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'A Wrong Must Be Righted'

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« on: December 28, 2007, 04:47:46 pm »


'A Wrong Must Be Righted'
An interview with Benazir Bhutto

By Gail Sheehy
Published: December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto
Editor's note: We are all saddened by the murder of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto. The assassination adds more danger and confusion to the already chaotic situation in the region.

In late November, PARADE sent Contributing Editor Gail Sheehy to Pakistan. Sheehy traveled with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned through her home provinces. Sheehy had two long interviews with her—the first in Bhutto’s home in Islamabad, a second at her residence outside Karachi. Bhutto told Sheehy that she had long been a target of terrorists. She knew she was also now a target of the Musharraf government. Thursday’s suicide bombing mirrors the earlier attempt on her life that Bhutto described to Sheehy.

The interview with Bhutto will be the cover story of PARADE on January 6, 2008.

. . . 

Dust spirals from village to village across the countryside of Pakistan. Drums lead men to dance in the streets as they witness the reappearance of their revered leader. No matter how long and hard I look, there are no women. Except her.

Ben-a-zir, zindabd! the men chant. Long live Benazir!

Benazir Bhutto has returned to her fractured country to run for prime minister this Tuesday. She has ruled twice before—and twice been overthrown. Her caravan continually switches direction to foil suicide bombers. Only a few weeks earlier, she narrowly escaped blasts that slaughtered 170 of her supporters. Now I watch her stand tall atop a truck, waving, white-scarved. Serenely smiling.

That evening, Bhutto invites me to her ancestral home in Larkana, where she still presides over several thousand acres of feudal lands. Meeting me alone on the men’s side, she is ready to let down her veil.

Today I saw you campaigning essentially unprotected, I say. How do you do it?

In answer, she invokes her late father, Zulfikar Bhutto, a populist reformer and the nation’s first democratic prime minister. “From the day my father was hanged—I was 25—whenever there is a crisis, I go into a kind of detachment. ‘What should I be doing?’ I just start ticking off steps. I don’t feel.”

Like her country, Bhutto is a riddle. Brilliant, beautiful, fearless, she is also ruthlessly ambitious, devious and corrupt. The first question that perplexes an American: How could Bhutto — Harvard- and Oxford-educated, unapologetically secular — have become the first woman elected to lead a Muslim country? In part, the answer is that in dynastic Pakistan, she is effectively royalty. The second question: Why should this election matter so much to America? That answer is simpler. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Also, the most dangerous place in the world is Pakistan’s lawless border with Afghanistan. It is a Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorism where Osama bin Laden is believed to enjoy sanctuary.

Bhutto maintains that the Pakistani army’s decision to overthrow her in 1996 came after she announced plans to crack down on terrorism. “I am what the terrorists most fear,” she tells me, “a female political leader fighting to bring modernity to Pakistan. Now they’re trying to kill me."

Talat Masood, a retired general who has advised Bhutto, foresees his nation breaking in half. “ The only option left to the people of Pakistan,” he says, “is the military or the militants.”

Or another try at democracy under Bhutto.

. . .

During our talk in Larkana, Bhutto weeps in describing her struggles after being ousted 12 years ago on charges of plundering the treasury. Her husband was jailed without charges. She faced constant harassment by the courts. Even while living with her three children in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai, she could not open a bank account or use a credit card because of the charges against her in Pakistan. “I didn’t have the press, I didn’t have the judiciary, I was all alone,” she whimpers. As if on cue, tears fall. “I only had God,” she moans.

Bhutto still insists that there are no foreign bank accounts in her name. I suggest that most are in the names of her mother or of friends. She feigns surprise—what could others’ finances have to do with her? “I’m an independent legal entity!” she protests. “What’s the difference between you and me?”

“One point five billion dollars,” I reply—the amount the Pakistani government contends that she and her husband pocketed while in power. She also allegedly siphoned funds from the U.N. Oil for Food program. Her defense: “Six other companies in Pakistan did it. Nobody investigated them.”

Beneath the theatrics Bhutto uses to such effect is an ominous reality. “She’s the No. 1 target of the terrorists right now,” says Humayun Gauhar, a confidant of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Bhutto says she first heard the name Osama bin Laden in 1989, when he sent $10 million to the ISI, Pakistan’s infamous intelligence service, to help it overthrow her first government. The ISI has close ties to radical Islamists and was responsible for the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. America’s CIA, which also supported the Afghan holy warriors in their guerrilla struggle against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, continues to work with the ISI today—theoretically in suppressing the very terrorist legions it helped to create.

“Benazir tried to push the intelligence service out of politics in her first term,” acknowledges America’s ambassador to Pakistan at the time, Robert Oakley. “It was a bold move, but it failed."

“I was ignorant of the extremist war of these new radical Islamists until my second term,” Bhutto tells me. Upon re-election in 1993, she learned of more attempts to assassinate her from the interrogation of a Pakistani terrorist named Ramzi Yousef—the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center. That investigation also revealed to her the existence of madrassas, or Islamic schools, preaching jihad against the West.

Bhutto tried once more to break the ISI. Again, she failed and was overthrown—and, with ISI support, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan became the staging ground for 9/11.

. . .

To understand why Bhutto is so driven, one must imagine her huddling with her mother in a cold jail cell through a long April night in 1979, waiting for her father to be hanged by the military strongman who had overthrown him. The young woman and her mother subsequently lived through repeated raids, arrests and solitary confinement.

Have you healed? I ask this 54-year-old survivor. Or is avenging your father your solace?

“I feel that a wrong must be righted,” she says. She recalls her father’s parting words: “You can walk away. You’re young. You can go to live in London or Paris or Geneva.”

“No,” she told him. “I have to keep up this mission of yours, of democracy.”

Bhutto’s own family dismisses her little-girl-lost script. “Her father’s death was enormously convenient for her politically,” her American-educated niece, Fatima Bhutto, tells me. “She has no legacy of her own except for corruption and violence, so she rests on her father’s laurels.” Fatima blames her aunt for her own father’s assassination in 1996.

Reflecting on the lessons of her two terms as prime minister, Bhutto tells me, “It’s only now that America has awakened to what we were already fighting—Islamic jihadis.” Fortunately for her, the West’s urgent fear of Pakistan as a breeding ground for terrorists has given Bhutto the chance to redefine herself. During most of her exile, she was considered irrelevant by Washington. Then she hired Hillary Clinton’s image-maker, Mark Penn, and began playing up to Musharraf.

When Musharraf’s popularity dove in 2007 after his jailing of judges, lawyers and journalists, Bhutto suddenly emerged as America’s “ideal.” U.S. politicians needed her—progressive, secular, female, willing to compromise—to put a face of democracy on their support for Musharraf’s autocratic rule.

True to form, Bhutto manipulated Musharraf to erase the charges against her, promising not to return to Pakistan until after national elections. She then broke that promise. But once she sensed that even her stalwarts were appalled at an arranged political marriage to a dictator, she spurned Musharraf and became her own woman again.

I sense a dark reflection in both Bhutto’s psychological history and her country’s constant turmoil—a compulsion to repeat past traumas. A prime example is the way she returned to her country on Oct. 18.

Ignoring warnings of terrorist cells plotting to kill her, Bhutto presided from atop a caravan over a parade that took 10 hours to snake through Karachi. Near midnight, the streetlights went out. The police disappeared. Her feet swollen from standing, Bhutto ducked below into a steel command center to remove her sandals. Moments later, a bomb went off. “I had a sickening, sickening feeling,” she tells me. She now believes the bomb was wired to an infant that a man had been trying to hand to her. She recalls saying to the people with her, “Don’t go outside—another blast will follow.” It did.

When she finally emerged, Bhutto saw bits of brain and flesh and fingers from 20 members of Benazir’s Brigade—the young guards who wear red shirts proclaiming “I Give My Life for Bhutto” — decorating the platform from which she had waved. All told, 170 of her supporters died. Tellingly, the Musharraf government has mounted no investigation.

Her friend Abida Hussain, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., tells me that Bhutto later felt sad and asked, “How many lives did I risk?” Bhutto herself indignantly protests this anecdote to me. “I said no such thing! We must be out on the streets, or the terrorists win.”

Such is politics in Pakistan.

. . .

Musharraf called the attempt on Bhutto a suicide attack by Islamic extremists. Bhutto believes it was the work of Musharraf’s allies. “There are rogue elements within ISI that are ideologically jihadist and less than enthusiastic about Benazir Bhutto becoming prime minister a third time,” says a Bhutto adviser. However, Musharraf’s confidant Gauhar argues to me: “We don’t want a dead Benazir on our hands! She’d be just another unlikely martyr that we don’t need.”

If Bhutto returns to power this week, Gauhar predicts the U.S. will finally get what Musharraf has refused it: “She will allow NATO boots on the ground in our tribal areas and a chance to neuter our nuclear weapons.” Yet President Bush remains reluctant to give up on Musharraf, despite the fact that two-thirds of Pakistanis want him to resign immediately. If the election is rigged, as expected, public outrage is likely to erupt. Bhutto says she won’t join an illegitimate government. But her niece, Fatima Bhutto, says, “She’ll work with anyone to get back into power.”

Despite the corrosion of her reputation by corruption and compromise, Bhutto appears to be America’s strongest anchor in the effort to turn back the extremist Islamic tide threatening to engulf Pakistan. What would you like to tell President Bush? I ask this riddle of a woman.

She would tell him, she replies, that propping up Musharraf’s government, which is infested with radical Islamists, is only hastening disaster. “I would say, ‘Your policy of supporting dictatorship is breaking up my country.’ I now think al-Qaeda can be marching on Islamabad in two to four years.”


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"In a monarchy, the king is law, in a democracy, the law is king."
-Thomas Paine

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