PAKISTAN: 'We are in this together'
Since the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, American foreign policy has been largely focused on South Asia, especially for the war on terror. The key player in that effort has been Pakistan, which has stepped forward as a committed ally in the war. Pakistan has been under great pressure to help the United States capture Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding out in Pakistan. Islamabad has had considerable success.
Pakistan has responded to the new realities on the ground by seeking to strengthen its relations with America across the board. In a recent interview, Pakistanís ambassador to Washington, Jehangir Karamat, told DiplomaticTraffic.com that his countryís relationship with America is extremely important and that he hopes to see a strategic alliance between the two countries form the basis for a long and deep friendship. He discussed Pakistanís increased security presence in the lawless tribal regions, improved relations with India, and the path forward for broader relations with the United States. Below are excerpts from the interview.
The hunt for Osama Bin Laden
We need to put this into perspective. Since the operations in Afghanistan starting with Tora Bora and Operation Anaconda, Pakistan has been the anvil in that area. The United States, initially operating by itself and then with other forces and Afghan forces on the other side of the border, has been the hammer. We have done our absolute best to make sure of the success of those operations.
Most success in urban areas
Once we saw an influx of the terrorist leadership to Pakistan, we had assistance from the US, but it was mostly through our own efforts in the urban areas that we Ďtook careí of everybody who sought refuge there. It is easier to operate in the urban areas. You have more intelligence; there is more effective human intelligence. A large number of those [terrorists], including some big names, were handed over to their countries or to the United States.
Border areas now under control
In the border areas with Afghanistan, Baluchistan Province and Waziristan Province, obviously it is in the interest of the drug people, the weapons people to keep the situation destabilized, because those are the areas in which they can thrive and operate. A lot of that has been happening and people have sought sanctuary. It is easy for them to do it. It is very difficult terrain, very remote. But I must say that with almost 80,000 troops there we have got it pretty much contained. Nobody in these areas is going anywhere.
Once that has happened, whenever there is actionable intelligence, there is immediate action, and you periodically hear of an operation carried out. That is ongoing and we are having more and more success. The eventual result depends on a stabilized Afghanistan, to which we are totally committed, and the eradication of drugs in that area, to which we are also committed. We are helping in every way possible. [Lasting stability] also has to do with the return of the three million or so Afghan refugees still in Pakistan.
Whether Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan or some remote border area, or has disappeared completely, I donít know. But I would just like to say that we are in this together. We are firmly with the US: intelligence, ground action, everything. Nobody on our side who is operating in that area, has the sympathies or leanings that would allow anybody to stay put or disappear from that area. We canít afford to have destabilized borders.
Tightening up on the tribal areas
The tribals have their own way of life, and we have always dealt with them through our political agents and structures. But most past dealings have had to do with criminals, smuggling and things like that. Compared to what is happening now, they were pretty harmless things. Now that the situation has changed, and more drastic measures are required, we are meeting resistance. It is a question of dealing with the situation with a mix of the political, where possible, and force, whenever it is absolutely required. I think it is having an effect.
We do have situations when other factors take over, such as criminal elements in Baluchistan, who donít really have anything to do with terrorism, but are encouraged and supported by those who want a destabilized area. The current problems there will take a few months to bring under control, but I think it is a few people creating the image of problems that are larger than life.
Pakistani sentiment towards America
A majority of Pakistanis understand the significance of the US-Pakistan relationship and how important it is in terms of trade, economy, capacity building in the social sector, and bi-lateral relations with Afghanistan and India. The significance of this relationship is just enormous for us. We would like this relationship to continue, broaden, deepen.
When things happen which are really tactical situations, whether it is a missile strike, or whether itís a US policy initiative like the agreement with India, it does affect public opinion, but as long as the United States and Pakistan are clear on the strategic thrust of this relationship, and they continue to discuss these issues with each other (which I am happy to say is the case today: as the ambassador here I have excellent access to the NSC and State Department; they are very responsive; I get a good hearing; we discuss everything) I think we are on the right track.
Balancing US and Muslim interests
The overall US relationship with the Muslim world is important for us. We are an Islamic republic and the way the US deals with Islam does play out in most Muslim countries and in Pakistan. I think President Musharraf has very skillfully managed the situation in the sense that things could have gone terribly wrong if he had not taken the right decisions, and if he had not taken an evolutionary approach to containing things. His concept of enlightened moderation and moving towards a moderate, liberal Islamic country I think is a very important initiative, and if we succeed (and we are having success with that: we are a democracy, we have all the pillars of democracy, we are getting into elections again with this government completing its tenure in 2007), if we continue on this path, I think we can be a model for other countries in the region, and I think we can be a bridging nation in terms of developing understanding between the US and Islam. Itís a role we would very much like to play.
Building confidence with India
Confidence-building measures come up either as the result of a crisis situation which is resolved, or as a result of specific actions by the two countries to get over a situation. In this case I think there is political resolve both in India and Pakistan. Proof of that is the ceasefire, the complete cessation of hostilities, which has been in place for two years now, in Kashmir. This is a change from the active, 24-hours hostilities we had before.
From that basic situation we have moved on to opening up rail and road travel between the two countries, at a number of points. Trade has been permitted across the line of control. SAARC (the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) has received an enormous boost as a result of these confidence-building measures. The whole thing has taken off. There is great potential there.
The only thing that makes people skeptical about it is the unresolved issue of Kashmir. But we have had progress in the sense that there are ideas coming up, there are discussions taking place. With the kind of resolve we see we hope that [the Kashmir issue] will be resolved through dialogue.
The impact of close US-India ties
We are at a stage in the India-Pakistan relationship where it is necessary to have an even-handed approach [from the US] to keep the momentum going, and not to create a situation where one side feels that the other is getting an advantage. We do understand the underpinnings of US interest in India, and the various cooperative agreements that are taking place. The one that leads to a lot of debate in Pakistan, as it does here, is the civilian nuclear power agreement. I notice there is a debate raging in Congress; the non-proliferation lobby is active, and the media have been debating it. Of course we donít interfere in that process but we do place our concerns on the table, whenever we have a discussion, and I must say that we get a good hearing on that. We say that we have energy requirements coming up, just like India. All of our civilian facilities are safeguarded already, and we are setting a new non-proliferation record in terms of legislation and controls and command authorities and regulatory authorities: the whole spectrum of control over these assets. We ask that part of the energy dialogue between Pakistan and the US should also have this [nuclear] facet, so there is not a feeling of being left out or left at a disadvantage.
The US is at pains to tell us that they are not into a preference-type of policy in South Asia, and that the two policies for India and Pakistan are on separate tracks. We are quite happy with our ongoing relationship with the US. We have many initiatives that are taking off. There is a strategic dialogue, a dialogue on energy, a dialogue on economy, trade, science and technology. So there is a lot that is happening. It is just that there is this one issue, the civilian nuclear agreement. We did not know all the facts. Obviously the details only came out once it was signed. This issue is likely to figure in upcoming dialogues, and we hope our point of view will be given attention.
Pakistanís sale of nuclear secrets to rogue regimes
There were two aspects to the sale of nuclear secrets. One was the international black market; the other was our scientists getting involvement in it. From our point of view, the plus point was the almost immediate response from our side, to cooperate on that, and the total cooperation we have shown since. I think the US Administration is satisfied that we have cooperated and are cooperating. More important, we are setting a new track on this. Conscious that it has damaged us, we have taken very, very strong steps to make sure that it doesnít happen again, to make sure that our assets are firmly under very good control, and that we have legislation that prohibits exports, contacts and so on. From that point we have taken steps that I think need to be appreciated. We have gone as far as we possibly could. No country wants to expose its strategic assets and thinking to public view. That is the basis for the discussions we are having with the US. I think from the [US] Administrationís side there is satisfaction that we have cooperated and met all the requirements and will continue to do so as more come up.
The China factor
We have a very good understanding of the India-China relationship, and the internal dynamics within India of getting into a confrontation with China, and similar perceptions in China. Both are oriented to an economic track and to future prosperity, so they are unlikely to externally be stimulated into acting against those interests. Similarly, India has a relationship with Iran that I donít think it is going to forego. The US strategy to open up the India market should be looked at together with a look at the Muslim world and Pakistan, from the market and trade point of view, and from the point of view that the population in these countries is much younger. Out of a population of 160 million, almost 75 million in Pakistan are young people, available manpower. So there is enormous potential for interaction there.
Trade and foreign direct investment are things we are vitally interested in. We have many US multinationals operating in Pakistan. We have been negotiating a bilateral investment treaty with the United States for quite some time and there was hope we would conclude it soon. It hasnít happened yet. It could be the first step towards a free trade agreement. We would very much like that.
Projecting the real image of Pakistan
Iíd like the real image of Pakistan, and not one based on isolated incidents, to be projected here, including the good and the bad. I think the overall picture that will emerge will be of a country that is moderate, and wants to have a liberal attitude and which is firmly globalized on the economic and trade track; that wants prosperity for its people, but has to have the ability to defend itself. That is the image we are trying to project here.
Strategic picture of convergence
I am also working to put the US-Pakistan relationship on a secure, future-oriented track so that minor issues do not derail this process or create difficulties. I would like the strategic picture to be one of convergence and cooperation, so that the hiccups can be taken care of. I think President Bushís recent visit was enormously beneficial, from that point of view. It went off very well, and we have the beginning of initiatives that could be institutionalized between the two countries and would be enormously beneficial to Pakistan.
Biography of Ambassador Jehangir Karamat
Mr. Jehangir Karamat assumed his current post of Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States in November, 2004. Ambassador Jehangir Karamat retired as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chief of Army Staff in October 1998. His senior level assignments included serving the roles of Director General Military Operations and Chief of General Staff. Ambassador Karamat has been Colonel Commandment and Colonel in Chief for the Pakistan Armoured Corps. He has also commanded troops in Saudi Arabia.
Ambassador Karamat has been a Visiting Fellow at CISAC, Stanford University and Washington D.C.ís Brookings Institute. In addition, he was part of the United Nationsí study on Afghanistan and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
Ambassador Karamat is a graduate of National Defense College, the Command and Staff College, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He also holds a Masterís Degree in International Relations.