Islamabad and The Taliban
Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan,
heads the largest opposition party in Pakistan, the Pakistan People's
Party. She spoke on Sept. 18 from an undisclosed location with NPQ editor
NPQ | Can the West rely on the current
Pakistani regime as an ally in the war against terror?
BENAZIR BHUTTO | It's right for Islamabad to support the battle
against terrorism. Here's the problem: Islamabad currently has a military
regime that lacks a popular base. It's focused on squeezing the moderate
groups and allowing a free rein to the pro-Taliban elements. The question
the Pakistani public is puzzled about is whether the regime has the will
to do as it says. There's doubt being expressed. Islamabad needs to demonstrate
that it has given up its policy of running with the hare and hunting with
the hound. I hope it will.
NPQ | What are the limits of Pakistan's support of an attack on
Osama Bin Laden, and perhaps the Taliban, without causing a backlash among
the public and throughout the Muslim world?
BHUTTO | If the goal is the capture and trial of Bin Laden, that
is do-able-given Islamabad's will. If the goal is a quick ground attack
to replace the Taliban, it could get messy. If it is air strikes that
the Taliban withstands in the mountainous terrain of the country, it could
get lengthy. There's another solution for the same end: a mixture of political
and military actions with support given by Islamabad's security apparatus.
But that apparatus is riddled with pro-Taliban supporters. They twice
destabilized my governments. If my government had one policy, the state
within the state adhered to another. When I complained to the military
chief against an errant officer, he failed to remove him. When there was
an insurgency in Karachi, my government received very little specific
intelligence from the security apparatus. I had to pull the military out
and take total civilian control to end the insurgency successfully.
The military regime lacks political intelligence. It relies totally on
the security apparatus. Gen. (Pervez) Musharraf may say that he supports
the international coalition against terrorism and will assist. The challenge
for him is to demonstrate that he can translate state policy into state
The issue of repercussions in the Muslim world is an important one. There
are four transnational debates right now. They include militancy, freedom,
Palestine and economic emancipation. The militants will try to drag Palestine
into the debate on terrorism. If a cease-fire holds in the Middle East,
the repercussions in the Muslim world are containable.
NPQ | Pakistan used to be a state looking forward. How did it come
to be one so sympathetic to the backward-looking Taliban?
BHUTTO | The repercussions of the Afghan war against foreign occupation
changed my country from a forward-looking one. The generals that fought
the Afghan jihad with America believed they defeated one superpower and
could defeat another. They destabilized democratic governments to control
Pakistan. While overtly they talked of Afghanistan giving Islamabad "strategic
depth," covertly Islamabad became Afghanistan's hinterland.
NPQ | What makes both the moderate and more extremist Muslims so
angry and resentful of America?
BHUTTO | Extremist Muslims are angry with America for a variety
of local problems. The biggest transnational issue is the Middle East
conflict. That's the single most inflammatory factor. Ordinary Pakistanis
oppose the Taliban as well as the religious parties. It's the Taliban
influence and sympathy among the military, intelligence and military pensioners
that are significant.
NPQ | What, in your view, is the best way to stop the kind of terror
committed against the United States?
BHUTTO | Changing the focus to Pakistan and its democratization.
Significantly, not a single terror attack took place during my two terms
as prime minister. The extremists were too busy bringing me down-to "capture"
Islamabad-to concentrate overseas. It's when the PPP was dismissed by
decree, and the civilian arm of the security apparatus supplanted through
rigged elections, that terror attacks took place. These included not only
the recent ones, but the earlier hijacking in the Philippines, attacks
in Bombay and New Delhi as well as in Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen.
Let's face it. Islamabad is the jugular vein of Kabul, a landlocked country
in conflict with all its neighbors. Clean up Islamabad, and the Afghan
camp dominoes start falling.
For that, one needs true democracy rather than the window-dressing democracy
that existed from 1988 to 1999. I shared power with the security apparatus
through the president during that period. Yet the extremists were on the
run. Osama did not dare to go to Kabul until the decision to overthrow
me was taken in mid-1996. The Taliban were stuck in southern Afghanistan
because of our foreign policy. It was only when my brother was killed
in the third week of September 1996 that the Taliban unilaterally went
After the murder of the Afghan resistance leader Masood-it is entirely
likely that I'm the next target because I can rally the Pakistani people.
My party received information on this and wrote the concerned authorities.
Osama first bankrolled the extremists against me way back in 1989. He
gave $10 million for a no-confidence move against me. Some say he returned
to Saudi Arabia after the Soviet withdrawal but was sucked back into South
Asia by extremists in Islamabad. They wanted his financial investment
in my overthrow. Incidentally, Ramzi Yousef (the convicted bomber of the
World Trade Center in 1993) also tried to kill me twice to stop me from
becoming prime minister.
I'm a believer. I put my trust in God. I want to see Pakistanis prosper
with the rest of the world through economic opportunity and political
freedom. That's why my people support me. I struggle to end the miseries
of the Afghans. If they get a government they trust, they can return to
their own country. They're living like sub-humans in refugee camps while
fanatics play politics.
My government nearly succeeded in November 1996. We got all the factions
to sign on to a commission to decide the broad-based government. Three
days later I was overthrown by decree.
This change can still happen. We need the support of the international
community in telling Gen. Musharraf that the time for true elections has
come. The Election Commission of Pakistan needs assistance of the kind
the South African Commission received to end apartheid. Otherwise, the
wrong elements in the security apparatus will do what they did in the
past: set up political parties, rig elections and hold my country hostage
to the hatred and terror they spawn.
NPQ | Can we be sure the Pakistan nuclear weapons are in secure
hands in the event of civil strife in Pakistan?
BHUTTO | The situation in Pakistan is extremely fluid at
this time. The nuclear weapons are in the control of the military. As
long as the demonstrations by the pro-Taliban forces remain small-as they
are at this time-the army will stay in the barracks. But if the military
is called upon to confront the pro-Taliban demonstrators, its discipline
will be tested. Historically the discipline stayed in place. If it breaks
down, it would be dangerous for the army and for the country, placing
the security of the weapons of mass destruction at risk.
Islamabad-Within the Muslim world there
is a debate between the class that wants material success and the class
that pursues spiritual success.
Those who want material success want a change. They want to make money
and live the good life by joining the global march. The militants say,
"No, you shouldn't want to make money and live the good life. You
should want the simple life as was lived in the early days of Islam."
The modernizers want laws to regulate life, due process and courts. The
militants say, "No, justice should be simple and swift, not complicated
by due process."
The militants thus make use of the overly sexual, some say decadent, society
projected by the Western media and say that to join globalization is to
become corrupted spiritually. This is the despite the fact that, Hollywood
images aside, most Americans are very religious.
The real debate is between those who want to enjoy the fruits of prosperity
and those who want an austere existence free from sensate temptation of
The modernizers want democracy and individual liberty. The militants do
not want freedom. They want people to be told how to dress and whether
or not to grow a beard. And they want a group of wise men, schooled in
the Koran, to dictate how everyone should behave.
In Pakistan, deregulation of the economy led to the emergence of an entrepreneurial
class. They set up banks and businesses and lived the good life as known
in the West. The others, the poor, only try to eke out an existence on
tiny wages as laborers.
When these people see the affluence, but don't have it, they react by
seeking shelter in the surety of religious submission. They listen to
the clerics who warn of materialist corruption.
Modernizers believe that individual freedom is sanctioned by the Koran,
but the clerics disagree. We say there is no need for the clerics, since
there is a direct relation between God and the individual.
This debate that comes from within Islam itself-though it is stoked by
contact with the Western media-presages, I believe, the kind of reformation
that took place in the Christian church at the time of Martin Luther.
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