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The Rediff Interview/Benazir Bhutto
September 04, 2003
In the second part of her exclusive interview -- the first part of which the Pakistan government finds treasonous -- to Senior Editor Shyam Bhatia in London, former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto says dictators oppose her because she symbolises freedom, free markets and a modern Pakistan.
Could you comment on the recent pronouncement of the Swiss magistrate, Daniel Devaud, who has convicted you and your husband of money laundering?
I wish I could understand why the Swiss magistrate did this, but perhaps he was poisoned over six years by things that my political opponents had to say. I happen to be the most popular leader in Pakistan and election polls have proved that.
Therefore for a series of people I must be eliminated. The first successor tried to eliminate me, to impose a one party rule in the country. Now the military again wants to eliminate me because they want the MMA [Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal] -- the alliance of religious parties -- to be the only alternative in the country.
So long as I am leading the PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party], the party has the support of the people. So I think this is an attempt to eliminate my leadership through motivated charges.
What is†Magistrate Devaud's actual charge? He seems to have fined you and your husband large amounts of money.
I have no idea because I have not been given a copy of the order.†I am working with a detective agency to procure a copy of the order that was passed on the 31st of July. The detective agency has managed to obtain a copy of the order in French and right now some supporters are trying to translate the order from French into English so that I can understand it.
I need to have a fair opportunity to respond but when orders are passed behind my back, communicated to the government of Pakistan, I have to respond on the basis of what sources in the government tell me.
Do you still believe you will be welcome if you go back to Pakistan and that you could be prime minister again? Is the political game over for Benazir Bhutto?
It's not over for me, not in a democratic way. If there is dictatorship, yes, dictators oppose me because I symbolise freedom, free markets, a modern Pakistan integrating with the rest of the world community.
The people of Pakistan support me because of my programmes. They first supported me because of my father, now they support me because in my terms of office they got social and economic development.
They saw here's a prime minister who cares for the poor, who's eliminating polio, bringing down infant mortality, reducing population growth rate, building 48,000 primary schools, teaching people computer literacy, getting optic fibres put across Pakistan so that our people can be equipped for the 21st century, attracting investment which is creating jobs and young people are building their lives, building roads and bridges in Karachi and Lahore and Pindi, dry port in Faisalabad.
Does a mere Swiss magistrate have the authority to pronounce on such weighty matters such as ordering you to pay £30 million to the military government of Pakistan?
You are right, a magistrate is a minor judicial figure and he cannot confiscate money and pronounce on such matters. This magistrate has given a finding and if I challenge this finding, it will be quashed and the matter will go to court and the government of Pakistan will have to produce prosecution witnesses and we will have the right to cross examine them as one should.
In fact I have already been charged on this charge of abusing my office to award a contract to a pre-shipment firm to benefit my husband.
I was already charged on that and there was a total lack of evidence, but I was being framed until miraculously these tape recordings surfaced, which proved that the law ministry had written the judgement. Then the supreme court set it aside and sent it for re-trial.
I live in Karachi, the first trial took place in Lahore. Now they are making me face the same charges again in Pindi and there my lawyers have appealed to the supreme court that this is double jeopardy and you cannot be tried twice.
I have now been told that since the Swiss magistrate has found against me, I will be tried for a third time on the same charge.
The charge is a simple one. The charge is that Benazir Bhutto abused her position as prime minister of Pakistan to influence the awards of the pre-shipment contracts to financially benefit her husband. It's a charge that I've denied, but it's a charge that I have faced in Lahore. It was set aside after the day it surfaced, it's a charge that's going in Pindi and now they are saying it's a charge that will apply in Switzerland.
I'm quite happy to face the charge. I faced it in Lahore, I've got lawyers in Pindi and I know that my supporters will rally around me and I'll face the charge in Switzerland. But I do ask is this the way justice is done?
This is my main issue. You can try me in Switzerland, but then withdraw the charge in Pindi.
Teresita†C Schaffer from the Centre of Strategic Studies in Washington, DC has been quoted as saying that as Swiss courts have a reputation for probity, this decision will damage you politically at home, irreparably.
Tessie has on several occasions made negative statements about my leadership and the confidence of the people in politics and she has been proved wrong. Prior to my original conviction being set aside, Tessie also made several pronouncements.
I think there is a dichotomy at play here and I think the dichotomy is that in Pakistan I have a widespread popular base. People are with me and elections have repeatedly been rigged and observers have noted they were rigged. French observers in 1997 and then the European Union spoke of serious flaws in 2002 and they have been done to keep me out. But internationally I believe I have alienated some of my old friends in the West because I am seen as the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb.
And I am seen as the person who helped Pakistan acquire nuclear technology, enabling Pakistan to deliver nuclear capable missiles. So I think there is a concern in the international community that a weak Pakistan and a Pakistan dependent on the international community is better than a strong Pakistan. So perhaps that is the reason why they would want to see me undermined.
Or, secondly, maybe they just believe what they have been fed by the establishment. I have always been puzzled by the amount of support I have in Pakistan and at the same time by the popular support I have in the West where I am recognised and respected. But in the institutional framework there have always been reservations about me.
Right now if there is a fair election under the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, I will form the government.
The Rediff Interviews