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Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

'We need to counter extremist ideological narrative'

January 26, 2018

Pakistan is set to hold general elections this year which will be crucial for its democratic future. DW spoke to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) chairman, about the key problems facing the nation.


DW: Pakistan claims it has made huge sacrifices in combating terrorism but they are not recognized by the West. You also mentioned once that you are one of the biggest victims of terrorism and that you lost your mother because of it. Against this backdrop, how would you present Pakistan's position on this issue to the international community?

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: It is the duty of all of us to present Pakistan's views and concerns on this issue and I shall contribute my part. We should openly 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. 

As far as Pakistan's sacrifices are concerned, I think it may be that the world's major powers prioritize their strategic interests rather than fight against extremism and terrorism. 

So if we want to fight these problems in our own country, we should do it on our own. 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. 

As Pakistan hasn't even had a foreign minister for four years now, it's difficult to imagine who could do the job of presenting Pakistan's perspective on this issue to the international community. 

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We have to fight against extremism and terrorism not for [US President Donald] Trump or for [Indian PM Narendra] Modi, but just for ourselves.

Opposition parties in Pakistan are trying their best to affect a change in government and bring forward the next elections. What is your policy in this regard?

The Pakistan People's Party is ready for elections. Whether they are held as per the current timetable or are brought forward, we are fully prepared. 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. 

It will be good for our country. The problem, in my opinion, however, is that [former PM] 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

You once criticized Nawaz Sharif of being disloyal to the country because of his friendship with Narendra Modi. Do you still believe that friendly relations with a neighbor are a sign of disloyalty?

Whatever I said was in the context of Kashmir. I criticized Nawaz Sharif's personal friendship with Modi, but 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. We therefore should have engagement at state level.

Read more: 

What Donald Trump can really do to 'rein in' Pakistan
Ahead of elections, Pakistan heads toward more political chaos

In recent years, critics say freedom of expression and free press have been increasingly under threat in Pakistan. What is your take on this? 

I think they are right. Pakistan's media is in a state of crisis nowadays for a number of reasons. Media outlets in the country are increasingly influenced by government officials and big businessmen, and they try to create a narrative suited to their interests. 

Secondly, 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. 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. 

What is your view on the issue of fake news? 

I have 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.

In this regard, during my discussion at the World Economic Forum, I basically focused on how to teach and train the youth what is real journalism and how to practice real journalism. We need to tell them about biases and sourcing. We should teach them how to take into account views from all sides. I think censorship in the name of fighting fake news is a dangerous thing for Pakistan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The interview was conducted by DW Urdu's Irfan Aftab on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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