News / Asia

Q&A: Pakistan Foreign Policy Chief Discusses Afghanistan

Sartaj Aziz, currently Pakistan's foreign policy chief, gestures during an interview at his office in Lahore in this May 24, 2013, file photo.Sartaj Aziz, currently Pakistan's foreign policy chief, gestures during an interview at his office in Lahore in this May 24, 2013, file photo.
x
Sartaj Aziz, currently Pakistan's foreign policy chief, gestures during an interview at his office in Lahore in this May 24, 2013, file photo.
Sartaj Aziz, currently Pakistan's foreign policy chief, gestures during an interview at his office in Lahore in this May 24, 2013, file photo.
Ayaz Gul
Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz this week spoke with VOA’s Ayaz Gul about how the new government in Islamabad views India’s role in Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and efforts to convince Taliban leaders to join Afghan peace talks.
 
Gul: In terms of reducing diplomatic tensions and overcoming the trust deficit plaguing U.S.-Pakistan ties, how productive were your talks with [U.S.] Secretary [John] Kerry when he was here in Islamabad last week?
 
Aziz: "Both sides agreed that so far in the last few years Pakistan’s relations with America were dominated by the Afghan issues and now that the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan in 2014, we emphasized and they agreed that we must develop our relationship in an independent manner and not through the Afghan lens or even the Indian prism because basically the relationship is important enough to stand on its own.  And, finally, I think we both agreed that the transactional nature of the relation[ship] can become strategic if we build strong economic links and the future relationship will build on more trade, more investment, technology, education, energy cooperation and things of that kind. So, I think, in one sense we agreed that we will try to double the trade from $5.1 billion to more than $10 or $11 billion in the next five years to give strength to this relationship. "
 
Gul: Many in Pakistan insist their country has sacrificed more than others in the war against terrorism but received comparatively little U.S. economic assistance in return. How important are those U.S. funds for future bilateral relations under Prime Minister Sharif’s government?
 
Aziz: Not at all. I think, of course, first of all, the assistance that we received apart from half of it was Coalition Support Fund, which is not net additional assistance. It is compensation for the expenditure we have incurred in anti-terror operations in various ways and still amounts are outstanding. And the total aid of about  $10-$12 billion over this period is, if you count in number of years, 12 years, it is not very significant in that sense. So, for us, market access in trade is more important. We will certainly judge this relationship on the basis of market access that we get, the way they facilitate American investors to invest here and much more importantly, transfer of technology and, of course, defense cooperation where we are wholly dependent on American equipment and technology.
 
Gul: In the wake of your talks with Secretary Kerry and your recent trip to Kabul, do you expect a revival of the Doha process for Afghan reconciliation anytime soon?
 
Aziz: Obviously, in this context we are working more in coordination to see that the Afghan reconciliation process moves forward and I think we have both agreed that it should be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process and we should not try to orchestrate it from outside. The Doha process got into trouble because of the controversy over the flag and the name of the office. But the important thing is for different Afghan groups, particularly the High Peace Council and the Taliban and some other stakeholders to talk to each other, whether they talk in Doha, Dubai or Istanbul or anywhere. That is not so material. So the Doha process actually had given the wrong connotation. Actually, the reconciliation process which should go on and that is our hope now but obviously Afghanistan is getting ready for an election next April and that will obviously create some hiccups and some lull in the activity. But some contacts I think have started in the last few weeks and let us hope they will continue.
 
Gul: Both the Afghan government and the Taliban are apparently unwilling to back down from their stated positions since the Doha process was grounded. What would you tell them to do to get them back to the negotiating table?
 
Aziz: Obviously, the Taliban have been saying that this government, this constitution is imposed by foreign powers and is not indigenous. But I think many of them realize that once they are part of the negotiating process, then they will be able to make changes if they require. So in that sense there are some groups which want to talk and take part, others of course do not believe in that. So I think if both sides show some flexibility because, after all, Afghans have been living together for centuries, different ethnic groups and people from different parts of the country, and they must live together because [their] future lies in a united, democratic and hopefully, a stable Afghanistan. But Pakistan has clearly told them that we are not going to interfere in [their] internal affairs and we have no favorites so we hope that [they] will find ways and means of sorting out these problems and achieving a settlement for the future dispensation within Afghanistan. We can only facilitate when [they] ask us to do so otherwise it is [their] own process.
 
Gul: President Hamid Karzai is expected to visit Pakistan later this month and this is apparently the outcome of your recent visit to Kabul. Were you able to address his concerns regarding the Doha peace process and will that top the agenda of your talks when he arrives in Islamabad?
 
Aziz: The purpose of that is not just to discuss reconciliation but improve relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan because these foreign powers come and go. The British came in the last century and then the Russians came and the Americans have come and gone, we are always together and we have to have [a] good relationship among the people of the two countries. So I tried to explain to the Afghan leaders that the hostile statements which come from Afghanistan have a very bad impact on the people of Pakistan because they think they have sacrificed so much in the last 30-35 years, and look what we are getting in return. So I think that message helped and I said that if there are any problems or differences, let us discuss them in diplomatic or other channels rather airing them in the media. So, [President Karzai’s] visit I hope will help us to further discuss the importance of improving relations between the two countries and that requires the commitment of the people on both sides to help each other because Afghanistan has suffered a lot in the last 35 years. Millions of people have been killed, displaced and all that, and Pakistan and its people do want to help them but I hope the atmosphere is improved to enable them to do that.”
 
Gul: Secretary Kerry also suggested that there will be enormous economic return in the region if Pakistan and India could confidently invest in each other. Moreover, Prime Minister Sharif also invited India to engage in the proposed economic corridor between Pakistan and China. Where do things stand between the new government and India, and are you close to resuming the stalled peace talks, namely [the] Composite Dialogue with India?
 
Aziz: In the last seven-eight weeks a lot of progress has been made because the two prime ministers [Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh] talked to each other immediately and then India sent its representative for back channel diplomacy immediately after Nawaz Sharif was elected, and we nominated very quickly Pakistan’s back channel representative, Sheharyar Khan, and he went to India and met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the 5th of July. In the meanwhile, I met the Indian foreign minister in Brunei Darussalam and we agreed to resume the composite dialogue by convening the [working] groups. We have now sent the time schedule for those groups to India and they have accepted. The two prime ministers are scheduled to meet in New York in September. So, initial steps have been taken to resume the dialogue. Now the outcome is difficult to judge partly because the Indians are preparing for the elections next year. So, a major stance or efforts to reach compromises may not be possible but a number of things are possible. So, we are hoping that these contacts and the groups that we are convening will make progress on their respective agenda. So at least when the new government comes we are ready for any breakthrough that may be possible.
 
Gul: Do you think there is a need for Pakistan and India to also have a dialogue on Afghanistan to address each other’s concerns and reservations?
 
Aziz: “Not a dialogue in that sense. Pakistan is of course the immediate neighbor. India is not a contiguous neighbor and India’s role has been mainly to help development of Afghanistan and to that extent they will continue to do so. But I think all the other contiguous neighbors of Afghanistan, Central Asian countries, particularly including Iran who are next door neighbors, they all have to adopt the same policy that Pakistan has adopted - that we all work together to ensure a stable and united Afghanistan and no interference and Afghan-owned process be supported. So I think that is what is required and I presume India believes in that. But India’s assistance to Afghanistan in the past to help build their infrastructure and some training remains important and I hope they will continue to do that.”

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid