Interview of Ms. Benazir Bhutto
Interview May 6, 2004
Only a strong & true Democracy can ensure lasting peace, expanding trade: Benazir
A strong and true Democracy alone can ensure lasting peace and expanding trade between the two most powerful nations in the South Asian region- India and Pakistan, asserts the Pakistan Peoples Party supremo, Ms Benazir Bhutto. To give a permanent effect to the improvement of relations, the involvement of the true representatives of the people of both countries is essential. "Democracies rarely go to wars against other democracies", she said in an interview with Amitabha Sen. She admits a feel good factor is now wafting through the Indo-Pak corridors since January SAARC Summit but the PPP chairperson claimed that this change in direction could be attributed to Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf's military regime pursuing PPP agenda to improve relations with India. "It is premature to judge whether this is a sincere change in direction by the Musharraf military regime. However, its safe to bet that as long as the regime remains under pressure on the Afghan front, where Taliban are regrouping, it will continue to hold out the olive branch to New Delhi", country's former Prime Minister said adding that both Pakistan and India should seek to improve bilateral trade relations "without prejudice to their respective positions on political issues such as Kashmir". Both the countries need to signal to the world community that they are committed to the peaceful management, peaceful dialogue and peaceful solution to the bilateral issues. "There cannot be trade when one million men face each other at the borders in a state of high alert. There cannot be foreign investment," she said.
AS: Madam, a 'feel good' factor is claimed to be wafting through the Indo-Pak corridors since the last SAARC summit in this January. Do you think it's real or apparent? Do you think there have been perceptible changes (positive) in the bilateral relationship in the recent past compared with what it was when you were at the helm of affairs as the Prime Minister of Pakistan? What are the distinctive changes you find now in the bilateral relationship between these two nations?
Ms Bhutto: Yes, there is a feel good factor wafting through Indo Pak relations since the January SAARC Summit. The Musharaf military regime accepted the PPP agenda of improving relations with India. In this connection, we have seen the level of violence in the occupied valley slowly come down to 1996 levels although they are not quite there yet.
Relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated after the removal of the PPP Government. Bus Diplomacy was a cover to undertake the Kargil operation. The nuclear detonations added a dangerous edge to the confrontation. The attack on the Indian Parliament was a clear departure from the days of the PPP when no attack took place outside the disputed region and where attacks remained confined to military targets.
It is premature to judge whether this is a sincere change in direction by the Musharaf military regime. However, its safe to bet that as long as the regime remains under pressure on the Afghan front, where Taliban are regrouping, it will continue to hold out the olive branch to New Delhi.
To give a permanent effect to the improvement of relations, the involvement of the true representatives of the people of both countries is essential. PPP believes that mid term elections, which are widely predicted, should be held under the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. This can lead to a representative government in Pakistan that can legitimise the peace process and contribute to its durability.
As Prime Minister of Pakistan, I oversaw the signing of substantive agreements with India. This included the non-attack on each others nuclear installations, liberalisation of trade as well as the agreement and ratification of a SAARC common market patterned on the EU. There were important draft agreements on the redeployment of troops to Kargil as well as a mutual troops reduction treaty. I understand that some of these measures are now being discussed informally. However, we still have to see a substantive agreement on the lines of the ones that the PPP government was able to sign. I hope these come in due course.
The concern is that the military dictatorship is frightened of creating a domestic consensus on issues. Its fear of consensus leads to suspicions that it actually has another hand to play contrary to the one being shown. For example, the military dictatorship announced it was cutting orderlies from the armed forces. Simultaneously, they created an even larger cadre of orderlies under one of their foundations. Or take the fact that the military dictatorship announced it was cutting the defence budget when it shifted one third of it--pensions--to the civil list.
People in Pakistan are proud of their armed forces and critical of the fat and waste. The regime promises to cut the perks and privileges that see only twenty percent actually spent on defence and the rest on administration. But it still has to deliver.
AS: Under the given situation today and in the event of your Party being in power, what positive measures you would have suggested to the Indian government or initiated yourself to resolve the political issues including of course Kashmir?
Ms Bhutto: There are a host of issues that the two countries could focus and build upon. Some that come immediately to mind are to work on eradicating poverty by improving SAARC common market conditions. Others could include Indo-Pak talks focusing on the draft treaties pertaining to the redeployment of troops to Kargil, the mutual troops reduction, nuclear confidence building measures, opening of safe borders, greater free travel, tariff talks to facilitate trade and greater participation for the Kashmiri people.
AS: An impression is gaining ground that existence and blowing up of Kashmir issue are hurting both India and Pakistan and in effect serving the interest of many a foreign countries. Your comment please?
Ms Bhutto: Yes, an impression is certainly gaining ground that tensions between India and Pakistan is hurting the international influence of South Asia. This influence is both political and economic since politics these days is based a great deal on economics. However, on international developments, informal consultations between the SAARC countries could be helpful to the recognition of South Asia as an importance centre of power housing more than a billion people, with a huge consumer market. The countries could also evolve parallel but common points on international issues as they develop.
AS: Do you think that US recognition of Pakistan as a member of Non-NATO Military Alliance would only strain the Indo-Pak relationship further and clock the whole issue of Kashmir back to square one? How as former PM of Pakistan you would react to such recognition? To what extent this will impact the mutual trust and faith both the government are trying to build up and strengthen?
Ms Bhutto: I am unsure as to why Islamabad was keen to get a Non-Nato Military alliance with the United States when the status is largely ceremonial. Its naivety to believe that US troops would come dashing in to save Pakistan from an Indian attack when its own strategic concerns were not at stake. I am not privy to the grounds that led to Pakistan becoming a member of the Non Nato military alliance. I would like to see the file to understand what Washington and Islamabad hoped to gain from such a decision before deciding about its future.
For example India has a relationship of strategic partnership with the US without being a Non Nato Military Partner. Joint military exercises also are undertaken.
AS: Given the freedom and choice, what form of government you would opt for- Presidential form of govt. like the US retaining its democratic characters or a Parliamentary form of govt. that world's largest Democracy has been following since its Independence in 1947?
Ms Bhutto: Pakistan was created in the name of Parliamentary democracy and therefore I subscribe to its founding principles. It is a multi ethnic region with diverse cultures, languages, poetry, literature and histories that need preservation within the framework of Federalism. What one prefers and what one has to work within is obviously a difference. Right now, perforce of circumstances, the PPP is working in a Parliament that is dominated by Presidential powers. However, I would like to see Parliamentary Committees becoming stronger on the pattern of the American Parliamentary Committees.
In Pakistan, a presidential system is understood as a code word for indirect army rule. People in the country believe that repeated military interventions have damaged the judicial, political, civil, administrative, financial, social systems of Pakistan.
AS: The process of shaping up SAARC as a strong and effective regional trade platform is confronted with many a hurdle. As former Prime Minister of Pakistan, to what extent you think strained Indo-Pak relations is slowing down the process? What impact this will have on the trade structure of this region?
Ms Bhutto: A lot of work had been done under the PPP government on speeding up the SAARC process as a regional trade platform. Given the will, it can proceed fast and unleash great economic and employment opportunities for the people of our region in trade and tourism. It will offset poverty and the misery that hunger brings.
AS: Do you feel distinctive differences in the form of govt. and their philosophies that we have in either side of the border is one of the major causes of strenuous bilateral relationship?
Ms Bhutto: The independence of the Indian judiciary and of its Election Commission, the non-intervention policies of its military have given India greater clout in the world system. This has happened despite Pakistan's strategic importance in fighting communism and then fighting terrorism.
New Delhi markets itself strategically internationally in moral terms. It speaks of itself as a democracy that supports democracies. Despite militancy in Kashmir, this marketing is so strong, that New Delhi has the clout as the world’s biggest democracy.
Islamabad markets itself as having an army that can fulfil tactical needs.
I would like to see Islamabad reorient itself in its international image to gain from a high moral ground.
Democracies rarely go to wars against other democracies.
It is instructive to recall that major peace initiatives in the region were taken when Pakistan had democratic governments. Whether it was the Simla agreement in 1972 or the agreements on redeployment in Siachin and non-attack on each other's nuclear installations they all happened when there were democratic governments in Pakistan. Therefore one could say that differences in the form of governments in the two countries have also contributed to the climate of hostility and disruption of peace process in the region.
AS: One of major issue that India has been trying to impress upon Pakistan in respect of trade relation is MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status. Your views on this issue please?
Ms Bhutto: Under World Trade Organisation rules liberalisation of trade will have to take place and it should be welcomed. Most Favoured Nation status can be examined against this background.
During the PPP government in 1993-96, to facilitate liberalisation of trade, we carried out an extensive study on the impact of trade with India. The study concluded that normal trade relations with India would be of benefit to Pakistan as well as India. We believe that the two countries should seek to improve trade relations without prejudice to their respective positions on political issues such as Kashmir.
AS: Without going into the burning political issues like Kashmir, can you suggest measures that can bring these two countries in the sub-continent closer on the trade front?
Ms Bhutto: We need to facilitate the trade through measures such as those that facilitated the European common market. Cross-border trade is less than 4% of both countries' total foreign trade. This is a shockingly low statistic. We could set up groups that would give us the structural proposals that could enhance the figures. The energy sector is a promising sector as we look at the economic picture. Growing markets need energy and Pakistan has the potential to help India with energy delivery as well as a transit route from other countries. The automobile sector is another attractive proposition. India has large surplus capacity in vehicle production, while Pakistan import more expensive vehicles from the developed economies. In information technology our software vendors can capture the global market share through cooperation. Tourism will be a big boon. During the cricket match, the shops in Lahore were emptied as Pakistani products were bought up by a curious Indian crowd attracted by something new. There is great curiosity between the two countries. There are religious and historical sites, museums, homes of fore father that can lead to a huge outpouring of public interest in each other.
AS: In a recent seminar in New Delhi, you cited the example of Sino-Indian relations. The fact remains that despite boundary problems, Sino-Indian trade has expanded significantly and the current year is set to register a new record as things stand today. As a Prime Minister you had seen the evolution in the relationships between these two nations and closely interacted with the then Indian government. Would you kindly state your mind and say what really stops these two countries to shake hands at least in the trade front, which, if expanded, will mean marked improvement not only in trade but also in the quality of lives of millions of people as well on either side of the border?
Ms Bhutto: During my two tenures in office, the PPP government focussed on regional trade. It introduced the idea of special groups of people, like parliamentarians, travelling to each other’s countries without visas. It introduced the idea of lowering tariffs on goods. This became the South Asian Preferential Tariff Agreement (SAPTA). After the 1990 dismissal of the PPP government, SAPTA was held up. Upon our forming the government again in 1993, one of our first acts was to ratify SAPTA. Following this detailed talks took place and in 1996 we were about to announce a vast trade liberalisation regime following exhaustive consultation with commerce and trade bodies when our government was dismissed undemocratically once again. During 1993 and 1996 the PPP government approved Iran's proposal to build a gas pipeline to India. This was a major strategic shift of economic policy recognising that regional economic and politics were the key to success for all the stakeholders.
We wish to take up from where we left. There is so much to do to give our people hope of peace, freedom, human dignity and the greatest human dignity comes from employment, from food on the table and hope of a better life for oneself and ones children.
AS: This takes us to the issue of "conflict management" that you have emphasized on so strongly in your speech in New Delhi. But don't you think fundamentals of economic co-operations and bilateral trade relations are largely influenced by the style of "conflict management" which again may not be uniform in all countries. What could be the common meeting ground whereby "conflict management" can have a much less bitter coexistence with economic development of the affected countries?
Ms Bhutto: 'Conflict management' means agreeing to disagree on some issues, as China and India do on the Boundary issue, without allowing it to impede other issues where progress can be made. There cannot be trade when one million men face each other at the borders in a state of high alert. There cannot be foreign investment. We need to signal to the world community that we are committed to the peaceful management, peaceful dialogue and peaceful solution to the outstanding problems between us. This will attract investment and it will allow us to develop regional trade. It will allow us to break the chains of poverty, backwardness, misery and suffering that has been the fate of the vast majority of our people for centuries. There is an opportunity that must be seized.
AS: In the event of the Pakistan Peoples Party's coming back to power in future, as Chairperson of PPP what would be your priorities in terms of economic and trade relations with India? Would you insist on trade expansion pending the settlement of political issues?
Ms Bhutto: Yes, PPP and I would promote trade expansion pending the settlement of political issues. To do otherwise is to condemn our peoples to a history of violence, blood shed and poverty.
AS: For lasting and closer friendly relationships with India, what message you would like to convey to both the Indian government and the Indian people at large and also to your own countrymen?
Ms Bhutto: I would like to convey to the Indian people that a new generation of Pakistanis to whom the torch of independence has passed, wish to renew the faith of its Founding Father in the importance of friendship between two great South Asian neighbours to the everlasting benefit of all the people of South Asia.
AS: Last but not least. Referring to a much broad canvas of an Asian Dream, you talk of a world where "children's lives will be free of self-imposed limitations". Are you suggesting a borderless region? Something like European Union runs and managed by European Parliament? Your comment please.
Ms Bhutto: The information technology is changing the world. The world is becoming borderless as computers permit people to buy from ebay and amazon from their own city and their own home. The concept of sovereignty as it existed after the Second World war is changing.
The war against terrorism has added to the changing world and the concept of sovereignty. The war against terrorism needs joint cooperation amongst nations of the world in diverse areas from money laundering to investigation to extradition.
The World Trade Organisation rules again impact upon sovereignty in areas of trade. Countries under the organisation are to regulate trade relations according to specific structures.
NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN, GCC are some of the economic groups that are emerging.
So you can see that in different ways social forces have been unleashed which are changing the world.
I want the children of Pakistan to grow up secure in their culture and history with the confidence to be global citizens of tomorrow. Regional cooperation is one step forward for the global citizen of tomorrow. Our students will compete for jobs not only in South Asia but all across the world. I want to see a generation of youngsters who can do that with confidence without any self imposed restriction. I wish I were Nostradamus to predict where the world is heading. We will have to wait and see except in the meantime we should do the best we can with what we know.
May 6, 2004
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