Ex-Pakistani Leader Says She'll Return Without Deal Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says she believes she will be able to stay when she returns to the country from exile next month. She plans to go back despite the lack of a power-sharing agreement with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
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Ex-Pakistani Leader Says She'll Return Without Deal

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Ex-Pakistani Leader Says She'll Return Without Deal

Ex-Pakistani Leader Says She'll Return Without Deal

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A key U.S. ally in the war on terror is debating its own people's rights. Pakistanis are waiting to see how or if General Pervez Musharraf stays in power. Elections are approaching, and next month an exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, intends to return to Pakistan to campaign.

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): I expect to be received by a lot of Pakistanis who think that my arrival will signal a shift in Pakistani politics, will make a break with the past of the dictatorship and help facilitate my people's aspirations for democracy.

INSKEEP: Benazir Bhutto has tried, and so far failed, to negotiate a deal to share power with President Musharraf. She's one of two ex-prime ministers who left Pakistan after a military coup. The other tried to return last week and was promptly deported. Benazir Bhutto will face corruption charges if she returns, yet she expects to be able to stay.

Ms. BHUTTO: I expect the Supreme Court of Pakistan to give me bail because the charges against me are frivolous and malicious and have remained unproven. What I'm unsure about is what the regime will do. They may allow me to campaign or they may try to restrict my movements.

INSKEEP: And you think you may very well be charged with crimes and arrested but you think you'll be allowed on bail and you'll be out and moving about freely?

Ms. BHUTTO: That's right.

INSKEEP: Is a larger deal, a power sharing deal of some sort, still possible with President Musharraf on this day?

Ms. BHUTTO: Well, this is a question that General Musharraf can answer. We had assurances that General Musharraf would leave his post as army chief before seeking reelection as president, but he hasn't done that yet. And secondly, we've asked him to take our constitution back to where it was and repeal the law banning a twice-elected prime minister from seeking office a third time.

INSKEEP: When you're talking about changing the law to allow a prime minister to serve a third term, that's something that would benefit you since you've already served two terms.

Ms. BHUTTO: Some people may say that rightly, but I'm not asking General Musharraf to change the law to benefit me. I'm asking General Musharraf to take the law back to where it was, so that people can see that we're rolling back the military state.

INSKEEP: Might it be acceptable to you if, as has been suggested just in the last day or so, if President Musharraf were to say he would give up his military uniform after winning reelection as president?

Ms. BHUTTO: I know some people think that that should be reassuring, but General Musharraf made a similar commitment to the religious alliance known as the MMA when they voted for him as president. He told them that I'm going to retire as the army chief in two years time. But after two years passed, he didn't retire.

INSKEEP: Are you disappointed at all that you have been in contact with President Musharraf, you've been criticized for negotiating with a dictator, and yet even having taken that risk, you don't have an agreement with him?

Ms. BHUTTO: Yes, I am disappointed about that because we were negotiating with General Musharraf for saving democracy and for saving Pakistan from extremism. The pro-Taliban forces have taken over our tribal areas. Now they're trying to spread their tentacles into our cities.

But many people say that we could end up bailing out a military dictator. That was more of our intent, and the fact that we haven't succeeded in saving democracy through the negotiations doesn't put us in a very good light. But I still think we did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn't the popular thing.

INSKEEP: When you mentioned pro-Taliban forces, you raise another issue that will be of great interest to Americans. If you were to come into a position of power again in Pakistan, what would change about the war on terror?

Ms. BHUTTO: My party has a much better record of dealing with terrorism. Many people forget that the World Trade Center was first attacked in the '90s and it was shortly thereafter that I became prime minister. And we took on the forces of extremism and militancy.

It was only after the overthrow of the Pakistan People's Party government that the extremist forces began to regroup and declare war on America and the civilized world.

So I think that my party and I have a much better record because we have our own information, and when we go to the people and ask the people's help, they come forward and help us.

So we have a holistic approach. We have law enforcement mixed with the people's will, which is much more effective in dealing with the forces of hate.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that whoever is hiding Osama bin Laden would cooperate with you to track him down?

Ms. BHUTTO: No, they would not cooperate with me. They would try to stop me. I think the people who are hiding Osama bin Laden are dead scared of democracy. They're frightened that now President Bush and the United States and the world community is calling for elections, they're doing that best to find some pretext by which they can get the elections postponed, because the people who are hiding Osama bin Laden know it would be very difficult for them to do that if democracy brings the Pakistan People's Party back to government under my leadership.

INSKEEP: Benazir Bhutto, it's a pleasure speaking with you.

Ms. BHUTTO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's a former prime minister of Pakistan and she's planning a return from exile as elections approach. You can read a profile of President Pervez Musharraf at npr.org.

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