Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a surprise visit to Pakistan, where he met with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as well as military officials and journalists. Gates’ visit was intended to address Pakistani anger over tactics the U.S. military has used against militants in the country’s tribal areas, including the Central Intelligence Agency’s increased reliance on drone attacks. More generally, Gates reassured Pakistanis that the United States is committed to a partnership with Pakistan and is prepared for the long haul in the war on terror.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, is a leading proponent of closer U.S.-Pakistan ties as well as a redoubled effort among Pakistanis to fight terror at home. But he insists that a true relationship between the United States and Pakistan cannot be limited to security concerns alone; it must be multi-dimensional, encompassing political, economic, and cultural ties.
IFE recently had the opportunity to ask the Ambassador about his take on the many complex challenges facing Pakistan today. Ambassador Haqqani provided a unique and considered perspective on these issues. But he also touched on some lighter topics. (Read on to find out the Ambassador’s favorite American baseball team!)
Q-and-A with His Excellency Husain Haqqani, ambassador of Pakistan to the United States
How can the United States and Pakistan cooperate to reduce the Taliban’s threat to Pakistani security and regional stability?
The Taliban and the extremist threat to Pakistan are multifaceted and must be tackled at a number of different levels and timeframes. In the immediate near term, Taliban violence must be countered by decisive and focused force. This happened in Swat when the Taliban and their surrogates were defeated militarily after they reneged on an agreement with the government. This has happened in South Waziristan where the Pakistani military conducted an extensive military operation to cleanse the area of the Taliban. In the medium to longer term, we must separate the diehard extremist and violent elements from the population and from their cadres. Most of the Taliban foot soldiers and suicide bombers have been lured to the Taliban cause because of lack of economic opportunity. There is also a toxic brew of ideology that feeds on the ignorance and illiteracy of the population. This must be addressed in a sustained manner through an economic and education programme. Equally importantly, the capacity of the Pakistani military to gather credible and actionable intelligence and to respond to it expeditiously and accurately, with a high probability of hitting the targets, must be dramatically enhanced. The war against terrorism, in the final analysis, is a war of intelligence. Military assaults, artillery barrages, and air strikes look impressive but are in fact an insufficient means of fighting terrorism. The approach should be to decapitate the networks through action against the leadership. Pakistan should therefore be given the means to collect intelligence and to respond to it.
Do you believe that the military’s influence in Pakistan is declining as the clout of the civilian government rises?
The Pakistani military is one of Pakistan’s greatest assets. We live in a tough neighborhood, and the Pakistani military is Pakistan’s guarantee of security and sovereignty. There is a clear realization in all institutions of the State that the path to peace and prosperity in Pakistan lies in strict adherence to assigned roles and established competencies. The issue, therefore, is not the “clout” of one or another institution but how all organs of the State work in unison in the most optimal manner to help Pakistan meet its various challenges. There are no two views in Pakistan on the need and propriety of the civilian leadership in setting national priorities and utilizing all elements of national power to achieve these.
Do you ever have time to watch Pakistan’s exceptional cricket team? If you’re not a cricket fan, what sports, if any, do you watch?
Pakistan’s cricket team is also one of Pakistan’s greatest assets. Our sportsmen are our ambassadors and their excellence is a manifestation of the resilience and vibrancy of the Pakistani society that, despite being the biggest victim of terrorism in the world, has the capacity to field such exceptional teams. However regretfully, cricket is not one of my passions. Personally, I like baseball in which, unfortunately, Pakistan has some way to go. During my stay in the United States, I have developed a liking for baseball and am an ardent fan of the Boston Red Sox.
What do you make of the “Af-Pak” notion?
It is unfair to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It may be a convenient “handle” for U.S. policymakers and strategists and has a certain catchiness to it, but in operational terms and in terms of results, it may not be useful and could be downright counterproductive. Pakistan and Afghanistan are sovereign states with clear identities and issues. Of course, terrorism is a common threat, but it has different aspects, connotations, manifestations, motivations, and objectives in each country. Therefore, the recipe to counter it must also be different and tailored to each country according to the specific milieu prevalent in it. “AFPAK” does not do that and seems to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach.
Is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal secure?
Absolutely. A number of U.S. policymakers have themselves admitted this. We have created an elaborate, multilayered command and control structure to ensure the safety and security of our strategic assets. We have created this command and control structure after studying international best practices in this field and are confident of its strength and integrity.
What are the prospects of Pakistan’s achieving success in rooting out terrorists in South Waziristan?
I would say that we have achieved success in rooting out terrorists in South Waziristan. The Pakistani military is in the final stages of its operations in South Waziristan. The real issue is to ensure that the terrorists do not return. This would entail economic and education programmes as well as the creation of an appropriate intelligence network.