13 March 2001


NEW YORK, 12 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the toast delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the official dinner banquet hosted by the Chief Executive, General Perez Masharraf, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 11 March:

It is a great pleasure for me to pay my first visit to Pakistan as Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have come to salute Pakistan’s remarkable contributions to the work of the Organization; to offer our support for your efforts to establish a true and lasting democracy in this important nation; and to consult and cooperate with you on regional issues of mutual concern.

Pakistan has supported the aims of the United Nations throughout our history. Thanks to the thousands of Pakistani soldiers who have served under the United Nations flag, and to the many distinguished Pakistani scholars, economists and international civil servants who have advanced our work for development and peace, Pakistan can truly call itself a leader in the work of the international community.

In peacekeeping alone, Pakistan has taken part in more than 25 missions over the last 40 years, and 57 of your soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of world peace, and the United Nations. I salute this record of global idealism because I believe it reflects a determination among the Pakistani people to serve the world. But one lesson of the past 50 years is that solutions to the challenges of our time begin at home.

Whether it is in the area of peace, development or human rights, we have learned that progress begins with education in the smallest of towns and villages, with the individual girl or boy. A State fulfils its duty to its citizens when it enables its youth to make the most of their talents through a diverse and progressive education. It does so by creating a stable society which ensures the freedom of all its people to believe and worship in their own way, without fear or persecution, as called for so memorably by the great founder of your nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Your pledge to restore civilian rule through the holding of elections on 12 October 2002, which was endorsed by the Supreme Court, has raised hopes around the world that Pakistan’s democracy will be given a new beginning, and its people the representative system of government they have yearned for and fully deserve.

I wish you well in your initiative to start with political devolution as a way to ensure that a renewed democracy will derive legitimacy and lasting support from the grass roots. Local elections are a first step towards establishing legitimate, accountable, transparent and democratic rule in every aspect of public life.

I also urge you to continue taking steps to strengthen human rights, such as the recent establishment of the National Commission on the Status of Women, as well as those taken in the area of drug control, where you have had dramatic success in reducing opium cultivation within your borders.

The principles of democratic rule are now recognized and accepted throughout the world. The right of all people to take part in the government of their country through free and regular elections, enshrined in article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not peculiar to any culture. People of all cultures value their freedom of choice, and cherish the right to have a say in decisions affecting their lives.

In every part of the world, the United Nations is working to strengthen democracy by promoting human rights, good governance and the rule of law; by supporting programmes designed to combat corruption and ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs; and by assisting in efforts aimed at strengthening political pluralism and freedom of speech and association.

We do so because we believe that democratic governance -- by protecting minorities, encouraging political pluralism, and upholding the rule of law -- can channel internal dissent peacefully, and thereby strengthen –- rather than weaken -- a society. This is true for countries emerging from conflict, for countries in political and economic transition, and it is true for Pakistan. The United Nations stands ready to continue assisting Pakistan in its transition to a lasting democracy in every way we can.

Even as Pakistan moves toward democracy, history and geography have combined to place you at a geopolitical crossroads with great impact on your domestic relations. You know better than most that borders today are no barrier to the spread of destabilizing activities, such as drug trafficking, terrorism and other forms of crime. You have learned that to secure peace in Pakistan you must devote yourself to improving relations with your neighbours, and to helping them when their troubles threaten to spread into your country.

I encourage you to resume the dialogue with India in the framework of the Lahore Declaration, and to do all in your power to halt the forces of violence, and to seek a political solution to your differences, including those relating to Kashmir. Pakistan and India have too much in common in terms of historical and familial ties; too much to risk in terms of conflict and violence; and too much to gain in terms of prosperity and regional development to turn away from the path of dialogue.

The results of years of tension and mistrust are plain for all to see: continued instability; the threat of conflict; and the tragic postponement of the day when you can exploit your many bonds for common progress. The risks of continued distrust have multiplied since both countries regrettably decided to test nuclear weapons. You are both observing a moratorium on further nuclear tests, and I trust you will continue to do so.

While I understand the need to forge a national consensus on this vital security question, I hope you will soon be able to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Meanwhile, Pakistan can make a significant contribution to regional and international security by strengthening its export control measures over technologies, material and equipment that can be used for the production of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.

I also wish to express my profound admiration for the hospitality and generosity Pakistan has shown the people of Afghanistan over the last two decades. By so doing, you have acted in the noblest tradition of your faith’s tenets of mercy and compassion. The United Nations recognizes the sacrifices this has involved for your nation. I promise you we will make every effort to persuade international donors to increase their assistance.

Afghanistan today is a country in the grip of an unspeakable tragedy caused in equal measure by man and nature. The plight of the Afghan people challenges the conscience of people everywhere, and requires urgent action. A decades-long humanitarian crisis threatens today to become a full-blown catastrophe with more than a million Afghans in grave danger. A severe drought has compounded the suffering caused by a succession of wars, each more mindless and destructive than the previous one. And the Taliban regime, which took power promising to end the suffering of the people, has, through its extremism, only found new ways to deepen it.

In this process, the Taliban has given a gravely distorted picture of the great faith of Islam in whose name it claims to act. You know -– and enlightened people everywhere know –- that neither the oppressive rule imposed on the people nor the destruction of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage has anything to do with the noble ideals of Islam, which were the foundations of the Mughal Empire and other great empires of history.

Pakistan has a vital role to play in reversing this tragic path of destruction and violence. You can count on the support of the international community in your efforts to bring assistance to the Afghan people. However, no amount of aid can change the stark fact that only an end to the war will solve this urgent humanitarian crisis.

I appeal to you to do whatever you can to moderate the actions of the Taliban towards their own people, particularly women and girls; to press upon them to engage in political negotiations under United Nations auspices with the United Front; and to lead them towards a different vision of leadership –- one which places the welfare of their people at the centre of their rule. I know this will not be easy. But we must begin now -- to end the war, and to ease the suffering of the Afghan people.

Let me, in closing, thank you for the very warm reception my wife and I and my team have received in your country, and wish you success in your efforts to bring lasting stability, prosperity and democracy to Pakistan.

* *** *