What sort of challenges or misconceptions have you had to address as Zia ul Haq’s son?
To be honest, I have faced a lot of challenges and misconceptions. The public had a lot of expectations from me being the son of General Zia, who was the architect of the Russian defeat in Afghanistan and the source of bringing an end to the Cold War. During this period, it not only liberated Afghanistan but was instrumental in the break-up of the Soviet Union as well. However, although I was democratically elected by getting the most number of votes in the entire Pakistani elections, I was put in jail four times during Benazir’s government. It has also been difficult to explain that I am a democrat and not a supporter of military rule. There have been some other misconceptions which have increased recently with the rise of suicide bombings and other issues today.
The Lal Masjid crisis seemed to be one of the major turning points in the last year for the Pakistani government. Looking back, do you think the situation was handled properly? What would you have done differently?
The Lal Masjid incident was a very serious issue. I believe that both sides mishandled the situation and the government took too much time before taking matters in their own hands. This delay let the situation build up to such an extent that at one time there were more than 2,500 militants in the madrassa who were fully armed and who had converted the mosque and madrassa into a fortress. Mind you, this was a madrassa for women and having 2,500 armed men inside the mosque and the madrassa compound was in no way Islamic. The delay in taking charge of the situation after the takeover of the children’s library, the hostage-taking of the Chinese citizens, and the abduction of Aunty Shamim led to the point where both sides were unable to compromise and come to an agreement of any sort. Instead of taking such extreme measures, the government should have laid a siege around the compound and try to flush them out slowly. Being in the heart of the capital, it became the center of attention for the media, who initially criticized and abused the government for not taking action but later put the entire blame on the government. The clerics of Lal Masjid were supported by some militant and terrorist groups and I have a feeling that they were also supported and backed up by some internal and external agencies. The people’s perceptions were extremely against the government and they labeled it a killer of the innocent and anti-Islamic. The Lal Masjid issue was definitely one of the factors that led to PML Q’s defeat.
Do you think a coalition government, made up of PML-N and PPP will be successful? Based on your experience in the recent government, what are some obstacles that this government faces? Do you think the current government should negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, as news sources have suggested?
It is going to be very tough for the PPP and PML-N coalition to work. Nobody has managed to get the clear mandate or simple majority to form a government. Both parties have different agendas and Nawaz will definitely support the PPP for now to oust Musharraf and restore the judges. He will also support the constitutional amendments as long as he is able to remove the 58 2B and the National Security Council and then will probably pull his support. The PPP is playing its last innings as a national party as there is no leadership on the national level. Nawaz, on the other hand, is looking forward to run for the elections in a year or so to come back with a 2/3 majority. He will definitely be using the Punjab Government to build his support as well. On negotiating with the militants, the only solution is through dialogue, which includes the stick and carrot policy.
What were the reasons behind your loss in the recent elections – do you think this was because so much of the country was polarized against the Musharraf regime and this subsequently hurt the PML-Q? What were your opinions on the elections overall? Do you agree with assessments that they were conducted freely and fairly?
The elections were free and fair, however, the elections were held under the judiciary, which was against the government therefore working against the interest of all the government’s candidates. The other obstacles were the crises of gas, electricity, and flour during the peak of the elections. Of course, Wana, Waziristan, and Swat were the other negatives as well, which led to our defeat. The emotions towards being Anti-American and Anti-Musharraf were very high within the country.