Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has a harsh assessment of President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency Saturday, describing it as a simple "political power grab."
"Gen. Musharraf needs to be told very plainly that it's important for Pakistan that the constitution be restored, that the judiciary be respected, that political prisoners be released, and that fair, free, and independent elections be held under an independent election commission," Bhutto told ABC News' "Good Morning America Weekend Edition" on Sunday.
Musharraf has cracked down on local media by blacking it out and compared himself to U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, saying he believes suspending some civil liberties will help ensure democracy in his country.
Bhutto was in Dubai when Pakistan's state of emergency began, but managed to get back into Pakistan overnight.
Following is more of her interview below with ABC News' Bill Weir.
Bill Weir, ABC News: Do you believe that this is an actual state of emergency, or do you see this as purely a political power grab?
Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan: It is a political power grab, which has cost the nation our constitution. Gen. Musharraf has used his powers as army chief to suspend the constitution. So I'd like to clarify that this is not an emergency enforced by the president of Pakistan. The army chief has suspended the constitution and promulgated a new provisional constitution for the country.
Weir: [Musharraf] is cracking down on judges, suspending the constitution, as you said, shutting off the media. Yet you were allowed to land back in the country after landing in Dubai. Why do you think that is?
Bhutto: I was quite surprised that I was allowed to land and was not arrested at the airport. Maybe it has got to do with the fact that I have an international profile and arresting me would uh give a negative image to the government.
Maybe Gen. Musharraf still wants to keep the doors of negotiation open. I can't answer for him, but I do know the suspension of our constitution has derailed the democratic process and put into jeopardy the timetable of the holding of elections in my country. And while Gen. Musharraf says he wants to fight extremism, I don't know how that can be done unless the people are involved and empowered.
Weir: Will you try to take your supporters to the streets now?
Bhutto: I'm consulting with other political parties and we have got-- We're going to come up with a common set of demands. We're going to ask for the immediate restoration of the constitution, for Gen. Musharraf to step aside as the chief of army staff, to respect the judiciary, free the political prisoners, establish an independent election commission to hold fair, free, and impartial elections.
If Gen. Musharraf responds to our demands, then I believe we can tide the crisis. But if he tries to defend the imposition of martial law -- because that's what it is, martial law -- then it would certainly bring him into confrontation with the political forces of the country.
Weir: Other oppositional leaders have been put under house arrest thus far. Who presents the most present danger to you personally right now -- Musharraf's people or the terrorists who tried to assassinate you back in Karachi?
Bhutto: There's a very slim line between what are called Musharraf's people and the terrorists who tried to kill me in Karachi. I have long held that the forces that supported an earlier military dictatorship in Pakistan in the '80s, which formed the Iran mujahadin, have crept into the administration and security services under Gen. Musharraf, and they have covertly aided and abetted the rise of extremism and militancy.
They have focused their attention against the very civil and political institutions that build a tolerant society. They have consistently attacked the press, the court system, the judicial system, political parties. I feel that their attention should be on the extremists, but they look the other way. A terrorist three days ago gave a threat that he would kill me in Bindi in a public press conference and I was surprised that the police didn't arrest him. The administration didn't clamp down on his press conference, and it's just unbelievable that wanted terrorist leaders can actually hold press conferences in my country.
Weir: Do you accuse the general of being complicit in all of this, or is he blind to it?
Bhutto: I don't accuse Gen. Musharraf directly of being complicit in all this. But I do believe that the ruling party, called the PMLQ, that was put together during the last elections in 2002, was put together in the headquarters of a powerful intelligence agency, known as the ISI.
And that ruling party has some moderates in it, but the core support or the core strength lies in the hands of those people who were the political allies of the military dictator of the '80s who formed the Iran mujahedin, who later went on to become Taliban and al Qaeda. And unless those elements are cleansed from our administration and security apparatus, I simply don't see how we are going to turn the tide against extremism.
Weir: So do you believe -- just so we can keep the players straight here -- you believe this faction is deliberately trying to destabilize Gen. Musharraf's government so that they can take power?
Bhutto: I believe that this faction is using Gen. Musharraf's acceptability to the international community to bring in the money, which, by the way, is not going to the people of Pakistan because poverty has increased in Pakistan over the last five years. But I believe that this faction is using Gen. Musharraf's moderate image to actually covertly and clandestinely expand the entire extremist structure within the country. And if we take look at the balance sheet, we will see that a demoralized Taliban and al Qaeda have regrouped.
They have not only regrouped, but today they exercise large influences in the tribal areas of Pakistan which serve, in some parts, as safe havens for them. They're not knocking on the doors of the frontier province and other states in Pakistan. And they have their eye on Islamabad, too. So, I worry about the expansion of militancy and my report indicates that this group--
Weir: If you were still prime minister, how would you crack down on these terrorists? How would you stop the violence?
Bhutto: I would put together a team of moderate officials who had no sympathy for the militants and the extremists, so I could get good intelligence and I could get good action against the militants whenever they tried any of their activities. And secondly, I would involve the people. The people must be mobilized.
Weir: Gen. Musharraf, in his speech last night, compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, and suspending some civil liberties for the greater good, to preserve the union. That seems like a direct message to the United States. What does this move say about Gen. Musharraf's relationship with the United States, doing this despite great protest from this side of the Atlantic?
Bhutto: Certainly, Gen. Musharraf is trying to convey to the international community that the reason he has acted is because he wants to contain terrorism. But many people in Pakistan believe that it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism and it has everything to do with stopping a court verdict that is coming against him for holding the dual offices of army chief and president. Poor President Lincoln, he must be turning in his grave.
Weir: But the United States has been sending billions of dollars to the Musharraf government there. Does this signify a cutoff between that relationship?
Bhutto: When the United States sends billions of dollars, the United States needs to ask, where has the money gone? At the end of the day, there isn't accountability. And when I look at the situation in Pakistan, I see that poverty and unemployment has increased. The United States is the world's greatest democracy and Gen. Musharraf made a commitment he made a commitment to the international community
He made a commitment to the people of Pakistan that he would hold fair, free and impartial elections, scheduled for this year, in fact scheduled to start on Nov. 15. So, I would like to ask the international community to use that aid and to use that leverage to hold Gen. Musharraf firm to the commitment that he made. He must not be allowed to break that commitment.
It is in Pakistan's interest if fair elections are held and if Gen. Musharraf truly wants to find extremism and truly wants to emulate great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, then he needs to know that such policies lie in following freedom, democracy and building a moderate society by strengthening the judiciary, strengthening the political parties and civil society, not muzzling the press and arresting political activists.
Weir: Finally how concerned should Americans be about what is happening there right now? How close to the brink is Pakistan?
Bhutto: I think Americans should be very concerned about what is happening in Pakistan, because whatever happens in Pakistan is going to have a spillover effect on Afghanistan, on the NATO troops there and the larger world community. But as far as I'm concerned, as a Pakistani, I'm very, very concerned because I feel that the radicals are gaining in strength.
And I feel they are trying to take advantage of the dictatorship, to spread their extremism and militancy. Extremism feeds off dictatorship and dictatorship feeds off extremism. Dictatorship needs the extremists to tell the rest of the world, "We're the good guys; support us or the extremists will take over." And in the meantime, the extremists need the dictatorship, which neglects the rights of the people, the wants of the people, the needs of the people. And by exploiting that they advance. I'm very worried for Pakistan's future. My country is threatened with a radical takeover unless we can restore democracy, bring regime change, put into place an administration that is clean and has no sympathies with these militants and terrorists.
Weir: Would you advocate any sort of American or United Nations intervention if things get worse?
Bhutto: At this stage, as a Pakistani, I would not like to see any military intervention by the United States or by the United Nations. I would like to see a government of Pakistan that can control its own territory. I would like to see a government of Pakistan that can flush out the militants.
But my fear is, if the government of Pakistan collapses internally, its internal security is not maintained, my nightmare scenario is that the country will descend into chaos. Then the United Nations or other troops will be sucked into a chaotic Pakistan.
We've got to avert that, and the way to avert that is for regime change so we can get a government which restores law and order in Pakistan, restores the control of the government, and a government that can work with Afghanistan. Together, cooperate with the NATO troops and eliminating the terrorists and the militants who are trying to hold both the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan hostage.