Mishandling Relations

By: Editorial Team
Published: July 1, 2017
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Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri is a veteran politician and  diplomat, who served as Pakistan’s foreign minister from 2002-07. Excerpts of his interview with Narratives are as follows:

Our Afghan dilemma

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan’s Western border has been relatively secure over the past decades, compared to the Eastern side. But the fact remains that since the creation of Pakistan, we have had a problematic relationship with Afghanistan.

Unfortunately it was the only country in the world, which objected to Pakistan’s membership to the United Nations.

On the pretext of the so-called Pashtunistan stunt, and I purposefully used the term ‘stunt’, as it was used by the U.S. State Department on its website. It was a stunt supported by the royal family of Afghanistan, which itself meant that the Americans realised, even at that stage, that there was no strength in it.

It was more of a stunt to apply pressure to embarrass Pakistan and more importantly to please India. In fact, from day one, India has been using Afghanistan to pressurise Pakistan.

Post 9/11, after the United States invaded Afghanistan, a large number of militants and extremists came to Pakistan, and we for various reasons were compelled to send our troops to the border. But while our troops are there and the borders are very well-defended, it is very unfortunate that we face troubles at the border with Afghanistan. To me, there are both internal and external factors, which led to the tense situation there.

First of all, it’s the weakness of our foreign policy formulation and its mechanism. All the countries in the world today have some sort of a national security apparatus, like the NSC (National Security Council), or whatever you may call it.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif does not want to make the NSC a powerful forum. You will be surprised to know that in the United Kingdom, which does not even have one-tenth of the problems being faced by Pakistan, the NSC meets at least once a week. Come to Pakistan and our NSC does not convene for months.

Meeting the army chief and having photos taken is not good enough, and is not a substitute for a substantive meeting on national security.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif does not want to make the NSC a powerful forum… our NSC does not convene for months

So I don’t really know who the Prime Minister consults on foreign policy issues – whether it’s his kitchen cabinet or his family members and some other colleagues, who have foreign policy exposure. And then there is no full-time foreign minister as well. At least the PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, could be given all the powers of a foreign minister and he should have the confidence of the PM.

Externally, I think our relations with the United States also affect the situation with Afghanistan. I am absolutely certain that our relations with the United States in the past were better than today. And over the years, Afghanistan’s position has changed as well, and it is now dependent upon the United States comprehensively.

There are reports that Americans give the nod to the Afghans to say things which they themselves do not say. The mistrust now is very deep.

The relationship with the United States needs to improve quickly, and once this happens, you will not only see a reaction in Afghanistan but in India as well. India is making moves on the assumption that Pakistan has a very tense relationship with the United States. Let’s admit that we have a problem which we are unable to handle. And our narrative is missing as well.

The Jindal affair

I am a supporter of backchannel diplomacy and have supported that in my book (“Neither a hawk nor a dove”) as well. Most of what we achieved on Kashmir could not have been achieved by the foreign ministers of the two countries meeting in front of the media.

This is because there is an immediate spin and everything is misrepresented and opponents of peace in both countries start giving negative meaning to any sentence that is uttered. So backchannel is very useful.

We used backchannel diplomacy very effectively on Kashmir. But we took everyone on board. Everyone knew who the backchannel operators were. Everyone knew Mr. Tariq Aziz from Pakistan and Mr. Lamba and before him Mr. Dixit and even Mr. Brajesh Mishra from India as backchannel operators.

If Mr. Jindal is very close to both the Indian PM Narendra Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif, he can be useful. I am saying this on the basis of my experience that you don’t need anyone from a particular sector. He can be a politician, a diplomat, a bureaucrat or even a journalist, but there is only one requirement – that he must have total confidence of the principal whether it’s the Prime Minister of Pakistan or the Prime Minister of India.

Now if Mr. Jindal is operating on behalf of the Indian prime minister and he has that sort of relationship with him, I have no objections. But the question is whether PM Sharif has taken the concerned people into confidence? If he has, then I have no objection. But if he has not done that, he will face great difficulties. It could be counterproductive and it could be negative.

You do not want a situation where you are trying to operate secretly, but have not taken people into confidence, as nothing remains secret. During my tenure as the foreign minister, I did not know that the backchannel meetings were taking place in Dubai or even in Bangkok, but I had the draft.

We used to sit with the ISI, the military and the President and every word and paragraph was perused. I myself made some changes in the structure of the draft after consultation. I was not meeting with Mr. Lamba and Mr. Dixit in Dubai and Hong Kong but nobody had raised any objection because everything was clear and aboveboard.

The main thing was that it was secret and fair. Everybody knew that Mr. Tariq Aziz was entrusted with the task and he used to listen to the comments of the Foreign Office, the ISI and the army.

Most of what we achieved on Kashmir could not have been achieved by the foreign ministers of the two countries meeting in front of the media

General Ahsan Saleem Hayat used to represent the army in the meetings because General Pervez Musharraf had refused to represent the army in the meetings. He was of the view that being the head of the state, he could not represent an institution, while General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani used to represent the ISI.

So we used to sit together and everybody knew who the back channel negotiators were. We all gave our inputs, which were secret. We did not sit in front of the cameras. If this is how Prime Minister Sharif wants to operate, I have no objections. If he took the army chief and the ISI onboard that Mr. Jindal was coming as some sort of an emissary as part of backchannel diplomacy, I have no objection.

Mr. Jindal is only supposed to be close with Prime Minister Modi and if he is not, he cannot be a backchannel operator. I just want to say that the prime minister cannot have people secretly floating around and he should handle the situation very carefully.

It is a fact that Mr. Jindal is a businessman and I have no objection to that as well. Mr. RK Mishra was a top journalist of India and he had the confidence of Mr. Vajpayee and he operated as a backchannel emissary. Backchannel is a very useful instrument if it is handled with dexterity and skill.

CPEC: Great expectations

The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is definitely a game changer… but my question is how many people are willing to invest in Pakistan. After all the Chinese are not going to take the infrastructure away. Some people are objecting that the loans are very expensive. As far as infrastructure is concerned, I know the loan is not on a high interest rate.

There is an old saying that civilizations follow the roads and all roads lead to Rome. This is the importance of infrastructure, and we should not undermine its significance.

Now Pakistan will be connected from North to South and East to West as a result of the infrastructure. Secondly, new projects are being set-up, but people say that they are going to produce costly electricity. This is a debate for the experts.

The third objection raised is about it being all borrowed money. There is again confusion about this, which the government needs to clarify. I have been told that this money is being borrowed by the Chinese companies from the Chinese banks and there is no sovereign guarantee from the government of Pakistan.

If there is a sovereign guarantee, we will be in deep trouble because we are not even able to pay on time to our IPPs. In the absence of any sovereign guarantee, if Chinese companies are prepared to take the risk, the question is why they are taking the risk.

Are they crazy? Are they making electricity in Pakistan which nobody will pay for and they will not be able to pay back the loan to their banks? I feel there is a need for clarity and transparency. The government is required to do a much better job and that is why I am saying that it should be handled by professionals.

The CPEC is definitely a game changer… but my question is how many people are willing to invest in Pakistan

Opening the bridge

We proudly say that we are very important geo-politically and that we are a bridge between South and Central West Asia. But right now we are nowhere.

We will only be a bridge if we can connect the 1.25 billion people of India to the 1.7 billion people of China and West Asia. But are we doing it? No. The bridge is blocked. We are a bridge to nowhere. In order to leverage our position, we need to open the bridge. But can we easily open it?

With people being blinded in Jammu and Kashmir, will the people in Pakistan allow it? For this we need to go for a negotiated and honourable solution of Jammu and Kashmir as we were doing during the Musharraf era. It will be in the interest of both the governments of Pakistan and India and the people of Kashmir.

When you resolve this issue or at least go for a serious discussion, I think the public can be convinced. Right now Pakistan is more of a landlocked country rather than a bridge.

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The Editorial team of Bol Narratives