Pakistan's Bhutto Calls for Association of Democratic Nations
In the principal speech at this year's Commencement Exercises, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir P. Bhutto '73 called for the formation of an association of democratic nations to protect human rights and free elections worldwide.
"Around the world democracy is on the march," Bhutto told the more than 15,000 people gathered in the Tercentenary Theatre. "In the last decade, Pakistan is only the most recent course from dictatorship to democracy. But we must be realistic. We must realize that democracy, particularly emerging democracy, can be fragile."
"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," Bhutto said.
Bhutto proposed an association of democratic nations to oversee elections in countries where there is any question about the vote's fairness, to provide monetary aid to fledgling democracies and to strengthen the international system for guaranteeing civil rights.
Throughout the speech, Bhutto pointed to her experiences in Pakistan, praising international response to the dictatorship which her regime succeeds. Bhutto was elected prime minister in December, four months after the sudden death of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq.
The U.S. has made aid to Pakistan conditional upon the granting of civil rights to the Pakistani people. Bhutto also noted that in last year's elections, a coalition of democratic leaders went to oversee the voting and ensure its fairness.
Citing the Phillipines, Argentina and Peru as countries whose democratic governments are currently in jeopardy, Bhutto said that the "best support for a democracy comes from other democracies."
Although Bhutto said she recognized that not every country could be organized around the same specific governmental procedures, she listed two principles as fundamental to democracy--open elections at regular intervals and respect for fundamental human rights.
A democratic association could promote free elections not only by actual observation of their processes, but by strengthening the international perception of their fairness, Bhutto said.
Citing the experiences of the Phillipines and Panama, Bhutto said that even if observers could not themselves declare an election invalid, they could focus international attention on illegal election procedures, forcing other countries to raise objections.
"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," said Bhutto. "The association of democratic nations can help change the calculus for each of these potential coup plotters by adding the element of international opprobium."
Noting that Pakistan, like many other countries, came to democracy from a dictatorship which had left little money, Bhutto also suggested that a such an association could ensure that new democracies receive foreign aid.
Finally, Bhutto urged that the association build "an international machinery to protect human rights and principles of justice and due process of law," to give legal force to its moral goals.
She criticized the tyrannical use of "political trials" in countries under dictatorship, looking back on the days when she and other Pakistanis fought for freedom and democracy.
"I can never forget what they endured," Bhutto said, remembering young students who died for the revolution. "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."
"Some may object that the association I am proposing will have primarily moral force," Bhutto said. "I acknowledge this, but I would urge that morality has a larger power in international relations than commonly recognized."
Bhutto ended her speech with a moving plea to Westerners that they not view Muslim countries as incapable of democracy. The doctrines of Islam, she said, have "a very strong democratic ethos."
"I have often heard the argument that a Muslim country as such cannot have or work democracy," Bhutto said. "But I stand before you, a Muslim woman, the elected Prime Minister of a hundred million Muslims, a living refutation of such arguments and notions."