Benazir Bhutto

Victims of Terrorism - Dec. 16, 2002

Benazir Bhutto
December 16, 2002
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I am pleased to come before you at the season of the year when Christmas, Eid and Hanukah coincide. Maybe in this week of holidays that celebrate renewal, hope, faith and peace, we can begin to move away from the precipice of disaster that I fear the world finds itself in December of 2002.

I know you are here primarily to learn from my experiences throughout my career that you may be able to apply to your own lives, responsibilities and careers. I intend to address those points.

But these are very special times. These are very dangerous times. These are times of misperceptions and confusion. I want to take part of the time to share with you some thoughts about the extraordinary state of the world.

First let us address the issue of terrorism, Islam and the West. Terrorism and fanaticism will not succeed unless we fall into the psychopath's trap. Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard wrote of an inevitable clash of civilization between the West and the Islamic world.

I argue that this clash is far from inevitable, unless we make it so.

There is nothing in the precepts of Islam that make it inconsistent with Judeo-Christian values. In the Holy Book, Abraham is our father, just as Moses and Jesus are our prophets.

There will only be a clash of civilizations if we allow ignorance and fanaticism to take control, to shape the agenda and to shape the debate.

Osama and his men use commercial airliners as bombs against cities and symbols to provoke the clash of cultures under which they will thrive.

I am not unfamiliar with the terrorists of Al Queda.

I know them well; I know how they operate, how they think and I know what they want.

As Prime Minister of Pakistan, I stood up to them. I battled with many of these same criminals, including Osama Bin Laden himself. I took them on, and often paid a price.

During the Afghan-Soviet war, my country became the breeding ground for their psycho-political religious manipulation and exploitation. Hiding under the cloak of religion, they preached a message that would enslave not liberate, teach children not to write but rather to hate, keep people hopeless and desperate, bitter, xenophobic and paranoid.

I closed their so-called universities. I disarmed their Madrassas, their sham primary schools that do not teach children literature, science or mathematics but rather turn children into fanatics and criminals. I tried to restore law and order to our cities under incessant assault from terrorist attack.

My government tracked down and extradited the terrorists, like Ramzi Youseff, who had exported death and destruction to New York in the 1990s.

They struck back at my allies and me. They destroyed the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad. They burned our National Assembly, hijacked school buses, gunned down diplomats and businessmen in the streets of Karachi and Lahore, and organized and financed schemes to topple my government.

As a woman, I was their enemy.

As a democrat, I was their opposite. But above all, as someone who offered hope to our people -- education, jobs, communication and modernity -- I was a dangerous obstacle to the forces of hate.

I took them on with my eyes open. I knew they would strike back, just as we expect that these fanatics to try and strike again in America.

Despite the personal and political price I paid over the years, my only regret is that we were unable to destroy them completely, before they rained terror on America.

Peace is often difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to maintain. The words on the Korean War Memorial on Washington's great mall never have rung more true --

"Freedom is not free." .

These terrorists greatest fear is the spread of information, social equality and democracy. These three principles suffocate terrorism.

These three goals guided my years as prime minister. Maybe this could explain the two assassination attempts against me by Al Queda.

My government heralded the information age by introducing fax machines, digital pagers, optic fiber communications, cellular telephones, satellite dishes, computers, Internet, e-mail and even CNN into Pakistan.

Under my government Pakistan integrated into the global economy that the fanatics so fear. We became one of the ten emerging capital markets of the world, attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment, particularly in power generation. We eradicated polio in our country. We dramatically reduced infant mortality.


Despite the constraints of a political system rigged against democrats, and a social system biased against women, as Prime Minister of Pakistan I used my office to reverse centuries of discrimination against women.

My tenure was a textbook affirmative action program against gender discrimination.

We increased literacy by one-third, even more dramatically among girls.

We built over 30,000 primary and secondary schools, targeting rural Pakistan. Our education program targeting girls and rural areas has been dismantled by the military junta.

We brought down the population growth rate by establishing women's health clinics in thousands of communities across our Nation.

We outlawed domestic violence and established special women's police forces to protect and defend the women of Pakistan.

We appointed women judges to our nation's benches for the first time in our history.

We instituted a new program of hiring women police officers to investigate crimes of domestic violence against the women of Pakistan. That special police force has been dismantled.

I systematically appointed women judges to the courts of the land. That affirmative action program for women in the judiciary has been dismantled.

I condemned, as state police, the honor killing, by members of their own families, of women who had been raped. The military junta is now silent to these abominations.

I condemned and sought to reverse the unspeakable prosecution of women raped and then tried for the crime of adultery, a perversion of justice that affronts the civilized world. The military junta uses this abomination as a means to solidify support among extremists.

I encouraged women's and girl's participation in sports, nationally and internationally by lifting the ban on women's participation in sport. I persuaded the armed forces and security services to hire women in their institutions.

PIA Pilot

I created a special Women's Development Bank to guarantee small business loans to women entrepreneurs, because I firmly believed that economic justice would build political justice. It was a bank run by women for women- although men were allowed to keep their money in it.

Case by case, issue-by-issue, policy-by-policy, the military junta that rules Pakistan with an iron fist undermines policies aimed at ameliorating the role and rights of women in Pakistani society.

The women of Pakistan cannot be expected to struggle alone against the forces of discrimination, exploitation and manipulation.

I recall the words of Dante who reminded us that "the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis."

To the fanatics and the extremists, we became the enemy, the threat, and the obstacle. To Islam at the crossroads, a modern Pakistan was one fork in the road, fanaticism and ignorance the other.

Islam is committed to tolerance and equality, and it is committed by Koranic definition to the principles of democracy. The Holy Book says that Islamic society is contingent on -- and I quote -- "mutual advise through mutual discussions on an equal footing."

Sadly, most Muslim countries are dictatorships, contrary to what Islam teaches. The denial of democracy shifts opposition from the political class to the mosque. This play into hands of militants and extremists. They can canvass to a captive audience.

In Islam dictatorship is never condoned, nor is cruelty. Beating, torturing and humiliating women is unIslamic. Denying education to girls violates the very first word of the Holy Book: "Read." According to our religion, those who commit cruel acts are condemned to destruction.

Sometimes tragedy can lead to resurrection of hope and spirit. As America and the civilized world respond to the most terrible terrorist attack in history, we must remember the lessons of history and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Osama Bin Ladin did not emerge like whole cloth from a nightmare. His depravity was long in the making, and there were errors -- of omission and commission -- that must never be repeated.

Afghanistan is a tragic case in point of how retreating from the principles of human rights and democracy can have the most tragic unanticipated consequences.

In the closing days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, during a State Visit to America I cautioned that US policy to defeat the Soviets had empowered and emboldened the most fanatical, extremist elements of the Afghan seven-faction Mujahadeen at the expense of the moderates, creating a "Frankenstein" that could come back to haunt us in the future.

The overall policy of standing against Soviet aggression in Afghanistan was right. Yet the early decisions to arm, train, supply and legitimize the most extreme fanatics sowed the seeds for the 21st century terrorism that is now swirling around us.

In America and Pakistan's combined and admirable zeal to end the Soviet occupation, we failed to plan or work for a post-war Afghanistan built on democratic principles of coalition, consensus and cooperation.

The fundamental mistake, which contributed to a long-term historical calamity, was that we were not consistently committed to the values of freedom, democracy, social equality and self-determination that ultimately undermine the basic tenets of terrorism.

Short-term battlefield strategy is often myopic, as the anarchy, civil war and Taliban terror in Afghanistan so painfully proves.

Just as democracies do not make war against other democracies, democracies also do not sponsor international terrorism.

The goal of the international community's foreign policy agenda must always be to simultaneously promote stability and to strengthen democratic values.

Not selectively but universally.

Not when it is convenient but rather because it is right.

General Musharraf made the correct decision to stand with America at this moment of crisis. But the United States and the rest of the world must remember that Pakistan has an extra-constitutional military government with no democratic legitimacy.

Elections that took place were exercises in fraud; a sad charade.

This is tragic, for a democratic Pakistan is America' best guarantee of the triumph of moderation and modernity among one billion Muslims at the crossroads of our history.

The alternative of a long-term nuclear-armed Pakistani dictatorship has consequences that could make September 11th look like a mere prelude to an even more horrific future for the civilized world.

This is not the simple world we dreamed of with the end of the Cold War. And mine is not the simple life I dreamed of growing up in Pakistan and going to school at Harvard and Oxford.

The gauntlet of leadership was thrown down before me. I had no choice but to pick it up. But it has often been very difficult, often very sad.

Leadership is not easy. It is never meant to be easy. It is born of a passion, and it is a commitment -- a commitment to an idea, to principles, to fundamental human values.

It has not always been an easy life for me, or for my family. But this is nothing new, really. Women have always had to make difficult choices, often choices that men are not been forced to make. And we must live with the consequences, for better or worse.

Those of us in positions of responsibility understand this special, unique and extraordinary moment in history. We fight for all the women who came before us who gave us this opportunity. And most of all, we do it for all woman who will come after us -- the baby girls yet unborn!

As a child of my age, in the late sixties, I was influenced by the social ferment around me. The worldwide students movement, from Rawalpindi, to Washington, were important factors in my youth. The fight against apartheid shaped the ferocity of my commitment to stand up for principle. The burgeoning movement for women's rights empowered and emboldened me.

As an Asian at Harvard, I joined up with American students to protest a war that they thought was unjust and did not want to fight.

These important steps helped shape my outlook on life, helped me focus on fighting injustice, promoting freedom and safeguarding the rights of the weak and dispossessed.

But above all, in America during the Watergate crises I saw the awesome power of the people to change policies, change leaders, and change history.

From Harvard I went to Oxford, where the British Politician Enoch Powell was threatening to throw all Asians into the sea.

While I was at Oxford, the Conservative party chose a woman, Margaret Thatcher, as the Leader of Opposition. The idea of the first female British Prime Minister became an intense topic for student discussions.

At Oxford, I was the first female foreigner to be elected as President of the Oxford Union.

The Oxford Union reflects the British Parliament.

It was there that I learned to debate, slowly gaining confidence before an audience.

I had been told that as a foreigner, I could not win the Presidency and should not run.

I had been told that as a woman, I could not win, and should not run. But I did run and did win and overcame my fear of losing. I learned to overcome fear and to take risks. I learned never to give in when the task seemed formidable or impossible.

What has always been clear to me is that the extraordinary educational opportunities I had gave me a range of life and career options denied to most women, and certainly almost all women of the developing world.

My own experiences at Harvard and Oxford made it clear to me that only educational opportunity promotes empowerment for women.

If women are truly to be defined by themselves and their own accomplishments and abilities, they need the level of education that empowers them. Education leads to the kind of financial independence that causes women to break the shackles of being only a man's daughter or a man's wife.

Toba Tek Singh

As the Prime Minister of Pakistan I appeared before an historic Joint Session of the United States Congress in 1989.

In that address, the most meaningful line to me was my simple message to the woman of America, my message to the women of the world. Three simple, powerful words: YES YOU CAN!

I urge women all over the world not to accept the status quo, not to accept "no" for an answer. It is critical that women -- whether in London or Kabul -- refuse to accept traditional roles and traditional constraints.

Acquiescing to a tradition dictated by men -- a tradition of subjugation of mothers and daughters -- can no longer be accepted.

In the West and in the East we must stand up and reject the notion that leadership and femininity are contradictory.

I recall the words of Lady Margaret Thatcher. "When a woman is strong, she is pushy. But when a man is strong…ah…he is a great leader!"

We've made progress; we've smashed many glass ceilings. But there are thousands left to break, many battles left to fight.

The greatest obstacles to progress for women in the third millennium is the bigotry of men, and no where is that bigotry more venal than in the Taliban and the fanatics that have declared war on the civilized world.

We fight against terrorism, and the bigotry and intolerance that will confine and constrain and victimize in the generations ahead.

Victimization of significant elements of society and the concept of long-term peace are mutually exclusive.

The denial of human rights is a bomb that ultimately explodes.

These are difficult times. Freedom is under assault. Democracy is under assault. Criminal terrorists hijack my religion just as they hijack America's planes.

The solutions will not be quick or simple. But if we maintain our commitment to the principles that define us -- the principles of racial, gender and religious equality, the principles of political pluralism and tolerance, and the principle of peaceful change through democracy -- we shall in the end prevail.

In addressing the new exigencies of the new century, we could translate dynamic religion into a living reality. Muslim societies need to learn to live by the true spirit of Islam, not only by its rituals.

Those who are ignorant of Islam, could cast aside their preconceptions about the role of women in our religion.

Contrary to what many believe, Islam embraces a rich variety of political, social and cultural traditions. The fundamental ethos of Islam is tolerance, dialogue and democracy.

Just as in Christianity and Judaism, we must always be on guard for those who use the Muslim Holy Book for their own narrow political ends, who will distort the essence of pluralism and tolerance for their own extremist agendas.

These manipulators, distorters and bigots exist all over the world, but nowhere were they more dangerous and destructive than the last years of the Taliban era in Afghanistan.

And most central to the Taliban perversion was its concept and treatment of women.

For the Taliban, and other extremists throughout the Moslem world, refute the central ethos of Islam which is equality, especially equality between the sexes. I find Islam in its writings, respectful of the role of women in society. It is this tradition of Islam that empowered me, strengthened me, and emboldened me.

It is this tradition of Islam that allowed me my battle for political and human rights. It strengthens me today in this hour of crisis for my family, my nation and myself.

Today in Pakistan, the veil of repression has descended across our people.

The cause of human rights is being set back decades.

But the cause of women's rights, I am sad to say, is being set back a century.

My immediate successor's attempt to turn back the clock on women's rights, on liberal society, on pluralistic democracy focused on me, on destroying me politically at home and destroying my reputation abroad.

We have become accustomed to attempts to use the politics of personal destruction to turn back the course of democracy, human rights and women's rights in our homeland. It didn't work then and it will not work now.

Despite the Musharraf regime's support of the international war against terrorism, this military junta, like its Martial law predecessors of the past, is attempting to use the teaching of Islam as an excuse to subjugate women, deny freedom, destroy a free press, dominate NGOs, break up political parties, decimate the Judiciary, and restore the iron hand of dictatorship to the land.

For me, it is particularly heartbreaking, as the military regime dismantles the array of special programs that I instituted in my two terms as Prime Minister to raise the quality of life of women in Pakistan.

Unfortunately hiding under the aura of international cooperation on terrorism, the current regime in Islamabad continues to terrorize its own women. A world focused on the destruction of the Al Qaeda network has neither the interest nor the knowledge to investigate the human rights abuses in a "coalition" member.

And thus the causes of women's rights, human rights, press freedom and democracy fall backwards into the dark chasms of a past era.

Yet I see great progress looming as the forces that shape the new century and the new millennium come together around the world.

It is a confluence of energy committed to universal social, economic and political values -- this triad definition of comprehensive human rights for the future.

It is a confluence of ideology that must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women, a world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life.

The new century must, for once and for all, exclude even the notion of battered women.

It must be an era where honor and dignity are protected in peace, and in war, where women have economic freedom and independence, where women are not defined by their fathers or husbands, but by their own achievements, where they are equal partners in peace and development.

Even as we catalogue, organize and hopefully attain our goals, step by step by step, all of those around the world who are committed to the common causes of human rights, women's rights and peace, must be vigilant.

As in Pakistan today, repressive forces always stand ready to exploit the moment and push us back into the past.

It seems that the words of Goethe continue to resonate: "freedom has be re-made and re-earned in every generation."

Dear Guests,

In the time it took for me to speak to you today, over one thousand children starved to death on this planet.

As long as these basic violations of human rights are allowed to continue, none of us -- regardless of where we live, regardless of how elegant or civilized our life-styles, regardless of our own personal circumstances and comforts -- are free.

My father, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was toppled and ultimately murdered by the forces of dictatorship and extremism two decades ago. I recall vividly those dark and tragic days, with my father languishing in a dark prison, living in the most inhumane conditions, with the world helpless to stop his murder.

But he remained courageous to the end, even in the hours before his death.

I want to end this monograph with the words that he ended his last letter to me, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, himself a victim of assassination, commenting on the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Despite the crisis we live under today, these words set the tone for a new and brighter future.

In 1979, from the horror of his death cell, my father wrote:

"Every generation has a central concern, whether to end war, erase racial injustice, or improve the conditions of working people. The people demand a government that speaks directly and honestly to its citizens. The possibilities are too great, the stakes too high, to bequeath to the coming generation only the prophetic lament of Tennyson -- "Ah, what shall I be at fifty…if I find the world so bitter at twenty."

If there is anything that I can truly share from my life that applies to yours, it is the classic quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, "to thine own self be true."

In politics and business, in art and in the academy, there will always be pressures to do what is convenient, the path of least resistance, what is safe and conservative.

But leadership is not rooted in safety; it rather is a product of boldness.

Do not be timid.

And do not surround yourself with those who are timid.

Don't do what is necessarily popular, do what is right.

It is sad that modern leaders often take public opinion polls to decide on courses of policy.

Sixty years ago, a truly great leader, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also took polls.

But he didn't take polls to determine what course to follow.

On the contrary, he took polls to find out where the people were so that he would know how to educate them to stand with him to do what was right.

Leaders lead, remember that.

Convince, educate, bring people around to do what is moral, to do what is right, to do what is necessary.

Whether it is in politics or business, don't be afraid to stand out and stand up.

Ladies and gentlemen, go forth and lead. Good luck and Godspeed.

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