Extended Interview: Bhutto Promises to Continue Democracy Efforts in Pakistan
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MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks for being with us or at least thanks for having us here
BENAZIR BHUTTO: It’s very nice to welcome you here.
MARGARET WARNER: So President Musharraf has allowed the detention order to be lifted against you early, and some of the private TV stations are now on the air. Do you sense a change of heart at all?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well it’s true that some steps have been taken but not enough. There are still thousands of protestors behind bars — 7,500 were arrested from the Punjab alone. So it’s not enough to release the well-known names. It’s important to release every single political worker arrested and to permit our party a level playing field where we can campaign, where we can go door to door, where we can meet the people.
No chance for talks
MARGARET WARNER: Now Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is coming here, is about to arrive, he's going to have from what we understand a very tough message for Musharraf about what he has to do. But the message from American officials to you is also they are encouraging you to maintain the option of a political accommodation with him. In the last few days, you've been pretty unequivocal that that's off the table. Is it still off the table?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Yes, it's off the table. I haven't had word of a meeting with Mr. Negroponte, but I've just been released from house arrest this morning, a few hours back. But I would say the important message that Mr. Negroponte brings is the message to General Musharraf. General Musharraf appears to me presently to be the obstacle to the democratization of Pakistan. I'm unsure whether a message will be given to me to get back on track with General Musharraf, but I would like to say that I spent 18 months talking to General Musharraf and at the last minute he dumped the road map to democracy and went back to military dictatorship. And I ask myself does he simply want to engage me in talks which will again lead nowhere?
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying absolutely not under any circumstances?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's what I'm saying. Because I believe that General Musharraf's promises have always been too vague, too generalized, too little, too late, raising hopes, dashing them, raising hopes, dashing them. And now the situation in Pakistan is critical. It is imploding from within. And we cannot afford as a nation to take the risks we took before while negotiating with him for a transfer. I think the important thing for Mr. Negroponte to do is to discuss an exit strategy with General Musharraf.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean an exit from being President as well as Army Chief of Staff?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's right. An exit strategy for an orderly transfer of power. The Pakistan People's Party and I are the largest political party in the country. I have spent my time under house arrest contacting other political leaders, seeking from them a view as to whether they could work with Musharraf, and they all say no. None of them are prepared to sit down with General Musharraf and work out an exit strategy with them, with him.
MARGARET WARNER: So are there absolutely no back-channel talks going on between your camp and General Musharraf's?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: None at all. MARGARET WARNER: And just to be clear here, could you still envision under some circumstances a future government in which you and he would both play a role?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: No I can not envisage that. General Musharraf has arrested my workers. He has refused to allow us to campaign. He has shown a huge tilt in favor of the ruling party. He's taken none of the steps that were necessary in the democratization of Pakistan. The constitution of his present government is a continuation of the former ruling party, the Q. It's not a neutral caretaker government as required by our constitution. The Election Commission has not been reconstituted. The funds and the guns are with the mayors, so they're bound to rig the elections at the grassroots level. So I feel engaging with General Musharraf is just to set myself up for failure again
How will Musharraf leave office?
MARGARET WARNER: So what is your scenario. By what scenario would he actually leave office?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: I believe there should be an Interim Government of National Consensus established, and I am trying to put together a coalition of interests that would come together for that Interim Government of National Consensus. The interim government could hold fair, free and impartial elections which are scheduled for January 9th, and hand power over to the elected representatives of the people.
MARGARET WARNER: But I don't understand as a practical matter if President Musharraf doesn't want to give up power, by what scenario are you going to bring about him giving up power?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Through the use of public power, through the use of public power impacting on the military and on the international community, and we are thankful to the international community for supporting democracy, for calling for the release of political prisoners, for demanding the lifting of the curbs on the media. But the international community has a stake in Pakistan, just like that, we Pakistanis have a more important stake, and we appreciate that a country cannot be run where there is censorship, where people are arrested, and where one man can change the law at will.
MARGARET WARNER: So when you say public power will force him from office, are you planning to call your supporters into the street?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: We have been peacefully marching in the streets, and I may tell you that we have two types of people's power. The first is when the state does not interfere, and it is judged by the size of the crowd that is present. And the second is when the state does interfere, does arrest, barricade, blockade, use the police force, and then we judge the size of the crowd by the size of the police force used to block that crowd from getting out of their homes, from getting out of their cities to rally at a particular point. So for us, in both scenarios, we have shown that people do not want General Musharraf.
MARGARET WARNER: You also mentioned that the military is part of your strategy for him giving up power. What do you think the military should do now?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well it's not for me to tell the military what they ought to do. But if I was in the military and I saw the writing on the wall, I saw thousands of people arrested including judges and the leaders of all political parties and I saw the people come out and could not be stopped without the severe repressive measures, I would go up to General Musharraf and say this country, the interests of this country cannot be sacrificed at the alter of one man's desires to stay in the Presidency.
Continuing the democracy campaign
MARGARET WARNER: Now if General Musharraf were not to take your advice, and the military were not to step in, but he frees a few more activists, he takes off his uniform as he's promised to do by the end of the month, but he keeps emergency rule on and goes toward these elections on January 9th, which is what he's saying now he is going to do, will the PPP participate in those elections?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That looks unlikely. We're looking for a transparent election, and the elections cannot be transparent under the present Election Commission, under the present caretaker government, with the present mayors controlling the guns and the funds, with the improvised polling voters' stations, that means they keep shifting them so they are really ghost stations. And a host of other difficulties, the difficulty in even getting a voter's list, getting an accurate voter's list. So in these circumstances the elections would be rigged, its result would be pre-ordained, and our country would be left with the same set of people who have been governing it since October 1999.
MARGARET WARNER: In even more immediate terms, if you cannot hold big public rallies, big public demonstrations, can you actually campaign?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well I have been taking the risks and I have been going out in the public. I have been making some sudden, unannounced visits and I have been using the television to reach out and give my message to the people of Pakistan, that the People's Party wants to empower our people, provide employment and education and reform the political system, reform the educational system so that we can teach our young people the skills that they need to know and give them the knowledge that will help them build a pluralistic society. So yes, 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 says don't send our boys because somebody may kill you. So where there is a cause that is larger than oneself, one has to take the risks.
MARGARET WARNER: But you're saying you're not going to campaign in these elections if the state of emergency exists?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: What I'm saying is that I'm going to campaign and reach the people, campaigning for an election and campaigning for a one-point agenda to end the Musharraf dictatorship, to establish an Interim Government of National Consensus, and to-- which will preside over fair elections, is what I'm aiming to do. While we haven't ruled out taking part in the elections, right now the opposition believes that those elections will not be transparent and there is little purpose in participating in them.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a couple of things that President Musharraf has said. One is 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 events 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.
MARGARET WARNER: So are you accusing people in his government of complicity in the attacks, essentially in the assassination attempt in which 140 people died last month.
BENAZIR BHUTTO: One hundred and fifty eight people the number is now, 158. Yes I suspect elements within the Musharraf administration to have conspired to eliminate me through terrorist attack, and I suspect elements within the administration continue to try to eliminate me.
MARGARET WARNER: You've spent the better part of this year, you and people around you, negotiating with President Musharraf, seeking a political accommodation that could move this country to civilian rule. In retrospect do you regret it?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Not at all. I don't regret it. I don't regret it at all because I know in my conscience that I did my best to seek a peaceful, political transition to avoid the very mess that we are in now. I feared that unless there was a peaceful political transition, Pakistan could be shaken up, we could have instability and I feared that the extremists would take advantage of this instability. So I do not regret having put in that effort for a transition to democracy, but I am deeply disappointed that General Musharraf failed to keep his commitments to the road map to democracy that we had charted.
The road ahead
MARGARET WARNER: In retrospect, I mean you even met privately with him, in retrospect do you think that he was ever sincerely pursuing the course that you thought he was pursuing?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: I was never sure. I was never sure. When I met him the first time round, he never asked me for my party's vote to elect him as President in a post-election Parliament, and I wondered why he didn't do that because I knew, as everyone in this nation did, that in a fair election the PPP and I would win. But I said that maybe I'm wrong, or maybe he doesn't have enough rapport or trust with me, maybe as time will pass things will change and I said one should not go on doubts, one should go on hope. I always go on hope, and so I went on the hope that when he got to know me he would be encouraged to move away from the ruling party, to be neutral, to be an honest referee between the different political forces. But it didn't happen.
MARGARET WARNER: How much do you think your own image and standing has been damaged and your own credibility been damaged by pursuing this with him for so long?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well I don't believe that my credibility has been damaged among the people of Pakistan. I know my critics say this, but at the end of the day it's the court of the people that shows the result, and the crowd that turned out to receive me, three million strong, proved that the people of Pakistan have faith in my leadership, in the decisions that I take, the thousands who were ready to be arrested and are presently in jailed proved that they had the trust and confidence in me. When people believe in a leader they leave the minutiae of the strategy to that leader. They know that the goal is. They want to get to that goal. They don't want a compromise in core principles. And my goal was always a democratic Pakistan, a Pakistan with a political leader who was not chief of military staff, and in my very first meeting General Musharraf promised to me that he would retire as Chief of the Army Staff before the Presidential elections.
MARGARET WARNER: So you said that you did this, and you pursued it for so long, because you wanted a peaceful transition and otherwise there would be upheaval. Now this track is over, is that what Pakistan faces?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's the danger. I fear that if General Musharraf clings on to power there could be chaos, there could be anarchy and a peaceful orderly transition is what Pakistan needs.
I've been reaching out to other political parties so I want to share with you, it's on one side is the distrust I have of any promise made by General Musharraf at the moment, and the second is the distrust that all the other political parties, the leading civil groups, the women's groups, young students have. So for Pakistan it's better to go with the consensus. Even if Mr. Musharraf was able to convince me today and say come here Ms. Bhutto, you can choose an Election Commission of your choice or of the opposition's choice, and I'll get rid of the mayors and we'll have a caretaker government, I'm just asking myself could I convince the other political players to put their trust in General Musharraf's word. And sadly the answer is no.
I'm asking myself could I convince the people in my party who were killed, the people in my party who were imprisoned, who were prepared in the past to back my dialogue, that I'm going back to the person who arrested them, and the person who fired on them -- didn't personally, but whose men fired yesterday. So Pakistan needs healing and General Musharraf has to decide.
He's not a bad man, he's not an unreasonable man. I've met him. I've talked to him. But the people around him were never very good, the core of the people - some of them are very good, I don't say all - but the core around the hardcore was a leftover from the military dictatorship of the '80s that fought the Afghan jihad and created the mujihadeen who went on to become al-Qaida and Taliban. And in the end he remained loyal to them. So he must think of Pakistan now, and if it's in Pakistan's best interest he must quit. But there needs to be a post-Musharraf order worked out.
MARGARET WARNER: And if he doesn't?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well if he doesn't, then I'm afraid that the instability will continue and my party and I will have the choice that either we take part in the protests and carry the risks of instability or we withdraw. And if we withdraw, do we create a vacuum that the extremists and their supporters then capture? So we are caught really between the fire, between the frying pan and the fire and we've got to take a risk, and the risk we are taking is to mount public pressure to end martial law and to return Pakistan to its rightful masters who are the people of this great nation.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally do you think the United States has it in its power right now to persuade General Musharraf of this?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: It's a judgment call for the United States to make, there's a balance sheet to be drawn up, but I believe yes if the United States of America weighed in, General Musharraf would certainly give careful consideration to their advice .
MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, thank you so much.
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Thank you Margaret.