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Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary: ‘we await the adoption by New Delhi of a more rational, long term view of bilateral relations’

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GVS: World around us is changing, transforming at a rapid pace; how Pakistan’s foreign Office looks at all that?

Foreign Secretary, Ms. Tehmina Janjua: The world is in flux. Political and economic centers of gravity are shifting to the East. This is a key catalyst for change and realignment. The emerging order is as yet unsettled, ill-defined and uncertain; yet choices and decisions have to be made today which will have consequences for years to come. This is the overarching challenge that we face, i.e. to make decisions and decide upon an optimal course of action in a rapidly changing world. At the same time, this provides a huge opportunity to position Pakistan so that our people can benefit from the profound changes taking place. To do this we need to correctly read the drivers and trends that are bringing about ongoing change.

GVS: So how exactly is this realignment you talked about taking place?

For the first time since the 70’s, the US policy vis-à-vis China has shifted from integration into the global order to strategic competition. 

FS, Janjua: The changes in the last three to four decades have been momentous. We have moved from the bipolar, post World War-II international order, to the unipolar moment of the nineties and early 2000, and now to an emerging multi-polarity and the rise of China, while the US remains a major power. The present situation has raised, in some circles the fear of the “Thucydides Trap” i.e. the inevitable conflict between a rising power and an established power. For the first time since the 70’s, the US policy vis-à-vis China has shifted from integration into the global order to strategic competition.  Along with this we are seeing the strategic alignment of India with the US; turmoil in the Middle East, with new alignments taking place in that region; Brexit and its consequences and threats to the liberal, open, globalization driven world order from some of the very countries that helped construct it. And, at a deeper level, the international arena is being impacted by breakthrough technological developments, demographic changes and climate change. These are some trends that are driving the new alignments that the world is witnessing. The rate of change is so rapid and the evolution and transformation so fast, that the new world order may never crystalize, but may continue to evolve. Hence, countries may need to constantly adjust and realign. We may be entering a world of perpetually shifting alignments which are issue-based.

GVS: With this background how has Pakistan responded to this realignment: What are our options and how good are we doing?

FS: Pakistan is deeply conscious of the changes taking place in the international relations and modulating its policies accordingly. When the world is in a flux, every state needs to anchor its relations in a place of stability. Pakistan-China relations have provided the necessary anchor, with Pakistan heavily investing in the CPEC and the greater “One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR)”. We also have a long-standing relationship with the US that, despite vicissitudes, is being maintained. Presently the relationship has certain stress points. However, we have had intense interactions and a conversation is going on to find common ground on the US policy on Afghanistan. The end state for both the US and Pakistan is the same: a prosperous, stable Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and with its neighbors – an Afghanistan that is capable of denying space to terrorists. Therefore, we have told the US that, in these uncertain times, States must nurture rather than rupture established relations.

Other than that, Pakistan has markedly improved its relations with Russia, both bilaterally and through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Besides, SCO, ECO is another platform from where we are enhancing ties with the Central Asian Republics (CARs). With Turkey and Iran, we have longstanding relations, along with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the Muslim World. With ASEAN, as well we are increasing our interaction and the recent visit of the Indonesian President was one manifestation of this..

Pakistan has markedly improved its relations with Russia, both bilaterally and through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

GVS: But do you think Pakistan’s Gulf policy has been appreciated by all the Gulf countries? Or has there been pushbacks?

FS: There has been an understanding of what we have been trying to do, considering the unfortunate fissures that exist in the region. Our endeavor is to maintain our historically close relations with all the Gulf countries.

GVS: So, with this background, then how do you see the sum total of Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges at this moment?

FS: Two of our greatest challenges are the establishment of good relations with Afghanistan and normalization of relations with India. On Afghanistan, we have given a proposal: Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity (APAPS), in which we have suggested the setting up of five working groups to consider all aspects of our bilateral relationship. We are also working through a number of forums with Afghanistan for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

On India, Pakistan is waiting for New Delhi to realize that there is no substitute to dialogue. We owe it to ourselves and to the region to peacefully settle our disputes, normalize relations, and pool our resources for the development of the region. South Asia remains one of the least integrated regions economically, despite the existence of the SAARC regional cooperation mechanism. SAARC connectivity agreements would greatly complement CPEC and the broader OBOR initiative leading to significant gains for the regional economies. India, therefore, needs to take a long-term view of Pakistan-India relations rather than myopically allowing its domestic politics to drive its Pakistan policy.

Read more: SAARC’s failure: held hostage to whims of India?

GVS: But Foreign Secretary, India and Pakistan’s relations have been so frosty, almost unprecedented even in our difficult history with each other, ever since the assumption of power, in Delhi, by the Modi government, that one wonder’s where do we now exactly stand with India? What are our options and what are we doing?

FS: As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have continuously reached out to them. It was India which stopped dialogue with Pakistan in 2015. We have been telling India that there is a need to restart a conversation through a structured dialogue. Unfortunately, India is unwilling to talk to Pakistan on any issue other than terrorism. We are willing to talk about terrorism because terrorism is an equally important issue for us. We not only face terrorism in Pakistan, but also suffer from the state- sponsored terrorism from our neighbors. So we, too, insist on addressing the issue of terrorism. But we need to talk about other issues as well, which are critically important. The structured dialogue, to which India and Pakistan had agreed, includes the issues of Jammu & Kashmir, Trade, Siachin, Sir Creek, humanitarian issues and counter-terrorism. We are ready to talk about all these issues, but we cannot have a dialogue without discussing Jammu & Kashmir especially when the Kashmiri people are suffering from relentless repression by the Indian State.

Pakistan is waiting for New Delhi to realize that there is no substitute to dialogue.

GVS: On the trade issue, Kabul is also saying that they want the Wagha border, at Lahore, to be open for Afghan truckers to load and offload and bring back goods. But we are saying “NO” so far. What is the real issue that we are resisting this repeated request by Kabul?

FS: You cannot have one piece of relationship going only. Our relationship with India has to be more comprehensive.

GVS: You see this as a relationship with India rather than the relationship with Kabul?

FS: This particular aspect of Afghanistan Transit Trade cannot be isolated from our overall relationship with India. However, it should be kept in mind that transit of Afghan fruits, vegetables and other goods go unhindered continuously through Wagah into India.

GVS: What is the issue then?

FS: The issue is the transit of Indian exports into Afghanistan, overland through Pakistan, by way of Wagah, close to Lahore. In effect, India wants to have trade access through Pakistan’s land route into Afghanistan and Central Asia without even discussing or negotiating with us. India, quite disingenuously, wants this access by subsuming it under the Pakistan Afghan transit issue. However, our position is clear that access for India can only be part of a comprehensive dialogue between Pakistan and India.

GVS: What is the overall direction of the foreign policy that you are trying to pursue with regards to India and Afghanistan? As they both appear to be acting together, in sync, and show lots of unhappiness with us right now..?

Read more: Why US created Afghan transit route?

FS: With Afghanistan, we are trying to see how, through practical measures, we can work on our relationship. Our effort is to discuss and address issues with Afghanistan, diplomatically and politically. Afghanistan has serious constraints with regard to taking decisions in many areas. However, we are willing to work with Afghanistan to see how we can move the relationship forward.

We have shared a proposal with them to set up five working groups – on trade, refugees, inter-military relations, intel-intel and political relations. We gave them this proposal after the visit to Kabul by a high level Pakistani delegation on 1 October, 2017. We got a response from Afghanistan only recently. We have suggested to the Afghan side that we can meet to discuss their response because they had a large number of amendments to our proposal. We emphasized that instead of going into details, we should have a holistic discussion on these issues. We suggested to them that initially three working groups may be established. They came back and said: yes. We shall be having the first meeting of these groups on the 3 February 2018; We are hopeful that this meeting will yield positive results.

For India, as I said before, we await the adoption by New Delhi of a more rational, long term view of bilateral relations – one that is centered on a comprehensive dialogue that enables forward movement on outstanding issues. We are not too optimistic about this happening any time soon. In the meanwhile, we are working to at least move forward on urgent humanitarian issues such as alleviating the plight of fishermen held in each others’ jails.

India wants to have trade access through Pakistan’s land route into Afghanistan and Central Asia without even discussing or negotiating with us.

GVS: When you referred to realignment taking place, President Putin was to visit Pakistan during the PPP government, but he didn’t. While now the Russian academics and media, for the first time, are generally more sympathetic towards Pakistani point of view on regional issues, Is there a realignment taking place in the foreign office of Pakistan and Russia and any high-level visits expected between the two countries?

FS: We have had a number of Ministerial visits to Russia. The Defense Minister, and the Minister for Commerce and the Minister for Energy were there recently. At the same time, our Prime Minister met President Putin last year. And then again last year, the Prime Minister had met Prime Minister Medvedev on the sidelines of SCO Summit. So we have had contacts at that level. We remain engaged regarding possibilities of return visits to Pakistan as well.

GVS: So we are getting close to Russia; we are having military engagement and we have had meetings at SCO summit and as you mentioned all the Ministers coming and going. Is this a deliberate policy by Pakistan where we have started re-engaging Russia or engaging it for the first time?

FS: I think there is an interest on both sides to engage more deeply with one another.  This is being done with a degree of deliberate care to ensure that we get tangible results.

Read more: SCO membership of India & Pakistan brings challenges and opportunities

GVS: What’s our interest here, with Russia, is it Afghanistan or are there bigger objectives?

FS: Russia is an important player in our region. It has an interest in Afghanistan, but it also has an interest in ensuring a degree of stability within the region as well. If the region is de-stabilized, Russia, as well as the Central Asian Republics (CARs), are also affected. So there’s an interest by the CARs, Russia and other countries in the region to move towards a closer relationship.

GVS: What happened to the Moscow process that several months ago Russia offered to find a settlement in Afghanistan?

FS: Russia hosted two meetings of the “Moscow Format” in 2017. They are trying to see how far the process can move forward. It basically provides an opportunity to the countries of the region and the CARs to share their concerns with regard to what is happening in the region. The SCO working group on Afghanistan that has been established recently, also met in Moscow in October 2017. The delegations included, members of the SCO and the CARs, attended it at the Deputy Foreign Minister level. Russia, Pakistan, India and China were also present there. The Central Asian Republics had one clear message: a serious concern about the arrival and continued presence of the “Daesh” on their southern borders.

GVS: With Russia’s interest, China’s interest, CAR’s interests, Pakistan’s interest, and Iran’s interest in a peaceful Afghanistan, a stable Afghanistan with an improved government, trade integration, economic development that can help all its neighbors to benefit from trade corridors, could it be possible that Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia could join together and come up with some sort of formula, arrangement, that can help the US to disengage from Afghanistan?

Russia is an important player in our region. It has an interest in Afghanistan, but it also has an interest in ensuring a degree of stability within the region as well.

FS: The US is an important partner in addressing the situation in Afghanistan. So we all have to work together. Pakistan is willing to work with all these countries for peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are open to all formulas that would help peace and stability in Afghanistan.

GVS: But Pakistan has reservations regarding India’s role..?

FS: Pakistan obviously has reservations regarding India’s role as outlined in the US National Security Strategy and the US Strategy for South Asia. First of all, we believe that India cannot be the net security provider for the region, because when you look at its relationship with all its neighbors, these are not necessarily the most harmonious of relations. Indeed, India has had conflicts with almost all its neighbors. So it cannot be a net security provider for the region.

Secondly, we have seen that India has played a very negative role in Afghanistan viz-a-viz Pakistan, because of its presence along borders, because of the fact that there has been terrorism perpetuated in Pakistan through India, through Afghanistan. India has continued to play a negative role and this is not a secret. It is a reality that has been said very openly by its own National Security Advisor, that is its stated policy of pressurizing Pakistan from the west and the east, from Afghanistan in the west and India itself in the east. One can also see the situation along the line of control and the working boundary of Pakistan with India. It is a very difficult situation. We have told the US that Indian intense pressure on the LOC and the Working Boundary would distract us from the CT operations we are undertaking on the Afghan border where we have almost 200,000 troops.

Read more: Pakistan takes Defence Attaches of six countries to visit LOC

GVS: But has the US responded to this argument? You have had quite a few meetings with them recently. Have you been able to explain Pakistan’s point of view?

FS: We have stated clearly and in detail our concerns, stressing that India continues to use its current policy of belligerence, which is spurred on by its internal politics; any election in India is won by the party that speaks against Pakistan, it has been repeatedly demonstrated. There is a very belligerent attitude and atmosphere that has been created against Pakistan by Indian media, by Indian politicians or by anyone of certain authority. So it’s useful for them to beat on Pakistan. So they do it through the LOC, do it through the working boundaries. We have told our American friends that if this policy of the Indians continues where they cross LOC and also carry out violations of working boundary, which last year alone were more than 1900 and this year in the first 24 days of this month, there have already been more than 165 violations, our villages are being hit with mortars, we have deaths and causalities. It is important to note the difference between the working boundary on Pakistan and the Indian side; we have our population living right up to zero-line along working boundary with India while on the Indian side of the Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir all along the working boundary, they have moved the population away. Hence when there is an Indian mortar attack, or shelling in Pakistan and we retaliate, their villagers or civilians do not get affected. It is our civilians and our people that get affected.

GVS: Does that mean that we also need to move those people?

FS: Our people have their villages, their fields, and their houses there. You can’t just move them away from their present location.

GVS: Foreign secretary, how would you respond to many media comments which say that the foreign office is very slow to respond to allegations? The last couple of weeks when the US made very tough statements, the Chinese foreign office came out first and responded, even before our own Foreign Office said anything. Why is our Foreign Office so slow to react?

FS: The Foreign Office can send out a tweet in seconds. But, we have to have a considered view before we issue a statement. I think in the current situation that prevails in the region, it is best to have a considered view than to respond immediately, or retort, to any comments that are made by others.

India continues to use its current policy of belligerence, which is spurred on by its internal politics; any election in India is won by the party that speaks against Pakistan.

GVS: But we say that and we seem to hold a high moral ground by saying that but, on the other hand a lot of the neighboring countries are quick to shoot from the hip as soon as something happens in their country and what that does is, that it leaves a perception…

FS: Shooting from the hip is very easy to do it. but, it tends to aggravate a situation and, is, therefore unhelpful.

GVS: But doesn’t the perception get out there by doing that?

FS: I think no matter what the world says, we need to have a more mature response to statements directed at Pakistan. I don’t think that at the Foreign Office, we should be too worried about responding immediately or sending out a quick tweet. We should be focused on sending out the right response.

GVS: What is our considered response on the American accusations and allegations regarding the Haqqani network and their continuous threat? What is our response and what is our position on the Haqqani network?

FS: Our position on the question of the Haqqani Network is clear. There is no organized presence of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan. We have cleaned up our territory right up to the border of Afghanistan. We, nevertheless, have a porous border. It’s a very long border. There is a stretch of 648 Kms of border which has no posts on the Afghan side. We are trying to see how to work through more effective border management to ensure that movement across the border is regulated, and that we know who enters Pakistani territory.

Secondly, we have also been emphasizing that we need to get 2.7 million refugees repatriated from Pakistan back to Afghanistan as part of our counter-terrorism (CT) effort so that terrorists coming from across the border in Afghanistan do not disappear in these refugees.

Read more: Pakistanis must learn the limits of military led counter-terrorism

GVS: What is Afghanistan saying though? Are they willing to take them back?

FS: They say that they are willing to take them back.  We understand that for them, too, it is not very easy to have so many persons coming back., But how long can the people of Pakistan keep hosting such a large population of refugees?

GVS: Given the situation between India and Afghanistan and the tension with US, sometimes the media says, especially the Indian media, and even parts of Pakistani media, that Pakistan stands isolated. How do you look at it?

FS: This is just propaganda. Pakistan is not isolated. To give one example, Pakistan recently hosted the ECO Summit, which was attended by 10 ECO countries with 9 heads of state and government. The President of Iran came, the President of Turkey came, The President of Azerbaijan came and the Presidents of many of the Central Asian Republics came. We have many friends and partners that understand and respect our point of view.

GVS: Pakistani media keeps on claiming that we don’t have good relations with Iran

FS:  Very respectfully, the media is wrong. Iran is a country with which we have very good relations. The Iranian President himself has visited Pakistan twice in the past year or so. Our trade and economic relations are being strengthened. We have a very long border with Iran. We remain engaged with Iran to quickly address any issues which may create friction…

GVS: Are we speaking with them about Chahbahar and potential linkages with Gwadar and Chahbahar?

Iran is a country with which we have very good relations.

FS: Well, the Iranians have said, and we have said it ourselves, that these two ports are not competitive but complementary to each other. Recently our Minister of Maritime Affairs visited Chabahar and attended the inauguration ceremony of two docks of the port. Our two countries are working to enhance complementarity between the two ports.

GVS: Lets move ahead and talk a bit about yourself; You were at School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA), in New York, so what role Columbia and the SIPA played in your own career?

FS: Columbia was a great experience. But, I would credit my education in Pakistan for everything that I am today, and I am very proud of that. My first degree was a Masters in French Language and Literature, I’ve been asked everywhere, where did you study French? And I respond, Pakistan. It was from the National Institute of Modern Languages (NUML) which had a rigorous French degree program. But yes, Columbia played a very important role in broadening my education. My stay there was an enriching experience.

GVS: Have you ever been back as a Foreign Secretary to SIPA?

FS: No, I haven’t been back to SIPA as the Foreign Secretary. But, I was posted in New York in the 90s, and when I was there, with a French colleague of mine, I gave a course at SIPA on international negotiations in the field of environment. At that time Pakistan chaired the Group of 77, which is the group of developing countries in the UN, and in that capacity we led the negotiations on climate change and environment. I greatly enjoyed sharing my negotiating experience with students at SIPA.

GVS: In 50s and 60s, Pakistan Foreign Office and Government created chairs in top government universities in United States and UK, Cambridge, Oxford, Columbia but we haven’t really built upon that tradition of having Pakistani centers and think thanks within the universities..?

Read more: Can education be decolonized in Pakistan?

FS: Yes, we should be doing more about it. I completely agree because greater interaction with academia is necessary for creating a deeper understanding of Pakistan’s perspective and positions.

GVS: In the same context, do you think the Foreign Office and Pakistani Government needs much more interaction with the diaspora, maybe utilize what they have to offer other than remittances?

FS: Our diaspora is very different in different parts of the world. In the UK for example, it has a significant influence and presence by virtue of levels of education and participation in the political process. This is also true in the case of US and certain other countries such as Norway. In other places the diaspora is not as well established. So we need differing approaches to the Pakistan origin communities in different countries. But, I agree with you on the need to interact more effectively with the diaspora to not only to send messages about Pakistan but also to help them to work together and be part of the political systems that they are living in. I was posted in Italy, where there was a large Pakistani community. One of my key preoccupations was to encourage all of them to increase their participation in their local political processes.

GVS: You are the first female Foreign Secretary. Have there been any significant challenges to your getting into this position and subsequently becoming the Foreign Secretary? Do you think it is different for you as a woman in this role versus a man?

FS: When I was in Italy, the Italian Foreign Office organized a conference on women in diplomacy. A number of women talked at some length on various challenges that they faced. I just made one point: as a woman in the Foreign Service of Pakistan, my hard work and my ability would take me wherever and as far as I want to go. There is no glass ceiling as far as women in the Foreign Service of Pakistan are concerned.

Our diaspora is very different in different parts of the world. In the UK for example, it has a significant influence and presence by virtue of levels of education and participation in the political process.

GVS: So then why has it taken 70 years before we had the first female Foreign Secretary?

FS: Yes, it has taken a while but we have had women in important decision making positions in the Foreign Office for a long time and have had many important Embassies headed by women Ambassadors.

GVS: What do you think women need to progress in Foreign Service?

FS: But they are already doing it, now we are getting even more women in the new entering batches now. Earlier on when we joined the Foreign Service, there were only 2 women in a batch of about 9 or 10, which is not bad actually considering it was 1984, but now we are getting batches in which 50% or even more women are there in each batch. Work hard and your work will be recognized.

Read more: Pakistan’s critical role in the New Cold War

GVS: In that context, now when we have Foreign Secretaries who are female, we have Pakistani women as bank presidents and CEOs of many companies, so why is there still a perception that Pakistan puts limits on the progress of females?

FS: The reality in Pakistan today is that there are many successful women in public life. Women are becoming more open and competitive to take part in all career paths in Pakistan. It is our responsibility, as women who have been able to achieve success, to encourage other women, to be their role models, and mentor them.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. India must stop all engagements and interactions with the Terrorist state Pakistan. Pakistan is China’s client state and doesn’t deserve attention.

  2. The comments by some Indians just shows their desperation harping on the same tune for the last many decades. We are no terrorists but they are horrified by the skeletons in their own cupboard, Kashmir being one of them. Kudos to our FS…. a woman of substance

  3. @Tushar if we are sponsoring terrorism then what in heavens were your serving spy doing in Baluchistan when he got arrested red handed? Fine, i know you can’t answer that. But, when our FS has said, hopefully you’ve read the article, that we’re willing to discuss cross border terrorism with India then why is India being so reluctant to include Kashmir issue as well in discussions? How can a rational state policy makers think that they can succumb another nuclear state to dance to its tunes?

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