Monday, Sep 25, 2023

'I Hope Islamabad Has Learnt From The Past'

'I Hope Islamabad Has Learnt From The Past'

The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, currently 'in exile' in London on the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan and the internal and external pressures on Musharraf.


The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The topic of the programme was - Can the establishment of Pakistan be trusted for friendly relations with India?

Nagendar Sharma: Leaders of India and Pakistan have entered a new phase in normalising relations between the two

countries. How sincere are the efforts this time in your view?

Benazir Bhutto: My understanding is that leaders of both the countries are under tremendous pressure from the people of South Asia. This region has serious problems which need to be addressed immediately – poverty, unemployment. A common man thinks that till the time these problems are not addressed, this region would be left behind in the 21st century. It is this pressure which has given a new hope of friendly relations between India and Pakistan.

Nagendar Sharma: How sincere is the present establishment of Pakistan in restoring friendly relations with India?

Benazir Bhutto: I hope that this establishment in Pakistan has learnt lessons from the past. Earlier too, the Indian Prime Minister had made efforts to make peace with Pakistan with his bus diplomacy and Agra Summit. Unfortunately, both failed, and I am extremely sorry to say that the media, newspapers and intellectuals blamed my country for failures on both occasions. But now I hope that Islamabad has learnt from the past, and the efforts being made by Gen. Musharraf could yield good results, and my hope is based on the reason that peace is the need of present times.

BBC listener from Singapore : Despite 55 years since Independence, Pakistan has been under the control of military dictators majority of the time. One Prime Minister was hanged in the past, and now two former Prime Ministers cannot enter the country. Is this because Pakistan has been obsessed with Kashmir and anti-India-ism ? Do you think Gen Musharraf would restore a civilian government, or would he meet the same fate as that of his military ruler predecessors?

Benazir Bhutto: There has been an impression that due to tension in the region, the armed forces in Pakistan have managed a considerable political clout, and therefore the democratic forces could not become strong. But now I hope, all this would become a part of history soon. So far, as Gen Musharraf is concerned, he has been under great pressure to start peace talks with India, I hope these efforts would reach some logical conclusion. When the democratic process would be restored in Pakistan, only at that time would I be satisfied that a political consensus would lead to a durable peace process. In this regard, I have appealed to the Musharraf regime to allow both the exiled former Prime Ministers to return to the country and be a part of the peace process, so that the world can see this as a sincere effort of the army, civilian rule and people of all the four states of Pakistan, and not merely as a tactical manoeuvre.

Nagendar Sharma: You hope that the efforts being made by Gen Musharraf would be successful; were the democratic governments in Pakistan in the past reluctant to have normal ties with India?

Benazir Bhutto: This world witnesses different scenarios and situations with the changing times. When the Berlin Wall was pulled down, a ray of hope arose that the people in other regions with similar walls could unite. It was at that time in 1989, when it was felt that the struggle and sacrifices of Kashmiri people should be highlighted at an international level. People were being killed on both sides – Kashmiri struggle and Indian army. Then in 2000-1. after the attack on WTC, the world saw another change, at that time the sympathy with such struggles and especially with the use of force ceased to exist. So it is the timing at a particular juncture that is important.

Nagendar Sharma: You mentioned the pressure on Gen Musharraf for peace talks with India. Who is pressuring him ?

Benazir Bhutto: He is under pressure from the entire world. On one hand is the internal pressure and, on the other is the external pressure. Washington clearly told Gen Musharraf to ban the militant groups within Pakistan. He promised to do so two years ago, but those groups started operating under different names. The US again told him that it was naming those groups as terror organisations, and they be banned, he says he would do it now, so he is under pressure from all sides.

BBC listener from Dubai : It has been 55 years now since the two countries have been fighting over territory and Kashmir. This time was the first, when both talked serious business, and decided to put controversial issues behind. You have ruled over Pakistan, tell us how much can the Musharraf regime be trusted, and does this regime have the power to implement what it promises?

Benazir Bhutto: The issue of trust is an extremely delicate one when we talk about Indo-Pak relations. We have to be clear that no particular individual can remain in power forever, and has to finally go one day. My understanding is, for Pakistan to be trusted internationally, there would have to be political consensus internally. Even if, today we were to say that a particular leader is sincere, the fact is that he would not be there forever, and remember individual decisions are temporary, and not long-lasting. I feel that the people of South Asia are not ready to be cheated once again, we have to seize this opportunity and have an internal political consensus on the peace efforts with India.

BBC listener from Gujarat: In today’s scenario, especially after 9/11 and the Iraq war, things have changed, and Gen Musharraf is accepted internationally. What is your and Nawaz Sharif’s political future?

Benazir Bhutto: You are right, both of us are out of the political process of the country. General Musharraf has himself been saying that the opposition in the National Assembly takes directions from those out of the country. If the opposition leadership is out of the country, then what sort of democracy is there in Pakistan? I think it cannot be restored like this. Recently, General Musharraf sought a vote of confidence, he did not win that also. He struck an alliance with the MMA, and despite that had to resort to wrong counting.

In Pakistan, the assemblies of the state have equal votes, but this time it was not the case, Punjab assembly was given more votes to ensure Musharraf’s victory. Since we are out of the country, the civilian institutions are not being allowed to function properly, and the state of affairs is such that a powerful military ruler cannot win a vote of confidence, he has to resort to wrong practices to claim victory. Only on our return can things improve in Pakistan. Last time also, when I returned during General Zia’s tenure, there was not a democratically elected government in Pakistan. Now I am looking for a chance to return to my country and serve the people.

See, the situation in Pakistan is very complex at the moment. On one hand, rights of people have been snatched, and on the other, political leaders are facing persecution. Due to the situation in Afghanistan, General Musharraf was able to cosy up to Washington, and has been able to divert attention from the internal situation in Pakistan. But I, and Mian Nawaz Sharif want to return to Pakistan. Maybe both of us go together, maybe we go separately. As far as I am concerned, I am definitely planning my return.

BBC listener from Islamabad: Madam, you have blamed the previous governments of Pakistan for failures at Lahore and Agra, which is wrong. How can you be critical of General Musharraf who is supported by 99 percent Pakistanis, you are not in touch with reality as you have been out since last five-six years now.

Benazir Bhutto: Supporters of General Musharraf think I have no credibility and he has the support of the majority of people in Pakistan. But the real situation is different. If his referendum was fair, then why did European Union and other international bodies raise questions on it? If the General really had support, why did he have to rig the referendum? These are questions which have not been answered so far. Nawaz Sharif was my political rival, and the Lahore bus diplomacy took place during his tenure, and that very time Kargil was being planned. 

You can point a finger and say I am wrong in saying that Pakistan was blamed for previous failures – Lahore and Agra. But in the eye of the world, the overwhelming opinion is – it was due to Kargil that the bus diplomacy failed. I feel that the political leadership has the skills and experience to deal with different situations successfully.

BBC listener from Allahabad: Can India hope for better relations with Pakistan, given the interference of army in every sphere of life, and the influence it has on the present government in Islamabad?

Benazir Bhutto: It is a fact that the army has interfered tremendously in the politics of Pakistan. Just have a look at the history of Indo-Pak relations. The two countries have fought three wars against each other, and during all three wars, there was a military ruler in Pakistan. On the other hand, look at civilian governments, after the Shimla Agreement, there was no war between the two countries, this was a political achievement.

Now look at the recent past, after the PPP government was destabilised in 1996, both the countries were close to another war on at least three occasions. Washington, London, different Muslim countries and even other neighbours in South Asia had to intervene to prevent the two nations from going to war against each other. Therefore, civilian governments bring peace, and it is a harsh reality that the military rule in Pakistan has not been able to build friendly relations with India.

Nagendar Sharma: But Madam, at the moment, peace efforts are being made by a military ruler...

Benazir Bhutto: Yes the efforts are being made, and I hope they would be successful. But if political consensus is not evolved in Pakistan, it would mean these efforts are temporary, and it is being done under international pressure. You do not know what would be the situation tomorrow, therefore, I repeat, without political consensus, you do not know of the outcome.

BBC listener from Roorkee: Are Indo-Pak talks under any compulsion or is it an emotional issue for both sides. Why do both countries move and then stop suddenly ?

Benazir Bhutto: You are right, both the sides have raised hopes and then suddenly the peace process has stopped. Even now, there are certain doubts, that the hopes could be misplaced and, suddenly any development could spoil the entire show.

But, I feel that let us not be held captive by the past. I could have easily said India should not talk to General Musharraf, as he is a military dictator, but I did not say so, because peace is so important for South Asia, that let us all keep the differences and rifts aside and give a momentum to the peace process. That is why I have welcomed the peace process, and let us now give a positive spin to the process. When we talk of a positive peace process, we should not make it an individual peace process, it should be a broad based, institutional process.

BBC listener from Saudi Arabia: Madam, you are a leader of a political party, why don’t you go to Pakistan to fight your cases and fight for democracy, what are you achieving by sitting in London ?

Benazir Bhutto: I am in exile. See, the conspiracy bazaar is hot in Pakistan at the moment. These people would not allow me to do politics, meet my people and serve the country. They would like to see that my entire time goes in courts, one day in Karachi, other day in Lahore and so on. Therefore I am in exile.

Every day I am looking for a chance to return to my country, and serve my people. I hope the day of my return would come very soon, and you would hear in Saudi Arabia, that I have returned back home. I would definitely go back one day.

BBC listener from Meerut: Whoever may rule in Pakistan, whether it be civilian rule or military, nobody is sincere in relations with India. When you were on chair, you also did not make any sincere attempt to have friendly relations with India. Why is it so?

Benazir Bhutto: There is a big constituency inside and outside Pakistan, which thinks that till the time the Kashmir issue is resolved, relations with India cannot be normalised. We have to keep this constituency in control, and send a message to Kashmiris that they are not being ignored.

So far as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is concerned, our stand is that the two countries should first concentrate on confidence building measures, as both of them would not agree on Kashmir, due to huge difference in the stand.

We feel once confidence building is done and friendship is there, then contentious issues could be solved. When I was the Prime Minister, I agreed with Rajiv Gandhi on trade, and both of us agreed that the two countries would not attack each other’s nuclear facilities.


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