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Q&A With Asif Ali Zardari

The widower of Benazir Bhutto.

11:00 PM, Feb 12, 2008 • By URS GEHRIGER
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Editor's Note: The following is a question and answer with Asif Ali Zardari, the controversial widower of Benazir Bhutto and Co-Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party. He is widely described as a kingmaker and a potential leader of Pakistan. In this exclusive interview with Urs Gehriger from the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, he speaks about the national elections scheduled for February 18, his political ambitions, the Islamic fundamentalist threat, and the legacy of his late wife. The interview was held on February 10.

Q: Mr. Zardari, the 40-day period of mourning after the assassination of former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto has ended. As her political heir you have restarted the election campaign. Do you think the elections scheduled for February 18th will be held in a fair and democratic way?

A: The international election monitors have already given a verdict. In their reports they have submitted to their individual head offices and that were released to the press they say that pre poll rigging has already taken place. They have already condemned these elections as farce.

Q: Why are you going into elections which you know are not going to be fair?

A: We in the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) are going into the elections under protest. We participate but at the same time we are keeping the world's attention that we need democracy and we need free and fair elections and we show that we are not getting them. We are proving that point by participating rather than boycotting elections. And we take precedence from our history. When our late founder and leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in the death cell the then dictator Zia ul-Hak had called for an election and PPP had decided to participate. Then the dictator ran away from the election. So we find strength and wisdom in our history. Our party has a long history in confronting dictatorships.

Q: But you run the risk that the government might try to steal an elections victory from the PPP.

A: Yes. I think they are trying to steal the victory from PPP. But I am sure with the help of the people we will try to stop them from stealing. And if they do steal we have other options open.

Q: What other options?

A: Our followers could take the streets and protest against the rigged elections. There are many venues open as such. But the idea is to first to exhaust all dialogue, exhaust all possible peaceful means, then only as a sort of a last call we would take the streets.

Q: Your wife has been murdered. There is ongoing violence in the country. Are you personally afraid for your life?

A: I have never been afraid for my life because in this part of the world we believe in "God gives, and God takes." But I'm taking precautions. I want to live. Yes, I love life like everybody else loves life. I have three children and I have a party to look after. I have a mission to accomplish. I have a meaning in life, so I want to live.

Q: Have you received any threats?

A: I haven't had any direct threats. But the people keep warning me not to expose myself in public. We have taken some of our own security measures. But obviously we have not the ability to organise full security. That is the job of the government. But the government is failing in their job.
Q: Last week you presented the one page handwritten political will of your late wife. In it she wrote to the party: "I would like my husband Asif Ali Zardari to lead you in this interim period until you and he decide what is best". To what conclusion have you come? Who should lead the party in the future?
A: I am the co-chair person of the Pakistan People Party, my son is the chairman. I co-chair it like my late wife did once. In 1979, after the murder of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, young Benazir was the co-chair person with her mother. It is history repeating itself.
Q: Why did you not take over the mantle fully? Why did you make your 19 year-old son Bilawal the chairperson while he is still studying at Oxford University?

A: I am leading the party in my own capacity. The party needs wisdom. I proposed to the Central Executive Committee, which is the largest body of the PPP, that for continuity my son should take over the leadership. The people of Pakistan are hopelessly disgruntled, they are dejected, they are hurt. The youth of Pakistan which is the majority of today needs a new beacon, a new hope. When nations have hope, nations survive.

Q: How can you justify the rather feudal practice of making a modern political party a family legacy?

A: People in the West don't understand the political mindset and political background of our region. The largest democracy in the world, India, made Indira Gandhi's son Prime Minister before the elections. He was made Prime Minister immediately when Indira Ghandi was assassinated. . . .