Riaz Khokhar, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, on Extremism, Terror, Afghanistan, and India
Riaz Khokhar, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan from 2002 to 2005, former Ambassador to China and the USA as well as High Commissioner to India, discussed with Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, President of the World Security Network Foundation, the nature of extremism, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, the army, and politics in Pakistan. Khokhar also commented on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, explained the relation between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attacks and Islam in Pakistan.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Aatish Taseer complained in a well received Financial Times article on May 5, 2011: ”There has also been, since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a campaign to silence dissent in Pakistan. Earlier this year, my father, the governor of Punjab, was killed by his own guard. The act was put down to the actions of a single man. But later that week there were vast demonstrations of support for my father’s killer - rallies of 40,000 and more - and leading them was Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group created and nurtured by the Pakistani army, which is loath to put it out of business due to its special hatred of India. Its leader, Hafez Saeed, was also the man conducting prayers for bin Laden this week. There is such a climate of fear and violence in Pakistan at the moment that only a fraction of what happens gets reported.” What is the situation in Pakistan now and are radicals winning step by step while the majority stays silent?
Riaz Khokhar: Aatish is the son of very notable parents. He is a brilliant young man and has a great future in the world of literature. I share his grief and wish him well.
I knew Salman Taseer, we were class mates in school. He was a fabulous person, who did not deserve a tragic end. Yes, it is indeed abominable that some people supported the killer’s act, but the large majority of the people in Pakistan were shocked and saddened by the heinous act. There was no justification whatsoever for killing Salman Taseer.
Salman Taseer was principally let down by his own political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The President of Pakistan, also the Chairperson of the PPP, should have attended Taseer’s funeral, which would have given the clearest signal to the extremist elements that the President was going to deal with them with a firm hand. Instead the Prime Minister attended the last rites, a person who is a political light weight and not taken seriously by any one, let alone the extremists. After the murder, the PPP government should have launched an aggressive campaign to deal with the extremists, but instead it pursued a policy of appeasement.
Extremism has been on the march since the days of President Zia Ul Haq, who was the darling of the West, especially close to the U.S. Zia’s rule was a curse for Pakistan, but his patrons were successive US Presidents. It was the US that had encouraged the Jihadi culture in Pakistan for the struggle against the Soviet Union. How can anyone forget that President Reagan had embraced the Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office.
One of the principal reasons for the growth of extremism is that the secular and moderate political forces conceded too much political space to the extremists. The secular political forces have failed to deliver a social and economic program the masses of Pakistan, which would bring about a change in the quality of life of the people. In the last four years the situation has worsened. More than half of Pakistan’s population (ca. 180 million people) has fallen below the poverty line. Because of the dire economic situation and worsening condition law and order, the country is slowly moving towards an anarchical situation, something the extremists would welcome.
There is no doubt that the culture bred by Zia ul Haq is still flourishing, including to some extent in the Armed Forces. The infection in the army is limited and is being rooted out.
The best and most effective way to deal with extremism is not through military means, but by presenting to the people of Pakistan a more powerful and promising message of hope. This is the responsibility of political parties. Today, Pakistan has the poorest and most incompetent political leadership, which is incapable of providing good governance. If this political dispensation continues, radicalism will gain strength.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Taseer continued on Osama bin Laden: "Let us be clear about what happened last week: Osama bin Laden was not just found living in Abbottabad, there out of some inverse logic of his own. He was found in this garrison town because he was the guest of the army. And now the charges against this army and its agencies are manifold". When asked for his opinion by the World Security Network Foundation, a respected head of a Western intelligence agency stated: "The Director of the ISI and the Chief of Staff indisputably knew about Osama bin Laden's residence, while a separated group of the ISI was in charge. They feared that to hand him over to the U.S. and having him imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay would produce an outcry in Pakistan. Moreover, they could have continued to ask for more support by the US against Al Qaeda". The Pakistani Parliament condemned the killing of bin Laden as well as the air strikes against terrorists in the tribal areas. Is the military playing a double game with the US and the West? What is Pakistan's position?
Riaz Khokhar: Yes, indeed Osama was found in Abbottabad, which is strictly speaking not a garrison town. The town hosts the Pakistan Military Academy, which is the equivalent to Sandhurst in England and West Point in the US. No combat or special action troops are stationed in Abbottabad.
The jury is still in the dark about who knew about Osama’s presence in Abbottabad and who provided him the support system. Without a doubt, the government of Pakistan has to investigate and provide credible answers to very valid and critical questions. To date, it is a matter of record, that the President of the United States and some seniors officials have implied, that government leaders and senior official in Pakistan were not aware of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad. Clearly, Osama had some support system, probably provided by some extremist groups, which were linked to Al Qaeda. Pakistan has conceded that we have to satisfy the international community on a host of issues arising from the Abbotabad incident.
Osama was not living in a $ 10 Million mansion or a state owned safe house. From the TV clips and films it is evident, that he was living in penury and squalor. There were no security guards to protect him. The 79 Navy Seals actually killed an unarmed Osama. There was no exchange of fire. He was not surrounded by scores of highly trained loyal guards as was the ten years old myth created by the western media. It would have been better if he had been captured alive, and faced a trial, for the world could have discovered the truth about the attack on the US in 2001. Osama”s burial at sea was also controversial as it raised many questions.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Concerning Afghanistan, some in ISAF and Kabul blame the Pakistani Army to play both sides of the fence, including secret support for the Afghan Taliban and protection of the Pakistani Taliban. What is the truth?
Riaz Khokhar: The US and ISAF have failed in Afghanistan and will probably face a Vietnam-like defeat. An illegal occupation force cannot win against a people that is fighting for the freedom of their motherland. Afghanistan is a poor country and stands devastated. A quisling and corrupt regime has not only failed its people but has also taken the US and its allies for a huge ride. The regime has succeeded in one area, which is corruption on a monumental scale.
The real test for Afghanistan will come when the occupation forces leave the country to its own device. There is no military solution to the Afghan tangle. It has to be an Afghan solution, which reflects the ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan. Any outside sponsored solution would not work.
Any attempt to divide Afghanistan on ethnic lines, a proposal floated by Ambassador Blackwell will be a recipe for a civil war. Furthermore, any attempt to neutralize Afghanistan will not be acceptable to the proud Afghan people. The US exit plan has no sustainable political solution. It also seems that the US has no sincere desire to leave Afghanistan. It wants to retain and use the huge military bases against China, Iran, Russia and central Asian states. The US has also set its vision on the vast oil and gas resources of central Asia and the Caspian region. In sum, the US presence in Afghanistan is a factor of instability in the region.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Should the Taliban again take over control in the national interest of Pakistan in the Pashtun part of Afghanistan or was this time of cooperation from 1989 to 2001 more of a burden and disaster for Islamabad? What is the best design for Pakistan of Afghanistan?
Riaz Khokhar: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has declared war on Pakistan. Clearly, the TTP is sponsored by some forces, which are inimical to Pakistan. The key questions are: who is funding the TTP and who is providing highly sophisticated weapons and modern communication equipment to the TTP? It does not stand to reason, that the ISI is supporting the TTP to attack the Pakistan Army and security forces. The TTP does not enjoy the support of the tribes in the FATA region. In comparison, the Afghan Taliban have roots among the people because they are seen as fighting foreign occupation forces. This is consistent with centuries old Afghan tradition and culture.
As for Pakistan, it is not seeking an Islamabad-made solution to the Afghan problem. Pakistan has to take into account the sentiments of the 26 millions Pakhtuns in Pakistan and 12 million in Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot afford to earn the generational enmity of the Pakhtuns for the sake of American interests. Pakistan would not be able to recover from any military misadventure in the FATA region.
Hubertus Hoffmann: How should negotiations with the Taliban be done best?
Riaz Khokhar: The US has no choice but to talk to the Taliban directly and immediately. The US-Taliban talks at the lower levels, sponsored by the Germans, are showing some hopeful signs. All the countries directly bordering Afghanistan, including Russia and China should also be involved in the talks. If asked, Pakistan can assist in setting up these talks, but the US must not insist on keeping military bases in Afghanistan. It seems that the Taliban would give up their links with Al Qaeda and would not have any problems in renouncing violence, provided the US ends its military occupation. However, asking the Taliban to accept a highly flawed constitution makes no sense. The US would also be making a huge mistake in targeting and killing Mullah Omar, the one person who holds overwhelming influence over the various Taliban groups, and who could help in bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Hubertus Hoffmann: The most influential German Forces, the Wehrmacht, had some sympathies with the Nazis from 1918 until 1939, but in the end only proved to be a puppet of Adolf Hitler and his totalitarian Nazi regime. Hitler promised to revitalize Germany after the shame of Versailles, but in the end produced 50 million dead, millions of Germans killed and all cities in ruins - could this become the fate and misperception of the Pakistani army? Will the terror monsters that it created finally destroy their masters and its homeland?
Riaz Khokhar: The comparison with Nazi Germany is not relevant. Pakistan has suffered mainly, because it got sucked into a war against terrorism, which it had not initiated. The overwhelming view in Pakistan is that it is not our war. There is a major gap between the opinions of the pro US government and the majority of the Pakistani people. Pakistan has sufferered from huge casualty numbers: 35000 innocent people killed, 5000 soldiers and 3000 paramilitary casualties and thousands disabled. Every city of Pakistan has faced bombing incidents. Pakistan’s economy has endured huge losses to the tune of $ 68 Billion. No county in the world has paid such a high price in blood and treasure. The people of Pakistan are asking why we should make more sacrifices? They are just fed up with the arrogant and imperialistic attitude of the USA.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Concerning India: is terrorism still a means in the toolbox of Pakistan? What should be done to ease the Kashmir issue?
Riaz Khokhar: Terrorism is not an instrument of Pakistan’s policy towards India. The Bombay incident was a horrendous act. It was widely condemned by the government and the people of Pakistan. There is no reason to believe that Pakistan will not honor its commitment to carry out a free and fair trial. India has to cooperate with Pakistan in providing solid evidence, which will stand up in a court of law. It seems that the judicial process is moving in the right direction.
As for Kashmir, India is in illegal occupation. It has committed over 700,000 troops to bludgeon the Kashmiris into submission, who are only demanding the right of self-determination, a right conceded to them by Pandit Nehru, the first and the most well known Indian Prime Minister. It is shameful that India has been in gross violation of the UN resolutions for decades. Why is it that the US and the West have adopted double standards in regard to Kashmir? Over 100,000 Kashmiris have been killed, several thousands disabled and thousands of women raped. Human rights violations are rampant, but the international community is blind to the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a reality that India has failed in suppressing the will of the people of Jammu and Kashmir over six decades even with the help of several hundred thousand troops. Today, Kashmir is one huge armed military camp.
Timor got its independence through the right of self-determination, because the population was Christian. Similarly, South Sudan is being created and given independence, because the population is Christian in large parts. Why is it that the people of Jammu and Kashmir are not being allowed to exercise their right of self-determination? India claims to be largest democracy in the world and yet it is afraid of giving the Kashmiris the democratic rights to determine their own future. Pakistan would accept any solution that is acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as long as they are able to exercise their right in a free and fair manner without the presence of 700,000 troops.
Pakistan and India should sit across a table and find a peaceful solution to the oldest problem at the United Nations. War is neither an option for India nor for Pakistan, both have nuclear capabilities. Pakistan would like to live in peace and harmony with India. Our salvation lies in peace and stability, enabling both countries to divert precious resources to cater for the well-being of the teeming millions who are living in abject poverty.
Hubertus Hoffmann: Why do so few openly and aggressively defend the Prophet and the Koran against radicals? The true teaching of Islam is peace, understanding and tolerance towards Christians and Jews - why do we hear almost nothing to oust the extremists, why do the the totalitarian preachers of hate control the media and public attention? Is the silent majority in Pakistan paralyzed and scared or full of cowardice?
Riaz Khokhar: The majority of the people of Pakistan are deeply committed to Islam, but are moderate Muslims who firmly believe in and revere the Holy Quran and love and adore the Holy Prophet. The bulk of the people of Pakistan are too preoccupied with the daily life in search of bread and butter issues. They are also concerned about extremism and deplore acts of terrorism. The civil society in Pakistan has been at the forefront, challenging the wrongful interpretation of the Koran and promoting the true spirit of Islam.
Islam is a religion of peace and emphasizes respect for other religions. Muslims hold all Prophets in high esteem and accept them without any prejudice. Tolerance and understanding should guide people of all religions for the world to become a harmonious place.
The reality is ugly. Muslims have been massacred following the breakup of Yugoslavia. Over a million Iraqi’s died in a war which was based on utter lies and deceit. 500,000 Afghans have been killed in a war for which they were not responsible. The Islamic world is faced with many problems begging for solutions, namely the Arab-Israel problem, the Kashmir problem between India & Pakistan and several other issues. Today, Western countries are interfering in some Arab countries on the basis of highly dubious principles. There are some hardliners in the US who are suggesting that the US should also take military action against Syria and Iran.
There is immediate need for a serious dialogue between the Islamic World and the West, to develop a harmonious working relationship for the sake of future generations.