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The Rediff Interview/Benazir Bhutto

September 04, 2003

Part I: 'Musharraf fails to remember that army chiefs in Pakistan have not had a very nice life'

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.

So people love me now because they see that under my leadership they benefited.

They had peace with India, they didn't have these Kargil adventures. They had peace with Afghanistan because there was no Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when I was prime minister. There may have been Taliban but there was no Al Qaeda. Militants and militias were on the run.

Look at all the flowers around here, they are all from people who say 'we are standing by you.'

You really care about going back?

I care about the people, I don't care about the power because I've been prime minister twice. I do care about Pakistan and I do care about the people. For me the best option is that I could go back and be president or prime minister of Pakistan because I could help Pakistan be a modern state.

I am concerned when I see Pakistanis finger-printed and mug-shotted. They are finger-printed and mug-shotted because all the time people are popping up like Khalid Sheikh and other wanted Al Qaeda [members]. So we are suspects in the eyes of the world community and I would like to change that.

At the same time last year when I was banned from contesting, I told my party, please contest because I am not interested in power. I am interested in the poor people, I want to help the poor of Pakistan and if you all form the government, I will feel I have formed the government.

So my first option is to be prime minister or president of Pakistan. But my first love is the people of Pakistan and I want them to prosper and I feel that what I am facing today has nothing to do with corruption.

Just yesterday I heard that Musharraf has taken with his generals 10 acres.

He and four others, the finance minister, his military secretary, his brother-in-law who is also in the army, they have taken 10 acres in Islamabad. I never took even one square yard in Islamabad.

Look at the house where I was born in and look at the house Musharraf was born in. Look at the school I went to and look at the school where he went to. Look at the house I lived in before I got married and look at the house he lived in after he married.

Today he has got so much real estate. Where did he get it from? Because I speak about accountability in the army, because I speak about the armed forces reforming themselves and going back to the austere lifestyle of General Tikka and General Babar, the greedy generals don't like it.

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.

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