Saturday, September 10, 2011

PAKISTAN: Bhutto: Embattled But Unbowed

For the fourth anniversary of his government, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto deliberately kept last week's celebration low-keyed. For one thing, he was well aware that former President Muhammad Ayub Khan had staged a lavish anniversary celebration in 1969, only to be forced from power three months later. For another, he recognized that he was under the strongest attack yet from his political opposition, which declared last Friday a nationwide "Black Day." The opposition's aim: to force Bhutto's resignation.

Bhutto did not resign, but the rising tide of bitterness signaled the end of an era of good will that had accompanied his takeover of power after Pakistan's defeat in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. Bhutto tried to repair the damage wrought by his predecessor, General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan, whose brutal excesses in East Pakistan forced the province to break away and form the nation of Bangladesh. He pushed through a land reform program, gave the country a constitution that changed the government from a presidential to a parliamentary system, and reaped a windfall in aid (almost $1 billion over the past three years) by improving Pakistan's relations with the Arab world.

But Pakistan's ancient quarrels with India and Afghanistan continue. Moreover, Bhutto's hope of a return to close relations with Bangladesh following the August assassination of President Sheik Mujibur Rahman was shattered by a series of coups and countercoups (TIME, Aug. 25), even though Islamabad and
Dacca early this month announced a forthcoming exchange of ambassadors. Pakistan has also been beset by recession, soaring inflation (25% a year) and devastating floods.

All these have provided ammunition for the political opposition, as has Bhutto's own highhanded tactics in putting them down. When his provincial cabinet minister for the Northwest Frontier province was murdered last February, Bhutto banned the National Awami Party—the principal party in the province—and arrested 300 of its leaders, including Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. Most are still in jail. The battle grew more heated when security forces last month threw the opposition members out of the National Assembly, following a quarrel over passage of a constitutional amendment.
Last week Bhutto, 47, talked at his home in Larkana with TIME'S New Delhi bureau chief William Smith about Pakistan's problems; he had flown there to celebrate the Moslem holiday of 'Id al-Adha before making a four-day state visit to Sri Lanka. Sipping tea on the veranda of the rambling country house, he reminisced about his days at the University of Southern California during the late 1940s. Smith, who was then a student at California Occidental College and vividly recalls Bhutto's championship debating style, reported that "the Prime Minister's powers of persuasion are undiminished. He is also a very emotional man and clearly troubled by the mood of the citizenry, the sporadic agitation against him and charges that he is becoming increasingly undemocratic." Excerpts from the interview:

ON HIS DOMESTIC OPPOSITION: Their politics are negative. They say, "Ah, we have aroused the students and labor, and we are having economic problems. Let's go, we have just to give the last heave, and he'll be on his knees." My unfortunate experience in the past four years has been that they come to agreements, and then they break them. Their attitude, I'm afraid, is a kind of legacy of the colonial era. Most of them knew that kind of politics in the days of the British raj. A trick here, a trick there. If the opposition plays a negative role, it's not possible for the government to play a positive role. Democracy demands reciprocity.

ON RELATIONS WITH INDIA: We have moved forward in a number of ways. If this progress seems insubstantial, it is because the rest of the world does not really understand the pace and the movement and the music of South Asia. Our quarrel, whether you call it an Indo-Pakistani dispute or a Hindu-Moslem one, is by far the oldest in the world. It goes back for centuries, and was further fanned by 150 years of British imperialism and its policy of divide and rule. Ancient feelings don't disappear all at once. But the Simla conference in June 1972 [at which Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi agreed to work toward better relations] was a good one. It is pure conjecture [that India might start a war]. But a man of prudence would not rule it out, and you have to be a man of prudence if you are running a country.

ON TIES WITH BANGLADESH: If the people of the two countries want good relations, neither India nor any other country can prevent those good relations from taking shape. Bangladesh was once part of Pakistan, so there will be considerable warmth in that relationship; no nation should misunderstand that. However, to what extent the relationship is to develop is really for the people of Bangladesh to determine. It was they who wanted the separation. It is now up to them to tell us how close they want to come to us. We don't want to kill Bangladesh with kindness.

ON HIS POLITICAL FUTURE: I am a fish out of water in any other profession. I used to come to my lands near here. I would play around a little, I would kick someone in the pants and say, "What the hell are you doing, you lazy fellow?" But I didn't really get involved. I couldn't. As long as politics remains in this country, I will be in politics, either in the government or in opposition. If there's no democracy, I might not live to tell the tale. But if I do live to tell the tale, I'd still be interested in politics. I have no other profession.