Pique talks to Foreign Minister Hina Rabani Khar
To begin with, Defense Minister Chaudary Ahmad Mukhtar has described the recent visit by Ambassador Marc Grossman as unsuccessful because he believes that no consensus had been drawn between Pakistan and the US on the recommendations passed for new terms of re-engagement with the US….
Hina (interrupts): First of all, we have to understand that this is the beginning of what we call the re-engagement process.As you know, post-Salala, relations with the US were put on hold until the Parliament of Pakistan decided as to what was the way forward. Now the Parliament of Pakistan has given a very clear articulation of what it considers to be Pakistan’s national aspiration. And the way forward that they have described is a “Big Yes” to the partnership approach on pursuing the mutual goals and objectives within the region. Now when you start the re-engagement, it is in some way a process where you somehow expect to solve all your problems in the first meeting that you have. So I would not call them unsuccessful, I would call them a successful beginning of the process, a process in which I see an equal commitment from both sides to try and make it work. And I see no reasons as to why it should not work.
Okay… after the recommendations that have come out of the parliamentary process… what are those verbal (secret) agreements that have ceased to exist because we have not seen any agreement come to the parliament and get passed?
The process that has been developed is being followed. And the process is, as has been recommended by the parliamentary committee, that all agreements related to national security must be passed through the foreign office or the other ministries concerned.
Is it correct that the US has suspended its aid under the Kerry-Lugar legislation after Pakistan suspended NATO supplies through its territory?
I think the finance ministry will be in a better position to answer that but I don’t think that is the case. I think the civilian economic assistance has been continuing. I have never heard from anywhere that there has been a suspension.
Have you been able to convince the US to release the CSF reimbursements to Pakistan?
I hope so, I certainly hope so. I don’t want to look at this relationship and see what is the US stance and what is Pakistan’s stance. I want to look at this relationship with a partnership approach. On the strategic plane, the objective of the US in this region, their presence plus NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, is to bring regional peace and stability. Then I, as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, representing the government, representing the PPP and the coalition, cannot say that Pakistan has an objective that is any different. Pakistan’s objective is also regional peace and stability. For Pakistan, the situation in Afghanistan is, of course, the greatest concern as I did say it several times.
Pakistan is the first to benefit from peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the first one to suffer at the lack of peace and stability in Afghanistan. So we have mutual goals and ambitions in the region. In a partnership approach, I don’t think it is a question of whether we have been able to convince the US to release the CSF. The CSF is an arrangement that has been there for years. It is reimbursement of spending which is undertaken by the Pakistani side. This reimbursement was agreed mutually many, many years back, so it is, in some way, Pakistani taxpayers’ money and we hope that the releases will be made. I have no reason to believe that they won’t.
Has Pakistan decided to attend the Chicago Conference?
As and when we are invited, we will take a decision on that.
So that means we have been not extended an invitation yet?
We have not been formally extended an invitation yet. Pakistan wants to be a part of the global community as a responsible actor.
Since we have to revise our relationship with the US, NATO and ISAAF according to the recommendation by the parliament, what are the deadlocks? The US says it respects the parliamentary process and recommendations but there have been drone attacks inside Pakistan after these recommendations were adopted by the parliament. What are the deadlocks vis-à-vis the recommendations? Have we suggested an alternative to the US against drone strikes?
There are multiple alternate solutions to the same problem. No one problem has only one solution or only one tool. Here we are not talking about specific solutions, we are talking about specific tools. Drones are one tool to achieve an objective, and there might be multiple tools available to achieve the same objective. So, as I said, it’s a re-engagement process in which we need to mutually agree to pursue a course of action that is acceptable both to the people of US and Pakistan, that is acceptable to the administration of US and which is acceptable to the government of Pakistan. So this is going to be a process of, you know, dialogue, which I would not call unsuccessful at all for it is a successful re-engagement. Let’s continue through this re-engagement. I see commitment from both sides.
We have seen various legislators from Senate and National Assembly of Pakistan raising their voices that there still are several Pakistani airbases that are partially or directly under the control of the US, do you have any figure on that?
It has been stated categorically, and I am repeating this: currently, there is no airbase that is under the control of the US or any other foreign power.
Do you have a number of how many US security consultants are operating in Pakistan?
The ministry of interior would be in a better position to answer that.
That means there are some?
You know this is not something… what do you mean by security consultants?
US security consultants—the ones like Raymond Davis.
I think Mr. Rehman Malik’s statement on that is very clear. You know if you are talking about Blackwater-type of entities, he says that they don’t exist. So I think this is a question you should be asking somebody else.
It has been reported in the Western media, and also in Pakistan, that you are not liked by the Americans on account of your statements being too political and not diplomatic, that you have had a tough stance on Pak-US relations.
Can you define what is a political statement and what is a diplomatic statement?
The statements that are likely to be more good for public consumption. Being a top diplomat of the country, you should not be talking in terms of black and white but be diplomatic.
Let me just say very categorically: we take our job very seriously and our job is to, first of all, define what the national interest of Pakistan is and then try and determine a course of action to pursue Pakistan’s national interest. We are not on a collision course with anyone. We don’t want to be on a collision course with any foreign power or any country at all. What Pakistan is seeking is the opposite of that. Pakistan is seeking peace with all its neighbors also. Now if the Parliament of Pakistan categorically states the collective wisdom of the people of Pakistan, the aspiration of the people of Pakistan, then as diplomats, as politicians— that is a boundary line sketched very clearly and therefore I will leave it with that and I don’t think I won’t pay much attention to who says what.
What is Pakistan’s take on Afghan-US pact recently signed by President Obama according to which it will not be a complete withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in 2014?
Afghanistan is a sovereign country that has every right to enter into any pact with any other country and we respect Afghanistan’s right to do so. However, Pakistan has always maintained that no attacks on Pakistan should be made, covertly or overtly, from a neighbor’s soil and that is the position we will maintain.
Are we on the same page when it comes to talks with Taliban—does Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US have a clear coordination on the reconciliation process?
A core group meeting of the three countries has just taken place in Islamabad. What does that show? That shows that we are on the same page. We are speaking to each other, we are talking to each other, we have a vision of what to do in the future. But Pakistan and the US are very clear that the reconciliation process has to be led by Afghans themselves.
So what is the subgroup on safe passage that has been formed in the core group meeting, what will its terms of reference be?
I don’t think it would be necessary to go into the technical details—but this subgroup has been formed… that if any of the people present in any of the country need to go to any other country to enter into the dialogue process then they must be facilitated.
On Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline— did Saudi Arabia ask Pakistan not to go for it?
Foreign Office of Pakistan has never heard anything like this. I think it is well understood that Pakistan can pursue its relationships with its neighbors and other countries in a manner which is free from pressure—and that is what being a sovereign country is all about, and we have said repeatedly that with any of our neighbors we don’t have an option of being selective to pursue good relation; we have to pursue all out good relations with each one of the countries which are Pakistan’s immediate neighbors.
With the kind of statements that have come from Washington on IP— are we in a position to sustain the pressure, especially when they talk about imposing sanctions on any of the banks or organizations that will fund this project?
Again, this becomes a legal, technical issue, and we have had a legal opinion on that also. If your question is directly about IP, then I can tell you that Pakistan has a severe energy crisis and we are pursing all regional energy connectivity wherever it is possible— and that includes TAPI and IP.
President Zardari has visited Iran three or four times in the recent past. Are we trying to play our role to settle or to remove the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
See, Pakistan is ready to play its role to settle any issues between any two brotherly Muslim countries, between any countries that are a part of a greater region, because at the end of the day Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia and Iran are part of the same greater region. So going forward, Pakistan has always said that we should try and pursue good relations and we will play whatever role we can in doing so.
Where does the problem lie? Whenever something happens in our neighboring countries, whenever the Mumbai attacks are discussed, or the Kabul attacks, why fingers are pointed towards Pakistan as a state? Is it a conspiracy to malign Pakistan?
I don’t know, you can take your guesses on whether there is a conspiracy against Pakistan but I can say this safely that we, as part of a complex region, understand that there are many, many complicated situations. The situation on the ground is far more complicated than it is typically portrayed to be. I think they should not look for easy answers to face difficult question head on and try to find solutions that are mutually agreed.
Have we not been able to convince the US of our innocence in the aftermath of the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul? Also, whenever they talk about Haqqani Network, they point fingers directly towards our national security institutions.
Pakistan has said this many times and I will say this again: we do not support any entity that uses violence as an option. Pakistan has suffered from violence itself, so I think it is better to concentrate all the serious hard work Pakistan has done as the frontline state. Look at the Al-Qaeda operatives, who has nabbed the maximum number of Al-Qaeda operatives from this region? It is Pakistan. Look at all the military operations that we had to do inside Pakistan. Look at all the soldiers we have lost, look at all the civilians that we have lost because of a backlash of this. So that shows our seriousness and therefore I think our seriousness should never be doubted. I think we have had enough of a track record to prove that we take it seriously. We take it as something that we have to do for ourselves first and then for the rest of the world.
Are we the most bullied partner of the US?
I would not go on to make a statement like that. This is the way I look at it, I think we have to look towards the forward trajectory— and that forward trajectory for me today is an unprecedented opportunity that exists for both Pakistan and the US. What is this unprecedented opportunity? This is the relationship that is typically portrayed by the infringed element – note my words – in Pakistan as a relationship that is not endorsed by the people of Pakistan, as a relationship that is enforced on the people of Pakistan by various state actors.
But right now, representing the one hundred and eighty million people of Pakistan, the joint session of the parliament has clearly articulated that it is in Pakistan’s interest to pursue this relationship. However, it has defined the modus operandi or the terms and conditions for pursuing this relationship. Now I think that both the Pakistan government and the US administration have to really look at it very seriously, and to see that how we can find a mutually acceptable path to move forward to pursue what are clearly our same and similar objectives in the region, which is peace and stability, because everybody has lived with a threat of an incident in their homelands. Pakistan experiences that threat on a daily basis.
The parliamentary recommendations do not clearly talk about the procedure of the reopening of NATO supplies, the opposition parties in the parliament maintain a consensus that the NATO supplies should be reopened only after Pakistan and US achieve progress on the recommendation of the parliament. Has Pakistan conveyed its demands to the US for reopening the supplies?
The NATO supply routes were closed after the Salala incident because we lost twenty four soldiers and obviously we were in a state of loss and mourning. We could not find an explanation that was acceptable, the one that appealed to our sensitivity. Now going forward, the government took the decision to lock the supply routes and the government can take the decision to unlock the supply route. So that is a decision that the government has to take, keeping everything in perspective. I think what we need is a closure on Salala to be able to move forward to pursue a relationship which is mutually beneficial.
Has Pakistan backed out from its historical stance on Kashmir? This is a growing perception and many political parties have expressed their reservations, especially when the MFN status granted to India. An impression that arises whenever we see a lot of progress on all issues between India and Pakistan other than on Kashmir. Is this impression correct?
No, this is not true at all. It is an incorrect and a wrong perception.
Being the Foreign Minister, you always have a busy schedule. Does that affect your family life? For your family, how do you take time out of your political and professional engagements? What comes first for you—your family or your work? How do you prioritize things?
I think it’s multi-tasking at its best. I have to find a balancing act—for me—to take time out to be able to drop my child at school, for instance, is a good balancing act. I don’t miss work and yet I am able to drop my child at school. Both my family and my work are my priorities.
You are a person because of the family life and because of the people you know, you can’t lose that person to your work. I don’t think that I have compromised on the compulsions of my work and still tried to create a fine balance between not compromising on, you know, the upbringing of my children or the time that I can give to my family.