SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, earning a degree and breaking a traditional stereotype. But first, President Pervez Musharraf stepped down as leader of Pakistan on Monday. The campaign to succeed him is already under way. One of the best-known candidates is Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Zardari took over as head of Pakistan's Peoples Party after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in December. The vote on a new leader is scheduled for two weeks from today, on September 6. Mr. Zardari joins us from Islamabad. Mr. Zardari, thanks so much for being with us.
SIMON: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: What do you want to achieve as president of Pakistan?
SIMON: Full democracy. The major goal of my wife and the Peoples Party was always to bring democracy to Pakistan. We succeeded to a certain extent, and the journey continues. We get total democracy, we get a civilian president in the office of the presidency, and then from there on we develop democracy in Pakistan.
SIMON: And how do you envision your country's relationship with the United States?
SIMON: We need the support of the United States for our democracy, for our economy, for regional - to be regional friends in the region. There are lots of challenges this region is facing and the world is facing in our geographical surroundings. So we are hoping to work hand in hand with the United States to see a better tomorrow and a better region.
SIMON: Is the U.S. more eager to rout the Taliban out of certain tribal areas than the Pakistani government always is?
SIMON: No. I think it's a Pakistan first problem, and the U.S. is there to help us, too. So it's a joint effort. The idea is to get to normalization. It's not a question of moving them out. It's a question of getting things back to normal and having democracy in every region.
SIMON: Mr. Zardari, I have to ask you. You know, you've been charged with corruption, you've been convicted, you've been to prison.
SIMON: Never been convicted. Excuse me.
SIMON: Oh, all right. I guess it was your wife was convicted in the...
SIMON: Nobody was ever convicted...
SIMON: It was the - judgment was vacated, I beg your pardon. The judgment was vacated.
SIMON: Judgment was annulled, which means there was no judgment against us.
SIMON: OK. It wasn't a mistrial declared by the Supreme Court?
SIMON: No. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that the judge should be tried who tried us.
SIMON: OK. Well, I beg your pardon. But as you know, this has been a question among supporters even in your own party for a while. And questions were raised even when Benazir Bhutto was head of the party as to whether this is the kind of baggage a candidate wants to bring along.
SIMON: There is no baggage. If there was a baggage, Pakistan Peoples Party would have not won a sweeping victory in the country. The people have spoken. They don't believe the judges. They never did and never will.
SIMON: The judges were part of the government, the previous government?
SIMON: They were politically motivated cases. The world has said so, and the judiciary has said so, and the people of Pakistan have said so.
SIMON: How do you see - your party's been part of a pretty fragile coalition. And how do you see reaching across some of those lines?
SIMON: I think democracy will succeed one way or the other. Fragile democracy is a trend in our part of the world. India has 40 parties together working in a democracy. We have four to eight parties working together. Hopefully, we'll find a solution. Democracy has to grow. It's still a very young plant.
SIMON: Yes. But how stable can a democracy be if it has to be stitched together from so many different interests?
SIMON: Well, it can be as stable as stable with three walls on our borders, but it will be a learning process, and the journey is important. It's in the journey that you find a lesson to full democracy.
SIMON: Asif Ali Zardari is head of the Pakistan Peoples Party and a candidate now for the presidency of Pakistan. I thank you so much for being with us, sir.
SIMON: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: We'd like to clarify Mr. Zadari's legal situation. He spent 11 years in prison on corruption and murder charges, but he and Benazir Bhutto long claim that the charges were politically motivated. Mrs. Bhutto had demanded dismissal of the corruption charges during negotiations for her return to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Courts later exonerated Mr. Zadari of all the charges against him.