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Sangat Interview: Pakistan needs democracy for peace: Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Here’s an exclusive interview of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, I did for quarterly Sangat in 2002. If you deem it fit, may publish it on LUBP. It may have some value even today.(Aziz Narejo)

Demands commission to probe rigging junta’s role in formation of Govts in center and Sindh. Speaks of differences between people and ruling generals. Says: fight over water can lead to the break up of countries.

An Exclusive interview with ‘Sangat’

The Chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party, Ms. Benazir Bhutto has said despite rigging in the October elections, her party was in a position to form governments in the center and Sindh but the government used unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic measures with the help of intelligence agencies and a para military force to keep PPP out. The twice-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan demanded the formation of a commission to examine the rigging of the elections of 2002 where, as she said, the results were changed after the ballots were cast. She also demanded a Commission to inquire into the illegal behavior of the Presidency, the intelligence and the Rangers in creating the Nab-zada group of defectors.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Aziz Narejo, Editor, Sangat USA-Canada, she said the defectors of the party have colluded with the military dictator for personal benefit or out of fear. She said if they had a conscience, they could have resigned on policy differences with the Party.

On civil-military relations, she said there are major policy differences between the people and the ruling generals. The leader of Pakistan’s most popular political party said that since General Zia, the thinking amongst the ruling Generals has been to have an ideological army that spreads Islam while the people believe in peaceful borders. They believe the success stories are countries that build economic and social strength.

In reply to a question, Ms. Bhutto said she stands for maximum autonomy for the provinces according to MRD decisions. She said if people give her party required majority in the Parliament, she would make constitutional changes.

On water issue, she said PPP supports the constitution in ensuring that water issues are settled equitably and to the comfort of all the federating units. She expressed the hope that the fair people in all the provinces will unite to stop the unfair water distribution. She cautioned that fights over water can lead to the break up of countries.

For the future of democracy, she says ‘we need to change the curriculum of the armed forces and let our young officers have access to the Hamood ur Rahman Commission as well as the United Nations Human Rights Commission….The goal of our armed forces should be to strengthen democracy’. She says democracy must be given a chance if Pakistan is to emerge as a vibrant and vital society developing and progressing with its people.

Here is complete text of the interview:

AN: Mohtarma, what are your comments on the recently held elections in Pakistan and the formation of governments in the center and the provinces?

BB: In the words of the European Union the elections were flawed. Human Rights Watch noted that the decks were stacked against the democratic forces. Despite the rigging, PPP was in a position to form the government in the center and Sindh. The assembly sessions were unconstitutionally postponed to stop the PPP. The Presidency aided by the intelligence and the para military force known as the Rangers formed the defectors group. This was undemocratic and illegal. Many parliamentarians were threatened as well as offered bribes.

We need a Commission to examine the rigging of the elections of 2002 where the results were changed after the ballots were cast. We also need a Commission to inquire into the illegal behavior of the Presidency, the intelligence and the Rangers in creating the Nab-zada group of defectors. This is one way to promote democracy in the country and save it from the clutches of dictatorship.

AN: Mohtarma, what is the cause of the defection of a large number of PPP MNAs, especially from the Southern Punjab? Some of the defectors have blamed the leadership of the party for their disenchantment.

BB: Yes, the defectors blame the leadership of the Party for their disenchantment. The Party rejects such claims. The defectors took the Party votes and ditched the Party to collude with a military dictator for personal benefit or out of fear of the pressures that could bear on them. Had they a conscience they could have resigned on policy differences with the Party.

AN: Mohtarma, some people say the PPP has to share the blame for its failure to form a government in the center, in coalition with ARD parties and MMA. Is it true? Or let us put it this way: What is the truth behind the allegations that the PPP avoided to enter into a coalition with MMA under some foreign pressure?

BB: Its incorrect that the PPP avoided to enter into a coalition with the MMA under foreign pressure. The PPP does have policy differences with the MMA on a wide range of issues including foreign policy, gender issues, minority rights and free entertainment choices. The MMA was unprepared to back the PPP, which did have the larger numbers. Hence the parting of ways. However, in Sindh, the MMA was prepared to back the larger party and a vote swap on speaker’s election did take place.

AN: Mohtarma, what was the nature of PPP-Government talks? Why they couldn’t succeed?

BB: The dialogue failed because the regime wanted to keep the PPP out. The regime did not want to accept the verdict of the people, which was for the PPP. Every Gallup poll showed it. Without the PPP no government could be formed. We held the balance of votes. The regime unconstitutionally postponed the Parliament session to break up the PPP strength.

AN: Madam, many people feel that there is a void in the country and the junta is virtually unchallenged and free to carry out its repressive and undemocratic policies? Why ARD, of which your party is a major component, has not been able to effectively mobilize the masses?

BB: It is a good question as to why the ARD was unable to mobilize the masses. It certainly has tried to do so. Perhaps part of it is that the newspapers can carry more opposition news in contrast to the censorship of the past. This allows a certain ventilation of political grievances. Ultimately, its the people who can overthrow the government through street demonstrations.

AN: Mohtarma, you have been Prime Minister of the country twice. And on both the occasions, you were not allowed to complete your term in the office? Why did that happen? What do you think are the causes for the destabilization of democratic governments in the country? How do you think such things can be avoided in future?

BB: There are major policy differences between the people and the ruling Generals. Since General Zia, the thinking amongst the ruling Generals has been to have an ideological army that spreads Islam. The people believe in peaceful borders believing the success stories are countries that build economic and social strength.

AN: Mohtarma, there is an MRD decision on record calling for maximum autonomy for the provinces. You have been Prime Minister twice. Why couldn’t you take measures to fulfill that pledge? What measures would you take if you come to power again?

AN: Yes, the PPP and the MRD parties are committed to maximum autonomy. I stand by it today. I need the people to give the PPP under my leadership a two thirds majority to make the constitutional changes possible.

AN: Mohtarma, people of Sindh are facing monumental economic, social, political and cultural problems. No major project has been started there since the first PPP government in the 1970s? (The projects planned by your governments, like the Thar Coal Power Plant and others were scrapped by the successive governments). Many people have lost all the hope and are committing suicides at an alarming rate (rate of suicides in Sindh is higher than that of all the other provinces combined). How do you think this situation can be changed and some hope can be inculcated in the people?

BB: The rights of a people are connected to the development of democracy. Unless there is democracy and the rule of law, the colonial treatment of the people will continue as will the ethnic prejudice. Ethnic prejudice is so rampant that the establishment refuses to hold a proper census. If all Pakistanis are considered equal citizens, there should be little problem with holding a census. The struggle for emancipation from dictatorship must continue and PPP needs your support to have the October fraud rejected. Pakistan needs democracy for peace, ending terrorism and giving people a better standard of life. Democracy means elections under an impartial administration, an independent election commission, proper electoral rules and a proper vote count and announcement system.

AN: Mohtarma, due to an acute shortage of water, agriculture has suffered tremendously in Sindh. People in Sindh have been demanding to follow the 1991 water accord. Three provincial assemblies had passed resolutions against the Kalabagh Dam. But the present government is avoiding to follow the 91′ accord and carrying out plans to construct Akhori-Sanjwal Dams, with larger combined storage capacity than Kalabagh, against the wishes of the people of Sindh and has also undertaken to construct an illegal Thal Canal? How do you think PPP can help the people of Sindh in this and avoid an unprecedented human catastrophe?

BB: PPP supports the constitution in ensuring that water issues are settled equitably and to the comfort of all the federating units. Unfortunately, the constitution and the democratic rights are trampled making for a difficult situation. I hope that the fair people in all the provinces will unite to stop the unfair water distribution. Fights over water can lead to the break up of countries.

AN: Mohtarma, there is a long-standing, popular demand by the people of the four provinces to make their respective languages, i.e., Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi as national languages of Pakistan along with Urdu. What is your party’s stand on that demand?

BB: The PPP believes that there is no conflict between the promotion of regional languages and Urdu. Indeed the Party is committed to the promotion of all regional languages and cultures as a vehicle for the promotion of greater unity, understanding and harmony between peoples.

AN: Mohtarma, do you see a democratic culture developing in Pakistan? Do you see any hope of a democratic government in Pakistan in near future? How do you think that dream can come true? What is your vision for Pakistan?

BB: A democratic culture can emerge if we change our attitudes. For this we need to change the curriculum of the armed forces and let our bright young officers have access to the Hamood ur Rahman Commission as well as the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In Thailand, the goal of the army is to promote democracy. This must be made the goal of our armed forces too. Democracy must be given a chance if Pakistan is to emerge as a vibrant and vital society developing and progressing with its people.

AN: Mohtarma, as you may be aware, the United States Government has put Pakistan on the list of the countries, whose nationals have to register with the INS. Many Pakistanis are extremely apprehensive as they fear that they may be discriminated against, arrested or even deported. Do you think you can approach the appropriate US authorities and ask for removal of Pakistan from that list?

BB: I am concerned about the siege mentality, which is developing amongst Pakistanis with the new rules in place by the INS. I understand that America must take every precaution to protect its citizens and its territory. I wrote President Bush on this matter asking that the inclusion of Pakistanis be reviewed given Islamabad’s role as an ally. I am concerned that the inability of the Musharraf regime to stop the Taliban and Al Qaeda escaping from Tora Bora and the rise of religious parties under the Generals has given our fair country a negative image. Today the Pakistanis as a whole are paying the price for a dictatorship that is unable to enforce the writ of state and give confidence to its own people or the larger world community about its ability to ensure security.

About the author

Ali Arqam

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  • There is not doubt that democracy has suffered long in this country is a bitter truth. It must now be given a chance. The crooks in the infamous establishment never want it to flourish in Pakistan. Here I would again repeat the common saying that the worst democracy is always better than the finest dictatorship. Today we see the people who are now out of parliament mainly due to their own whims at loggerheads with the democratic government. The president has been made the main excuse to derail the system. We cannot say that this democratic government is free of ills. But it must be given the time to prove its credibility. Only the people of Pakistan are sovereign and they must be allowed to hold their elected government accountable. Non-democratic forces and their proxies have no right to rush to destabilize the government.