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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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A: We were an extension of ourselves. I give you a quote from her last drive before she got martyred. Nahid, her personal secretary, told me that she was wearing silk. She told Nahid: "You know, Asif won't like it." I told her to wear cotton, because silk catches fire very easily. We were constantly in each other's spirit. What she has left behind is a policy for nearly all situations that could come and that are coming. We cover ourselves with her spirit. And when we sit on her chair we think about what she would do. Like her son said: "democracy is the best revenge". That is not the usual male response. That is what she has given us as her legacy. We can take justice to this job by guiding her philosophy and taking it around the world and making it a part of the legacy of this country.

Q: What do you say about the recent findings of the Scotland Yard investigators, who said that Benazir Bhutto was killed by the force of a suicide bombing, supporting the government's position and dismissing your party's claim that the former prime minister died from gunshots moments earlier?

A: I will say that in the party we are still deliberating the issue. We have not come to a final conclusion. We have to look into it from a lot of legal angles. The Human Rights Commission has come out with a criticism of the report. The journalists by large and far in the Pakistani press have not supported that position.

Q: Your party has protested repeatedly against the lack of security provided by the government. Do you think the government did play a role in the assassination of your wife?

A: I have asked for a United Nations inquiry. On December 27, within hours of Bhutto's murder, the 15-member U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting deploring her assassination and underlining the need to bring "perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors" of the crime to justice. We have adopted that. So I would want to wait till we accomplish our mission and we bring the Untied Nations inquiry along. We wait for its conclusions before we are accusing anybody.

Q: After the first assassination attempt against Benazir Bhutto after her return to Pakistan last October you accused the government having partly responsibly for the attack. Why?

A: I was watching the live coverage of her home coming ceremony on television at my home in Dubai. I have observed that street lights began to dim and then go off as she approached. The jamming equipment that was supposed to be blocking cell phone signals, that could detonate suicide bombs, or even remote-controlled toy planes filled with explosives, for 200 meters around her truck did not seem to be working.

Q: I have heard that you made a phone call to your wife warning her. What did you say?

A: I did try to tell her that the lights were going off and I told her to go behind the bullet proof glass on the buss.

Q: What did she say to you?

A: She said: "Leave it to God".

Q: Do you know who was behind that first attempt to murder your wife?

A: I have my suspicions.

Q: Which are?

A: I would like to wait for the United Nations to investigate it.

Q: But are your suspicions leaning more towards an official side - the military or the intelligence--or rather towards a terrorist group?

A: Nobody in Pakistan buys the fact that a terrorist is on the job and is not claiming the fame.

Q: Let's look in the future. Are you in regular contact with Nawaz Sharif, whose party, the Pakistan Muslim League, is also running in the elections?

A: Yes, I am trying to keep up with Mr. Sharif, we are in contact.

Q: On what terms are those talks?

A: At the moment they are very cordial, we have never sat down and had political discussion. Life has not allowed. But I'm hoping that in the future we will have a political dialogue together.

Q: You have no bitterness to Mr. Sharif who actually jailed you when he was Prime Minister?

A: We have never taken things personally.

Q: You could imagine forming an alliance with him?

A: I have asked for a national consensus government in which everybody is aligned. That is the need of the hour. There is too much aggression, too much divide in the country. When the nation stands divided we cannot afford to divide it further.

Q: Will you work with President Musharraf? Do you recognize him as a legal president of the country?

A: The party has decided that we will face the situation once we have gone through the elections and we are in the assemblies. We are not trying to become a problem for the world. We want to be part of the solution.

Q: If you win a two third majority it could mean curtains for Musharraf. You could impeach him and even become President yourself. Is that an option for you?

A: We will come to the bridge and we will cross it. The party has decided to wait and not give its mind to anything till after the elections.

Q: But you would not rule it out?

A: I am not ruling it in either. For now we are hoping to get a two third majority with all the combined opposition.

Q: Do you believe that the Army under its new chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, will follow a different course than under Pervez Musharraf?

A: I don't think so. President Musharraf has still a very big influence on the army. We would welcome any change. Every democratic force in the world has maintained that the army has only one job, this is looking after the safety of the borders or looking after situations the civilians cannot look after. The officer cadre is only about six percent of the whole Pakistan Army. Only a few of those officers are involved in government. So, how can a few run a country of 175 million people?

Q: So, you would call them to go back into the barracks?

A: Of course, that goes without saying. We have always demanded that.

Q: What do you see as the biggest threats within Pakistan today?

A: Unemployment, Education, Terrorism.

Q: In the west there is big concern about terrorists who are getting training in Pakistan. Your country now seems to be the most popular training ground for jihadists. Your wife had a very strong and clear position against Islamic fundamentalism. What is your position?

A: Her position was the position of the PPP. We don't think there is any excuse to use aggression or terrorist tactics. There is no justification in violence as a means of communication. Nobody wants Pakistan to be a Taliban state. Nobody wants warlords here. Unfortunately the government has just been play acting in the war against terror as it did in the economy and other topics. They have the trailer but no movie.

Q: Many in the west are concerned that the nuclear facilities might fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Should the world be concerned about the safety of the nuclear facilities in Pakistan?

A: I think the world should be considerate and concerned about Pakistan itself, of a balkanisation of the country, not just of one exclusive issue. This nation of 175 million people need to be looked into and looked after. We need to be assisted. We need to be helped. We need to be cared for.

Q: What are your expectations of the United States?

A: We are hoping that the United States will help us to form a democracy. We are hoping that they will but their force behind the policy of free and fair elections and assist Pakistan to fight terrorism which we are faced with. Terrorism is not just a scare for the US and Europe but it is a reality for us at home. If we become a talibanized state we will be the first victims.

Q: Should the US military be allowed to do some cross border missions to target terrorist groups hiding in the tribal areas in Pakistan?

A: I don't think the Americans want to conduct cross border actions. They haven't had very good experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think this issue is just a political stand used by everybody who wants to bash his or her political opponent.

Q: Late Benazir Bhutto enjoyed very good relations with US politicians and administrations. Will the PPP under your guidance try to continue this cordial partnership?

A: I don't claim that we can do anything as much as my late wife did, but we will definitely walk in her shoes and follow the same light as she could see at the end of the tunnel. The PPP believes in engaging all the political forces. We expect to work with the world. We expect to work with the Commonwealth. We expect to work with the United States of America. We expect to work with the regional powers. We are inclusive of everybody.

Interview conducted by Urs Gehriger of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche.