Americans say they support democracies yet prefer military regimes – Pakistani ex-FM

Pakistan is failing to contain the extremist onslaught inside the country, with local militants now claiming to be cooperating with Islamic State. All while tensions with neighboring India are at a boiling point and risk unraveling into a full-blown confrontation between two nuclear powers. The election of Donald Trump in the US doesn't add hope of stability for Islamabad – after his harsh rhetoric on relations with Pakistan. Is there a way to prop up the fragile security balance? And with a new president in the White House, what role will the US play in the battle against terrorism in the region? We ask former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hina Khar.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Hina Khar, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, welcome to the show, it's great to have you with us. Now, obviously, the whole world is talking about America's new president-elect - Donald Trump. Now in regards to Pakistan, Trump previously said that ‘Pakistan is not our friend’, and blamed Islamabad for harboring terrorists. Are Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. in danger of collapsing now?

Hina Khar: No, I don't think so. Frankly speaking, typically, if you look at the last 10 years, through various administrations the relations have been somewhat consistent. They have not been great, but they have been consistent, and I think in the last 15 years or so a lot of Pakistan-U.S. relations have suffered because of being looked at primarily from an Afghan lens or from Afghanistan's perspective or what has been happening over there perspective. So, typically, I think much as many people in Pakistan were much more comfortable, as the rest of the world was, with the Clinton presidency, I would think that as things progress... the Pakistani government has already said that it looks forward to working with Trump presidency or administration. I would assume that candidate Trump was different from, hopefully, president Trump and Pakistan remains an important country, engagement with the United States remains a priority and I think we're not the only ones who want engagement. I think the U.S. is also keen to have useful, fulfilling engagement with Pakistan.

SS: Trump did call Pakistan a ‘vital problem’ because of your nuclear weapons and the threat of terrorism. In an interview with CNN, he boasted that he’s the only one who can solve the problem of terrorism in Pakistan - what can he do that America isn’t already doing?

HK: I would be very happy to get his views on how he would solve this problem, because, really, I think the world today is loudly telling us one thing and that is that interventions or outside help have seldom solved problems. Problems are mostly because of exogenous factors - as in this region. Pakistan is a classic example of exogenous factors, leading to indigenous problems. But, the solutions, as we have seen, witnessed in the world always have to be indigenous and I'm very proud of where Pakistan is going and I love to say this, and I will say this to you, also, that whereas the rest of the world is moving towards extremism, Pakistan is perhaps one of the only countries in the world which is veering away from extremism and coming towards normalcy. You see the fight against terrorism in its many-many manifestations in Pakistan, the military sacrifice that is happening on a daily basis, the civilian sacrifice, to be quite fair, the fact that we are tightening the noose around many-many extremist organisations which function in Pakistan - all of these are signs of the direction that this country is taking. If you look around us, within the region, it seems that every other country is taking the opposite direction, so I'm very satisfied at the journey that Pakistan has begun.

SS: The number of American counter-terror drone strikes in Pakistan has soared under Obama. As Trump vows to fight terrorism - do you expect him to expand the strikes even further?

HK: You know, frankly speaking, both as a Foreign Minister and now that I don't carry that mantle, and the party that I represent - Pakistan People's Party - and the government that I represented, we truly believed and we still believe that drone strikes have been counter-productive to getting rid of terrorism, because what they did was, if they took one enemy #1 or enemy #2 out or the ten-hit list out, they created hundreds of more because of the catastrophic human toll that it entailed. There were civilians, there were innocent children who were killed in this, it was considered to be against international law - so, again, I think the world is becoming a dangerous place, because important, powerful countries are not respecting international law and are happily going outside of what is considered to be international law to get their short-term objectives. So, it's a fight between winning the war, or winning the battle. I think we have so far -when I say 'we' I mean the international order so far - has chosen to win the battle at the cost of losing the war.

SS: The Afghan Taliban leader - Mullah Mansour - was killed in an American drone strike, while he was hiding in Pakistan, and while you're saying that Pakistan is moving away from extremism, it still has a problem of terrorism, on its own as well, on it's own territory - so why harbor Afghan terrorists on its own soil?

HK: All of these elements, whether they are Pakistani, Afghan, Uzbek, whatever creed, or colour, or cast, or nationality - Pakistan, through the military operations and through tightening a noose around them, is now getting rid of them one by one or ten by ten - whatever you want to call it. So, this is certainly not a Pakistani policy that you want Afghan Taliban to be finding any space in Pakistan. We want all Afghans, frankly speaking, to respectfully, honourably, go back to their own country. We have hosted 3 million Afghan refugees, I have to say that we want them to be able to go back to their place, with honour, with dignity. We have housed them and have been taking care of them for almost 25 years. We would not want to now do anything which is in any way viewed as hostile by Afghans. Afghans are friends, are neighbors...

SS: But the matter of the fact is that Afghan Taliban are still finding refuge in Pakistan. Does that mean that Pakistan has no control over parts of its territory?

HK: I think, like every other country, Pakistan struggles with being able to manage the disproportionate challenge which is at its hands. Because, you know, when you ask me this question, I could ask you a counter-question, and say that did all the NATO forces and U.S. forces in its prime, a hundred thousand U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan not have the way to be able to deal with the various groupings of Taliban, including the Pakistani Taliban which existed on Afghan territory, on Afghan soil? So if you think that a coalition of that proportion, of that nature, of that might was not able to get rid of it, then to expect a country like Pakistan to do it all in one go - may be a tough call, may be tough order, may be asking too much a country to be able to do it so soon. What satisfies me, because as a person, as a party that I represent, as a government that I represented, and I believe that the current dispensation in Pakistan, and I believe also that what is called the 'deep establishment' or the 'deep state' in Pakistan are all on one page on the issue of insuring that no element which uses violence finds place on Pakistani territory. However, of course, we ourselves are not satisfied with the pace of the operations, okay - because we want to be able get Pakistan rid of them, so they account to zero - we are not at zero right now. But if you started from hundred, we are certainly beyond the 50 point, and it's going to continue to be a long and arduous journey.

SS: Answering your counter-question about NATO, actually, regardless its military might, NATO's strategic actions in the region are often questionable, just because they don't know their allies on the ground. That's why the countries where the problems are actually arising from are more competent to fight their own domestic problems. So, I don't know that NATO's military might is always the answer to solve terrorism problems in the region. But that's to answer your counter-question. Now, the Ex-ISI chief General Durrani told me that the killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was sending Taliban negotiators to peace talks, that he was willing to give it a try. But the new Taliban leader takes a harder line. So has the drone that took out Mansour actually made peace less achievable? What do you think?

HK: You need to have a strategic direction, okay? Typically, I think, if you look at the last 10-15 years of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, what we have seen missing is a strategic direction of being able to achieve... first of all, define your objectives properly, right? Are you really trying to get peace and negotiate peace amongst various warring tribes and elements within Afghanistan, or are you trying to kill them, kill the ones which you think are not willing to negotiate, or the ones which are not likely to negotiate so soon, etc. And we've seen that there has been a lot of ambiguity and a lack of common direction on that end. So, I also think that getting rid of one or two big targets, on leadership level, which may be more likely to negotiate may not be such a great strategy. However, I will still say that any elements which are not Pakistani and are considered to be inimical to the interests of our Afghan brothers should have no space in Pakistan. And I know this as policy: whatever Pakistan has, the way that Pakistan has, to be able to bring them to the negotiating table, I think Pakistan has been trying to use it, and Pakistan is still using it as we speak.

SS: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me that Pakistan is seeking to control events in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani intelligence is using the Taliban for this - does that mean Islamabad is effectively holding Afghanistan's future peace in its hands?

HK: No, absolutely not, and, you know, this is, frankly speaking, you know, what I call "old wine in an even older bottle", because I think Pakistan has been cursed with so much blame coming in from the Afghan side, coming in from American side, coming in from pretty much every side on what went wrong in Afghanistan and, really, by now there are ample records of what went wrong in Afghanistan: it was the lack of strategy, it was a lack of knowing who needs to do what at what time and how much investment was made into military and how much as opposed to that, investment was made in the economic side, in economic empowerment, etc. You know, this whole question of peace negotiations - who in Afghanistan is on who's side is still unknown. The Americans have done too much, too much, to and fro on that particular issue, when do they want to negotiate, when do they want to kill, and there has been a lack of strategy. And all of that blame has come and happily fallen into Pakistan's lap. You see, this whole question of Pakistan having this immense control in Afghanistan and Pakistan being responsible for all the bloodshed in Afghanistan - you know, one needs to only have primary logic and rationalism to be able to also ask the question: if Pakistan is causing all of that in Afghanistan, then who's causing all of that in Pakistan? Shall we also look for easy blames? This is an existential threat for this region. Terrorism is a bigger threat than, I feel that leaders who like to pinpoint fingers or just blame the other guy or the guy next door, are not understanding the proportion of this threat. So, we've heard too much of Pakistan being responsible for whatever went wrong in Afghanistan and it gives everybody an easy target, but honestly speaking, having worked and having seen a lot of facts on the ground and having seen how many other countries reacted and acted and having seen how Afghanistan itself is mostly not on the same page on how to deal with this threat of terrorism or the question of negotiations. I think Pakistan is obviously just an easy target and that's about it.

SS: Closer to home,  the recent attack on the Quetta police academy, which took over 60 lives, was a coordinated effort between the Pakistani Taliban and ISIS in Pakistan. Now, this is not Mujahideens, this is not even Taliban, this is a fairly new phenomena. The Pakistani military has said numerous times it won’t let ISIS into the country - does the army really have the Daesh situation under control in Pakistan?

HK: As far as the question of ISIS is concerned, I think, you will see that a lot of these elements have tendency to latch on their name to some big events. Sometimes you need very hard intelligence to be able to prove that which group has actually implemented that act and which group is actually taking credit for the act, and there are, of course, many small splinter groups within Pakistan which are very keen to be able to associate with the bigger ISIS phenomena.

SS: Donald Trump said - to be quite precise, in May he told the Fox News, that keeping nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is good “because it's adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons." - how does Pakistan feel about that presence?

HK: You know, Pakistan feels that in the long term having any foreign troops in any region, certainly our region, is counter-productive, for the simple reason that it gives weight and narrative to the extremists. So, they can use this narrative by saying things like: "oh, there's foreign presence in our country" or "in this region and they are trying to"... we all know these conspiracy theories. So, in the very long run, in the longest run or in the long run, we do not ideally want any foreign troops anywhere around the region, right? We want to foster ties with Afghanistan. Afghanistan should not feel threatened, certainly not by any of its neighbors, and most importantly, by Pakistan. As far as having troops in Afghanistan to take care of Pakistan's nuclear weapons - I'm sure, as President-elected Trump hears more briefings, he will understand that there will be no requirement for him to have troops around Pakistan to keep tabs on its nuclear weapons or nuclear program. I think we have one of the best safeguarded nuclear weapons programs in the world, it has been recognised by various foreign agencies, and I can assure him that it this is not an affair he should have sleepless nights over.

SS: You’ve said once that the U.S. prefers to work with military regimes in Pakistan, as opposed to civilian governments - why is that... are military govts just more efficient?

HK: First of all, there supposed to be no such thing as 'military governments' in a country whose Constitution clearly is a democratic one, and for that matter a British Parliamentarian model, but Pakistan has had a history of military governments and I wouldn't say that they are more efficient... I think, interestingly, if you look at Pakistan's history, military governments have always come in at a time when there's been immense regional flux, or there have been incidents within the region or within the world which would require quick answers. Now, we have seen, again, through history that quick answers are not always the best answers. We have seen through the actions and reactions of the Zia regime, many actions and reactions in Musharraf regime. What a democratic dispensation does is allows a country to go as far as it is accepted by its public, and that is very, very important. So, what I said as per the U.S. sort of preference to work with military government - it's coming from the fact that if you look at the U.S. history, typically, if you look at the assistance that has been given to Pakistan, the diplomatic support that has been given in Pakistan, it has always peaked during military regimes. Now, this is not a question that I can answer. This is the question that Americans have to answer, that as much as they talk about democracies and supporting democracies, etc. - historically, and hopefully it is not true, I think the patience or the appetite for military regimes anywhere in the world should be close to zero, but certainly in the past we've seen this tendency.

SS: The latest Indian-Pakistani clashes were at their most intense, and we even had banners appear in Pakistani cities calling for the military to impose martial law. Do you think an army coup is on the horizon? Will the population welcome such a move?

HK: No, honestly, I think Pakistan is far too advanced in its democratic journey to ever revert to a thing like that. The question of a small minority, uninformed, small minority in any country to think that military law or military rule is an answer to Pakistan's problems... what we have seen is the opposite of that, because Pakistan has been led under military rule for almost half of its history, okay, and instead of solving the problems, every time a military ruler has existed, he has created a whole bundle of new problems for Pakistan. So, Pakistan is a country whose history teaches you that slow steady progress, which is sometimes, yes, very-very frustrating, under the democratic system, building of democratic institutions rather than breaking down democratic institutions is the way forward for the country's growth and development.

SS: Donald Trump has offered his mediation in the latest India-Pakistan spat. But during his presidential campaign he said a number of Islamophobic things, right - surely that’ll make talking to Pakistani politicians a lot more difficult?

HK: Absolutely, he certainly had, and not only Islamophobic stuff or, you know... pretty much attacked many-many segments of society, if I want to put it diplomatically, which may not be taken very well by any of those segments of society. Now, as I said, I generally believe in giving people a chance, okay - and American people have spoken with a strong voice, I think we need to try and forget candidate Trump, and give president-elect Trump a chance. In case he acts like Prime Minister Modi of India, where candidate Modi was not very different from Prime Minister Modi, at least for a country like Pakistan, of course we'll have to reconsider the positivity that we are trying to foster here. But, at the current moment, you have to respect the choice that American people have made, as much as many people would've expected or hoped for a different choice, but you have to respect the choice that they've made and give president-elect Trump a chance, and see how he does as a President rather than what he said as candidate Trump.

SS: You’ve said before that Kashmir cannot be conquered, and the situation can be only resolved through dialogue. What kind of dialogue can we talk about after blood is spilled and the public is calling for vengeance? How do you go into talks when all the Pakistani media, all the Indian media, is so hostile to each other?

HK: To be quite fair, I'm the first one to take the blame for Pakistan whenever it is deserved, okay, but really, in this current situation, as I said, Prime Minister Modi has really proven that he is much more interested in ensuring that his domestic audience and his domestic constituency is strengthened and much less interesting in building a legacy for himself as a peace-builder, as a peacemaker, as a person who gives to the region long term chance for prosperity. What he's doing is taking away all chances of regional connectivity, of regional coherence, of regional peace, to be quite fair. Kashmir was a very different place even two years from today than it is now, and Prime Minister Modi, unfortunately has done whatever is in his powers to ensure that the Kashmiri people are now up in arms, and this is as indigenous of a movement as it gets. You have seen New York Times, you have seen The Guardian, right - reports over reports about the use of pellets, about the blinding of human beings - it's a genocide of a disproportionate nature, which is not getting the international attention that it should get. To be fair, Prime Minister Modi has ensured that the Kashmiri people will not now be willing to negotiate with India, which has literally killed its innocent people, which has... Liberal Indians today have been dehumanised completely to the blood that is spilling in Kashmir by its own military. When you look at Pakistan, Pakistan presents a very different picture, because Pakistan is coming outwards from extremism and is going towards normalcy. India is going from normalcy, from a secular India, which did well, going deeper and deeper into the folds of religious extremism, hatred, state terrorism of disproportionate nature, and literally closing the doors to negotiations.

SS: Alright, Mrs. Khar, it's been great talking to you, thank you for this insight. We were talking to Hina Khar, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, discussing the impact of the U.S. election on the country and Islamabad's fight against terrorism. That's it for this edition of SophieCo, I will see you next time.