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I hope some day I will go back home

Former Pakistan prime minister and chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party Benazir Bhutto was a keynote speaker at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi in November 2003. Much of what she said that day sounds ominously prophetic on the day she fell prey to an assassin's bullets.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2007 03:40 IST

Excerpts from the speech:

"The wheel of history turns. And it turns not just for individuals but for nations. And as the wheel of history turns for the children of Partition, I hope we bequeath to them a better future than our own bitter past.

I do not despair. In life, an individual makes choices, I made mine on the last day of my father's life in a prison that our colonial masters built in the city of Rawalpindi. That was the choice to fight for peace and democracy.

As I talk to you, a resurgent Taliban are mounting fresh attacks on the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan. They are mounting attacks against coalition forces and the NGOs working there.

We meet today in a world which is more dangerous and different than we imagined when the Cold War ended, when the Berlin Wall fell. The end of the Cold War promised to herald an era of global peace. The principles of freedom and free markets promised to shake up sluggish economies, and the prospect of a peace dividend was before us.

In Jammu and Kashmir, despite the present welcome ceasefire on the Line of Control, the intensity of violence has yet to decrease. We must ask ourselves: are we to condemn our future generations to a world of violence, of conflict, of bloodshed? Or war, blood and destruction?

This conference, organised to explore peace initiatives, is an important step in building a different kind of world. A world of peace and harmony that can protect the life, liberty and livelihood of every individual irrespective of their race, religion, gender or political affiliation. This is an important responsibility on the leadership of South Asia. This responsibility is all the more grave as the world is involved in the war against terrorism. Few nations or regions have been spared.

I believe the threat of a conflict in South Asia ending up in the first nuclear war since Hiroshima, is real. Such a conflict could annihilate hundreds of millions without distinguishing whether they were Pakistanis, Indians or Kashmiris. The determination to make a contribution to avoid this nuclear nightmare far outweighed other arguments that could have crossed my mind.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which I lead, welcomed Islambad's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control, inclusive of Siachen. This measure was taken in response to Prime Minister Vajpayee's twelve-point package of confidence-building measures.

There are those who believe that in the context of Indo-Pak relations, tension can only be reduced when both countries, India and Pakistan, are truly democracies. Of course, yours is a democracy and mine has still to achieve that status. I believe that democracies do not go to war against other democracies.

As a witness to the Simla Agreement, the agreement which prevented full-fledged war between our two countries since 1971, my party and I are committed to the peace process between our countries. It is this commitment, which led the PPP and myself to welcome peace talks between New Delhi and Islamabad, despite the military dictatorship in my country.

The PPP has the singular honour of making a breakthrough on Siachen during the Indo-Pak talks in 1989. It is the architect of the policy of soft borders on the disputed territories enunciated in 1999.

The frequent military standoffs contribute immensely to the poverty in the region. The nuclear detonations of 1998 were a powerful signal to awaken to new realities, which changed the nature of a possible future Indo-Pak war.

As a consequence, public opinion in both countries was building up. Exchanges and visits by parliamentarians, intellectuals and women groups took place. These visits indicated that public opinion was dissatisfied with the festering confrontation, the exchange of fire and the disruption of the normalisation process. The renewed contacts between India and Pakistan are taking place against the backdrop of statements by key officials and politicians, and they have raised New Delhi's concern with General Musharraf. According to these high-level officials in President Bush's office, General Musharraf has assured them that he will stop cross-border military activity.

This is a new strategic reality. It is arising out of the ashes of the twin towers that were brought down by the events of 9/11. Even as the world witnesses the emergence of a post 9/11 world with a zero tolerance for acts of violence, we must be ever vigilant for elements that would do their best to break the prospects of peace. These elements are the militants.

South Asia must begin its search for a peace dividend. The peace dividend can be the traditional guns for butter trade-off. In the longer term, a peace dividend is defined by investment. Scholars expect peace to break down poverty.

The French philosopher Rousseau said that we were all born free. Yet our societies, cultures, politics, militaries, keep our people chained to illiteracy, ignorance, intolerance, infant morality, malnutrition and disease. It is time to break free of those chains.

It is my hope that a leading Pakistani daily will follow the precedent set by the Hindustan Times in organising a similar leadership initiative in Pakistan. I thank the Hindustan Times for bringing together a galaxy of leaders to speak on one of the most important issues of our times impacting on the future one-fifth of humanity. And when a conference takes place in Pakistan, I hope I will be able to attend, as I did here. For currently, I am in exile. I am banned from my country. I am banned from contesting for the premiership of my country, banned from contesting even as a backbencher, banned from seeing my husband who is in the eighth year of his imprisonment, banned from entering my ancestral homes, banned from praying at the graves of my father and my brothers.

I know that realities change. That a person can go from prime minister to prisoner and from prisoner to prime minister. And I must tell you that the sense of satisfaction and joy that I felt never came from the chandeliered halls or the turbaned staff, or the pomp and power of governing a state. It came from small acts. It came from giving a child polio drops knowing these small drops would change its life forever. It came from seeing the smile on the faces of a boy or girl who got a job.

The wheel of history turns."