To a thunderous, two-minute standing ovation on Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto became the newest darling of democracy in Congress, delivering a joint session address in which she praised America for its “unwavering support” to her nation’s new democratic order and promised the American leadership everything it wanted to hear.
The 35-year-old Islamic prime minister, the first woman in modern history to lead a Muslim nation, quoted from Abraham Lincoln, James Madison and John F. Kennedy to describe her own decade-long “painful odyssey” through imprisonment, exile and dictatorship to a dramatic election victory last November.
In a speech punctuated by dozens of rounds of applause, Bhutto pledged to a Congress long wary of Pakistan’s nuclear program that her strategic nation has not--and will not--develop a nuclear weapon.
She called illicit narcotics “a plague” and declared that her government’s “highest priority” will be to crack down on a domestic opium industry that supplies half of the illegal heroin sold on U.S. streets.
Aid to Rebels Pledged
And on Afghanistan, where Pakistan and the United States together provided critical assistance that helped drive out 115,000 Soviet occupation troops last February, Bhutto pledged continuing aid to Islamic rebels fighting to overthrow the Soviet-backed regime of Afghan President Najibullah.
“The conflict is not over,” Bhutto declared. “Let us not at this stage, out of impatience or fatigue, become indifferent.”
The general tone of Bhutto’s speech, delivered from the same podium where Philippine President Corazon Aquino delivered a similar pro-democracy address in 1986, went far beyond U.S.-Pakistani relations.
Condemning dictatorships throughout the world, the address was designed to cast Bhutto as a new international symbol for democracy, youth and women worldwide. It underscored themes frequently used by President Bush and by congressional leaders on the rising tide of democracy and flawed principles of authoritarian rule.
“As a representative of the young, let me be viewed as one of a new generation of leaders unshackled by the artificial constraints and irrational hatreds of the past,” Bhutto declared. “As a representative of women, let my message be to them, from the villages of Baluchistan to the universities of Lahore, Paris and Boston: ‘Yes, you can.’
“As an adherent of Islam . . . let my message be about a compassionate and tolerant religion, teaching hard work and family values under a benevolent God, for that is the true Islam which we cherish.”
Quoting from the famous proclamations of past American presidents, Bhutto said both she and her nation of 100 million largely impoverished people should now stand as living examples for the entire world that “we the people” can succeed in replacing dictatorship with democracy, without bloodshed or revenge.
“Everywhere the sun is setting on the day of the dictator,” said Bhutto, whose election ended a decade of harsh military rule by Pakistan’s former president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq. “And for the dictators across the world, democracy is the greatest revenge.”
The prime minister appealed in general for continued U.S. assistance to her country, which is now facing one of its worst economic crises ever, as the most effective way for Congress to protect Pakistan’s new-found democracy.
“We cannot choose between development and democracy,” she said in the speech that was the centerpiece of her five-day official state visit to Washington, Boston and New York. “We must have both. . . . And Pakistan is ready for miracles.”
Clad in the traditional Pakistani dopata head scarf and a bright peach-colored silk shalwar kameez , Bhutto was swamped by congressional well-wishers and admirers as she left the House chamber.
The reaction strengthened the likelihood of congressional approval for the Bush Administration’s pending request for $621 million in economic and military assistance for Pakistan, as well as an additional commercial purchase of 60 new F-16 jet fighters worth $1.4 billion.
On Tuesday night, Bhutto was the guest of honor at the first official state dinner hosted by the President and First Lady.
Since alcohol is banned in Pakistan and dancing frowned on, Bhutto and her entourage were unable to participate in all of the revelry. But Bhutto and Bush did find a common bond in their Ivy League background.
Late Wednesday night, Bhutto left Washington for Boston, where she is scheduled to deliver Harvard’s commencement address today.
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