Bhutto Says Her Party Targeted in Crackdown

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told NPR Sunday that she is "very disappointed" that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has imposed emergency rule. Here is a transcript of her interview with Liane Hansen, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Ms. Bhutto, what is your response to General Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan?

I'm very disappointed that General Musharraf has suspended Pakistan's constitution and proclaimed a new provisional constitutional order. He's said he's done this to stop extremism but many people in Pakistan believe that this has actually been done to stop the Supreme Court from giving an adverse order against his eligibility to remain as army chief and president of the country. My party is deeply concerned that the subversion of democracy could fuel further extremism.

The general cited as one reason for his decision ... the release by the Supreme Court of what he called 61 terrorists and he hinted that they might have been a factor in the bombing that greeted your return to Pakistan – one that killed 140 of your supporters – how do you respond to that?

Yes, General Musharraf has said that one of the complaints he had against the judicatory was that it had released a wanted terrorist. But this has not been elaborated and if the Supreme Court had taken measures against moderation, I think he should have gone back to the Supreme Court with a fresh reference. But I don't understand why the entire constitution has to be suspended or the elections postponed because General Musharraf is unhappy with the actions of certain judges in the Supreme Court. The parliament was there, General Musharraf could have gone to the parliament. He could have asked the political parties over – there are moderate political parties who oppose terrorism. If there was a problem with the court freeing terrorists, as is being spun now, then there were other constitutional and political solutions available.

Having declared emergency rule, there have been arrests. Can you tell us anything about arrests of members of your party?

Yes. Local leaders of my party were arrested in large numbers last night. So, we are now calling for the release of the political leaders and lawyers. It's wrong to muzzle the press; it's wrong to cripple the judiciary; it's wrong to arrest political parties because if we want to build a tolerant pluralistic society, it's these civil institutions that actually enable a tolerant society to emerge. So this is an attack on the very institutions that can, in the long term, confront terrorism and extremism.

What are you telling your supporters right now? What are you telling them to do?

I'm telling my supporters that the political parties are going to meet to share views and that we will come up with a consensus plan of action.

Are you concerned at all about demonstrations?

Well, certainly demonstrations will be under [guard] unless General Musharraf moves quickly to diffuse the situation and restore the constitution.

Wouldn't that be very dangerous for you and your followers?

Yes, it would be dangerous but the dangers of not doing anything are far greater. We either acquiesce to the spread of extremism and terrorism in our country. And if we don't acquiesce then we are termed controversial and polarizing. But we feel that we can not accept and acquiesce to the rise of militancy and extremism in our country, which threaten our people's lives and so although there are risks, we have to take those risks.

What are the chances, do you think, of your own arrest?

Well, I never know when I'll be arrested. I expected to be arrested last night when I reached my country. I'm thankful I wasn't arrested. I hope I'm not arrested, but irrespective, that Pakistan and its people's dream for a democratic future must be nurtured and nourished and not killed out of fear of arrest.

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