Dr. Pirzada: Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA), Dr. Moeed Yusuf I have known you as an editor, as a columnist, then as a think-tanker who was in Washington, and in that capacity, you look at the world to analyze it and make a comment on it. Now, you are in a position to defend the only nuclear Muslim country’s positions in the world – How has this transition affected you and changed your worldview?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: First of all, I have many more gray hairs than I used to. But, on a serious note, I think there can be no greater honor and privilege for somebody at my age, who is frankly a nobody at the end of the day, to be given this opportunity. So, Allah is great, and I am actually very blessed to have colleagues and a very understanding boss; we have space to do things in a different way.
If you get somebody like me, the last thing you want is to straitjacket the person to say and do as the system does, right? The whole idea is to change and think differently because that is my background – analysis and long-term strategic thinking – which frankly has been a weakness for us.
So, in that sense, one cannot be grateful enough, but in terms of substance, I think my biggest lesson is that we have a much better story to tell of who we are and what we have done for ourselves and for the world than what we were able to. When I used to sit in Washington, there was criticism upon criticism about what Pakistan has done wrong, why Pakistan is a security state, etc., and you know, I sat there for ten years and kept listening to many people making remarks along the lines of, “oh, this guy is pro-Pakistan” and such.
I mean, these things continue, and you learn to ignore them. Once you get into the system, one realizes that we have a story to tell, and we need to do better at telling that story. At the same time, like any other country, we have weaknesses where we must introspect and fix the problem. I think too much time went into trying to sell a story in a way that the world was not absorbing.
Dr. Pirzada: Why? What is the weakness?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Partly, I think every country has this issue. You tend to think of others in your own image; if I speak to you in Pakistan and explain something, you would imagine that the other person, from another country, would also do the same. I think we were still in a public relations mode rather than a strategic communications mode, so we had not really made that transition, though, of course, it is still a work in progress.
I also think that in Pakistan’s case for the last 20 years, the strategic interests of the US and Pakistan were not always 100 percent aligned, or at least the US did not think so, nor did Pakistan, and that disconnect also played on this.
But at the end of the day, this is a country that has suffered because of the wars next door; it has still supported the US, it has worked very closely with our primary and strategic partner, China, and this is a country that actually has achieved a lot not only for itself but for the world.
That conversation had not happened, though it is still not happening as much, but I think we are moving in that direction. The other thing to realize is that we have tremendous capacity, which has not been harnessed to attract the modern world.
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Dr. Pirzada: Could one of the reasons for this be that, in terms of narrative, we (Pakistan) are pitched against the Indian Union, which is far bigger, has a much larger intelligentsia, and is more integrated with the English-speaking world? If we were selling a narrative against Iran, Afghanistan, or another country, perhaps we would not be seen in such a weak position.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I think you are right, and there are two ways to look at this. First of all, is India entrenched? Yes. Do they lobby against Pakistan? Absolutely. I have seen this myself for years and years, right? But there is another side – in my position, my job is not to crib; it does not help anybody. Even though what you are saying is correct, we must keep highlighting that when it is done wrongly.
The EU DisinfoLab investigation is a great example of a rogue state trying to undermine another country. However, I need to focus on what we need to do better equally. Why can Pakistan not have that kind of interaction with the West? What did we do wrong? What more needs to be done? That conversation is also as necessary, and that is my job. So, we have been working on that and making sure that the rightful conversation about Pakistan happens in that part (West) of the world.
Dr. Pirzada: You are someone who has spent more than ten years in Washington, and not in a bank or bakery, but inside the think-tank community, thereby interacting with the State Department, the Pentagon, security institutions, etc. What is the sticking point here?
People in Pakistan feel that we have helped the US considerably. The US asked for and received help in negotiating a settlement with the Taliban; they called a very honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan; they were not attacked and were kept safe – in fact, the Afghan Taliban were securing the American Patrol or the Perimeter when ISIS-K attacked Kabul airport. Then, US forces were evacuated by Pakistan, as were international diplomats. What else are they expecting out of us?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I think for the past 20 years, there was an unwinnable war that some wanted Pakistan to win for them, which was simply an unrealistic goal. Pakistan also made mistakes; the forward-leaning kind of policy of ‘take this, sit here, do whatever you wish,’ in my opinion, created a very bad or negative impression in terms of where Pakistan would draw the line. One of the challenges this government has faced with this prime minister (Imran Khan) is that he has set a new paradigm whereby Pakistan will never be up for sale.
Instead, Pakistan is going to stand for what its interests are, not emotively but very pragmatically. This has invited much criticism, with many deeming it a mistake, but it is true – Pakistan no longer will host bases. The one change that I used to crave for, and I think has happened, is ‘we say what we do, and we do what we say.’
Read more: Repeating history in Afghanistan
Dr. Pirzada: But Washington is not prepared to talk to this prime minister.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: As Pakistanis, we really need to think through what we want from the world; do I want a call to my prime minister? that is not the issue here – the issue is, we need to be what a self-respecting nation is. We have told the world that we want to work with. We are not in any camp; despite our relationship with China, we want very good relations with the US, right?
I met my counterpart, the foreign minister has met his counterpart, the army chief spoke with his counterpart, etc., why? Because we want a good relationship. What are the contours of the relationship? It cannot be from an Afghanistan lens, neither an India lens nor a China lens – it has to be a bilateral relationship, a give and take as equals where mutual interests lie. That has to be worked out now.
If there is a condition which Pakistan does not feel to be in its interest, we will not go for it, and if that creates a challenge in terms of moving forward, we have got to work through that. In the past, decisions have been taken without the public on board, and they have backfired. This is a paradigm that this prime minister has set with every country and not just the US.
Dr. Pirzada: You met your US counterpart twice, once in Geneva and then in Washington in July. Is there any progress?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: When we met in Geneva, we agreed on a blueprint. In fact, there was a lot of critiques here regarding that saying, “oh, Pakistan took a blueprint” – absolutely we took a blueprint, because in the past we met countries in generics, saying that we want a ‘good relationship’ or that we want to ‘move forward’ with no action plan in place; we did not know where we are going to go from here, or how are we going to move forward.
So yes, we had a blueprint detailing how we will move forward on commerce, investment, climate, health, etc. – broad-based structured dialogue, essentially. Then we agreed to evaluate the progress two months later and recalibrate as needed. That was July in Washington, so that process is ongoing. Though, Afghanistan has sucked out a lot of the energy from every room where a conversation was happening because the last two months have gone into managing what has happened in Afghanistan.
Read more: Time for a Regional Economic Package for Afghanistan
Dr. Pirzada: What happened in Afghanistan? Was it unexpected for Washington?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I think it was unexpected for everybody – perhaps not even the Taliban – that the Afghan security forces would just put their hands up and the entire country would be captured by the Taliban that in a matter of 12 or 14 days. It shows how fictitious the entire narrative was, collapsing like a house of cards; why? Because for 20 years, at the cost of being looked upon as insincere, Pakistan kept emphasizing that this war could not be won militarily; Afghanistan has a context and a history, and so there was a need to talk with the Taliban and include them, not because Pakistan was pro-Taliban but because it was the only way to solve this problem.
Now, what happened was that a narrative was created by the Ghani government, by the Karzai government, by the Western governments, which was fueled, funded, and sponsored by none other than India – the EU DisinfoLab investigation is an excellent example – making suggestions along the lines of ‘but, for Pakistan everything would be okay.’
Why was that narrative created? Because if an accurate narrative of the internal problems was created, if the western taxpayer was genuinely explained as to what the National Security Forces (NSF) are going to be able to do or not, what the level of corruption is, where the money is going etc., they would have questioned their government as to why they were putting in 2 trillion dollars?
Dr. Pirzada: So the questions which they are asking right now?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: No! but it would have saved the Western world this embarrassment that they have gone through. They bought New Delhi’s and Kabul’s narrative – lock, stock, and barrel – and this is what they have gotten for it.
Dr. Pirzada: You said that we (Pakistan) are not waiting for a call and we have to look at our priorities, but in the first week of August after your trip to the US, you showed a lot of exasperation in saying that if Biden does not call the Pakistani prime minister, we have other options. What exactly did you mean by that?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: First of all, I do not understand your industry sometimes, my friend. Could somebody at least check what was even said in that article? They have created a sensation around a headline. There were programs on television saying, “oh my god, he said this,” but nobody read the article. Anyway, let me clarify; a call is essentially optics, and we are talking about the substance of a significant relationship.
So, would I crib? No. Would anybody crib? Is the prime minister waiting for a call? No, absolutely not. But I did say that we are not in the ‘old mold,’ whereby the US can divide and rule Pakistan’s house; talk to one official to get one thing done, then talk to another official to get another thing done, see where the path of least resistance is, use the civil-military disconnect that used to happen and get what it needs.
Why is the world so frustrated sometimes with Pakistan’s overall position or wanting things to be done differently? Because there is no civil-military disconnect anymore, and a coordinated effort is in place. When I went to Washington, who was with me? (Reference to DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed). What better example of coordination is there?
Read more: Afghanistan: Lessons from history
Dr. Pirzada: But the argument was that you were only having a picnic, and the DG ISI actually had the real meetings.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Correct, so this is the ‘old mold’ people want to think about. I have said this in public before, and I will say it again; 150 percent support from the military, the ISI, and the prime minister is in place – if this office fails, it is my fault. So, we went – why? Because there were conversations that startled, so we sat and talked to them. This is how mature governments work.
Now, if anybody thinks that they can come to me and ask me for something, and then go to another official – not happening because there is one decision-maker. I will say to you again that Pakistan has absolutely one boss, simple as that. If things have to happen methodically, then we have one shop where the buck stops, that is where the decisions are made, and that individual is not into optics; I can tell you that right now.
Dr. Pirzada: But then there should be some other kind of strategic problems – there is also a so-called track 1.5 dialogue taking place with some retired army officers and retired foreign secretaries, and someone familiar with that track 1.5 dialogue told us that the American side insists that Pakistan move away from China, from CPEC and BRI.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Look, Pakistan has made this very clear. You have heard me say this a million times – a geo-economic pivot – a lot of people talk about it and ask what it is. Let me say this one more time, Pakistan is saying that its most prized asset is its location – it has been used geo-strategically and will continue to be used strategically, but we are going to have a much more concerted focus on geoeconomics – How?
By creating connectivity through our territory, by asking the world to partner with us rather than just assisting in terms of development and investment, and to work on peace in the region as far as possible because unless that is there, we cannot create connectivity; investors and other things will not follow. People tell me, “look at what is happening on your western border,” “look at your relationship with the eastern neighbour,” and I accept that, but when countries make major pivots and transformations, you do not consider this to be a reality in a year or two.
It could be five years or more, but it shows you the government’s intent and the country of where it wants to go. China is a key pillar of that vision because our north-south connectivity comes through the China-Pakistan economic corridor. China is a strategic partner, but does that mean we want to partner with China and not with anybody else? Or at anybody’s expense? No. We want a good relationship with the US; we want China and the US to co-invest in Pakistan; we even want Russia to come and invest in Pakistan.
Dr. Pirzada: But that is not happening. No US firm has taken an interest in investing in Pakistan.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Actually, that is not true. The US still remains the largest export destination. One of the most significant, in terms of volume, investments comes from the US, including remittances.
Dr. Pirzada: Though not in CPEC.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: No, not in CPEC. But I am saying the US can come and invest. When we spoke with the Americans this time, we offered them to come and invest in a reprocessing zone.
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Dr. Pirzada: And what is the response on that?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: The response is ‘yes.’ We need to work through and see what arrangements can be made and what companies would be interested in coming here.
Dr. Pirzada: So, they are not conveying to you the need to move away from China?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: At this point, Pakistan’s view is very clear; we are in no camp and are moving forward with everybody. I have not heard that the US has said either ‘US or China .’ it will be crazy for them to suggest because Pakistan’s relationship with China is non-negotiable. But we can also help the US and others in many ways in the region, and of course, benefit from their investment
Dr. Pirzada: But Dr. Yusuf, if you look at some of the major Pakistani English publications, you get the impression that CPEC has been on a freeze for the past two and a half years, and ever since the inception of the Imran Khan government, CPEC is not progressing. For instance, the delayed 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), China’s refusal to invest in ML-1, etc. So, what is really the picture?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: First of all, if it was on a freeze, the prime minister would not have been in Gwadar two months ago, nor would he have been visiting these sites. The reality is they are investing 60 billion-plus dollars in the economy. There will always be slow and fast periods; there are capacity issues, sequencing issues, etc. Keep in mind that this is the same system that has handled much less money with difficulty before, so there will always be these ups and downs in pace, not in terms of the relationship.
For anybody to think we are going to slow down on our flagship project for connectivity, for the geo-economic vision and the partnership are entirely made up. What is also made up; is the notion of Gwadar being a strategic port, having a base, etc. Gwadar is an economic port; we are trying to create transshipment facilities, and it is still in its infancy. Yes, there is a US-China competition that is getting colored by everything that is happening around.
We are getting questioned again and again by the likes of you on where we stand? We stand with a partnership with China that is non-negotiable, with an excellent relationship that we want to have and continue building, with an excellent relationship with Russia, we are the only country that can talk to all Muslim countries in a friendly manner – that is what we see ourselves as. We are now the melting pot of all positive global economic interests; that is the essence of our geoeconomics.
Read more: Afghanistan: Important Questions for the Future
Dr. Pirzada: The last principal Chinese visit to Pakistan took place in 2015 by President Xi Jinping, another visit was expected to take place in 2019.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Unfortunately, Covid-19 happened. The Chinese have been very cautious about the virus for this last year and a half. Covid-19 has delayed this visit, as well as that of our prime minister’s visit there. I think as soon as things open up InShaAllah, we will see more on that front.
Dr. Pirzada: In terms of geoeconomics, you mentioned both the East and the West. Recently, the Dushanbe summit of the SCO took place, and I believe you were there as well. There was much similarity between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Putin’s speech, which everybody seemed to have noted. So, what is the spirit of Dushanbe?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: The one basic change that Pakistan has made in thinking through this geoeconomics approach is pivoting towards the previously ignored Central Asia. I had not done enough work on Central Asia in the past. Now we have opened up in a big way, are virtually connecting every Central Asian country. We have had agreements with Uzbekistan (which is sort of the frontrunner), Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.
We are opening up Russia with a gas stream pipeline. Why are we doing this? Because these countries are desperate for the shortest route to the sea, and we want energy and connectivity.
The one positive thing that we may get out of this change in Afghanistan, InshaAllah, is a connectivity corridor, which the Ghani government had deliberately stalled because they did not want Pakistan to benefit. But now, with peace and stability holding in Afghanistan as things move forward, Central Asia and Pakistan can be connected. This is very positive; in fact, there is an interest in moving much faster than we are able to.
Read more: Kashmir, Gurdaspur & Mountbatten?
Dr. Pirzada: Now, coming to the East, most economic analysts are convinced that bilateral trade with India can significantly help the great majority of the Pakistani population that lives next to India. This government also took a halfway measure of normalizing trade or opening some trade initiative with India.
But the Indian diplomats in the Indian media and think-tanks say the Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has taken a tough and rigid position on Kashmir, and the August 5th Indian decisions in Article 370 – Article 370 is not going to come back, August 5th cannot be undone. The Pakistani prime minister is unable to understand that position.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: If Pakistan has a legal right to stand up for people who have a right to self-determination, and if another country that was already killing them, brutally massacring them, torturing them does something on August 5th (2019) which reinforces that process, any self-respecting nation or leader will stand up for the people it has stood for 70 years.
The world does not want to hear about this. I hear a hue and cry about the human rights situation in Afghanistan every single day and have yet to hear anybody come forth and talk about Kashmir; are they not human?
These are people who want to be with Pakistan; they have a right to exercise their right to self-determination – these are our people who have been subjugated to illegal oppression for the past seven decades. Who would not stand up for them, and why not? For a parochial interest? To make somebody happy?
Dr. Pirzada: This makes perfect sense, but when you mention geoeconomics and India being an essential pillar of said geoeconomics, how then do we make a move and go forward?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Now, that is a fair question. It is an impediment. You can read my writing of the past 15 years; I have written again and again that the Eastward connectivity needs to open up because it will benefit Pakistan, India, and everybody else, and this is the view that I came with to this office. Every single thing I have said is informed by my opinion on what is good for Pakistan; that is the oath I have taken. Let me tell you something very depressing; the one country, one area, one relationship, where my view has changed completely – is India.
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Dr. Pirzada: Reiterating our first question, how has your worldview changed when you were presented with a different set of information after becoming the NSA?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Well, the world view has not changed overall, but what has changed is that I am much more empowered with factual information, and so I can understand why Pakistan was not able to market better and tell the world its part of the story. I could not speak to India before joining this office; I did not have access to that information.
I have read a lot in my scholarly life, and I can tell you that no ruler of any major country has been closer to Hitler’s world view than Narendra Modi. I say this very well-advised. I am depressed because it creates an impediment to my geo-economic vision.
I am depressed because of the daily atrocities upon not only Muslims but other Indian minorities – the world is looking and writing about it, not me. I am depressed because I see no possibility of this ideology changing, and it is going to get worse. And frankly, I, as a human being, am depressed for the hundreds of millions of Indians who do not believe in what their government is doing.
This is a government that has picked up a conflict with every neighbor and will destabilize the region. It knows no end when it comes to implementing its ideology. Having said all this, I remain under instructions from my prime minister to see if Pakistan’s national security interest can be defended while moving forward with India – if they take one step, we will take two – I remain on that, any opportunity. We are willing. Unfortunately, having been there, tried and tested, the world needs to open its eyes to an India that is becoming a global threat
Dr. Pirzada: But is the world opening its eyes to this threat?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: No. It did not with Hitler either, till it was too late.
Dr. Pirzada: Herein, a huge challenge is that Indians do not like our assessment of Narendra Modi, which looks very objective from the Pakistani lens, though it is academic as well. But it irritates them a lot. They say he’s a popularly elected Indian Prime Minister.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Sure. It is their country, and I have nothing to do with that. I am not saying how India should be run. All I am saying is when India’s behavior affects my national security, it is my right to raise my voice; when India’s behavior affects my people in an illegally occupied territory, it is my right to raise my voice. Am I winning today? maybe not.
Read more: Timeline: Where is Kashmir after August 5, 2019?
Dr. Pirzada: In whatever interaction you have with the Indian intelligentsia, think-tanks, government and diplomats – do you find any objective evidence of them realizing that India has undergone a massive political transformation internally, and it has moved in a huge way to the right of its politica.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I find Indians scared of speaking. Having spoken to Indians on the record, I find that they defend to the “T” whatever their position is, and immediately after going off the air, saying, “we are in misery, we cannot say it, we have got to protect ourselves,” and that is the reality of today’s India. However, I am not interfering in their internal affairs; good luck to them to do whatever. I have the right to tell you when it affects my country and our national security, which is what we are doing for the world as well.
Dr. Pirzada: I saw a news item in an Indian publication, the Sunday Guardian, founded by M.J Akbar, wherein a piece read that Dr. Moeed Yusuf is collaborating with different websites and publications to run a disinformation propaganda campaign against India, whereby he is trying to attacking the country and trying to tell the world that it is not a democracy anymore, which is a huge threat to India.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Dr. Moeed Yusuf was not trained in propaganda; we used extensive data and rigorous research to formulate our opinion. But yes, they are right in saying that Pakistan is speaking up and speaking out. For whatever reason, Pakistan did not do this as it should have in the past few years; in my view, I am not pointing the finger at anybody.
Yes, we are telling the world through dossiers; yes, we are telling the world by putting out objective data on what India is doing – why? Because it is affecting me. I am sure they do not like it because they want a subservient Pakistan that continues to play ball and pretends that nothing is wrong. I cannot do that. Yes, this office is putting out information; I want to be challenged on any piece of it.
This country called Pakistan is putting out information; two dossiers were put out, one on ‘terrorism’ and another recent one recently on ‘Kashmir.’ We have asked everybody we gave the dossiers to come and talk to us about any factual error they may find, and we have received zero thus far. It is out there in the world; tell the Indians to come publicly and point out the wrong – what are they waiting for?
Dr. Pirzada: So, they have not challenged the contents of that 131 page dossier?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: They cannot, my friend because the sources are not Pakistani – it is as simple as that. Who goes to the extent of putting audio, video, sources, etc., in dossiers? No country, no intelligence agency, nobody does it this way. So, why did we do it? Because we are 200 percent sure of our information.
And again, my job is not to malign India, and I do not have time for that; this country has better things to do. But I will tell the world when India destabilizes the region or tries to destabilize me; when sixty-six terror camps operate in Afghanistan against me and 20 odd in India, when attacks upon Chinese nationals undermine CPEC.
The irony here is that no one other than the Indian prime minister set up a cell in his office, put 500 million (as confirmed in the dossier) to undermine CPEC. Let me also tell you something very sad; my office is responsible for long-term strategic thinking, developing plans regarding Afghanistan, the US, internal security, advising the prime minister, etc.
Please go and do an investigative piece on my counterpart’s job or a large part of it when it comes to Pakistan. I read somewhere, and I cannot vouch for this news, but it was in the public eye that the Indian NSA’s office’s budget has gone up from three-hundred crores to three-hundred-and-thirty-three crores (INR). Go and check what is happening.
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Dr. Pirzada: Have you interacted with your Indian counterpart?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: No, I have publicly said that I have not.
Dr. Pirzada: You have never met him?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I have met him, but I have not interacted with him in the bilateral dialogue that was put out. It is very unfair when Pakistani media starts believing Indian stories to cast blame on the Pakistani government. Let us say I was interacting with him in quiet talks, I would have been doing it on behalf of my state, and there would have been nothing to hide. I would have told you. But since that has not happened, there is no point in just continuing to push this. There were conversations with India at the beginning of this year; everybody knows this, we have made it public. Those conversations were to see if India is willing to do right by Kashmiris, to move forward one step so that we can take two – the answer was India moving in the opposite direction.
Dr. Pirzada: But there has been a structural problem whereby the Indian media and the establishment have developed the capacity to define Pakistan. They tell the world what Pakistan is, while Pakistan has not defined itself for the past twenty, thirty, forty years. The Indian academia intelligentsia, media, and think-tanks have defined Pakistan through penetration into universities such as Columbia and Oxford.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: One part of this – yes, and the other part, no. I do not spend any time thinking about how to create false and fake narratives like those they have created; that is not my job. Nobody in Pakistan does that. Yes, I do think about how we can make sure that we present our story better. Why is it that every second book you pick up on Pakistan is written by a non-Pakistani? Why are we not writing them? Who has stopped us from going and engaging with think-tanks or universities or Capitol Hill or the British Parliament? Who is stopping us? Pakistan has academic chairs in multiple universities.
Dr. Pirzada: But many of them are lying vacant.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Whose fault is that? Pakistan’s. Look, I told you in the beginning – there are things that the enemy does, and we must call them out and react as a mature state would, but we must also make sure that if we have weaknesses, we work to overcome them.
Dr. Pirzada: Despite these challenges, there has been a ceasefire on the Line of Control at the beginning of this year, and there was, in fact, a trade initiative that got stalled, so it looked as if your government was moving in bits and pieces to normalize relations.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Yeah, but what is coming from the other side? No rational actor can move in that direction. I have told you that we want to move forward. It is part of our geo-economic vision; it is part of civilized neighborly relations – everybody benefits if this region gets integrated, but it will not be at the cost of national security. The same person talking about geoeconomics is telling you that we cannot till we know that it is happening rationally, where they do right by Kashmiris, and our interests are protected.
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Dr. Pirzada: Coming back to Afghanistan, we have been hearing for the past two months that the Afghan Taliban, since July, has been asserting that Pakistan should have some accommodation for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the TTP should come back on a political settlement. Now, in a TRT interview, the prime minister of Pakistan has admitted that we are in talks with TTP. What are we really talking about with them? Because we have several examples in the history of failed peace talks with them.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I want to say that everybody should be comforted that there is no underhand deal that will be made right without public buy-in. There is not going to be any question of Pakistan giving up on its principles, on its law, and on its constitution. But yes, if another group has realized for whatever reason that what they did is absolutely wrong and they are willing to remain law-abiding citizens and go through the course of law, then we want to understand what is on their minds.
We do not want every Pakistani to be killed through the barrel of a gun – why do that? So yes, in that formula, in that format, there should absolutely be a conversation to figure out what they want. If we find out that they are willing to do what the state of Pakistan must require them to do, maybe there is a way forward.
Dr. Pirzada: But the critics of this policy believe that the TTP should have sued asked for peace. They should have surrendered, and then Pakistan should have considered their proposal rather than Pakistan opening talks with them.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I am not sure you can say whether Pakistan or the TTP opened the talks. The conversation revolves around the Afghan Taliban coming to power. India used to use NDS and worked with them to attack. We made it clear to the Afghan Taliban that this was unacceptable, and they said, “okay, let us see what can be done because they are on our territory, but we assure you this will not happen again.”
They came back and said maybe they want to do what you are asking them to do, and the chapter can be closed in a way that the state wants, so we want to find out if that is true or not. I can assure you that there will be no secret dealing so that the public is left out of what is happening, and if there is a critique on what is happening, then that critique is welcome.
Dr. Pirzada: You, the Pakistani prime minister, and several other key functionaries of the Pakistani state have been requesting, exalting, and asking the world to engage the Afghan Taliban for the past several days and weeks. What has been the response so far?
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: This is a good question. I want to clarify something because sometimes there is that criticism saying, “You seem like spokesperson for the Taliban.” Let me just clarify what we are doing. We are looking at Pakistan’s national security. We have been bitten for the past forty years with this problem of the war next door. We know that if there is a collapse in Afghanistan, there will be a serious problem on our borders, and perhaps terrorism will flourish more in the neighborhood.
No Pakistani official can want that for their country. We are telling the world not to let it collapse because if it collapses, we will hurt so, we have a right to say this, but you will also hurt – how? Mass migration; last time, it ended up in translational terrorism, right? If transnational terrorist groups are there, they are going to try and target everybody they can. This is the lesson for the past forty years; lawlessness will breed terrorism.
The question then is, how do you avoid that? From our point of view, you avoid that by engaging with the Taliban, making sure they get the assistance (capacity-wise and monetary) to run the country, and use that leverage to hold them to their promises. And, what are their promises? Exactly what the world wants; inclusive, rights for all, no terrorism from Afghan soil – and what is Pakistan’s position? Exactly these rights.
What we cannot afford as Pakistan is to wait for the world to decide what they want to do, and so we will need to engage. We are not talking of recognition; that is a separate conversation. We need to engage because we have a twenty-six-hundred-kilometer shared border. The same world comes to us and says, “please help us evacuate thousands of people,” and the same world says, “please do not engage.” how is this possible? So the world needs to think through this for their own sake – Pakistan’s position is only in self-interest.
Dr. Pirzada: But the world is not only the western countries. The world also consists of China, the Central Asian Republics (CARs), Iran, Turkey, the Middle East (ME) and Russia. What has been the response from there? no one is moving forward to recognize the Taliban, and I have not seen any economic aid flowing from anywhere.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I think a fair bit of consensus now needs to flow on humanitarian assistance. It is about how it flows because the controls and the system are not as operative as are banking channels etc. Pertaining to the development aid; questions have risen to which some say, “wait and see.” Overall we have led a very successful effort to bring the region together.
You have seen the foreign minister touring various countries, and we hosted several intelligence chiefs some time back as well. I think overall, everybody agrees that collapse is not an option, and we need to engage. Now, the question revolves around how we need to engage, on what terms, and how quickly? That is the conversation that needs to be had again and again and quickly moved in that direction because we do not have time. We cannot wait for six months nor two years to figure this out.
We are trying whatever we can, not on behalf of the new Afghan government, but on behalf of Pakistan because it hurts us if things go wrong. Ultimately, please also understand that there is some hypocrisy here; we want to take out every Afghan who can run the country in terms of capacity, we are dying for the rights of the average Afghan, but we are leading the country to a collapse which will then hurt the average Afghan the most – this contradiction needs to be removed the most.
Read more: What the world does not want to understand about Taliban & Afghanistan – Moeed Pirzada
Dr. Pirzada: Given the realization of a situation in Afghanistan, how much time do you think will the world take – the regional countries at least – in recognizing Afghanistan? Because the Pakistani prime minister has said that Pakistan will not make a move for it unless the regional countries do so.
Dr. Moeed Yusuf: I do not know, but remember that recognition is a legal process. But I think no country wants to be isolated; there has to be a coordinated effort. And remember, in the connotation of the Taliban, recognition is linked to the delisting of their terrorist lists. Otherwise, you cannot move forward. Countries have legal issues, there could be sanctions, etc., so this has to be coordinated. I think there has to be an agreement and a coordinating mechanism on engagement with the region and the rest of the world before you get to recognition – that is how I think it will be sequenced, but let us see. Pakistan stands with the international community on how we move forward.