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NEWS DISPATCHES > Tough Talk From Bhutto As Pakistani Army Storms Mosque

10 Jul 2007

The former Pakistani Prime Minister (1988-90 and 1993-96) and first female Prime Minister of any modern Muslim nation, Benazir Bhutto talked tough on the issue of Muslim extremists in her country. Speaking on CNN Monday night, she accused the Musharaf government of pampering Muslim radicals.


“The Red Mosque [incident] symbolizes the failure of appeasement.” Bhutto said in reference to the weeklong standoff between the Pakistani army and radical Muslims holed up in the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Her comments came hours before the army began storming the Mosque (early in the morning) in an attempt to drive out militants. Additional deaths have been reported during the ongoing raid bringing the total death toll so far to at least 67. Negotiations with the militants were aborted as their leader preferred “martyrdom” to the request for them to surrender. By 5 o’clock GMT Tuesday, the government said she had cleared 70% of the Mosque complex of Militants.


The cleric that was controlling the militants within the Mosque had demanded amnesty  (which the government turned down) for himself and his followers as a precondition to end the crisis. When asked about her position on this demand, Bhutto replied; “I won’t give amnesty.” Adding that the government should not contemplate to “give them space to return in the future with a big backlash”

Mrs Bhutto likened the situation to that of hostage taking, saying that you can negotiate to free the hostages but must ensure that hostage takers are punished. She says Islamic militants have increased in numbers under Gen Musharraf’s regime. “The Red Mosque is the tip of the iceberg” because many of such institutions are flourishing in today’s Pakistan.

Bhutto appeared resolute when asked how she will handle the situation? “They have to be arrested and prosecuted. The hardliners are a threat to the state of Pakistan.” She added and reminded viewers that many Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives in the tribal regions of Western Pakistan because of this militancy. Mrs Bhutto said that a situation in which the state does not prevail over such groups can only lead to anarchy.


Return To Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto confirmed that she will be moving back to Pakistan before the end of the year so as to prepare for elections which Musharaf has promised to organize. Bhutto admitted that her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was holding talks with the Musharraf government but denied any suggestion that she was brokering a deal with Musharraf for him to drop long standing corruption charges against her. She says the talks are centered on how Musharaf should organize free and fair elections so as to “allow people to choose a government that can undermine terrorism.”


Benazir Bhutto profited from his charismatic father’s name to rise to prominence. His father, former Pakistani PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ousted from power in a military coup led by Zia ul-Haq in 1977 and was later executed for murder charges in 1997. Benazir Bhutto (now 54) first became Prime Minister in the first parliamentary elections that were held after Zia died in a 1988 airplane crash. During her second tenure as PM, the Indian President sacked her government following allegations of corruption. Benazir Bhutto went on self-imposed exile and was later tried and sentenced for three years in prison in absentia. In principle, she faces arrest if she returns to Pakistan. That prospect does not seem to deter her from returning to Pakistan. She does not accept any wrongdoing. She assures her supporters that  “my lawyers are handling the issue”. 


The world has not heard the last word yet from a woman who reportedly chastised the former US covert (Cold War Years) policy of supporting the Pakistani Madrassas in the 80s. She had warned then that they were breeding a “Frankenstein” Monster. How prophetic she was!


Njei Moses Timah