As part of the Wilson Center’s expanded focus on Pakistan, the Asia Program hosted former prime minister Benazir Bhutto for a discussion of the current political situation in Pakistan. She addressed issues of democracy and dictatorship, the proliferation of nuclear technology, and religious extremism.

Bhutto expressed hope about the recent thaw in India and Pakistan relations, but added that “tension can only be reduced when both countries are truly democracies.” As chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, she sharply delineated the policies of her party from those of President Pervez Musharraf, arguing that the concentration of power in the military was destabilizing the country and region rather than providing order and security. She insisted that only a return to an open democratic system, respect for human rights and a commitment to development can ensure lasting peace and prosperity in Pakistan and South Asia.

On the issue of nuclear proliferation, she addressed recent revelations of Pakistan’s involvement in transferring technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea by criticizing the lack of transparency and accountability by the current Pakistani government and calling for a bipartisan parliamentary investigation into the timing of the transfers. Responding to a question about her visit to North Korea in 1993, she stated her discussions with Kim Il-Sung revolved around the acquisition of missile technology on a strictly “technology for cash” basis, not a swap for nuclear technology. She articulated a policy of nuclear restraint but insisted that a roll-back of Pakistan’s program was not in the country’s interest.

She admonished the United States for turning a blind eye to Musharraf’s uneven support in the war on terror and forgiving the general’s transgressions as “in the past.” She argued that it is against the Musharraf’s interest to quell extremist elements, saying “the pot has to be kept boiling” in order to ensure continued U.S. support. She exhorted America to stand up for its principles and reject tyranny, remarking “dictatorship doesn’t constrain fundamentalism. It provokes it.” She urged the United States government to tie its aid to Pakistan to progress in political reform but also warned that policymakers must address the Pakistani perception that the U.S. is not a reliable ally.

Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director, 202-691-4059
Drafted by Wilson Lee