Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, visited India this week to release his book India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? Advisor to four Pakistani Prime Ministers, including Benazir Bhutto, Haqqani in his speech at the book promotion event here emphasised on the need for the two countries to “change their narratives”. Haqqani highlighted how India should not get engulfed in the “reciprocity trap” by matching Pakistan’s actions with equal aggressiveness and how Pakistan needs to start seeing the circumstances of the Kashmiri people. In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Guardian, Haqqani talked about the India-Pakistan relationship from a broader perspective. Excerpts:
Q. Naela Qadri Baloch, a Baloch activist, recently visited India to seek help against the atrocities of Pakistan in Balochistan and blamed your country for Balochistan’s circumstances today. Your comments.
A. Balochistan is a “troubled area”. The people of Balochistan deserve better than what they are getting. Right now, Balochistan is not an area where people feel comfortable and Pakistan needs to be more concerned about the people of Balochistan.
Q. Do you agree that Pakistan is responsible for Balochistan’s troubles?
A. I don’t give “yes” or “no” answers. The policies of military suppression in Balochistan are not going to integrate Balochistan better into Pakistan.
Q. Bilateral relations between Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif have turned cold after the initial warmth. What would you attribute this to?
A. It is always good for neighbours to talk to each other and Prime Minister Modi is not the first India Prime Minister to think of settling the dispute with Pakistan and Prime Minister Sharif is not the first Pakistani Prime Minister to think of settling issues with India. Unfortunately, there are structures of conflict between both the countries about which I have written in great detail in my book. Pakistan needs to bring the chapter of terrorism to a close and needs to move forward by normalising relations first. I think the approach of trying to solve outstanding disputes first has not worked out well. At the moment, I don’t see great scope of advancement because the “terrorist structure” has not been shut down and PM Modi is disappointed on that score. PM Sharif, on the other hand, has failed to gain control over foreign policy and national security at home. So I think it will be better for both the countries to wait a little longer.
Q. In your speech today, you said that people like Hafiz Saeed pretend to have the best interests of the people in Kashmir, which is not true. How do you think people like Hafiz Saeed can be uprooted?
A. The easiest thing Pakistan has to do to shut down the terrorist network at home is to start arresting people who have been declared as terrorists by the United Nations. Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network like Siraj Haqqani etc. At the same time, Pakistan must also break down the capacity of terrorist groups to recruit and train because extremists and terrorists in Pakistan are a greater problem for Pakistan than it is for anybody else, even though our establishment thinks that they are its allies for regional influence.
Q. PM Sharif has recently echoed the feelings of the separatist groups when he said that Kashmir will be won by Pakistan. What according to you is the reason behind this? Is Sharif under pressure from the ISI, army, jihadi groups?
A. I think that PM Sharif has increased the rhetoric only because that is the mood of the country at this moment. Every time problems arise in parts of Kashmir controlled by India, people in Pakistan begin to feel that there might be a resolution to the Kashmir conflict, because of what they are told. If this conflict has not been resolved in 69 years, it will not be resolved in 69 days or 69 weeks. Unfortunately, increasing rhetoric about Kashmir is only resulting in making the Kashmiris like “Southeast Asian Palestinians”. Kashmiris have a strong sense of alienation from India and the Kashmir valley does have serious unrest. But to increase that unrest will only result in greater action from the Indian state and it will not help the Kashmiri people. Till Pakistan resorts to terrorism, it will not gain any support from the international community on Kashmir issue. The way I see it PM Sharif’s increasing rhetoric is only aimed at Pakistani people’s opinion and nothing else.
Q. Is Pakistan doing enough to curb home grown terrorism?
A. Pakistan has not yet decided to treat all extremist jihadist groups equally. So Pakistan has taken action against those jihadis that have become a problem for Pakistan and who have attacked inside Pakistan. But it has not been active against those terror groups who have engaged in regional and international terror activities.
Q. What is the political solution to Kashmir?
A. The best way to overcome long-standing disputes is through trying to overcome hate and animosity. The political solution to Kashmir can be found by both the nations agreeing to meet half-way. Half-way solutions, by definition, require compromise. If one side says that we want everything 100% our way, that is not a negotiation.