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Democratic Nations Must Unite
Commencement Address of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto 
to the Harvard University

Harvard - June 8, 1989
 

I feel honoured to have been asked to make this commencement address to the Class of I989. But 1 would like to begin by first of all congratulating all those who have been awarded degrees today.

Not too long ago,1 sat where you now sit. I can vividly recall the effort your degrees represent-tramping to class in sub-arctic temperatures, fighting for books at Hilles library, cramming for exams, and at times staying awake a1l night to complete a term paper.

Today is a day of celebration and 1 am privileged to share it with you. But while 1 am greatly honoured by the degree you have conferred on me and grateful. President Bok, for the words in your citation, you will understand that I regard this honour as more than a personal recognition. I consider it an affirmation of the universality of the principles of democracy, liberty and human rights. It was here that the first successful struggle against European imperialism began. It was here--under the banner “no taxation without representation”-that the idea of government by the consent of the governed first gained currency.

Cambridge and Harvard were my cradle of liberty too. I arrived here from a country, that in my lifetime, had not known democracy or political freedom. As an under-graduate I was constantly reminded of the value of democracy by the history of freedom that permeates this place. It was not just the history of democracy that inspired me. It was above all, the concrete expression of it.

My Harvard years, 1969 to 1973, coincided with growing frustration over U.S: policy in South East Asia. This was particularly true in the campuses where students were in the forefront of those protesting the Vietnam War. For me, there were demonstrations on Boston Commons and in Washington; mass meetings in Harvard Stadium.

Some American commentators argued that the division over Vietnam signalled American weakness. I saw it as a measure of America's greatness-a reflection of democracy in action, of an open society, which because it was open, had the means of regeneration and revitalisation.

In the Pakistan of those days, the press did not criticize the government. Because the government controlled the press.

While I was a junior at Harvard, Pakistan initiated an experiment in democracy. That experience is instructive.

As 1971 ended, Pakistan was in ruins. A third of the territory and one half of the population was gone, the result of a military defeat precipitated by military repression in what was then known as East Pakistan. War and mismanagement had left our treasury empty and our economy in shambles. Ninety-three thousand prisoners-of-war were threatened by their captors with trial and punishment. Internal discord in West Pakistan threatened the survival of what was left of my country.

A protracted period of military rule produced this catastrophe. It was a disaster resulting from rule without account-ability, brought about by the arrogance of a self imposed mission to save the country from its own people.

In the face of this catastrophe, what did our leaders do? They turned power over to the civilians, to an elected Prime Minister. In a pattern repeated by the Greek colonels and the Argentine junta, our military said, in essence: "we have created a hopeless situation; now we wash our hands of it and of the responsibility to resolve it".

But resolve it, we did. The elected Prime Minister negotiated an honourable peace with the victor; he secured the return of the prisoners-of war; and put the economy back on its feet; he initiated a programme of social and economic reform to benefit the poor and dispossessed, who are the majority in our land. All this was done,1 might add, at a time of global economic recession brought about by the oil shocks of the 70's.

But what then happened? As is the case in democracies, the political process again became rambunctious. Opposition politicians challenged the elected government. They challenged it in the press, at the polls and in the streets. The military whose dignity was restored by the elected government moved in "to end the squabbling amongst politicians". The new· dictatorship proved more brutal; more determined to stay in power than any of its predecessors. Elections were promised and cancelled. The elected Prime Minister was arrested and then, under the cloak of judicial proceedings, murdered. Floggings, imprisonment, and execution became the staple of political life in our land.

Under circumstances that were as remarkable as they were unexpected, Pakistan got a second chance at democracy at the last polls. It is an opportunity that we must not now lose.

In our first act, I am happy to say, our government freed all political prisoners and commuted all death sentences. We restored the freedom of speech, freedom of association. and freedom of the press. In the National Assembly there is a lively opposition and, for the first time in our history, the State-owned television provides full coverage of their activities.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who recently visited me in Islamabad, once wrote that "If you are in a country where the newspapers are filled with good news, you can be sure that the jails are filled with good men". Even a casual review of our press would serve to confirm the opposite of the Senator's statement.

Around the world, democracy is on the march. In the last decade, Pakistan is only the most recent country to change course and return to democracy. But we must be realistic. We must recognize that democracy, particularly emerging democracy can be fragile. I have already cited the experience of our last democratic government. But the example is not confined to Pakistan alone. In the Philippines, Mrs. Aquino's three-year-old democracy has aiready survived several coup attempts; in Argentina, there have been half a dozen military rebellions; in Peru, narcotics and terrorism threaten a fifteen-year-old experiment in democracy.

Democracy needs support and the best support for democracy comes from other democracies. Already, there is an informal network to support democracy. Annually, the United States prepares a report on human rights in every country. In prison 1 was heartened to learn that the Congress had linked U.S. assistance to Pakistan in the Pell Amendment, to the "restoration of full civil liberties and representative government in Pakistan". Friends of democracy in other countries, including Britain, Canada, and Germany, sent delegations to investigate human right abuses in Pakistan. Our elections last November were made easier by the presence of observers sponsored by the United States, Britain, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

This informal network for democracy can and should be strengthened. Democratic nations should forge a consensus around the most powerful political idea in the world today: the right of people to freely choose their government. Having created a bond through evolving such a consensus, democratic nations should then come together in an association designed to help each other and promote what is a universal value---democracy.

Not every democracy organizes itself in the same way; nor does every democracy express itself the same way. But there are two elements 1 consider essential to all democracies. These are:

(1)  the holding of elections at regular intervals, open to the participation of all significant political parties, that are fairly administered and where the franchise is broad or universal; and

(2) respect for fundamental human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of association.

There are several ways in which members of an Association of Democratic Nations can help each other. One way is to ensure the impartiality of elections. After all, democracy as a system of government can only work when all participants in the political process accept the verdict of the people. For the verdict to be accepted as legitimate, elections must not only be fair, but they must also be seen to be fair.

International observer missions have already played critical roles in ensuring fair outcomes to elections in several countries including mine. The presence of observers is a deterrent to fraud. The observers' report can help legitimize an election in an emerging democracy where popular skepticism can be rife, as in South Korea, or it can validate local perceptions of fraud, as in the Philippines and Panama.

Observers also bring television cameras with them. It is much harder to steal an election if the whole world is watching, and. As the experience of the Philippines suggests. attempted fraud under the glare of television lights can help galvanise a popular uprising.

There are other ways in which an Association of Democratic Nations can provide some protection for democratic governments in the Association. In countries without established traditions of representative government. democracy is always at risk. All too often, there is the overly ambitious general, the all too determined fanatic, or the all too avaricious politician. The Association of Democratic Nations can help change the calculus for each of these potential coup plotters by adding the element of international opprobrium. The Association can mobilize international opinion against leaders of any coup. Ultimately, I believe, the door should be open to stronger steps including economic sanctions.

Democracy depends on our ability to deliver goods to the people. Many new democracies find that dictatorship has left them with empty treasuries-because of reckless spending. As was true for new democracies in other lands notably Argentina and Brazil, we, in Pakistan, also found that dictatorship had left the state coffers empty. Our situation is not unique. Other new democracies also come to power to find the cupboard bare. This Association of Democratic Nations could promote the idea that foreign aid should be channelled to democracies. There is nothing wrong in rewarding an idea in which the donors believe. The prospects for democracy may depend on it.

Some may object that the Association I am proposing will have primarily moral force. I acknowledge this but I would urge that morality has a larger power in international relations than is commonly recognized.

Democratic nations can also cooperate in building an international machinery to protect human rights and principles of justice and due process of law. National efforts to strengthen institutions that protect people from human rights abuses and guarantee their political freedoms needs to be reinforced at the international level. For, dictatorship will always seek ways and means to clothe its crime in the garb of legality-always seek to settle political scores and eliminate opponents in the name of justice, law and due process. The instrument that they use is as old as political history, as old as the trial of Socrates. It is the instrument of the political trial-a most pernicious and destructive weapon, which in the hands of skilful manipulators is extremely effective in suppressing dissent and in destroying opponents. I believe it is time that the international community makes a concerted effort to put an end to such practices.

In my country, many of those who resisted dictatorship the heroes of our democratic struggle-were young men and women of your age. Many of them endured long periods of incarceration, and faced charges on political trials that were a travesty of truth and justice. Many suffered the worst forms of torture and humiliation of the physical punishment of flogging. Indeed, many had to make the supreme sacrifice of their lives. I can never forget what they endured. I can only strive with all my strength to give meaning to what they sought-those simple but priceless freedoms that you here, perhaps, take for granted. But it is faith that inspired and provided sustenance to our democratic struggle-faith in the righteousness of our cause, faith in the Islamic teaching that "tyranny cannot long endure".

How wrong, therefore, is the picture that is often painted about Pakistan as a country that cannot be democratic because it is Muslim. I have often heard the argument that a Muslim country as such cannot have or work democracy. But 1 stand before you, a Muslim woman, the elected Prime Minister of one hundred million Muslims, a living refutation of such arguments.

This has happened because the people of Pakistan have demonstrated, time and again, that their faith in their inherent right to fundamental freedoms is irrepressible. This love for freedom and human rights owes a considerable degree to the colonial legacy and to the example of Western democratic institutions.

But it arises fundamentally from the strong egalitarian spirit that pervades Islamic traditions. The Holy Book calls upon Muslims to resist tyranny. Dictatorships in Pakistan, however long, have, therefore, always collapsed in the face of this spirit.

Islam, in fact, has a strong democratic ethos. With its emphasis on justice, on equality and brotherhood of men and women, on government by consultation, its essence is democratic.

Pakistan is heir to an intellectual tradition of which the illustrious exponent was the poet and philosopher Mohammad Iqbal. He saw the future course for Islamic societies in a synthesis between adherence to the faith and adjustment to the modern age. It is this tradition which continues to inspire the people of Pakistan in their search for their own way of life amidst competing ideologies and doctrines. Tolerance, open-mindedness, pursuit of social justice, emphasis on the values of equality and social concord and encouragement of scientific inquiry are some of its hallmarks. These are the hallmarks that the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah propounded. These are the hallmarks Pakistan's first democratic Prime Minister, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, tried to live up to. Intensely devoted as the pioneers of this tradition were to the Islamic spirit, they were also strongly opposed to bigotry in all their forms. Xenophobia or prejudice against other civilizations, western or non-western, was repugnant to their outlook.

It is this heritage that has enabled me to take on the awesome responsibilities of the Prime Ministership of my country.

As my country stands on the threshold of greater freedom and sets the priorities that it will take into the:2lsl century, we draw our inspiration from what the poet-philosopher lqbal said-and what is universally applicable:

"Life is reduced to a rivulet under dictatorship. But in freedom it becomes a boundless ocean".

This is true in Pakistan and on every continent on earth. Let all of us who believe in freedom join together for the preservation of liberty. My message is: `Democratic nations unite'.

Before 1 take your leave, Mr. President, Mr. Governor and other distinguished guests,1 know that there are students who are graduating today and there is something that 1 would like to say specially for them. When 1 was an under-graduate at Harvard 1 used to conduct Crimson Key tours for newcomers and we

Crimson Key tour guides had our own special lines. One of them   related to the institute of fine arts, and it went: a famous architect.

L.E. Corbusier, designed this building but the constructors got the plan upside down. As you go out in the world perhaps you will sometimes find things a little upside down. In the words of the Latin scholars of today I can only repeat. You will go, you will see, and you will reform, and in so doing you will live up to the Harvard motto: Veritas.

 

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