Bhutto Says Her Party Targeted in Crackdown Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's activists are being rounded up following a declaration of emergency rule. Speaking from Islamabad, Bhutto tells host Liane Hansen that the move is a threat to moderate groups in Pakistan and undermines democracy.
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Bhutto Says Her Party Targeted in Crackdown

Hear Ex-Premier Benazir Bhutto and NPR's Liane Hansen

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Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is Pakistan's most potent opposition politician, and she is in Islamabad.

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

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Iran): I'm very disappointed that General Musharraf has suspended Pakistan's constitution and proclaimed the new provisional constitutional order. He says he's done this to stop extremism. But many people in Pakistan believe that this is actually being 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.

HANSEN: The general cited as one reason for his decision was actually the release by the Supreme Court of what he called 61 terrorists. And he hinted there 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?

MS. BHUTTO: Yes. General Musharraf has said that one of the complaints he had against the judiciary 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 of the Supreme Court.

The parliament was there. General Musharraf would have gone to the parliament. He could have asked political parties over. There are moderate political parties who oppose terrorism. If there was a problem with the court freeing terrorists, as it is being spun now, than there were other constitutional and political solutions available.

HANSEN: Having declared emergency rule, there have been arrests, can you tell us anything about arrests of members of your party?

Ms. BHUTTO: Yes. The 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 the lawyers. It's wrong to muzzle the press. It's wrong to cripple the judiciary. It's wrong to arrest political parties because if you want to build a tolerant, pluralistic society, if these civil institutions that actually enable a tolerant society to emerge. So this is an attack on the very institution that can, in the long term, confront terrorism and extremism.

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

Ms. BHUTTO: 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.

HANSEN: Are you concerned at all about demonstrations?

Ms. BHUTTO: Well, certainly, demonstrations will be on the cards unless General Musharraf moves quickly to diffuse the situation and restore the constitution.

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

Ms. BHUTTO: Yes that 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 have deemed controversial and polarizing. But we feel that we cannot accept and acquiesce to the rise of militancy and extremism in our country which threatens our people's lives. And so although there are risks, we have to take those risks.

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

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

HANSEN: Benazir Bhutto is Pakistan's former prime minister. She spoke with us from Islamabad.

Thank you.

Ms. BHUTTO: Thank you so much.

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