RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
President Musharraf's approval ratings were down but really plunged following the assassination in late December of the popular opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. On the day she died, she was working on a book about democracy. She made the last few edits on the manuscript that morning.
I: Islam, Democracy and the West," is released today. It's part history, part political manifesto, part memoir. Bhutto's long-time friend, Mark Siegel, collaborated on the book and joined us to speak about it. Good morning.
MARK SIEGEL: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And in a way you're speaking for her.
MONTAGNE: Reading her description of her return to Pakistan last October after eight years of exile, it's chilling, and partly because she could have been writing about her own assassination, and partly because she describes the government's inaction as carelessness and possible complicity.
SIEGEL: That's correct. And some people who have read that section of the book find it hard to believe that it was written before the assassination because it talks about the feelings that she had getting off that plane and the conspiracy that she thought was involved against her and things that she said to General Musharraf, asking for more security.
And unfortunately many of those things that she asked for, almost all of them, were not granted.
MONTAGNE: Of course, no hard evidence that there was in fact any sort of complicity. I mean, the government is blaming her death on terrorists.
SIEGEL: Yes. And I don't think Benazir would doubt that al-Qaida and Taliban were actually involved. But over 50 percent of the people in Pakistan do think that elements of the government and elements of General Musharraf's party, the PMLQ, were involved.
It's an unfortunate political situation when half of the country think that the government is involved in something like this. And I think for the sake of Pakistan an independent investigation that gets to the heart of the matter would be good for the country.
MONTAGNE: She writes in the book that she saw herself as a catalyst, or hoped that she would be a catalyst for change in coming back to Pakistan. And one of the things in this book that she does is offer non-Muslims an education of sorts about Islam and takes on what she would call the myth that Islam is incompatible with democracy.
SIEGEL: I was with her soon after 9/11. She was really angry and she said that not only were the people of New York and Washington and Pennsylvania victims, but she said that the Muslim nation and Islam was a victim of these terrorists. And I think one of the important things about this book was to make people in the West understand that Islam is a tolerant and pluralistic religion that is actually founded on the principles of democracy, and she lays them out quite clearly. She takes the words of the Koran and demonstrates that these extremists are perverting the holy book.
MONTAGNE: By the time Benazir Bhutto returned, as she described Pakistan, it was a military dictatorship on the verge of political chaos. Here's what she said on our program last November while she was under house arrest.
BENAZIR BHUTTO: The truth is that today Pakistan is at the hands of disintegration because of the terrorist advance, and it's because we are not clear in defining that it's these extremists, these militants who are threatening to disintegrate our country by expanding their influence from the tribal areas into the settled areas.
MONTAGNE: She's speaking there about the Talibanization of the tribal areas, and she had been promising to crack down, which would have been obviously an extremely dangerous thing to promise, or even to do.
SIEGEL: Benazir Bhutto and many others in Pakistan believe that under dictatorship extremism flourishes. It is fueled by dictatorship, and that only a government that has the popular mandate and support of the people will be able to confront the extremists and take them on. General Musharraf, of course, has ceded large areas to the Taliban and al-Qaida and he has not pursued these terrorists in these areas.
Benazir Bhutto believed that a democratically elected government would have the people on the side of the government and the people and the government together was the answer to extremism in Pakistan.
MONTAGNE: You knew her well. How much did she embrace the possibility that death in the service of Pakistan was her fate?
SIEGEL: I was a very close friend of Benazir Bhutto's for a quarter of a century. Our families were like one. I talked to her many, many times about the possibly of her own death. She knew that there was potentially danger in returning back to Pakistan. In fact, she talks about this right at the beginning of the book, how she and her husband Asif Ali Zardari actually sat down and determined that he would not go back with her because if something did in fact happen to her, that it was important that their three wonderful children had a parent to continue to raise them.
It was an unusual conversation that she thinks most parents don't have to have. She believed that God had a plan for her and that plan was to help the people of Pakistan to restore democracy to Pakistan. But she also believed that if something did happen to her, that too was God's will and she accepted it.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
SIEGEL: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Mark Siegel collaborated with Benazir Bhutto on her book, "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West." It's released today.
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MONTAGNE: And you can read Benazir Bhutto's description of her emotional return to Pakistan in an excerpt at npr.org.