Bilawal Bhutto: 'Pakistan needs to tackle extremism for its own sake'

In a DW interview at the Munich Security Conference Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistani politician and son of late PM Benazir Bhutto, urged more engagement between Islamabad and New Delhi to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 30-year-old chairman of one of Pakistan's oldest and most popular political parties, is trying to make a mark on Pakistani politics.

Eleven years ago, on December 27, 2007, his mother Benazir Bhutto, a two-time premier, was assassinated in the city of Rawalpindi during an election rally. She was allegedly targeted by Islamists who are active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After her death, Zardari took over the reins of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but from 2008 to 2013 his father Asif Ali Zardari played a more active part in leading the party, also becoming president after the 2008 general elections.

Zardari is now a member of parliament and a vocal opponent of PM Imran Khan and his policies. An Oxford graduate, Zardari often speaks for the rights of religious minorities and women. Many in Pakistan believe he could be the future prime minister of the South Asian country.

DW spoke with him at this year's Munich Security Conference, where he was a guest. He shared his views on a number of issues, including the Kashmir conflict and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.

DW: India and Pakistan are once again on a war-footing after the deadly Kashmir attack on February 14. What in your opinion should be done to calm the nerves?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: I'd like to start by condemning the attack. Our party does not believe in violence and we condemn violence in all forms. It is understandable that the people of India are very emotional right now. They are aggrieved, they are upset and angry. But it is very important for politicians and leaders not to be played by non-state actors and terrorists, who want to divide the people of India and Pakistan. They don't want the people of India and Pakistan to have peaceful relations.

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Kashmir conflict: Decades of violent dispute

At the same time, we believe that there should be a plebiscite in Kashmir, so that the people there have a democratic outlet. If that takes place, I am sure the terrorism will end there.

India and Pakistan should have more engagement. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the past few years, particularly under PM Narendra Modi's government. It means that it is all the more important for peace-loving Pakistanis and peace-loving Indians to emphasize peace and condemn terrorism in all forms.

But what is the biggest obstacle to peace between India and Pakistan? There have been so many attempts in the past few years but nothing seems to be working.

There are many issues, terrorism being one of them. There is also the Kashmir dispute. I feel that PM Modi has led India away from its secular roots towards a more nationalist government. There hasn't been any genuine attempt to make peace with Pakistan. Perhaps it is more aimed at a domestic audience. There will be elections in India this year and perhaps that is the reason why PM Modi is pursing an aggressive policy.

But there isn't a very liberal government in Pakistan at the moment…

That's true. But India is known for its secularism, for its tolerance. India is a bigger and a richer country. It is a bigger democracy and should act like the bigger brother and extend a hand of friendship. Pakistan is willing to reach out.

What are your views on the ongoing talks between Washington and the Taliban? Islamabad is trying to broker a deal between the two parties, but it seems that the Afghan government is being sidelined. Do you think that the exclusion of Kabul from these talks could create a problem in the future?

Absolutely. It is vital that the solution to the Afghan conflict is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Without that it will be difficult to achieve positive and sustainable results. US President Donald Trump's efforts for unilateral talks with the Taliban came as a surprise not only for the Afghan government and Pakistan but also for members of Mr. Trump's own cabinet. But I think this is once again aimed at the domestic audience. Trump wants to be seen as a president who is trying to get out of Afghanistan.

Read more: Afghan conflict receives scant attention at Munich Security Conference

But that's not how conflicts are resolved. Afghanistan needs a plan for reconciliation, but reconciliation should not be capitulation. You can't just cut and run. Mr. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, put it very well: "You break it, you fix it." Washington should look at it as an opportunity to enhance its economic cooperation in the region, and also looks for a plan for reconstruction in the region. The US should not leave the region in a mess – the one we saw in Iraq with the emergence of "Islamic State" (IS).

There's lot of fatigue around the long Afghan conflict. It is there for the Afghan government, for the Taliban, for Pakistan, and also for the NATO and the US. We are looking at these developments with hope that here will be an exit strategy.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2007 - Twin blasts rock Karachi on former PM’s return

Two bomb blasts struck former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade on October 18, 2007 in the southern port city of Karachi. Bhutto was returning to Pakistan after almost eight years. The attack left 139 people dead. Bhutto, the first democratically elected female head of an Islamic country, died in an attack two months later, on December 27 in the northern city of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2008 - Wah bombing

The Wah bombing was a double suicide attack on the Pakistan Ordinance Factories (POF) in Wah on August 21, 2008. At least 64 people died in the attack, which remains to date the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan's history. A spokesman from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2008 - Insurgents target luxury hotel in the capital

At least 60 people died and over 200 were injured when a truck filled with explosives detonated in front of the Marriot Hotel on September 20, 2008, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Five foreign nationals were among the casualties, while another 15 were injured.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2009 - Peshawar bombing

A car bomb was detonated in Mina Bazar (a market for women and children) in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The bomb killed 125 people and injured more than 200 others. The Pakistani government put the blame on the Taliban, but both Taliban and al-Qaida denied involvement in the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2009 - Market in Lahore targeted

The December 2009 Lahore attacks were a series of two bomb blasts and a shooting which occurred in a crowded market in the country’s second largest city of Lahore on December 7. At least 66 people were killed. Most of the victims were women.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 - Suicide bomber targets volleyball match

A suicide car bomb killed 101 people at a village volleyball game in the northwestern district of Bannu.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 - Lahore Massacre

The May 2010 Lahore attacks also referred to as the Lahore Massacre occurred on May 28, 2010, during Friday prayers. 82 people were killed in simultaneous attacks against two mosques of the Ahmadi minority. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2010 – Bomber targets market in tribal area

A suicide bomber killed 105 people in a busy market in the northwestern tribal district of Mohmand. The suicide bombing occurred on July 9 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The target of the attack was believed to be a meeting of tribal elders. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2011 - Police training center in Charsadda attacked

A double bombing occurred on May 13, 2011, in Shabqadar Fort in the Charsadda District of northwestern Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Two suicide bombers killed at least 98 people outside the police training center. At least 140 people were injured. The explosions occurred while cadets were getting into buses for a ten day leave after their training course.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2013 - Peshawar church bombing

On September 22, 2013, a twin suicide attack took place at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the country, killing 82 people. The TTP-linked Islamist group, Jundalah, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2014 - Peshawar school massacre

On December 16, 2014, seven gunmen affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) conducted a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The militants opened fire on school staff and children, killing 154 people, including 132 school children. This was the deadliest terrorist attack ever to occur in the country.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2015 – Gunmen target bus in Karachi

Eight gunmen attacked a bus on May 13, 2015, in Safoora Goth, in Karachi, Pakistan. The shooting left at least 46 people dead. All of the victims were from the Ismaili Shia Muslim minority. Banned militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the shooting. Also, pamphlets supporting the Islamic State terrorist group, with whom Jundallah claims allegiance, were found at the crime scene.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2016 – Lahore park bombing

On March 27, 2016, at least 75 people were killed in a suicide bombing that hit one of the largest parks in Lahore. The attack targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter. Fourteen of the dead were identified as Christians, while the rest were Muslims. The majority of victims were women and children. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group affiliated with the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan: A decade of deadly terrorist attacks

2016 – Quetta hospital bombing

On August 8, 2016, terrorists targeted the Government Hospital of Quetta in Pakistan with a suicide bombing and shooting that resulted in the death of over 70 People. The fatalities were mainly lawyers who had assembled at the hospital where the body of fellow attorney, Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, was brought after he was shot dead by an unknown gunman.

You are quite a liberal politician and perhaps you would be able to answer this question in a better way than others. There is a lack of trust in the West regarding Pakistan. The international community does not buy the narrative about extremism that Pakistan gives out. Why is there a lack of understanding about how to define terrorism?

We have bad PR, I believe, particularly post Osama bin Laden assassination in Abbottabad. It comes down to a trust deficit. We can't get away from the accusations, of course. But my mother used to say that the time is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Unfortunately, previous dictators damaged Pakistan's reputation, and obviously now the world demands proof of what we claim.

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We have to walk the walk, not for the West but for the sake of Pakistan. We have to confront violent extremism if we want all Pakistanis to get along rather than fighting among ourselves. These are our own issues that we need to tackle for our own future. I believe that when we genuinely start tackling these issues and start seeing progress in Pakistan, the world will also see the difference. Then we can also see eye to eye to the international community.

But that requires vigorous engagement with the world. Unfortunately, under Former PM Nawaz Sharif's tenure, we saw a dip in our engagement with the rest of the world. Mr. Khan has only been in government for six months but his approach to foreign policy is quite partisan as he has not taken parliament onboard. He did not visit the United Nations to put across Pakistan's point of view to the world. He has only visited countries in a very transactional manner where he is looking for financial aid. That is not how foreign policy and relations are built.

Read more: The myth of austerity: Why PM Imran Khan's populism won't solve Pakistan's woes

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