Eye on Pakistan

Zardari Interview in the FT: Part 1

Posted in Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs by onpakistan on June 8, 2009

Zardari recently gave an interview to the Financial Times (FT), which was given substantial coverage in this newspaper. In this blog post, the first of three, I reproduce the interview. The interview can be found here.

President Asif Ali Zardari spoke to the FT’s Asia Editor, David Pilling, and the Pakistan correspondent, Farhan Bokhari, about the challenges of defeating the Taliban in Pakistan and the wider issues facing his South Asian nuclear armed country.

Published: June 4 2009 19:48 | Last updated: June 4 2009 19:48

FT: What were the significant factors which forced you to change your policy towards the Taliban in Swat and order the military operation?

AZ: Government’s policy on war against militancy is based on three Ds, namely dialogue, development and deterrence. This policy is also backed by the national parliament.

In accordance with this policy of three Ds, the provincial government of Pukhtoonkhwah (North-west Frontier Province, or NWFP) entered into negotiations with local elders in Swat, who promised that the militants will lay down arms and not challenge writ of the state in return for a system of speedy justice called the “Nizam i Adl” (enforcement of justice) regulation. The Nizam i Adl regulation was first enforced in 1994 and amended in 1999. It was again amended in 2009 in accordance with the demand of the people.

The Nifazi Adl regulation 2009 is an improvement on the regulation of 1999 and is not Nifaz i Shariat (enforcement of sharia), as is claimed by some.

Although under the constitution I as the president could sign and approve the regulation, I sent it to the parliament for discussion and debate.

The parliament through a unanimous resolution asked that the regulation 2009 be enforced in the Swat and Malakand (Northern Region). That is how it became a law.

However, in spite of meeting this demand, the militants neither laid down arms nor stopped challenging the writ of the state.

They openly defied the state, the parliament, the constitution and the judiciary, even going to the extent of declaring the parliament and the judiciary as un-Islamic.

The militants even demanded that the Qazis (Islamic court judges) be appointed by them although, according to the regulation 2009, the Qazis were to be appointed by the government in accordance with the laid-down procedure.

They then went into Buner, lower Dir and the adjoining districts challenging the writ of the state and at the same time setting up their own courts.

The government was left with no alternative but to resort to deterrence and the security agencies were tasked to clear the area of the militants and restore writ of the state. This is the reason of our resort to force.

FT: How well prepared is Pakistan to deal with the refugees from Swat? Are you concerned that the pressure posed by the exodus of civilians from Swat will simply become beyond the capacity of your government?

AZ: Relief and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons is a critical issue for Pakistan. Perhaps never before in the history of mankind have nearly 3m people been displaced in a short span of two weeks. The magnitude and scale of displacement is awesome.

The government has made special allocation for the relief of the IDPs. A special support group was established to facilitate the provincial government in registration, camp management, medical and education facilities, and procurement of supplies for relief activities. The government also organised an international donors’ conference in Islamabad to urge the international community for support.

We realise the serious limitations of the government in this task. By a conservative estimate rehabilitation of IDPs will cost billions of dollars. This is in addition to the economic loss suffered due to loss of earnings of 3m people of Swat from agriculture, tourism, mining, trade and transport and the economic loss becomes huge. We also realise that if the displaced people are dissatisfied they can easily become a prey to the propaganda of the militants. Democracy could suffer a serious blow and the militants will gain more strength if the issue is not addressed urgently and effectively.

We have also appealed to the international community to step forward and help Pakistan in providing immediate relief to the displaced people. The US, UK, France and many other countries have promised assistance. In about two weeks’ time I would be travelling to Brussels where the EU summit will also take up this issue as well as our request for access to Pakistan goods to their markets. It is a challenging task and with the help of the international community we are meeting the challenge head-on.

FT: Do you have full confidence in the ability of your army to deal with this challenge? Are you worried that this fight may be beyond the capacity of your army?

AZ: Yes, not only I but the whole nation has full confidence in the ability of its armed forces to meet the challenges to our national security. Our armed forces can meet the challenge; they will. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it.

As a matter of fact it is the fight for our very survival. The future generations will not forgive us if we fail. We can’t afford to lose it. Defeat is not an option for us.

FT: Overall, is there anything approaching an existential threat to Pakistan? How real is the danger of Pakistan drifting towards religious fundamentalism?

AZ: Extremism and a militant mindset is a serious threat, no doubt. But it would be an exaggeration to say that the militants pose an existential threat to our country.

The militants do not have the capacity to pose an existential threat to our country. An overwhelming majority of the people are against them. The civil society and the political forces will never allow it.

There is a broad-based national consensus on the operation against them. The civil society and the political forces will never allow it. This factor alone is enough to say that the militants will never be able to overrun Pakistan no matter how much disruption of normal life they may cause.

FT: As president of Pakistan, how worried are you about rising antiwestern sentiment in your country? Has the world done enough to help Pakistan?

AZ: A number of western countries have pledged help. We are thankful for their assistance. However, much more needs to be done. The world needs to do much more. The world must realise that if the militants are not stopped at the borders of Pakistan then the peace of the region, indeed of the world, will be threatened. It is in the interest of not only Pakistan but the entire international community to contain militancy and militants.

There have been antiwestern sentiments due to the fallout from cold war mistakes when Pakistan and Afghanistan were abandoned after the Soviets’ withdrawal.

Another reason for this has been the support to dictatorship in Pakistan given by some western countries. The militants have also tried to project the war against them as the western-inspired war. The unpopular dictator (former president General Pervez Musharraf) lost political space to this mindset.

Further, respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and support to its democracy are essential for addressing the antiwestern sentiment. The world should not only hear but also listen to us.

FT: Given the challenges faced by Pakistan, are you convinced that a democratic government is best suited to deal with this challenge? Is there a danger of Pakistan drifting back to military rule?

AZ: After repeated experiments the world has reached the conclusion that democracy is best suited as a form of governance. A democratic government is not only best suited to deal with the situation, it is perhaps the only course available. It was due to democracy that we have been able to build national consensus and give political ownership to the war against militancy.

Under dictatorship, the fight against militancy was fought whimsically without building national consensus. That is why many within Pakistan and abroad suspected that the dictator (Mr Musharraf) was running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Democracy has given ownership to the war and the nation is united against the militants. We are convinced that a democratic government is best suited to deal with the challenge.

FT: After the assassination of your late wife, Benazir Bhutto, how difficult has it become for politicians including yourself to disregard security concerns and campaign publicly for important causes?

AZ: Security is important for all politicians, no doubt particularly under the present circumstances. However, the Pakistan Peoples party (the ruling party) has a history of sacrifices for the cause of the people and democracy. The PPP leadership has never buckled under threats of security.

There are risks involved but political leadership has to take risks. This is what leadership is all about. Leaders cannot confine themselves for fear of their lives. That is why all government and political leaders including myself have visited IDP camps despite the security risk.

FT: You have talked about extending the military operations to the tribal areas such as Waziristan. Given the large-scale humanitarian fallout from Swat, isn’t this going to be a very high-risk undertaking?

AZ: We will fight the militants and extremists wherever they may be in Pakistan. There are difficulties but we cannot abandon our duty to fight the war for our survival and also to win it at all costs.

We cannot allow the militants to capture state power through the use of gun and impose their obscurantist agenda on the people of Pakistan. Nor can we allow them to hold a nation of 170m people hostage. We expect the international community to support us in this endeavour.

FT: Many in the US believe that there are elements in your army who are still sympathetic to the Taliban. How do you respond to that?

AZ: Such misgivings are unfounded. There may have been some elements within the intelligence and security apparatus who, because of their past association with the Taliban during the war against the Soviet Union, had sympathies for them. But as supreme commander of the armed forces, I believe that there are no longer such elements within the state apparatus.

If anyone can produce evidence to prove that there still are some elements supportive of the Taliban within the state apparatus, and these are brought to the attention of the government, it will take appropriate action.

FT: Your government has often protested against the drone attacks carried out by the US. What is the assurance that your own government and the military will be able to target those militants who may otherwise be targeted by the US?

AZ: Since this is our war it is in our national interest that we target the enemies of our country. I have full faith in the ability of our forces to take out the enemies of the people and the state. As a matter of fact we have asked the US to give us the drone technology and we will take out the militants ourselves instead of others violating our sovereignty in taking out the militants.

FT: What is your assessment of US policy under Barack Obama? Do you feel that the US still needs to make further changes on its policy towards the Pakistan and Afghanistan region? If so, what are some of the key changes you would like to see?

AZ: We have welcomed President Obama’s new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. We feel that it places correct emphasis on the developmental aspect of the war against militancy.

Our people also need to see a visible expression of international assistance and support. Poverty and underdevelopment breed terrorism. We feel that there is need for a Marshall Plan for the development of the region to defeat extremism in the long run. The world needs to support Obama’s strategy and take it in that direction.

FT: Now that a new government has been elected in India, how soon can your two countries move beyond the fallout from the Mumbai attacks? What more is Pakistan prepared to do to improve its relations with India?

AZ: We have welcomed the election in India and the formation of new government in that country.

The relations between India and Pakistan went into a low following the Mumbai attacks last November. The government of Pakistan had strongly condemned the Mumbai attacks and extended full co-operation to India in the investigations.

Unfortunately, however, India suspended the composite dialogue process with Pakistan after the Mumbai incident. Pakistan has reiterated the importance of sustained and constructive engagement to the Indian side to defuse tensions and address each other’s concerns through dialogue. The resumption of dialogue is in the interest of peace in the region.

Tagged with:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: