Civilian Democracy Is Best Way to Fight Terror and Avoid War
Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan,
now heads that country's leading opposition People's Party. She spoke
with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels in London.
NPQ | It has been a year since the Al Qaeda attack
on America and the emergence of Pakistan as a key US ally in the war against
terrorism. Has Gen. (Pervez) Musharraf's crackdown on radical Islamists
in Pakistan linked to the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Kashmiri militants, especially
those sponsored by the Pakistan security services, been effective?
BENAZIR BHUTTO | It has been ineffective. The militants in Pakistan
have decided to lay low for now because the FBI is in town and electronic
eavesdropping is taking place. So, there is a lull in which they are conserving
their strength, after which they will strike at a better time. This is
my assessment from many years of dealing with these groups.
In Afghanistan, the militants' strategy is to try to inflict casualties
on the American forces and their allies. They are sending a message to
the people of Afghanistan that "one day the Americans will be gone
and you will have to deal with us."
Are there networks strong enough to still hide Osama bin Laden? Our information
initially was that Bin Laden left Afghanistan for Pakistan before Kabul
fell. But nine months later, there has been such a total blanket of silence
from any credible sources that I cannot deny the probability that he is
dead. The fact that there have not even been reports of burial ceremonies
or traditional Muslim mourning prayers for the departed could well mean
that not only he, but all those close to him, were also killed.
Kashmir is a real tinderbox, the clash point. Kashmir is where some Pakistani
generals think they can win a war....
NPQ | You're saying that Pakistani generals behind the Kashmiri
militants want to use them to provoke a war?
BHUTTO | It is very difficult for me as a Pakistani to come out
and say the army is still behind them. What I can say is that, as far
as Kashmir is concerned, the establishment of the ruling generals has
decided Kashmir is the area they should focus on.
These generals feel this is an ideal time to show how helpless India is
over Kashmir because they will not dare attack Pakistan while US troops
are on our soil. They think they can take things to the boiling point
and international pressure will make India back down.
So far, (Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee has succumbed to
international pressure and backed down. This is a very dangerous game
because who is to say Vajpayee will not call their bluff? Then where will
we all be?
NPQ | You have said that "the international community made
a critical error when it concluded that a military dictator could stem
the tidal wave of extremism engulfing the region" and defuse tension
between India and Pakistan. But maybe Gen. Musharraf is just what Pakistan
needs. Perhaps a strong, secularizing modernizer like Ataturk is better
for Pakistan than another weak democratic government?
BHUTTO | A strongman is unable to persuade and convince the people.
He does not build consensus but gives orders. That inevitably creates
a backlash, especially when he is seen as held in office not by the people
but by foreign powers.
This plays to the advantage of not only the Islamists but also nationalist
militants. A new political theme that has emerged in Pakistan over the
last nine months is how the country has lost its sovereignty.
Conversely, while a democratically elected civilian government may appear
weak, it is actually stronger because it has to persuade enough of the
country in their hearts and minds to bring it to power. It can thus co-opt
the public. It can empower them and win them over.
I led the weakest of governments, but we never had an eyeball-to-eyeball
confrontation with Indian troops on our borders. Even though considered
weak, I was able to veto a Kargil-type adventure by the military such
as the one concocted by Gen. Musharraf. In the last days of my government,
I was able to persuade the intelligence community and the military that
we should prevent the Taliban from taking over Kabul.
So, a weak, but elected, government has inherent strengths-it can mold
public opinion because it has the legitimacy to persuade people to act
or not act in a certain way if they want stability. A strongman is cut
off from the public. His currency is repression, not persuasion.
Finally, this is not the time of Ataturk in the early 20th century. This
is the 21st century. People want to feel empowered. So they get angry.
And they get angry not only at the dictators, but at the Western countries
that back them, seeing it as yet another double standard which says, "democracy
for us, but dictatorship for you."
NPQ | This anger and frustration, then, form the breeding ground
of anti-Western militancy and perhaps even terror networks?
BHUTTO | Yes. Worse, under a dictatorship, the Islamists can still
work through the mosques where they can gather and preach their message
while the moderates can't organize or get out their message. They are
NPQ | Pakistan and India are still not far from the brink of war.
What can be done to ease the tensions?
BHUTTO | The most important easing will take place when the troops
withdraw from the borders. The overall issue, however, is one of trust.
As prime minister, I always found that when there was an ability to communicate,
to trust each other's words, matters could dealt with more quickly without
Gen. Musharraf may well mean every word that he says, but because he is
perceived as the author of the Kargil assault, he is unable to inspire
the trust in India's leaders that can move matters toward a resolution.
Nawaz Sharif -the former prime minister and political rival of mine-was
a civilian leader. So, when he went to India, they trusted him.
In Pakistan and India's history, every war has occurred as a result of
military dictatorship. And Pakistani military dictatorships have always
taken weapons from the West during the Cold War in order to fight India.
Now, of course, the Indians are not angels. They do terrible things to
the people of Kashmir, who have a right to self-determination. But we
are living now in the post-Sept. 11 era. Given what has happened in America,
there is a lack of differentiation between terrorists and freedom fighters.
Whether we Pakistanis like it or not, it is a reality.
One has to take that into account. For this reason, a militant insurgency
could be counterproductive to the overall aims of the Kashmiri people.
NPQ | What would you do if you come back into power?
BHUTTO | First of all, there is the trust accorded a civilian leader
that is a plus from the get go. Second, there is my track record. As prime
minister in my first term, then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and
I were able to reach substantive agreements, including the agreement of
"non-attack" on each other's nuclear facilities. This is the
first, and only, nuclear confidence-building treaty between our two countries.
Third, I traveled to New Delhi last November and had discussions with
the government and opposition leaders about the idea of safe and open
borders around Kashmir. I had this same discussion with Kashmiri leaders
on both sides. I found there is a great possibility of building a consensus
for safe and open borders there if India and Pakistan held negotiations
to that end.
The story could be different. Since Sept. 11, many people in the Muslim
world feel they need an image of moderation. Because I am a woman and
a moderate with a long record of fighting extremists, I can help present
a better image to the world not only of Pakistan but of Muslims as a whole.
A military dictatorship on the frontlines in today's key conflict is not
a positive image for Islam.
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