Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto announced today that she would return to her home town of Karachi, Pakistan on October 18, daring President Musharraf to arrest her on outstanding corruption charges if the two fail to reach a political agreement before then.
Asked if she feared she would be denied entry to Pakistan, Ms. Bhutto said that she had never agreed to self-exile nor sought the help of a foreign government, unlike Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who was denied entry and sent to Saudi Arabia last week.
“I didn’t bring any foreign guarantors in, even though I was offered that my husband should be released, so I can’t be deported,” she told Newsmax in Washington this morning.
Her husband was jailed for eight years on corruption charges, although he was never convicted in a court of law, she said.
A Pakistani court has issued an arrest warrant for Ms. Bhutto, although in a gesture of reconciliation Gen. Musharraf withdrew a request to Interpol to enforce the warrants, as Newsmax revealed in August.
The former two-term Prime Minister also made an impassioned argument for why a civilian government in Pakistan would be a better partner for the United States in the war on radical Islamic extremists.
“Unfortunately, on the ground the extremists are gaining in strength, and we in Pakistan have lost control over the tribal areas which are now being used as safe havens by militants who are crossing the borders and destabilizing President Karzai [of Afghanistan].”
She blamed the upsurge in extremism to Musharraf and to military rule, which had turned Pakistan into “the Petri dish of the international extremist movement.
“The very ones who created the mujahedin [in Afghanistan] and who later moved on to the Taliban and al-Qaida, have today moved to control our homeland security,” she said.
Ms. Bhutto promised that if she returned to Pakistan as prime minister, her first priorities would be to provide an alternative to the radical madrassas that now educate a majority of young Pakistanis by reforming government schools.
But she was less assertive of her ability to weed out extremist officers from the army and from Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), the powerful intelligence service that is dominated by the military.
“The reform of the armed forces depends very much on the constitution of Pakistan,” she argued. “The constitution gives those powers to the president, so reform of the intelligence services will be a job for the president.”
Under a constitution reform now under discussion, Gen. Musharraf will give up his post as army chief but be allowed to stand for re-election. Pakistan’s parliament is now scheduled to hold the presidential vote on October 6.
If she gets elected as Prime Minister, Ms. Bhutto told Newsmax she would “offer my advice” on an army purge. “And my first advice would be to get rid of all those officers who are retired from the ISI and who played a pivotal role in the jihad against the Soviets.
“They believe they defeated one superpower. They want to fight another superpower. And their inclusion in key posts like Pakistan’s current intelligence bureau and administration is detrimental to the fight against terror,” she told Newsmax today.
Newsmax also asked Ms. Bhutto how she would make good on her pledge to weaken the power of radical imams appointed by Gen. Musharraf’s government to head major religious institutions in Pakistan.
“I would not allow them to build on government land,” she said.
She noted that the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where Islamist radicals battled government forces recently, was illegally built on government land.
“This is why I say that elements of the government have supported and protected the extremists. Without that support, the extremists could not have built the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, they could not have mutinied, and we would not have lost a hundred innocent lives. So there has to be a clear message to the militants that you can’t violate the laws of the land.”
Ms. Bhutto hammered Gen. Musharraf and his administration for expanding the powers of Islamic radicals, not weakening them.
”We say we are fighting against terrorism, but we are sending mixed signals. Because the military regime needs the threat of an extremist takeover to justify its stranglehold on power,” she argued.
In public remarks to the Middle East Institute before talking to Newsmax today, Bhutto also made the following points; only a return to civilian government could help recapture the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan, which she said had been “lost” to the Taliban and al-Qaida. negotiations between her and Gen. Musharraf over a power-sharing arrangement had broken down, “because the military fears a return to democratic rule… and a reduction in their power.” She and her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have set three conditions for supporting a third term as president for Gen. Musharraf: a constitutional amendment legalizing his candidacy, an immunity law for prior members of parliament, and the repeal of a ban on twice-elected prime ministers from seeking a third term. Both the immunity law and the prime minister’s ban will affect her directly. Ms. Bhutto PPP leaders will meet in London on October 3, to determine whether or not to support Gen. Musharraf’s presidential bid.
Either way, however, Ms. Bhutto acknowledged that Gen. Musharraf “had the votes” to win re-election if the issue of his eligibility was resolved.
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