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Pakistani Ambassador Durrani: Bhutto Had ‘Best Protection Possible’

December 27, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Mahmud Ali Durrani reiterated his government's reaction to Thursday's assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, calling her death the work of Islamic extremists.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being here.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, Pakistani Ambassador to United States: Pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: First, do you have any new information about who or what was behind this?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: No, I don’t have new information, but my assessment is that probably it is the same people who tried to kill Musharraf three times, who tried to kill our prime minister, and the same people who are carrying out suicide bombings on a daily basis in Pakistan. It is the extremists and terrorists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, to those suspicions that Mr. Musharraf or his supporters had anything to do with this, as we just heard the reporter Griff Witte saying.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Yes, you see what has happened is — and I saw from film clips, too — people were very frustrated. They were very upset. They lost a leader just after she has finished her speech. And it is a day of mourning for Pakistan, no doubt.

So, there is a level of frustration and people have voiced that against the government and probably against President Musharraf. But I think a saner look at it, it is very obvious it is extremists and terrorists. In fact, they had a common enemy, Musharraf and Benazir.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You spoke to President Musharraf earlier today. What was his personal reaction?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Yes, I spoke to him, I think, about an hour-and-a-half or two hours maybe after the event. He was very upset. He was very disturbed.

All that he said was that: I’m going to declare mourning in the country for a couple of days, but this should firm up our resolve to a greater extent to fight these extremists and terrorists.

Concerns about future turmoil

Mahmud Ali Durrani
Ambassador, Pakistan
Pakistan has gone through chaos. It has gone through problems. It has gone through situations like this, natural catastrophes. We are a very strong people, in spite of all what people think. And, God willing, we will come out of this stronger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were hearing from -- again from the reporter, Griff Witte with The Washington Post and others...

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... across the news today that -- worry that Pakistan is going to dissolve into chaos. Are you worried about that?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: No, I'm not. Pakistan has gone through chaos. It has gone through problems. It has gone through, you know, situations like this, natural catastrophes. We are a very strong people, in spite of all what people think. And, God willing, we will come out of this stronger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The concerns also being raised that the election now can't go forward. You have one party, Benazir Bhutto's party, completely in disarray. You have Mr. Sharif saying he is not going to participate in the election.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How can the election go forward?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Well, let's wait and see. Let's not prejudge this, because let's see how events unfold.

To the best of my knowledge, the PPP has not said that they're going to go into election. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, even earlier, had decided that he's not going to go into election, but he will still join in. We hope that he again decides that he should join in.

But, besides him, there are over 40 -- there are around 47 or 49 political parties which are participating. The previous ruling government party was participating. The PPP will participate and all the other major parties are participating.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it has no leader now.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: No, there will always be a leader. Vacuums are always filled. And I'm sure the PPP, in its greater judgment, will pick out the right successor for her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the despair that was described, the despair among ordinary Pakistanis, that democracy is now just a distant dream?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: No, I beg to disagree.

There is a despair, yes, definitely, among her supporters that their beloved leader has gone, gone forever, its only voice. So, that despair is there. But I don't think that necessarily translates into despair that Pakistan is falling apart or there will be no democracy.

I think the people of Pakistan are for democracy. And come what may, I think, sooner or later, we will have democracy.

Questioning security measures

Mahmud Ali Durrani
Ambassador, Pakistan
There were security people around her. But, in a situation like this, where there's a suicide bomber, it's probably impossible for the best security system in the world able to stop them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Ambassador, an important question for you, and that is accusations being raised today by -- they had been raised by Benazir Bhutto herself. They are being raised today by her supporters and by others that the Musharraf, your government, didn't do enough to protect her, that there were repeated requests for protection, security, and that that protection was never provided.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: No.

To the best of my information, I think the amount of protection that is being provided to -- or was provided to Benazir and all the other opposition leaders is almost the same that has been provided to the prime minister and the president.

But a suicide attacker is a suicide attacker. And especially with political leaders, when they have to go out -- What is the word for that? -- go out and meet their supporters, shake hands with them, you saw that clip before she went into the vehicle. If you saw that, there were security people around her. But, in a situation like this, where there's a suicide bomber, it's probably impossible for the best security system in the world able to stop them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you know for a fact that she was given the protection she asked for?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Absolutely. Absolutely.

I would say she was given not exactly what maybe she may ask for, but, for Pakistan's environment, I think she was given the best protection possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Mahmud Ali Durrani, we thank you very much for being with us on this day.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Pleasure. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI: Thank you.