Transcript: Pakistan’s Vision for Regional Peace and Prosperity

Sartaj Aziz, adviser for foreign affairs and national security to the government of Pakistan, spoke with Shuja Nawaz, South Asia Center director, about the upcoming economic and political challenges for Pakistan’s civilian administration. Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson provided introductory remarks.

Damon Wilson
Executive Vice President
Atlantic Council

Shuja Nawaz
Director, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

Sartaj Aziz
Adviser, National Security and Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan

  • Transcript by

Federal News Service
Washington, DC

DAMON WILSON: Good morning, everyone.

My name is Damon Wilson; I am executive vice president here at the Atlantic Council. I want to welcome you to today’s special event that our South Asia Center is running on Pakistan’s vision for regional peace and security with Mr. Sartaj Aziz, the national security adviser and foreign affairs adviser to the government of Pakistan.

We’re delighted to welcome you to the Atlantic Council, Mr. Minister. We’re also delighted that you come with a delegation. There’s a large delegation in Washington; at this time, we’re delighted to welcome the ambassador and minister of energy, as well. So welcome to all of you.

2013 was a year of transitions in Pakistan, marked by the first-ever civilian transfer of power, a new chief of army, a new chief justice. And with these institutional changes in place, the coming year presents some fresh opportunities and challenges for the country. Impending elections in neighboring Afghanistan and India will likely introduce new power brokers into the region, marked by a decade of unstable leadership.

NATO is beginning its drawdown of forces next door in Afghanistan with questions looming about its continued presence. Against the backdrop of a reduced American presence in the region, Pakistan must clearly define its foreign policy. Indeed, Pakistan’s external relationships have often sustained and enhanced the country’s internal dynamic, and I think this new dynamic within the country’s entering offers an opportunity to change the course.

Today, Mr. Sartaj Aziz will share his vision for his country and the region, and discuss how the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could be transformed from transactional to strategic. A developed economist, Minister Aziz was one of the architects behind the proposal to establish the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. He served as assistant president of policy and planning at IFAD from 1977 to 1984. Minister Aziz has held several different cabinet positions, including minister of state for food and agriculture, finance minister from August 1990 to ’93 and again, 1997 to ’98, and also, as foreign minister from 1998 to ’99.

In 2004, Mr. Aziz became the vice chancellor of Beacon House National University in Lahore. He was also, thankfully for the Atlantic Council, the co-chair of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center’s India-Pakistan Water Cooperation Project from 2011 until he returned to his political career in 2013, when he joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as his adviser on national security and foreign affairs. And today, he is at the center of U.S.-Pakistan relations.

Minister Aziz is here at the council speaking at an important juncture in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as evidenced by the opening of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week in Washington. We’re honored to have the minister at the Atlantic Council today, and look forward to your briefing on the way forward for this relationship.

Following the minister’s remark, he’ll be joined by Shuja Nawaz, the director of the Atlantic Council South Asia Center, who will moderate a conversation so that we can get into greater detail on the relationship. I’ll remind you, this event is on the record, and therefore, tweeting is welcome.

Mr. Minister, let me welcome you to the podium, please. (Applause.)

MINISTER SAUTAJ AZIZ: Mr. Damon Wilson, Shuja Nawaz, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m grateful to the Atlantic Council for this opportunity to share my views on an important topic, Pakistan vision for – (inaudible) – peace, prosperity and economic development.

The Atlantic Council and its South Asia Center has been providing valuable services in terms of its analytical work, research as well as fostering rich discussion, which provide a lot of guidelines and opportunities for policymakers to look at various options. So it’s always a pleasure to interact with them and today, the opportunity is especially valuable for us.

I think most of you who have followed Pakistan will recall that Pakistan has been facing formidable economic and security challenges, particularly after 9/11. The so-called Mujahedeen, the holy warriors that we – America and Pakistan together – attained, funded and armed, to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, were suddenly pushed into our federally administered tribal area, FATA, and gradually became an existential threat to us. Initially, of course, they came to seek refuge, but they soon realized that unless they ruled the territory and go into better areas, more fertile areas, they could not sustain themselves for very long. So they spread from one agency to another and became – and some of you recall that in 2009, when they occupied most of Swat Valley and adjoining areas, people are talking of only 60 miles away from Islamabad, so the whole perception of what is going to happen was quite – one of the major areas. But thankfully, the army moved into Swat and then into other agencies and the tide was reversed.

And in this context, of course, the toll on the economy has been much greater. Obviously, in such a situation, investment flows slow down. So, in these last few years, our growth rate has plummeted to something like 3 percent, is just above population growth rate, and that has, of course, led to a lot of other problems. Therefore, it has been a very difficult period with poverty increasing, unemployment increasing and a lot of other problems arising. This combination of the deteriorating security environment and the growing threat of extremism has been a very lethal combination.

On top of that, we have had an internal political crisis. The transition from military to civilian rule is always a complicated affair, especially so because the civilian rule is usually not stronger at the time of transition and hence it takes time for these civilian institutions to get stronger. So those problems when coupled with judicial and other political crises, has also been sending signals of a serious nature.

Nature was also unkind to us. We had a very serious earthquake in 2005, which killed more than 100,000 people and floods of 2010 and ’11, and so as a result of all of this, we must have been seen and have been associated with many pessimistic predictions such as those of a failing state, possibilities of an extremist takeover as well as other predictions of serious consequence. Thankfully, they were all short-lived and not very credible. This illustrates that, despite all of these problems, the resilience of the people of Pakistan and their faith have been demonstrated.

2013 has therefore been a turning point in our history, a kind of threshold, and the foundations of this turnaround, I’m sure, we’ll all feel gratified to hear, is the democratic transition. The elections of May 2013 were a historic election because despite extremists threatening to disrupt them, voters turned out in record numbers. We have never had such a large voting percentage in our last five elections cycles than the percentage of this election cycle. The number of women voters who participated was also the largest; the number of women candidates who participated was also the largest, and therefore, it produced a stable government with a clear majority; the clearest government for five years was a coalition government and did not have the capacity.

And you can imagine the problems that mentioned previously would have been difficult to tackle and overcome even from a very strong government. However when you have a weak government, a coalition government, then obviously, it creates – some good things such as, the 18th amendment, the judicial restoration, but it required at this particular time, a strong and stable government to deal with these multiple challenges that I have listed very briefly. So in that sense, the election – the wisdom of the electorate to vote into power a stable government with a clear majority was a very wise outcome.

It was not just the election which was important; it also illustrated the strength of democracy, because what – after the elections also, you have to show is respect for the mandate that people have achieved. So even though we had a majority in the polls of Baluchistan, we asked nationalist parties to come in (KPK ?). We could have formed a government by joining smaller parties, but the prime minister said no, the Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan is the largest party, so they must do that, and similarly – (inaudible) – so this respect for the rule of law and the voting percentage was important.

And as was mentioned in the introduction, the transition has been very smooth, one government to another, transferring power with dignity. The president was given a very dignified and respectable send-off, the change of the army chief, the change of the chief justice. This is the beauty of democracy in which you have this smooth transition and give the semblance of stability. So this is very good news because it means that the democracy – the roots of democracies are getting stronger, that it has the mandate of the people to deal with the problems that we face in a more consultative and participatory manner rather than something very simplistic or unidirectional. So this provided the basis on which the new government’s vision, which is the topic today, for peace – regional peace as well as economic development, has to take shape.

Now, obviously, our party went into the election with a very forward-looking manifesto of economic and social programs and a multidimensional vision of a new Pakistan, in fact. So the period that has elapsed, six, seven months, is not a very long period, but the indications of things looking up, problems being solved, good governance being provided are very clear, and that is the key message that I would like to leave with you. And obviously, in this process, the key priority has been economic revival because unless the economy gets revived – if a 3 percent growth rate that we have been seeing in the last six years is hardly an increase in per capita income. We can’t deal with our poverty problem; we can’t deal with our unemployment problem; we can’t even protect our sovereignty with this kind of growth rate unless we are self-reliant and we to achieve stronger growth.

Economic revival is not possible unless there is peace and security in the country. You can’t revive investment, so treating and tackling extremism and terrorism becomes an important prerequisite for economic revival. And of course we have also had a very serious energy crisis, so unless you overcome that, you can’t have the economic revival. And also in this process – so the three E’s – or five E’s: Economy, energy, extremism and education are the kind of priorities that we have been talking about.

I’m glad to say that in this brief period, the economic indicators are looking up. Industrial growth has revived. Investment has revived. Our program with the IMF is going well. But more importantly, the economic reforms to take care of the long-term structural problems of our revenue shortfalls, balance-of-payment problems and others are being tackled quite fundamentally. And I hope that by the time June comes, this financial year will be much better than the previous five financial years.

On the internal security front, very decisive action is being taken, starting with Karachi, a comprehensive national – internal security strategy has been formulated, and that is going to be announced soon. It includes the creation of a specialized, properly trained counterterrorism force being formed.

We also have the border dimensions of security. And we have now created a Cabinet committee on national security, which looks at all dimensions, internal security, external security and the relationship, because unless the country’s foreign policy, its security requirements, its defense requirement are consistent with this economic realities, you can’t have national security. So that is a forum which is now beginning to provide an institutional framework for looking at security issues in an integrated manner.

The challenges of tackling internal security are receiving, obviously, the first priority because in the last few years, the attacks on Pakistan from extremists and terrorist has been growing very rapidly. We have had something like 50,000 people killed in the last one year alone, 200, since our government took office. 200 days, 225 attacks, in January about 30 attacks in 20 days. And the number of people killed overall has been nearly 50,000 casualties but even in this period, it’s very large. So that does require a very decisive action, which is being planned, and I hope that both the internal and external dimensions of national security will become so. Apart from the economic program, the attention for decisive action to secure internal security is the second major accomplishment.

On the foreign policy front, the principal priority was peaceful neighborhood. Again, economic development is not possible if your neighborhood is not peaceful. That meant better relations both with India and with Afghanistan. So with India, as some of you would have recalled, when our – Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s government of 1999 – this initiative was taken in the late ’90s when Prime Minister Vajpayee was invited to Lahore and the Comprehensive Lahore Declaration was signed to deal with the issues and have a stable and peaceful relationship.

So the government decided to pick up the threads from ’99, so the two prime ministers talked to each other twice, at least once before once after the election. Then they had a meeting in New York. I did a trilateral at the General Assembly. Some working groups started. And on trade particularly, the progress has been very good because trade has been under discussion, but the progress has been slow, so now it is picking up. The Indian election has created a little bit of hype, in the sense that the opposition parties thought that anti-Pakistan rhetoric may get them some votes, but that expectation was short-lived, and the present government has taken the initiative to demonstrate that positive relations with Pakistan can also get you votes. So we are hoping that this will continue. And obviously, this doesn’t mean that all the issues that we have with India have been solved, the trust deficit has to be overcome.

But the initial purpose is to reduce tensions on the Line of Control and overall, and once the normal relationship begins, the atmosphere will be right for dealing with the issues. But for that, a back channel is working to discuss the issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and others. The front channel deals with confidence-building measures and trade and other things, and the back channel deals with the issues and the disputes. So I won’t call it a basic breakthrough, but the effort to give the signal of a peaceful neighborhood and – (inaudible) – relations with India has been well-received internationally and within the country because at the people level, there is a lot of support for better relations with India.

Similarly, on Afghanistan, we have had very difficult relationship in the last few years, and I’m glad to say that that has undergone a very basic change in the last few months. Our prime minister and President Karzai have met at least three times in the last six months, and I think we were able to convince President Karzai of – your expectations – his apprehensions that whatever they have achieved in the last 12 years in terms of institutions, education, some democratic process are threatened now by – according to him, the extremists, and including Taliban, and Taliban will succeed because Pakistan is supporting them. This was the mindset on the basis of which they were apprehensive.

And I think the prime minister was able to convince him that if that happened, in other words, Taliban take over Afghanistan by force, that is not in Pakistan’s own security interest because of their nexus with the Pakistani Taliban and the overall atmosphere that’ll get created. And once he was convinced of this, our relationship began to change very dramatically. So we have had a very important bilateral cooperation agenda, connectivity, a rail link, joint energy project, extension of the motorway from Peshawar to Kabul, electricity grids and transit grid facilitation and so on and so forth, so very important agenda. And the anti-Pakistan rhetoric – (inaudible) – propaganda that all of you may have seen here and there has virtually died out, and the relationship looks much more stable and hopefully on a positive trajectory.

Of course, the other thing I mention of Afghanistan is the peace and reconciliation process. And that is the broader issue. As all of you know, Afghanistan is undergoing three transitions. There is a security transition because the ISAF forces are withdrawing and Afghan security forces are taking over. There is a political transition because elections are taking place in April and a new government – (inaudible) – and there’s also an economic transition because when the ISAF drawdown takes place, expenditure of ISAF, which is almost 60, 70 percent of their GDP, will dry up, and you can see massive unemployment unless massive foreign assistance continues. And that unemployment could lead to a flood of refugees again flowing to Pakistan, on top of 3 million that we already have, 1.7 (million) registered and 1.3 million unregistered refugees. So these are the transitions.

Now, the prospects for these transitions are not what I would call very easily predictable or assessable to what could happen. One hopes that the elections will be smooth and fair because that itself will be important. The drawdown of ISAF forces and the uncertainty of the bilateral security agreement is also adding a new dimension because that has been under discussion now for several months by President Karzai. Even though the loya jirga has authorized him to sign the agreement, he has not yet signed it. So there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether there will be residual forces after the drawdown of the forces or not. So it is a very difficult situation right now.

Now – so in this context, the whole effort that we see in the regional peace. On our part, there is no doubt that we are a very strong stake in stability in Afghanistan because no other country will suffer more than Pakistan if, God forbid, there is large-scale hostility or a civil war breaks out. So it is difficult to see what will happen because of these uncertainties. And between the prospect of a major reconciliation, which doesn’t look likely right now, and a very prolonged and bitter civil war, the middle option of the status quo continuing is the best that we can hope for.

In other words, elections take place, a new government comes in takes over and continues, some insurgency, manageable, continues as today Afghan’s Taliban still are virtually ruling some parts of the country. They’ll continue to do so. So that – and then, of course, after the election with the new government, it is probably possible that you will have better prospects of a negotiated reconciliation. So that will be the best that we can hope for right now to avoid major strive and civil war. And of course, one should all work for the major reconciliation, but that doesn’t look very likely.

So I hope that other stakeholders, because we want to avoid the mistakes of the ’90s when, after the Russians were defeated and the whole world walked away from Afghanistan leaving Pakistan holding the baby – millions of refugees, guns, drugs and so on and so forth. So I hope that the engagement of the international community with Afghanistan will remain and the economic aid that has been promised will continue to flow so that the recession and unemployment do not come back. So the regional peace therefore is partly to the extent possible we are promoting, but many of the factors are not in our control.

Now, beyond that, our vision when we talk of regional peace is also important for another reason, because the entire Southeast Asia – South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia – Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two bridges between these two regions. South Asia is energy deficient. Central Asia and West Asia are energy surplus. So energy connectivity has great potential. And even otherwise, trade connectivity are tremendous potential. So the peace in Afghanistan will also open possibilities of this region as a whole being integrated with the energy and trade corridors. And that, I think, is a prospect that is of enormous significance for people of this entire region.

And we have taken the first steps to the extent possible. There is an economic corridor between China and Pakistan from – (inaudible) – linking up to Central Asia also. We have – (inaudible) – 1,000 electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan coming. There is the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan – Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. So some projects have been identified. But if you look at the vision as a whole, it has enormous potential of peace returns to Afghanistan. And this opens up enormous possibilities.

Because of historical reasons, these connectivities have gone in other directions and have not covered the whole region. Seeing the economic strength and potential of South Asia and Central Asia and West Asia were all linked up through energy and trade corridors, it will open tremendous possibilities of progress and development. So we hope that some of these will realize.

Finally, I will talk briefly about Pakistan-U.S. relations because U.S. is a major stakeholder both in peace in Afghanistan and the region. And our own relationship have gone through various ups and downs in the past, depending on different periods. But more recently, after 9/11, Pakistan actually participated, just as it did in the Afghan War when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, to participate. So now our purpose has been that since Pakistan’s relation, we’re looked at primarily from the Afghan prism and partly terrorism prism. How do we restructure this relationship into a more durable and long-term relationship, independent of the Afghanistan situation?

And when Secretary Kerry came to Pakistan in August, we agreed to revive the strategic dialogue because the dialogue was started for this very reason in 2010. And very quickly, three meetings were held in March, July and October, 2010. But then, so many incident happen in 2011 and 2012 – Raymond Davis and Salalah then Abbottabad. And as a result, the dialogue was suspended. And so now, after three years, that dialogue is being resumed. And the purpose is how to convert a transactionary relationship into a strategic relationship.

So when this decision was announced and made, I had been thinking, OK, what is the real meaning of strategic relationship? At what stage does a normal relationship become strategic? What are the thresholds that must be crossed to qualify the strategic relationship? And yesterday I shared in my opening statement two or three elements of that understanding.

And the first was the trust between the countries and between the institutions of the country. Without trust, you do not have a strategic relationship. If trust is restored, then the kind of incident that derailed the dialogue do not happen in the future. And so therefore it’s a stable relationship. And it also means that in the trust you don’t over-interpret any incident that happens as lack of trust. And it requires that trust to travel down from the lower institution to higher institutions. And that takes time, but I think this is important.

The second important prerequisite that I tried to mention was great attention to Pakistan’s security concerns. That if U.S. is following its own policies but is not sensitive to Pakistan’s security concern, then it’s not a relationship of equality or a relationship of sort of something which equally does.

Now – and the examples, you must have noticed that when USA decided to leave Afghanistan in the 1990s, they did not regard our security concerns as significant, and you see what happened to us in that case. Again, after 9/11, when they invaded Afghanistan and pushed all of those people that we had jointly trained and funded, what kind of security concern that created for us, so this sensitivity to our security concerns, whether it’s relations with India, whether it’s nuclear civil deal, etc.

I think there is appreciation of these points, and my own feeling is that this – once these prerequisites are met and trust is restored, then the concrete ingredients of a better relationship, which is improved trade, better investment, technology, energy sharing, et cetera, et cetera, become much more meaningful; otherwise, they are isolated cooperation elements which do not add to the relationship unless they are superimposed by trust and a better, stable relationship.

So I’m hopeful that in the coming days, because we have – as mentioned in my statement to start with, that addressed the terrorism issue, which is why they are concerned, the issue of safe havens, cross-border militancy, et cetera, et cetera, most of those issues were partly perception issues, but partly issues of timing. Certain things that happened in the early part after 9/11 were transformed with changing situation, like the birth of our own Taliban who are – (inaudible) – to us. So that changed the mindset. But some people are still looking at it from the old mindset, and therefore, it has to be updated in terms of where we are going.

So on the whole, therefore, the relationship is on an upward trajectory. We have five working groups in the strategic dialogues, which have had their meetings. Energy cooperation is moving very well. Defense cooperation is moving very well. Cooperation and terrorism and law enforcement is as well – IEDs and other matters are also moving well.

But now the question is how to carry it forward. And there we require some better market access to preferential trade arrangements as well as promotion of investment. And an investment conference is being planned in the next few weeks in Islamabad to give the right signal to U.S. investors that there are opportunities that can happen.

So there are – these are some of the elements that I hope will – on which the relationship can be built in a much more positive and fundamental way. The Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in October was a very important and significant event, which has provided the framework in which all these elements are being discussed. And I hope that as we go along, we’ll be able to achieve the results.

So to sum up, therefore, Pakistan, of course, is located in a very volatile region. In fact, this region is called the graveyard of empires because over the last century we have seen three empires have collapsed in this region, first the British and then the Russian and now the American. So it’s not an easy region. But when there are challenges, there are also opportunities, and these are in your own calculation measure. And we cannot therefore give in to challenges or give up opportunities.

And we obviously seek a region which is peaceful, where conflict is an exception, where disputes are resolved peacefully and where the light of knowledge and science and technology is shining high. And therefore, we are – of course our vision is to seize these opportunities and convert this vision into reality. And I hope others will support us in this task. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much for that sweeping and very grand vision of the issues facing Pakistan and the region and particularly the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. And I also want to add my thanks to Damon Wilson’s earlier remarks because the Atlantic Council and the South Asia Center in particular are very grateful to you for having guided us in our work in waging peace in the subcontinent. I still remember vividly when Omar (ph) and I worked with you on the water dialogue. Originally, we were talking about water conflict and the potential for conflict. And you told us that the way to begin this process was to talk about water cooperation and not to talk about conflict. And I think just that change of angle, that change of vision helped us focus much more on what’s possible in building relationships rather than in – getting into conflictual situations. So thank you for that advice. We will continue to keep you apprised of our developments as we go into India-Pakistan trade and other relationships that we are now developing in the Track II process.

You mentioned two broad areas, both of which fortunately and interestingly for the first time in Pakistan’s history are combined in one office, where you are responsible for security as well as foreign affairs. So let me begin by first question on the security situation. There’s been much talk and there was all kinds of expectation of an impending announcement about the new security policy, and now it’s been delayed.

But what we are still looking for, and maybe you can shed light on, what is the government’s approach towards shaping the political environment in the country before it releases these plans. The mechanics of creating a force of bringing the military and the civil together are all mechanics, but unless and until there’s an effort made at bringing the people of Pakistan into this dialogue so that they own the process, it’s going to be very tough. What do you think?

MIN. AZIZ: Well, as you implied in your question, there is a wide spectrum of political opinion in Pakistan from right of center to left of center and some extremist views. And in this task – this has been shaped by history, and there are groups which obviously believe in many theories of, you know, Western domination, control of oil, the military conflicts and so on and so forth. And their narrative of these elements is quite convincing for the ordinary person, that there are these people who want to dominate us, they want to take away our resources, they want to rule us indirectly through other proxies. And so there is that reaction.

Now, to bring those spectrums into – under one sort of umbrella to support a common policy is not easy, but I think today in Pakistan, the concern with terrorism and the worry about the importance of internal security has become so strong that it says all these arguments are irrelevant, we have to – we want peace and security, and people who kill innocent people do not deserve any sympathy or any – no matter what the justification.

So the internal security policy, which came to the cabinet about 10 days ago, was, in principle, approved, but was not announced as final until consultations take place with the broad spectrum of political parties and stakeholders, and that process is now going on, and I hope, in the coming few days – a couple of weeks – in three weeks, this will be announced. The operational elements of that policy are, of course, being acted upon – work is going on on how to create a counterterrorism force. One important dimension of that policy is better border management with Afghanistan, because unless you stop that – people movement from this side or this side, you can’t achieve that.

So the homework on some of the things going on, but this policy of internal security is not going to be a one-time operation that you announce your policy and it will solve, because the insurgency or terrorism or extremism has a sectarian dimension in Pakistan. It has an ethnic dimension in Pakistan. It has also got the – what you call religious extremism dimension. So these are crisscrossing, and at high level; they even meet to collaborate with each other, these groups which are indulging in one form or another.

So this problem has built up over a period of years because of external factors, most of them, but I think that the kind of clear vision, decisive action, consultative mechanism with the political stakeholders that we have tried to undertake in the last few months should have been undertaken eight years ago, 10 years ago, but unfortunately, it was not, so I am hoping that as this process keeps going and – because the whole purpose of a democratic governance is consultative process, and therefore, that is where – compared to a military leader who decides what to do and he does it without consulting, I am hopeful that this time, our strategy will at least stem the growing menace of extremism as we go along, and then reverse it to co-opt more and more people, and I think the public reaction will also help in this task.

So it’s not an easy task; we should not underestimate what is involved, but if you start moving, then hopefully, as some other countries have done, we’ll be able to work on this menace.

MR. NAWAZ: Let me just pick up something you said. You said a lot of the militancy and extremism is largely due to external factors. Don’t you think that there were internal factors, too, including our education policy in Pakistan, including the relationship between political parties and extremist groups – including military rule, which may have created the lack of democratic impulse within the society? So what about the domestic factors?

MR. AZIZ: Well, there are, of course, no doubt, because whenever – you see, as I mentioned, the big issue came when the Taliban were pushed into our tribal areas. And they obviously developed linkages then, and we have now al-Qaida, which is a global, amorphous organization, which has a global agenda, Afghan Taliban with their agenda of liberating Afghanistan foreign aggression, Pakistani Taliban, who are aiming at part of Pakistan territory to establish their own rule, and (wide number ?) of religious groups which want to gain political space in the name of religion and can cooperate with them.

So ideologically, they all interact. Logistically, they support each other whenever they can. So disentangling them and overcoming them requires – terrorism you can control through power, but insurgency you have to deal with in a political way, and also internally. So these are – as you can see, it’s not an easy action, it’s a mutually reinforcing process. Once it carry on, then, of course, it yield back the results.

MR. NAWAZ: OK. I have, of course, many other questions that I would want to ask, particularly on the economy, we have a very good an active audience, and I’d appreciate – so please wait till I recognize you, and then if you could please identify yourself before asking a brief question. The minister has to leave in about 15 minutes, and so there’s a hard stop which we will have to exercise, I’m afraid. So I have one – the first question there.

Q: Thank you. I’m Alan Kronstadt, Congressional Research Service. Welcome back to Washington, Mr. Minister. I wanted to pick up on something you said in the – in your remarks about putting together a kind of properly trained, properly-equipped counterterrorism force. I think it’s safe to say one of the themes over the past 10 years of U.S. engagement with Pakistan has been a perception that Pakistan’s security forces are almost wholly or have been almost wholly oriented toward conventional warfare.

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has devoted many billions of dollars – or several billions of dollars to, you know, efforts to improve counterinsurgency, counterterrorism capabilities of Pakistan’s security forces, be they paramilitary, frontier corps – even at the law enforcement level, or SSG special forces. So I think there’s – I’m sure you know of some discouragement in the United States that after a decade of this effort, Pakistan still doesn’t seem to have that orientation. To what would you attribute the slow progress in this area, and, maybe, do you have reasons that the U.S. appropriators should be more confident in coming years with your government’s efforts to work this? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: Well, obviously, as I mentioned, since it’s a multi-dimensional problem, counterinsurgency force – even the best of – I mean, the forces that you have created after 9/11 are still struggling with the techniques of how to deal with them. But in our case, military has a very rich experience now, because they have cleared six agencies out of seven and have, again, very valuable experience in dealing with them.

The paramilitary forces, which are, you know, the rangers and other related – they are now doing very important work in Karachi dealing with it. In other parts, they are not yet come to that level of efficiency. The police forces have some counterterrorism elements here and there, but again, they need much more sophisticated equipment, much better mobility and much better intelligence coordination.

One of the weaknesses in our case has been lack of coordination among intelligence agencies. You require – that’s why you have created homeland security to coordinate intelligence. In our case, we do not have civilian intelligence within the military intelligence, and local intelligence at the provincial level. So the internal security policy is – one of the main dimension is, better intelligence coordination, because you need – unless you have intelligence-based operations in the various affected areas, you can’t succeed there.

So I feel that whatever investment and effort has been made has not been wasted; it is now pulling together all the scattered elements of our experience that have built over (last two year ?) in a more coherent form, and this force will not itself do – it’s an umbrella force which will coordinate intelligence, but it will use provincial forces, paramilitary forces wherever they are – the rapid response force – it’s something that is still on the drying board, but I hope, in the coming months and years, it will become an important instrument in our hand to do so.

The U.S. support, of course, has been in the – through coalition support fund, which is much broader than just counterinsurgency. It was to – the work that we did in trying to protect the border – some of it was more traditional and conventional, and not counterinsurgency, and that requires now to be upgraded to a much higher level and distinguished, because after 2014, the border still has to be protected. So I think – this is a complex issue, but I think valuable experience has been gained, and I hope now we will build on it.

MR. NAWAZ: At the back, the gentleman who is standing has been very patient.

Q: As-Salamu Alaikum, Mr. Sartaj Aziz. My name is Ahmed Cheema (ph), and I am doing Master’s in cybersecurity from George Mason University. My brief question is, since we are getting a lot of push from U.S. regarding this Dr. Shakil Afridi case to release him, and they have also tried some $300 million budget for that – so is there anywhere on your agenda to establish some kind of prisoner swap program to release Dr. Afia Siddiqui in place of him or not?

MR. AZIZ: First of all, you see, Shakil Afridi’s case is in the courts, and the courts will decide. And by the way, the charge on him has nothing to do with the general perception of leading up to Osama bin Laden – his connection to some extremist organization in the past is different, but we must respect the judicial process and see what comes out of it.

The swap doesn’t come in that category, because he is not an American national, he is a Pakistani national, and to that extent, you can’t do so. So one will have to see what the court verdict is, and how do we go about it? The amount they have not allocated for this purpose; they have deducted $33 million from the aid budget if – to force his release, and we have expressed our disappointment that this – U.S. is a country which abides by the rule of the law, so they should not interfere in the judicial process, at least the U.S. Congress. So let’s hope that we’ll all wait for the judicial verdict as it comes out.

MR. : We have a question here.

Q: Salaam Alaikum. I am Janet Qureshi (ph); I am a government contractor for the joint staff, where I think you have a meeting with my ultimate customers in about 15 minutes, but I’ll keep it quick. You had mentioned the cabinet committee on national security, and I was wondering, is this a civilian-only body, or does the military participate? I’m very encouraged by, you know, both the military and civilian presence here today. So my question is, you know, does the military participate in this body? And if not, I mean, is there plans for anything like that? Because here in the U.S., you know, our ultimate body is the National Security Council, which includes our chairman of joint chiefs of staff.

MR. AZIZ: Here also it does. We have – the prime minister chairs it. There are four ministers of defense, foreign affairs, finance and interior, and four service chiefs, not just one chairman joint chief of staff. All the – the naval chief, the Air Force chief, the – all four are members, and they advise around national security.

We have made attempts in the past, particularly under military rule, to create a national security council, but they were not to deal with the national security issues. They were to give Army some kind of a role in the management of the political system, and therefore, they never worked. And President Musharraf created a national security council by law in 2004, but it included four chief ministers and the Army – four Army chiefs – no defense minister, no foreign minister, no interior minister. So it was not the right kind of – and it was an advisory board.

In our constitution, the president is – the prime minister is the chief executive, not the president, so that was not in line with the constitution also. So while on paper that council exists, it’s dysfunctional. So that’s why we have created a cabinet committee on national security, because a cabinet committee is always chaired by the prime minister. So this debate about who chairs the national security system will disappear forever.

And the more important question is, we did have a defense committee of the cabinet before but it never had its own secretariat and – (inaudible) – capacity. So this has its own secretariat under the national security advisor. It has a planning board, which consists of the subministerial-level officials like defense secretary, interior secretary and heads of all the intelligence agencies, and it has an advisory board consisting of various think tanks who will do option work and research for it.

So it’s an infrastructure that is being built, which I hope will then serve its purpose because, as you know very well, in U.S. most of your foreign policy initiatives and strategies have developed from the national security – (inaudible) – and you had a number of others way back in the ’50s and ’60s. So I think we have never had this kind of a system and now we are developing one.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. I should mention that in addition to military officers, the defense minister, who is also the energy minister, is also part of the delegation. (Laughter.) So we should – we should acknowledge his strong presence.

The gentleman over here. And I’m afraid this must be the last question because I promised the minister that he would leave on time.

Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. Salaam alaikum. Thank you, Minister. My name is Omar Samad. I am from Afghanistan and I’m here with New America, a former diplomat.

This morning on the way here I heard a BBC interview with Bilawal Bhutto, who said that he thinks that the Taliban should be eradicated from Pakistan, and otherwise Pakistan will be facing many other problems down the road. What is your view on that?

Number two, you sort of – on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan you said that you believe it’s unlikely that might happen anytime soon. Could you elaborate a little bit, because this is very bad news for Mr. Karzai, on one hand, and also maybe for the BSA, both sort of entangled.

And thirdly, you sort of gave us a perception that you said exists that no longer is valid, it’s out of date, by saying that sanctuaries and cross-border militancy seems to be a thing of the past. That is really not the opinion in Afghanistan or in the neighborhood general, so how would you see that as being part of the past, and what evidence do you have for that? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: See, the elimination of Taliban is physically not possible because they’re very large. But anyway, you are talking of dealing with the hard-core element who are taking up arms, taking up extremist acts. You deal with them through power. The others you can work and win their hearts and minds. And so it’s a process by which you have to bring them – because you cannot afford any power that does not accept the country’s constitution. You have to establish the right of the state, and for that you have to use force where necessary.

So I think basically we are following the same policy, but we don’t use the word “eliminating” Taliban because it’s the question of they are citizens and we have to deal with them by force. Once you come up – as Ireland has done and a number of other countries have done – you assert your right of state and they all fall in line. And they may agree with something and may not agree, but the problem is solved.

On the second problem, I was saying that grand reconciliation doesn’t seem possible because so far Taliban have not come to the negotiating table with President Karzai or the High Peace Council, and they’re not accepting participation in the election. So by what way they come forward?

And my basic point was that unless and until – the intra-Afghan dialogue is ultimately to solve the problem. We should not – our policy of noninterference in Afghanistan and no favorites implies that other countries of the region – India, Iran, Central Asian countries – will also follow the same policy and we will not fight our proxy wars in Afghanistan. So the Afghan – the power vacuum that is created by the drawdown of ISAF forces is left for Afghans to solve. They should fill that power vacuum and nobody else. So if you have an intra-Afghan dialogue in that sense, then whenever they reach a settlement we all compete in reconstruction, development and trade and other things, but not in the power game.

Now, this means that in the intra-Afghan dialogue, Taliban must be treated not just as terrorists but as stakeholders. Their political entity and not their military capacity has to be taken into account. And if that happens in terms of maybe after the elections – some informal contacts are going on between the Northern Alliance leaders and the Taliban and others, but so far maybe they are waiting for the elections and the new leadership that are incoming.

So this process is not yet visible in terms of reaching a grand reconciliation, and if they don’t take part in the election, how do they take share of any power that they – that they think they deserve? So I think the intra-Afghan dialogue process, Afghan-led process, has to be given a chance to succeed. So that was my implication.

The counterinsurgency, obviously, as I mentioned, six out of seven – (inaudible) – have been cleared and government has established its rights from there. Only now (Tajikistan ?) is left, from where some counterinsurgency and cross-border things are happening. And there also – once that is also cleaned out and the government right is established, then this issue of cross-border insurgency and safe havens will disappear as one of the bone of contentions.

But in return, we also need better border management so that nobody goes from here – supposing there is an expanded insurgency in Afghanistan. Volunteers will start going from here and we can’t allow that. And similarly, refugees can come from there, which we can’t afford. So the counterpart of this ending of the counterinsurgency is better border management, which I hope will happen. Thank you.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much. And my apologies to the audience. I know that there were many very good questions still in your minds, but we had a very tight window. And I really appreciate Mr. Sartaj Aziz and his team taking the time to join us today. And we hope you will return so we will have a much longer engagement.

MR. AZIZ: Inshallah.

MR. NAWAZ: Inshallah. Thank you. (Applause.)