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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.