MARGARET WARNER: The South Asian nation of Pakistan, one of the linchpins in the U.S.-led war on terror, is in political turmoil. From pro-democracy lawyers marching in the streets, to angry Islamic militants in the mosques and the country’s hinterlands, to criticism from U.S. intelligence over letting Pakistan’s tribal regions become a haven for the Taliban and a resurgent al-Qaida, President Pervez Musharraf has been under enormous pressure. Ten days ago, he briefly considered imposing a state of emergency until dissuaded by Washington.
Stepping now into this uncertain mix is a once-familiar face on the Pakistani political scene, the exiled two-term former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She is trying for a political comeback through a power-sharing deal with Musharraf that would let her return to run for prime minister again, while he is re-elected to the presidency he seized in a military coup eight years ago.
The Harvard-educated Bhutto was first elected 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 of Pakistan, had been executed by a military government nine years earlier.
But after just two years, she was ousted by the president and military amid charges of corruption against both her and her businessman husband. She won the prime ministry again in 1993 and was toppled again in 1996 on charges of corruption.
Yet Bhutto still leads the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP. Polls suggest it could win the most seats in parliament later this year if elections are free and fair. After months of back-channel negotiations, Bhutto and Musharraf reportedly met late last month in Abu Dhabi to discuss conditions for a deal.
While in New York on private business this month, she’s been meeting with senior Bush administration and U.N. officials. I spoke with her there today.
Madam Bhutto, thanks for joining us.
BENAZIR BHUTTO, Former Pakistani Prime Minister: Thank you.
Returning to Pakistan
MARGARET WARNER: There have been weeks of speculation about a possible agreement being forged between yourself and President Musharraf under which you'd be free to return and run for prime minister, and he'd be able to retain the presidency. Is that deal going to happen?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: We're trying to have an understanding to take Pakistan towards a civilian and democratic dispensation. We've talked with General Musharraf, but we're still waiting for him to implement the measures within a timeframe that would enable it to go through. People in my party are nervous that, if time just passes, and at the end of the day the general changes his mind, we'll be left high and dry. They don't want that to happen. They said there are reforms going to come; they should start coming.
MARGARET WARNER: So you are waiting for him to make some commitments about the nature of the elections, for example, and your role?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's right. For example, there's a ban on a twice-elected prime minister, such as myself, seeking a third term. So if they're going to enter into a transition to democracy where we're working towards a civilian dispensation, he needs to accept, if he wants us to accept him of contesting, he needs to accept us. So that's one of the issues.
But there are much more important issues, and that is holding fair elections. So fair elections involves the nature of the care take of government, who's going to be in it. It involves the police power. Are they going to be under a political party that would disarm them? And if the police aren't there to protect the voters, the elections can be stolen in the field.
MARGARET WARNER: So you expected him to come out and say a number of these things publicly, since you all met, what, was it three weeks ago?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: That's no official confirmation of the meeting, but, yes, we have been having contact. And General Musharraf promised that he would consider the reforms we had proposed for fair elections. But none of those reforms, other than transparent ballot boxes, have actually been enacted. So now there's a nervousness within my party that they haven't been enacted and we're on the eve of the general election, then when are they going to be enacted?
Sharing power with Musharraf
MARGARET WARNER: Now, there has been, as you know, criticism of you, as well, that you're even thinking about going into sort of an alliance with this man that you have criticized in the past as anti-democratic and also as coddling extremists, that you'd be selling out essentially. What do you say to that?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I wouldn't sell out. The Pakistan People's Party has been struggling to take military out of politics. And the fact that General Musharraf wears a uniform blurs the distinction between civilian and democratic rule. So we are seeking our core elements. We want him to take the uniform off. Secondly, the People's Party wants fair elections. The elections of 2002 were not fair.
So, in seeking fair elections, we need to have the negotiations to have the reforms implemented. We need a lifting of the ban on the twice-selected prime minister and a level playing field for all.
So we're not trying to bail out a military dictator by saying we will come there on your terms. What we are seeking is a compromise that could help bring about a stable, democratic, civilian order in Pakistan. And it's for the people of Pakistan then to vote in the party or the leaders they would like to see lead them.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in a compromise, of course, both sides have to give. What did you tell him you were willing to give? Were you willing to, for instance, support him and have your party support him in the presidential election in the parliament?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: There are going to be two presidential elections. The first presidential election is going to take place in September, when General Musharraf is still wearing the uniform. And I made it very clear that it's not possible for my party to vote for a uniformed president. General Musharraf understands that.
But if the elections are fair, and we have a level playing field, and he seeks re-election from the next assembly, then certainly the parliament can consider that, if the uniform is not there and the elections have been fair.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you also asking the corruption charges against you and your husband be dropped?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, those corruption charges obviously have to go, not just against myself or my husband, but against the holders of public office who have been persecuted for a very long time with no end in sight. For example, there's no corruption charge proved against my husband or myself or against so many others who are our supporters or supporters of the democratic movement. So how much more of taxpayers' money is going to go to fund a witch hunt?
General Musharraf recognizes this. He says he wants internal reconciliation, and he says, as part of the internal reconciliation, he is considering indemnity for holders of public office prior to a certain date.
U.S. relations with Pakistan
MARGARET WARNER: How active has the United States been in helping to mediate this deal and helping to push it along?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: There's no great U.S. plot, as speculated in some of the Pakistan press, to put together General Musharraf and the Pakistan People's Party. But, certainly, the United States has a key interest in the stability of Pakistan, which is a key ally in the war against terrorism, and instability in Pakistan impacts on NATO troops in nearby Afghanistan, as well as the war on terrorism.
So we keep them briefed. And they're certainly engaged with all the political parties in Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif's party and mine, met Assistant Secretary of State Boucher when he visited Islamabad. And they would like to see it facilitated, transferred to a democracy if it's possible. But they're leaving it to the people of the Pakistan, and they're leaving it to the players involved.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that President Musharraf is doing all he could to battle extremists, both in the territories, the tribal areas, and also in Pakistan itself?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: General Musharraf is working through a set or a team of people, and I think that that team has certainly failed to stop terrorism, and I think not enough has been done. In fact, I've been deeply worried about what sometimes appears to me collusion between members of the cabinet and the militants.
For example, a very brave police officer intercepted a militant smuggling weapons into Islamabad for the Red Mosque. He arrested the man, but one of the captured ministers interfered and got the man bailed out, not bailed out even, just released without a court procedure.
So it really worries me that there are all these people, from the top of my country right down to the shores of the Arabian ocean, who keep blocking the process of stemming terrorism, so, in fact, it's spread. It's spread its tentacles all over this country. In 2002, the tribal areas were under Pakistan's command, but now it's under the authority of the pro-Taliban forces. So I don't think enough has been done.
MARGARET WARNER: So why would a future government that might have you as prime minister, with General Musharraf still as -- or President Musharraf still as president, be any better in combating terrorism and extremism?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, it would be no better if the same constitution dispensation existed, so one of the discussion points with General Musharraf is a balance of power between the parliament and the presidency. We don't want to end up in a powerless parliament that does not stop militancy.
And what we're negotiating for are certain changes that will empower the parliament to take on the militants, without being destabilized by elements of the security apparatus, who do not wish to see the terrorists and the extremists contained. Without the redefinition of the powers, I don't think the Pakistan People's Party would be interested in coming up just as a decoration piece.
Acting on al-Qaida
MARGARET WARNER: Now, some Bush administration officials, including the White House spokesman, have suggested that, if Pakistan didn't do enough on its own to take action against al-Qaida figures in those areas, that the U.S. would consider acting on its own. What would be the consequences of that?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I don't support any unauthorized military action that violates Pakistan's sovereignty. But at the same time, I recognize that, unless the government of Pakistan is able to take control of its own territories, Pakistan will face the danger of outside military strikes.
So I think it's important for Pakistan to defend its own sovereignty by making sure that it can control the tribal areas. Tribal areas are part of Pakistan. And if it's part of Pakistan, our law must be supreme there. Instead, we're signing cease-fires and peace treaties. And we're actually, in a sense, handing over our property, our territory to outside forces.
So that worries me as a Pakistani, because I feel my nation's territorial integrity is under threat. I feel that the militants are slowly going to try and take away bits of Pakistani's territory.
So it's not just an American problem. I understand the American frustration. But there's also a great degree of frustration within Pakistan that we face a civil war-like situation. And we must stop the terrorists and extremists; otherwise, they're going to just go on expanding their influence.
MARGARET WARNER: So back to the immediate future. How much more time are you going to let elapse before you conclude that General Musharraf, in fact, is not serious about sharing power?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: I've shared with General Musharraf that my party is getting very upset, because the election is around the corner, and that, by the end of this month, we really need to know where we stand. We either have a package or we don't have a package. And if we have a package, well then, we need the measures that we've agreed upon to come into play.
MARGARET WARNER: And so what if there isn't a package, what do you do then?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: If there isn't a package, I still intend to go back to Pakistan and campaign for my party and do the best I can with the other moderate political parties in the country to try and bring about a transition. I hope it doesn't come to a breakdown in the negotiations between General Musharraf and the PPP, but at the end of the day, we can't afford to be contaminated by his unpopularity without getting the prize for democracy.
MARGARET WARNER: And what would happen if he tried to impose emergency rule? Could he do it?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: He could try to impose emergency rule, but in my view, it will be knocked down by the courts. So any course of emergency or military rule will complicate the issue inside Pakistan, create greater uncertainty, and I think that it would be absolutely detrimental to Pakistan's stability for General Musharraf to do that. It will be far better for him to leave the country than to put us onto a path that can lead to a confrontation with the people and the courts.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you risk arrest if you go back without a deal?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, the state can always try and hinder my return by trying to arrest me, but our courts have become more independent since the restoration of the chief justice of Pakistan to the Supreme Court. And I'm quite confident that there are no major obstacles to my being able to return to Pakistan.
MARGARET WARNER: What's to keep General Musharraf from just toughing it out, getting himself re-elected by the current parliament, keeping his uniform?
BENAZIR BHUTTO: I don't think that General Musharraf's own self-interest lies in toughening it out. He saw when he toughened it out with the chief justice of Pakistan that he didn't win that battle. And if he tries to tough out the next few weeks by seeking re-election, breaking with the political parties, not seeking a transition, then I think he might end up losing that battle.
So the job that he has, also, is to tell the nation that, "I support the democratic process, I'm willing to give up some of the powers the presidency has enjoyed to the parliament, I'm willing to make a new start through internal reconciliation."
MARGARET WARNER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks for being with us.
BENAZIR BHUTTO: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret will travel to Pakistan later this week, and her reports on the situation there will air the week of Labor Day.