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'I will take peace process forward'

Bhutto on CNN IBN
Transcript of an interview of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with New Delhi based television channel CNBC TV18's programme India Tonight aired on Wednesday.

The first part of the interview with CNN IBN's programme Devil's Advocate is available here

Welcome to India tonight and the second part of a special two part series with Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto.

Karan Thapar: Let’s turn to the relationship you’d hope to have with government of India, were you to become Prime Minister of your country for the third time? During the last few years it’s widely believed that the relationship between India and Pakistan under Manmohan Singh and Musharraf has been better than perhaps its ever been in the last sixty years. How can you make sure that the momentum is maintained if not taken further?

Benazir Bhutto: Well we have had our differences with General Musharraf on many issues in Pakistan. But we have welcomed the dialogue process with India despite much internal criticism by some of our supporters who thought that we should exploit the India issue to get greater popularity amongst sections of our people. And if General Musharraf has proceeded well with this composite dialogue with India it is certainly something we will continue to follow.

Karan Thapar: So the footsteps that General Musharraf has taken, both those that are apparent to the press and the public and those that have happened on the back channels, you will take those footsteps further, you won’t suddenly halt because there is a change of regime.

Benazir Bhutto: Well I certainly hope that we can take the process forward but I’m not aware of what has been said in the private through back channels. But as far as principle of having a composite dialogue is concerned and as far as taking the process forward is concerned I certainly support that and I think it’s very important for India and Pakistan to reach a kind of peace after 60 years since their independence.

Karan Thapar: Let me raise with you two issues that have in fact come up in the dialogue between India and Pakistan over the last three years. In April 2005 both General Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh agreed that any solution to the Kashmir problem had to happen within three parameters and these were said to be firstly the boundaries cannot be altered, Secondly that the LOC cannot be a permanent boundary and thirdly that boundaries must be made irrelevant. Do you agree with that particular approach?

Benazir Bhutto: Well it was my party which actually put forward the concept of safe and open borders in 1998 and since then it has been adopted by General Musharraf and it has proved to be very popular. So we do believe in India and Pakistan, starting from Kashmir, working for safe and open borders that can socially and economically unite the Kashmiri people even if we have differences on what the geographical shape should be.

Karan Thapar: Last week I put this very same question to Nawaz Sharif and instead of giving the answer you did, that this is very much in line with our thinking, he said that General Musharraf has no business to be negotiating, he has no legitimacy and he suggested without saying it he would revise, perhaps possibly revoke, any advance that Musharraf had made simply because he had no right to make it. You are saying something very different; you are saying to the Indian audience if footsteps have been taken which will lead to a solution I will stand by them and follow them and take them further.

Benazir Bhutto: That is true, although I agree with Mr. Nawaz Sharif that a military ruler does not have the mandate or legitimacy to negotiate for peace. But nonetheless peace is a very precious gift and if advances have been made I think it is important for us not to lose those advances and carry the process forward.

Karan Thapar: Now I can remember earlier interviews with you where you’ve talked about not just open borders but you have also talked about joint sovereignty and you have talked about shared parliaments, a way of creating a structure for the two Kashmirs to give them a sense of unity. And now very recently General Musharraf has begun to say things which are fairly similar. He’s talked about demilitarization, he’s talked about self governance, he’s talked about joint management. In a sense do you think that he is now following through the thoughts which you too had raised two, three, four years ago and therefore were you to succeed him you’d take these ideas of joint management, of self governance further as well?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes we certainly have to examine what can be done to bring the people of divided Kashmir together so that their feelings and aspirations are also addressed. But the most important challenge for us now is to try and have safe and open borders. My concern is if the militancy is not tackled in Pakistan it will spill over not only in Afghanistan but it will also affect our relations with India. Militancy is already proving to be an internal threat within Pakistan. So we cannot allow militants to hold hostage the foreign policy. I have met with Kashmiri leaders on both sides of the divide and I know that Kashmiri people have paid a very heavy price for the dispute that has lasted for so long. We need to find a way where we can involve them, through India and Pakistan, into an understanding which can bring about a lasting solution for them.

Karan Thapar: But once again you are not revoking or moving away from the ideas Musharraf has raised of self governance and joint management, because they accord in a sense with the thinking you’ve expressed yourself. You are saying you will take it further but you will do it in alliance with in consultation with Kashmiri people.

Benazir Bhutto: That’s right. I think the support by Kashmiri leaders is very important and I also believe that somewhere along the line one has to respect agreements that governments make…

Karan Thapar: Even if it is made by Musharraf…

Benazir Bhutto: Even if one does not always agree with them. In this particular context I do agree with the composite dialogue, I do agree with the talks which have been taking place informally by the Kashmiri leaders on both sides of the dialogue. But even in other cases where I have disagreed with certain policies like when Mr. Nawaz Sharif negotiated a motorway agreement with Turkey for which we did not have money, I raised the resources to make sure that we honoured the agreement because honouring agreements between countries is important.

Karan Thapar: What you are saying will be hugely reassuring to the Indian audience. Let me therefore raise two questions that will come to their minds. Many people in India remember the young Benazir Bhutto of 89- 90 shouting on television “Har gali mein bache kehte hain..azadi azadi azadi…”. I get the feeling that that is now very much in the past. The lady sitting in front of me is a very different person.

Benazir Bhutto: Certainly I believe in freedom but the struggle for freedom should not impinge upon peaceful relations between nations. There should be peaceful and negotiated settlements. Maybe the dialogue process with Gen Musharraf is also an attempt to seek a peaceful negotiated settlement. Certainly times have changed. That movement of the Kashmiris was subsequently infiltrated by some Islamist elements that fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We moved a long way away from 20 years ago. Today, India and Pakistan are involved in composite dialogue. Today India and Pak agree on certain parameters of how that solution should be reached and my party if elected to govt will support that cause.

Karan Thapar: That’s very clear. Last year in July you signed a charter of democracy with Nawaz and you committed yourself in the charter to a solution to the Kashmir problem in line with UN resolutions. Since 2004, Musharraf has moved well beyond that position and as a result this whole new approach to Kashmir, which you endorse, has followed on. But when you commit yourself to the UN resolutions it looks to people in India as if you are winding the clock back. So will the UN resolution dominate your approach to Kashmir or have you accepted that that was something that applied in 2006? The charter of democracy does not apply today.

Benazir Bhutto: UN resolution is valid. It is a law and is legal. Against that background, India and Pakistan, with the support of Kashmiri leaders, are involved in a composite dialogue. This is setting a new pace, a new agenda and we hope that it will reach a new goal where the people of India and Pak resolve their problems over Kashmir, where the people of Kashmir can live in peace and rebuild their lives.

Karan Thapar: Is Kashmir still the core issue or is it just one of very many important issues?

Benazir Bhutto: Kashmir is certainly a core issue but it is not an issue that should be allowed to derail Indo-Pak relations or dialogue. So irrespective of whether we are able to make progress on an issue that has in the past been intractable, its important for India & Pakistan to make progress in their dialogue if such progress is available.

Karan Thapar: Lets come to the issue many believe is the biggest hurdle in Indo-Pak relations. Its the perception in India that the majority of terrorism is unleashed by organisations like Jaish & Lashkar, funded, aided and assisted, perhaps even nurtured, by the ISI. If you do become PM how will you stop this?

Benazir Bhutto: Its very important for Pak to put its internal house in order. The Militants that we nurtured during the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union have now started to haunt us. Jaish & Lashkar have unleashed suicide bombings in Pak. It has led to the death of innocent people in my own country and across borders. So the task in Pakistan is enormous. We need reform in our society and I hope all the political parties can work together to make Parliament sovereign, to reform our security services and to end the establishment of private armies and private militia that conduct militant activities.

Karan Thapar: Will you crack down on any group that is a terrorist group which inflicts terror whether in Pakistan or in India? Do I hear you correctly on this?

Benazir Bhutto: That is right!

Karan Thapar: So the Indian govt can take this as a firm commitment from Benazir Bhutto?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes and so can the Karzai govt. Most importantly, the people of Pakistan can take it as a firm commitment that they will live in peace. They will not live in the shadow of terror. The PPP govt will not permit private armies who are trying to take over Pakistan and our values

Karan Thapar: Despite repeated assurance from Gen Musharraf the Indian govt believes that militant terrorist training camps continue to exist in what you call Azad Kashmir as well as in NWFP and particularly in the area of Naushera. Will you close them down ?

Benazir Bhutto: Where so ever there are Private armies and private militias they will be shut down and dismantled. We do not believe in militancy. If militancy remains unchecked my country will disintegrate. We are fighting for democracy and moderation but also for the territorial integrity of Pak. Many people will call it a failing State. I trust my people. They are great and I know they will rise to the occasion to restore the rule of law and constitution and put an end to terror that stalks our land and impinges on our national security.

Karan Thapar: The Indian govt has requested access to people like Hafiz Mohd Syed and Masood Azhar because they believe they are responsible for much of the terrorism India experiences. Musharraf has continuously denied that access. Will you grant it?

Benazir Bhutto: I do not know the reasons why he denied that access, so I will have to see the record before I give an affirmative answer. But I do believe in regional co-operation and in countries sharing the problems they have. So this will certainly be a matter that will be considered but I can't give a categorical answer until I see the record.

Karan Thapar: Indians believe that Dawood Ibrahim is the architect of 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. They also believe he is free in Karachi possibly under the protection of the Pak govt. They have requested his extradition but it has been denied. Will you grant it?

Benazir Bhutto: We will certainly. If he’s living in Karachi its very worng. We will look into that request. I do not think Pak should get a bad name and be seen as a country which harbours wanted criminals from different parts of the world including India.

Karan Thapar: If the Indian people turn around and say that Benazir sounds like she's trying to say she will be better that Musharraf, are they misunderstanding you?

Benazir Bhutto: The Indian people will be understanding me well if they think this is a Pakistani leader who wants to build a different kind of South Asia than the one in the past. This is a Pakistani leader who realises that it’s the 60th anniversary of India & Pak independence and we have to go forward. This is a leader who has worked with the Gandhi family, BJP and is ready to build a new page in our history with Indian leaders.

Karan Thapar: Let’s talk about the west and start with America. Many Pakistanis are angry about US policy in the middle east, in Iraq, in Iran, in Afghanistan. How do you respond to this anger?

Benazir Bhutto: Lots of people associate Washingtin with supporting military dictatorship in our country. First the decade long dictatorship of Gen Zia-Ul-Haq which saw the hanging of an elected PM and now the long dictatorship by Gen Musharraf. So there is resentment against America on that score. But people also value American support at critical times. When there was a threat of Indian invasion following the Kargil incident it was the PM, Nawaz Sharif, who went to Washington and secured the help of Mr. Clinton in preventing an all-out war.

Karan Thapar: Forgive me , only on the grounds that he withdraw his army from across the border and end the infiltration of India. It wasn’t support, it was a crack of the whip from Clinton. Nawaz returned a broken man.

Benazir Bhutto: I know that’s the way it can be described but the fact remains that Nawaz Sharif made a very urgent trip to Washington.

Karan Thapar: He wanted to be bailed out and he was. It was bailing out.

Benazir Bhutto: Washington bailed out Pakistan. In fact Washington bailed out Pakistan after the conflict in 1971 when our country separated. So Pakistan has some kind of dual relations with America. We recognise USA's importance to our security and well-being. At the same time there has been criticism of USA, supporting military dictatorships in the country. By supporting democracy, USA can undo that criticism.

Karan Thapar: Today in the West , many regard Islam as a threat to their western values, to their modern values, to their Christian values. How would you, if you become PM, help the West understand Islam better as a religion ?

Benazir Bhutto: The problem I have with this issue is that it gives the impression Osama-Bin-Laden's version of Islam is seen as the correct version. Islam has a concept of just war and Islam does not permit killing of children, women and old men. I do not believe that the version given by fanatics has got anything to do with Islam. The message of Islam is about peace, respect for other religions and human dignity for Muslim people.

Karan Thapar: How can you ensure the USA listens to your version rather than be frightened by that of Osama-Bin-Laden?

Benazir Bhutto: People will get frightened when John Reid, the shoe bomber, or Tanveer, the tube bomber, leave a trail leading back to Islamabad. People will be frightened of my country and about Islam. But if you are serious about the moderate voice of Islam then I am sure that Islam's true glory will be seen and heard by the world.

Karan Thapar: So your seriousness and sincerity will make a difference?

Benazir Bhutto: I’m saying the voice of moderate Muslims must come forward. I am saying that the voice of 160 million good people of Pakistan who want to live in prosperity is being drowned out by the sound of a handful of militants who run around unchecked. They have guns in their hands. They give all kinds of edicts of their own. This week they kidnapped two women and declared them prostitutes and beheaded them. They are taking law into their own hands and thereby hurting Muslims.

Karan Thapar: What message will go to the Western world if a modern educated Muslim woman, who studied at Harvard and Oxford, were to become PM of Pakistan in 2007? Admittedly for the third time , but for the first time after 9/11

Benazir Bhutto: A very positive message to the world community. If Pak elects a Muslim woman who studied abroad, it will show that Muslims do not discriminate on the basis of gender. It would show that Islam teaches its followers to go far and wide to seek knowledge and information. There would be a picture of Osama who is saying one thing and there will be a picture of Pakistan's elected leader. A woman practicing the policies of compassion in her homeland and building peace within the region

Karan Thapar: So much of that depends on your success in your own country. Let’s briefly talk about what policies you will follow at home. First, would you consider giving the army a role in governance, perhaps in the national security council, so that future Army Chiefs do not dismiss PMs , just because they don’t like their policies.

Benazir Bhutto: I have great trouble with the concept the people of Pakistan are unfit to govern themselves and they need a teacher in the form of the Armed Forces to tell them what to do. I understand we are in a transitional period but I think ultimately we need to first have elections and then build the political institutions that are necessary to sustain and nurture democracy so that Parliament is sovereign. It is the will of the people , through which Parliament should prevail. I worry about the power of the President to dismiss the Parliament. I am worried because I don’t want the people of Pak to be set up for failure again as they enter another democratic phase. In the past, democracy failed because the President kept sacking parliaments. It is important as we tackle internal militancy that the President does not have the power to axe the Parliament that is successfully dealing with such an issue.

Karan Thapar: So far from giving the army a role in governance , you think the army should be kept out of politics?

Benazir Bhutto: The Army has to roll back from its interference in politics. Our success depends on other political parties, the charter of democracy and the people of Pak. Ultimately a truly professional armed forces, like the ones that exist in USA , UK and India is the kind of armed forces we should aim for.

Karan Thapar: The Charter of Democracy commits you to:

1. Bringing ISI under civil rule

2. Parliamentary scrutiny of the army budget

3. To ensure that officers annually declare their assets

4. To review all military allotments of land

Will you go ahead with all of that?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes. If I have the constitutional majority, I will. It is a task in which I need the aid of all political parties. We usually win with a simple majority, but for such changes you need constitutional amendments. Karan Thapar: The second thing that the Charter of Democracy commits you to is a commission to enquire into the causes of and to fix responsibility for the Kargil conflict. Will you do that?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Does that mean Musharraf will be made accountable for the decisions he took and the actions he ordered?

Benazir Bhutto: This issue needs enquiring. Because when I was PM , I was given a briefing which I vetoed , which could have led to a Kargil-like situation. Nawaz Sharif and other signatories agreed to an enquiry into Kargil. Countries do have enquiries so that so we can learn from the past. I am not looking to spend time seeking revenge against the people involved. I am looking to learn from the past to move on to a better future.

Karan Thapar: And Nawaz Sharif also have to be accountable to this commission? If General Musharraf needs to be surely Nawaz does too?

Benazir Bhutto: Nawaz also wanted this enquiry and he asked for it to be included. We both signed it. It is not about punishment, it is about how decisions are taken and whether they are right or wrong and to ensure that Pakistan will not be made vulnerable by such decisions.

Karan Thapar: The Charter also commits you to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to enquire into all military coups and dismissal of civilian govts since 1996. Will you go ahead with that?

Benazir Bhutto: I want to clarify that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an enquiry which attempts to take a look at what happened in 1996 - when lawyers, bureaucrats bankers , politicians were arrested, tortured and interrogated by military officials. So I want to show what happens when governments are dismissed. It happened to my father , then to my first govt and then again to my second government. All were overthrown. I don't want revenge. But I do want a white paper that shows that politicians are often made innocent victims of conspiracies.

Karan Thapar: So you want truth and justice?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes

Karan Thapar: Ms Bhutto, A pleasure talking to you.

Benazir Bhutto: Thank you



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