Eos has excerpted Benazir Bhutto’s answers to three themes that may sound eerily familiar to readers today.
Published May 7, 2023

Although the interviews range over a number of issues, themes and historical events, Eos has excerpted here Benazir Bhutto’s answers to three themes that may sound eerily familiar to readers today…



The army has always played a crucial role in any political change in the country. Do you see the danger of another martial law?

BB: Let’s hope we can avoid it. That’s why we are staying peaceful; that’s why we want to involve this assembly about which we too have certain reservations. If we just go in for a movement, it may or may not be a step towards full democracy. We would prefer to have full democracy. As far as Zia is concerned, his time is finished. He has to decide which way he wants to go. His time is over.


There has been intense controversy over the recent shake-up in the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. What prompted these changes and do they imply a low profile for the agency on the home front and on the Afghan issue?

BB: It was a routine change. Gen Hamid Gul had been there for two years. But the way the IJI [Islami Jamhoori Ittehad] wept, as if the sky had fallen and with the departure of one general, the whole house of cards of the IJl would collapse. I don’t know why they should weep so deeply or why tears of blood fell down their faces. When Gen Akhtar Abdul Rehman was removed by Ziaul Haq, I did not hear them say that this indicates a change in policy.

I didn’t hear them say that this indicates that the ISI will go to rack and ruin. Let me tell you that the ISI is a national security institution and its performance does not depend on individuals. Individuals come and go and individuals will continue to come and go in an institution. But the system is what works. The IJI has tried to make an issue out of this. One needs to ask why? One needs to ask what was the nexus, that they are trying to make such an issue out of the departure of one person. And the person concerned has himself accepted his new assignment. He has not resigned in protest.

Journalist Zahid Hussain’s forthcoming book is a compilation of his interviews with the late Benazir Bhutto from 1986-2002, from her rise as an opposition figure to dictator Gen Ziaul Haq to her time in exile during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s rule. It provides not only a window into history and machinations in the corridors of power, but also serves as a prescient reminder of how Pakistan’s crises and dilemmas are often cyclical. Eos presents here, with permission, excerpts from Face to Face With Benazir, which will be published by Lightstone Publishers next week…

Certain ISI officials have been saying that the change will endanger the country’s security. A recent article in a daily extensively quoted ISI officials on the subject.

BB: Not one of those quotations is right. The entire article is fabricated. Bring me one ISI official who is prepared to say these things. It was a completely concocted and fabricated article. In fact, the ISI has a valuable role to play and the IJI, by taking on the ISI, by making it a matter of controversy, is trying to create hatred towards an essential organisation. They have a master plan to defame me. The IJI is playing into the hands of the enemies of the country by seeking to discredit a vital agency of Pakistan.

And not only the IJI but some newspapers have written most recklessly. Pakistan’s foreign policy, Pakistan’s regional security depends on a set of inter-connecting parameters of which the ISI is one essential parameter. By making the ISI a subject of controversy, by trying to discredit and degrade it, the IJI is, I repeat, playing into the hands of the enemies of Pakistan.

Do you agree with the contention that the ISI had become a state within the state?

BB: History will judge what the ISI was under Ziaul Haq but under Benazir Bhutto the ISI serves the interests of the people of Pakistan.

 Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto signing copies of books at a press conference, alongside former Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and party workers  | White Star
Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto signing copies of books at a press conference, alongside former Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and party workers | White Star


Is there any fear of a return to military rule?

BB: One cannot exclude any possibility at this time. Many people see the present system as a civilian martial law or [President] Ishaq [Khan]-style martial law and they see the special terrorist courts as military courts. In the past, political opponents have been taken to military courts for trials on trumped-up charges but now the political opponents are taken to the terrorist courts and charged with trumped-up cases. Not a single case has been sent to the ordinary courts.

The special military cell phones up daily for the progress reports. What are the features of military rule? All power rests in one man. Institutions don’t count. At the moment, we haven’t seen parliaments count for anything. Neither the foreign affairs committee has been called, nor the defence committee, nor the finance committee has been called. It doesn’t matter what the parliament thinks, it doesn’t matter what the Senate thinks, because decisions are taken in the Aiwan-e-Sadr Number 2. Many people do not see much of a difference between martial law and this civilian martial law and some even feel that a real martial law might be a better alternative, because at least there is no duplicity.

The stark reality is there and therefore the responses can be clear. But I myself do not believe that military rule is better. I believe that the worst of democracies is better than the best of military rules. I would like to see the democratic structure continue. We offered our support to the prime minister from the floor of the house. He didn’t take that support for five months. In the future, we have no intention of supporting him unconditionally. He has spent too much on civil non-development expenditure and widened the budget deficit. If there are other aspirants for prime ministership… at the moment, we are not interested in backing anybody because we want to be in the opposition and give them an opportunity to hang themselves. But at a later stage, we may reconsider.


During the past 25 years, the PPP has been in power twice. The circumstances which led to the removal of both PPP governments, to a large extent, similar, with civil and military establishments playing a key role in toppling both governments. Why do you think the establishment turned against the PPP?

BB: I think this is because the Peoples Party’s programme has always been a programme of creation. It is a programme against a stagnant status quo. But because the status quo is so well entrenched, the empire strikes back. But that has never deterred the PPP from bringing in fundamental changes. We are a party of change and not a party of the status quo.

The PPP governments were thrown out because they hit at the economic interests of the coterie. The coteries here, however, are different at different times. The first PPP government hit at the interests of the industrialists; the second government hit at the interests of the elité. In fact, we hit at both the economic and political interests of the coteries. And, of course, both the PPP governments came straight after martial law. After the fall of Dhaka, power was reluctantly handed over to the PPP by Gen Yahya Khan. And after the death of Gen Zia, power was again reluctantly handed over to the PPP.

Many people do not see much of a difference between martial law and this civilian martial law and some even feel that a real martial law might be a better alternative, because at least there is no duplicity… I myself do not believe that military rule is better. I believe that the worst of democracies is better than the best of military rules.

 Benazir Bhutto leading a rally on October 18, 2007, moments before she survived an assassination attempt on her life | White Star
Benazir Bhutto leading a rally on October 18, 2007, moments before she survived an assassination attempt on her life | White Star


Do you see any people out there who can deliver the goods at this critical juncture in history?

BB: I cannot see a single person who would not become a tool in the hands of the security apparatus and lose his/her way in the huge, elephantine bureaucracy that we have in Pakistan. But I can see people of intelligence and moderation who will listen to the advice given by two leaders and by the bureaucracy, the military and the intelligence and then take an educated decision. Nawaz may agree on someone in my party and I may agree on somebody in his party. Maybe we could agree on someone from one of the allies. But both of us should really be there to advise the government.

It is being said that the federation is under threat? What factors have contributed to this dangerous situation?

BB: Centralisation of power. Today, the federating units do not have the representation or power they should. Their resources are held thick by the federal government. It is a unitary form of government. The president is from Raiwind, the prime minister is from Raiwind, the CM [chief minister] is from Raiwind. The [Punjab] chief minister is constantly formulating our foreign policy and the provinces are saying, wait a minute, the Constitution is being violated and we don’t have to put up with this. So we’ve got to take the smaller provinces into confidence. And after taking the smaller provinces into confidence, we have got to revive the spirit of the 1973 Constitution. Provinces should not have to beg and plead for what is theirs under the constitution.


In your view, what system does the military government intend to introduce?

BB: The military wants a system that protects its policies and privileges. Military hardliners called me a “security threat” for promoting peace in South Asia and for supporting a broad-based government in Afghanistan. They destabilised my government on politically motivated charges. They want to ensure that future political governments that seek peace in the region, crackdown against private militant groups or ask questions about corruption in the military are sacked on collateral charges.



Do you see foresee a situation where the extremists could come to power?

BB: Anything could happen. We are witnessing a bankrupt state, a government that is out of touch with reality, the collapse of the federation and we don’t know if the military will maintain its unity. Tomorrow, if extremist groups were to come on to the streets, would people like Brig Mustansar Billah, who tried to overthrow my government, come forward? These are testing times. There are rumours that militants and extremists will take over and declare Pakistan an Islamic republic.

There are some who think that India will cash in on the situation and take a bit of Azad Kashmir and a bit of Sindh, and then there are people who think that the different provinces will start going their own separate ways. We want to save the country. My allies and I have sacrificed too much to stand by and watch Pakistan be destroyed. There is no collective decision-making. The parliament is simply a paper concept. All the decisions are taken by a small clique meeting at Raiwind which, in itself, is a symbol of all that has gone wrong in Pakistan. We have this 1.5 billion rupee hospital built by a prime minister who says he does not have the money to repay his loans.

I feel sad when people refer to my so-called Swiss accounts. There is a world of difference between having accounts and having illegitimate money. People who are prosecuted and forced into exile are bound to have accounts. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as the money has not been siphoned off from the state. Take my mother, my husband and myself: we haven’t taken a single factory, a single loan and neither have we defaulted on a single rupee and still we are considered crooks.

Do you see Pakistan becoming the centre of a new wave of terrorism?

BB: Well, certainly, as Pakistan is close to the border and there is no rule of law in Afghanistan. I think the world needs to sit down and decide what it is that has led to these people taking up arms against the superpowers. We have seen that people are prepared to kill themselves. They don’t mind being suicide bombers. They do not mind risking their lives. This is a great threat, this mindless violence that affects innocent people across the board. And we should pay attention to why this is happening and try to examine it.

In both Africa and Asia, we have seen the rise of the violence, and the economic and social condition in all these countries is pretty pathetic. Pakistan used it to get so many million dollars in US aid, so there was a cushion. There was money flowing in and people were better off than they are today.

In the old days in central Asia, there was a huge communist state and ordinary people were better off in the sense that they had access to health and education. They didn’t have freedom of speech, freedom of political activity but they did have basic necessities. The schools worked, the hospitals worked, the playhouses worked. And suddenly, those support systems in both capitals of communist countries were yanked out from under their feet.

We thought that at the end of the superpower confrontation there would be this huge peace, which would help sustain development in the Third World countries. Today, the world is going through a period of shock because the Russians used to subsidise countries, the Americans used to subsidise countries; [with all that gone] there is a period of dislocation.

How do you see the future of a nuclear country that is torn apart by terrorism?

BB: The same as the Soviet Union in its last days, unless it wakes up to reality and brings about a consensus in the country.



It is said that the judiciary has been pressured by all governments at some time or another. It is also believed that the judges’ phones were bugged by your government too.

BB: That is certainly a point of view held by many and I sympathise with it. I’d like it known that prime ministers were also pressured by politically motivated and ambitious judges. I speak of my experience. My government was prevented from nominating judges by the powerful establishment. In the first term, 50 judges were packed into the courts including [former Justice Abdul] Qayyum, without the advice of a prime minister by President Ghulam Ishaq’s interim regime. In the second term, judges that the chief justices had approved in writing were delegitimised, after Judge [Arif Iqbal] Bhatti granted relief to a person wrongfully accused of blasphemy.

The cut-off date was my term. I am unaware of whether the intelligence agencies bugged the judges’ phones. I know that my offices and personal quarters were bugged by the intelligence when I was the prime minister. That’s why the PPP has called for the rationalisation of the policy pertaining to all the intelligence agencies in the country.

Are you shocked with the latest disclosures of recorded conversations between Justice [Abdul] Qayyum and [Chairman of Ehtesab Bureau] Saifur Rehman / [Law Minister] Khalid Anwar?

BB: Yes, I am shocked to the core of my being. I knew from sympathisers in the NAB [National Accountability Bureau] and the courts that the judge took instructions from Minister Saif. The freezing of my undisputed property ex parte [for which the disputed property was made the excuse] was announced by Minister Saif several hours before the judge signed the order. Jang also disclosed that Minister Saif said the judges would do as the regime asked. But the cold-blooded manner in which the sentence against me was dictated was traumatic.

The judge and cabinet were haggling over my sentence, as we ladies haggle in Bohri Bazaar over prices. The tapes show that the judge was a proxy for a trial conducted by cabinet ministers who set the dates for hearing and dictated the sentence… Independent jurists have already opined that the material lacks evidence and that I should be acquitted. One jurist opined that even the charge in the case could not be made out against us… The media trial destroyed our chances of a fair hearing. I’ve seen it in my case. So deep was the propaganda that, even when confronted with the evidence of acquittal, some persons still find it hard to exonerate us. But we are entitled to protection under the law — that’s honourable acquittal, because a person is innocent unless proved otherwise by a fair and independent judge in a fair hearing.

Khalid Anwar and Justice Qayyum have questioned the veracity of the tapes?

BB: There is a witness against them and tapes of proven evidence. It’s an irony that they plotted against me on the basis of unproven documents and without a single material witness. Ask them to sign a joint letter with me, asking the government to invite the United Nations rapporteur for judges and the judiciary to investigate the matter and see how they run. The tapes are voice verifiable under modem technology… Pakistan’s judiciary can only be cleansed of corrupt elements when action is taken on the irrefutable evidence provided.

An honest judiciary is what we need for foreign and domestic investors to kick-start the economy. Less for my sake, as I keep clear of retribution, but more for the sake of the country, its people, press and economy. I call for action against those concerned by the United Nations rapporteur. I know we have many honest judges but they operate in a climate of all pervasive coercion with the sword of sacking over their heads.

That’s why the Pakistan Peoples Party has called for the UN rapporteur. Remember how Qayyum came back to allow President Tarar to fight the presidential elections after he was disqualified by the Chief Election Commissioner? He’s the same man that rewrote the tariffs for Hubco, did the sports inquiry against the cricketers and handled sensitive cases. The role of Chief Justice Rashid Aziz was deplorable too. He handed out threats to Qayyum about arrest warrants and discussed signing the judgement to give to the government in advance. It’s shameful.

How do you think this disclosure is going to help you in your appeal against the conviction which is coming for hearing in the Supreme Court?

BB: I hope my appeal for an honourable acquittal on the grounds that I was a victim of politically driven judicial abuse will be accepted. I have been wrongly tried by a corrupt judge. The court needs to protect my rights and bring to closure a sordid episode in judicial history… The United States Human Rights report wrote of the politically driven accountability. Minister Saif boasted of torturing witnesses. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission called it a questionable sentence. A judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court said that even the charge could not be made and ended with the plea “God help us when judges become partisan” even before the tapes were discovered. The PPP has called for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and fabrication of cases against political opponents with a view to prevent it from happening in the future.

Khalid Anwar has said there was nothing wrong in his asking a judge to expedite the trial. What is your reaction?

BB: I reject Law Minister Khalid Anwar’s defence. The tapes show that he was conducting the trial and had taken over the proceedings. He was setting dates and the independence of the court was demolished by his interfering. Keeping the evidence of the tapes aside for a moment, the Law Minister had little business in asking the judge to take advice from the Law Minister who happens to promote him to the Supreme Court. However, Khalid Anwar could tell us, since he has confessed to ringing up judges, how many he rang up and what he talked to them about. The law requires that election petitions be decided within six months. Did he ring up any judges in connection with those and how many were settled? All I can say, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we learn to deceive.”

These excerpts are being reproduced with permission from Face to Face with Benazir by Zahid Hussain, published by Lightstone Publishers

The writer is an author and journalist.
He can be reached at zhussain100@yahoo.com
and tweets @Zahidhussain

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 7th, 2023