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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

PAKISTAN: Interview with foreign minister

ISLAMABAD, 7 April 2003 (IRIN) - At a time when regional security in Central and South Asia is once again under the spotlight due to the conflict in Iraq, Pakistan has raised concerns over instability in the region. In an exclusive interview with IRIN, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Kasuri called for improved security in Afghanistan, as well as a leading role for the UN in a post-Saddam Iraq as the best way of diplomatic bridge-building given the level of international opposition to the war.

QUESTION: Let's kick off with the deteriorating security situation in neighbouring Afghanistan. How concerned are you about this?

ANSWER: Anything that causes instability is of major concern to us. We are wedded to the Bonn process [the political road map for a post-Taliban Afghanistan], our relations have improved immensely despite the fact that there were initial reservations on both sides. Our reason was the composition of the government and that the Pashtun communities would be unhappy on our side of the line. We traditionally had a major Pashtun representation in the government. We are convincing these people that under the Bonn process that there will be a good representation of ethnic groups in the Afghan government.

We have a big stake in security in Afghanistan. What is important is that Afghanistan very soon develops its own police force and army. This is absolutely essential for long-term peace and security in the area. We have also offered to train their foreign office staff as a sign of improved relations, and they have accepted our offer. One reason why there are security incidents in Afghanistan is because the US has diverted its attention to Iraq, and this was one of the concerns I raised in my recent trip to the US before the war started. Any situation in Afghanistan is bound to have an effect on Pakistan, and we are worried, but there is no cause for alarm yet.

Q: Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, cancelled his trip to Pakistan late last month. What was the reason for this?

A: His visit has been postponed. He was invited to our national day parade, which was cancelled along with many other functions due to the war in Iraq. We didn't think it was right to celebrate while people are suffering there. President Karzai himself felt that his visit should be rescheduled due to this situation, and both presidents talked to each other
about this.

Q: Despite Pakistan’s efforts in cooperation with the US to hunt down Al-Qaeda elements, there are still reports that Taliban members are being recruited from Pakistan. What is your response to this?

A: There is a great degree of intelligence-sharing with Pakistan, and if such a thing were brought to our notice we would do all it takes to stop that, because it would destabilise the government in Kabul and the Bonn process. I have been touch with US diplomats, and they have not raised this as a major issue.

Q: With the changes in Afghanistan, what has this meant for Pakistan’s relations with Central Asia?

A: Relations have improved immensely. We were prisoners of our geography, and had to live with anyone in control in Kabul, and would like to remind the world that at the time the Taliban came, even the US felt they [the Taliban] could bring about peace and security. It was only later when the Taliban started to implement edicts against women and their attitude towards the rest of the world, their view changed. We are now seen as people who would like to control terrorism in this area, and all of us have a common interest in that.

Q: Moving further afield, are you concerned that the war in Iraq could destabilise Pakistan?

A: As far as the war in Iraq is concerned, the government of Pakistan made its position very clear from the beginning, and we did not surprise anybody, least of all our friends. We have suffered from the effects of the Afghanistan war because of our borders, not just in terms of refugees - we had four million at one stage, probably more than any country at any one time - but also political effects. It is a fact that some religious parties in Pakistan have exploited the situation to their advantage, and democratic mainstream parties had an advantage in that respect. If a similar fallout were to be experienced following the war in Iraq, I have made it clear that there will be a reaction throughout the Islamic world, and it could be
counterproductive.

Our position is that we wanted a peaceful resolution to this conflict, and we felt that the inspectors needed time, and we thought this would be a better solution. We had no doubt that the Iraqi army could not withstand the pressure and technology of the US armed forces, but we feared that it could be counterproductive in terms of terrorism and unleashing forces which in turn do generate terrorism. We made this position quite clear to the US, but nevertheless it was their decision to go ahead. Now, our primary concern is for the civilians in Iraq, and [we] hope and pray casualties will be minimised. Although the US say they are using precision bombing, the news channels are reporting civilian casualties.

We want the UN to play a major role. From the point of view of the US, the damage that has been suffered by them diplomatically can be repaired even at this late stage if they were to give the UN a central role in the situation that has now emerged in Iraq, in both the humanitarian and political spheres. If this war prolongs, then public agitation will also be prolonged.

Q: There have been reports that religious groups have massed support from some 50,000 people in the country who are willing to go to Iraq to defend the regime of Saddam Hussein. What is your response to this?

A: These are just press reports. We certainly wouldn't encourage this if it were true. This happened for Afghanistan, and people were encouraged to go and fight with the Taliban, and those people are still sitting in jails now, and we are still trying to get them released from Afghan jails. The government is left to bear the consequences of their actions.

Q: Moving on to the issue of human rights, the US State Department recently released its annual country report on human rights, which was damning of the police in Pakistan and the situation of women. What is your response to this?

A: It’s an annual country report, and there is no point in saying whether it is wrong or right, so we take it in this spirit and would not act [in a manner] hostile to it. The report has been brought to my notice. There are deficiencies, and it is not because the government of Pakistan is oblivious to human rights, not at all. The state of our society and literacy in our society, which is the same as in India, are rooted in culture. The government is doing all it can to improve human rights in the country.

Q: There has been a lot of pressure from the international community, post-11 September, to stop the infiltration over the line of control in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but it has not stopped.

A: We have done a lot. Lots of training camps have been closed and we have stopped public donations for those fighting for Kashmir. Some of the leaders have been arrested. If some people are prepared to die despite efforts by the Pakistan army and police forces, my question to the international community is: there are 250,000 Indian soldiers on the line of control itself, which means there is one soldier for every three metres and, if they can’t control the infiltration, how do they expect us to? We are trying to control the movement in the area, and it has been reduced considerably. Our suggestion is for there to be international monitoring.

 

Themes: (IRIN) Other

[ENDS]

 

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003



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