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‘Deal’ bitter pill for democracy, says Benazir

April 26, 2007

LONDON, April 25: Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto further fuelled speculations about an impending deal between her and President Gen Pervez Musharraf by agreeing to a suggestion that such a deal would adversely affect her credibility, but for her, she said, restoration of democracy in Pakistan and saving the country from falling into the hands of extremists was more important than her credibility.

She had been asked, would not her credibility be severely damaged if she entered into a deal with President Musharraf.

The PPP chairperson was answering questions on Tuesday evening after a lecture on the current situation in Pakistan at the jam-packed Hong Kong Theatre in the London School of Economics and Sciences.

Replying to another question, she accepted for the first time that it was her government’s mistake in the mid-1990s to encourage and promote the Taliban.

She said at that time she had thought the Taliban to be a peaceful and stabilising alternative to warring Mujahideen factions.

She reserved most of her wrath for the ruling PML, MMA and elements promoting extremism in Pakistan. She did blame the army and the ISI for all the ills the country is facing today but took extreme care to avoid mentioning President Musharraf by name even in passing.

She said that without ousting the PML and its allies from power, the war against extremism and terrorism could not be won.

She was highly critical of the government for allowing what she called creeping Talibanisation in the country by ignoring the important task of reforming madressahs and allowing religious parties like the MMA and militant organisations like the Lashkars to operate unhindered in the country and marginalising popular moderate political parties.

Answering a question, she said the PPP, PML-N and other parties in the ARD were united on the issue of restoration of democracy and their one-point goal was to close the doors for ever on army take-overs. She said there was only one way to combat successfully the creeping extremism in the country and that was to let the moderate political parties having faith in undiluted democracy to function unhindered.

In her lecture, she traced the history of what she called the rise of extremism in Pakistan and held the 25 years of army rule in the last 30 years responsible for the serious crisis now engulfing the country.

She accused the West and the US of buying crises from Pakistan which the successive military regimes in Pakistan, according to her, were able to sell successfully.

A short burst of mocking laughter ensued from a section of audience when Ms Bhutto claimed that if her second government had not been dismissed in 1996, the 9/11 incident would not have happened.