TOPICS > Politics

Suicide Attack Ends Benazir Bhutto’s Controversial Life

December 27, 2007 at 6:25 PM EST
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After a look at recent NewsHour interviews with Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan experts and former colleagues of the late prime minister reflect on her political career, including her election as the youngest and first female Pakistan prime minister in 1988.
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MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in mid-October after eight years of self-imposed exile.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan: I feel very, very emotional coming back to my country. I dreamt of this day for so many months and years.

MARGARET WARNER: As leader of the Pakistan People’s Party or PPP, Bhutto was vying for a third term as prime minister in upcoming parliamentary elections. But her triumphant return was cut short when her motorcade was hit by a double suicide attack in Karachi.

She survived, but some 150 supporters were killed. The Harvard-educated Bhutto first became prime minister in 1988, the first elected woman leader of any Muslim nation. It was a personal triumph for the 35-year-old Bhutto, whose father, a former president, had been executed nine years earlier.

But in 1990, she was ousted by the president and military amid charges of corruption. She won the prime ministership again in 1993, but was toppled again in 1996 on the same charges. During her years outside Pakistan, Bhutto lived in Dubai and London, and continued to lead her opposition party.

She returned to Pakistan after Musharraf granted her amnesty from the corruption charges. They had been negotiating a deal that would let Bhutto run for prime minister in free and fair elections, while Musharraf got reelected as a civilian to the presidency he had initially seized in a military coup.

But, in early November, Musharraf imposed emergency rule and twice placed Bhutto under house arrest. He insisted he did so for her own safety. Just hours after Bhutto’s last house arrest was lifted, I spoke with her in the home in Lahore where she had been detained.

She told me that, despite the threats against her life, she would continue to campaign openly.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: I can still campaign — not as freely as in the past — but I don’t intend to be intimidated by those who threaten to kill me.

And I see that, in every event where there is a threat to one’s core interests, national interests, people send their young men and women to give their lives. America sends their young men and women to Afghanistan, where they risk death. No one turns around and says, don’t send our boys because somebody may kill you. So, when there is a cause that is larger than oneself, one has to take the risks.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a couple of things President Musharraf has said.

One, he has said that putting you under house arrest and in detention a couple of times was absolutely necessary for your own security, that there have been threats against you, that you have chosen risky spots and venues for rallies and marches. What do you say to that?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: I say that, if he’s worried about threats against me, instead of putting me behind bars, he should get in Scotland Yard or FBI to investigate the militant terrorist attack that took place on my convoy. If he gets independent investigators, then I’m sure the very militants and their backers will be frightened, because they will know that they can be discovered.

I suspect that elements within the administration are sympathetic to the militants, and they want to eliminate my leadership to prevent democracy from returning to Pakistan and to prevent any political party having a leader with a mass support or nationally that can enable us to build a popular base to confront the terrorists.

┬áSo, what I would like to tell him is that, why do you hesitate to let me file a police report against the murderers? Why do you hesitate to call in Scotland Yard? Call them in. Let the militants know that they can’t escape.

MARGARET WARNER: So, are you accusing people in his government of complicity in the attacks, essentially the assassination attempt last month?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Yes, I suspect elements within the Musharraf administration to have conspired to eliminate me through a terrorist attack. And I suspect elements within the administration who continue to try to eliminate me. I asked for jammers. They gave me some jammers that just don’t work.

MARGARET WARNER: Bhutto was referring to cell-phone-jamming equipment that was supposed to be used to foil phone-triggered bomb attacks.

After intense international pressure, Musharraf lifted the state of emergency earlier this month. He was sworn in as a civilian president and said the January parliamentary elections would proceed.

In recent weeks, Bhutto had accused Musharraf of preparing to rig those elections. But she continued to campaign as head of the country’s largest party. She died just a few miles from where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged at age 51 by the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul Haq. Benazir Bhutto was 54.

Call to service

Mark Siegel
Bhutto Advisor
She long ago decided that her greatest service in life was not to herself, not to her husband, not to her children, even, but, rather, to democracy and to the people of Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: For personal insight into Bhutto, the woman and political figure, we turn to two of her longtime advisers and friends. Husain Haqqani was an aide to Bhutto during her first term as prime minister. He's now a journalist and syndicated columnist in South Asian and Middle Eastern newspapers, and he also directs the Center for International Relations at Boston University.

Mark Siegel has been Benazir Bhutto's man in Washington for decades, serving as an unofficial adviser. He has also been a longtime Democratic Party activist and now associated with a Washington law firm. He and Bhutto were collaborating on a book.

First of all, I want to just extend my condolences to both of you.

MARK SIEGEL, Friend of Benazir Bhutto: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: I know this is a very sad day for you.

Mark Siegel, did she have a premonition that this might happen to her?

MARK SIEGEL: Benazir talked about the possibility of being killed many, many times in our relationship, and with Husain as well. She understood that there were risks, but she was committed to public service.

She long ago decided that her greatest service in life was not to herself, not to her husband, not to her children, even, but, rather, to democracy and to the people of Pakistan. So, she understood the risk.

And we talked about it. She said to me that she -- she had great faith, and she believed, she really believed that God would take care of her, and she told me not to worry. She said she was in God's hands. And, today, she's in God's hands.

MARGARET WARNER: Husain Haqqani, do you think she was fatalistic, that she had a strong sense she would share her father's fate, who -- he was such a major figure in her life?

HUSAIN HAQQANI, Former Aide to Benazir Bhutto: He was the most important figure in her life. I don't think she was fatalistic in a very conscious sense, but, in a subconscious sense, she was.

She used the term inshallah, God willing, quite frequently. And she had a tremendous ability to handle adversity. You could see her bounce back from adversity in the most difficult of circumstances.

Bhutto's suspicions of Musharraf

Husain Haqqani
Former Bhutto Advisor
She had an idealistic side to her. She cared about the 65 million people of Pakistan who lived below the poverty line. She cared about the 65 million who just lived above the poverty line.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mark Siegel, when -- just before she returned, she sent a letter to Musharraf naming three people she said were a threat to her. And they were all people tied to the government.

MARK SIEGEL: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: But she sent you a follow-up e-mail. And I would just like to read the first two lines to you and to our viewers: "Mark, nothing will, God willing, happen. Just wanted you to know that if it does, in addition to the names in my letter to Musharraf of October 16, I would hold Musharraf responsible."

Did -- did she really think that?

MARK SIEGEL: She did, and she had reason to believe that was the case. She had asked for security for October 18 and 19. It was denied to her.

The only protection she had on those days were from the PPP workers that surrounded her. She also asked that there be a thorough investigation. There was not. There was not.

MARK SIEGEL: And there still has not been.

And she continued to ask for security arrangements that were continually denied. She did believe that, ultimately, these things could not be happening if it wasn't for Musharraf directly.

MARGARET WARNER: And, yet, Husain Haqqani, she was also very, very aware, she had a vivid understanding of the sort of Islamic extremist or terrorist threat, did she not?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: She had a tremendous understanding of it long before others had it. I worked with her from 1993 to 1996. There were many moments in cabinet meetings which I attended where she would say that there is a genuine threat arising, that the jihadist movement is probably going to turn on us.

In fact, I have -- I used to take notes on those meetings. And I was browsing through some of those notes this morning. And, at that time, of course, the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus did not believe that the jihadists could actually ever become a threat to Pakistan. They thought that they were instruments of power politics in the region.

So, she actually did know them. She knew that Osama bin Laden personally had been involved in an attempt to get rid of her earlier in her first term. And she -- she was a true believing Muslim who had a genuine understanding of what Islam ought to be as a moderate force in the world, rather than the one represented by the nihilists of al-Qaida.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Husain Haqqani, just following up, though, given all the risks that she knew she faced, why did she go back?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Benazir Bhutto always said that, "Pakistan needs me, and I need Pakistan."

I know. I started out as a young man being one of the many middle-class critics of the Bhutto family, only to learn that the big change they represented in Pakistan was they brought democracy and they brought politics to the poor of Pakistan.

So, when you meet Pakistan's upper classes, they still have the cynicism about her. But the truth is, she had an idealistic side to her. She cared about the 65 million people of Pakistan who lived below the poverty line. She cared about the 65 million who just lived above the poverty line.

Yes, she was not particularly popular amongst the 30 million who live very well off, although she herself was one of them. But her ideals were, this country has to become a moderate country based on the will of its people, and it has to be a country where poor people can be cared about.

Let me tell you a little story. When she was prime minister...

Corruption charges

Mark Siegel
Bhutto Advisor
She understood modernity. She was a bridge between East and West. She was a bridge within Islam between -- between the forces of Islam. And she understood that extremism thrives under dictatorship. And she was determined to stop that.

MARGARET WARNER: Actually, let me -- let me just -- let me just interrupt you for a second and get back to Mark Siegel. And then I will get right back to you.

But, Mr. Siegel, her two terms as prime minister, as we know, were definitely faulted for both sort of management incompetence and also on allegations of corruption. Now, publicly, she always said: "Well, nothing has ever been proven. I have never been convicted."

But was she any more reflective or forthcoming about that in private? What did she say about that?

MARK SIEGEL: Well, first, she was very constrained in both two terms by the intelligence agencies, by the military, by the establishment. She never had firm control of the government because of -- because of them.

Charges were brought against her for -- for corruption. But there -- that's what -- when you bring down anyone in Pakistan, under the constitution, you charge incompetence and corruption, including the chief minister, who -- the supreme court chief justice, who was brought down again for the same charge.

She was never convicted of any of these things. With all...

MARGARET WARNER: But...

MARK SIEGEL: But, no, with all of the ammunition of the government against her, she was never convicted. Her husband was in jail for 11 years and was never convicted.

Saying all of that, she's learned a great deal. She was ready to be a great prime minister for a third term. She understood modernity. She was a bridge between East and West. She was a bridge within Islam between -- between the forces of Islam. And she understood that extremism thrives under dictatorship. And she was determined to stop that.

Belief in democracy

Husain Haqqani
Former Bhutto Advisor
She negotiated because she thought that there can be only two ways out of a military dictatorship, a blood-in-the-streets scenario or a negotiation in which there can be a transition in a phased manner. That is what she hoping to accomplish.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Husain Haqqani, given, though, everything -- oh, actually, I -- sorry. I just want to follow up with Mark Siegel on one other thing.

Now, just before she returned -- actually, I have read that to you. Forgive me for that.

So, Husain Haqqani, explain to me, given all her criticism of Musharraf, including what she said in the e-mail to Mark Siegel, why did she still try to negotiate a deal with him to share power, because, as you know, that led people in Pakistan, some ordinary people, even, to say, well, she was just interested in power?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, the deal was about a transition to democracy. That's where they fell apart. After November 3, she suspended all negotiations. That's the day Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, because he never took her into confidence about the state of emergency.

Having a negotiation is something that came naturally to Benazir Bhutto. She -- even when I was -- as I told you, I was an opponent, but she reached out to me. And she said: "What are you doing opposing us? Your ideas and mine are similar. You should work with me, for me."

And, so, she negotiated not because she wanted something. Of course, if she got elected, she would serve the country. She negotiated because she thought that there can be only two ways out of a military dictatorship, a blood-in-the-streets scenario or a negotiation in which there can be a transition in a phased manner.

That is what she hoping to accomplish. And you must remember, people criticized her a lot. She stayed her course. And now, by all accounts, the people were coming back to her. If you look at the opinion poll trends, the people who left her because they thought she was cutting a deal understood her argument, and now she was back to her popularity ratings of before.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, Mark Siegel, explain one other apparent paradox. She was so viewed in the West as the symbol of the modern Muslim woman, yet, she was also very much the daughter of traditional Pakistan, wasn't she?

MARK SIEGEL: She was. And she came from a family that was a major landholder in Sindh. But she had progressive parents. I mean, both the two boys and the two girls had equal education. They both were encouraged to serve publicly.

She was a modern woman, but she was -- she did have strong roots within Islam and within the traditions of Pakistan. The book that she has just completed that I helped her with, "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West," talks about the reconciliation between -- between the West and the East, between Islam and the rest of the world, and the reconciliation within Islam of the forces of fanaticism and the forces of true tolerant pluralistic Islam.

Benazir Bhutto was a -- was a wonderful woman. She was a brave woman. It was an honor to know her and an honor to be her friend.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark Siegel and Husain Haqqani, again, our condolences to you both. And thank you.