A critical time for Pakistan

September 7, 2007 The Age

THERE are moments in history that prove decisive and mark a turning point for the future. The American Civil War was such a moment in the United States. The fall of the Berlin Wall was such a moment for Germany and the European Union. Today is Pakistan's moment of truth. Decisions made now will determine whether extremism and terrorism can be contained in Pakistan to save it from internal collapse. The stability of not just Pakistan but the civilised world is at stake.

In a democratic Pakistan, extremist movements have been minimal. In all democratic elections in my country, extremist religious parties have never garnered more than 11 per cent of the vote. Extremism under democracy has been marginalised by the people of Pakistan. But under dictatorship - most notably under military dictator General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s but unfortunately also under General Pervez Musharraf during this decade - religious extremism has gained a foothold ...

Pakistan is at the crossroads. Our success can be a signal to 1 billion Muslims all over the world that Islam, which emphasises the importance of consultation, is compatible with democracy, modernity and moderation. I go back to Pakistan knowing that there will be difficult days ahead. But I put my faith in the people and my fate in the hands of God. I am not afraid. Yes, we are at a turning point, but I know that time, justice and the forces of history are on our side.

Benazir Bhutto was twice prime minister of Pakistan and heads the Pakistan People's Party.