Bilawal’s Speech to International Conference of Asian Political Parties

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addresses International Conference of Asian Political Parties

“Your Excellencies,

Honourable delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

“I am honored to have the opportunity to address this distinguished gathering. It is a privilege to be present among Asia’s leading political leaders – I am conscious that sitting amongst us today are the men and women who will shape the 21st century.”

“For me, personally, it is a special moment for another reason also. Eleven years ago, my late mother, Shaheed Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, represented the Pakistan People’s Party at the First International Conference of Asian Political Parties in Manila.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,

Everyone is calling the 21st century the “Asian Century”. It is true that the transformation of Asia’s role in the global scheme of things has been nothing short of miraculous. By 2050, Asia is expected to contribute more than half of the world’s economic output, restoring the world’s largest continent to the position of economic dominance it had held 300 years ago.“ “In short, we may be witnessing the birth of a new world order. “ “This would make ICAPP, as a gathering of Asia’s top political leadership, an exceedingly important forum in the 21st century. This in itself is a tribute to the foresight and vision of ICAPP’s founding leaders.”

“In fact, to read the “Asian Declaration” issued at the end of the First ICAPP in Manila is to read a manifesto for today. Here is an 11-year-old document that touches on all the major issues of our times. Its call for Asian countries to strengthen economic cooperation, guard against future financial crises and establish an Asian Monetary Fund resonates more deeply today than they did even in 2000.“

“These words should give us pause as Asia teeters on the brink of a second global recession that is not of its making – barely three years after it weathered the first. They should inspire us to build a new, independent financial order for Asia that would enable us to chart our own course in the future.” “We should also reflect on the First ICAPP’s appeal to Asian governments to do more to address poverty and economic inequalities. While Asia can be proud of the rapid pace of its economic development, it must ensure that the fruits of this growth are shared out equally among its people. Economic development should be for the people, not at the expense of the people. As political parties in our respective countries, it is our responsibility to ensure that our people remain invested in the political process. This is only possible by enforcing the highest standards of transparency and accountability in our government and political institutions.“

“Secondly, I feel there is something prophetic about the Declaration’s appeal to Asian countries to seek the peaceful resolution of regional disputes and act in unison against “transnational crimes”. Force alone will not defeat terrorism and extremism – unless it is force tempered with political engagement and economic development.“

“Key to such economic development is poverty alleviation. We, in Pakistan have initiated the Benazir Income Support Program, which serves the dual purpose of poverty alleviation and women’s emancipation. Over 80 billion rupees have been distributed to 4 million women living in poverty.“

“As you know, Sindh and Baluchistan has yet again been inundated by heavy rains and flooding. Millions have been displaced once again and that placed an enormous burden on our people. However, we are a resilient nation and we will fully recover.”

“Finally, I would like to address what I call the fear factor. As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west there is a worrying climate of fear developing amongst our friends in the west. It is worrying that some unable to reach the necessary compromise to address their own internal structural economic flaws instead choose to demonize emerging Asian economic superpowers. Instead of appreciating the financial support provided by China, some within their society spread malicious propaganda design to provoke fear of the other and distract from their own failings.“

“This dangerous shortsightedness could lead to paranoid overreactions with catastrophic consequences. I dread the return to the divided world, a world of competing spheres of influence, a world of cold wards, a world of hot wars, a world of cyber wars and a world of economic wars.“

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead is watchword of the wise.”

• Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“We want a united world of equals not a divided world of rivals. “ “I stand before the world as a son who has lost his mother to the evils of terrorism. I stand before you as a son willing to risk my life to rid my country, my region and the entire world of the mind-set that assassinated Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. This mind-set poses the greatest threat to the way of life as we know it.”

“My country lies wounded as a victim of terror. We don’t lack the will, we lack the means. We are neither complicit nor are we incompetent, we lack the capacity to face the worlds enemies on our own. At a time of global recession and natural disasters, when Pakistan requires sympathy, support and assistance from the west we are met with suspicious, accusations and demonisation. This too is a product of fear. We know that drones, raids and unilateral actions are not the answers. Dialogue, deterrence, development and democracy is the only road map to peace.” “As Asian political parties we should join hands and reassure our friends in the west, we must make collective efforts to eliminate these unfounded fears. Ultimately, it would require the collective will and joint action of all the peace-loving countries of the world to banish these dark forces permanently from our midst. I believe the International Conference of Asian Political Parties is an ideal platform for the expression of such collective will.”

“Before I conclude, I would like to thank our hosts, the Chinese government, for their generous hospitality and for taking the initiative in organizing this conference. China’s support for multilateral mechanisms like the ICAPP reflects its commitment to the cause of peace and stability in Asia and beyond. It is a reflection of China’s resolve to work with other countries in the pursuit of the larger objectives that affect all of humanity.”

“I am also happy that the Conference has afforded me an opportunity to visit China during the “Pakistan-China Friendship Year”. Our two countries are bound together by fraternal and brotherly ties that have stood the test of time. I am glad to have had the chance to make new friends in China and to experience some more of the richness of its astonishing cultural diversity as ever I am eternally grateful for China’s consistent support for Pakistan. “

“Ladies and gentlemen,

The International Conference of Asian Political Parties was founded 11 years ago with the noblest motives and highest aspirations. It is up to us to see that the dream stays alive. Let us use this opportunity to come together and enunciate our vision for the future. I have no doubt that together we can usher in the Asian Century.”

Thank you”.

Political Storms

US President Barack Obama and UK PM David Cameron serving burgersSeeing the photos of US President Barack Obama cooking burgers with UK PM David Cameron reminded me of the way different countries treat their political leaders. While President Obama is in Europe cooking burgers, over 300 Americans have been killed in violent storms that have wrecked the American heart land. But while the nation’s newspapers report on the devastation caused by these storms, they are not blaming Obama.

America’s media is covering both the deadly storms and the President’s trip to the UK, but reports do not include attacks on the American president for not canceling his trips.

American storm affectees

This is much different from the way that we treated our own President Zardari, with former diplomats even criticising him as “distant and disconnected from the people” for not canceling his schedule last summer.

As I was comparing these events in my mind, I could not help but think that for all of our complaints about anti-Pakistan media in the West, it seems at times that we can be our own worst enemies. The world’s most wanted terrorist mastermind is discovered in the shade of Kakul and Taliban militants attack our base in Karachi, and we demand that no questions be asked or criticisms made on the agencies responsible for securing the country. The democratically elected leaders, however, are defamed and accused of everything under the sun with not an ounce of proof and yet we are never satisfied with the quantity of venom that we spit on them. Especially now during this orchestrated campaign to silence any questions about security agencies under a demand for ‘unity’, I cannot help but laugh. The only thing we seem to be united about is being unsatisfied. When we live under dictators, we cry out for democracy. When we win our democracy, we wish for dictators.

Floods and tornados can wreck homes and lives, but it is the political storms that can wreck whole nations.

Interview with Asif Ali Zardari

President Asif Zardari

In an interview with Muhammad Badar Alam in the monthly Herald, President Zardari talked about the floods in the country, the international response, on the role of military in the Pakistan government, the next elections, disaster management in the country, on the role of military in Pakistan and rumours surrounding the current government.

Q. Do you think there is a credibility gap between the government, the people and the international community?

A. This question has been asked of us before. Democracy is young, needless to say. That’s obvious. If you see the money the Unites States is providing through Kerry-Lugar aid law, it is three times what [General (retd) Pervez] Musharraf got. The Reconstruction Opportunity Zones were never on the table when Musharraf was in power. If you see new market access, it was never even given, despite Pakistan being the most allied ally of the West, even when he [Musharraf] was in government. The amount of money that has poured in since the flood happened is also unprecedented. When Ban Ki Moon [the United Nations Secretary-General] came over, he said that in the 65 years of United Nations history, he had never confronted such a disaster as the flooding in Pakistan. If this is what CNN, Fox News, Express TV and Dawn News had highlighted on the first day of the floods, then the message would have gone through. The Kashmir [earthquake] death toll was a 100,000 which was unparalleled in the history of Pakistan. So that hit harder and it had a reaction. I am not at all disappointed in the world’s reaction; I am quite encouraged by it. What I am hurt about and feel concerned about is the reaction of our own people when we said, “we are going to tax the houses of the affluent, the people who are not affected by the floods.”

Q. There is a strong opposition to this because people say why should we pay the government more taxes when we are not getting returns for the taxes that we do pay…

A. That is a matter of debate and you can research how much the country gets [in taxes]. It is very small compared to what our gross domestic product is. What is the running cost of the country of our size? What is the magnitude of the threat that we are facing? Like, for instance, the threat of terrorism [because of Pakistan’s] international geo-strategic location. This is a natural result of where you are located.

Q. But the government stumbled into it…

A. No, you did not stumble into it. You were created out of it. You supported the winning side in World War II. Out of that conflict, the Muslims of the subcontinent asked for a country and got a country despite a lot of opposition. The then Pakistan was like what you see in the flood areas. There was no infrastructure. Roads were made, areas were brought under irrigation, and look at the per acre yield and the amount of industries you have now. And in between you are struggling for your survival and had five wars.

When you talk about governance and about giving taxes and not receiving [anything in return], you must remember, we are living in a country of our own. I should be the one to complain the most. I have done prison time for 13 years without any conviction.

Q. If we compare the current situation with what we witnessed in the 2005 earthquake, there were no reports that we see in the media today…

A. There was no media, please give me that much. The media wasn’t even allowed to go there.

Q. But can’t this be put to the civil-military disconnect that there is in Pakistan. At that time there was no such disconnect.

A. You cannot put it to that. This disaster is too humongous. You must understand when the world is saying that it has never seen such a disaster in 65 years. It is not a big disaster in terms of human toll but it is huge in terms of area covered which is approximately 100,000 square kilometers — the area affected is 2.3 million hectares. Twenty-one per cent of your population was affected, the houses affected are in millions, health and education facilities affected are in the thousands. Even the Haiti earthquake and hurricane Katrina were nothing compared to this. We are still not out of the symptoms and you are talking about the cure. The flood has not receded as yet. To pass judgment is easy. Can anybody else tell me an example from anywhere else in the world where they moved faster and did more? Look at the positives — the loss of life and the outbreak of disease is minimal, for now. Hunger deaths I don’t hear of. Mind you, there are areas where we still cannot reach, that are cut off from the rest of Pakistan and where we requested countries like China to help. Our information ministry is no match to today’s free media. There was a time when the ministry could be very effective but in today’s time where there are 64 channels, it is not possible. The media is a dragon that needs to be fed everyday. The best thing is to have a nice juicy democratic government which can’t even bite back.

Q. Why is there a perception that the military is not part of the government?

A. I don’t think the military can even step out without the government’s permission. Who pays the military — for the fuel they use, for the men flying helicopters? Who bought them these helicopters? Sixteen of them were given free to me last year by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi. Some are at the army’s disposal. The army is one of our sectors. Anywhere in the world, when there is a catastrophe the marines are called in.

Q. But do the orders follow in such a way that the civilian government tells the military to go to certain areas for disaster management and not the other way round?

A. Of course, there is no other way round. This impression is again created by the 64-channel strong cottage industry surviving on one young democracy.

Q. Do you think efforts to manage and mitigate such a huge disaster would have been more effective if we had local representatives on the ground?

A. My chief minister and irrigation minister were literally sleeping on the dykes in Dadu. If the ruling party had not been working in Sukkur or in Jacobabad, do you think these people would have been alive today? It is the party which came into action. Because the democratic aspect of it is less attractive – there are no helicopters, it doesn’t make good visual angle – doesn’t mean that it is not there. During these floods, there was an election happening in Bahawalpur and the next district, Rajanpur, was inundated. If people are so unhappy, why are they voting for us?

There is a disconnect between the media, the people and the pseudo-intellectuals. Jamshed Dasti [Muzaffargarh MNA] is a case in point. You should take it up as a case study. The judges forced him to resign; he stands for re-election, everyone in the 64-channel media goes against him and he still wins. All of a sudden the parliamentarians’ degrees have become important when the law requiring them does not exist. When the law existed, nobody’s degrees were challenged. When the law does not exist, not having a degree has become an offense retrospectively.

Q. Do you see this as a conspiracy?

A. No, I think people are small-minded and have a narrow vision. They do not know how far-reaching the effects of the decisions they take are. God forgive them, for they know not. As far as we are concerned we are used to fighting against odds and so is Pakistan. We shall motivate the people and get out of it.

Q. There is a lot of discussion of the government completing its five-year term…

A. There is no discussion. There are a few headlines and questions asked and answers given. We haven’t sat down and discussed how the government is going to pass the five years.

Q. But after the mandate expires and you go to the elections, what will you take to the voters?

A. If you ask for a journey’s end while the journey is going on it is rather unfair. Let the journey finish and let the people decide. If you ask about the two and a half years, we managed to get a dictator out first time ever without confronting the institution or making the nation aggressive. We could have made the nation aggressive creating a law and order situation but we talked him out of it. First time in Pakistan we made a woman the speaker of the parliament and made a consensus prime minister. We gave Balochistan an economic and political package; we gave the National Finance Commission, the eighteenth amendment. We restored the judges with right timing, after Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar retired, so that nobody loses. This is democracy at its best. At the same time going to the International Monetary Fund is not a populist decision. If I was thinking of populism, I could have said why should I increase the tariff of electricity and take away the subsidy? So we have taken difficult decisions. That again is democracy’s strength that it can take and sustain difficult decisions.

Part I of the interview

Part II of the interview

A US helicopter pilot’s tale

The following is an article by Mr John Brockman, a US helicopter pilot who has been working to rescue flood victims and bring relief supplies to affectees. It was originally published by Express Tribune blog. It is a beautiful reflection of humanity, and so we re-publish it here…

I am an American helicopter pilot in Pakistan.  My colleagues and I came because Pakistan and its people are enduring the aftermath of a devastating flood.  We were ordered to be here, and we miss our homes, but most of us are glad to help because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

I did not know much about Pakistan before I arrived here.  I knew of the food.  I knew of monsoons and Mohenjo Daro, Karachi and the Khyber Pass, but I had no concept of what Pakistan looked, felt, or sounded like. I even thought many Pakistanis would want us to leave.

I had no idea what the people would be like in person.  I wondered if they would resemble the images I’d seen on TV – would they protest our presence in the streets?  Would they tolerate us?  Or would they simply ignore us and go about their business?

After a few weeks of packing and planning, we were ready to deploy.  Full of excitement and some anxiety, I kissed my wife, took one last picture and was gone. We flew on a cargo jet from Alaska to Islamabad and the flight took so long I hardly knew whether it was day or night when we finally arrived.  Shouldering my gear, I headed to the terminal, weaving among Pakistani military and civilians on the tarmac.  A US Marine captain guided my group inside where we filled out information cards and relaxed in the cool quietness, surveying our area; smooth stone floors, low-slung furniture, and ceiling fans spinning high above.  The captain was talking to a Pakistani man who had been helping us.  Before we left, the man shook my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for coming to my poor country,” he said quietly.

I wanted to convey the depth of my feelings toward him and his homeland, but all I said was, “You would probably do the same for us” as I walked away.

That was my first interaction with a Pakistani here.

The days since arriving have passed quickly.  Every day we take rice, flour, blankets, housing materials, cooking oil – anything – up and down the Swat and Indus River Valleys.  We also bring sick, injured, and displaced people to hospitals and hometowns.

My first mission took us up the Indus river valley, and I embarrassed myself by constantly exclaiming its beauty.  Below me was the Karakorum Highway – the old Silk Road into China – and the valley itself, with terraced farmland overshadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.

Along with the beauty, though, I see reminders of the flood, bridges that are broken or missing and roads and fields that have been washed away.  I am beginning to see widespread reconstruction now as well and feel hope for the people in these villages.  They will soon have another way to get help.

I realize that some who read this will question our intentions and some may even wish us ill.  I certainly did not imagine that cheering throngs would greet us at each village though – we are always welcomed.  I did not expect our goodwill to be taken at face value by all of Pakistan, but we have received immense support.

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious.  Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation.  Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along.  Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced.  “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart.  My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good.  I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need.   I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

Ah, home!  I miss my home, my wife and family; each day I wonder when I will see them again. But we have a humanitarian mission to accomplish.  Since I must be away, I’m glad that I am here, doing work that’s needed and good.

When I do return home, I will bring with me hundreds of pictures, dozens of journal entries, six duffel bags, and several recipes for local dishes that I have enjoyed, but I will also bring innumerable memories that I will treasure for life — memories of Pakistan and its people.  They have surprised me with friendship.  I hope that through our work of compassion we may surprise them with friendship as well.

Zardari Calls for Flood Tax – Will Wealthy Pay?

President Asif Ali Zardari asked the government on Wednesday to levy a one-time flood tax on wealthy people.

“A one-time flood tax will have to be imposed on the well-off and people of means to help shore up relief and rehabilitation efforts,” he said at a meeting of women ministers, parliamentarians and representatives of non-governmental organisations.

“Unless we are prepared to share bread with our grief- and disaster-stricken brethren, we should not expect others to help us.

“I have already advised the government to tap into indigenous resources wherever there is room,” he said.

The president said that funds would be disbursed transparently and every citizen would have access to information relating to the aid received and distributed.

Source: Dawn