Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman Pakistan People’s Party was invited at United States Institute of Peace on January 30th, 2017 just 10 days after the inauguration ceremony of United States President Donald J. Trump; to discuss the U.S. Pakistan Relationship and its future with new administration and Congress.
The major focus of the discussion was about U.S-Pakistan relations, Pakistan’s internal security challenges and CVE initiatives, Pakistan and Its neighbors and Pakistan’s political and democratic dynamics. I have tried my best to articulate this amazing discussion here.
U.S – Pakistan Relations and New Immigration Ban Orders
United States has remained a largest trade and business partner along with the bilateral relations with Pakistan, as Pakistan stood with U.S. during Soviet Jihad and all the times but in Washington; Pakistan’s image is only painted in one color which is distressing as the world has chosen to misjudge Pakistan, because we could not portrait our true story in a good manner. Unfortunately it has been the failure on both sides to show the broad length of our partnership, but the rhetoric actions and perceptions created in the media makes it very difficult for Pakistan who want to champion the benefits of our relationship. Current situations lead us to an uncertainty of what will come out of White House so we should wait-and-see. Where do we go through here with Pakistan – U.S relations going through a new cycle, because Pakistan has learnt that it become the dispensable ally again.
The history will remember this time as deeply dividing era where shared vision of order and interdependence has been replaced by angry nationalism and hard redlines that exclude, which is not a normal moment because of worrying of Muslims countries and even more for refugees. It’s really discouraging to see countries responding to the fear of the other in such a way and we have learnt through history that’s not the way to deal with such issues. Few criminals should not be allowed to spoil the relations. Such behaviors are discouraging for young generation and progressive Muslims in the world who fight every day against radicalization by putting their own lives for the freedom, democracy, peace and equality that they believe and not the ones that America wants.
If Pakistan is included in banned country’s list then it will create a host of hostilities and that will also be a very negative indicator that U.S. is turning away from the very ideals that it stood for.
Pakistan’s Internal Security Challenges and CVE Initiatives
Pakistan is fighting the largest inland war against terrorism and we are doing this entirely on our own, which always has been a coordinated national effort and PPP always lead this fight. Our military has been busy clearing terrain in north and South Waziristan and Sindh province is also fighting but we need clarity and focus on the pockets of Punjab province.
We have to deal with Jamat-u-Dawa and such terrorist organizations more than the formal way that they are being dealt and this is the sole responsibility of current government in power to take the decisive actions, as they have not been doing so and in-fact to be showing favoritism to certain organizations that are in disrepute given the activity that they are engaged.
Islamic extremism is not a tape to turn on and off, it leaves entire countries in chaos to fight with the narratives and the conflict with limited resources. Pakistan is always viewed through the narrow lenses here in Washington at policy circles, which is not the real view of the world undergoing the serious conflict. The famous national action plan, needs much work and resources, it needs the federal government to face off against militants who have gained strength since the days of General Zia-ul-Haq and Soviet Jihad. It is time we took the fight to the next level which is concerted leadership against extremists, hate speech, people who make bargains with the militants and that is why we say, “Democracy is Answer for Pakistan”. When no majorities ever voted for extremist religious parties but the world is shrinking its space for constitutional protections we all hold dare.
Any CVE initiative needs sustainable partnerships, implicit trust and willingness to see the strategic landscape as complex, changingand long term, but in Afghanistan billions of dollars poured down a huge multi-country effort as a long war with no end with constant shifting goals and strategies. Despite of terrorism and violent extremism, has redefined our lives in ways we could not imagine. Pakistani nation has also fought for the men and women to vote and we are still fighting against hate, insecurity and terrorism. The world has become polarized by dangerous inequalities and tribalism, which shrinks the space for moderate progressive Muslims tofight for common ground. At this moment Pakistan has much to say and contribute against the long history of fighting terrorism.
Pakistan and Its Neighbors
Over thirty years, Pakistan have hosted the students and afghan refugees, while borders are closing to the victims of conflict but we never closed our borders even when we could not afford them. Our encounter with American and Afghanistan started during soviet jihad and now we are left alone to fight off its terrible harvest of terrorism.
Afghanistan is also crucial to Pakistan’s stability, as we have always tried to resolve the Taliban issues, but it’s not Pakistan’s sole responsibility for peace and reconciliation process as long as Kabul takes the lead. It is entirely up to Afghans to show that the freedom gained by women and civil society areconstitutionalism are not rolled back but it looks very difficult to them in the absence of unity in Kabul, security in the rest of the Afghanistan and economic debt to meet the crisis that UN is talking about.
Pakistan being open border to Afghanistan always said don’t play favoritism but no one heard us. We always remained a partner to be held responsible when nothing else worked. Afghanistan makes its own decisions, because someone else does that, the results are almost always disastrous.
For India we hope that current government in India does not repeat its threat of using human entitlements such as water as a weapon. India has been threating the obligation of Indus Water Treaty (Sindh Taas Muahido) which is one example of how extremist postures in the region are failing the people in south Asia. We are concerned about the current state of Public Health Service, Education and Youth Empowerment, as we remained trapped in the flame of conflict. Which is the failure of region’s leadership that south and central Asia is unable to grow its potentials as economic and energy power house. It is also the failure of international community’s stated commitment to peace, as we see no great powers are trying to resolve one of the oldest disputes of Kashmir b/w India and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Political and Democratic Dynamics
The legends of Pakistan People’s Party have always sacrificed their lives fighting against women rights, minority’s rights, democracy and peace. Pakistan know what it costs to fight a long war, and we pay the price forthis with the lives of soldiers and civilians. Yet we have not walked away from Benazir Bhutto’s heroic path and commitments to Pakistan.
PPP has achieved its thirty years dream of Benazir Bhutto for devolution of power by getting the 18th constitutional amendment done to disseminate powers to the provinces and our focus also remained on human and youth development including projects like Benazir Income Support Program for the poorest of the poor but we cannot run from the fact that we have to address the governance and service delivery issues across the Pakistan. Issues like Baluchistan should be discussed at broader level in Pakistan that has never been the part of discussion at any level earlier.
CPEC and Concerns of U.S.
The United States is our largest trading partner and has been beacon of freedom and democracy. As the world is facing multiple traumas, mostly related to economic or social turbulence, countries like China are stepping in economic leadership forums in Asia, projecting soft power that the United States once invented which is encouraging initiative by China, but it doesn’t alter the relations with United States. We welcome other countries as well for such investments and trade, as U.S. is not only trade partner to Pakistan. During the previous government of PPP in Pakistan, we had good relations with Afghanistan, Iran and India despite of many issues, yet President Zardari visited China and Iran and signed CPEC and Pak-Iran Gas pipeline deal. Unfortunately during this government of PML-N such relations especially with India and Iran are not at the same level.
Inspirations by Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto was not only the brave leader of Pakistan but of Muslim world, while being a woman the way she worked twice hard and took the undue criticism and sexist criticism that undermined her leadership and her position but she dealt with all and that is why Pakistan provides equal opportunities to all men, women and girls so that they can achieve that potential. She came from a privileged status that she could overcome certain things that average Pakistani cannot deal with. But yet the women representation in the parliament of Pakistan is not enough and post Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan is shrinking space for women and that needs to be addressed.