Bhutto's Party Resumes Challenge to Power

The period of grieving for Benazir Bhutto officially ends today, and her Pakistan Peoples Party is starting a new campaign for the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. Kamal Siddiqi, editor of the News International, reports from Karachi.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

About 20,000 mourners gathered outside the tomb of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today to pay their last respects. It's the official end of mourning for the woman assassinated 40 days ago.

And now, Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, begins his campaign for parliament as the new head of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Those elections originally scheduled for January 8th, are expected to happen in a little less than two weeks from now on February 18th.

Joining us now to give us the latest on the situation in Pakistan is Kamal Siddiqi, editor of - reporting with the News International. He's in Karachi, Pakistan.

Hi, Kamal.

Mr. KAMAL SIDDIQI (Editor, News International): Hi, hello.

STEWART: Thank you for being with us this morning.

I want to start with some news this week about Benazir Bhutto's political will. This was a one-page, hand-written letter that she had written last October, just a few days before she returned to Pakistan after her self-imposed exile of 12 years. She clearly knew she was risking her life and felt it necessary to articulate her wisher for the political future of Pakistan. Why did the party decide to make this public?

Mr. SIDDIQI: The official information is that the political will or the will of Ms. Bhutto was made public after the 40 days of mourning which ended today. And that is why the party decided. But the unofficial explanation also is the fact that the larger question about the fact that Ms. Bhutto handed over the reins of the party to her husband, and therefore there was lots of talk about whether this was the right thing to do and whether (unintelligible) that you really existed.

STEWART: And how is her husband, Asif Ali Zardari? How is he viewed by the political party or the PPP?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, obviously, he is seen more as the caretaker leader who is in place till in Ms. Bhutto's son takes power. So in that sense, he is seen as the temporary arrangement. But at the same time, they fear that he may be trying to make his position more permanent.

STEWART: He has been quite vocal and critical of Musharraf's government. Just this last week, on Tuesday, he wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times accusing Musharraf of failing to properly investigate Benazir Bhutto's death. There is news today that authorities have now arrested two more suspects linked to Bhutto's assassination. Kamal, what else do you know about the investigation?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, today, the Scotland Yard team that was appointed by General Musharraf to investigate the murder is back in Pakistan and is expected to give us findings shortly. But the political party of Ms. Bhutto has been demanding (unintelligible) most basic demand that a U.N. commission be appointed, to which the government has not agreed.

STEWART: And why not?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, the governments says that (unintelligible) exists. There's no third country involved, and therefore UN commissions only come in places where a third country is involved, as in the case in Lebanon, where Syria was believed to be involved.

STEWART: Asif Ali Zardari has contended that because the investigation in his view hasn't gone as in depth as it should, that these are not proper conditions in which to hold a national election. Is that something the rest of the party feels? And, indeed, is that something that's held by most Pakistanis at large? Do people think that the country is ready for these elections?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, honestly speaking, he wants Pakistani to appear for the election, but at the same time it's a situation where you caught with being the devil in the deep blue sea. Because if we don't have election, we will not have a new government that is more representative. And at the same time, moving towards elections, would seem more violence taking place, as militants are trying to sabotage it. So we're stuck in between and hoping for the best.

STEWART: What are the odds, Kamal, as you've been able to gauge things these days, in recent weeks, all the jockying for political positions among the parties? What are the odds that Musharraf will retain power after these elections?

Mr. SIDDIQI: That is the only thing that's (unintelligible) that Musharraf will remain the president, and he will remain the powerful president. The odds - he has been reelected. He was reelected in November last year. Now, who will become his prime minister is more of a question or a kind of coalition agreement comes into place. That is what we're looking at.

STEWART: Well, I guess the question - the better question then is, what are the odds of him securing an alliance that will secure his power in that prime ministerial position, that one of his allies would be appointed to that?

Mr. SIDDIQI: I think that is - there are (unintelligible) favor of somebody chosen by President Musharraf coming to power. And that is something that the opposition party, they're talking about and alleging that there's going to be massive rigging in the elections, and that is what we fear as well.

STEWART: A few weeks ago, Musharraf traveled to Europe. He met with European leaders in an effort to shore up his reputation, I suppose, and try to repair the damage done after the state of emergency. What came out of that trip?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, there is a lot of talk about the West supporting the electoral process. But at the same time, there are lots of questions being asked about the (unintelligible) of the process. And in one sense, more questions were left unanswered when Musharraf came back in terms of what agreements are in place to ensure the fairness of the elections.

STEWART: And are - have international observers, international election observers, have they said that they will indeed be monitoring these elections?

Mr. SIDDIQI: We are having more than 100 election observers in place in Pakistan, but a lot of the political parties are already saying that the rigging that was supposed to take place has already done so with the transfer of key officials. And also other administrative decisions that have been taken which would support candidates that are pro-government.

STEWART: This all - all of this doesn't sound very positive, Kamal. If you're saying that people already believe that there is rigging that has taken place, what are the odds that these elections would be seen as legitimate?

Mr. SIDDIQI: Well, what I was saying is that opposition parties have alleged, people are hopeful that on come election day, things would not be as bad as possible. And at the same time, Pakistanis see these elections as one way for things to settle down and for the country to move ahead.

STEWART: And lastly, I want to check back with you. You have been someone we've touched base with several times as the crisis in Pakistan has unfolded. You, yourself, your news organization was shut down. You were put in prison during the state of emergency. What is the status for media and journalists, reporters like yourself right now after the state of emergency was repealed?

Mr. SIDDIQI: There have been some - restrictions have been in some way softened, but at the same time we are constantly being warned of how to report and what to write about. And we are also - their expectations from the people for us to write more candid stuff. So we again are also caught in between, but we are trying to do the best we can under the circumstances.

STEWART: Kamal Siddiqi is the editor of reporting with the News International in Karachi, Pakistan. He spoke with us this morning from Karachi.

Thanks very much, Kamal.

Mr. SIDDIQI: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

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