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Bhutto's Husband Says Campaigning Has Become Dangerous


The husband of slain Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto says his wife's murder has exposed the risks of traditional political campaigning in his country. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated Dec. 27 as she left a political rally. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, there are no real alternatives in Pakistan to such mass rallies.

In a telephone interview with VOA News, Asif Zardari said candidates in Pakistan will have to find new ways of campaigning that will not put their lives in jeopardy.

"In our present time we have to change our way of electioning," said Asif Zardari. "We have to find ways and means of securing ourselves better. And that is the demand of the time, the demand of the situation because the present existing government has been in power for the past seven to eight years and they are totally incompetent. They've managed to worsen the situation rather than save it."

Benazir Bhutto was campaigning for parliamentary elections when she was murdered as she left a mass political rally in Rawalpindi. Her husband has now taken over day-to-day running of the opposition Pakistan Peoples' Party.

Zardari says his wife repeatedly asked the government of President Pervez Musharraf for increased security, especially after an earlier attempt on her life when she returned to Pakistan in October. He says that had the requests been heeded, she would still be alive.

"There is no reason we could not have saved her if we had the security measures in place, if we had the equipment we asked for, had the relevant permissions to get important advisors on security planning who would advise us on security planning," he said. "Because today's world has become very dangerous we need experts to solve and to assist and to help security. But all that we were denied. I'm 100 percent sure that if we were given that assistance she would be with us today and not with God."

Mass rallies and processions are the traditional modes of campaigning in Pakistan. In the wake of the Bhutto assassination, the government has urged opposition parties to refrain from such rallies ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for Feb. 18.

But, despite the security risks of such events, candidates have no real alternative. Political advertising on radio and television is virtually nonexistent in Pakistan, especially, analysts say, because of government curbs on broadcast media.

Christine Fair, a Pakistan affairs analyst at the Rand Corporation, says the Musharraf government uses its control over security resources as a political tool.

"If the state really wanted to secure these rallies, they could do a better job," said Christine Fair. "I'm not saying they would be able to prevent violence altogether. But let's also be very clear. There's a degree to which the state uses security provisions selectively to continue to intimidate. Now I was not, as you know, a fan of Ms. Bhutto. But I did hear, and was appalled to hear, that sometimes they would just pull her security away to remind her that she is safe at the behest of the state."

Fair says that the religious parties have a political forum that secular parties do not have.

In Pakistan I don't really see alternatives [to rallies]," she said. "Now the Islamists actually have alternatives, and they're called mosques and madrassas [schools]. So they're able to mobilize one vote at a time.

Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz Khan told the government-run Associated Press of Pakistan, which is not affiliated with the worldwide Associated Press news agency, that Benazir Bhutto was given an unprecedented level of security for a politician. He added that Zardari is not under the same threat as his wife and that the government could not give him the same amount of security.

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