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Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Going in-depth on Pakistan’s Diplomacy

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.

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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.

Read more: EXCLUSIVE! Dr. Moeed Yusuf: Connecting the dots on Indian dossier

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.

Read more: Escaping the graveyard of nations: Expert Opinions

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.

Read more: Indian Terrorism Dossier: Pakistan Foreign Office exposes Indian support to terrorism

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.

Read more: Kashmir War against Words

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.

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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.

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