Momentous day for Pakistan, Bhutto's legacy

Commentary: Momentous day for Pakistan, Bhutto's legacy
By Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari is the co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and widower of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Pakistan in December.

(CNN) -- Monday was a momentous day for the people of Pakistan, but a bittersweet day for me.

Sitting in the gallery watching a democratically elected National Assembly headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition partners, I thought of the terrible price paid for this moment of liberty. I thought of the many jailed, beaten, tortured, and exiled. I thought of all of those who had their reputations assaulted. I thought of the undermining and dismantling of Pakistani civil society. I thought of the attacks on the independence and autonomy of the judicial system. I thought of the censorship of the press, emergency rule and martial law.

But of course more than anything else, I thought of my beloved wife, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, who sacrificed her life for her beliefs and her country. This was the day of her triumph, the vindication of her long battle for the restoration of democracy. For my country, this was a day of celebration. But for me and our children, this day was also a day of tears. Democracy had come to Pakistan, but at a terrible, terrible price.

Last week, the two largest political parties in Pakistan agreed to form a coalition government that would restore democracy and bring stability to our country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which I lead after the assassination of my wife, has joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, to form a broad-based, democratic, liberal government in Pakistan -- an umbrella of reconciliation and consensus. The new prime minister, from the PPP, will be announced within the next few days.

In agreeing to form a coalition government Mr. Sharif and I have responded to the mandate given by the people of Pakistan in the February 18 election. Pakistan's people no longer want to live under the thumb of a dictator. They want an end to terrorism and violence and wish to join the rest of the modern world in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. They want to restore the supremacy of the people's house, the National Assembly, and free it from the sword of Damocles of a marginal presidency with inflated, unconstitutional authority.

Pakistan's political leaders and people have suffered from the politics of personal destruction; we have been battered by dictatorship; we have seen civil society taken apart and a free and independent judiciary destroyed. We have seen international assistance, secured in the name of fighting terrorism, diverted towards making Pakistan's affluent few richer. We have seen progress on education, health and women's rights stopped and reversed. But now, with renewed confidence in democratic parties like the PPP and PML-N, it is time for the rebirth of a democratic, vital and progressive Pakistan.

Some fear a coalition government would lack the necessary strength to tackle Pakistan's myriad problems. But cooperation between the country's biggest political parties, representing an overwhelming majority of the people, would bring greater stability than one-man rule. Together, the PPP and PML-N will be able to build a strong civil society. That would go a long way to erasing the scars of militarism and militancy. We will focus on providing education and employment at the grassroots levels so the country's youth can play an integral role in building a strong national economy.

Under the rule of Pervez Musharraf, extremists were allowed to thrive along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The key to improving security there is not to make citizens in Pakistan's tribal areas feel like second-rate citizens kept under lock and key, caught between the threats of violence from militants and the military. Rather, we must let all of our citizens, including those in the Federally Administered Tribal Area, know they are part participants in the growth of Pakistan's economy and civil society.

Fostering a better level of trust and understanding among the people in the border areas, and delivering on their key needs, is essential to enhancing security in the FATA and throughout Pakistan. While immediate steps must be taken to hunt down identified terrorists, the long-term solution to extremism lies in respecting the will of the people and in providing them with a means of livelihood at every level -- food, clothing, shelter, jobs and education. By talking to and respecting our people, we will be able to isolate the extremists and terrorists.

Those of us who are now in a position of leadership seek, in my wife's words, "a tomorrow better than any of the yesterdays we have ever known." We see a Pakistan where all children, regardless of their socio-economic standing or their gender, are guaranteed compulsory and quality primary and secondary education. We see a Pakistani educational system of quality teachers, who receive decent salaries, and teach in modern classrooms with state-of-the-art computers and technology. We see a Pakistan where political madrassas that teach hatred are closed, and educational institutions that focus on science and technology flourish.

The PPP has a vision to build a nation that is one of the great capital markets of the world; a revitalized nation that will generate international investment. We look forward to the complete electrification of all of our villages, the purification of our nation's drinking water, the privatization of the public sector, the expansion of the energy sector, the development of our export industries, the modernization of our ports and the rebuilding our national infrastructure. All of these elements are essential to a Pakistan where a democratically elected government, with the mandate of the people, confronts and marginalizes the forces of extremism and terrorism wherever they may exist in our nation. In other words, I see the Pakistan for which my wife lived and died.

Pakistan's democracy has not evolved over the past 60 years because the generals believed they should intervene in politics and run the country. The army's misperception of itself as the country's only viable institution, and its deep-rooted suspicion of the civilian political process, has prevented democracy from flourishing. The PPP and its allies will reverse the current regime's suppression of civil society and free speech. We will establish a Press Complaints Commission similar to that of the United Kingdom and stand up for the democratic rights of citizens to freely establish television and radio stations, subject to the basic legal framework.

While the tasks ahead are not easy, the Pakistan Peoples Party plans to work in good faith with its fellow democratic parties and our coalition allies to achieve our goal of building a new, progressive Pakistan. Everything will not come at once. The reformation of Pakistan -- politically, economically and socially -- will be a long and complex process. But we are determined to begin and we are determined to succeed.

We did not come this far, we did not sacrifice this much, to fail.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.


Anonymous said…
Zardari Corruption exposed
Pakistani Dream said…
I find the following link hillarios!

January 23, 2008
Nepotism in Pakistan
Filed under: National Politics, South Asia — Kiran Bhat @ 2:55 am
As an American of South Asian descent, dynastic politics at the highest levels of government is something I’ve grown quite accustomed to. As far as I can remember, a Bush or a Clinton has sat at the top of American politics. In India, the Nehru/Gandhi family has dominated, interrupted only a few times since independence. And even with its history of military leaders and democratic turmoil, the trend towards dynasty has emerged in Pakistan as well.

Under the pretense of stability, the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) quickly named the slain leader’s 19-year-old son Bilawal its new chairman. Bhutto had named her husband Asif Ali Zardari heir to the chairmanship in her will, a strange choice considering the time Zardari spent in jail on charges of corruption and blackmail (which, in fairness, he claimed were politically motivated). However, Zardari insisted on giving the official title to his son. This was an even stranger choice in that Zardari will continue to run the PPP’s day-to-day affairs and that Bilawal currently has no experience, no qualifications, and no intention of running the party before he graduates from Oxford.

All of this left the outside observer only one logical conclusion: Bilawal was appointed only to ensure the longevity of the Bhutto family’s hold on the PPP. Since the PPP is the only party to consistently mount opposition to Pervez Musharraf and realistically have a chance at beating him in a fair election, the Bhutto family’s hold on the PPP is by extension a hold on Pakistan’s democratic politics. Needless to say, Bilawal’s appointment smacked of severe nepotism.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see pieces such as this one, which features an interview with a politically-oriented Bhutto who, ironically enough, recognizes the harm that cronyism can do to the democratic character of a nation. Fatima Bhutto, Benazir’s 24-year-old niece, is currently an opinion columnist and critic of the Musharraf regime and is cutting her teeth in print and in efforts to enfranchise Paksitan’s masses before turning to politics. This Bhutto sounds like she wants to earn her way to a leadership role - and if that’s true, then who cares that she is part of a powerful political family? Fatima demonstrates that there is nothing wrong with dynastic politics per se if it means that earnest and competent individuals come to power. Pakistan can only hope that Zardari and Bilawal won’t demonstrate everything that is wrong with keeping things in the family.

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