Ambassador of Pakistan to the YT: “In the ultimate analysis, it is the Afghan people who will have to work for national reconciliation” [Archives:2001/47/Interview]
No doubt the development of the terrorist attacks against Washington and New York put Pakistan in a very critical position. Being torn between the American pressure to support attacks on Afghanistan and that of a significant portion of the Pakistani public, Pakistan seems forced to make every effort to strike a balance between the two. To have a clear vision with regard to Pakistan’s present situation and its role as a major player in shaping the future of its neighboring country, Afghanistan, with the aim of founding peace and stability in the Central Asia region, the Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times interviewed Pakistan’s Ambassador to Yemen, who on his part responded to a number of questions raised by the paper. The following interview gives Pakistan’s regional and international perception of the whole situation in addition to clarifying the relations between Pakistan and Yemen and also means and ways of promoting them.
Q: How do you assess the results thus far of the US-led and Pakistan-supported strikes against Afghanistan?
A: Let me first say that there may have been assumptions. However, anybody who knows anything about Afghan history will admit that Afghanistan is not a piece of cheese. Rather it is a labyrinth with a minotaur lurking at every turn. Having said that, it is clear that Afghan people are tired of warfare and want peace. There is difficulty in achieving this objective because Afghanistan is fractured at present. Nonetheless, these are extraordinary circumstances and it is quite possible that the pressure may get the kind of coalition that the international community has been calling for. The neighbors and other important powers should help facilitate this process. But in the ultimate analysis, it is the Afghan people who will have to work for national reconciliation. It is something which can only be done by the Afghans themselves.
Nothing can be propped up from outside. If efforts are made to impose one group or another in Afghanistan, as we have said, it will not bring peace to Afghanistan. Some observers had this assumption in the past that the Taliban were propped up by Pakistan. Now everybody can see the fallacy of that assertion. This is for the Afghans, first and foremost, to work out to bring about a broad-based government.
This also happened earlier, when in 1992, under pressure of circumstances, they agreed to a political arrangement. The Afghans themselves were able to put together some accords. Regrettably, later these accords were not honored. At present also there are a number of processes simultaneously taking place, and we hope for their success and a positive outcome.
Q: Despite Pakistan’s clear call for a halt of the strikes during the holy month of Ramadan, the USA pledged to continue. Does Pakistan intend to go on supporting the USA in its strikes against Afghans even during Ramadan?
A: We have made our position clear, and that is done at the level of the Head of State. Our President’s statement on this account is very clear – that there should be no operations during the month of Ramadan, because that would certainly cause anxiety and aggravate sentiments of Muslims, not only in Pakistan but throughout the Islamic world. The sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan is observed throughout the Islamic world. Therefore, we would emphasize that the sentiments with regard to the holy month of Ramadan should be respected.
Q: How can the Pakistani government cope with the mounting anger of the Pakistani public due to the increasing casualties among Afghan civilians?
A: Our government’s decision to support the international anti-terror campaign was based on principles. President Musharraf before taking this bold and wise decision extensively consulted all cross-sections of people, intellectuals and religious leaders, because of the domestic sentiments opposed to the requirements of action in Afghanistan against the terrorists. The government has taken a considerable stance which had the support of the vast majority of the people. The objectives of the US-led strikes are to target the terrorist camps inside Afghanistan and those who are harboring them. However, the killing of innocent people during this campaign is highly regrettable and mounting pressure in Pakistan as well as in other Islamic countries, which is certainly a cause of concern for us as well. Since the majority of the people in Pakistan supported the government’s decision, the government is fully in control of the situation in Pakistan.
Q: It has been reported that the Pakistani government failed to stop thousands of Pakistanis crossing the borders to fight with the Taliban. What is the impact of this on Pakistan-US relations?
A: Pakistan’s position is very clear on this. We would not want any Pakistani to be going inside Afghanistan. We have also asked the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership that they should not have any Pakistani as part of their military efforts or part of their forces, and they should not have them in their training bases etc. This is not the position we have taken now, this is a position that we had taken quite some time ago and we have been emphasizing this position after the adoption of Resolution 1267, which is almost one and half years old now. So that position continues to remain the same and we maintain it.
Q: Why did Pakistan stop giving visas to Yemenis? Is this out of fear that some Arab Afghans in Yemen could travel to Pakistan in an attempt to join the thousands to fight with Taliban?
A: Pakistan’s government has not stopped issuing visas to Yemen nationals. Study and visit visas are being issued after fulfillment of procedural formalities. All genuine businessmen who intend to visit Pakistan are also being issued visas after production of necessary business documents.
Q: Millions of Afghan refugees are flowing into Pakistan. Is the US providing sufficient financial assistance and humanitarian relief to cope with this disaster?
A: The Afghan refugees problem is of great concern for Pakistan. We already have about three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of refugees want to cross over into Pakistan. Our dilemma is that of how to accommodate more. Pakistan in this regard has been dealing with the UNHCR, the United States and other countries of the world to help Pakistan in dealing with this problem of gigantic magnitude. You can compare this to when you think of a country like Australia not prepared to accept even two hundred refugees, then how can it be expected from a country like Pakistan to accommodate refugees over and above three million already in Pakistan? Our point of view has always been that refugee camps should be set-up across the border in Afghanistan and all assistance to the refugees must be given over there so that the people go back to Afghanistan instead of settling and becoming burden on Pakistan’s already over-stretched economy of 14 million people. We are still not satisfied with the magnitude of assistance being provided by the United Nations and the international community and hope that this problem of enormous magnitude and consequences would be shared by all, including the United States.
Q: Pakistan does not consider Kashmiri Muslim fighters to be terrorists, while the USA and India do. Do you feel that the USA is adopting a double standard in this regard?
A: The Kashmir issue stems from the incomplete agenda of partition of the Indo-Pak subcontinent in 1047. The partition plan envisages that the residents of the Indian Principalities would decide whether to become part of India or Pakistan. However, in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, this principle was treacherously violated by the Indian rulers and the Kashmiris were not allowed to exercise their option. This was the beginning of the struggle of the Kashmiri masses to attain the inalienable right of theirs, i.e. self-determination.
The current phase of agitation in India- Held Kashmir is also rooted in the struggle of the Kashmiri people for the exercise of the right of self-determination. Pakistan upholds the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to self-determination, in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. These resolutions of 1948 and 1949 provide for the holding of a free and impartial plebiscite for the determination of the future of the state by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The basic points of the UN resolution are that: (i) the complaint relating to Kashmir was initiated by India in the Security Council; (ii) the Council explicitly and by implication, rejected India’s claim that Kashmir is legally Indian territory; (iii) the resolutions established self-determination as the governing principle for the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. This is the world body’s commitment to the people of Kashmir; (iv) the resolutions endorsed a binding agreement between India and Pakistan reached through the mediation of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) that a plebiscite would held, under agreed and specified conditions.
The United Nations Security Council has rejected the Indian contention that the people of Kashmir have exercised their right of self-determination by participating in the ‘elections’ which India has from time to time, organized in the Indian-Held Kashmir. Very low turn out during the ‘elections’ held in 1989 and 1996 is a clear repudiation of the Indian claim.
Pakistan continues to adhere to the UN Resolutions. These are binding on India as well. Rather than respond in a responsible and democratic manner, India has resorted to genocidal repression, and over 75 thousand Kashmiris have been martyred since 1989 when this popular and indigenous movement gained momentum. Over the recent months, the level of violence and brutalities has been raised with the induction of additional forces, in addition to 700,000 already in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Kashmiris in the Indian-Held Kashmir and fighting for their rights, and hence cannot be termed as terrorists.
The 9th Extraordinary session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Doha on October 10, 2001, has stressed its rejection of any linkage between terrorism and the rights of the Islamic and Arab peoples, including the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples, to self-determination, self-defense, sovereignty and resistance against Israeli and foreign occupation, all of which are legitimate rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter and international law.
The United States also recognizes Kashmir as a disputed territory between Pakistan and India, and in his recent visit to these countries, US Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell stressed the resolution of this issue through dialogue and also offered his government’s readiness to mediate in case both countries agree to it. Pakistan has absolutely no hesitation in that.
Q: Frankly speaking, Yemenis oppose Pakistan’s government’s stance concerning the strikes against the Afghan people. How could you convince Yemenis that Pakistan made the right decision?
A: First of all I would like to clarify that campaign against terrorism is not against the Afghan people, rather it is aimed at terrorists and those who are harboring them. The terrorist attacks of 11 September triggered worldwide shock and horror, evoking condemnation of the criminal acts, grief and sorrow for the victims, condolences for the families and sympathy and solidarity with the people of the United States, governments including those of OIC countries voiced these sentiments spontaneously. The government and the people of Yemen condemned the terrorist attacks; so did we. Our position is clear and emphatic. The people of Yemen we believe have full understanding of the circumstances under which our government has made the decision to extend all our support for the anti-terrorist campaign. The government of Yemen has also appreciated our position, which is based on principles supported by the UN General Assembly and the OIC countries.
Q: Does the Pakistan government agree on a new government without the Taliban?
A: Our President General Pervez Musharraf, in this regard, has clearly lain down four parameters for such a government. Firstly, the unity and stability of Afghanistan must be ensured. Secondly, to have a broad-based multi-ethnic government representative of all the ethnic groups, taking into account the ethnic composition of Afghanistan. Thirdly, we must not ever be seen to be imposing a political solution on the Afghans. We should be seen as facilitating a solution, and the solution needs to be in accordance with the wishes of the people of Afghanistan. Lastly, Pakistan would certainly like to have a friendly Afghanistan on its western border. When we say that the process has to be developed by the Afghans themselves, then it will have to include all the Afghans who are outside and more importantly, I should say, all the Afghans who are inside Afghanistan. There may be 25 to 30% who are outside Afghanistan, but there may be 7-75% of Afghans who are inside Afghanistan; they will have to be inducted in this process. Of course, this is the challenge for the United Nations – how to bring about national reconciliation.
Q: What is the truth in the reports that several Yemenis in Pakistan or Pakistanis in Yemen were arrested with the suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities?
A: There is no truth in the reports that Yemenis have been arrested in Pakistan. However, we have come across a new item that appeared in the Arabic daily ‘Al-Thawra’ on October 30, 2001 in which a statement of a Yemeni national who was studying in Karachi University was published. According to his statement, he was arrested by the security agencies who investigated him and later permitted to resume his normal life. He returned to Taiz on October 14. Regarding arrest of Pakistanis in Yemen, so far not a single case of arrest of a Pakistani is in the knowledge of this embassy.
Q: How do you assess, from a Pakistani point of view, the Yemeni government’s stance in this crisis?
A: We greatly appreciate the decision of the government of Yemen for extending their support for an anti-terrorist campaign. I feel that such a decision will go a long way in improving Yemen’s image as a responsible member of the world community and strengthen its position both domestically and internationally.