By Asif Ali Zardari (writing in the Wall Street Journal)
Two years ago the world stopped for me and for my children. Pakistan was shaken to its core and all but came apart. Women everywhere lost one of their greatest symbols of equality. And Islam, our great religion, lost its modern face.
On Dec. 27, 2007, my wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated. She was the bravest person I have ever known, and the second anniversary of her death is an appropriate occasion to reflect upon what she achieved for our country, and how her legacy must be preserved against those who would return Pakistan to darkness. Twice elected prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir had an immense impact. She stood up and defeated the forces of military dictatorship. She freed all political prisoners. She ended press censorship. She legalized trade and student unions, built 46,000 primary and secondary schools and appointed the first female judges in our history. And she showed the women of Pakistan and the world that they must accept no limits on their ability and opportunity to learn, to grow and to lead in modern society.
The target of two assassination attempts by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, Benazir repeatedly warned a skeptical world of the impending danger from extremists and militants. In her last campaign—even on the very day of her death, by the hands of such extremists—she mobilized and rallied the people of Pakistan against the terrorist threat. Benazir’s murderers didn’t kill her dreams. On the day we buried her, even as her supporters cried out for revenge, we reminded our party and country that, in her own words, “democracy is the greatest revenge.”
And then we led the Pakistan People’s Party to victory in the elections. Since then, fulfilling the electoral manifesto she wrote, the nation’s economy, which had been left in shambles by the priorities of a decade of dictatorship, has been stabilized and revitalized. Food shortages have ended. Power shortages have diminished. We have adopted a national curriculum for the first time in history to challenge the spread of political madrassas. Constitutional reforms are being finalized which will rid Pakistan of the undemocratic provisions inserted by military dictators that expanded the power of the presidency at the expense of parliament. Benazir Bhutto died confronting the forces of tyranny and terrorism, and Pakistan remains committed to the struggle that she led. We have reclaimed Swat and Malakand from the militants and rehabilitated the displaced persons back into their homes.
We have taken the fight against militants to other areas, including South Waziristan in our Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and to our major cities, and we will win this war against them. We will not let militants violently impose their political agenda on the people. Political ownership of the war against terrorism rests with the people of Pakistan for the first time. We are in the front trenches of this war while the community of nations stands with us. Much has been accomplished, but it has not been easy for my nation, for my party or for my family. The forces in Pakistan that have resisted change, modernity and democracy for 30 years still attempt to derail progress. Some of these forces who were allied with dictatorship in the past now hope that the judicial process can undo the will of a democratic electorate and destabilize the country.
A litany of ancient charges of corruption—the modus operandi of past plots against every democratically elected government in Pakistan—now threatens to undermine the legitimacy of our government. Those that will not stand with us against terrorism stand against us in the media. I have spent almost 12 years in prison on trumped up charges never proven, even by a court system manipulated by dictators and despots. But like Benazir, I refuse to be intimidated. So let the legal process move forward. Those of us who have fought for democracy against dictatorship for decades do not fear justice; we embrace it. My ministers, my party, leaders of other parties and thousands of civil servants across our nation will defend themselves in the courts if necessary.
Democracy has come a long way in Pakistan, and the People’s Party has always been at the vanguard of the fight. In 1979 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father and the elected prime minister of Pakistan was executed under a smokescreen that history now characterizes as a judicial murder. Two decades later Benazir was indicted on fabricated charges on the orders of her political enemies then in power. When tape recordings of these government officials ordering the courts to fabricate evidence and false witness against Benazir were made public, these trumped-up charges were dismissed. Those of us who have been victims of dictatorship in the past believe in the rule of law and have faith in the judicial process. We believe, in the words of my wife, that “time, justice and the forces of history are on our side.” We have not come this far in our democratic struggle to fail. In this struggle, I am inspired by my father-in-law, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who said that he “would rather die at the hands of dictators than be killed by history.”
Mr. Zardari is president of Pakistan