KARACHI, Nov 25: Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Ali Zardari has said the generals must either work with people or their institution will be endangered. He said this in a Dawn Dialogue interview on Wednesday.
Stressing that he could serve as a bridge between the establishment and the country's political forces, Mr Zardari said: "The generals have no choice today. Either they work with us and the people of Pakistan or their institution is in danger."
He said the PPP was "offered Sindh, the speakership of the National Assembly, the chairmanship of the Senate, ministries in the centre and a share in Punjab. But I refused the deal."
Establishment is losing, says Asif
KARACHI: The following is an edited text of Dawn's interview with Mr Asif Zardari.
QUESTION: You spent more than eight years in detention. What led to that, and how would you reflect on those years?
ZARDARI: The military had long wanted to de-popularize a populist leader. The first thing they do is that they slap a moral charge on the leader. He faces the moral charge and he gets weakened.
Then you hang him. Give him a bad name and then hang him. Nobody will complain. That is how they operate. That is what happened to me. When I started meeting journalists in the PM's House, the propaganda was such that what I said was not properly registered... But since I came to prison, and after two years, especially after Nawaz Sharif left, then people looked back and looked at me and said after all he is also there.
Then they (journalists) started talking to me and they were smart enough to realize that a campaign was going on and there were reasons and ulterior motives behind that.
Q: How do you see your eight years in custody?
A: It was a great learning experience. Although I had been through this ordeal once before, somehow it's a new experience and new parameters were defined. On the first occasion, I was not tried in Punjab. I was tried in my home town, Karachi.
This time I was tried in Lahore, Pindi, Attock besides Karachi. So the effects of this experience are different from the previous one. The only silver lining is that through suffering I have had time to reflect and think.
I think the best lesson I could learn, if I could sum it up in a word, is humility. I had a beautiful experience travelling. Beautiful little people wished me well.
When I write my memoirs and disclose the names, you will be surprised what important jobs these little people have done for me. Neither money nor influence could buy me that.
Q: Do you realize now that some mistakes were committed in the past by your party?
A: From an executive of a company if you ask him how many decisions he had taken that were correct in, say, about a year, he would tell you that if 60 per cent of the decisions made are correct, then you consider it a success. So I think that goes down the line for any job that you are doing.
Having said that, I would say that prime ministership is not the chief executive's position of a company. It is a political post and you are playing with the destiny of the people.
You have much more responsibility than, say, Bill Gates. Bill Gates has a limited role and on the larger scale his industry may be affecting 400,000 people. His ideas, his products, might be used by millions of people. But as chief executive of a country you are talking about decisions on behalf of 170 million people...
Q: Were there any tense moments between you and your wife while you were in detention?
A: There are two aspects to this. There is the husband and wife relationship and there is a relationship with a political leader. It is not that Benazir Bhutto is a leader simply because I say this. The people of Pakistan accept her.
So when she talks, she is talking about the mandate of the people of Pakistan. You may disagree with her but you can't argue with the mandate. Politically, she is much more experienced (than me), she is better read and educated, she has had a better mentor and teacher, politically, than my father, who never had the political stature like that of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
With stature comes wisdom. But my father is very wise; he has given me very useful basic values. He has been an ideal father. But her tutor was much wiser than mine.
We are equal partners. What is good for my son and daughters I would want it. What she thinks is good for them, she will want that. I must say she has done a marvellous job of bringing up the children - tremendous and commendable, considering the given circumstances.
Q: There is a perception that your release is part of a deal and the government wanted to use this opportunity to blackmail the MMA?
A: I have another point of view. I think the time has come to change the whole approach. It is essential to identify problems first. Once you do that you realize that the problems of the generals would not go away with blackmailing the MMA. So there is no factor of blackmailing involved in my release.
Q: Ms Bhutto was the first leader who got an opportunity to become prime minister twice...?
A: ...Insha-Allah she will be for the third time also...
Q: But tell us what went wrong and why that opportunity was Lost?
A: I would not say it was an opportunity lost. I would say it was an opportunity gained. By your action and character, you do political warfare. By dismissing the first PPP government in 1977, the establishment might have thought it had won.
I think it lost because Pakistan lost. What did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto give his life for? Even his worst opponents accept that a leader of his calibre is born in many centuries who could take political advantage even out of Indira Gandhi. He knew that he would die and they were going to kill him.
So why he did not do a deal? Why Zulfikar Ali Bhutto didn't do what other leaders have done and sought refuge in safe sanctuaries. He came to a point when he thought to himself that this was the time when he must go down in history. By dying he lived again and he has bound his coming generations to live by that code. He defined the parameters of living and dying.
So that is why I say that the establishment lost, although Ziaul Haq came and ruled for 10 years. So what? A co-accused with me in a case was given lots of inducements by the establishment during interrogation to become a witness against me.
They threatened to hang him if he did not act accordingly. He refused and he was given the death sentence. It is another matter that it was converted into a life-term.
When I asked that man why he refused even after so much torture, he told me that he had thought it over and came to the conclusion that after Z.A. Bhutto's hanging, Masud Mahmood could live only for 10 years, so why should I do the same? So the moral of the story is that at crucial moments in life, people take inspiration from Bhutto's sacrifices. That man was later bailed out and he is now abroad. I wish him and his family well.
Q: Were you given such inducements while you were under Detention?
A: All the time. Now everybody thinks that the establishment is winning. I say no. When they threw us out for the first and then the second time, when we complained, nobody believed us.
Today after coming to power themselves and ruling for five years, everybody believes us. My mission is accomplished. Our struggle against the establishment has been going on since 1965. Its face may change, but not the objective.
From our side the struggle has been led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Suhrawardy and Benazir Bhutto and their mission also has remained constant. It's a long process in which the establishment is the loser. Today it has come to a point where the establishment is going to disintegrate. Not the country. The establishment is going to disintegrate.
Q: The army has been the traditional persecutor of the PPP. Do you think that there is a possibility of a working relationship between the army and the PPP led by Ms Bhutto?
A: The Generals have (persecuted the PPP), not the army. I think they have no choice today. Either they work with us and the people of Pakistan or their institution is in danger. They have a choice. I can wait, I am not interested in power. I can wait.
Q: You have talked about the possibility of your serving as a bridge between the different political forces. Could this bridge be between the PPP and the military as well as the establishment?
A: Sure, Why not
Q: Can Gen Musharraf negotiate that bridge?
A: Why do you give the name of Gen Musharraf to the establishment The establishment is larger than Gen Musharraf. Yes, I can.
Q: Is there any possibility that the PPP may form the government in Sindh as a result of your release?
A: No, We don't want Sindh. We were offered Sindh, the speakership of the National Assembly, the chairmanship of the Senate, ministries in the centre and a share in Punjab. I refused that deal.
Q: How many times and how have you been offered such deals?
A: They were never made personally to me. They were always through intermediaries. All the powers that be have been constantly in communication with everybody.
They are constantly talking to Nawaz Sharif, they are constantly talking to us, and they are constantly talking to every political force. Either they are using them, or camouflaging them, they are always doing that. That's the way they work.
Q: How far is it correct that Brig Akhtar Zamin, secretary to the Sindh governor, has had made a telephone call to you?
A: I don't know, I haven't checked my messages lately.
Q: Is there any possibility of your meeting the Sindh Governor?
A: If the governor wants to come, he is welcome to come to my house. He has been to my father's house, he can come to my house.
Q: What are the chances of a national government?
A: I think that even if the PPP wins a two-thirds majority, we should have a national government.
Q: Is there any possibility that someone from Punjab may vacate a seat for you to be elected to the senate?
A: My sister is an MNA. That is not difficult, but I don't want that. I am not interested. I do have power even now; I enjoyed power even in prison. Government (alone) is not power.
Q: There is a case in Switzerland and in which you were supposed to appear, but you did not because of your detention. Do you have plans to go now and when?
A: I could not go because I was in hospital. They wanted to facilitate my going there. If my lawyers advise me, I will appear (in the case). That is not a problem. At the moment I can't travel. I have no travel plans.
Q: What about the Surrey mansion?
A: I have been telling them that if it is mine, give it to me.
Q: How was your relationship with Mir Murtaza Bhutto?
A: We never had an altercation and we met in a congenial way. Now people say many things. His murderers will be exposed.
Q: The MMA has decided to hold an all-party conference on the Kashmir issue. Is there any possibility that the ARD or the PPP may attend?
A: I cannot talk on behalf of the PPP or the ARD. I don't know whether they will agree or not.
Q: What have you missed most in these eight year?
A: That is the weak spot. I missed my children growing up in front of my eyes and the time I would have spent in my relationship with my wife. That is what I miss.
Which cannot be given back to me because my youth I can't get back, my health I cant get back. My children's life spent without me, that I can't get back. The time spent without my wife, that I can't get back.
Q: How much time do you give to the present military-led dispensation?
A: I think next year there will be elections.
Q: General elections or local body elections.?
A: General elections. That (local body elections) is the government's point of view which Maulana Fazalur Rahman was saying when he met me. I will settle for nothing less. - Mr Asif Zardari was interviewed by Shamim-ur-Rahman and Habib Khan Ghori.