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Bhutto says Pakistan could have foiled 9/11

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She was the first woman elected to lead an Islamic country. Had she been allowed to continue to reign as prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto said her government's regional policing powers could have prevented the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City Sept. 11.

Bhutto, twice ousted as prime minister of Pakistan and whose conviction on corruption charges was suspended last year by the country's supreme court, spoke this week at a Weber State University convocation before 900 students and professors in Ogden.

Her message was clear: America can help her nation pave the way toward a democratic government and a more prosperous economy. Bhutto said she is striving for more educational opportunities for her people, literacy and more equal participation for Pakistani women in politics and the judiciary.

After all, Bhutto said, she, like many foreigners, wants her countrymen to enjoy what America has and get rid of what the Middle East, especially now, is notoriously known for.

"For the very same reasons that men and women come to America by the millions upon millions — for your freedom, for your opportunities, equality and pluralism — for these very reasons, you are the worst nightmare to the extremists and fanatics that thrive on misery, intolerance, ignorance and fear," she said. "You are the very symbol of what can be . . . modernity, diversity and democracy."

Although living in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates and Britain while her country fights its old foe of India along the border in Kashmir, Bhutto said she plans in October to run against current Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a dictator who overthrew the Pakistani government in a military coup in 1999.

Bhutto described her nemesis as having two convenient personality dichotomies — one that supported the Taliban and other militant extremist groups before the Sept. 11 attacks on America, and afterward another that, in a post-attack "strategic somersault," declared support for America as an ally in the U.S. war against Afghanistan.

"As prime minister of Pakistan, I stood up to the extremists, including Osama bin Laden himself. Our policing of the region would have been far superior, and there never would have been a need for the United States to bomb Afghanistan because there would have been no World Trade Center (assault)," she said.

To entice his political opponent not to challenge him, Bhutto said Musharraf has offered to free her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, from the jail cell in which he has been held since his wife's government was dismissed from power in November 1996. Those plans, however, may be foiled. The supreme court of Pakistan in Islamabad last April ordered new trials for both Bhutto and her husband, lending credence to their assertions that the corruption charges filed against them were drummed up by Bhutto's successor, Nawaz Sharif, who also has been in exile since Musharraf and his army overtook the government in a bloodless coup in October 1999.

Under her leadership, Bhutto said, Pakistan and India co-existed peacefully. She said she blames Musharraf for the recent hostilities between the two nuclear-armed countries.

Yet, she said she fears that Musharraf has won President Bush's, ergo America's, support for his continued reign over Pakistan and that she and her Pakistan People's Party as a result will suffer during this fall's election.

Four successive governments have been ousted in Pakistan due to corruption since 1990 — charges politically motivated by terrorists who want to remain in control, Bhutto said. Still, when Musharraf's army overthrew Sharif's government in 1999, most Pakistanis welcomed the coup. Bhutto appointed Musharraf as director-general of the military in the mid-1990s. He took full charge of the country's armed forces in 1998 and, after suspending the national assembly, took over the government the following year.

In 2001, Musharraf declared himself president of Pakistan and has led the country under authoritarian, versus civilian, rule.


E-MAIL: nwagner@desnews.com