PAKISTAN cannot afford bitterness in its polity, according to Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.
In an interview with India Today, Mr Zardari told the weekly’s managing editor Raj Chengappa and reporter Hasan Zaidi that even if his party won a two-thirds majority in the next parliament, he would support the formation of a national consensus government.
He said that after coming to power the PPP would devote its energy to reviving the economy and promoting national cohesion.
Mr Zardari said he could contest elections from the seat Benazir Bhutto had selected for herself. At the moment, however, he was concerned only with the organisational affairs of his party.
The following are the excerpts from the wide-ranging interview which was telecast by the Headlines Today television channel on Friday:
Q. Why didn’t you take over the mantle of the PPP rather than make your son Bilawal the chairperson and someone else the party’s prime ministerial candidate?
A. The party in its wisdom did it, after I proposed it to the Central Executive Committee, the largest body of the PPP, that for continuity it was needed. The people of Pakistan are hopelessly disgruntled, they are dejected and hurt. The youth of Pakistan, which are in the majority in the country today, need a new beacon. When nations have hope, nations survive.
Q. But with Bilawal being appointed the party chief, has it not perpetuated a certain kind of dynastic politics, rather than true democratic values that the PPP espouses?
A. First of all, in her wisdom, she (Benazir Bhutto) left a political will to guide us. She left a political will dated October 16, two days before she left Dubai for Pakistan. She was being warned of the threats and the danger to her life, and maybe she could imagine what would happen to her, she could think ahead. So she in her political wisdom made a decision, she gave a suggestion, because after all, the political will is not binding.
The party and its high command which is nearly 120 people could have chosen otherwise. She in her judgment thought it fit to ask me to step in her place and then I can select. And we all collectively thought that Bilawal should be given as a hope for tomorrow.
Q. If the party overwhelmingly says you must be the prime minister, would you then accept it? A. Like I said earlier, she knew that I was not contesting the polls. I am aware of the fact that it can be changed. There’s a seat lying vacant. I can contest from her seat. But at the moment, we need to get ourselves together, get the people together, get the party together and do a lot of firefighting rather than get into who’s going to be the prime minister and who’s going to be the office-bearer.
I think we need to save Pakistan. We are hoping to convert this martyrdom, this loss and sorrow into an energy to take Pakistan forward towards democracy rather than crumble and break away.
Q. What did being 11 years in jail teach you?
A. It has taught me to live with myself, to look into myself and make my inner self as big as the problem, whatever it is, and to confront it. Because man’s inner strength is as large as the universe is.
Q. Can you tell us something about the relationship Benazir and you shared?
A. First of all, we started the relationship in an arranged marriage. And in our society, in arranged marriages we have a bond of oneness and at the same time there’s respectability. We respected each other, we respected each other’s space, we were an extension of each other. I instantly knew what she was thinking even in jail, what she would say or which direction she was going and vice versa. She could read, write and think my responses. We were constantly in each other’s spirit.
Q. Did Musharraf’s government have a role to play in Benazir’s assassination?
A. We in the PPP feel that the government, to say the least, holds some responsibility. By putting forward different theories, the government is trying to muddy the waters. Why are they rejecting the plea for a UN probe? They know it is one of the biggest incidents in the South Asian history.
Q. Do you think the elections are going to be fair?
A. The international monitoring authorities have already given a verdict that it has been rigged. There’s pre-poll, post-poll and polling day rigging. Pre-poll rigging has already taken place. Then there are certain steps to be taken for a free and fair election that we had wanted. If the methodology hasn’t been followed then obviously it is not going to be free and fair election.
Q. Why go into elections which you know will not be free and fair?
A. We take precedents from our history. When our late founder and leader shaheed Z.A. Bhutto was in the death cell, the then dictator had called for an election and PPP had decided to go for it. Then he (Ziaul Haq) ran away from it. We find strength and lesson and wisdom from our history and PPP has a long history of confronting dictatorships and being at the receiving end, having martyrs and how to act after such tragedies. We are following our history.
Q. Your party has been at loggerheads with Nawaz Sharif. Do you think you can form a coalition with him?
A. I think the need of today in Pakistan is a national consensus government. Even if the PPP — and I have to go back to my colleagues for this policy — wins two-thirds majority or a simple majority, the need of the hour is that we should have a government of national consensus.
There’s too much of divide, too much of fragmentation, too many issues to handle. It will have to be a collective nation with collective responsibility to face the situation — to face the aftermath of this election.
Q. You have no bitterness towards Nawaz Sharif who had you jailed when he was in power?
A. We cannot afford bitterness in politics. We never have. The PPP has never held that energy as useful. We don’t hold anything against anybody. Our late leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has been known to be working and worked with all adversaries and managed to overcome all odds in difficult circumstances, so we have never taken things personally.
Q. Will you then be working with President Musharraf?
A. The party has decided we will face the situation once we are in the assembly and once we have gone through the elections. We don’t want to be part of the problem, but we would like to be part of the solution.
Q. If PPP has a two-thirds majority will you impeach (President Pervez) Musharraf?
A. Like I said, we will come to the bridge and we will cross it. We will go back to the party and take collective wisdom from the party.
Q. So you are not ruling it out?
A. I’m not ruling it in either.
Q. What would be the priorities once your party takes over?
A. Economy and nation building.
Q. What about tackling religious extremism?
A. We have no choice. Either we do that or don’t survive as a nation. Nobody wants Pakistan to be a Taliban state. Nobody wants warlords here. These are also carpet-beggars of war which is a business.