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TCU Magazine Feature

The oxygen of terrorism

Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, warns that supporting military regimes and dictators is costly, and risky, endeavor.

Following are excerpts from Benazir Bhutto's April 18 remarks at Ed Landreth Auditorium:

Distinguished guests, we meet together at an extraordinary and dangerous time. The war against international terrorism, triggered by the events of Sept. 11, has entered a new phase. The execution of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl underscores the treacherous lack of ground rules of the terrorist warriors. U.S. embassy attendants and nonessential staff were evacuated from Pakistan last month following a grenade attack on a Protestant church that killed an embassy employee and her 17-year-old daughter. And as the terrorism continues unabated, Pakistan's military regime has released 1,300 arrested militants back into the chaotic streets of Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. Simultaneously, the nuclear-armed nations of India and Pakistan stand at the brink of war over the disputed areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

At the outset and on a personal note, I wish to express my condolences to the people of the United States on the attacks of Sept. 11. As demonstrated over the past many months, the majority of the people of Pakistan join me in expressing our sorrow. We wish you to be strong, for to many, you are the beacon of democracy for people living under tyranny on this Earth.

It is difficult to shake the image of the twin towers with 3,000 innocent victims collapsing beneath the weight of hate. It is an image that shapes our world today -- politically, emotionally and morally. I feel America's pain. Four of the happiest years of my life were spent on an American campus at Harvard University where I learned of and flourished in America's freedom, tolerance, pluralism, openness and equal opportunity for all its citizens. Millions of men and women come to America for freedom, opportunity, equality and pluralism. For that reason, America is the worst nightmare to the extremists and fanatics who thrive on misery, intolerance, ignorance and fear.

The microcosm of America that was destroyed on Sept. 11 -- people of all races, people of all ethnicities, people of all religions -- is everything the extremists abhor. America is a model of what can be -- of modernity, diversity and democracy. But these values are the fanatics' worst fears. At this time of crisis, the American people and American leaders must distinguish between those who use violence and terror in the name of Islam and the vast majority of the Islamic people. Those who use violence in the name of religion are hypocrites, and those who kill innocents are criminals. The terrorists who attacked America were not fighting for Islam; they were fighting for themselves. Their goal is to establish interconnected theocracies of ignorance they can control and manipulate for their own political ends. In the end, they will be defeated.

I am not unfamiliar with these people. I know them well. I know how they operate. I know how they think. And I know what they want. As prime minister of Pakistan, I stood up to them. My government and I battled with many of these same extremists, including Osama bin Laden himself. We took them on. And we often paid the price.

During the Afghan-Soviet war, Pakistan became the breeding ground for their political and religious manipulation and exploitation. Hiding under the cloak of religion, they preached a message that enslaves not liberates, teaches children to hate, leaves people hopeless, desperate and paranoid. My government closed their so-called universities. We disarmed the militant madrassas, the sham schools that did not teach children literature, sciences or mathematics, but tried to turn children into fanatics.

My government restored law and order to our cities under incessant assault from terrorist attack. My government extradited terrorists like Ramzi Yousef who had exported death and destruction to New York in the 1990s in the first attack on the World Trade Center. And the terrorists struck back at my government and my allies. They destroyed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. They burned down our national assembly, hijacked a school bus, gunned down diplomats and businessmen in the streets and organized and financed schemes to topple my government. But we had them on the run. They were unable to plan a single act of international terror during my two tenures as prime minister of Pakistan. Despite the personal and political price I paid over the years, my regret is that we were unable to completely unravel them before they rained terror and ended the global peace we briefly enjoyed after the end of the Cold War.

Ladies and gentlemen, the extremists' greatest fear is the spread of information, social equality and democracy. These three principles choke off the oxygen of terrorism. It was in the clusters of information, social equality and democracy that I gave my attention as prime minister of Pakistan. This could explain the two unsuccessful assassination attempts made against me by al Qaeda in 1993 to prevent my re-election. As prime minister of Pakistan, my government oversaw the heralding of the Information Age into Pakistan -- we introduced fax machines, digital pagers, optic fiber communications, cellular telephones, satellite dishes, computers, Internet, e-mail and even CNN and Fox into Pakistan.

I am proud of my record as prime minister in containing international terrorism and in reducing tension with our neighbor India. In my first term, my government facilitated the formation of a government of national consensus in Afghanistan where the moderates and hard-liners agreed on a compromise to coexist. In my second term, I blocked the Taliban's entry into Kabul and maintained a difficult balance between the disparate forces in Afghanistan. I often traveled to neighboring countries Uzebekistan and Iran to get their support and influence over some of the groups in Afghanistan in the hope of building a broad-based government working with the United Nations.

But with the eclipse of my government, the Taliban seized Kabul. They posed their will on Afghanistan and harbored bin Laden and al Qaeda, allowing them to establish recruiting and training camps.

The alliance against terrorism headed by the United States has meant swift retribution against the purveyors of hate and anarchy. The Taliban are ousted; the military, political and economic backbone of al Qaeda is badly disrupted. But the success of phase one does not mean that the war is over. We must remember the lessons of history and not repeat the mistakes of the past. I remember the world walked away from Afghanistan once before after the defeat of the Soviets in 1989. That political miscalculation sowed the seeds of the tragedy of the Taliban and al Qaeda and most regrettably the events of Sept. 11. Osama bin Laden did not emerge from a nightmare. His depravity was long in the making, and there is a responsibility of omission and commission that must never be allowed to happen again.

The overall policy of standing against the Soviet Union was right, yet the early decision by the U.S. administration to allow their Pakistani counterparts to recruit, arm, train and supply the mujahadine legitimized the most extreme fanatics and sowed the seeds of 21st century terrorism that we see swelling around us. In our governments' combined zeal to defeat the Soviets, we failed to work for a postwar Afghanistan built on democratic principles of coalition, consensus and cooperation. The fundamental mistake was our inability to remain consistently committed to the values of freedom, democracy and self-determination that ultimately undermined the basis of terrorism. Just as democracies do not make war, democracies do not promote or sponsor international terrorism.

General Musharraf, Pakistan's military leader, did join the war against terror in September 2001, but before that, his military regime presided over the rise of private militias. In a public address last September, General Musharraf called America the lesser evil. He said he was joining the war against terror to strengthen Islamabad against India, whom he called the greater evil. Such explanations do little to promote peace in the region or understanding in the larger world community.

Despite General Musharraf's public transformation, his regime has coincided with some of the most dangerous incidents in recent history. During his three-year tenure as chief of army staff and Pakistan's leader, India and Pakistan have twice come to the brink of nuclear conflict. General Musharraf's inability to moderate the Taliban led to an international crisis. My fear is that under Musharraf's regime the militants are regrouping in Pakistan. Exploiting public disaffection with unrepresentative military rule, the kidnapping and brutal murder of Danny Pearl, the attack on the Protestant church and the hesitancy to charge Pakistani military groups with specific crimes are ominous developments.

The world community could remember that Pakistan does have an extra-constitutional military dictatorship. Even as I speak to you, my country's national and provincial assemblies are abolished. The elected president is sacked, the constitution suspended. Half of the judges on the Supreme Court have been removed, and politically-backed parties are banned from taking part in political activities. Political leaders are arrested, exiled or banned from leading the country. The state of democracy and human rights in Pakistan today mirrors the situation 20 years ago. Pakistanis hope that this ugly history will not repeat itself today. For once again, Pakistan is run by a general at a time when Afghanistan is of strategic importance. And now General Musharraf, contradicting the written constitution of Pakistan, has announced a referendum in the spring to extend his military dictatorship by five years. There are no electoral lists, he says. He says there is no need for electoral lists. There are no polling stations. He says there will be mobile polling stations. And there are no independent observers.

Tragically, the alliance against terrorism has transformed Pakistan's military dictator in the eyes of the West. Yet, the military regime's record is at the expense of the basic human and democratic rights of the people of Pakistan. When Musharraf seized power with the support of hard-line generals, he staffed the civil administration and his cabinet with retired military intelligence officials who had worked with Taliban and al Qaeda. For the military hard-liners, the militants are Pakistan's first line of defense against the Indian occupation of Kashmir. The religious parties that back the military are the military hard-liners' first line of defense domestically to keep out the democratic forces that challenge their grip on power, that challenge their goal of taking on the West after having taken on the Soviet Union.

American presidents have gambled for decades that dictators can impose stability. But the dictators have come back to haunt the United States. How many Sept. 11s, how many Danny Pearls before we all come to realize, including decision makers in Washington, that the greatest protection of freedom from terrorists is replacing dictatorships with democracies -- with governments responsible to the people -- governments based on the value of freedom?

The stakes are high, the long-term implications great. Democracies don't start wars, just as they don't promote and protect international terrorists. Elections in Pakistan are scheduled in six months. The U.S. and its allies must ensure that these elections do take place, that they are transparent and that they are open to all parties and candidates. A democratic Pakistan is America's best guarantee of the triumph of moderation and modernity amongst one billion Muslims who today stand at the crossroads of history.

Kashmir has been considered by the CIA to be the place most likely on Earth for a nuclear confrontation. The history of Kashmir is a history of danger and missed opportunities. When Britain granted independence to the subcontinent 50 years ago, two states were created -- partitioned along religious lines. The predominantly Hindu state was India, the Muslim state was Pakistan. The states were free to join either India or Pakistan. All but one affiliated with its religious homeland. And in the overwhelming Muslim state of Kashmir, the ruler in 1947, in exchange for Indian military support, allowed its occupation of Kashmir, inciting the first of three wars between India and Pakistan over this Muslim area. In 1949, a U.N. cease-fire left Kashmir divided, two-thirds under India, one-third under Pakistan. The United Nations promised the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own future, to join either India or to join Pakistan. For the last 52 years, this resolution was blocked, and it has triggered the largest military buildup and confrontation in South Asia.

In 1999, when General Musharraf was chief of army staff, Kashmiri militants infiltrated Indian-held Kargil, pushing nuclear-armed Pakistan and India to the brink of war. President Clinton had to intervene and put all his diplomatic weight behind Islamabad to force withdrawal and prevent a war.

In December 2001, a terrorist assault killed 14 people in the Parliament building of New Delhi, and since that time, both countries have mobilized their forces. President Bush had to intervene, this time sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region to prevent the outbreak of the military conflict with nuclear potential between the two countries. And despite war having been prevented at the time, both the countries have still mobilized their forces and sit pitted against each other.

Distinguished guests and dear students, 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 later going to school at Harvard and at Oxford. The gauntlet of leadership was thrown before me. I had no choice but to pick it up. And I have found that leadership can be challenging.

I travel never knowing when I will see my husband. He was arrested the night my government was overthrown. Each time the court grants him bail, another case is trumped up to keep him behind bars. He is being held a hostage to my political career. I miss my children. My daughter was 3 when her father went to prison. She is now 9. It's difficult to explain to little children why their mother has to travel, why their father cannot be with them. Politics and work often dictate my agenda -- as they do the agenda of other working families.

I am often asked why I continue on a journey that is difficult and painful. I do so out of the belief that my leadership has changed much and can change more for my country and those denied the right of choice. I do it because I must. This is my life. And this is my mission. In a way, I was groomed for politics. Yet a political role was one I did not actively seek. I had just completed my studies and returned to Pakistan in 1977. One week later, the tanks rumbled up the road and troops took over the prime minister's house. My father, who was the prime minister, was arrested and then hanged amidst worldwide condemnation. That put an end to my career goal to join the Foreign Service in Pakistan.

As the prime minister of Pakistan, I appeared before a historic joint session of the United States Conference and Congress in 1989. In that address, the most meaningful line to me was my simple message to the women of America, which is also my message to the youth of America and the women and youth of the world, three simple words, “Yes, you can.” Don't accept the status quo. Don't accept no for an answer. Don't accept traditional roles and traditional constraints.

Dear students and distinguished guests, we fight not against terrorism but the bigotry and intolerance that will confine and constrain and victimize in the generations ahead. These are difficult times. Freedom is under assault. Democracy is under assault. Criminal terrorists tried to hijack my religion just as they tried to hijack your planes.

The solutions will not be quick or simple. But we shall prevail. Let not the horror of murderous attacks on your people and your cities distract you from continuing to be the beacon of freedom for people everywhere. In my father's last letter to me, written before he was murdered by Pakistan's earlier military tyrants, he quoted the poet Tennyson, “Ah, what shall I be at 50 if I find the world so bitter at 25?”

Dear friends, be strong, but do not be bitter. Time, justice and forces of history are on your side.

Thank you very much.

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