Restore Pakistani Democracy

By Benazir Bhutto

Monday, September 24, 2001; Page A19

My run-in with Osama bin Laden began before he achieved international infamy. He supported the pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan in their bid to control Islamabad as the center for their battle against the civilized world.

In 1989 bin Laden poured more than $10 million into an unsuccessful no-confidence move to bring down my government. Years later, after the attack on New York's World Trade Center in 1993, the bin Laden-backed mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, fled to Pakistan. Working with the FBI, my government's law enforcers apprehended Yousef near Islamabad. Before we extradited him, we learned the bin Laden apparatus had made two unsuccessful assassination attempts against me in 1993.

During the tenure of my democratic government, we closed an important paramilitary training university in Peshawar and disarmed other forces. We arrested militants; they were on the run. We extradited wanted terrorists.

They hit back by bombing the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, burning the National Assembly and hijacking a school bus. Of course, they were too busy fighting democracy to fight the world. But when my democratically elected government fell in November 1996, the range of the militants increased. With oversight and constraint gone from the halls of government in Islamabad, the fanatics turned their attention to their agenda of international terrorism.

The Sept. 11 terror attacks, and their grim toll, climaxed in a call to end international terrorism. As America leads this fight, I caution that Pakistani democracy not be sacrificed at the altar of Afghanistan. It is Pakistani democracy that earlier contained the kind of terror and tragedy we witnessed in New York and Washington on Black Tuesday. It is democracy that can help contain fanaticism and terror in the future.

It is right for America, as it battles international terrorism, to sow the seeds of stability. Democracy and debt reduction are two pillars on which the edifice of a political structure promising peace and stability can be raised. It is also right to rescind the discriminatory Pressler sanctions, which soured relations between our countries for a generation.

It is also important for America and the rest of the world to keep their commitment to democratic values by continuing to press for party-based elections in Pakistan next year open to all candidates and all parties. Democracies oppose terrorism. Democracies do not start wars. Democracy is the best safeguard against the Talibanization of Pakistan, a nuclear power.

Two of the most important long-term goals for our region should be the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan that gives confidence to the refugees to return to their land and, equally important, the restoration of true democracy to Pakistan. We must ensure that the military and security apparatus of Pakistan that fought in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s come under civilian control. The militarization of Pakistan must end.

Just as I once cautioned President George H. W. Bush's administration about "creating Frankenstein," today I caution his son about the same danger. Save Pakistani democracy from dictatorship in the name of anti-terrorism. Ultimately an anti-democratic Pakistan can become an anti-Western, fanatic threat to world peace.

The writer was prime minister of Pakistan from 1987 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996.

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