Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari praised Turkey’s initiative in recent years, acknowledging the positive role Turkey played in international and regional forums in order to solve outstanding issues. Zardari speaks on his country’s problems emanating from the Cold War era and the issue of Kashmir in this exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman
“The maturity of Turkish democracy and its economic achievements are greatly admired in Pakistan,” said Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman ahead of his official four-day visit to Turkey, adding, “Turkey has emerged as a major power in the region. Being part of Asia and Europe, it serves as a bridge between East and West.”
Zardari also praised Turkey's initiative in recent years and acknowledged the role Turkey played in international and regional forums. “We appreciate Turkey's positive role and initiatives for resolving regional issues. Turkey's stance in forums like the United Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-20, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is indeed worth appreciation,” he stated.
Stressing that his country was left to deal with problems emanating from the Cold War era, the Pakistani president said they have paid a hefty price in the form of drug trafficking and weapons culture. He made it clear during the interview that Pakistan's cooperation and gathering of intelligence foiled several global terrorism plots. “The forces of extremism and terrorism pose a threat to our own security. We remain determined and resolute to defeat them,” he emphasized.
Calling terrorism “a curse” with “no faith or creed,” Zardari underscored that terrorism is a global problem and, as such, it requires a global response. “It is a toxic brew that thrives on a perceived sense of injustice, economic deprivation and marginalization. Today, many countries around the world are facing this menace,” he explained. The Pakistani president dismissed claims that his country has no clear strategy to deal with terrorism.
Noting that there is a national consensus on how to counter terrorism and extremism in Pakistan, Zardari explained what he called the “3 Ds” strategy -- Dialogue, Development, and Deterrence -- to fight terrorism. “We have offered dialogue and amnesty to all those who renounce violence. We have undertaken development projects and are building more schools, hospitals and roads in the relatively underdeveloped and affected areas. At the same time, our armed forces and law enforcement agencies, backed by popular support and democratic legitimacy, are fighting hardcore terrorists and extremists,” he said.
As for their troubled relations with India, Zardari said he believes dialogue is the only way to normalize ties with the neighboring country, stressing that Pakistan is committed to “serious, sustained and constructive engagement with India.”
“The two countries have decided to resume dialogue on all outstanding issues,” he said, adding: “It is important for the two sides to build an atmosphere of mutual trust to resolve all our disputes, including the core Kashmir dispute, in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir. This would usher in a new era for the people of South Asia and bring much needed peace and stability to our region.”
Here is the full transcript of interview:
As the head of a state which has had brotherly relations with Turkey since its independence in 1947, would you please share your view concerning Turkey’s regional role, which has been demonstrated through its term presidency of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Trilateral Summit Process with Afghanistan and Pakistan launched in April 2007, as well as its role within Muslim countries?
Turkey has emerged as a major power in the region. Being part of Asia and Europe, it serves as a bridge between East and West. Atatürk’s vision of “Peace at home, peace in the world” and the present government’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy has turned foes into friends. The maturity of Turkish democracy and its economic achievements are greatly admired in Pakistan. We appreciate Turkey’s positive role and initiatives for resolving regional issues. The Turkish stance in forums like the UN, [the Organization of the Islamic Conference] OIC, G-20, [Economic Cooperation Organization] ECO and CICA is indeed worth appreciation.
Ankara constantly draws attention to the drawbacks of looking at South Asia through a limited historical point of view, that is to say, the problem of looking at the history of the region starting from Sept. 11, 2001. Labeling the problems of countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq as identical problems leads to societal disintegration, whereas protection of the national unity and territorial integrity of these countries should be the priority, says Ankara. Do you believe that the international community in general is aware of these drawbacks?
This is also Islamabad’s view, too. One has to understand the regional and international dynamics of the Cold War which led to the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and the resultant birth of Afghan Jihad. During this period Pakistan as a frontline state paid a heavy price in the shaping of a drug and weapons culture. We were also host to over 4 million Afghan refugees. After the success in this campaign the West left Afghanistan, abandoning it completely to its fate.
This created a vacuum which prompted Al-Qaeda and its sympathizers to redirect the Jihadi groups against the West, and 9/11 was the product of that phase. The post-9/11 situation in Afghanistan made Pakistan once again a frontline state against terrorism.
The challenges confronted by Pakistan arising out of the historical evolution of Afghanistan crises need to be understood and appreciated by the international community. Today, Pakistan’s security forces have suffered more casualties than the NATO forces combined in Afghanistan. The world community should appreciate that through our cooperation, efforts and timely intelligence, several global terrorism attacks have been averted. The forces of extremism and terrorism pose a threat to our own security. We remain determined and resolute to defeat them.
News reports recently said that Indian and Pakistani defense officials will revive talks on April 22 to demilitarize Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield. Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impromptu invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch the India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. How do you see the prospects of relations with India?
India is our neighbor with whom we want normal bilateral relations. Pakistan believes that dialogue is the only way forward and is committed to a serious, sustained and constructive engagement with India. The two countries have decided to resume dialogue on all outstanding issues. The first meeting was between the Interior Secretaries, while more secretary-level talks would be held in the coming months.
Prime Minister Gilani accepted his counterpart’s invitation and paid a brief visit to India to jointly witness the cricket match and had a useful exchange of views with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also with Congress head Sonia Gandhi.
I believe that the full resumption of the dialogue process will further the cause of peace. It is important for the two sides to build an atmosphere of mutual trust to resolve all our disputes, including the core Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir. This would usher a new era for the people of South Asia and would bring the much needed peace and stability to our region.
Your country is still suffering from terrorist attacks as two suicide bombers set off an explosion on April 2 at a Sufi shrine compound in Pakistan, killing at least 42 people. Some analysts have criticized Islamabad for not having a clear strategy on the fight against terrorism. The conclusion at a recent debate participated in by a delegation from the International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT), The Hague, was: Pakistan cannot overcome the menace of terrorism completely unless the parliament and civil society take ownership of the problem, optimally benefiting the work done by the military. What would be your response to such criticism?
Terrorism is a curse and has no faith or creed. It is a toxic brew which thrives on a perceived sense of injustice, economic deprivation and marginalization. Today, many countries around the world are facing this menace. It is the world’s fight which requires a global response.
It is absolutely wrong and misleading to assume that Pakistan has no strategy to deal with the issue. Through our parliament, we have evolved a national consensus to counter terrorism and extremism. We have developed a “3 Ds” strategy -- Dialogue, Development and Deterrence. We have offered dialogue and amnesty to all those who would renounce violence. We have undertaken development projects and are building more schools, hospitals and roads in the relatively underdeveloped and affected areas. At the same time, our armed forces and law enforcement agencies, backed by popular support and democratic legitimacy are fighting hardcore terrorists and extremists.
The successful operations in Swat and Waziristan, and on-going operations in other parts of the country, manifest a clear intent: Terrorism has no place in Pakistan. It is alien to our values and traditions and is a complete anti-thesis to our glorious faith.
Our citizens and valiant personnel of the security forces have rendered countless sacrifices in this fight. Our great leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto lost her life in a senseless terrorist act. We shall not let their sacrifices go in vain and shall, Inshallah, defeat the forces of extremism, terrorism, bigotry and obscurantism.
What kind of concrete benefits have you so far observed on the ground after the functioning of the trilateral process launched in the spring of 2007 by Turkey between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
The Trilateral Summit process, initiated in 2007 with the objective of creating goodwill and understanding between the leaderships of Pakistan and Afghanistan, has developed into an institutionalized tripartite mechanism for cooperation in the field of regional security and economic development. Pakistan appreciates Turkey’s commendable role in the region, as well as its positive contribution in advancing Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.
Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoy excellent relations today. Trust and confidence between our two countries have improved greatly with the revival of democracy in Pakistan. President [Hamid] Karzai was a special guest during my inauguration as the elected president of Pakistan in September 2008. Many high level visits have taken place since then. There is now increased cooperation in the areas of energy, transport, industry, communication, road/rail links, mining, livestock, agriculture and environment.
What kinds of results have so far been yielded in bilateral relations between Ankara and Islamabad, after a High Level Cooperation Council mechanism was set up in October 2009?
A huge reservoir of amity and goodwill exists between the peoples of the two countries. However, we need to reinvigorate our economic relations. With this in perspective, on the proposal of my brother Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, the High Level Cooperation Council [HLCC] was established and Turkey hosted the first session in December of last year. The HLCC is the equivalent of a joint cabinet meeting of the two brotherly countries that provides us a unique platform to finalize and strengthen our existing relations and give a long-term strategic direction to our bilateral relations especially in the economic sphere.
I am greatly encouraged by the successful outcome of the inaugural session of the HLCC where 18 MoUs/Agreements were signed. It was also decided to set up joint working groups in the fields of finance and banking, trade, railways and communications, energy, education and culture and tourism. This would lead to joint ventures in these fields.
Stemming from the decisions of the HLCC are connectivity projects to upgrade communications and transport, including an Islamabad-İstanbul rail link that we prefer to call Gül Train for regular cargo service; air links, including increasing the frequency and destinations of flights; and maritime cooperation and shipping links.
Results are also visible in our bilateral trade, which for the first time has almost touched the figure of $1 billion in 2010. This bodes well for reaching our target of $2 billion by 2012.
Early last year, India was not invited to a regional conference on Afghanistan hosted in İstanbul with sources saying that the reason for India’s absence at the conference stemmed from Pakistan’s objection conveyed to the Turkish side. Would you like to make a comment on this issue?
If I may recall, it was the conference of immediate neighbors of Afghanistan, an initiative of Pakistan, which Turkey kindly volunteered to host. And, India is not an immediate neighbor of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, India is represented in other international forums on Afghanistan.
Last month, Pakistan’s army chief condemned a US drone attack that killed more than three dozen people, saying the missiles struck a peaceful meeting of tribal elders, calling the strike an “unjustified and intolerable” violation of human rights. What is the state of affairs regarding communication and dialogue between the United States and your country since civilian casualties from drone strikes are a main source of friction between the Pakistani and US governments?
We consider drone attacks as counter-productive and flagrant violation of Pakistani sovereignty and international norms. The drone attack in reference is utterly unjustified as a peace assembly [jirga] was targeted resulting in the loss of innocent lives. This undermines our efforts for reconciliation and dialogue with groups who want to re-integrate with society.
We have conveyed to the United States that the strikes constituted “a flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law.” We are a key partner in the fight against terrorism and not a client state.
We believe that drones should be operated by Pakistanis under Pakistan’s flag instead of the US or any other flag or by foreign operators. Drones operated by Pakistanis will not arouse so much hostility as is aroused when operated by foreigners. That is why we have been asking the US to give drone technology to Pakistan, but unfortunately we have not yet succeeded.
Pakistan and the US are friends and allies in the fight against terrorism. We look forward to further strengthening our bilateral cooperation with the US to achieve our shared objectives.