Sarwat Husain, editor of Al-Ittihaad | Q&A | Indy Week
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Sarwat Husain, editor of Al-Ittihaad 

click to enlarge Sarwat Husain - PHOTO BY MARK GREENBERG
  • Photo by Mark Greenberg
  • Sarwat Husain

In the days following the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, much has been written and broadcast about how she symbolized the promise of a democratic, liberal Pakistan.

However, Sarwat Husain has a viewpoint not widely heard in American media: "Bhutto was America's puppet," she says, adding that there was no guarantee that had Bhutto won the election, she would have brought democracy to Pakistan. Although Bhutto eventually denounced the Taliban, her critics, such as Husain, note that the group surged in Afghanistan in the mid-'90s when Bhutto was serving her second term as prime minister, and it received military and financial aid from Pakistan.

Husain is from an upper-middle class Pakistani family with roots in India. Her parents were from Hyderabad, once an independent state in that country. When India took over Hyderabad, her father, an army engineer, fought in the war to keep the state independent and later fled to Pakistan.

Husain immigrated to the United States in 1970. An American citizen living in San Antonio, Texas, she is the editor of Al-Ittihaad (Unity),, a monthly newspaper distributed nationwide, including Raleigh.

She is also president of the San Antonio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit Muslim civil liberties group headquartered in Washington, D.C.

She spoke about the situation in her former homeland by phone from California, where she was on a speaking tour.

Why do you think Bhutto was America's puppet?

Bhutto was seen as an American agent. She would have allowed the American army into Pakistan.

Bhutto was the best for America, but not the best for Pakistan. Each time when free and fair elections are held, leaders like Bhutto come up. And since American is the kingmaker, America dictates who should be the leader. When Bhutto went back to Pakistan, the U.S. and other countries were saying she was going to share the power with [President Perez] Musharraf, but how could she without an election?

Should the elections continue as scheduled? If so, do you think it is possible they will be fair and non-violent? If not, when should they be held?

The elections should not go on now. People are very charged up. People won't go polling stations out of fear or there will be bombings. There shouldn't be an election until the PPP [the Pakistan People's Party] has another leader. They are still a valid party and they should be participating in those elections. There is good and bad in every party, and the PPP has some very good people; they could run it. In Bhutto's eight years of exile, she wouldn't allow anyone to take over. And the things she did do, she didn't do in a very democratic manner, like naming herself the leader of the party for life.

What is your view on the relationship between the U.S. government and Musharraf?

Musharraf is the best thing that has happened to Pakistan. He has improved the economy. The poverty rate has come down. America doesn't like Musharraf because he's outspoken. Pakistan is very important for America. They need him.

Can he govern effectively now?

It's very difficult to say if he can. America needs stability there. The good thing about Musharraf is, he has not taken one penny of the country for himself. He has not built palaces even when he was in the army. He makes sense when he talks to the nation.

Pakistan's middle and upper classes were suspicious of Bhutto, while the poor support her. Why?

People in the villages very poor and don't understand what's going on. She embezzled money. She was not popular. She and her husband, they took money from the country.

But Musharraf invoked martial law and military rule. That doesn't seem very democratic.

Pakistan has survived only because of its military. Each time, if you compare Pakistan between the times of military or civil government, it has been better under the military. People don't complain about military rule. The looting stops; the killing stops.

Talk about the ramifications of the political instability, such as the nuclear weapons that Pakistan has.

I'm not in favor of nuclear power at all, but if Pakistan can't have it, no one should have it. Not the United States, not India, not anybody.

How should the U.S. proceed in dealing with Pakistan?

Would the U.S. allow other people to choose our leaders or watch our elections? In every affair in Pakistan, America is there. America should get out of their business. But they won't, because Pakistan is a place where America can run the whole world from.

How can there be peace and stability in Pakistan?

Pakistan's peace depends on Afghanistan situation. Until I was in high school, I didn't think Afghanistan and Pakistan were two countries. We didn't even know where the borders were, and then the Russians came in [during in 1979 Soviet invasion.]

If Pakistan draws up a big wall between the two countries, peace will be instant. As long as America is there fighting, Pakistan pays the price.

The N.C. bureau chief of Al-Ittihaad is Manzoor Cheema:


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