Benazir Bhutto, November 11, 1996
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Editor's Note: Benazir Bhutto and her government have been dismissed by the president of Pakistan. The following column was written prior to the dismissal.
Even when faced by life's challenges, I still find small reminders that there is hope and beauty in the world. There are still sights that can take your breath away and make everything else seem insignificant. Such was the nature of my thoughts as I helicoptered home from a recent trip to the Indus river.
The biggest engine of progress is the aspiration of human beings for a better life. It's the function of society to create the conditions that help individuals realize those aspirations.
Society itself is the result of a contract in which individuals agree to live in peace. Successful societies are those that create the conditions in which human dreams can blossom into reality.
The history of mankind can be seen as the outcome of challenge and response. It is also the evolution of a social contract setting up a system that meets the needs of the people.
Until the end of the 17th century, Asia and Europe had similar systems of government, typified by monarchism and a paternal order. By the end of the 17th century, the West realized that the Ancien Regime placed fetters on progress. In the world of Islam, however, democracy was kept at bay. It was this development that widened the gap between Islamic lands and Western Christendom.
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.
But 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. Unfortunately, despotism weakened the economic and political foundations. In the absence of a market economy, the Industrial Revolution escaped Asia.
The gulf between Europe and Asia widened from the 18th century onward. The next two centuries witnessed a collapse of two of Asia's greatest empires, the Moguls of India and the Ottomans.
But in the midst of these disasters, the seeds of hope were growing. Since then, we have begun learning that it is not the business of the state to conduct business. We are discovering that no society can progress without educated and empowered women participating in gainful economic employment.
Today in Pakistan, we are grappling with numerous specific challenges, such as rural electrification, primary education, literacy and water and gas supply. And we are trying to raise a generation of educated women -- examples of our new social contract at work.
And we are also working on a project that was the reason for my trip to the Indus. We are trying to save our peasants' fields from the twin menaces of water saturation and salinity.
The tidal link in Badin (in the Sindh province of Pakistan) is where saline water drains from the Indus and its tributaries into the sea. The Indus Basin is the biggest irrigation system in the world -- however, as irrigated water seeps underground, the water table rises, leading to the land's saturation and oversalinization, causing thousands and thousands of acres go to waste.
To overcome these problems, we are building two outfall drains on both banks of the Indus, helping Pakistan's peasants have a better life.
And as I flew back on the helicopter from the tidal link on the left bank, a pink cloud rose over the lake. Thousands and thousands of flamingos were flying -- a sight of remarkable beauty and a ray of hope that, in the next century, we can bridge the gap between two worlds.
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