New Delhi: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was the foreign minister of Pakistan from 2002 to 2007 under then President Pervez Musharraf. He is in India on a week-long visit and spoke in an interview about a variety of issues during his stay in Delhi. Edited excerpts:
We see an increased radicalization of Islam in modern societies such as Pakistan, Turkey. Why is this?
The situation in Pakistan worries me a lot and that is why I want this end game in Afghanistan to end soon because for the last 30 years Afghanistan has worried us. It is bang on our border. In tribal areas there was no restriction on the movement of people or goods. So when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we were directly affected. Although Afghanistan is a Pashtoon-majority country, there are more Pashtoons in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. So, whatever happens to the Pashtoons there has a major bearing on the Pashtoons in Pakistan. Pashtoons are an important element in Pakistan society, in commerce and in the armed forces, our public opinion would not ignore it. The US then tried its best to glorify jihad and attract young Muslim men to come and find the godless Soviets. Now they are very conveniently trying to put all the blame on Pakistan.
In the case of Turkey, I think it’s Turkey coming back into its own. When you put on false pretences, pretences can only last as long as they will. Turkey is overwhelmingly a Muslim country. It was (the) base of the Islamic Khilafat until the end of the first World War. Then you had (Mustafa Kemal) Attaturk, who tried to change things radically, dramatically and forcibly. It has come back to its own now, so that does not mean it has gone fundamentalist. And its approach to world problems is very rational. If they feel strongly about Palestine, so does India, so does Pakistan. They have become what they are.
What are the prospects for trade between India and Pakistan? Why is Pakistan blocking trade with India?
There were some years till 1965 when there was intense economic interaction between the two countries. Then India granted Pakistan the MFN (most-favoured nation) status in the 1990s and wanted reciprocity and then Safta (South Asian Free Trade Area treaty) was signed. The Pakistan position, prior to our government, was until Kashmir was resolved, we will not do anything. We tried to change that, and in our opinion, this would not have served any purpose. For example, the (Iran)-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, I was a very strong supporter of that, it was a strategic project. Admittedly, we did not do what India wanted us to do, which was to reciprocally grant MFN status. I raised the issue with the Prime Minister of India regarding tariffs and para-tariffs. And we said a lot of Pakistani businessmen find it difficult to sell goods to India. He understood that and he said he would appoint a committee. I don't know what has happened to that. Pakistanis are not the only ones who complain. Maybe India’s economy has become more liberal now, but there were many barriers and Pakistani businessmen were looking for?a level playing field.
You have been saying that there was a near agreement on the decades-old problem of Kashmir. Were India and Pakistan really close to an agreement?
Yes, there is, there was no doubt about that. In 85% to 90% areas, there was agreement, there is no doubt about that. The main areas we covered were, there would be demilitarization, gradual demilitarization in consonance with the situation on the ground, as the situation improved the troops would be withdrawn, very few would remain. Another element was there would be a joint mechanism (for governance). The joint mechanism would have Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control and some form of association of the Indians and Pakistanis, this was one of the areas still being discussed. Since the more important areas had been covered, I don’t think it would have posed any major difficulties.
The most important element was self-governance. And the Kashmiris would have self-governance to the maximum extent and it would be the same on both parts of the Line of Control. That was basically the crux of it. It took two-and-a-half-three years to work out the details of it.... And I think the only thing that prevented it was that, first, there were elections in India (in late 2006), otherwise the first window of opportunity could have been the end of 2006. We understood Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s constraints, that he was involved in elections here. We suggested March (2007), I wish we had suggested February, because in March all hell broke loose in Pakistan when the (Pakistani) chief justice (Iftikhar Chaudhry) was sacked and lawyers were out on the streets. It was no use discussing further details because I felt you needed a much better atmosphere for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute… I was very happy that we had achieved so much because the next government could start from where we left. Now at least the two governments know the bottom lines, which is a very good thing (for future talks).
What about agreements on Sir Creek and Siachen?
Sir Creek was a signature away. No question about that. In fact that is what we would have done when the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh)... we had planned that when he visits Pakistan that is what he would sign. When he signed that, we thought we would get enough impetus to resolve the 10-15% that was left behind on Kashmir. The important thing was there would be a review after 15 years so that it could be improved in the light of the experience. The foreign ministers would meet annually to take stock of the progress being made under the agreement. Siachen, I think, has been ready for signature for many years now.
Was the Pakistani army on board during the discussions?
The vice-chief of army staff attended every meeting, General (Ashfaq Parvez) Kayani was the director general of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), he attended every meeting, nothing on Kashmir went through without them sitting in on meetings. We were sitting at the same table. Of course they agreed, if they didn’t, we asked our Indian interlocutors (for changes). That is why it took three years…
But all the stakeholders were on the table, the foreign office, the army, the president’s secretariat, they were all on board. So I have no reason to feel that they have changed their minds. The recent WikiLeaks show that former US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, spoke to me and then she spoke to General Kayani. She told General Kayani that I, Khurshid Kasuri, wanted Riaz Mohammad Khan continue with the back channel talks now that the government had changed. He agreed that not just that the back channel should continue, but also to my suggestion of interlocutor (of Khan being the Pakistani interlocutor)…and this was two years after I left office. I have no doubt they have not changed their minds till two years ago. Why should they have changed their minds now? There is no reason why their minds should change in one year. Afghanistan was there in 2009 and before that as well... Our differences on Afghanistan are 40-50 years old.
Given that both sides were so near to an agreement on Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen, do you feel a sense of a lost opportunity here?
It’s an opportunity lost, I can’t disagree with you there. With nations as large as Pakistan and India, every minute that is wasted, is time wasted. A lot of good could have occurred if things had been resolved then, economically and in areas of general cooperation regional cooperation… In terms of time, it’s an opportunity lost, but not in terms of content because I think whenever the two countries agree to talk to each other, they can’t re-invent the wheel.
The killing of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer shows that the space for liberal voices and reasoning is getting squeezed. In the light of this, if the Indian government were to make a gesture, would it be possible for the Pakistani government to reciprocate because of the difficulty of having to sell it back home? How would the talks progress?
Salman Taseer’s assassination is highly condemnable, highly regrettable. You say the peace constituency or the liberal constituency has shrunk— if that is the implication, then when Mahatma Gandhi was killed by an extremist, did it change the character of India? You will have people with a special agenda. Such regrettable incidents happen in every country. People sometimes refer to lawyers showering petals. Pakistan is a big country. I am sure there were lawyers in India who approved of Nathuram Godse... There was a poll conducted in Pakistan and in India, and I am glad that an overwhelming majority of the people are in favour of rapprochement and 2-3% more Pakistanis are in favour of peace with India.
Do you feel there is a danger of Pakistan imploding, of maybe breaking up into smaller countries?
Why should it? You have Naxalites on the rampage, but will India implode? India has a very powerful army, Pakistan has a very powerful army. You have a very powerful judiciary, we have a very powerful judiciary. India has a very powerful civil society, we have a very powerful civil society. Then there are political parties with roots in the different provinces. Yes, there are periods of turmoil as we are undergoing... I don’t think countries as large as India and Pakistan, unless of course something unforeseen happens in either of the two countries, not by logical reckoning.
What is your vision of Pakistan in the next five years?
My vision for Pakistan is the same as Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan (of a liberal nation). That is the only vision under which Pakistan can prosper. Otherwise, we will continue to pay the price that we are currently paying.