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International Conference of

Writers, Intellectuals and Thinkers

Address by

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto

Prime Minister

Islamabad November 30, 1995

Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests!

It is a privilege to welcome the distinguished writers, intellectuals and thinkers who have travelled long distances to join their Pakistani colleagues in the Capital city of Pakistan. I trust that your stay in Islamabad will be both pleasant and rewarding.

An International Conference of Writers and Intellectuals is no small event. You are the repositories of the best achievements of mankind, and thus the protectors of the man's heritage and the guarantors of its continuity. Your endeavors not only link the past and the present, but you also represent the cutting edge of human aspirations for the future. Islamabad is truly honored with your presence. The people of Pakistan will surely avidly follow your exchange of experience and thought as deep down, human-beings, wherever they are confronted with the same existential dilemmas and moral choices.

Ladies and gentlemen!

One does not have to detract, at all, from the excellence and perfection of other arts to claim that literature has been the most direct articulation of the human condition. It is the gift of speech and language, which makes the history of literature such an excellent mirror of the history of human civilization. All over the world, in diverse human communities, we witness the emergence of strong oral traditions of literature. I remember my own visit to the Kyrghyz Republic where the People were celebrating the Manas tradition, again an oral tradition, which has been passed down through hundreds of years, from centuries to centuries.

We talk of the complexity of modern civilization, but the situation was, by no means, easy for early man. His own experience of the joy of birth and the agony of dying was no different from ours. Around him was the vast and alien world with its spectacular procession of sun, moon, stars, day light, night fall and the changing rhythm of seasons. He found that both his mind and his body reverberated to this colossal setting. Primitive though they were, these early men and women did not miss the great resonance of the universe, nor did they fail to respond to it. Soon there were amongst these early men and women, exceptional individuals with a remarkable gift of bringing human responses into coherent shape and formal order. Soon, hymns were raised to the spirits, deities and gods who seem to lie along the entire spectrum of this universal resonance. In his terrible loneliness, Man created literature to please these invisible powers. Soon, these remarkable people gathered their fellowmen into flocks who shared celestial and earthly visions and sang out to them. It didn't take long time for the great oral epics to appear which fused the mythical beginnings with current events, beautifully arranged around men who walked much taller than others and, as heroes of mankind; nearly challenged the stature of the gods. This seems to have been the manifest destiny of mankind. Out of this striving for glory arose tragedy which we have come to recognize as one of the greatest literary forms of all times.

Poets and philosophers had already discovered that the external cosmos had its counterpart in the internal cosmos of the heart of the man. The human journey through Time and Space had its exterior and it also had its interior. Then, the experience, of living together in a community crowded man's space with a wide-range of emotions and social relationships. The burden of man was, indeed, awesome. Antigone felt the compulsion not only of the laws of gods, but also the irresistible forces within her in fulfilling the rites of burial of a loved one, Love, hatred, revenge, compassion, martyrdom and a thousand other situations was the warp of human existence, Each of these situations was an enigma which demanded an answer, and an explanation. The universality of questions and available answers were the building blocks of Man's cultural organization. It was an attribute of their daring creativity that writers and philosophers took both the domain of gods and of man as their provenance. They transformed their communities into distinct, recognizable cultural entities.

People were, hence forth, to be held together by common beliefs, attitudes, signs and symbols. The culture of people thus came to transcend their superficial history at the cronical of time.

It became a paradigm of development and quality as men of literature, as indeed, practitioners of other arts discovered value in human experience and invested their communities with it.

The cultural acquisitions of the civilization became the measure of its triumph over the flux of time. The permanence of this cultural achievement provided, at least, a partial answer to the inescapable challenge of man's mortality. Henceforth, poets and artists were at work both in time and out of it.

Ladies and gentlemen!

I believe the state of man is of ambivalence, strife and discord. Great warring spirits dwell in his soul and turn his existence into a battle ground. The three great religions of Semitic origin have defined the state of man as perennially suspended between Good and Evil. There is a central drama of the Fall of Man and the possibility of Grace and Redemption.

Human history provides ample testimony that men and women have not always chosen the path of redemption. In the name of ideology or a social system or an economic order, they have often opted for tyranny and injustice. Intolerant cultures have burnt thousands of people who held different beliefs on the stake, exterminated hundreds of thousands in gas chambers and sanctioned the merciless massacres of people of another creed or ethnic origin. This propensity to deviate from the noblest calling of man has been so persistent that a pessimistic view of human nature hangs like a dark cloud over the entire canon of our philosophical thought.

The 20th century will long be remembered as the century of death and destruction. The preceding century had generated great optimism about the achievements of human knowledge. Scientific discoveries in every field of enquiry fastered the view that the progress and development were the natural dynamics of human civilization and that there was no limit to human achievement. Though there were grave voices of caution, the general drift of .thought was to trust the new sciences to banish disease, poverty and degradation forever. It is, indeed, tragic that within a very short time, man converted the mastery bestowed by science into a massive technology of war, death and torture. At another plane the new opportunities created by science were harnessed to manipulation, totalitarian control, torture and exile.

Ladies and gentlemen!

Honesty demands that we admit freely that men of considerable learning made their services available to tyrannical regimes in the fulfillment of their dark designs. Fortunately for mankind, the majority of writers, thinkers and philosophers opposed fascism, opposed tyrannical dispensations, often at the price of their life or their liberty. So, the saga of resistance to tyranny constitutes a glorious heritage of that human race. At a writers' conference like this, one must applaud this tradition of upholding truth in the face of grave peril.

The essence of man's historical experience is that human-beings flourish and develop, I believe, in liberal cultures. A liberal culture admits diversity and plurality. It encourages freedom. It encourages and nurtures honest disagreement. It possesses the power to tolerate divergent points of view and even reconcile them in a new synthesis. It celebrates the signs and symbols of all people and denies sanction to their destruction under any pretext.

A liberal culture is, in fact, another name for civil society. The historical framework of culture in the areas now comprising Pakistan is defined by tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

In the pre-Islamic era, Buddhism constrained man's weakness for instant gratification of all human-desires and it created a culture given to caring and fellow-feeling. In course of time, Buddhism fused with occidental influences brought by the Greeks and this led to the flowering of an extraordinary culture known as the Gandhara Civilization.

The advent of Islam in this area also had certain unique characteristics of its own. Before Islam arrived here, the Message of the Book had interacted with ancient civilizations including that of Iran, and Islamic culture has been enriched by the great literature produced by the Sufi poets. This literature inspired meditation of God, contemplation of Nature and introspection about the state of man in the local vernaculars and became a major factor in the widespread acceptance of Islam. It is tempting to suggest that the democracy is the logical extension of a liberal culture and there is a large element of truth in this, but history does not provide a definitive cause and effect relationship. Similarly, one is inclined to assume that by definition democracy promotes higher forms of literature. This again is not entirely true because some of the greatest literature was produced under circumstances of terrible suffering. In many cases, it was the struggle for democracy or struggle for freedom, or struggle for equality which provided the inspiration for master pieces of literature.

Times of trouble marked by an absence of democracy, rather than a contended democratic culture, seem to drive writers to the highest attainment of form and substance.

You will, no doubt, deliberate upon these relationships with a more specific reference to literature and men of letters. For myself today, I would like to talk of democracy from a somewhat different angle. We have had the seeds of democracy in the ancient republics of Greece. But this is a concept which is very different from what we mean by the sovereignty of the people and freedom of the individual today. We must regard that early experience as a noble beginning but no more.

For hundreds of years to follow, men and women lived under political systems characterized by authoritarianism and often by despotism. Even in the last two hundred years, which are defined as years of enlightenment, human societies have had more than share of dictatorship of individuals, military over-lords on monolithic political parties. What are truly heartening is the ceaseless efforts made by men of vision to demonstrate that all such political regimes lack a fundamental legitimacy. They extended and deepened the currents of human thoughts by analyzing various political alternatives and developing the argument that political life must evolve in the direction of liberal democracy, where power is shared, where rulers are elected and held to account and where people have the inalienable right to vote them in or vote them out. It was demonstrated convincingly that other forms of government had, more often than not, ended in disaster. Legitimacy could come out from the collective will of the people.

The 20th century experienced the denial of individual's freedom on unprecedented scale under Naz'iism and Stalinism. The pro­pagandists of these evil regimes argued with some justification that their apparatus of coercion and control had, at least in the short run, made things better for people in the material sense. The inescapable truth, however, was that these non-democratic experiments resulted in millions of deaths and the destruction of large areas, particularly in Europe. The horrors of the totalitarianism have left a lasting memory behind. Also men and women have discovered the great virtue of dignity through the harrowing memory of its denial by totalitarian regimes. A consensus has, therefore, emerged now, as we are at the end of the century, that while there may be no ideal way of governance, the most satisfactory one is that of democracy.

Human societies are turning their back on self-styled heroes who looked larger than life when they strutted on the world stage and are reaffirming the advantages of ordering their affairs in civic societies regulated by democratic institutions whose roles are clearly defined by the Constitution. Unfortunately, those who have just emerged from the darkness of dictatorship often have a mindset shaped by the forces of tyranny.

Today, in Pakistan, the President, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces, the Provincial Governments are working in accordance with the Constitution. Instead of taking satisfaction from the dawn of a constitutional order, some elements act as agent provocateurs and claim that the President, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces, the Provincial Governments are working as the hand maidens of the political government instead of taking on the government in an extra constitutional manner. There can be neither greater lie nor any greater disrespect to the Constitution, the verdict of democracy and the verdict of the people itself than to make such a claim. The political government today does not face intrigue, conspiracy, confrontation from the different organs of government because all these organs are fulfilling their obligations according to the constitution and according to the oath that they have taken to uphold the Constitution. Political governments cannot be weakened or undermined by subjective evaluation of gloom and doom of a handful of people filled with lust of power that they look to extra constitutional means to achieve their ends. Political govern­ments are to be judged by the people of a country in fair, free and impartial elections.

It is only two years, in Pakistan, since the different organs of the state started to work in accordance with the Constitution and the oath that they have taken. The forces of tyranny had for 17 years, directly or indirectly, tried to sow the seeds of discord and disruption. And the forces of tyranny are still busy. They talk of a change of system, not a change of governments. They claim that all democratic governments are the same. They claim that the answer, therefore, lies in the so-called Islamic Revolution. In fact, the people of Pakistan have already seen the so-called Islamic Revolution in Pakistan when the pristine name of the last Messenger of God was cynically exploited by a bunch of clerics trying to act more pious than the most pious.

In 1977 in Pakistan, a follower of the Muslim brotherhood, General Zia-ul-Haq seized power. He announced a change in system. He announced that only good and pious men as he defined them could take part in elections. So, elections on party basis were never held. The so-called discredited politicians of the past were to be disqualified and new, fresh and clean faces were to be found. These so-called clean faces turned out to be the dirtiest of the lot. They were the ones without conscience who were prepared to betray their people and democratic principles of the founder of the country, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, for a loaf of bread. An unholy alliance was created to sustain an unrepresentative and unaccountable regime. This was an alliance between the clerics and the opportunistic politicians. This so- called new system introduced the politics of violence and corruption in the body politic of Pakistan. It betrayed the blood of the martyrs who formed Pakistan as a modern, liberal Muslim social democracy. These people traded in drugs and guns and were unscrupulous enough to plunder the funds of Jihad in Afghanistan to enrich themselves and their families.

Behold the landscape of Pakistan and see a new class of the rich, fortune hunters who made their fortunes on the backs of political prisoners, the cries of the lashed, the screams of the tortured. No dissent was allowed. The press was censored. Political activity was banned. Women were degraded and humiliated. Minorities were persecuted. Discrimination, intolerance, hatred were the hallmark of the so-called Islamic Revolution led by General Zia, supported by the clerics and the corrupt unknown charlatans who were made into politicians. Ethnicity, sectarianism, terrorism, narco-politics, kalashnikov culture, violence was spawned by this unholy group of unelected and unelectable people. Money was lavishly given to clerical parties. They were asked to set up schools to train robots in the use of arms and in the use of hatred. The declared purpose was the noble one. The declared purpose was to fight Jihad. The declared purpose was to fight for freedom in Afghanistan, Kashmir and wherever it was threatened. The real purpose was to create a constituency and to create a cadre and to create the manpower to seize power by violent means should the dictatorship come unhinged. The real purpose was to make sure that democracy could never take root that polling stations would be seized and the ballot papers should be stamped. But the dream did not materialize; the dictator died. His class of supporters, the clerics and the opportunist politicians tried to derail democracy in 1988, but in 1993 they lost power. But they have not given up their ambitions to discredit the Quaid-i-Azam's dream of a liberal democratic state. They called the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who was fighting for Pakistan an unbeliever or Kafir and accused him of being a British agent. They lied and slandered the great founder of the great nation. And today, nearly fifty years later, they tell the same lies. Those who oppose their politics of greed, the politics of violence, the politics of thuggery and dictatorship are called American agents and disbelievers.

Let us call a spade a spade. Elected governments are only agents of God and agents of the creatures of God, that is the people who elect them. The real agents are these so-called clerics toting their guns bought during the hay day of the cold war with CIA funds and running their organizations by money given for the Jihad in Afghanistan. It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Allow me to say that hell hath no fury like a cleric scorned. Why did the British and the CIA fund the clerics? The British had an Empire where the sun never set. They clearly believed in the politics of "divide and rule". They funded the clerics to oppose, discredit and confront the nationalist politicians who wanted freedom from colonial rule.

Colonialism more or less ended with the end of Second World War. The Yalta Conference brought with it the end of the Second World War. The CIA took up where the British had left. They needed the clerics to confront godless communism. To prevent countries from going communist clerics were funded. Once the fight for the free world ended on the war torn and ravaged soil of Afghanistan, the clerics were dumped like hot potatoes.

And hell hath no fury like a cleric scorned. So, the clerics funded, organized and trained by the forces of Imperialism and the west took up arms against the West to get their attention once again. They cannot get power through democracy, nor were they trained to support democracy. So, they are against democracy. And anyone who supports democracy is branded as a pro-west, as a non-believer, as a prelude to set the stage for dictatorship and authoritarian rule. Let me at this stage state that the Pakistan People's Party government and I make a clear distinction between clerics and religious scholars. Religious scholars are those who devote themselves to religion and teach others religion, who spread the Message. Clerics are those who have a political agenda of tyranny which they try to hide by cynically exploiting the name of religion.

Let me also say that the clerics are exploiting a western insensitivity, be they the issues of a political nature such as the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, the bloody repression in Kashmir, the genocide in Bosnia, be it the economic deprivation, poverty and debt trap of the developing countries or be it attempts at cultural domination. Some of you might have recently heard of an abortive coup attempt in Pakistan. Again, who were these people who wanted to bring in a so-called Islamic Revolution? Who were these people who wanted to call themselves Amir-ul-Momineen and declare Pakistan a sectarian state? Who were these people who wanted to murder the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Army Staff and the elite corp of the Pakistan Armed Forces? Who were these people prepared to break their solemn oath to God and country? Who were these people who were going to send the Judges of the Superior Judiciary packing home and establish their agents in so-called Shariat Courts? They were a small group of power hungry adventurers who would have plunged Pakistan into a civil war, destroyed the cream of our Armed Forces, opened to attack our sensitive military institutions and threatened the security of the unborn children of Pakistan. Their own personal and professional lives would make scandalous reading.

All I will say is that they were morally and financially corrupt and they wanted to teach the nation piety. These unpious adventurers wanted to throw out the political representatives branded by them as feudals and traders (Tajir Siyasatdans) and bring in so-called clean people. For clean read corrupt crooks who would have sold their soul for political power without political legitimacy.

The new order was more or less the same as the old order of 1977 which had lasted nearly 17 years, the order of intolerance, hatred, violence, self-righteous and victimization. And unholy alliance between the clerics and the unscrupulous, unelectable individuals, who are fortune seekers, was the aim that they had in mind.

Here I might add that generally speaking these politically motivated groups like to use the name of charities, NGOs and try to disguise their real agenda under a cloak of goody goody two shoes. Of course, the majority of charities are good. The majority of charities do serve people. And we have seen noble work done by charities such as the Edhi Foundation and Orangi Pilot and many others.

But I remember a former Western Ambassador who was very keen to know what my government intended in 1988 to do about the NGOs which had been set up during the Afghan Jehad. Of course, I did not understand his question. Those NGOs set up with Western funds or funds brought from Muslim countries on Western pointation had a lot to do with creating warriors to fight for the free world and Afghanistan. I did not realize this until last year, but I learnt of the close association of Ramzi Yousaf, the dreaded terrorist involved in the World Trade Centre and an NGO which has been set up to provide relief in Peshawar.

So, the next time you are asked to donate to a noble charity, please ask for the audit reports. Many of others who had little properties or real estate have started building luxurious homes and plazas and their tax returns do not indicate where this money came from ?

Many Arabs came to Pakistan too. If these Arabs are against their countries, and everybody has the right to defense, let them go back and fight in their own countries. In Islam, courage is the code word and death in the way of Allah is welcomed as martyrdom. Instead, like cowards they hide in Pakistan while plotting against their own countries. We, in Pakistan, fought against General Zia. We faced the threat of death because we believed in the righteousness of our cause. Except for one year, for an ear infection, I spent all twelve years of Zia's Martial Law in Pakistan, in prison or out on the streets protesting. So, these individuals should now go back to their own countries and fight their own political battles instead of hiding like cowards over here.

The recent bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, has enraged the people of Pakistan. We do not expect our guests to abuse our hospitality. This is against the Message of God. No guest is allowed to abuse our hospitality. According to our customs, if an enemy enters our house, he is to be treated honorably, for hospitality cannot be abused.

So, dear writers, guests, I am here to tell you that the battle between the free world and the Communism is over. But the battle between democracy and dictatorship still rages. And while this battle shapes up in the Muslim World or in the South, the lack of concern by the West for global issues such as freedom in Kashmir or debt relievement and cultural domination adds fuel to a combustible mixture.

In these new battles which are shaping up the intellectuals, writers, poets will make their own contribution. And in making this contribution you will have to sift fact from fiction.

Ladies and gentlemen!

In this speech I talked about the crisis of authoritarianism in the world. But in fact, the problem is much deeper. It is a crisis of human thought itself. Many philosophers in the West speak of a crisis in western philosophy. Violence, alienation, the disintegration of family, the erosion of values and above all, a deep anxiety about the future of the planet which we have so ruthlessly exploited all combine to produce a new angst. Unable to cope with it so many of the young people seek refuge in strange cults or simply drop out of their societies. The answer has to be found in the collective wisdom of men and women although I believe the disintegration of the traditional family has had a part to play.

It is sad that some intellectuals in the West seek to submerge this real crisis of mind and soul in imaginary confrontations between the East and the West, between Christianity and Islam, between Christianity and Confucianism. These battle cries are false as no battle has to be joined. Technology has brought us to a point where the East and the West and the North and the South are much too close and their only option is to work together and not at cross purposes.

I trust that this great Conference will reaffirm the resolve to work together. And I trust that this Conference will once again proclaim the universal brotherhood of men and women. Let the voice of this conference be heard in support of peace and harmony. Let its delibera­tions become a fresh emphasis on the dignity of men and women and on freedom. Pakistan's national poet, Iqbal visualizes the journey of man as virtually an un-ending journey to reach God. There is constant struggle and there is constant striving. For all this striving the destination may still be very far away. Let this conference make its own contribution to that eternal striving for finding the ultimate truth.

Ladies and gentlemen !

On behalf of the Government of Pakistan, I would first like to congratulate Mr. Fakhr Zaman for the hard work he has put together in organizing and bringing this conference to success. As one of the poets and writers who gave off his best during the years of struggle and tyranny, I am glad to see that the democratic culture has not softened him and he continues to strive. And I would like to announce two awards. One for an outstanding work on literature in any language, and the second for an individual or organization for distinguished work in promoting the cause of democracy anywhere in the world. The first award for literature shall be named after our founding father: the Quaid-i-Azam Award; the second award will be named after Pakistan's first directly elected Prime Minister; the Quaid-i-Awam Award.

Thank you very much.

 

© Fayaz Sindhi 2010