Bhutto Rips Musharraf's 'Power Grab'

Ex-prime minister tells "GMA" presidential crackdown will strengthen extremists.

ByABC News via logo
February 18, 2009, 8:47 PM

Nov. 4, 2007 — -- 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.