Pakistan's former prime minister has rejected the issuance of an Interpol notice against her, calling it a political maneuver by the Pakistani government. Benazir Bhutto spoke at a press conference at the Voice of America in Washington.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto dismissed Interpol's so-called red notices as part of a political campaign against her by President Pervez Musharraf.
"My husband and I have faced these scurrilous, baseless, malicious, and politically motivated charges for the past nine years," she said. "And by the grace of God, there's not a single conviction against either my husband or myself for fraud or for corruption."
The government has pledged to arrest Bhutto if she returned to Pakistan. Bhutto Thursday reiterated her statement of last year that she was ready to immediately go back to Pakistan to face any charges.
"As far as I'm concerned, if any court wants me in Pakistan, I'm prepared to catch the next plane and go to Pakistan," she said. "So it is not an issue of my evading presence in a court. But no court in Pakistan to my knowledge has asked me to present. And I believe that Interpol has not been given the correct facts by the military regime in Pakistan."
Bhutto served two separate terms as prime minister in the 1990s. She was ousted in 1996, and left Pakistan in 1999 amid a string of corruption charges. She has not been back since.
Interpol, the international police agency, issued the notices against Bhutto and husband Asif Ali Zardari. An Interpol spokesman said the red notices are not arrest warrants, as is commonly thought. However, the spokesman said, many of Interpol's member countries consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest, especially if they are linked to the requesting country via a bilateral extradition treaty.
Zardari was jailed for eight years without any legal resolution and was released on bail in 2004. He said he has been in the United States for the past several months for medical treatment related to his long imprisonment.
Bhutto added that she believes the charges against her are part of a government campaign to divert the attention of the Pakistani media from a recent U.S. missile strike on suspected al-Qaida sanctuaries along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
"I believe that the Interpol notices come now, because there was a lot of media interest in whether General Musharraf knew about the strikes that took place around January 12 or 13," she added.
Civilians, as well as some suspected al-Qaida figures, died in the strike, igniting anti-U.S. demonstrations. The government has said it did not know of the strikes in advance.
Bhutto says the government campaign against her and her secular-based Pakistan Peoples' Party has empowered the extremist Islamist religious parties.
"They have filled the vacuum caused by the military regime's determination to sideline the secular, liberal, and democratic forces of Pakistan," she added. "And due to that policy of marginalizing the democratic opposition, extremism has replaced moderation in Pakistan."
Islamic religious parties, most of which have demonstrated some sympathy with the Taleban and al-Qaida, control or have significant influence in the provincial governments of the two Pakistan provinces that border Afghanistan.