Pakistan Has Nothing to Lose From Break-Up With US: Ex-PM Shaukat Aziz
IRSHAD SALIM (Jun 8, 2018) — Whatever is going on right now between Pakistan and America in their relationship is like two neighbors not attending each other’s BBQ weekends on their backyard though sharing the same parking lot in the neighborhood cul-de-sac every day of the working week — not moving out. The fact that America is accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorist groups and maybe thinking of putting Pakistan temporarily on the terrorism-sponsor list, also cutting aid to Pakistan, all of that has the two “allies” on the edge, outguessing each other’s moves. Maybe American sanctions will hurt the country, but towing American line could hurt Pakistan in the long-run even more, says former PM Shaukat Aziz.
Aziz, a technocrat, not a politician, gave this vantage view from the lede in a recent interview with RT — he’s a US and London-based dual national and travels a lot including China, Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” and “iron brother”. Days when Pakistan was called “buddy”, “friend”, “partner” by the U.S. are apparently over. But Aziz doesn’t think so– a view many in the country and overseas also hold. At the same time the former PM says his country has nothing to lose from the fallout and parting of ways if or when it really happens. Bottom line as understood from Aziz’s observations: It’s not the same any more. Once bitten twice shy.
Here are some excerpts (watch video of full interview below) of Aziz’s take on key national issues Pakistan is tackling, amid two huge elephants in its room: a hybrid war and project democracy, and it’s walking a tightrope adroitly though:
Aziz: The history of Pakistan-U.S. relations go back to the days when Pakistan was formed. We’ve had the privilege of being the most allied ally of the United States. CENTO, SEATO and many other alliances promoted by the West and the United States in particular – we were members of them. We also have the privilege of being one of the most sanctioned ally of that group of countries. So, “ally” sounds contradictory. And this shows that Pakistan will do what is in its national interests. It will not just go with the wind one way or another. And if it means disagreeing with a friend or some other stakeholders, if that what national interest desires that will be done. Pakistan as a country has shown to the U.S. that when they really needed help after the Afghan situation reached the stage needed to be managed Pakistan sacrificed a lot. We gave them bases, we gave them lots of lives…
The remnants of that whole action is Pakistan alone. Our people are dying, our infrastructure is affected…our money is spent…
So, I think, this is where dialogue is needed…with President Bush and his team I thought they were very balanced and very reasonable. And I’m sure that the current government will also be the same way. But we have to make our case.
On Pakistan imposing travel restrictions on U.S. diplomats as response to the U.S. travel restrictions against diplomats working in Washington, Aziz said: This was started by the State Department of the United States. And this is a standard norm with Pakistan or any other country that if somebody puts restrictions on your diplomats you at least will have the same restrictions on them in the host country…and I think, the very essence of diplomacy is contact and connectivity. And if you can’t get that you’re a reaching a sub-optimal level in your diplomatic interactions. So it doesn’t help either side. There are no winners and losers in this game. It’s a win-win or lose-lose.
Just recently the State Department has called Pakistan an ally in the war on terror but wants to put Pakistan on the temporary terrorism-sponsor list, cutting aid, this diplomatic spat. It’s almost like it’s sending mixed signals to Pakistan. How should Pakistan interpret this?
Aziz responded: I think, Pakistan should raise the ante even more. My personal advice to the leadership and the foreign minister is to raise the issue publicly and more actively in the press. You see, the United States is a very open society. And we must get to all of the stakeholders through media, through one-on-one interactions etc. The U.S. culture doesn’t mind if you are open and blunt and they are not shy. They have seen all the issues. And neither our people are shy. So I think, we should be more articulate and more open about it. Use the media, use civil society groups. U.S. is a very open society. So you can go to many think tanks and tell your view, explain it and sort of filter through it all. You can go to the press, which is different than think tanks. You can go to other civil society groups who may or may not have influence. This is how you get closer to the country and send your point across. Every country must know the stakeholders in the other country they want to interact with and know what is the best key to open that door. That’s what diplomacy is all about. So I think, Pakistan is doing it, but they can probably do more.
On Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline in plans, Aziz said Pakistan will continue doing business with Iran regardless of American threats to sanction countries doing business with Iran. “If there are sanctions from the UN or America, we would then have a dialogue with them and see what the sanctions are, are we contributing in the process of looking at sanctions, are we by not following them doing something which is harming somebody. I would say, no. We have to buy that commodity from some place. So we buy it from our neighbor. And each case is different in the nature of sanctions. Sanction is a loose word. A type of sanctions imposed gets very technical. Obviously if there’s a UN resolution saying “you can’t do something”, then we can’t do something. But if it’s bilateral the flexibility is very much there.”
RT: And obviously the peace in Afghanistan is a never ending topic for Pakistan. A negotiated peace in Afghanistan seems like what the Afghans themselves are supporting. When you’re talking about the U.S.-Pakistani relations you’re being extremely diplomatic, other Pakistani politicians are much less. They seem to think that maybe the relationship between the two countries is on the verge. So if there’s a collapse in the relationship between these two countries can there be a consolidated peace process involving all actors in this war?
Aziz: I don’t know what other people say. But I can tell you what I say. I have a pretty good understanding of the U.S. also having lived there, worked there for a U.S. bank for thirty years. The U.S. has its point of view, but I think we can do business with the U.S. I think there are many ways to build that relationship. The key to the good financial management in today’s environment is having options to have different avenues to get to the same objectives. And U.S. is not the only option. It’s an important option and we’ve always said we want close relations and we want to increase our linkages with them. But if it doesn’t meet our national interest, nobody can authorize it to be done. So I think, to have a general view that ending of U.S.-Pakistani ties will hurt Pakistan isn’t true. There’s a lot of stuff we can do. We’ve had relations. As I said, we were the most allied ally of the U.S. and then we became the most sanctioned ally of the U.S. And even in this environment we were buying and selling goods to each other. People were going, traveling, everything was normal. However, dealing with the U.S. is a very complex relationship. So it has to be managed accordingly and you can’t run away from that. If somebody’s giving you aid and they have certain rules and regulations, either you agree with them or you go somewhere else.
RT: The United States would argue that the main stumbling point between America and Pakistan is Pakistan’s alleged help to the extremist groups like the Afghan Taliban. Your former boss Musharraf admitted to it as well. Many other Pakistani politicians, the press has admitted to it. The general argument is that “we support the Taliban in Afghanistan because we don’t want India to go into Afghanistan”. So let’s assume that’s true, and Pakistan is arming the Afghan Taliban, is there no better way to deal with India than supporting a terrorist group?
Aziz: No, I think, look, Taliban has nothing to do with India. So if anyone else mentions that to you, please tell them to talk to me. Pakistan’s sole objective on the Taliban, Afghanistan actually more than the Taliban, is to have peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan will be the biggest beneficiary of a peaceful, strong, vibrant Afghanistan. We will be the biggest loser if Afghanistan is weak, if Afghanistan has a lot of terrorist activity and other things happen. Who will be the biggest loser? We will be. This thing is very contagious. Terrorists don’t recognize borders. We should get away from this mindset. This line that “they have a problem, we don’t”, no… This thing blows like…
RT: So you disagree with Musharraf when he admits that Pakistan finances…
Aziz: On his Pakistani statement? Everybody is entitled to their views. But it depends on the context of the statement. I’ve read several statements, not this particular one. It is that we sacrificed a lot for them. And then when mujahedins, as they are being called, were being trained in Pakistan to go to fight and to liberate the country, we were part of the whole effort with the United States and others. That’s well-known to your country too. They knew exactly what was going on. So we don’t go out of the blue and say: “Ok, guys, let’s collect weapons here, we’re going to train you”. No, it has to suit our national interest also.
RT: So when Americans are accusing Pakistan of sponsoring terrorists, and I know that Pakistan is actually fighting a real war against terrorism at home, against its own homegrown Taliban…
Aziz: Absolutely! …which is a fallout of what happened in Afghanistan.
RT: It is weird to me. Once again, I’m not getting it out of nowhere, I’m stating things that politicians from your country are saying…
Aziz: No, I’ve read a lot of what you’re saying.
RT: And former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged that Pakistan is actually supporting and using other extremist groups for operations – he was talking about the terrorist attack in Mumbai – and he’s not the first one to admit to that …
Aziz: It has nothing to do only with Afghanistan. I’ve read all of them.
RT: No, we’re talking about financing terrorist groups. So to me it’s just weird how a country can be fighting a real war on terror on its own territory and then also be financing terrorist groups outside and this has to do with India…
Aziz: And I think, there’s enough evidence that India is also supporting terrorist groups in Pakistan. So, I don’t know what came first and what came second, but if that happens then both countries will become part of the solution and part of the problem. And that’s what you’re seeing. If you see press reports in isolation you may not really get to all of it. But no country in their right mind will support terrorism, particularly Pakistan which has been a major victim. And it’s not just in one area, it’s all through the country because the citizens are free to travel. So we’re fighting terrorism with all resources at our disposal. We believe that the solution to the crisis in Afghanistan is not through terrorism, it should be through economic development, good governance, and it applies to Pakistan also. If we create jobs, open opportunities for people, give them hope, terrorism will come down. It has come down in Pakistan but isn’t completely eliminated.
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