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What is a Leader
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Benazir Bhutto Interview (page: 5 / 5)
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan
Are there other women leaders in Pakistan today who could be your successor?
Benazir Bhutto: When I meet a young woman student now and ask her what do you want to be, she says, "Prime minister." So I'm sure that there are lots and lots of young girls out there who one day can be prime minister. But I think we need to also make it easier for women to win elections in Pakistan, and that's why we have proposed affirmative action: a kind of list system where, on the basis of votes that each party gets, they can then list about 25 percent or 33 percent women to bring more women into parliament.
Certainly there are women activists, but not too many. The base of women who can win elections to parliament is too small, but former Primer Minister Nawaz Sharif's wife has also started politicking, which is really a vindication for us, because they used to be very much against women coming out into the political field.
But of the younger students, the people who were in their first year, second year, third year of university when I was prime minister, those are the women who think that to be successful means to be prime minister of the country. If you ask a man what he wants to be, he'll turn around and say, "A businessman," or "A lawyer," but the girl students that I talked to all wanted to be prime minister.
That generation that grew up in the last decade, used to seeing me as prime minister or as leader of the opposition, has now seen Wajed winning in Bangladesh and Mrs. Çiller in Turkey, and other Muslim countries, this has had an impact on the Muslim world. In Oman now they have started having women parliamentarians, and I think they may be permitting them in local elections in Kuwait and some of the other Middle Eastern countries.
When I first got elected, they said, "A woman has usurped a man's place! She should be killed, she should be assassinated, she has committed heresy!" So going from heresy to seeing it happen! Part of it is the information technology because it brings what is happening in the rest of the world to ordinary women in parts of the Muslin world and they say, "Why not us?"
As a woman, as a politician, as a leader, how much room is there for idealism in political leadership and achieving your goals?
Benazir Bhutto: For me idealism has been the motivation. I think power for itself is useless. If it was just power, how could one -- politics is an obsession. You cannot just be in politics -- or if you really want something -- it is not an eight to five job. It's an around the clock job. So if it was just power I think it would be very empty. I think idealism is very important. The need to change, to bring about change. I feel that life is like -- or society is like -- a canvas, and that if we get office you are given an opportunity to paint it. And it is up to you whether you make a good picture or whether you make a bad picture. I think it is very, very important to have ideals, because when one has ideals one thinks the suffering is worth it. And for me the suffering has been worth it because I think I could change things, and I am still idealistic and I am still optimistic. And people tell me, "Why are you still idealistic and optimistic?" And I say, "Because there could be ten people who are bad, but there are 90 people who are good."
[ Key to Success ] Passion
You do have to be practical, so there are times when you make compromises, not because you want to, but that's how the political mathematics plays out. There have been times when we have been forced into coalitions and we've been unable to do the things we want to do because of other coalition powers. It's a balancing. It's a game of mathematics. How much are you gaining? How much can you do, and how much are you losing? You put those down and you look at it and you say, "Well okay, the gains are so much; if this is the price that has to be paid, let's pay it."
Do you ever stop and think back on how you might have handled things differently in your career, in your life?
Benazir Bhutto: Very much so. When I look back on my life, I think of the different stages when we were so raw and naive, before we realized how things work. I think back to the time when my father was in prison. There were hard liners, they rejected compromise. There was a lot of pressure on the military dictator, but we just weren't ready to compromise. I think now I would look at it differently.
I think back to my first tenure as prime minister, and I didn't get on with the president because he wanted to have a kind of presidential system and I believed in the parliamentary system. Then I remember a later president who was from my own party. I think of the amount of power I gave him, and he treated me so shabbily. If I had given the first president half the powers that I gave my own president, maybe he would not have knocked us out, and democracy could have taken stronger root.
I look back also to little things. There used to be a South Asian Association Regional Conference, and I was supposed to go to New Delhi and I didn't go because somebody told me, "Oh, let the president go. He's from the Punjab and if he makes an agreement it will be more acceptable." Now I realize that maybe he was unable to do it because he came from a more militaristic background than I did.
Little things or big things, you look back and you say, "I wish I had done that a different way." Much more critical to my own life was my failure to understand the world is moving towards transparency. I had lived through this era of military dictatorship when the press would write all sorts of things and it would be water off the duck's back. When there were these demands, I did make an information act, but didn't follow it through, so I wish I had given more freedom of information.
I wish I had tackled the so-called corruption issues more deeply. It was a precedent. We all knew kickbacks must be taken. Not personally but on the level that, "These things happen." It wasn't like, "We are here to change it." It was like, "This is how business is done." In retrospect, I think that I would have done many, many, many things differently.
But you learn from your own experiences. How do you succeed? By making right decisions. But how do you come to the right decisions? Through experience. =And how do you get experience? Through wrong decisions. In retrospect, one is older and wiser.
But you simply have to keep going?
Benazir Bhutto: You have to keep going and keep in touch with people. Power is such a strange phenomenon that one gets isolated from the real world. People can't see you. They can't phone you. They have to go through the operator, and it's up to the operator who he puts through. They can't write you, because the secretary is going to read the letters and decide which ones are going to come to you And in countries like mine, where there has been less democracy for so many decades, and people are less literate, or very few have been educated overseas, the ability to decide what is important for the other person is missing, and it's more an ability of who they want to please. This is quite frustrating for me because I have had exposure to the other world and I understand that it has to be done differently.
So really one becomes a prisoner. I used to meet my party people, I used to meet poor people in the villages, and they were all very happy because we were doing poverty alleviation and so on. But people in the urban middle classes were very unhappy, and I realize now that I should have been out more meeting people who worked with us, or meeting people who were the representatives of organized groups.
The other thing I learned, in the past when I used to meet people I used to want to tell them what we were doing. Now I realize that you have to listen to people and what they are saying we ought to be doing, because that's the feedback. I heard the Prime Minister of Ireland say, "Even if you have an idea, let the other person think it's their idea," and he was so right.
Each time one is in trouble or hits rock bottom, it's a time for reflection. I think being able to climb back depends very much on the ability to reflect and see how the world has changed, because it's going to go on changing.
If a young person came to you who wanted to live a life of activism, a political life, what would your advice be to them?
Benazir Bhutto: I'd tell them, "If you believe in something, go for it, but know that when you go for it there's a price to be paid. Be ready to pay that price and you can contribute to the welfare of society, and society will acknowledge you and respect you for it. And don't be afraid. Don't be afraid."
You and your husband are facing another personal crisis. What do you see ahead for yourself? What are you looking forward to?
Benazir Bhutto: I've left it to the Lord to decide which is the best path for me, while myself seeking high office. I learned in two decades that you can shape the direction of your society by being in power or even being outside power. So for the first time I realize you don't have to be prime minister to dominate the debate, so I thought it's better for me to concentrate on the party and build the party as an institution. Otherwise we never have the time. We've always been hounded, or we're governing. Somebody needs to take time out to organize the party. So I said, "Let somebody else be the prime minister." The party didn't agree to it. They said, "We want you." Now, as the situation is spiraling out of control more and more, people are saying, "But you're the only national figure. You've got a team and you've got the experience and you've got a program, so we need you."
But it's ambiguous, because while people want me, they have reservations. They may be founded well or founded wrong, but they have reservations about the role of my husband. It's very difficult, because when I was in government my husband used to deal with all the traditional politicians, and he was a great help to me. Now I see the crisis is bigger and people expect me to overcome the bigger crisis, and I have that apprehension of "How will I do it if he's not there to be dealing with some of the tribal lords and people who are in parliament?" You can't wish them away. So I have that sort of hesitation.
The second thing is on a more personal level. Of the 12 years I've been married, my husband has been behind bars for seven, so I say, "How is it life?" Again we are in politics, and the children won't have the mother or the father, and my son is now 12. In the next five years he'll be 17 and go off to college and then get a job and get married and have his own home. So I have these ambiguous feelings, "Is it right or not?" But I've always had a strong sense of duty, so I feel that I ought to go and put myself over as a candidate. My party has endorsed me for prime minister, but whether that happens or not, I leave it to the Lord to say whatever is best for me and best for my country.
Or your son could become prime minister. How would you feel about his going into politics?
Benazir Bhutto: If my children go into politics? Again very ambiguous, because I don't want them to go through what I went through. As a mother I want to protect them from the tragedies that I have seen in my life, but they are growing up in a political home. They see politicians all the time. So for them being in politics is natural and they play games about who is going to be prime minister. I tell them, "Wait a minute. First you've got to get a job and you've got to get a profession. You can't even think about politics without having a law degree or a medicine degree or engineering, some degree." So I temper their enthusiasm. The world is changing, and I think that in the new global century you can have a career without being in government. Through NGOs and community service there's a great deal that can be done.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead? I mean, not just for you or for Pakistan but in the world as we start our way through the 21st Century?
Benazir Bhutto: Ethnic and religious violence. I think that as nation states begin to become weaker because of the force of globalization, there will be a greater reversion to ethnicity and to religious violence. I fear that the international community lacks a mechanism for conflict prevention or being in a position to end the conflict. Everyone is looking towards America, and the American people have their own problems. They can be there if there's a strategic concern, but they can't be there everywhere. So there is a lack of growth of regional institutions that could deal with regional violence and leave the global problems or the strategic problems to the more global powers. I fear the 21st Century could witness a period of contradiction where there is the greatest era of peace -- the super power rivalry having gone -- but there is a lot of localized violence.
Still looking ahead into the 21st Century, what are your hopes for us all? What are your hopes for Pakistan and the world?
Benazir Bhutto: My hope is really for a world of peace that provides people opportunities to prosper. Each individual is given life once to lead, and each individual deserves a chance to succeed, especially if they are prepared to work hard. People need peace and they need opportunity, in Pakistan and everywhere else. That's the world I'd like to see.
We hope to see you again someday, perhaps to congratulate you on a Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the conflict in Kashmir. That would be nice.
Benazir Bhutto: That would be very nice. I would certainly work towards it if life and fate and my people gave me that opportunity.
Well, thank you for giving us this opportunity. We've enjoyed talking to you.
Thank you very much.
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This page last revised on Nov 02, 2010 15:29 EDT
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