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Benazir Bhutto: a woman devoted to overthrowing Zia

``I am basically a person who has devoted myself to the overthrow of martial law,'' declares Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the late Pakistani prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. ``I'm not going to rest until my party and my people achieve our aims. I believe in the restoration of democracy.''

Ms. Bhutto, who leads the banned Pakistan People's Party (PPP), spoke to the Monitor before her decision to return to Pakistan today for her brother's funeral.

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Bhutto's active involvement in politics began when her father was overthrown in a military coup led by Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in 1977.

After her father's execution in 1979, Benazir assumed de facto leadership of the PPP and spent much of the next four years under house arrest or in prison. ``I know I learned a lot at Oxford and Harvard, but I think I learned even more in the prisons of Pakistan,'' she says. In January 1984, she was released unexpectedly and left for London, where she has since been based.

Bhutto denies allegations that she is ``out of touch'' with Pakistan and the Pakistani people. She says that, from thousands of miles away in London, she can exercise leadership and organization more effectively than if she were in her own country -- and behind bars.

``The day I feel I can't do anything in London, I want to go back home,'' she says, ``because . . . if it was a matter of being out of touch I'd rather be in my own country and be in jail.''

Although the Pakistani opposition is weak and somewhat fragmented, popular resentment against the Zia regime has increased. President Zia's support comes from influential sectors, notably the mullahs (Muslim religious scholars), landowners, and businessmen. Bhutto says these segments are trying ``to maintain [their] privileged position at the expense of others,'' and are opposed to change.

She is skeptical about the ability of the new all-civilian parliament, constituted after Zia held highly proscribed elections in February. She views the parliamentarians as little more than Zia's puppets and is doubtful that they can bring about a peaceful transition to civilian rule.

Either Zia ``lifts martial law and he's swept away by popular resentment [in elections], or he doesn't lift martial law and he's ousted [by the military],'' Bhutto says confidently. She already has a blue-print for a post-Zia Pakistan.

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She reels off the steps her party would take if it came to power: give the provinces greater say in central policy; provide ``wage benefits to labor;'' provide land to landless peasants; establish technical training for young people; reverse ``Zia's policy of not investing in infrastructure.''

Another of her major concerns is to make sure Pakistani women are given the same rights as men. She feels women are being forced to take a backward step under Zia's ``Islamization'' campaign.

``We know what we want for our country. We have a vision,'' she says. ``We are going to achieve what we want. And inshallah [God willing] we will.''

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