Benazir Bhutto talks to Sir David Frost
Sir David Frost: More than 100 people have died in violence across Pakistan since Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, suspended the country's chief-justice in March. Last week we heard from the exiled former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, that he wants to return to Pakistan to restore political democracy, possibly with his former rival Benazir Bhutto; another two time former prime minister. Benazir Bhutto joins me now from Dubai, where she too lives in exile, though not Benazir for long you hope, because you said you hope to go back to Pakistan by the end of this year?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes David, I would like to go back to Pakistan later this year. We have general elections scheduled for 2007. Mr Nawaz Sharif and I both hope to be able to participate in those elections. And we feel that if we are not allowed to participate in the elections then they will not be credible. 

DF: And at the same time in terms of going back, there was news that we just got here an hour ago, good news for you. The Times of India says: "Pakistan government withdraws case against Benazir in Swiss court. Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau has withdrawn from a 150million corruption case against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and two others in a Swiss court."  That is good news and that makes it easier for you to go back?

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BB: David that would be good news if it was true. But unfortunately it is not. There has been an optical illusion created through a series of disinformation and stories to the media, and no case has been withdrawn from Switzerland. There isn't even a case charging with the 150 million in Switzerland. 

So I really think that there are elements who want to create the impression that an agreement has been arrived at between the Pakistan People's Party and the military, with a view to divide the opposition and with the view perhaps to create a perception of some reconciliation. 

I think those cases should be withdrawn. I believe it is wrong to pursue cases that are unproven, and that deny my party and myself a level playing field. But the day is still to come for those charges to be dropped.

DF: That is fascinating. But at the same time, as you have also said but people have said, you and all your representatives have had discussions with President Musharraf, or his representatives, about some form of co-operation after the election, and at the same time you have then said that those are on hold because of the recent violence and in particular the 42 people who died in Karachi. Are those two parts of that paragraph correct? 

BB: Yes that is definitely correct. I believe that it is very important for negotiations to take place to facilitate a transition to democracy. And because my party is very keen to facilitate the transition from dictatorship to democracy we have had contacts with the regime, but unfortunately those contacts have not borne fruit. 

And following the violence that took place in Karachi on May 12th, when 48 people were killed in one day, it became totally inappropriate for us to talk about any understanding with the present regime; there is a lot of anger.  

But having said that, and while there is no deal with the present regime, I do think that it is important for the moderate forces to unite to undermine religious militancy and extremism in my country.

DF: And in fact you would not rule out there being some form of co-operation with Musharraf later when this inappropriate phase has passed if it was something that would lead to democracy?

BB: If there is a transition to democracy certainly we could look at it. But my concern is that General Musharraf's regime is still living very much in the past. For example the crisis in Pakistan has been generated with the sacking of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the country, who is now suspended. 

My party feels that the regime is allowing this tension or this crisis in the country to continue. It could simply reinstate the chief justice and diffuse the crisis. But it is not doing that, because it still believes that it can get away with undermining the judiciary. And that worries me, because a strong judiciary is so very essential to the functioning of a truly democratic system.

DF: And in terms of a democratic system, could you and Mr Nawaz Sharif go back to Pakistan if President Musharraf kept saying no?

BB: Well Mr Nawaz Sharif and I both plan to return to Pakistan. 

I must say David I was deeply disappointed when General Musharraf said a week ago that he would stop Mr Nawaz Sharif and myself from returning. But I believe there is a growing ground swell that believes that by isolating the top leadership of the two main moderate parties in the country Pakistan is falling deeper into a crisis. 

And I was certainly encouraged by a letter written a couple of months back by four US senators that called for fair elections to be held, and called also for Mr Nawaz Sharif and myself to be allowed to participate in those elections. 

The British high commissioner, Robert Brinkley, also made some very important statements relating to the restoration of democracy. So I feel that within Pakistan, and also in the international community, there is a growing realisation that to undermine the forces of religious extremism and to deliver to the people of Pakistan it is very important to restore democracy.

DF: Yes I read somewhere that in the last election the Islamist vote was about 12 per cent or something. Do you think it would be bigger or smaller than that in the election later this year, assuming you are both fighting it?

BB: I believe that the Islamist parties have certainly weakened; they have formed two governments in the Frontier and the Baluchistan provinces. But they have not been able to deliver to the people so there is a great degree of disenchantment with regard to them. 

The Islamists also supported General Musharraf's passage of certain very unpopular laws that denied parliament its true representation and strengthen the presidency. So they have lost ground. And if the elections are fair and free I do not see the Islamists doing well at all. 

DF: And would the two of you, you and Mr Nawaz Sharif as the democratic figures, would you vote, would you campaign more, would you campaign together as a joint party or as two separate parties, and how would you work out who would be prime minister?

BB: Well Mr Nawaz Sharif and I are together in alliance for the restoration of democracy, and both of us have pledged to the people of Pakistan that this is not just about the change of political leadership in the country but it is about changing the political system itself. And in changing the political system we are aiming at empowering the people. So we have pledged, irrespective of which one of us is in government or in opposition, of supporting a series of legislation aimed at reforming the judiciary, the election commission, the political institutions of the country. 

Now we will campaign separately, because both of us want to use our own party symbols in the election campaign. But I am expecting us to reach some kind of local adjustment at the grass roots level. And I am very delighted with Gallup polls, that presently show that the Pakistan People's Party is the most popular party in the country, and that were Mr Nawaz Sharif and I to work together our joint coalition would win the elections hands down.

DF: Right and one part of the constitution you have also got to change haven't you is in order for either of you to have a third term, because theoretically two terms is the maximum isn't it? How long would it take to change that?

BB: Certainly we need to lift the ban on the twice elected prime minister seeking a third term.  Now while discussing the transition of democracy with the present regime this is also an issue that has come up, because we feel that there ought to be a balance of power between the president and the parliamentary leader. 

In this connection democracy in Pakistan was destabilised in the 1990s, because the president had the power to remove a prime minister. I mean one president after another kept sacking one parliament after another. 

Now we want to be different in the future, and this is the reason both Nawaz Sharif and the People's Party have agreed on lifting the ban on the twice elected prime minister from contesting a third time, as well as doing away with the dismissal powers. And with the present regime and General Musharraf too, I think the reason the transition is important is for the people to have their say. It is very important that the balance between president and parliament be restored.

DF: And if you become prime minister again for a third time Benazir, would you, in terms of the US 'war on terror', would you support that 'war on terror' more than President Musharraf or less?

BB: I certainly hope that we would be able to more successfully pursue the goals than General Musharraf has been able to do. 

My party is deeply distressed at the fact that key areas in the tribal region of Pakistan has been ceded to the pro-Taliban elements through a peace treaty. We do not believe in that peace treaty, and certainly that peace treaty would go. 

We feel that the terrorists and the extremists are not only a threat to the international community but they are also a threat to the people of Pakistan. And I worry when I see that the extremists are making greater inroads in Pakistan and attacking Nato troops in nearby Afghanistan. 

I certainly hope that a democratic government, a PPP government with support from Mr Nawaz Sharif, would be much more successful in ridding Pakistan of the extremist elements and ensuring that no one uses our soil to mount attacks on Nato troops. 

I would like to leave a legacy, if I am elected as prime minister for a third time, I want to leave a legacy and I want that legacy to be peace in the region and empowerment of the people at home. I hope to work closely with the Indian and the Afghan governments, and the international community, in eliminating terrorism and ensuring that the people of South Asia can prosper through democracy.

DF: And you have said on occasions in the past that the intelligence services in Pakistan had some of them, the rogue elements, had been working with al-Qaeda possibly on one assassination attempt on you. That is one of the things you are going to have to reform. Do you think that is still true, that there are rogue elements in the intelligence service?

BB: I do believe that there are elements within the security apparatus, particularly those who were associated with the Afghan jihad of the 1980s against the Soviets, who still have links with some of the Taliban elements and the al-Qaeda elements. 

Mr Nawaz Sharif and I have pledged to reform the security apparatus in Pakistan too. 

I remember before al-Qaeda was formed that both Ramzi Youssef and Khaled Sheikh tried to assassinate me. So the very forces that subsequently attacked the World Trade Centres initially attacked democracy in Pakistan. And I am convinced that terrorists see democracy as their biggest threats, because in a democratic system the people are empowered. And when the government delivers to the people of a country then I believe the terrorists cannot exploit a situation to their advantage.

This episode of Frost Over The World aired from 01 June 2007


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