June 05, 2020
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"I Cannot Be Politically Eliminated From Pakistan"

In her first interview to an Indian publication after her dismissal, Benazir Bhutto accuses President Farooq Leghari of using intelligence agencies to victimise herbut declines to answer any questions on Indo-Pak ties. Excerpts from an interview to

"I Cannot Be Politically Eliminated From Pakistan"
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Your petition has been rejected twice by the Supreme Court on technical grounds. Now with an amended petition due for hearing, do you still expect a favourable verdict?

The Supreme Court must uphold the rule of law. It cannot discriminate against a prime minister from one province and a prime minister from another. They restored Nawaz Sharif’s government through a full court, they must give a full court hearing to my petition. This country cannot be run on the basis of discrimination. And people at places of responsibility must recognise the repercussions. Sharif was asked to choose a hand-picked prime minister (to run the interim government in 1993). There was a neutral administration and he was given a fair chance in the elections. Here, sworn enemies of the Bhutto family, sworn enemies of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been roped in. A secretary who was sacked by my government for negligence has been put in charge of the Election Commission to ensure that the elections are rigged. My close associates are being victimised. This is all being done because I cannot be politically eliminated from Pakistan’s scene.

Do you think the Supreme Court is biased?

I would like the full court to give me a hearing. Of course, it’s up to the chief justice. But when I was a student, I was told that one judgement can only be overturned by a larger bench and not by a smaller bench. (For Nawaz Sharif there was an 11-member bench. Now there is a seven-member bench.) In the past the military was used to crush political leaders. They say now that the tactics have changed and other institutions will be used to crush political leaders.

Why are you asking President Farooq Leghari to step down before the February elections?

If he thinks that the assembly that elected him was not fit to govern, he too is not fit to govern. He is a creation of that assembly. Let the people decide whether Leghari’s action was correct or wrong. Let him not be in a position to influence the courts. Let him not be in a position to ask the intelligence agencies to go on a witch-hunt. To torture people, to hold them in solitary confinement, to threaten them, to fabricate false cases. Let the people of Pakistan decide whether he was right or whether I was right.

If this is not accepted, will you boycott the elections?

I think it is too premature to answer because as far as we are concerned, we are looking for the restoration of the assembly.

To what extent was the army involved in the action against your administration?

I think the army would have liked the president and the prime minister to have worked out their difficulties. I think the army would have even played a mediatory role, so that there would be no political disruption. But the president was keen to throw me out because two years are left for elections. He doesn’t have a political base and wanted to seize the PPP. So he kept on telling me there was nothing wrong. He was a nobody whom I picked up. He is a creation of the PPP and he didn’t want to be dependent on me. Next time around, he wanted to pick the prime minister.

But you say the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was involved in the arrest of your husband Asif Zardari?

Yes, the president ordered them to arrest my husband. In fact, he was kidnapped. Because you have to be arrested with a warrant. The ISI was ordered to pick my husband up, fly him in a military helicopter to a safe house and hold him incommunicado for 48 hours. The president also ordered the army out to surround the prime minister’s house and the National Assembly. He wanted to demonstrate to the people that he had the military’s backing. But I think after that the military has tried to keep a distance from the political events. They issued a clarification that they had nothing to do with the postings and transfers and I think they are trying to stay neutral in a very difficult situation.

Critics hold Zardari responsible for your downfall.

If my opponents were against my husband, they could have rejected us in an election. I feel that the president ordered the intelligence agencies to launch a smear campaign similar to the one launched by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Even I used to get intelligence reports which were preposterous. If the president acted on the basis of such preposterous reports, what can one say? For instance, the TV announced that my husband was trying to smuggle 15 tonnes of gold worth Rs 2 billion. It was not true, customs officials denied it the next day. Gold is not smuggled from Pakistan; it’s the other way round. They said the Gwader port had been sold by us. It was not true. But people believed it because when you tell the intelligence agencies to spread something, they spread it from Peshawar to Lahore to Karachi, to Tokyo, to London, to Washington. And everybody hears the same thing.

So if the president wants to run a nation through the intelligence agencies, what is the politician to do, what is Parliament to do? Foreign policy it can’t look after, economy it cannot look after and, as far as popularly elected leaders are concerned, it is the job of the intelligence agencies to run them. I presented an anti-corruption bill to the assembly and said look at the State Bank figures, 97 per cent of the corrupt people aren’t politicians. The law that the president has brought in doesn’t touch those 97 per cent. I have asked the question, when are you going to arrest the bank defaulters who owe Rs 90 billion? The president’s adviser on finance, I am told, a World Bank servant, is a defaulter. Is he going to recover the money? I haven’t taken the loan from Pakistani banks. I was brought up in an elite family, I prefer to go to prison because I have my convictions. But I don’t know how you can fight intelligence agencies. I don’t know how you can fight people when they are determined to smear your name. Let’s say, if something against my cabinet colleagues or my husband was correct, if 90 per cent of what you hear was utter rot, then you become even sceptical about the 10 per cent that may be true.

But certainly your government made some mistakes to prompt the president’s action?

Who is the president to take action? He was elected on a mandate to support parliamentary democracy. Can one man decide that he is a teacher and the people’s assemblies are naughty little students and that you rap them on their knuckles? Is that how America works? Is that how India works? Is that how Bangladesh works? In eight years we have had four assemblies. In eight years presidents have killed four Parliaments.

And in eight years they have made the same ridiculous charges. The Karachi situation, corruption, that the assemblies are bad. Is it that all the parliamentarians are bad? How is it that they are not bad in Bangladesh or India? How is it that they are just venal in Pakistan? This is an insult to the people of Pakistan. One man has no right to sack the government and one man has no right to tell the intelligence agencies to go and blacken the name of the prime minister and the parliamentarians all over the world because he wants international opinion to justify his one-man action.

Many people believe there is little hope for you to return to power a third time.

That’s what they said when they overthrew my father. They still haven’t learnt a lesson. The fact of the matter is that we can’t be politically defeated. We have won every single election or they have to be rigged or they have to be postponed. People support us because we tried to redress the hardship that they were facing. Even the president knows that I am popular. If he (did not), he would have an independent election secretary and an independent caretaker regime and say, "Oh, look you, it’s a fair election." But when he loads the dice against my party and starts arresting my partymen, it shows he is frightened of my political strength. It shows that he and all those around him are so deeply concerned that they have launched a witch-hunt. That’s why I say it’s wrong. It was wrong to disrupt democracy. It was wrong to try and take away the right of the people of Pakistan to elect their leaders and determine their future. It is wrong to try and rig an election, which the president is trying to do.

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