January Issue 2008
Interview: Asif Zardari
“We have decided to turn our grief into our strength”
– Asif Zardari
Q: How do you look at Pakistan today?
A: The martyrdom of Mohtarama is a huge tragedy and its impact is being felt in a country misgoverned for a decade. The economy is shattered at a time when we are fighting the war against terrorism. The poor have nowhere to go. Their last hope has been snuffed out. I hope we are able to revive the morale of the nation. As you know, nations die not of famines but of hopelessness.
Q: What sort of elections do you foresee in the present tension-ridden environment?
A: If the army [is present] and the Rangers are deployed, then there can be elections. We have kept our cool so far. We have decided to turn our grief into our strength. We want democracy to be our biggest revenge.
Q: Does the arrival of a Scotland Yard team meet your demand for an international investigation into the murder of Ms Bhutto?
A: Only minimally. We think this tragedy is a trigger for the Balkanisation of Pakistan. The event is a force-multiplier in that direction. We are trying to prevent that. A UN-mandated team would look at all aspects. These people [the government] say that the roots of the conspirators are in Afghanistan; sometimes they say these are in Pakistan. A UN team would probe this matter.
Q: Are you going to make the assassination an election issue?
A: Of course it is an election issue. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shaheed is an election issue even decades after his murder. Mohtarama’s martyrdom will be similar.
Q: Is this how you are going to motivate the voter?
A: How can you remove an assassination from the election campaign? She was killed as she was preparing to participate in the elections. Only politics will flow from her assassination.
Q: What sort of politics will this be? You have called your opponents ‘qatils’ (murderers) and in retaliation they have slapped 10 accusations against you. Electoral politics of this nature may aggravate the situation…
A: Elections in this environment will not settle the problem, but they will be an outlet. If we get free and fair elections, the PPP’s poor voters will feel less angry and hurt and we would believe that Mohtarama’s martyrdom has given her party this right.
Q:Under the given circumstances, do you think it is possible for the PPP to work with the PML-Q to form an alliance of moderate forces and to marginalise what the establishment calls extremists?
A: The Q-League is not a party; it is another face of the establishment. In the coming elections we will marginalise them with the help of like-minded friends.
Q: How many seats do you think the PPP will get in the coming elections?
A: If these were fair and free, we would get a two-thirds majority; but with the help of our friends we will get a heavy mandate.
Q: There is news of dissent within the party over the decision to appoint you practically in-charge of the party…
A: I see no grumbling. All decisions are taken through consensus. We don’t have Mohtarama with us and, therefore, consensus is the only way. The decision on elections, for instance, was taken through consensus.
Q: The mantle of the party has shifted from the Bhuttos to the Zardaris. How do you see the future of a party that relies so much on the Bhutto name?
A: Outsiders do not understand Bhuttoism. Bhuttoism begins where intellect ends. How else do you explain the bravery of my friend Tauqir Khera who jumped over the suicide bomber and took the blast on his chest? Or people dying and reciting the name of Bhutto? Mohtarama, like her father, was fired with the same zeal and to a friend in New York who asked her why she was going back in the face of mortal danger to her life, she said: “This could happen to me here in New York; a taxi can hit me.” So Bhuttoism is to become part of the poor [through sacrifice] and then rise as a force of democracy. That is what I believe in.
Q: How will the Zardaris sustain this Bhuttoism that is steeped in sacrifice?
A: This is a question that is beneath Bhuttoism and not beyond Bhuttoism.
Q:Can you elaborate on this?
A: Zardaris will sustain it because Bilawal will sustain it, because the coming generation will sustain it. In the immortal words of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shaheed, how many Bhuttos shall you kill, from every home shall rise a Bhutto.
Q: After Ms Bhutto’s assassination, is it possible for you to work with President General Pervez Musharraf — a possibility she never ruled out in her life?
A: We shall decide with the party when we reach parliament.
Q:What is your preference?
A: I am bound by party discipline.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV hosting a prime time current affairs program.