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Bilawal Zadari: Politicians need to ‘wake up’ & build consensus on military action against armed groups

MUMBAI: Bilawal Bhutto Zadari, son of Benazir, has today called on Pakistan’s politicians to “wake up” and build a consensus on taking military action against the Pakistan Taliban, and other armed groups, blamed for rising violence across the country.

Speaking exclusively to BBC World News, the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, who now at 25 can run officially for Parliament, said:

“I thought the assassination of my mother would wake this country up. My mother didn’t wake you up, Malala (Yousefzai) didn’t wake you up, Chaudry Aslam who was assassinated recently  didn’t wake you up, if the thousands of Shia who were butchered in Balochistan, the dead, the dead the martyred dead, are forced to protest because politicians are cowards ..”

His comments come as Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are in urgent talks to discuss what action to take to tackle growing violence by militant groups, including possible military action in the tribal area of North Waziristan. Prime Minister Sharif came to power last year urging talks with the Pakistani Taliban, a position also taken by opposition leader Imran Khan.

Bhutto told Lyse Doucet the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent:

“”History shows us that these talks aren’t always successful. If it were up to me I would not be willing to negotiate with anything but a position of strength – I would only be willing to negotiate for the terms of surrender …I think we’ve exhausted the option of talks.  Dialogue is always an option but we have to have a position of strength – how do you talk from a position of strength? You have to beat them on the battlefield. They’re fighting us.”

Selected quotes from the interview which was record in Karachi today, Monday 27th January, are given below.

BB – Bilawal Bhutto Zadari

LD – Lyse Doucet

On taking on more responsibility:

BB: “I think it is time to start taking on more responsibility within the party.”

BB: “25 is older than 19 and that is a lot of time to mature. I’ve been educated at Oxford, I’ve experienced a lot, the ringside seat I have that I have enjoyed with my father. I think I am a different person. I think it is time to start taking on more responsibility within the party. But as soon as I was made Chairman (at the age of 19)I knew I would be doing this. It’s not a question of being a different person in that context.”

On preparing for the next Parliamentary elections in 2018

BB: “I want to see a 2018 election for the Pakistan People’s Party and as far as a by-election is concerned, I am not particularly interested in parachuting myself in from the top or  into parliament but this is a discussion going on in the party  and is a current discussion and it is a decision for the party to ultimately make.

LD:  So it’s possible that you could run in a by-election before 2018? Would you want to?

BB: “It’s a decision the party is making. It’s an ongoing discussion.”

On being a future Prime Minister

LD: Would you like to be Prime Minister someday, like your mother Benazir Bhutto, and grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto?

BB: “The position is not the purpose. It’s getting a peaceful prosperous and progressive Pakistan. The leader does not need to sit in the National Assembly. Malala Yousufzai at the age of 16 can be a leader and shame many people who are sitting in the National Assembly so it’s not that you have to be PM of Pakistan to lead. But I am looking to join the people already out there risking their lives on a daily basis to lead the fight against Islamic extremism.”

LD: and you really want a life in politics…it’s a dirty dangerous game in Pakistan..?

BB: “Politics is a dirty dangerous game and I’ve watched, I’ve seen my mother bury her brothers, I’ve seen my mother living in exile, raising her children practically as a single mother while my father was a political prisoner for nearly 8 and half years, I’ve seen the trials and tribulations, and I challenge you Lyse to find one 19 year old to 25 year old who would look at my history and say you know what, I want to do this, this sounds like fun. That’s not the case. I never saw myself as being in politics, I didn’t have ambitions for politics. But now when I am here in my country and I see the state of my country I just feel I want to play some role, any role I can to make sure we are a peaceful prosperous and progressive nation that my mother dreamed of, that my mother died fighting for…so that is my motivation.”

On fears for his own security

BB: “I am very conscious of security concerns and we have security arrangements, the best one can do…In fact, my security at the moment, if my mother had the security I have today she would still be alive, and I am not even a former Prime Minister of Pakistan.”

BB: “Security concerns are there but I am committed, I am adamant that security concerns, while you must take precautions, no security concerns can impede my actions…or my words. Otherwise the terrorists will have won right? Because their one aim is to silence you…either by fear or by killing you. So why let them succeed? If they are going to try to kill me. Why not let me go down vocally and strongly opposing them?”

LD: Are you frustrated that this was the life that was forced on you, you had no choice in the matter?

BB: I didn’t choose this life, it chose me…that’s what my mother used to say..

On the Sindh Cultural Festival

BB: “I took it on myself to find ways to preserve promote and protect the site (of Mohenjo-daro) and other Indus Valley sites across Pakistan. So that is the starting point for Sindh festival to raise funds for the heritage trust and to preserve, protect and promote our sites. The other aspect behind Sindh fest is to preserve, promote and protect our cultural heritage, which I also believe is under threat and the question posed to Pakistan is what binds you together as a nation? Why are you a nation?”