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India Today interviews Benazir Bhutto

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    India Today interviews Benazir Bhutto

    Exile and Benazir Bhutto are no strangers to each other. Prime minister of Pakistan for two terms, she has also been forced out of Pakistan on two different occasions. First by General Zia-ul-Haq after her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's execution in 1979, and again since 1998, after her rivalry with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif assumed epic proportions. Sharif himself is today in exile but the military government of General Pervez Musharraf shows no desire to have her return home to Clifton in Karachi.

    With husband Asif Zardari languishing in jail on corruption charges, the 49-year-old Benazir shuttles between Dubai
    and London. Dubai is where her two children go to school and where she spends time with her ailing mother Nusrat.

    But London is where she gets active politically, fulfilling her responsibilities as chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) by telephone and e-mail. In an interview to Aaj Tak, she spoke to INDIA TODAY Editor Prabhu Chawla at her sister Samna's spacious third floor flat in Queensgate, Kensington.

    Q. Do you think you can dethrone Pervez Musharraf?
    A. Many generals came and were dethroned-Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, Ayub Khan. Today Musharraf saheb is in power. But ultimately Pakistan as envisioned by Mohammed Ali Jinnah will succeed, which is a democratic Pakistan, a Pakistan in which the poor will be treated with respect.

    Q. From its very birth, democracy in Pakistan has suffered. Why? Do politicians there have no credibility?
    A. Is it a question of credibility or of a consensus which did not evolve? In India there are serious differences among political leaders but all the groups agree that India should have democracy, an independent election commission, free judiciary and a free press. It is the opposite in Pakistan. For example, when my government was removed undemocratically, no one raised a voice to say the President should not have such powers.

    Q. There have been two types of regimes there. One elected, the other comprising the ISI and the army establishment. Is this true?
    A. Yes, we have two regimes. One which is visible and the other which is not. This has caused much damage to our country because the political interests of the invisible regime have been opposed to those of the people. This is also why Pakistan broke up. Now it is being said there should be a legal structure for these invisible forces so that they act within the law.

    Q. This seems impossible. Nawaz Sharif who had a two-thirds majority and tried to control this invisible regime was dismissed.
    A. This is one perception. The other perception is that Sharif was himself the product of the invisible regime. So the majority which he had was not of the people. If a group of democratic parties gets a majority then I think changes can be brought in the structure so that there is a revolution in the country.

    Q. Do you think the gun overrules the vote in Pakistan?
    A. It has been so until now. But we are fighting to strengthen the politics of vote. This is not easy but if one has conviction and commitment, as the PPP and its supporters have for democracy, then one has to fight.

    Q. In the type of jehad being practised there, arms are being used in the name of religion.
    A. Religious groups have been given a free hand there. And after the Afghan jehad, a new jehad has started. When I say jehad I mean a political movement. In the Islamic world there are some groups which say that they have to resort to arms to rule over the world. There also are those who say that the meaning of Musalman is you to your own religion and I to my own.

    Q. What do you believe in?
    A. I believe that Islam is a call for peace, for tolerance.

    Q. Do you support border intrusions in the name of Islam?
    A. The Kashmir movement is of two types. One is a political movement, which is under the All Party Hurriyat Conference. We support them. The other is of Lashkar-e-Toiba and armed groups. We oppose them.

    Q. Do you think that there is any solution to the Kashmir issue in the light of what is going on there?
    A. No solution has come up in the past 50 years and it will not come up in the next 50 years if the people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir follow the path they have followed till now. Both countries have their own perceptions. Pakistan says the right to self-determination should be given.

    Q. To whom?
    A. To the people of Kashmir.

    Q. Which Kashmir? Both of them?
    A. Pakistan's intention is that one Kashmir should be given this right. But if you people exert pressure then both Kashmirs can be included.

    Q. Do you agree that both Kashmirs should vote on whether they want to live with India or Pakistan?
    A. If India proposes this Pakistan will definitely agree.

    Q. But the Simla Agreement ...
    A. I think you people are not ready for this.

    Q. In the Simla Agreement it was decided that we should respect the LOC.
    A. It's the Indian interpretation. Pakistan's view is that it will be resolved bilaterally. If it fails we will go to the UN.

    Q. What do you think of Vajpayee's peace initiatives?
    A. After Rajiv, Vajpayee is the first leader with farsightedness. He has taken some courageous steps. Pakistan is missing out on this window of opportunity.

    Q. The UN is not going to interfere in this issue. Can there be an agreement on the LOC?
    A. I think India wants the LOC to be made the international border. But Pakistan wants to politically support insurgency so that a referendum is carried out there. There can be no agreement between these opposing views. We should acknowledge there are differing viewpoints. One should undertake confidence building for that.

    Q. This has been tried so many times-the Simla Agreement, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus journey, your talks with Rajiv Gandhi, the contents of which are still secret.
    A. We talked about Siachen and East Punjab. At that time East Punjab was a big problem for your people.

    Q. It is the perception in India that you people were supporting, arming and financing them.
    A. There is a perception that you people were doing the same in Karachi. Maybe we were doing that but we should now talk about our differences. We should build confidence for an open border. Then the new generation will distance itself from bloodshed and hatred.

    Q. Vajpayee went by bus but what did he get? Kargil, guns ... A. It was wrong. But he was dealing with an undemocratic leadership.

    Q. But it was an elected leadership.
    A. How? Farooque Leghari established a biased regime and said, "I will not allow Benazir to come back." We felt the 1997 election was a farce and boycotted it. Only 16 per cent of the electorate voted. The Election Commission of Pakistan claimed that 50 per cent had voted. All your newspapers rightly said that 16 per cent voted.

    Q. It seems that votes are polled somewhere else in your country.
    A. Yes. There are all sorts of rigging. So there was an insecure leadership. It wanted to please India, please the world, please the army. In Lahore, Vajpayee was being felicitated and the army was being told to take positions. General Musharraf said recently he would go anywhere and talk to India. I think if a military ruler says he is ready to talk then you must understand that our people want peace.

    Q. You seem to have a lot of faith in General Musharraf.
    A. I have differences with him. He has said that he will use the army against me and will stop me.

    Q. When you were dismissed the first time, you said Osama bin Laden had been behind the move and that he had spent money.
    A. In 1989, there was a no-confidence vote against me. Bin Laden gave $10 million to remove me. During Zia-ul-Haq's rule the Afghan jehad had started in Pakistan. Madarsas were established and the children of the poor were recruited and promised clothes, etc.

    Q. Were you against that?
    A. Certainly. Members of the PPP are not allowed to take up arms. Then why should the mullahs be permitted to do so? This dual law goes against the Constitution.

    Q. But did you compromise so that continuity was ensured?
    A. Certainly. I did try.