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Pakistan Election Review; Bangladesh Labor Improvements; Bahrain Government Critic Flees to Europe

Aired May 13, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Pakistan basks in the real victory of transferring power from one elected government to another. That's for the first time since its creation 66 years ago.

There's new leadership for this troubled country. Actually, it's the third time as prime minister for Nawaz Sharif. Today, in the flush of victory, it might be easy to overlook his failed promises of the past. But it is vital to us: what will he make of this latest round in the ring because Pakistanis are demanding a lot.

After braving unprecedented violence during the campaign to turn out in unprecedented numbers on election day, especially women voters, even the most religiously conservative sectors of the country.

And turnout was particularly strong among young people. An estimated 40 percent of voters were casting their ballot for the very first time. Cricket legend turned politician Imran Khan took credit for that.

"The youth were with me," he declared from his hospital bed, where he's been since a bad fall took him out of the last days of this campaign. He has raised his party's performance, though, and it's become the main opposition.

The famed Bhutto dynasty's PPP party was dealt a stinging rebuke from voters who want their vital concerns addressed.

First, the sputtering economy. So will Nawaz Sharif experiences as a successful businessman fix that? There is also corruption, extremist violence, relations with India and, of course, the United States.

It's a loaded plate for any new leader. So we turn now for answers to Husain Haqqani. He's deeply steeped in Pakistan politics and he was once jailed by the Sharif government for corruption. It's a charge that was ultimately dropped.

He was also Pakistan's ambassador to the United States until 2011. And he joins me now from Washington.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us.


AMANPOUR: First I want to ask you, we're touting the incredible achievement of an elected government changing hands. How important is this, particularly in view of the violence we've talked about?

HAQQANI: Well, it is very important and one thing I may add is that it is the first government in Pakistani history that has given Pakistan the first five years in which no political opponent was arrested just for his political views. So in that sense, Pakistan has moved forward. The question is what was the election about? You talk about the high turnout.

High turnout in Punjab -- it is Pakistan's largest and most populous province -- did not translate into a high turnout in benutastan, which adjoins Iran. In many ways, this was very much an election that proved the maxim, "All politics is local."

Punjabis supported Mr. Sharif but the other provinces didn't.

AMANPOUR: And of course, another province near the Afghan border may have gone to Imran Khan. And I understand that.

But --

HAQQANI: And again, again, not wholeheartedly and completely. So different ethnic groups voting for different people. And that, I think, trumps anything else for Mr. Sharif. However, Mr. Sharif, I would pay greatest attention to trying and to try and bridge this divide between ethnic groups within Pakistan.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. And so many of them, though, do have one thing on their mind and that is the economy. You know, it's hobbled by the most appalling power outages, power shortages, which has literally put a major dent in the country's GDP.

How does he take the economy forward?

And won't it need better relations with the United States?

HAQQANI: He absolutely will. But more than that, Pakistan as a nation will have to be told and will have to understand the fundamental issues. Look, corruption, mismanagement, maladministration, these are definitely realities in Pakistan. But there's a bigger reality. That bigger reality is that Pakistan spends more on its military than it ought to, given the size of the country.

Secondly, fighting two battles, one in Afghanistan, another with India, is not necessarily the best recipe for the economy. And thirdly, part of the economic problems of Pakistan are related to its image as an extremist and terrorist-infested nation. So that is all interconnected.

Mr. Sharif does have a reputation of relatively better microeconomic management, not necessarily macroeconomic, because in both his terms Pakistan ended up with huge fiscal deficits. He spent too much in both terms. But he does manage to encourage small business in Punjab in particular. And they feel invigorated. So that is one hopeful thing.

But the other side is, will he be able to restrain too much spending this time?

And will he be able to raise taxes, which are a serious problem in Pakistan?

AMANPOUR: Right. I mean, almost nobody pays taxes in Pakistan. You're right. It's a real big problem.

You mentioned a number of important things, particularly the relationship with the military. Obviously, Mr. Sharif was famously overthrown in a coup by the military back in 1999.

The military has taken an inordinate amount of power in the daily running of the country. Can this change under Nawaz Sharif?

HAQQANI: Hopefully it will change and it ought to change. And Mr. Sharif's greatest achievement for Pakistan could be just as Mr. Zardari has created (inaudible) Pakistan was making it more democratic. Mr. Sharif's greater achievement can be better civil military relations with greater civilian control.

But we must remember, he was a protege of a military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, and then he had a feud with Pervez Musharraf.

Can he -- can he this time go beyond the personal, whether he likes Musharraf or not, whether he likes the current general in Pakistan or not, and make it institutional? And that is the real challenge for him.

But Pakistan civilians do need to assert more control and the military needs to give up not only on direct building of power, but the indirect manipulation of the political process by melding (ph) it with ideas and concepts, which is a major issue, because Pakistan's political discourse, you watch Pakistani TV.

Fifty channels, but all of them saying the same thing on crucial national security issues. Pakistanis need to hear people like me, who think very differently and who say Pakistan's priorities, closer relations with the West, fighting the terrorists, good relations with India. And we need to overcome our past biases and prejudices. That debate needs to take place.

AMANPOUR: And to that point, he's already reached out to India. The Indian government has congratulated him. He did make steps towards India in his previous terms. This is obviously -- certainly the United States believe that Pakistan should be much more focused on the extremists as their major threat than making India their big enemy.

Do you think there's any hope that that rapprochement could take place?

HAQQANI: Look, I'm not one to deny anybody hope. But here is the problem. The problem is that many people in Pakistan, Mr. Sharif included, basically parse the issue too much. The bigger issue you can't say one group of terrorists is -- are good guys because their ideology or belief is focused on this region or that.

Will he be able to take out groups or take on groups that have supported him in the elections, Lashkar-e-Taiba or partisaid (ph), which is very strong in Lahore and whose supporters wholeheartedly backed him? Will he put them out of business? Those are the challenges.

Will he lead the nation into saying all extremism is bad; all terrorism needs to be shut down? And if he does that, how will the terrorist groups react? Will they start targeting him and his party members like in the past? And is he prepared for that? Those are tough questions.

AMANPOUR: It is really a huge and tough agenda for anybody. And Pakistan's such an important country for all the reasons that we've been talking about.

But let me ask you about your own personal situation. What were the circumstances of the political, I guess, rivalry between you and the Sharif government?

And how does that bode for future relations with other parties?

HAQQANI: Well, first of all, I don't have a personal (inaudible) with Mr. Sharif. Mr. Sharif is a national leader. I'm just somebody who articulates his point of view.

I worked with Mr. Sharif in the beginning many years ago. By 1993, I had left him.

In 1999, he did have a phase in which he really started taking on everybody that he disliked. You might remember he had charged Benazir Bhutto with many charges of corruption; tried to prosecute him; didn't get anywhere but still persisted, put Mr. Zardari in prison for many years. And in that phase, of course, I was one of those who was also caught up in the dragnet.

I think we are past that situation. I hope Mr. Sharif will not repeat that. He must have learned a lesson himself, because he was put into prison by General Musharraf. And that should have changed his perspective, that political opinions and differences over them should not be the basis of excluding people from public life.

As far as I'm concerned, I have no criminal charges against me pending right now. I have a vague accusation of having collaborated with the Americans against the Pakistani military; not proven. I don't want to go back to Pakistan right now because I would rather not fact the prospect of being shot dead by somebody who thinks I am a traitor.

I would like to be able to reach out first and explain my position to the nation before that happens. But I think I am one of many, many Pakistanis around the world who wish the new government well, but who also wanted to understand that they have a mandate that does not translate into doing anything they wish.

And they should certainly not roll back the freedoms we have won under President Zardari's government.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Haqqani, thank you very much indeed.

Turbulent politics indeed, and the historic turnout of women in Pakistan's election was helped in part by a remarkable group of girls based in the northwest region of the country, knows as Aware Girls. They defied death threats to monitor the women-only polling station. And many were inspired by the example of another Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai.

Coming up next, another fight for freedom and a daring escape when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We've been reporting extensively on that terrible factory collapse in Bangladesh more than two weeks ago. Could it actually, though, lead to some positive change? More than 1,000 people were killed and a huge controversy has erupted over what the pope himself has called slave labor.

Garment workers who toiled for a mere $38 a month to satisfy the Western appetite for cheap and fast fashion. The Bangladesh parliament has now approved changes to the labor laws to allow workers to form unions and have more control over wages and work conditions.

Meanwhile, there have been some steps towards closing some of the most dangerous of those factories. So I spoke earlier to CNN's Leone Lakhani, who was in Dakar, Bangladesh, for us.


Leone, thanks for joining me. I want to get your take on the development in the garment industry. Tell me first about workers not going to work, not showing up for work in some of these factories.

LEONE LAKHANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, about 100 factories in the same area as Savar (ph), workers that those factories have stopped going to work. (Inaudible) and then leaving because of safety concerns.

And what the garment association has done has actually said they're going to shut down those factories as of tomorrow until further notice. The reason they're giving is that basically these workers are coming in, clocking in, thinking they'll get paid.

And what they've said is if you don't show up at work, you're not going to get paid. But they have been raising concerns about safety, and that is the reason they're not going to work, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right. So they seem to be taking a little bit of their fate and this situation into their own hands. But separately, the government has shut down some risky factories. Is that correct?

LAKHANI: They have. They've shut down about 18 factories on safety concerns. But when you look at the broader border situation, there's thousands of factories out there. There's more than 4,000 factories. So 18 is a very small number. And on top of that, if they really want to monitor all these factories, it's only got about 51 inspectors. So that's an extremely tall order.

AMANPOUR: And what about any sort of progress towards raising this really pitiful minimum wage, some kind of organization of a labor force. What is the thought on that? What's happening there?

LAKHANI: Over the weekend, the textile minister came out and said the government was going to be setting up the committee and they had (inaudible) to raise the minimum wage as of May 1st. Now the thing is that the raising of the minimum wage won't go into effect for a few months, he said. And also we don't know by how much that wage is going to be increased.

They also said they want to increase relations between workers and employers. But again, there's no details of what they're doing. But they have said we're setting up a committee and we're going to start looking at minimum wage and worker relations.

AMANPOUR: Is there a sense among some of the workers' organizers or others that this really was a turning point, this garment factory collapse, and that something really will change this time?

LAKHANI: I think there is definitely a sense amongst the workers, because you would never have workers in this country who wouldn't dare show up for work. But the fact that they've actually -- we've got a few factories over here where workers aren't showing up for work means they are having the courage to do so. They never would have done that before.

And also the fact that the government has another committee that they are trying to in and inspect the safety standards in some of these factories. I mean, at the end of the day, this is the bloodiest industrial disaster in (inaudible) history and they cannot afford to avoid these issues anymore.

And on top of that, they've had enormous international pressure as a result of that building collapse, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Leone, thank you very much for joining me from Dhaka.

And of course, the garment industry is a $20 billion-a-year industry for Bangladesh, really important. And it remains to be seen whether any of these reforms, even if they've been passed by parliament, will be implemented.

And now we turn to Bahrain and a daring escape from that country by one of the government's chief opponents.

Activist Ali Abdulemam has been a target of the authorities for years, known as the Blogfather. He used his popular website to agitate for greater freedom.

As the Arab Spring swept the region in 2010, thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets of their tiny island kingdom, also demanding greater freedom. But the government has so far managed to squelch the protests and hold off from enacting major reforms.

Abdulemam has been detained several times and says he was abused in prison. Eventually, he went into hiding until making a dramatic escape from the country last week. Ali Abdulemam joined me a short time ago for his first television interview since that escape. And he was there by one of -- with one of the men who worked to bring him out of Bahrain, Thor Halvorssen of the Oslo Freedom Forum.


AMANPOUR: Gentlemen, welcome to the program.

Let me go straight to you, Mr. Abdulemam, and ask you what was it like the moment you knew you were free? You've just arrived in Europe. How did it feel?

ALI ABDULEMAM, BAHRAINI BLOGGER AND ACTIVIST: Well, you will not imagine how important is the freedom until you miss it if you lived isolated from the world for so long, long time, and then you just find yourself, that you are free. And you can walk in the street. You can -- you can run, you can drive cars. You can travel with the airplane.

Then you will see what did you miss during the past two years --

AMANPOUR: Mr. Halvorssen, you all devised all sorts of plans to get Ali Abdulemam out of Bahrain.

Just walk me through some of those plans that you devised, whether or not you used them.

THOR HALVORSSEN, OSLO FREEDOM FORUM FOUNDER: Well, Christiane, we started out with the idea we need to get him out. We've been trying to have him speak at an event here in Oslo for two years. And we were not going to be stopped by the Bahraini government.

And at first it was, you know, one of our -- my colleagues said, well, why don't we figure out a way of getting him out? And we all thought, well, that's impossible. And then we started to take it seriously.

And then we ended up talking to a member of the Danish special forces who essentially vetted the idea that we had. It wasn't so much as having one plan as having a plan that would have many, many options built in. So if there was one avenue that we were trying to go for, if it didn't work, we then had a fallback.

So there would be a plan B, a plan C and a plan D. And our idea was to travel there with a couple of performance artists, people who were going to have an entourage and come across as very celebrity-like and switch one member of our crew with Ali on the way out of the country on a chartered jet. AMANPOUR: You didn't have to enact the elaborate plans that you thought you would. But how did Ali come out?

HALVORSSEN: Ali was offered a now-or-never proposition by someone inside Bahrain. And he was put into a car that had a compartment that it couldn't be seen.

The compartment allowed him to hide as they crossed over the bridge into Saudi Arabia and from Saudi Arabia traveled all the way into Kuwait through an area that was not very well patrolled.

From Kuwait he took a -- some fishermen took him on a boat to a port near Basra in Iraq. From Basra he flew to Najaf. From Najaf, he flew to Baghdad on Iraqi Airways. And then from there, he flew to London.

AMANPOUR: Ali Abdulemam, can you tell me how you were treated when you were arrested?

ABDULEMAM: I cannot call them a human. They are savage. They hate us. They show us not they are doing their duty of torturing us. They were enjoying torturing us. So during that time we've been beaten, we've been threatened by our families (sic). They forced us to sign a confession, even in the public prosecutor, the investigator was shouting at me.

He was questioning me. He also read my charge and answer instead of me; even if I refused the charge, he was shouting at me and threatening me. And the public prosecutor, if I refused to sign it, they will show me the hell. It was a very, very tough time.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you -- and also you, Mr. Halvorssen, what do you think is the future of Bahrain? Are there going to be more protests? Is there going to be some kind of success in getting the government to institute reforms?

First you, Mr. Halvorssen. What do you think, looking from abroad?

HALVORSSEN: Well, looking from abroad, it's very disappointing because sometimes you meet people -- and depending on their politics, they think that Bahrain is OK or Bahrain is problematic. And when asked, well, why is it OK, well, because the alternative would be a different totalitarian government.

And I don't think that there is necessarily just two alternatives. One set of crazy psychopaths over another set of secular psychopaths is -- in either case, it's not acceptable.

And I think that as long as the pressure continues on Bahrain, we'd like to see non-violence lead to reform. And I think public exposure is absolutely crucial. And voices like Ali's, who have not been heard of for a long time, are the sorts of voices of non-violence that are absolutely crucial.

AMANPOUR: Well, you talk about pressure for reform from outside. As you know, there's been very little pressure, Thor, for reform, from outside, beyond words. The United States has its 5th Fleet based in Bahrain. It's a critical strategic partner.

And to that end, I want to play you this sound bite from when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: As a country with many complex interests, we'll always have to walk and chew gum at the same time.

That is our challenge in a country like Bahrain, which has been America's close friend and partner for decades.


AMANPOUR: So what do you make of that?

First you, Mr. Halvorssen.

And then I want to ask you, Mr. Abdulemam, whether you think that you will have outside support.

HALVORSSEN: Is there any wonder, Christiane, why the United States government so often has so many detractors when they see the United States holding hands with regimes like, for instance, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain?

And in the past, so many different regimes, whether in Latin America or in Asia, and then we ask, well, why do they hate us?

ABDULEMAM: The problem is the West is turning their back to us and they -- even the -- Hillary Clinton, the secretary, when she talked, she's just showing us that we are in Bahrain less than humanity.

The people in United States, they have the right to select their government, to elect their parliament, to do freedom of expression. But you, people of Bahrain, you don't deserve this. You don't -- you are not wise enough to rule your own country. So you need this royal family to keep accusing you and violating human rights.

We are human and we are not less than human. We are wise enough. We are well-educated. We can manage our country by ourselves.

AMANPOUR: What about your family? They're still there. Are you concerned about them, your wife, other members of your family? Do you have a message for them?

ABDULEMAM: I want to tell them that I love them and I did what I did to escape from Bahrain just to reunite with them as soon as we can.

AMANPOUR: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

HALVORSSEN: Thank you.

ABDULEMAM: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So we've been reaching out for years to the Bahraini government, seeking high-level officials to talk to us about what's going on there. We've also obviously sought their response to Abdulemam's story, and we have just received a statement.

It reads in part, Abdulemam's website has, quote, "repeatedly been used to incite hatred, including through the spreading of false and inflammatory rumors."

The full statement is available on our website,, and we will be right back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, up close our planet can seem a really troubled and turbulent place. But imagine the world as it looks from Chris Hadfield's unique perspective. For the past five months, Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, has commanded the International Space Station, which is orbiting the Earth.

And during those 146 days, he has also become an Internet sensation, posting jaw-dropping images of Earth on social media, like this one of the Black Sea, which does look incredibly blue.

But he's also endeared himself to millions of followers with YouTube clips of daily life in space, such as showing how astronauts brush their teeth in zero gravity.

But perhaps his finest hour was creating the first music video in space, his rendition of David Bowie's classic, "Space Oddity."


AMANPOUR: Not a bad cover. But mixing our albums, if not our metaphors, Ziggy Stardust would be proud. Commander Hadfield and two colleagues begin their return to Earth tonight. Whoever replaces him as the new commander will have huge space boots to fill.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always contact us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.