Benazir Bhutto: In Her Own Words
Between April 1996 and January 1997, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto wrote a weekly newspaper column that was published around the world. She began writing the column while serving her second term as prime minister and then continued for several months after she was removed from government by President Farooq Leghari. Following are excerpts from those writings. (For information on running this column in your publication or on your website, please see the bottom of this column).
On the Environment:
I recall (as a child) walking along the sands of Clifton Beach, watching fishermen bring in the day's catch.
I remember the serene beauty of a clear star-studded night, the fragrance of flowers in the air and the silver sheen of a brook tumbling on its way.
Will this natural bounty be available for our children? Fishermen no longer come to Clifton Beach. The sea is filled with carelessly discarded garbage. Factories spew out chemicals and smoke, polluting our air.
For centuries, we took nature for granted, expecting it to replenish itself. But we cannot count on the Earth to heal itself. It is time we woke up to the reality of our responsibility to preserve the planet for our children and our children's children.
On Eastern Values:
In the East, we cherish the family as the basic unit of society, preserving the sanctity of marriage. We do not see this as fetters on free sex but rather the freedom to live and grow together. We care for our old parents, as we know there is still much we can learn from them. The Eastern culture also continues to place emphasis on the welfare of society as a whole and the responsibility of the state to meet the basic needs of health, education and to provide a system of social insurance.
The traditions and values of (Eastern culture) play an important factor in our lives today -- perhaps Western nations might find them more appealing than the moral relativism of the late 20th century.
On Human Rights and Islam:
John Locke's vision of a social contract for the first time enshrined the concept of human rights as a cornerstone of the social contract. The words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence were borrowed from Locke.
These principles are nothing new to Islam. In the Last Sermon, the Holy Prophet mentioned the sanctity of human rights when He said, "Your blood, your property and your honor are sacred and inviolable."
He also preached the lesson of equality with these words: "The most honored amongst you is the one who is God-fearing. No Arab is superior to Ajmi (non-Arab), and no Ajmi is superior to Arab. The white has no superiority over the black, nor black over the white."
Thus, Islam is a religion of tolerance and consensus.
On Fasting During Ramadan:
I remember as a teenager (during Ramadan), I would rush to join my father in the small garden outside his room just as the sun began to set. The whole family would gather to hear the siren that signaled the end of the day. We would break our fast with a date and water, and then dig into special spicy goodies.
So many parts of the world face famine and poverty, and in so many places, drinking water is scarce. In the rush of life, we often forget how lucky we are for having our basic needs fulfilled.
But in the month of fasting, the rich and the poor, men and women are alike. In this, a message of equality is spread.
On the Importance of a Free Press:
It is in the din of the free press that democracy is born. It's in the clash of ideas and the confrontation of how to deal with issues that debate takes place, the public can be informed and the leaders made accountable in fair and free general elections.
By choking off the free flow of information, authoritarian regimes bend the press to their will. Oppression is projected as social justice. Stagnation is reported as dynamism. And voices of dissent representing sanity are misrepresented as discordant notes from "enemy agents."
Last Sunday, more than 50 of my countrymen lost their lives in the cold-blooded bombing of a Lahore bus taking families home for Eid al-Adha, one of the most important feasts in the Muslim calendar.
Women and children burned to death, and witnesses were unable to approach the shattered vehicle for hours due to the extreme heat. It was a senseless tragedy that leaves us wondering about the kind of world we live in.
My life has been struck by terrorism in many forms -- terrorism from faceless gangs, terrorism sponsored by foreign lands and terrorism by the hand of a ruthless dictatorship in my own country.
My father, prime minister of Pakistan, was executed by terrorists unleashed in the name of the state against the common people. It was a loss that steeled my determination to challenge all forms of terrorism, no matter under what pretext those acts are committed.
If developing nations are to overcome the problems facing them, they will do so through a victory over the hearts and minds of the world, and not the impact of a bomb.
The fundamental truth that will, in the end, lead to our victory over the forces of terror in this world is this: Terrorism will only anger the decent and honest people of the world and push them to renew themselves to the cause.
On Preventing Genocide:
Investigators are slowly unearthing the remains of murdered Muslims in the mass graves surrounding Srebrenica. As the dirt is removed and the bodies are identified and laid to rest, a horrible chapter of our modern history is being documented.
Now the world has tangible proof of a level of carnage and brutal savagery that defies belief. We know for certain that Western nations stood by as uninterested witnesses to events that bore an uncanny resemblance to Hitler's "Final Solution."
How we could have let such genocide into our lives again?
Part of our surprise was due to the sharp contrast between the West's reaction to the events in Bosnia and its reaction during the Gulf War. The world, under the U.N. banner, acted with alacrity and unity in confronting the occupation of Kuwait in 1990.
What happened to the speed, decisiveness and cooperation that proved so effective against Iraq? Did innocent Bosnian Muslims not deserve the world's help? It seemed that the West was deliberately indifferent to or, worse, intolerant of different religions and beliefs.
When leadership is abdicated and responsibility is renounced, we allow the likes of (Bosnian Serb leader) Radovan Kradzic to begin their massacres. That should be our enduring lesson.
On the Necessity of the War Tribunal:
During the first months of my new government, Pakistan decided to make a million-dollar contribution to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. We did this despite vehement arguments from those who believe the best way to deal with past horrors is to bury the truth alongside the victims. To relive atrocities, they said, is to destroy any chance for healing.
But if we are going to ever have lasting peace, justice must be served. Inaction in response to war crimes compounds the injury of the victims and only encourages future abuses.
Morality selectively applied is, by definition, immoral. Justice must be swift, no matter how unpleasant the resulting investigations may be.
Early on in Adolf Hitler's career, he asked, "Who remembers the Armenians?" His deeds soon gave proof to the ferocity of his words.
On Relations Between Developed and Developing Countries:
For those of us looking for a fair interaction between developed and developing countries -- one that avoids paternalism on one side and dependence on the other -- the need for a new formula is becoming increasingly urgent.
Some of our leaders have called for the nations of the South to cease contact and shun cooperation with the North, focusing on greater South-to-South integration. The ostensible rationale for this is that the North's interests consistently run counter to those of the South, both on political and economic fronts. The nations of the North will never accept less than a master-slave relationship with countries of the South, such as Pakistan.
This type of thinking is as deluded as it is self-destructive. It denigrates the well-intentioned work being done by people in the North to help alleviate the problems of the South. It ignores the increasing interdependency of all nations. It can only lead to greater conflict and consequent suffering.
For the people living in the South who want prosperity, equality and security, the only solution is collective bargaining with their Northern counterparts.
Such bargaining should not take the form of a pious and self-righteous assertion of our destinies as a group or an appeal to morality on the part of richer countries, however. With few exceptions, morality has played little role in international affairs throughout history -- self-interest has always prevailed in the end. But it is self-interest that's our strongest trump card.
If we in the South have a lot to lose politically and economically from failure to meet these challenges, so do the richer countries from our ensuing instability. A country's wealthy cannot survive in isolation from the desolation of the poor masses. So, too, the rich in a global village cannot afford to hold at bay the burgeoning mass of disgruntled humanity for long.
On the Pressures of Public Life:
I was deeply saddened when I read about the suicide of James Boorda, the American chief of naval operations. According to reports, his act was precipitated by an investigative article that the admiral believed might lead to personal shame or dishonor.
I remember reading about a French prime minister who took his own life over a scandal about unproved charges of obtaining a loan through a political favor.
Apparently, Vince Foster, a White House lawyer, committed suicide because he could not cope with the pressures of his public life in Washington, D.C.
These deaths demonstrate that intense public scrutiny can cause stress, shock, trauma, shame and even the desire to end it all.
A public trial, or especially a trial in the court of public opinion, is neither fair nor detached. The public is confused, and the image is tarnished.
I should know. During my first term as prime minister of Pakistan, from 1988 to 1990, I was the target of a sustained campaign of character assassination aimed at unconstitutionally undermining the people's belief in the government I had formed.
I went blue in the face protesting my innocence, to no avail. As soon as the government I led was dismissed in a 1990 civil coup d'etat, I was sent a chilling message: "Leave the country or your husband will face the same fate as your father." In other words, he would face a death sentence on trumped-up charges.
I was glad that my children were too young to understand what was going on. Even my own relatives and friends seemed skeptical. Every time I would meet with an acquaintance, I would have to explain the facts yet again.
I am proud to say that my husband and I won all our cases in the courts and legally proved our innocence. More than that, we faced the court of popular opinion and were re-elected to office, politically redeeming ourselves.
Leopards don't change their spots, however, and my adversaries continue to make totally unsubstantiated and wild charges of corruption against my party, my government and my family. They refuse to talk about the issues -- it seems their manifesto is mudslinging, and the truth is the first victim.
I was always sensitive as a child, and I think I am still sensitive today. But I have built a wall around myself to protect me from sustained character assassination. Naturally, it still hurts at times, but I am pretty single-minded in my determination not to let the dirty tricks of my opponents deter me from fulfilling the public mandate I received.
On Women as Political Leaders:
It's ironic that though the women's liberation movement took birth in America and Europe, more Asian females have reached the pinnacle of political power.
Some are quick to explain this phenomenon as a result of family tragedies and the clout that the slain male relative wielded. Leaders like India's Indira Gandhi, Sri Lanka's Sirimavo Bandaranaike and me, for instance, have been wives or daughters of prime ministers.
But there is also no denying that we have succeeded on our own strengths. We had to emerge as leaders in our own right, convincing people in our countries of our ability to organize, motivate, manage and lead.
It takes determination, perseverance, hardship and the ability to defy physical threat. It also takes a plan and the ability to make that vision understood by the people.
Yet even when a woman has reached the height of her career, she still faces discrimination. A former prime minister of France, Edith Cresson once observed, "What I find amazing is that when a man is designated as prime minister, nobody asks if they think it is a good thing that he is a man."
I do think that there are certain characteristics that women have which make them more effective leaders than men. I may be wrong, but I believe women are not as hard or ruthless as men. They have greater compassion and a sense of nurturing.
And issues concerning mother and child receive greater attention from female leaders.
On the Need for Clarity in Politics:
"How realities change. Nothing remains the same; everything has to change. One is neither prime minister nor political prisoner forever ... one is neither great nor weak forever."
Those words were spoken to me by my father -- before he was forced from power in a military coup, before he was executed. But those words still ring true today.
As most of the world probably knows, the latest challenge I face comes in the form of a coup led by a former friend and ally, President Farooq Leghari. And now, my country is under a presidential, civilian equivalent of martial law.
Now that the world is no longer divided into two camps of black and white, the people at large are finding it more difficult to distinguish between political parties, political leaders and political programs.
Everyone talks of (the same issues). Everyone talks of combating crime and terrorism, and promoting human rights. So, how can people tell the difference between one set of leaders and another? I think it's this lack of ideological clarity that has led to confusion, and those who are greedy for power use this to their advantage.
If there can be a solution to this problem, it lies in the creation of new yardsticks by which to judge political parties and leaders, standards such as how they handle the economy, how much they invest in human resource development, and whether they promote women's rights and minority rights.
As I try to explain to my children what has happened to our family in the past few weeks, more of my father's words come to mind:
It is because realities change that one should act so as to seek redemption in the eyes of history rather than the transitory phase that one lives through.
All of Benazir Bhutto's columns in their entirety can be found at www.creators.com/news/36.html.