Today's date:
Summer 2007

Free Elections in Pakistan Will Defeat Taliban

Benazir Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan twice. She is running again in this year's upcoming election as leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party. All indications are that she will return to Pakistan this fall.

London —The recent unannounced visit of US Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan, in which he once again pressed Gen. Pervez Musharraf to stop tolerating Taliban-related activities, highlights what I have been saying for the last several years: My country, Pakistan, is facing a political crisis, not exclusively a military one.

I fully agree with President George W. Bush's clear statement in his 2006 State of the Union message in which he said:

"Dictatorships shelter terrorists and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."

This statement accurately reflects the situation in Pakistan under the present military regime. We have read more and more frequently in the world press that Islamabad is unable or unwilling to stop the Taliban and al-Qaida from conducting activities in Pakistan's tribal areas. They then cross the border to Afghanistan to tragically kill American and NATO troops who are trying to protect the democratically elected government in that country. The present regime's inability to successfully take on the Taliban and al-Qaida undermines the elected government of our neighbor— Afghanistan.

If elected prime minister of Pakistan in the election to be held later this year, I will end that protection of the Taliban and al-Qaida immediately. My party has the experience of dealing with militants and armed mafias. In my first term in office, in the late 1980s, my government took on the narco barons. They were the predecessors of the Taliban and al-Qaida. They had irregular armies, weapons, rocket launchers and money, and hid in the tribal areas, where they launched attacks on the Pakistani government forces. But we tamed them.

When I took over as prime minister for the second time, in 1993, the Pakistan army had been called out in the port city of Karachi to battle ethnic militants who held the city hostage. My government was able to mobilize the people, obtain good intelligence and wipe out the militant cells. We restored peace to Karachi and can restore peace to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Initially, in 1993 and 1994, the Taliban gained a great deal of support in Pakistan. This was due to the fact that Pakistan has a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, and at that time our neighboring country was in chaos. We needed some peace and stability along our border and not continual fighting along with millions of Afghan refugees pouring into our country. After I was undemocratically ousted from power by President Farooq Leghari, who was backed by the army intelligence agency known as ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), the ISI turned its attention to external relations. It provided support for the Taliban government in Afghanistan, believing it gave Pakistan strategic depth.

Elements of the intelligence agency reportedly continue that alliance with both the Taliban and al-Qaida to this very day on the same premise—even if it means supporting fanatics. It is not a premise my party and I share. We believe that it's essential for Pakistan to support democracy in Afghanistan. We believe in democracy.

I am very proud to have degrees from both Harvard University and Oxford University. Although a deeply dedicated Muslim, I have grown to highly respect and cherish the finest in the Western traditions of freedom, equal rights for all, democracy, a free press, and the ability of all men and woman to have economic opportunity and physical security.

My party—the Pakistan Peoples Party—won the most number of votes in the last election held in Pakistan, in October 2002, despite the fact that I could not go back and campaign as its chairperson. We are also aware that the party of the Musharraf dictatorship stole many of our votes in that 2002 election.

I shall contest in the election of 2007. Hopefully, the United States and other countries will prevail on the current Pakistani military dictatorship to hold fair and free elections open to all parties and all personalities, including myself and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. I hope I can return to my country without being arrested on trumped-up charges to hobble the opposition and give an unfair advantage to the very group under whom the Taliban have resurrected themselves.

Peace with India occupies a critical part of the program we offer to the people of Pakistan. We can make peace with the government of India. I have known Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Indian Congress Party, for over 20 years. Her late husband, Rajiv Gandhi, and I were prime ministers of India and Pakistan in the late 1980s, and over the years we have exchanged views. Mrs. Gandhi and her prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, want peace with Pakistan. That desire is bipartisan. I have met with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and members of his Bharatiya Janata Party, too.

Once we make peace with India, both our countries can seriously undertake the critical task of making a better life for all our peoples on both sides of the border in South Asia. The world has taught us that the way for increasing prosperity is to have peace with our neighbors. I was with my late father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in Simla in 1972 when he, as president of Pakistan, signed with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (mother-in-law of Sonia Gandhi) the only India-Pakistan peace agreement. Sonia and I can make peace between our two nations and shall!

After peace with India and Afghanistan comes the need for foreign investment in Pakistan. There are many opportunities for profitable investments in our country, including in energy and in agricultural exports. With a stable and democratic government, the world will find it easier to invest in many industries and projects in our country. That will provide many more jobs and enable our economy to grow.

Pakistan is positioned to become a gateway to and for resource-rich Central Asia. If we enable peace in Afghanistan, nations of Central Asia will have a safe, direct and economic outlet to world markets. Both India and Pakistan could use the oil and gas located in neighboring countries northwest of us. We need roads, railroads and other easy means of communication and transportation to help get products to world markets as well as to get the world's products to Central Asia. Pakistan must lead the way in this project since we will benefit in a most unique manner. Our port of Gwadar could become the actual gateway to Central Asia. We need to make this a national, regional and international priority.

Peace is essential in South Asia. It will lead to productive activity and the growth of the economies of all nations involved. It will open new sources of energy.

We must transform our nation from a terrorist hiding place to one that is open, peaceful and prosperous. Free elections in Pakistan can make that happen.