Video: Bhutto speaks out

NBC News
updated 11/3/2007 7:50:48 PM ET 2007-11-03T23:50:48

NBC News' Andrea Mitchell speaks with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, from her home in Karachi, Pakistan. Bhutto had just arrived in Pakistan after the imposition of martial law by President Pervez Musharraf.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister Bhutto, tell me what your latest information is about what President Musharraf has done, and your reaction to it.

BHUTTO: General Musharraf has suspended the constitution of Pakistan, so it's really a declaration of martial law. But he's calling it an emergency. An emergency sounds more palatable to international opinion. But the proclamation says that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance, and that's very worrying. My party and I would like to see the constitution restored.

MITCHELL: Is there any justification that you know of for him declaring this suspension of the constitution?

BHUTTO: Well, General Musharraf has tried to justify the imposition of martial law or emergency claiming that there has been an ascendancy in the activities of extremists. I agree with him that there has been ascendancy in the activities of the extremists, but I don't believe in the solution. In my view, dictatorship fuels extremism. The extremists feed off dictatorship, and dictatorship feeds off the extremists. The dictatorship needs the extremists to justify its existence, and the extremists need dictatorship to expand and spread. So I believe the solution lies in respecting the constitution, respecting the rule of law, and investing in the people, trusting the people, and allowing the people to determine their future.

MITCHELL: What are you planning to do?

BHUTTO: I returned to Pakistan to give moral support to the people of my country and to tell them that they were not alone in the struggle for the restoration of our constitution. I plan to meet with leaders of other political parties and discuss with them the policies we should make in trying to seek a restoration of our constitution.

MITCHELL: At this point, given what General Musharraf has done, have you abandoned any plan to work out a political agreement where you would run, and become prime minister, and work with him in a government?

BHUTTO: Well, it's very difficult for me to work with a military leader. General Musharraf has committed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and he has personally assured me, that he would retire as Chief of Army Staff. But now he has declared martial law in this capacity, as Chief of Army Staff. The constitution gives our president emergency powers, but the constitutional articles for emergency have not been utilized. Instead General Musharraf has said that in his capacity, that "I, General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim emergency." So he has actually said that he will continue as Chief of Army Staff, and that makes for a very difficult situation. Of course, if he was to restore the constitution and retire as Chief of Army Staff, that would be a totally different situation. It would lend confidence that he was once again considering the democratic route. But not while he remains Chief of Army Staff and suspends the constitution.

MITCHELL: And what do you think you and your supporters can do now, politically or in any other fashion?

BHUTTO: Well, we would like to protest the imposition of martial law, and we would like to raise our voices for the restoration of democracy. So we're going to be meeting together to discuss the most effective ways of doing that. We are calling upon the international community to use its enormous leverage with General Musharraf to persuade him that this is a regressive step, it's a violation of the promises and the commitments that he made to the people of Pakistan and to the international community. And that if he really wishes to fight extremists, then the best way to do that is to trust the people, restore the constitution, establish an independent election commission, and hold fair, free and impartial elections.

MITCHELL: Have you had any communication with Secretary Rice or any American officials?

BHUTTO: Not yet. I just came to Pakistan. But before, earlier, yesterday I heard that there were efforts being made to stop the imposition of emergency. And I also planned to come back to Pakistan so that I could also contact the people in the regime here and tell them not to take this step. But by the time I left, they had already taken this step.

MITCHELL: I've seen a report from Sky News that you believe that this is an attempt to delay elections for a year or two. Is that what you believe is happening?

BHUTTO: That's right. My reports from inside the regime are that there is going to be a salami (piecemeal) approach, where we are going to be told this is a temporary measure for three to six months, and then it will be extended for another six months. And in fact, I believe that the hard-liners within the regime, and there are many hard-liners which served with an earlier military dictator of the 80's, who formed the Afghan muhjahideen who went on to become al-Qaida and Taliban. These hard-liners believe that America will be caught up in the presidential elections for a year. And then a new administration in the U.S. will take another year to settle down. And they feel they need two years to drive NATO out of Afghanistan, destabilize (Afghan President) Karzai, and set up a kind of puppet government there, as well to expand their influence in Pakistan. These are the reports I'm getting from inside the regime.

MITCHELL: You think that General Musharraf is trying to suspend the constitution for an extended period of time, for a matter of years?

BHUTTO: Yes. But he will not say so immediately. It will be done in installments. I believe this position has been taken to suspend the constitution for at least one year, if not two.

MITCHELL: I was going to ask you if you're concerned for your safety?

BHUTTO: I do have concerns for the safety of all the people of my country, not just myself. I am unsure what will happen; this is a difficult period, but at the same time, General Musharraf has also been sensitive to international opinion. He was going to impose emergency earlier, and then the United States intervened; there was a long conversation with the secretary of State. And so I do believe that it's very important for us to try and get Pakistan back on to the democratic track. To persuade General Musharraf to restore the constitution, and to respect the courts, to respect the judiciary, and to trust the people of the country.

MITCHELL: Prime Minister, what would you like the United States government to do at this stage?

BHUTTO: I would like the United States government to telephone General Musharraf to tell him that it's not possible for them to support the suspension of Pakistan's constitution or the sacking of the judges. And that democracy is important, as President Bush has rightly said, it is democracy, it is the strength of the ballot, not the bullet, that is more important, and if it's about winning hearts and minds then democracy is very important. I would like the United States to tell General Mushararf -- please, accept the verdict of the people, hold elections, restore the constitution.

MITCHELL: Do you think it's so risky at this point that you would not hold rallies or marches? Have you decided one way or another what you want you and your political supporters to do?

BHUTTO: We would like to hold rallies and public demonstrations, but now fundamental human rights have been suspended, and we are going to have to get together to decide what is the best form of protest. But there will be a protest. Whether it's a public meeting, whether it's a sit-in, there will be protests, because it's very difficult to keep quiet in the face of the suspension of the constitution of Pakistan, which amounts to a military rule. We would like to see the restoration of the constitution, and I would like to urge General Musharraf to restore the constitution, to accept the verdict of the court, even if it's a verdict that he does not like. Because we can only strengthen the rule of law if we accept the verdict of the court. And I would like to ask Washington not to put everything behind one man, but to put it behind the people of Pakistan. People of my country must know that the international community and the world's only superpower stands with them rather than with an individual.

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