Remembering Benazir Bhutto
What were murdered political leader Benazir Bhutto’s views on Pakistan?
Back in 1988, Benazir Bhutto made history by becoming Pakistan’s prime minister — making her the first woman leader of a Muslim country in modern times. After an eight-year voluntary exile, the leader of Pakistan’s popular opposition party returned to the country in mid-October 2007 — and was assassinated on December 27. We present Ms. Bhutto’s views on the future of Pakistan, a country on the faultline of major global challenges.
Why did you reengage in your country’s politics?
“There are moments in history that prove decisive and mark a turning point for the future. The U.S. Civil War was such a moment in the United States. The fall of the Berlin Wall was such a moment for Germany and the European Union. Today is Pakistan’s moment of truth.”
Why does Pakistan matter so much in a global context?
“We confront two great polarities in Pakistan today — the battle between democracy and dictatorship, and the fight for the hearts and souls of the people manifest in the battle between moderation and extremism.”
How concerned are you that extremists will take over Pakistan?
“Mr. Musharraf’s dictatorship is fueling instability in Pakistan. Oppressed citizens, who are denied a truly representative government that can address their most basic issues, now seek refuge in extremism and religion fundamentalism.”
Is Musharraf at the root of Pakistan’s problem?
“General Musharraf is sincere, but there are some vested interests who do not want to see a peaceful transition from military rule to democracy.”
Was a political crisis in the offing?
“It is up to the government to decide whether it wants a peaceful transition to democracy through free and fair elections — or face people’s power and a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution in Pakistan.”
So what’s the way out?
“Unless the people of Pakistan are empowered through the ballot, extremists will continue to exploit the discontent to their advantage.”
How important is democracy in all this?
“The restoration of democracy is only the first step. I would like to see the international community make a long-term commitment to a country as critical as Pakistan — and indeed our nearby neighbor, Afghanistan, in helping us to build our institutions.”
Are there parallels to Europe — and how it was supported for several decades in the 20th century?
“When Europe was driven by war, the international community put NATO troops into Europe — and it made a long-term commitment through the Marshall Plan to develop the institutions.”
Won’t the buoyant Pakistani economy support these efforts?
“On paper, the economic statistics look good because you’ve got the external flows coming in. But in fact, poverty and unemployment in Pakistan has risen, and it’s ticking like a time bomb.”
What is unique about your political journey?
“I have led an unusual life. I have buried a father killed at age 50 and two brothers killed in the prime of their lives. I raised my children as a single mother when my husband was arrested and held for eight years without a conviction — a hostage to my political career. I made my choice when the mantle of political leadership was thrust upon my shoulders after my father’s murder. I did not shrink from responsibility then, and I will not shrink from it now.”
And finally, what would you have done differently from the last time you held office?
“The people wanted me to be there as a woman leader, somebody who was more nurturing, who could take care of our people, our women, our children, redress their needs, build them hostels and schools and provide them with basic nutrition. I wish I had focused more on that than on the more militaristic notions.”