Benazir Bhutto warned that Pakistan’s leader, Pervez Musharraf, has only “a few weeks” to finalise a political settlement with her. She said the Pakistani dictator needed to implement certain “confidence-building measures” if he wanted her Pakistan People’s Party to support his regime.
Speaking at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York City, Bhutto said the PPP had “kept the door open for dialogue” to “facilitate the transfer to democracy.” But she warned there could be no progress without assurances for a free and fair election like a “robust” election monitoring body. <b1>
Without such assurances the “dialogue would only founder.”
Bhutto said the two sides had been talking for over a year.
Pakistani sources said Bhutto is believed to have told Musharraf that he must shed his uniform before the election, set up an independent electoral body, and drop all criminal charges against her and her husband. It is not clear if she has also requested Nawaz Sharif be allowed to return to Pakistan.
Bhutto’s hard line indicates she has been emboldened by Musharraf’s continuing domestic problems and the increased criticism he is facing inside Washington. “It is already August and time is running out,” she said.
At times, she seemed to be preparing the ground for a political future in Pakistan even if a deal with Musharraf fell through.
Bhutto told an audience of US foreign policy establishment types that a democratic government in Pakistan would be more effective than the military regime.
A democratic Pakistan, she said, would do a better job of helping stabilise Afghanistan, pursuing drug traffickers, and tackling religious extremism. Past electoral results, she said, showed that religious extremist parties fared poorly in elections.
Arguing Musharraf’s rule is responsible for much of the present turmoil, she said, “Dictatorship in Pakistan is disconnected from the aspirations of the people…it generates a culture of violence and intolerance.” Masjids and madrassas have become the only outlets for opposition, Bhutto said.
She asked why the US continued to support Musharraf. “I am surprised the US still backs the regime despite its failure to curb the Taliban.” The US Congress should link further aid to Pakistan to democratisation. “The West’s association with the military dictatorship is alienating the people of Pakistan.”
She claimed armymen had begun avoiding wearing uniforms in public places in Pakistan. The military “rank and file” would like civilians to come back to power, Bhutto claimed.
The US needs to have a long-term commitment to Pakistan, she said, and drew parallels to the Marshall Plan. “There are no quick fixes,” she noted.
Bhutto said she disagreed with Musharraf’s public statement that allowing Bhutto and Sharif to come back before elections would be “destabilising.”
Bhutto seemed to warn Musharraf that she would return irrespective of a political deal. I will return to Pakistan, she said, before the end of the year. She spoke of the “Orange Revolution” where civil protests toppled the Ukrainian dictatorship. “He has to implement the measures he promised before the end of the year.”
Benazir Bhutto, ex-prime minister of Pakistan, said her greatest regret during her years as ruler of Pakistan was that “I missed a chance to make peace” with India. Referring to her father, Zulfikar Bhutto, and his role in negotiating the Shimla accord, she said. “I dream of being remembered as a peacemaker.”
She also said a “critical fatal mistake” was to have allowed the Taliban to takeover Afghanistan. “Even the US had felt the Taliban would bring stability to Afghanistan.”
“Looking back, there many things I should have been different about,” Bhutto added. “I was too busy trying to be as tough as a men when I should have been more myself, more nurturing.” She noted how militarism in Pakistan had failed the country in Kargil. “In the end, Bill Clinton saved us there.”