Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Citibank in Islamabad ("The challenges of the 21st century")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Islamabad
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Delivered at 1330 local time.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4058
Themes: Autobiography (childhood), Civil liberties, Economic policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Religion & morality, Terrorism


It is a great pleasure to be invited to return to Pakistan, and especially on your National Day. Yours is a land of ancient heritage and continual fascination. It has been said of your history that it is written in blood and flames by the sword and the fire. Certainly this “Land of the Five Rivers” has witnessed countless armies sweep across its plains, from Alexander the Great to Tamburlaine.

But it has also been a centre of flourishing civilisations. Only this century have we discovered the wonders of Moenjodaro and Harrapa, some of the world's first great cities. Buried for three thousand years, their ruins show a sophisticated and innovative society to rival those of ancient Egypt or Babylon. So although Pakistan is a relatively young nation, its roots run deep.

A Lasting Fascination

My first memory of this land came through the wonderfully vivid writings of Rudyard Kipling which my father bought for me as a child. I was so enraptured by Kipling's descriptions that my childhood ambition was to join what was then the Indian Civil Service. But as my father pointed out with foresight (this was the mid-1930s) “There probably won't be one by the time you are qualified” .

This was just after the time when Sir Mohammed Iqbal, your celebrated, idealistic poet, articulated the dreams of a Muslim homeland for the sub-continent's largest minority. In 1930 he told the delegates of the Muslim League: “Self-government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state, appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India” . He was right and as usual my father was right too and I had to find an alternative career.

And I was not alone in my dreams, the sub-continent has gripped the imagination of thousands of my fellow countrymen over the years and still draws visitors today. So though the physical bonds may have ended, our fascination for your region has not.

End of Empire

Ours has been a century marked by the end of empire and accompanied as it must be by the creation of new nations. Whether it be the Hapsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the French, Dutch, German, Belgian, Spanish or Portuguese Empires, all are part of the past. This sub-continent itself is the product of three thousand years of empires, each of which have left their imprint upon your culture and a vestige of themselves in your people.

But the end of empire is rarely easy and you have seen your own full share of the suffering it can bring with it. The period surrounding Partition was a painful and bitter experience marked by anger and violence. But Pakistan — “The Land of the Pure” — survived. From the most unpromising of births you have forged a nation, distinct in its identity and proud of its culture. A nation inspired by its own traditions but related to the legacies of our old ties.

Democracy — a Universal Cause

Perhaps the greatest of these legacies is the democratic system. Democracy may not have had an easy course in Pakistan but it is one to which you have returned, because though it may not be perfect, it is the best system of government which has yet been devised.

Your message to the world is that democracy is not just a Western concept. It is a vibrant, living force drawing on beliefs and traditions which are centuries old and which have their origins in varied civilisations across the globe. Of course in recent history democracy has been moulded by Western thought and Western practice. It stems from the very virtues which are so much a part of our faith — a faith which shares many of the values of both Islam and Judaism.

Moreover all human beings have certain things in common. We are all born into a family and into a community. We all have a sense of good and evil, a natural moral sense and a conscience. We all recognise and admire bravery and heroism. The child instinctively wants to please its parents and the parent naturally wants to protect the child. Surely this is what we call human nature. What makes men human is common to them all and acts as a bridge between them.

The fundamental rights — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of movement, freedom of association and liberty under a just law without which there can be no civilised society — are not the property of any group of countries, nor the hallmark of one culture as opposed to others. They apply, or should apply, universally. Combined with representative government, they are the core of a truly democratic nation.

Threats to Freedom

But we must not take our freedom for granted. In two world wars, we have together fought the enemy from without, and there was no greater volunteer army in the world than that from this sub-continent.

But as we overcome one threat others arise from within.

Today the most pressing threat is from terrorism — it is the most direct form of attack on liberty. It involves both violence and the threat of violence to achieve its political objectives. The terrorist uses the instruments of war against a people at peace. Even in an unfree society terrorism would constitute an outrageous assault on lives and property. But in a functioning democracy in which freedom of speech and freedom of association are guaranteed, it is vicious and totally unacceptable.

As we know in Britain, and as you know in Pakistan, it requires considerable patience and statesmanship to try to ensure that real grounds for grievance among national, ethnic or religious minorities are resolved by reasoned discussion. But the very nature of the terrorists is that they refuse to accept the legitimate claims of others. They want to dictate their own terms.

Terrorism, and the fanaticism from which it is born, often tries to hide behind the cloak of national, religious or cultural justification. It is tragic that any of the world's great religions should be distorted as an excuse for violence when their true spiritual message is the opposite. As the recent summit in Cairo showed, we are gravely concerned by the threat which the terrorist poses to us all. There will be no easy solutions but we must look towards a system where there is much greater co-operation on intelligence matters and where surveillance technology is used to its optimum effect. And there are occasions, as happened in the case of Libya, when a pre-emptive strike against the terrorist is justified.

The fight against the terrorist is a battle we can't afford to lose. But there are two abiding principles to which we must adhere.

First, you can't defend freedom by abusing it yourself; democracy must be defended within the law. And the law must be seen to be upheld.

Second, we should never concede more to those who threaten us with the gun than we would to those who promote their views through the ballot box. For that would be death to democracy.

We must stand by those principles whether it be in Karachi or London, Cairo or Jerusalem.

But the threat to freedom comes not only from terrorism: crime and violence within our societies robs our people of the peaceful life they seek. It was George Bernard Shaw who said “Freedom incurs responsibility” , he went on to say “that is why many men fear it.”

Today, the trouble is that so many people are ready to seize freedom for themselves without respecting the freedom of others. Street violence and the culture of guns and drugs can't be tolerated if we are to live in secure prosperity. After defence, upholding the law is the first duty of government in a civil society.

The Great Experiment

The political and personal freedoms which we have fought so hard to preserve are only part of the equation. They are inseparable from economic freedom and enterprise, a subject on which I will dwell more fully in Lahore. Whichever one you start with you will finish with them all.

That was how our forefathers expected liberty to progress. They could not possibly have foreseen that as the old Empires came to an end this century would witness the rise of the new ideological empires, the two worst tyrannies and the two worst wars the world has ever known. Nazism and fascism were defeated in battle but Stalin's Soviet Union continued to pursue its ambition of world hegemony. An Iron Curtain was brought down dividing the world in two.

On the one side, the way of freedom and justice.

On the other, communism, the way of coercion and central control.

For 73 years they coexisted, indeed it seemed as though in 1917 the world had unwittingly entered into a great experiment to decide which was the better way of life for our peoples. Then the Communist system collapsed and its cruelties and poverty of spirit became clear to all.

Recently Professor R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii after considerable research observed that while this century has seen 36 million people killed in battle at least 119 million have been killed by government genocide and massacre — of which 95 million were killed by communist regimes.

Those of us who believed in the sanctity of the human spirit had no doubt that the communist system would eventually collapse, but it is remarkable that so may people, mostly intellectuals, were taken in by communism's lies.

Here in Pakistan you were, and still are, only too aware of the dangers of communism. After the brutal Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 you stood in freedom's front line. I well remember my own visit to your country in 1981 when I saw for myself the teeming refugee camps filled with three million men, women and children who had fled from oppression. Your role was crucial to the defeat of that system in Afghanistan. Your ceaseless efforts and sense of humanity have received too little recognition from the rest of the world. Without your steadfast help the Soviets might have succeeded. But as history now shows, they failed, and in failing they precipitated the downfall of the Soviet system itself.

The great sorrow is that the people of Afghanistan still know no peace. With the Soviets defeated, the one force which bound the resistance factions together has itself disappeared. The tensions which remained dormant have risen to the surface as tribal hatreds now tear the country apart, leaving suffering and devastation in their wake.

And the repercussions of the Afghan War are still evident today in Pakistan. Those who conduct their violent campaigns in Karachi and other towns, do so with the Kalashnikovs which once brought terror to Afghanistan.

But the Battle Doesn't End

My friends, the collapse of Marxist/Leninism was the greatest political event of my lifetime, and one which changed the world.

At the end of World War Two because our enemies had been totally defeated we were able to go into their countries and put in place all the right institutions for a peaceful and democratic future. And they have flourished.

But when it came to the end of the Cold War we had not defeated the communist regimes from without, they had collapsed from within.

Perhaps we underestimated the tremendous difficulty the peoples of these countries would have in managing the transition from a tyranny to a free and responsible society. In countries where everything had been controlled from the centre, where there was no initiative, where there was no private property, no freedom of speech or of the press and no independent judiciary, they are struggling to create a normal free society with the expectation of gathering prosperity.

Alas, the absence of the legal and customary foundations of a free economy have led to a distorted “robber capitalism” , one dominated by the combined forces of a mafia and the old communist nomenklatura, with little appeal to ordinary people.

Russia and China

Within Russia, although there are signs of economic progress as enterprise takes root, the political situation is confused and worrying although free elections are themselves good news. Russia still has the weaponry and the reach to cause problems across half the globe if it is so minded. The time has probably passed when outsiders could make much impact on Russia's internal economic and political evolution. I would have liked the West to have done more and sooner. Ten years ago we would have given almost anything for the Cold War to end. When it did, we were too absorbed in our own affairs to understand the nature of their problems or to formulate a fitting response.

For all her difficulties, Russia is still a powerful and potentially rich country with enormous natural resources. Like the United States, she is also a continental power, which faces both the European-Atlantic area and the Asia-Pacific. For the time being Russia's role in Asia is not as menacing as it once was. With the break up of the Soviet Union and the creation of five newly independent states in Central Asia, Russian power has been in retreat. But we must be cautious, Russia maintains a strong political presence in the region and indeed in Tajikistan a strong military presence.

And only last week the communist dominated Russian Duma declared the agreement which dissolved the Soviet Union null and void. Though this act will be totally unacceptable to the other signatories of the treaty Russia may yet seek to renew her former influence and power. And as Chechnya tragically demonstrates Russia is still ready to use force ruthlessly to secure her interests even against her own people.

But perhaps the greatest change will come as a result of the transition occurring in China and will be felt far beyond her borders. Since 1978, Deng Xiaoping has steadily encouraged a market economy, but not political liberty or a rule of law.

Viewed from the outside China appears to be a large but single market. In fact China is a union of many, possibly as many as forty, economic units. A good number of its cities are larger than many countries and the averaged sized province has a population of between 50 and 60 million people. She has a total population of some 1.2 billion and an economic growth rate of 9 per cent per annum. Moreover the Chinese are born traders and unlike the Russians have a large diaspora willing to invest and able to help.

The degree of economic divergence between the coastal provinces and those of the interior is already creating a huge migrant population many with neither homes nor employment.

These unsettled millions will place great strain on China's political structures and the pressures for reform will grow.

But China's economic surge will also have strategic implications. As she grows richer she will want to have a bigger voice in the security of the region. Already she has three million men under arms and a sizeable nuclear arsenal. And it has shown itself ready to use the implied threat of that military power in its action over the Spratley Islands and during the recent exercises off Taiwan. Such action is hardly intended to reassure China's neighbours or the wider world of her good intent, no matter how hard she protests it. Indeed, it adds to regional tensions and instability.

We should always view with the greatest suspicion a country which so readily uses its power to menace others. China has occupied Tibet, will soon recover Hong Kong and Macao, has fought border wars with India and Vietnam, and her recent use of missiles in the Straits of Taiwan is a shocking portent.

Nevertheless, the increase in China's military strength is not necessarily a cause for alarm. But it raises the question of how that power will be used. The other regional powers now really will need to be reassured that China's expanding forces and capabilities will not become a threat to them.

Such a judgement will be affected by how far China's phenomenal economic development is followed by greater liberty. Sooner or later people will surely demand a more open and representative form of government and broader political participation; and if it comes that will be the best possible reassurance to China's neighbours.

With the transitions in these two great communist powers we had assumed that dangers of the old Cold War world had come to an end. But both Russia and China are now contemplating changes of leadership and they may foreshadow not only changes in personalities but changes in policy too. We may well hear the echoes of a world we thought we had left behind.

No such thing as a New World Order

Following the end of the Cold War, some people described our modern global political and security environment as a New World Order: my friends, there is no such thing. What we have today is a world ordered in a very different way where economic progress is increasingly followed by democracy.

That is the good news.

But the bad news is that we find ourselves in a more disorderly world now that the Cold War is over and events are no longer seen through the prism of East-West rivalry.

The discipline, however malign, which the Soviet Union exerted over its Third World client states has decayed, paradoxically giving countries such as Iraq and North Korea greater freedom to cause trouble. Note that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait came after the Soviet Union had been gravely weakened and had ceased to be Saddam Hussain's protector.

The Soviet collapse has also aggravated the single most awesome threat of modern times: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These weapons and the ability to develop and deliver them are today being acquired by rogue states such as Iraq, Iran and Libya. In North Korea it is very far from clear that her nuclear ambitions have been checked.

One only has to think of our experiences with Iraq to realise that dictators can never be trusted. Only now, after five years of inspections and following the defection of one of the most senior members of the Iraqi regime, do we finally know how close Iraq was to having nuclear and biological weapons. We know too that it continues to try to acquire them. What confidence can we have that we know North Korea's true intentions?

According to Stephen J. Hadley, formerly President Bush's assistant secretary for international security policy: “By the end of the decade, we could see over 20 countries with ballistic missiles, 9 with nuclear weapons, 10 with biological weapons and up to 30 with chemical weapons.”

Such proliferation heightens the dangers of instability and conflict.

There are also renewed national and ethnic tensions. Most recently in Ruanda, Somalia and of course Bosnia.

There will always be conflict: it is part of human nature, part of the eternal battle between good and evil.

There will always be those who are prepared to use force to attain their objectives — dictators will not suddenly become an extinct species.

Don't Rely on the United Nations

But there is also a danger that in responding to these new dangers we place our faith in institutions which are neither designed nor suited to maintaining order and keeping the peace. Over the past five years the United Nations has been one such institution. With the Security Council no longer hamstrung by the Soviet veto some believed that it promised a new age in which the UN would act as world policeman to settle regional conflicts.

Somalia was a classic example of this thinking. No-one could criticise the humane impulse to step in and relieve the suffering created by the civil war in Somalia. Pakistan was quick to respond and your troops played a courageous role. But it soon became clear that the humanitarian effort could not enjoy long-term success without a return to civil order. And no internal force was available to supply this.

The result was an ignominious withdrawal. The conclusion was military intervention without an attainable purpose creates as many problems as it solves.

This was further demonstrated in the former Yugoslavia. In Bosnia we failed to heed the most significant lesson of this century: never appease an aggressor. In spite of their inherent right of self-defence, the Bosnians were denied the weapons to protect themselves. Nor did the UN offer them protection — even the so-called safe havens, which they specifically created, turned out to be a sham — remember Srebrinica. Feeding and evacuating the victims rather than allowing them the means to resist aggression made us more like accomplices than good samaritans.

In the history of injustice the Serb aggressor descended to depths of brutality we never thought to see again, let alone in the heart of Europe.

Nation States Must Take the Lead

There will always be situations where we must be ready to use force. And it should be the nation states rather than the United Nations which take the lead. Only nations, separately or together, are capable of acting with the necessary decisiveness and purpose, provided always that they have strong leadership. When nations get together in international organisations they do not reinforce each others strengths, they tend to reinforce each others weaknesses. They try to reach a consensus, but consensus is the negation of leadership.

There is a tendency which has recently grown up to regard the source of all ills as nationalism. Nationalism, if untamed by respect for human rights and unchecked by democracy, can be a force for evil. But this has nothing to do with nation states which uphold liberty, justice and democracy. You need such states because they are the only real deterrent to violence and aggression.

Our future security will be based not on some utopian international order but on co-operation between states which share a common interest. This was the pattern for the Gulf War and it will remain so. The UN can lend its political support but we will rely on the “coalitions of the willing” to take action.

In Asia there is no equivalent of NATO. Stability therefore will very much depend on a balance of power between the great countries.

But there also has to be one global power — a military power of last resort — to ensure that regional disputes do not escalate to uncontainable levels. In most cases when it comes to action there will be no substitute for the leadership of the United States. It is in all our interests to keep her committed to upholding international order — to keep her engaged in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, in Europe and in Asia. But that requires encouragement and practical support from America's allies and those who benefit from America's presence.

Pakistan — a Pillar for Stability

Pakistan is placed in a pivotal position; bordering Iran, Afghanistan, China and India; stretching from the republics of Central Asia to the entrance of the Persian Gulf. All around there is instability or the potential for it:

Afghanistan remains locked in a bloody civil war.

The republics of Central Asia are still struggling to build the institutions of freedom, while battling to contain the problems caused by Stalin's mass displacement of peoples.

Iran is becoming an increasingly unstable entity, racked by economic failure and political unrest.

China has turned to intimidation because Taiwan dares to hold democratic elections for her President.

And in Kashmir the legacy of Partition has yet to be resolved.

Your influence is vital if these problems and tensions are to be contained.

Your resolute opposition to communism is a model for the newly independent states of Central Asia as they struggle to find their own identity.

Along with Turkey, you have a unique opportunity to forge links with these states, guiding them away from their communist past and giving them greater confidence should the spectre of expansionist communism return to Russia.

In the Gulf your relations remain strong, with thousands of expatriate workers living there and remitting substantial sums to Pakistan. Again your influence is important in countering those forces seeking to destabilise the traditional order. Iraq may have been repulsed but she is still a power to be reckoned with. The regime survives only by terror and as we saw recently, even members of Saddam's own family are expendable if they threaten his grip on power.

Meanwhile Iran continues to foster unrest across the waters in spite of its own turbulent and unpredictable state.

And finally, of all the nations of the region you have a unique relationship with the West.

So the world looks to Pakistan and places a great deal of hope in your continued steadfastness.


Your visionary leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah said in 1948, on the first anniversary of Independence: “The foundations of your state have been laid and it is now for you to build as quickly and as well as you can” . Alas less than a month later Jinnah had died but Pakistan heeded his words and from a turbulent and difficult beginning, you have not only built a nation but established your place in the world.

Today, President, Prime Minister and people, you can look back at your first fifty years with a sense of satisfaction, and forward to the next fifty with hope and confidence.