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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Exclusive with Ambassador Munir Akram

Pakistan’s former Permanent Representative to the UN both in New York and Geneva and seasoned Foreign Service diplomat for 4 decades, contextualizes geostrategic interests in the shifting global power dynamics and meticulously deals with Pakistan’s foreign policy concerns.

Ambassador Munir Akram could probably be called the doyen of realism when it comes to Pakistan’s foreign policy. He has a foreign service career spanning four decades, joining the elite cadre in 1967. His last position was as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations during 2002-08. Prior to that Ambassador Akram has held positions as Pakistan’s Additional Foreign Secretary, Ambassador to EU, Ambassador to UN’s Geneva office, he has specialized in multilateral diplomacy and has held positions in many intergovernmental organizations including UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament and President of the Security Council.

GVS: Let us just jump into the deep end. What’s going on with India and Pakistan – why is it, that in the last 70 years we have not been able to live peacefully with each other?

Munir Akram: I think, first of all, living together was never going to be possible, because the partition of the subcontinent had a strong logical foundation. That logic being Muslims could not get along and prosper within a Hindu majority country, and time has shown us the logic proved to be correct.

The two-nation conclusion was reached much earlier than the creation of Pakistan. I think, that the subsequent history has proved the correctness of the conclusion that was reached by Pakistan’s founding fathers. Furthermore, these conclusions were immediately confirmed after the partition, as India held back our money, migration riots, and later killings.

The occupation of Jammu and Kashmir and the 1948 war just solidified the sentiments and the political conclusions of the Pakistani leadership, that there would be difficulty in living peacefully with India. Since then, grievances, differences, and disputes between the two countries; the 1971 war, Siachen occupation, Silk route dispute have added to the regional rationale for the division of the Subcontinent.

GVS: You are suggesting that peace would never have happened between the two countries, and it is not as some would put it due to the power structure in Pakistan.

Munir Akram: If you read the short history from 1935 onwards, the 1935 elections, the formation of the Indian national government, and the way the Muslim League and Quaid-e-Azam were treated, solidified the sentiment of Pakistan leading to the 1940 resolution.

The resolution leads to the demand for the creation of Pakistan, it was a linear confirmation of whatever we had thought was the rationale for the creation of Pakistan; Jammu and Kashmir oppression, 1948 war, the various subsequent actions by India, these are all confirmations.

The compulsions for a peaceful relationship, even if it’s not a friendly relationship, is much higher on Pakistan than on India, because, as a country, we cannot deploy the same resources for military, or the economy, etc.

There was some hope at the partition of a friendly Subcontinent. The sentiments of bridging the gap or living together or creating a monetary or customs union, all these were possible because the economies were self-dependent and people knew each other, the leadership of both countries knew each other, the bureaucracy knew each other.

But today, the people say that Pakistan has become Islamic and more fundamentalist, that’s true we are more Islamic, but on the other side, India is much more Hindu. The people of India are not only the people who led the Hindu Muslim riots, but they are also the same people who killed Mahatma Gandhi because he was considered too soft on the Muslims.

So, I think the division that happened in 1947 has been exasperated by political disputes, by military competition, by the strategic competition. But also because the nature of the two countries has changed, India is much more Hindu and Pakistan is much more Islamic.

Read more: Interview with Former RAW Chief A S Dulat

GVS: What do we need to do to create a working relationship between the two countries?

Munir Akram: The compulsions for a peaceful relationship, even if it’s not a friendly relationship, is much higher on Pakistan than on India, because, as a country, we cannot deploy the same resources for military, or the economy, etc. However, there are certain fundamental problems, which will not go away unless we address them.

The first problem is the Indian oppression in Kashmir, the Pakistani public will always object to that. There will always be people in Pakistan wanting to help the Kashmiris no matter what the governments think, or whether one wants to believe that it is the ISI is doing this or that. The sentiment on our side will always be such that people will want to go and support the Kashmiris.

So, someway we need to eliminate the oppression in Kashmir, even if the problem is not fully solved, there has to be some way to stop the killing in Kashmir. The second problem, which has compounded the problems between the two countries is the fact that Indians have used and are using Afghanistan as a base for subversion and terrorism in Pakistan. They consider it as a payback for Kashmir.

Munir Akram with US President Bill Clinton

In Baluchistan and in FATA they have fomented terrorism, in order to create subversion and to keep Pakistan occupied on the western side, in order to get Pakistan’s submission on the Kashmir Issue. So that’s the second fundamental problem, until the Indian’s stop that terrorism and interference from the Afghan territory, this difficulty with India will continue.

The third aspect, of course, is the military posture, the LOC firing, the deployment of weapons, the threatening statements, but of course, they need to be addressed in a different way. However, the two main and immediate issues remain that need to be addressed, the terrorism from Afghanistan and the oppression in Kashmir, these are immovable requirements from the Pakistani side in order to normalize relations.

GVS: OK but what is needed for an immediate working relationship, I mean if we sit around for Kashmir to be resolved…

Munir Akram: I am not saying that the issue has to be resolved, but the killing has to stop. Until India maintains 700,000 troops there, in occupation and Kashmiris are not able to move. I think the kind of oppression that Kashmir is facing, whether the Pakistani government wants to or not, the Pakistani people will always support them.

Therefore, there will never be normalization unless violence and oppression is curbed. The reality, which nobody seems to accept, is that there are millions of people in Pakistan willing to fight for the Kashmiris. We can not stop them, we will not be able to stop them, It will be counterproductive for the rulers of Pakistan if they try and stop them, look at what happened to Musharraf.

The religions parties thrive on that pro-Kashmiri sentiment and reflect the conservative opinion of that section of the Pakistani people, that’s why you can’t act against Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad, or Hizbul Mujahidin because they have grass-roots support in the country.

Read more: Spy Chronicles: Chronicles of Durrani, Dulat, Nawaz & Rabbani..

GVS: Why has SAARC failed to keep these two countries in consort –many in the initial days had expressed hope that it would act similar to the EU with regard to the relationship between France and Germany who had been historical enemies.

Munir Akram: I drafted the SAARC charter, this was a time at some interval in our relationship with India, where we thought it could be good to try and emulate the sort of template more under the ASEAN format rather than the EU. It was more of a hope than an expectation, to be frank.

Because the comparison with France and Germany coming together after the Second World War does not fit. They both came together once Germany was defeated. Secondly, they both came together under a US umbrella, so there was a superpower compelling cooperation, and thirdly they came together against a common threat that was the Soviet Union.

We don’t have those conditions in South Asia. We are not mutually against any external power, whether its Russia, China or the US. There is no strategic rationale that is bringing the two neighbors together, on the contrary, the strategic rationale is pulling them apart. In SAARC, India is a dominant power, and its resented by all the smaller states with Pakistan at the forefront.

Therefore, all the smaller states are looking for external equalizers, so we see Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka looking to develop relations with China. So, the conditions for a kind of ASEAN or European Union do not exist in SAARC and they will not exist until the strategic differences with India go away.

GVS: Why has Pakistan push for China to be a member of SAARC, is that expected to change the nature of South Asia?

Munir Akram: The rationale is straightforward. For us China has been a geostrategic partner. Pakistan needs an external equalizer, we have looked towards the US, we look towards China and at times we look to both, to neutralize India’s power in the region. Pakistan, in turn, was a cheap neutralizer for China, for Indian ambitions – at very minimal cost for the Chinese.

And now, of course, things are changing, as in the Chinese economy is five times the size of India’s and despite the fact, the Indian’s crow about its fast-growing economy, the gap between the Chinese and Indian economy is widening. It continues to widen. China will soon be producing 25% global GDP, India will be at 10% at most.

As far as Chinese partnership is concerned, for Pakistan, it makes complete sense. Because in South Asia there is one dominant power, you cannot have a cooperative relationship like ASEAN or EU, where there is only one power dominating the whole forum.

So bringing in China would provide at least two powers in the SAARC mix, which would at least balance each other and give space to the smaller members of SAARC to promote cooperation at a more equal footing. Moreover, has always said, the security problems with Pakistan cannot be solved between India and Pakistan because China is a fact.

Therefore, in any military equation in any denuclearization effort, control of strategic missiles, nuclear weapons, China must be involved.  If we apply the same logic to the economic side. In order to promote cooperation in South Asia, to ensure equality amongst all the regional states we must bring in China, and that will have its own strategic dimension.

Read more: Fereeha Idrees: Why she had to unlearn everything learned in UK…

GVS: If we turn towards another multi-forum – the SCO – How do you see joining the SCO affecting the relationship between India and Pakistan?

Munir Akram: Well, for us, SCO makes sense at this time, because our relationship with the US has been deteriorating ever since the US chose India as a strategic partner. Therefore it makes sense for us to become close to the main drivers of the SCO, which are China and Russia.

As far as the Indians are concerned, the Indians want to be everywhere, where Pakistan is and they also want to play on both sides of the fence. They want good relations with the US, at the same time; they want good relations with Russia and China. Both Pakistan and India have given a commitment not to raise their bilateral issues on the SCO forum.

There is a realization that SCO is going to be a vehicle for a geostrategic shift in global politics. The Asian heartland is increasingly being controlled by China and Russia. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative will cut through the whole of the Eurasian heartland up to the shores of the Atlantic, so, this is a huge political shift that is taking place. SCO could be the vehicle for moving that chip forward and BRI is going to be a major part of it.

GVS: What has been the force behind the Pakistan- China relationship since the 1950s?  

Munir Akram: Its simple, we needed China as a strategic equalizer to India and China needed us as a neutralizer to India, so, there was a clear convergence of strategic interests.  We developed a very good relationship with them because of efforts on both sides. We never had problems with the Chinese. They always stayed away from our internal affairs.

GVS: Are these going to be the same drivers going forward?

Munir Akram: Yes, I think to a large extent, the drivers are still there. At this moment, China’s interests have become broader and more diverse. It has become the main competitor of the US and in order to compete, it must try and keep the Indians out of the US lap.

To that extent, they have made moves to try and prevent the Indians from developing a close, strategic relationship with the US. The recent two summits that Xi Jinping had with Modi. These were efforts where the Chinese conveyed to the Indians, that it is not worth India’s while to compete with China and confront them on behalf of the US, or the border problems could become very acute.

Read more: How Pakistan & Saudi Arabia had defeated Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan

GVS: How do you view CPEC? We are hearing so much in the media about the Srilankan experience with the Hambantota Port and that other central Asian countries have negotiated a far better deal with China. Are they colonizing Pakistan?

Munir Akram: Let me take it from the top, CPEC has two dimensions, one is a strategic dimension, which is very important for China. Why? Because China will circumvent the potential danger of its shipping being curtailed in the Malacca Straits, by creating this alternate route through the back door.

Secondly, and this is of course not talked about, but China will be transformed from a one ocean power to a two-ocean power, it will finesse the whole Indo-US strategy in the Indian ocean by its route to Gwadar. That is the strategic rationale for China. That strategic rationale also benefits Pakistan, because it will be a way of neutralizing the rise of Indian power in the Indian Ocean.

What we want is a friendly government in Kabul because of what is happening, in that India has a free reign to use Afghanistan’s territory against us. The TTP is financed and has safe havens arranged by the RAW. They are interfering in Pakistan.

So, there is a conversion of strategic interest between the two economies. As far as the Chinese economy is concerned, they will benefit from transit trade, their companies will benefit by implementing projects in Pakistan, utilizing their excess capacity. Part of the rationale of BRI, is precisely to sell Chinese excess manufacturing capacity through infrastructural development across ASIA and CPEC rationale is the same.

As far as specifics on projects are concerned, it is our own fault. Chinese companies work on market principles; they are highly competitive not only with foreign companies but also within themselves. They try and negotiate the best deals possible. Our fault lies in our people, who have allowed a lot of the cream of the top to go into a few select hands.

Guess who is benefiting! Yes the Chinese companies have benefitted, but this could only happen with the complicity of our own decision-makers. So, whatever economic difficulties we have are our own fault.

But on the other hand, whenever we have had a financial problem, the Chinese have come in and bailed us out and they don’t publicize it. We have not publicized it, but there are huge transfers of Chinese money into the Pakistan State Bank through various methods to bolster and keep our economy alive.

GVS: We are about to get hit by an economic crisis, do you see the Chinese bailing us out now, the amount required this time around is much higher?

Munir Akram: I think the amount required now is probably too high for the Chinese to justify injecting into our economy. It is not that they don’t want to help. It is a question of how to justify it, and how they expect us to pay it back because we have dug ourselves into a deep hole.

So, I think we are now headed for an IMF bailout with all its implications. Essentially, what I am saying is that CPEC is not a conspiracy to colonize Pakistan. That propaganda is coming from the West. It is our own fault that we have not negotiated as well as some other countries have.

But I am confident when push comes to shove and we have difficulties in payback we will be able to make adjustments with China. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota is quoted as an example. But what happened in Hambantota, has a context. The agreement with the Chinese was signed by the then President Rajapaksa, which threatened the US and India who got together and ousted him in the elections.

They are still hoping that since the two economies are so inexplicably linked to each other, that good sense will prevail and US will come into a cooperative relationship with them in what they call the bipolar world.

When the new Sri Lankan government came in, China called in its chips. They pressurized the new government by saying, ok pay up, and when they couldn’t pay up they said we will take over management of Hambantota. It is a strategic play.  As far as Pakistan is concerned, we are a strategic partner and they don’t need to make that play with us.

On Gwadar, We are the ones who sort of said, well here’s Gwadar. It wasn’t the other way round and whenever our people said, ‘Oh Gwader will become a Chinese naval base’, the Chinese dismissed the narrative, they have never asked us for a naval base there. At least for the next decade or more they won’t need a naval base there.

When they need it, things will happen, but for now the Chinese are still trying to forge a cooperative relationship with the US and they are still hopeful. The US will not step into a Thucydides trap of confronting them. They are still hoping that since the two economies are so inexplicably linked to each other, that good sense will prevail and US will come into a cooperative relationship with them in what they call the bipolar world.

Read more: GVS exclusive interview with Fereeha Idrees

GVS: Does it make sense for Indians to join CPEC?

Munir Akram: Well you know, I think the rationale is quite clear, the Indians want access to China, to central Asia, and through to Russia and to Western Europe this is the land corridor. If Indian opts for security of economic development and peace in the region, then the obvious choice is that it joins the Eurasian and the SCO class.

That makes strategic sense from economic, social and progressive point of view. However, if they want to be a great power rapidly then they can fall into the trap, which is being offered by the US; where it offers to help to build it up as a ‘counter tool against China’ equipping them to compete in the Pacific ocean and establishing partnership to be one of the two great powers in Indian and Pacific ocean.

This is what’s on offer for India. They are trying to play both sides of the game. They have not made up their mind. But sooner or later whether its two years, 5 years, or 10 years down the line, India will have to make up its mind. India so to speak is a “swing state “strategically.

GVS: What has determined Pakistan-USA relationship in the past 70 years?

Munir Akram: Well I think first of all it was Pakistan’s search for the equalizer. That was the initial ground for our relationship. Pakistan needed an equalizer and the US was searching for cold war allies against the Soviet Union. It had approached India and the Indians had turned them down, so Pakistan was the obvious alternative. Then in some ways it was a natural Anglofied successor to the British Empire.

So there was a comfort zone as far as the relationship was concerned. There was a kind of cultural closeness because Pakistan was Anglofied and the US offered economic support and planning etc., until we shot ourselves in the foot. But you know those were the golden days of the Pakistan-US relationship. Then as you know history, it went downhill for several reasons. There were peaks and troughs for many reasons.

GVS: How does the deepening strategic relationship being developed between India and USA affect us – it may not be zero sum game but what are the implications? A 2+2 dialogue between the two countries is being planned in Delhi in September.

Munir Akram: The Dialogue will happen, there have been a lot of reports that US has postponed this dialogue multiple times, its obviously not a high priority item for them. The US is currently preoccupied with other concerns like North Korea and Iran and all of that. The US-India relationship has been developing since 2005, when the Civil-Nuclear and the Defense agreements were signed with the Bush administration.

It has done great damage to Pakistan. Assessments differ, but the military supplies and the opening of technology, have affected the military balance and will continue to affect the military balance (between India and Pakistan) in the future. After 9/11, the US has outlawed the Kashmiri freedom struggle, which they had not done so before.

There is a possibility that things could change if China and US decide that in order to stabilize Afghanistan, they need a strategy of co-development in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the whole rationale would change, CPEC would become the instrument, of such cooperation. I think that it is still fluid and various outcomes are possible.

They have, if not enabled, but certainly allowed India to intervene in FATA, and Baluchistan in Pakistan from Afghan territory. After all US military is present in Afghanistan areas and knows what’s happening in the country. So, they have allowed the Indians to do this to us.

There have been several consequences for Pakistan, we obviously need to be conscious of that. We have tried to neutralize it to some extent, by strengthening our relationship with the US, and building strategic relationship with China and Russia. But, this is still a game in play.

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GVS: Do you see the US viewing Pakistan differently post CPEC – sensing it has fallen into the Chinese camp? There was the statement on CPEC going through ‘disputed’ territory.

Munir Akram: Because of the developing US-Indian relations; the US is trying to win over India as a partner. Therefore, The reservations that they have expressed, the China dimension, the US establishment sees them as part of its strategic competition if not a confrontation with China. Therefore, the BRI and CPEC, which is a part of it, is seen as a strategic challenge to the US domination of the region.

And things are moving in that direction as we discussed. Secondly, there are Indian objections. That they have catered to the Indian objections on the part of the territory that Indians claim as their own. I think these are very superficial rationales presented by the US. Privately they have told the Chinese that they don’t have a problem.

Pakistan's Foreign Policy
UN Security Council President, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, American Ambassador John Negroponte

Privately they have told Pakistan, there is no problem. But publically, they have tried to appease the Indians. There is a possibility that things could change if China and US decide that in order to stabilize Afghanistan, they need a strategy of co-development in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the whole rationale would change, CPEC would become the instrument, of such cooperation. I think that it is still fluid and various outcomes are possible.

GVS: Going forward, do you see any particular changes in the Pakistan and US relationship or do you think it’s going to stay like this for the next couple of years.

Munir Akram: I think, Primarily, the US wants a solution in Afghanistan, they don’t want to leave, but they can’t stay in the present circumstances, and so they need a stable kind of coalition government. The kind of a government in Kabul, which allows them to continue to play a role in the region.

Whether that is possible or not I am not sure, I think it is a very difficult task. But one day Trump may get up and say I want to leave. So, I think Pakistan-US relations are completely linked to Afghanistan. Pakistan is trying to be helpful, I think we tried to support them. We do think it will be a good idea to push them out of chaos.

Because, Afghanistan will descend into civil war, and that’s not in Pakistan’s interest either. So we have to be careful of what we are seeking in Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan, whichever way it is achieved, with the US or without the US, is in Pakistan’s interest.

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GVS: What’s the reason for the Afghanistan-Pakistan unstable relationship? Mainstream media poses that this is all due to Pakistan’s support for the ‘good’ Taliban.

Munir Akram: There is a long history, when we were at the UN, Afghanistan was the only country that voted against us, and they didn’t recognize our borders. The Frontier province came into Pakistan through a referendum, and it was a close referendum. As you know the red shirts of the Badshah Khan did not support any association with Pakistan and the whole Pashtunistan movement arose from the Durrani rulers of Afghanistan.

With Zahir Shah, we created a modus vivendi through the Shah of Iran. We were able to have a fairly decent working relationship during the 1965 war. We parked all our civil aircrafts in Afghanistan etc., during that war. But then Kabul moved closer to the Soviets and started the Pashtunistan movement and we countered it by supporting the religious opposition.

The first time I met Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masood, was in 1976 in Mr. Bhutto’s office. So it’s been a long story. It wasn’t only when the Soviets intervened. I mean we saw the writing on the wall, when the communists took over. They had internal fighting; they had resistance from the mullahs.

Our people I must tell you predicted the Soviet intervention six months before it happened. So, there is a long history of difficulties with Afghanistan. And yes, the current relationship has a lot to do with the Taliban and the Haqqanis’. But if suppose, ok, whatever you say about Haqqanis’ and Taliban is fine, but the fact of the matter is Afghanistan is not ready to accept the border.

What is the basis for good relationship between two neighbors? It is good borders; a good fence makes good neighbors. We are trying to build a fence, which they are opposing.

GVS: So if they accepted our borders, we would stop using Afghanistan as a ‘strategic depth’ in terms of policy.

Munir Akram: We have never used Afghanistan as a strategic depth except in 1965. Some stupid military guy came up with a paper on strategic depth. We never exercised it, we never needed it, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. What strategic depth will Afghanistan give us? If and when the Indians cross the border we have nuclear weapons to stop them. Why do we need strategic depth?

What is the rationale behind strategic depth? Again it is these detractors in the west, and these very great minds of think-tanks, who cook up these kinds of things. No. What we want is a friendly government in Kabul because of what is happening, in that India has a free reign to use Afghanistan’s territory against us. The TTP is financed and has safe havens arranged by the RAW.

They are interfering in Pakistan. They are promoting terrorism from Afghan territory and it is no secret. And they have tried to use it as leverage against us. In order to get our cooperation on the Taliban issue. We have told them, this is a faulty equivalence that you promote instability in our country in this way.

And we will take care of the Indians ourselves if we want to. But so far we have exercised patience and restraint in not retaliating against the Indian interference in Afghanistan but we have the capability to do so.

GVS: Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after independence in 1947. Pakistan enjoyed good relations during the Shah’s time, where do we stand now. Does Indian investment in Chabahar affect our relations with Iran?

Munir Akram: Now you see, for good relations with Iran we need two hands to clap. If you know, in the recent past, things really went down after 1979, when Zia ul Huq was in power, he was seen as a Sunni fundamentalist, and he was seen as a US ally on Afghanistan. There was abuse from Tehran.

Zia played his cards very well, he did not respond to the abuse, he cooperated; he did not intervene on the Arab side, in the Iran-US war. He opened various channels for cooperation, including on civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran and that’s when our relations reversed and became good relations.

But then after a certain time, there were certain leaders who came into power and cut that cooperation with the Iranians. When that happened and we became closer to the US, the Iranians also turned tail, and started interfering in Pakistan’s Shia movements and that really deteriorated the relationship. There was Balochistan, Gendola, and all these sort of shadowy movements supported by certain intelligence agencies, not our own.

Pakistan's Foreign Policy
Ambassador Munir Akram with officers of the Foreign Service

Things went bad, but in recent months they have seen an improvement because both sides have made an effort. We have problems with the US, Iranians have problems with the US. So there is a certain internal logic. They want to build a relationship with Russia and China, so do we. There is a certain strategic rationale for better relations between Pakistan and Iran now.

With regards to Chabahar, I think we overestimate the port. It’s meant to export Iranian Oil, and to transit goods from various countries through Afghanistan. The Indians through song and dance have committed 500 million and they have not spent it. There have been 15 years in the making of Chahbar.

Given the relationship with the US and the secondary sanctions being imposed on anybody cooperating with the Iranians, Chahbahar will probably be placed on the backburner again. Chahbahar is not strategic card by any means.

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GVS: Our current relations with Bangladesh are very acrimonious why? We did not see this even immediately after 1971 independence of East Pakistan. Zulfiqar Bhutto was garlanded when he went to Bangladesh in 1974. Later, Pakistan and Bangladesh worked together to create SAARC. So why now?

Munir Akram: First of all, the Awami League and the lady in power have always had an animus against Pakistan. She blames Pakistan for the death of her father. I think even more than that. In the internal power struggle between the Awami League and the Khaleda Zia’s party, the Jamat-e-Islami party played a swing role.

They were able to balance out the Awami League and Khaleda Zia. Now, since, the BJP has come to power in India, they have pushed an anti -Islamic agenda in Bangladesh and they have convinced the Prime Minister, that it is in her parties interest to decimate the Jamat-e-Islami.

So they have gone after all Jamat-e-Islami people with accusations of having supported Pakistan in their so-called freedom struggle. We saw the death sentences and the cooked up trials and so on and so forth. And obviously, we had to comment as they were killed on the basis of supporting Pakistan. For us they remain patriots, and for them they are traitors.

Therefore that stressed the relationship. However, the rationale for bitter relations, firstly, lies in the Awami league’s efforts to neutralize Khaleda Zia and secondly, the Indian efforts to ensure that the Awami league stays in power. The Indians are ensuring that the Hindu lobby in Bangladesh remains dominant, that’s the rationale.

Until that changes, I think tensions will remain. But the larger strategic picture is working to change that. Bangladesh requires China’s help and influence and their cooperation with China is increasing. BJP rule will end sooner or later. And I think that rationale for a Bangladesh –Pakistan relationship will restore itself to a balance. They are after all a Muslim majority state. And that reality will come back.

GVS: How has having nuclear weapons changed our foreign policy? Are we doing the kind of things that we wouldn’t do otherwise, for example maybe we wouldn’t have gotten involved with non-state actors, had we not been so confident that we would get away it?

Munir Akram: Non-state actors are a different kettle of fish. Had you gone to the stage where you would have had any choice in the matter then you would have been conquered a long time ago.

The Indians would have done another 1971 on you several times. Before we exploded the nuclear weapons, they threatened us, after Kargil, they couldn’t threaten us. After 2002, they were ready to attack us but we had nuclear weapons, they couldn’t do it. There have been no wars since we developed nuclear weapons, it speaks for itself, it is obvious.

The Indians are ensuring that the Hindu lobby in Bangladesh remains dominant, that’s the rationale. Until that changes, I think tensions will remain. But the larger strategic picture is working to change that.

Indian aggression is not possible anymore unless they go MAD and try and do that. Iran could be attacked but Pakistan cannot be attacked in the same way because we have nuclear weapons. That’s the bottom line. You know whether we support non-state actors, whether we support bad guys.

Hell! Every country in the world is supporting non-state actors, we can name names of people promoting non-state actors, they are part of the instruments of power of states and Russians, Americans, Indians and everybody uses them. Let’s not assume the blame for using non-state actors because everybody does.

GVS: Finally, to address the elephant in the room – do civilians even have a say in foreign policy or is it in the realm of the military?

Munir Akram: Yes, of course, civilians are involved. If by civilians you mean the Foreign Office. As far as politicians are concerned barring certain exceptions, I would not give them the dignity of saying that they can understand anything much less understand foreign policy. We have not had that kind of political leader since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

There have been certain good politicians, but its really up to the Foreign Office, and professionals in the Foreign Office to guide foreign policy, and that they have done quite admirably in the past. All the papers and policy positions since 1965 are all there to see.

GVS:  To what an extent would you say the military has a role in the foreign policy? Since one of the arguments made by the PML-N and some sections of the international media is the ex-PM was ousted because he wanted to have a closer relationship with India?

Munir Akram: One thing is a closer relationship, a mutually respectful relationship between two sovereign states, which leads to a working relationship. Provided, you don’t do things to exacerbate the relationship. The second type of relationship is, ‘I am willing to sell out, but saying I am not being allowed to do so, because we have a military establishment, which will not allow me to do so.’

There have been occasions when Prime Ministers have tried to sell the country out. I won’t take names, but it has happened more than once. When they say, yes we will open up our nuclear program, when they have said we will give up Kashmir.

Then, unfortunately, the military has to be the instrument to go and give them the bad news that sorry you can’t do it, they have the power because they have the guns ultimately. It is not that the foreign office is concurring on what these politicians are saying either if it comes to the strategy of selling out the country.

So in every country, the military has a large role to play and the weaker your politicians, the more vulnerable they are to pressure from outside, the more ready they are to sell out the country, the more the military has to play the role of safeguarding the national interests.

The foreign service are paid to give options on how to deal with these difficult situations. Of course, there are military issues involved, whenever there are national and strategic interests involved, then, of course, they have a say, they have a large say and they should have a large say. Doesn’t the Pentagon have a large say in U.S. Foreign Policy?

Who is dictating the foreign policy of U.S. in Afghanistan? Who is it in India, solution on Siachen? It is not the civilians, it is the military. So in every country, the military has a large role to play and the weaker your politicians, the more vulnerable they are to pressure from outside, the more ready they are to sell out the country, the more the military has to play the role of safeguarding the national interests.

I am glad that they are there to save our national interests because some of these Johnnies, for their personal power, to stay in power, to earn the good graces of Washington and New Dehli, they would have sold out our national interest.

Read more: GVS exclusive interview with Imran Khan; his vision and his priorities.

GVS: The concept of democracy is that you have been elected into power so you have the mandate of the people to do exactly what you want. And who are the military or the foreign office or the technocrats to say otherwise when you have the people’s mandate?

Munir Akram: I think even if the election is the fairest in the world, it does not allow the leader to sell the country out or act against the national interest of the country.

GVS: Who defines the national interest?

Munir Akram: I think national interest is very clear and visible. If you look at what Mr. Trump did in his summit meeting with Putin in July, then you have a very clear illustration of what is good for the country and what is not good for the country.

Mr. Trump is an elected leader and even with all the allegations of meddling with the elections, no one is saying that he is not the elected leader, but when he does something wrong, he is taken to task. He is not allowed to compromise the national interests of the U.S. as seen by the people of U.S., the Congress of U.S., the leaders of the U.S., he is not allowed to do that.

Similarly, in Pakistan, when a national leader says I will open the nuclear program to foreign inspection or foreign control then should that be allowed by the military? No. Should it be allowed by the people who elected him? No, so the election is not a free mandate to do anything you want.

Secondly, for Pakistan, we’re a flawed democracy, what choice do our people have? We have rascals being put on tickets as electable. They are thugs coming into power because they are supposed to be the leader of a tribe or a Chaudhry of a local community. These are the leaders and we know they are rascals.