziaist constituency had viewed that Pakistan in its truest Islamic identity would be stretching all the way up to Kabul. This is their dream.
I remember during my first term as prime minister, when we established the Afghan interim government, there was talk of it declaring a confederation with Pakistan and then the confederate government would call upon Pakistan for military assistance in overthrowing the Kabul regime where (President) Najibullah still sat. I vetoed that plan, but it seems that Afghanistan remained a temptation for the Ziaist constituency. It was during my second time as prime minister that I first heard of the Taliban. And I was told that these were Afghan veterans who had returned to the madressehs to teach Islam but they now felt that peace needs to be restored; that there been too much fighting. So it was a movement for peace. There were accusations that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban. But in fact, to my knowledge, our support was limited to diplomatic and political initiatives and under those we always tried under my leadership to work for a broad-based government recognising that the Russians in central Asia had certain concerns and recognising that Iran had certain concerns.
In September 1996, my brother was killed and the government became paralysed, and taking advantage of that paralysis the Taliban walked unilaterally into Kabul. That was a break with everything that Pakistan under my government had been advising them. Subsequently the Taliban began a unilateral climb for total control of Afghanistan. I felt this was more in keeping with the old Ziaist constituency which always dreamed of Pakistan having strategic depth through Afghanistan, although I don’t understand how Pakistan can have strategic depth through Afghanistan because it is a landlocked country. I can understand us having strategic depth through Iran and I think that given the civil war in Afghanistan and the tension with India it is imperative for Pakistan not to close the avenue on the one neighbour that can give it access in the case of a blockade on the country.
So anyway, when the Taliban began their unilateral assault, I as leader of the position spoke against it in the parliament and people often said to me that I supported the Taliban in the past. We did not support the Taliban. We had a hands-off policy and gave the Taliban a role. We sought to advise them and during my tenure that advice prevailed. There was no Taliban domination of Afghanistan during my tenure. The situation was very different when I was prime minister of Pakistan than what occurred after we left. Subsequently serious and significant events occurred. Osama bin Laden has taken refuge in Afghanistan and has set up bases for training people who reportedly have been to other countries and are reportedly involved in an attack on Western installations and diplomatic centres in Africa. Secondly the Taliban are reportedly responsible for the kidnapping of Iranian diplomats. Now they’ve been killed. What I said in the assembly when I led the debate on foreign policy was that I was tired of hearing that we don’t have any influence on the Taliban. I said the fact of the matter is that we may not have any military influence or financial influence but we do have diplomatic and political influence and we must tell the Taliban that we have recognised you and so the world is watching us. If you are not going to return those Iranians, we are going to have to break our diplomatic relations because we can’t be seen to be recognising a regime which is fast taking on all the appearances of a rogue state. Subsequently came the news that the Iranian diplomats had been killed.
I would have liked to see Pakistan being much more forthright in its condemnation of what the Taliban is doing and my party believes that relations with Iran, central Asia and Russia must take precedence. Pakistan cannot repeat the Soviet error of becoming bogged down in Afghanistan by being overly identified with the Taliban, who do not qualify in criteria that is acceptable by global values, with democratic rights, women’s rights or anti-terrorism efforts.
Q. What of your own political future in the face of the increasing Islamisation of Pakistan and the corruption charges laid against you by the Nawaz Sharif government?
A. I am very glad that with the rise of these theocrats our allies have grown within the parliament. For the first time there is a credible political alternative. Nawaz wanted to lead the country without a credible political alternative. He wanted to isolate me by involving me in case after case. As he has had to fabricate most of this evidence he hasn’t got very far, even though nearly two years have passed. These two years have given us time to put our own house in order and build up our allies and come together in a common programme, which I think is a positive development in Pakistan. I think there is a sea change in our supporters.