Pakistan needs progressive alternative to hate-driven politics, says Bilawal

DAVOS: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto, in his first interview with an Indian media channel, said Pakistan needs a genuine, progressive voice and an alternative to the populist, hate-driven politics done by mainstream political parties.

“PPP has always been a progressive party in Pakistan. That’s the way forward. That’s the kind of politician I want to be. Shehbaz [Sharif] and Imran [Khan] have their own reasons for doing politics. I am doing it for the people,” said Bilawal.

Commenting on the tense relations between the two nuclear neighbours, Bilawal said that while relations between the two countries are not at their best at the moment, giving peace is our only chance.

He, however, added that steps need to be taken on both sides to ensure long-lasting peace, including through back-channel diplomacy.
He emphasised on holding talks as equal partners to resolve the stalemate.
“India and the rest of the world think that they can just dictate Pakistan and that’s not how a partnership works or is built. We need to have a discussion over reservations of both countries with each other,” he said.
On being asked whether he chose to be in politics out of his own will, he said, “I didn’t choose this life. It chose me,” adding that he finds great motivation and solace in furthering his mother’s lifelong mission.

‘Pakistan has to fight against terrorism for itself’

Earlier, in an interview with German broadcaster DW, Bilawal said, “We have to fight against extremism and terrorism not for [US President Donald] Trump or for [Indian PM Narendra] Modi, but just for ourselves.”

He stressed on open debate about extremism and terrorism, not just about militancy. “The cultural and ideological narratives should also be discussed. In doing so, militancy should be countered.”

Speaking about Pakistan’s sacrifices, the PPP chairman said that he thinks it may be that the world’s major powers “prioritise their strategic interests rather than fight against extremism and terrorism.”

He said that Pakistan has been pursuing all available military options, but lamented absence of a holistic approach.

“We are currently pursuing whatever military options are available, but there is no holistic approach and we’re not implementing a national action plan to resolve the problem. We are also not doing anything about counteracting the extremist ideological narrative.”

Asked about efforts by opposition parties to affect a change of government and bring forward next elections, Bilawal said his party is fully prepared for elections, whether they are held on due time or are brought forward.
“But for a democratic transition, it is necessary that parliament completes its term and that the power transition from one civilian government to the other happens smoothly,” he maintained. “It will be good for our country.”
The PPP chairman however criticised former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for tending to “destroy the whole system.”
“The problem, in my opinion, however, is that Nawaz Sharif wants to destroy the whole system by any means and at any cost so that he can escape from the problems posed by the Panama Papers scandal.”
Questioned about his criticism of Nawaz for his friendship with Modi, he said that his criticism was in the context of Kashmir and that he criticised the former premier for his personal friendship with Modi.

“My point has been that there should be good and friendly ties between India and Pakistan at state level. But friendship between these two leaders hasn’t turned into a friendly relationship between the two states,” he said, urging for state-level engagement between the two neighbours.

Asked about threats to freedom of expression and independent media in Pakistan, the PPP chairman said that Pakistan’s media is in a state of crisis nowadays for a number of reasons and media outlets in the country are increasingly influenced.

He also regretted mistreatment of journalists in the country saying that it conveys a very bad message.
“The kind of atrocities journalists go through is really bad. When such things happen even in the capital Islamabad, they send a very bad signal.
“But it’s not just in Pakistan that free speech is under attack. That’s the case now in many parts of the world,” Bilawal said.
“So we have to discourage this trend and address this issue by standing up for those in the media community, both in Pakistan as well as across the world.”
In response to a question about fake news, he said that propaganda, misinformation and disinformation have always been part of political warfare.
“Social media and other new platforms have given it a new life and reach through which the fake news phenomenon can reach everywhere.”
The PPP chairman, however, said that censorship in the name of fighting fake news is a dangerous thing for Pakistan.