Benazir Bhutto

Speech to John F. Kennedy School of Government - Nov. 7, 1997

Benazir Bhutto
October 07, 1997— Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Thank you. Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, I am no stranger to America and being here at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, I'd just like you all to know how wonderful it is to come back home. I spent four of the happiest years of my life as a student at Harvard University. And those days now seem like a dream to me. The last year has been an extraordinarily difficult period of time for me, for my family, for my country. I am well aware that many of you have been exposed to information, or should I say disinformation. I know that you have heard a negative barrage, attacking me and the record of my two administrations as the chief executive of Pakistan. That is why I am here; I still have the strength, I still have the fight-- especially when it comes to the truth. I fully intend to defend myself and my record from this outrageous and sexist character assassination that is being conducted against me.

For what has happened to me, what is happening in Pakistan, may not in fact be unique; but part of a growing and disturbing trend, as the world approaches the new millennium. The attacks against me are painful and they are outright lies. But, it is only a more extreme version of what appears to be a universal deterioration of civil dialogue in politics. Not just in Pakistan, but all over the world. The search for political consensus, the main characteristic of a democratic society, has degenerated into partisan hysteria. A rule or ruin philosophy.

The breakdown of cooperation threatens the legitimacy of democratic values and norms in the modern post-Cold War international society. This is a new phenomena that blemishes the body politic. Consensus, civility and committee have been replaced with slander, prejudice and partisanship.

I would like to read you some thoughts that capture what I am saying to you today. And I quote: "Partisan politics is polluting our most important legal and ethical processes, and is damaging our political system. Proceedings, while billed as impartial, have become little more than witch hunts, designed to humiliate the opposing political party. The scandal that has developed, bankrupts individuals who are little more than pawns in larger political agendas. It threatens the ability of the political system to attract the bright, dedicated people that our nation deserves."

These are not my words; but, they may as well be. This is not written about Pakistan; but, it might as well be. For what I have quoted to you are the words of Robert Bennett, President Clinton's lawyer, from an essay attacking the subjugation of the legal and ethical process to a blatantly partisan political agenda. Right now, across the ocean in Asia, the Pakistan Peoples Party, which I lead, is being subjected to a political witch hunt, clouded in a so-called legal process.

The people of Pakistan honored me by electing me as their Prime Minister in the only two fair, free and impartial elections held in the last ten years. But, my political opponent saw to it that both governments were removed by presidential edict and not permitted to complete their full terms. Not a single member of my family has been spared. My father-in-law, my husband, and my brother-in-law have all been arrested. My mother and my sister-in-law are facing legal proceedings. Another sister-in-law had her house raided at midnight, without a search warrant or a magistrate. Yet another relative fled the country, when he was called to the Prime Minister's house, grabbed by the shirt and threatened: "You either do what we want or end up in a bed cell."

And, one of our defense lawyers was kidnapped by the regime for over two months, without a word of his whereabouts. Members of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and my political staff, including women, have faced similar treatment. I, therefore, wrote to the United Nations Secretary General, highlighting the human rights abuses. I was castigated by the regime for doing so. I was criticized for washing Pakistan's dirty linen in public. They weren't concerned that they were dirtying the linens; they were only concerned that I was washing it in public.

And, that was when the regime decided to raid my sister-in-law's house at midnight, to harass her and to harass me. That was when they decided to arrest a second defense lawyer; charging him with the kidnapping of the first. And, that was when they decided to file yet another murder case against my husband. And, that was when they falsely claimed that eight companies belonging to me had been frozen by the Swiss authorities. I had nothing to do with those companies. But, to humiliate and degrade me internationally, the regime claimed they were mine.

I know that truth and justice will eventually triumph. I know that I have the will to prove, not only for myself but for women all over, that we have the strength to stand up and defend our convictions. But, in the meantime, our family life has been affected. My young children miss their father. Not only my family, but those of my relatives, political colleagues, and supporters are being bankrupted defending charges in different courts of law. Our time and energy is depleted in reaction, rather than action, to fulfill the vindictive lust of the present regime.

However, this politics of confrontation is not limited to Pakistan, alone. All over the world, we find a greater interest in the human side of political personality. Human frailty enthralls us. This new politics of distortion and destabilization has paralyzed constructive dialogue. It has confused the public. It has led to a great cynicism across the continents about public leaders. And, it is a trend that is intensifying; not diminishing. In the United States, even a discussion of the ratification of a ban on chemical weapons takes on the character of street gang rumble.

And, while both the House and Senate spend millions upon millions of dollars in repetitive and redundant hearings, whose aim would seem to be more political than programmatic, no progress at all seems to be made on the entitlement crisis that threatens America's fiscal standing in the new century.

A ruling party, that once tried on the prerogatives of the special prosecutor during the Reagan era, now denounces exactly the same application to the Clinton era. Another party, which decried the powers of the special prosecutor in the '80s demands more and more of such appointments to investigate the opposition in the '90s. Rule or ruin.

The situation deteriorated so badly in Washington that it was thought necessary for a civility retreat to be convened. Basically to remind the members of the Congress of the United States of America the rules of common courtesy and civil dialogue. This, my friends, is in the greatest and oldest democracy on earth. Political expediency has replaced political idealism. And, political expediency has no bounds, no limits and no taste . This trend, as I said, is consistent across the continents. Four Indian prime ministers have changed within one calendar year. Governments disintegrating, not over policy, but over politics. Not over programs, but over power. Just last month in India's largest state, a riot erupted on the floor of the Assembly. Legislators hitting each other over the heads with furniture; inkwells thrown across the chamber; 14 Parliamentarians injured. This in what is often called the largest democracy on earth.

A peace process in the Middle East is allowed to be frozen, with substance often overshadowed by whispered innuendo. A decade's progress hanging in the balance. In Bangladesh, the ruling party and the opposition interchanges almost identical strategies of Parliamentary boycotts and street disruptions, as power shifts from one party to another. In Bosnia, leaders pledged to a multi-ethnic state are defeated by ethno-nationalists; threatening the very existence of the Dayton Accord.

In Pakistan, the new government elected in March almost collapsed in October when it began to undermine the judiciary, simply because the Supreme Court admitted corruption charges against the Prime Minister filed by my Party. All over the world, what do we find? All over the world, recrimination, finger-pointing and partisan condemnation are the modus operandi of the new political order. Hardly the quiet back Americana that many had predicted. We cannot afford, ladies and gentlemen, to be distracted from the real issues at hand. Building a political consensus for a new political era. I believe that our generation stands at the doorway of history. Not only the doorway of a new century, but the doorway of a new millenium. And, as we prepare ourselves to meet this new century, this new millennium, I believe we need to clearly understand the challenges that still await us and await the new century. I believe there are four simultaneous challenges that the world faces today. First, the rise of ethnic and religious hatred, prejudice and intolerance. Second, the gulf of wealth and health emerging between the developed and developing countries, and within nations themselves. Third, the growing sense of alienation by the people in a complex and fast-moving world and the ability of their governments to resolve the problem that the new technology era faces. And, fourth, the continuing gender inequity in all societies, west as well as east, that creates social division in the society as we move towards a new century.

The only good thing I can say for the forty years of the Cold War, is that it's bi-polar competition managed to suppress the ethnic and religious antagonism that had dominated the first half of the twentieth century. The simplistic dichotomy between the West and the East compartmentalized and clarified the world order. But, this also had negative consequences. During the Super Power confrontations, containing communism was paramount, even at the cost of democracy; even at the cost of human rights. Countries, like Pakistan, saw long periods of dictatorship; decades when freedom was suppressed. The press censored and billions of dollars in military and economic assistance siphoned. Similar patterns existed in South and Central America. In Portugal and Spain. In Greece and South Korea. And, in a large part of the African continent. The dawn of the new information age helped change the destiny of nations caught in the grip of dictatorship. CNN had a significant role, I believe, in bringing about the end of communism. I know many people thought it was just President Reagan; but, I think he got a lot of assistance from CNN. Because people in Eastern and Central Europe saw the beauty of freedom. They saw the consumer choices that were available and they asked a simple question: Why not here? People in South Asia and South America saw free people making free decisions, and making free choices not only in elections but in their careers and their professions. And, they, too, asked a simple question: Why not here?

With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, many in the world believed that our 45-year thermo-nuclear nightmare was over and a peace dividend could spread across the world. But, as T.S. Eliot once observed, between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. The twilight of the century has become Eliot's shadow. The idea, that platonic ... (inaudible) of peace that we prayed for, has eluded us. Its elusion has left people impatient, frustrated and angry. Those who believe that democracy meant instant financial progress, instant improvement in the standard of living, have lost faith in governmental systems. The frustration of newly-empowered electorates, combined with the regeneration long-suppressed ethnic and religious tensions, creates a very dangerous situation for the world as we approach the new millennium. The United States, in its extraordinary moment of international predominance, has an obligation to act as a catalyst to promote democratic values; to insure self-determination; to enforce United Nations resolutions; and to diffuse potential international conflicts before they engulf the world.

And, one of these long-simmering tensions is related to the dispute over Jamu and Kashmir. The Valley of Kashmir has been occupied by India and denied the basic right of self-determination. Tens of thousands of men, women and children have lost their lives in the quest for freedom. It is time now, consistent with President Clinton's stated policy of preemptive crisis management, to facilitate an agreement between India and Pakistan; so that the people of Kashmir and Jamu are finally allowed to determine their own future.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is an era where we see an increasing focus on Islam and the West. The entire world community, and specifically the United States, have a fundamental strategic interest in events in the Muslim world. All across the world, in the Middle East, in Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia and Africa, one billion Muslims are at the crossroads. They must choose between progress and extremism. They must choose between education and ignorance. They must choose between the force of new technologies and the forces of old repression. Thus, one billion Muslims must choose between the past and the future.

The United States must do everything within its power to ensure that progressive, pluralistic Muslim countries like Pakistan are in a position to serve as role-models to the entire Islamic world. And, Pakistan is also an important Asian country; at the crossroads to the strategic oil reserves of the Gulf and Central Asia. And, to the markets of South Asia and East Asia. In terms of demographics; in terms of production; in terms of consumption; in terms of markets; in terms of an expanding capital-intensive middle class, the Asian continent will surely set the tone, set the pace, and dominate the economic and geopolitical exigencies of the coming era.

I wonder how many people realize that Pakistan is the second largest Muslim state on earth. A state, as I've said, at the crossroads of the oil-rich Gulf and Central Asia. A state, as I've said, at the crossroads to the markets of South Asia and East Asia. A state that can serve as a model of moderation and modality to one billion Muslims across the planet. As a Pakistani, I wish to explore with you today the West's relationship with the Islamic world and the role that we can play to create a civil, political, economic and religious dialogue between the East and the West at this critical moment.

I believe it was only four years ago, when Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington, shocked the world with his provocative essay entitled "Clash of Civilization." As a Muslim woman, who had been educated and lived extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom, I was initially taken aback by the negative conclusion and the specter of inevitable conflict that he outlined. I particularly disagreed with Professor Huntington's unshakable pessimism about the emerging clash between the West and an increasingly self-confident and economically independent Islamic world.

But, four years later, my assessment of Professor Huntington's thesis has moderated. At the very least, I believe that his article has served a very useful purpose in bringing to the forefront of intellectual opinion significant issues that do warrant exploration, that do warrant debate. For whether we like it or not, whether it must be so or not, the world seems to be increasingly looking at the values and mores of the West and the values and traditions of Islam as mutually exclusive and confrontational.

Let's explore some of these issues today. The world is certainly a different place now than it was just ten short years ago. At that point, the nuclear threat was omnipresent. The Cold War ranged on between the West and the Soviet bloc; reaching a boiling point in the battle for the self-determination of Afghanistan. It was the alliance between the West and the Islamic world, through the fifties and the sixties, through the seventies and the eighties, that was central to the containment of communism on the Asian continent. For communism, Afghanistan became an overheated pressure cooker, that manifested the inevitable doom of a system that could not realistically address its people's political and economic needs.

Muslim resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan proved once and for all that the Soviet Union could not, with all its military might, suppress the forces of history and the forces of justice. Afghanistan proved that might does not make right. It was the victory of the Mujahadim ; the Islamic freedom fighters supported by the Western Muslim Alliance, that proved to extinguish the fading embers of a dying system. This alliance, that of the Western Muslim Alliance, broke the back of the Soviet Union. It was our joint stand against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan that secured for all mankind the final victory of democracy and market-based economics.

I remember vividly my own feelings on February 15, 1989; when, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, I celebrated the final withdrawal of Soviet forces from our frontiers in Afghanistan. Little did I realize at that glorious moment that the victory in Afghanistan would be a catalyst to a curious consequence. The West's interest in, indeed need for, alliance with the Islamic world would and has steadily deteriorated over the last eight years. Interdependence during the Cold War period, gave way to indifference in the post Cold War period. Indifference has now, in many ways, been replaced with apprehension.

There are some in the West who would like to think of Muslims as terrorists and fanatics. I would like to assure you that Muslims are neither. Muslims, on the other hand, who benefited from economic and military assistance from the West for a half a century, are bewildered by the sudden turn of events where aid has totally ceased with the end of the communist threat. Muslims who consider themselves allies of the West do not comprehend the distancing of the West. For instance, a country like Pakistan was receiving $4.6 billion of military and economic assistance from the United States. Now, if somebody's earning $1,000 a month and getting an additional $500 from a friend; and, one day the friend turns around and says, Sorry. I don't have the $500; live on a $1,000. That means a drop in living standard. And, that's what it meant for many Muslim countries, including Pakistan.

Suddenly, the aid dried up. And, it coincided with the resurgence of democracy. And, instead of being better off, people were worse off; because now, we had less resources and less income. And, many could not understand why, at a time when the old resources were diminishing, the West was beginning to perceive the Muslims with a certain degree of apprehension. Because Islam is a religion that sanctifies Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets, it was even more bewildering for Muslims to find that the West suddenly was suspicious of them. And, Islam is, in fact, an integral part of the Judeo-Christian civilization. So, being an integral part of the Judeo-Christian civilization, it was a sudden shock for Muslims to find that the world was being perceived as being two blocs: that is, the West and Islam.

Now, Muslims do have certain problems with the way the West reacts to certain incidents. For instance, Muslims could not understand why one of the great cities of Europe was reduced to a rubble by a systematic destruction, and that this reduction of the city was captured nightly for all the world to see by CNN. Muslims could not understand why the West stood by, indifferent. This kind of event of bloodshed in a Muslim city, in the heart of Europe, with the West standing silently by, plays into the hands of extremists who say that, if it were Christian Paris on fire, and not Muslim Sarajevo, would the West have acquiesced? In the heart of Europe, a Muslim city was being destroyed and Muslims all over the world felt abandoned by the West.

So, we muse on the lessons of history and the lessons of human nature. While many in the West believe that there is no place for democracy in Islam, given the few number of democratic Muslim states, Muslims, on the other hand, believe that democracy is inherent in our faith. In Islam, dictatorship is never condoned. Dictatorship is considered a usurpation of the power of the people. Muslims are exalted to fight tyranny where ever they see it; and, indeed, Muslims are told that if you do not have the strength to fight tyranny when you see it, go into exile. But do not stand silent in the face of tyranny. For to be silent in the face of tyranny is to condone tyranny.

There are four democratic principles at the heart of Islam. The first is consultation, or Shura ; then, consensus, or Ijma ; and finally independent judgment, or Ijdaha . Instead of Islam being incompatible with democracy, our holy book makes it clear that the principle operations of the democratic process: consultation between the elected officials and the people; accountability of leaders to the people they serve, are fundamental to Islam. The holy book says that Islamic society is contingent on mutual advice, through mutual discussions, on an equal footing. Let me repeat that now: Equal footing. Ladies and gentleman, the Holy Koran is as committed to equality as it is to democracy. As committed to pluralism and tolerance as it is to order and doctrine. I know this is inconsistent with Western stereotypes. But, nevertheless, it is true. Consultation under the Holy Koran demands that public decisions are made by representative personalities. By men and by women who enjoy the confidence of the people and the integrity of their own character. Consensus provides a basis for majority rule. And, according to the Muslim scholar Luis Saffie , the legitimacy of the state depends upon the extent to which state organization and power reflect the will of the Omar , or the people.

And in the Persky element of Islamic democracy, independent judgment, we see an additional element of personal responsibility that the West, too, is trying to emulate and which lies at the heart of the Clinton administration's programmatic ideology, shaped by the writing of sociologist Amitai Etzioni. Islamic law rests on the consent of and the consultation with the people as fundamentally as British Parliamentary democracy or American separation of powers is founded on the people's will.

Western political scientists, these days, hypothesize populist strategies to create more effective forms of participatory democracy. But, Muslims do not believe they have to go back to the drawing board to conceptualize democratic order. It is right there in the holy book. Under Islam, we do not have to create a sense of community and individual responsibility. It is there in the holy book, itself. Enlightened Muslims find Western lectures on democracy condescending. Muslims need the West to acknowledge that dictatorship came out because of the strategic need to contain communism. Dictatorship did not come about because it was a part of Muslim faith or culture.

That is why, for decades, not only Muslim Asia but Spain and Portugal were governed by Fascism. Greece was ruled by military Junta. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Chile faced social and political repression. On October 21, 1997, in a lecture in Cyprus, Professor Huntington ruefully noted that non-democratic regimes, more often than not, were pro-American. The future of democracy in the post-Cold War world will remain contingent on the strategic interests of Pax Americana. The strategic interests have changed. They are no longer of an ideological nature. They are of an economic nature. Market politics, global trade and energy reserves remain the strategic interests of the West in the new political era in the post-Cold War period.

There is much that Islam and the West can do together to build a new economic and social order, as we approach the new millennium. But, the twenty-first century must be a century of moral universality; not selectivity. It is time for the West to understand that colonialism and exploitation, both of a material and spiritual kind, are over. It is also time for the Islamic world to begin to rely on ourselves and each other to address the lingering problems of the twentieth century and the unlimited opportunities of the twenty-first century.

The Muslim world needs to provide leadership in establishing the public parameters of possibilities and delineating Islam's role in the emerging political order and in the new explosion of technology and communication in the new global economy. In addressing the new exigencies of the new era, we must be prepared to work side-by-side; east and west, with other religions to improve the quality of life for all the people on this earth. And, we Muslims, must live by the true spirit of Islam. Not just by its rituals. To those who would claim to speak for Islam, but would deny to our women a place in society, I say the ethos of Islam is equality. Equality between the sexes. There is no religion that, in its writings and its teachings, is more respectful for the role of women in society than Islam.

To those in the West who would condemn Islam for being anti-women, let me as the first Muslim woman elected Prime Minister of her country recall that three Muslim countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Turkey have all had democratically elected women as head of their government. In other words, my friends, there is much that we can learn from each other. Islam and the West; the West and Islam, as we cross into a new century and into a new millennium.

There are many problems that we confront simultaneously. The Islamic extremists who burn books and keep young women in purdah are really not that different from the Christian fundamentalists who attack clinics in America or the Jewish extremists who massacre worshippers in Hebron. So, let us decide to cast aside myths and stereotypes about each other. For Islam and for the West, it is time to attack the common and real enemies of our respective societies. These enemies are not people; they are ignorance and hatred. These enemies are not ethnic minorities; they are starvation and intolerance. Myopia and prejudice, whether it be religious, political, ethnic, gender or intellectual, are the common enemies of our hope for the twenty-first century. They are the fuel of the clash of civilization.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to cross together into a new century and into a new millennium. Whether we cross the millennium holding hands or at odds with each other is very much in our own control. The opportunities are boundless for all who believe in the blessings of the modern era, the application of technology to addressing the economic and social conditions of mankind; the end of intolerance, the flourishing of democracy and human rights. For Islam and for the West, the forces of change, the thrust of modality and technology, the strength of tolerance, the inevitability of freedom and liberty, the sanctity of human rights are all converging on this time, on our generation. On our generation; yours and mine. Providing an extraordinary opportunity for us to move the world. For in less than 800 days we will witness, for only the third time in recorded history, the momentous turning of the millennium. Where and what will we be at that extraordinary moment, when the huge ball drops and the year 2000 lights up the sky? Will we be prisoners of the mindset of the past? Or, will we be liberated to the endless possibilities of an historic future?

Our generation, yours and mine; the first in history is empowered to control our own destiny. The world has finally accepted, in the words of Robert Browning, that ignorance is not innocent; but sent. So, ladies and gentlemen, I come here to Harvard where I once studied and where you now study to tell you of my vision. For I see a third millennium where the gap between the rich and the poor states evaporates. Where illiteracy and hunger and malnutrition are conquered. I see where human rights are universal. I see a third millennium where civil dialogue is restored. I see a third millennium where people's trust in government and in themselves is restored. I see a third millennium of tolerance where religions respect other religions. I see a third millennium where every child is planned, wanted, nurtured and supported. I see a third millennium where the birth of a girl child is welcomed with the same joy as the birth of a boy. This is the third millennium I see for my country and for yours. For my children and for yours. And, I hope, together, we succeed. Thank you very much.

Panhwar, Sani H. (ed). 2009. Benazir Bhutto: Selected Speeches 1989-2007. Hyderabad : M.H. Panhwar Trust.