“Pakistan and the United States: the road to 2014 and beyond”
It is my great honour and pleasure to be here with you tonight.
I must thank President Gilpin for giving me the opportunity to share what’s on my mind as we enter a period of robust renewal and engagement in the Pak-US relationship.
It is also a particular privilege and pleasure to be at Harvard. Its reputation as a center for academic excellence crosses all borders. But for me its gravitational pull exceeds the virtues of its public brand.
For me, and for many Pakistanis, it is the University that our first woman Prime Minister was so proud of being associated with.
I start with Benazir Bhutto today, because both Pakistan and I owe her a great debt of political, and moral gratitude. My own personal story in the political mainstream in Pakistan began with her recruitment and mentoring of so many young women at that time; I was one of them.
But more importantly the Pakistan we speak of today, at a crossroads of history, struggling each day to move from a challenging past into a future she dreamed of, a Pakistan at peace with itself and at peace with the world, owes much of its new story to both her vision and sacrifice.
I mention her sacrifice particularly, not because her memory needs to be burnished by it, but because her sacrifice against terrorism, her search for regional peace and her battle for democracy remain Pakistan’s three defining projects.
Every day we move towards institutions that buttress democracy, while we re-shape our future in the region, and every day we fight extremism and terrorism with our lives.
Without getting into a victim narrative, which strips us of agency and responsibility, I say this because it will help refract for some of you here the daily challenge we face as we re-build our country in the 30-year old shadow of great conflicts in the region, from the violence and alien extremisms that came with it.
Why do I bring history to the table on a discussion on our bilateral future post 2014? Because history is the path to two crucial elements in the terrain between the US and Pakistan. It is the lost space where many forgotten dots between cause and effect re-appear, casting a light on some understanding, and it is also the place where we build a strategic playbook of lessons learnt for the future.
Now I will come back to that playbook shortly, because my first task in this great country, ladies and gentlemen, is to bridge the cognitive divide that has arisen over the last decade or so, the decade when we have once again, since September 11, been allies on a battlefield.
Although our two governments are working together closely again, it is not enough to dismiss this drift as a misunderstanding of our new strategic motive and move it to the dustbin of the clichéd “ trust deficit”. If we are to move forward in lockstep to stabilize the region, which should be our fundamental joint goal, then we have to understand each other better.
Pakistan’s first battlefield encounter with the US in Afghanistan as allies against the Soviet Union informs the collective memory of my generation, the fifty-somethings. Now for us, before the 1979 war as it came to be known, the concept of terrorism and militant extremisms were totally alien. In fact, the drugs, guns and terrorist triad that we saw suddenly by the 1980s was the blowback we were left with from an outsourced war in Afghanistan. This is not to say that our own mistakes were not legion. They contributed to how we contained the fallout then.
Yet despite even the best policies, the porous border with Afghanistan left Pakistan awash with the world’s largest population of refugees. We still host them today. They are the forgotten statistic from that war, but for us they are the new demographic. They too will shape how we deal with 2014.
The 30-somethings generation of Pakistanis has a quite different perception of the United States. They did not see Tarbela dam being built by the US, nor did they benefit from the opportunities of scholarships open to middle class Pakistanis, to go to schools such as Smith College and Harvard University. They see Muslim discontent in the Middle East, they see drone attacks on forty television channels every time there is such an attack, and this is how they see America projecting power abroad. They hate the terrorists that rip through our schools and hospitals and ask our government and parliament why Pakistan is often asked to ‘do more’ every time there is an IED attack in Afghanistan, or why 46 000 of our citizen’s and soldiers’ who have been killed don’t count enough? They ask many such questions, but still most Pakistanis defy the polls that tell you of mass anti-Americanism, and understand that the US still seeks to be an ally and a friend. Most Pakistanis vote for peace, for stability, for jobs, for an education, for safer streets, for access to healthcare and for all these things they do see the American people as an important global advocate for reform and partnership.
Contrary to what you see in the headlines, most Pakistanis are not extremists. That is why democratic governments now pivot sharply for a diplomatic and trade surge in the region.
This new regional pivot, driven specifically by President Zardari of Pakistan, forms the fundamental bedrock of what is Pakistan’s new strategic outreach as it seeks to shore up American gains next door, and initiates and amplifies a diplomatic surge across the board, both east and West.
But this regional policy will only bring stability and prosperity to the region if the US plays its part, and work through the endgame of a long war, without too many unintended consequences, this time. As I said earlier, both our countries were in two wars together next door. Both the United States and Pakistan won the first war, but we lost the peace. The jury is still out on this one.
I say this because a review of strategic setbacks and what caused them should be front and centre of our “lessons learnt” menu as we attempt to stabilize the region together.
Pakistan and the US should have learnt two important lessons from the first war in Afghanistan: One, Terrorism must be unambiguously defeated everywhere, but the application of military force is never enough in a theatre such as Afghanistan. I try very hard to resist the graveyard of empires cliché, but fail clearly.
Pakistan has certainly learned one lesson, that no one can broker a sustainable peace in Afghanistan except the Afghans themselves. Therefore, Pakistan fully supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and peace. Today, it is our considered coordinated inter-agency policy that Afghans have to lead the peace process in Afghanistan.
Pakistan will support all roadmaps for a negotiated settlement of this war. What we will not do is support any groups, or play any favourites. Let me say unequivocally, the government and state of Pakistan do not see Afghanistan as our strategic backyard.
We hope that the important gains made by US NATO forces can be protected, especially in terms of fundamental freedoms for women and access to social services.
We want to see Afghanistan as a united, independent and sovereign state. We urge all concerned to join the reconciliation process, because we recognize that Pakistan has vital stakes in a peaceful, self-ruled Afghanistan, just as we have the most to lose from a turbulent neighbor. We also recognize that the road ahead is full of challenges, but our goal is to be diligent in our search for clarity and convergence among our three nations.
We understand U.S. compulsions relating to Afghanistan. We want to help the U.S. to manage a smooth and responsible transition in Afghanistan. To that end we would like the U.S. to lay down the foundations for Afghanistan’s future political and economic stability. This is in Pakistan’s self interest. Peace in my Pakistan is difficult without peace in Afghanistan..
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The U.S. hopes to conclude the war in Afghanistan, the longest in its history, in 2014. That date looms large over policy and public debates today. There is deep concern over whether the U.S. will be able to leave a reasonably stable Afghanistan behind or if the blood and treasure invested over the course of a decade will have yielded no tangible results.
If the United States approaches the timelines to 2014 with concern, you will forgive me for saying that the mood in Pakistan is informed by a calendar of imminent anxieties.
I am sorry that memory remains such a tangible ghost at the bilateral table.
As Secretary Clinton told Congress in 2009, “The people we are fighting today, we funded twenty years ago. We then left Pakistan, we said okay, fine you deal with the stingers and you deal with the mines along the border, and by way, we don’t want to be dealing with you, and in fact, we are sanctioning you.”
You can all understand just how crucial it is that the principal actors in this fight – the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan – get it right this time round.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Pakistan cannot afford a repeat of the 1990s, when the Soviet withdrawal led to the same by the U.S. and Afghanistan sank into a devastating internecine conflict. We hope the international community can see a clear learning curve and rethink the approach to the region. We certainly have. Afghanistan is entitled to the same consideration and respect from us as we expect for ourselves. It is our neighbor, not our sphere of influence. We do not wish to impose a government in Afghanistan or work with only select partners. Rather, we will do our best to work with whichever government the Afghans choose for themselves, and convince it of our respect and friendship. Here again I must underscore we have the most to gain from a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
Despite our difficult economic circumstances, we have invested $ 300 million in Afghanistan’s infrastructure as a sign of our goodwill. We have revised and upgraded the nearly fifty-year old transit trade agreement with Afghanistan to bring it more in line with contemporary realities. Afghan trucks will now be able to travel across Pakistan all the way to the Pakistan-India border.
Our regional pivot focuses on bringing down an architecture of trade barriers both with India and Pakistan, and we are on course, despite flare-ups on the Line of Control in Kashmir, to forge with building investments in peace, trade, economic integration and opportunities for our huge youth cohort
A dialogue at multiple levels is also underway. Pakistan’s cabinet is considering extending Most Favored Nation status to India while pressing India to dismantle its tariff and para-tariff barriers to Pakistan’s exports. The two countries recently agreed on an expanded visa agreement. Some experts see bilateral trade touching $ 7-8 billion within a couple of years.
Pakistan is also moving fast to connect with countries in Central Asia. We are working on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-
Above all, Pakistan is now a democracy. For the first time in our history, an elected government is set to complete its full constitutional term. A caretaker government will soon be in place. Elections will follow in a maximum time frame of 90 days, and these will be supervised by an autonomous election commission, already in place, appointed by a multi-partisan committee of all parliamentary parties. We are all held accountable by a raucous and independent media, while the President has devolved his powers to the head of parliament. Leadership is being feminized pro-actively and anti-poverty programs target women at the bottom of the pyramid, already drawing 18 percent of the population into its service net.
I would rate this as the single biggest reason for a solid and productive bilateral relationship, post 2014. The two countries have been bound by geo-political compulsions in the past, but these associations proved brittle and unsustainable. It is time that we allowed the bond of shared democratic values and ideals to work their weight. I am certain the results will be to our collective benefit
Ladies and Gentlemen,
So, what can Pakistan and United States do in the lead up to 2014 to prevent a repeat of history? I would venture to make a few suggestions:
One, trust each other. Share notes, build communication through formal channels, not the media.
2) Strategic sympathy: Try to understand each other’s challenges. Don’t interpret differences of approach as duplicity. Don’t confuse capacity issues as lack of will. Do not exacerbate each other’s sense of insecurity or anxiety. When we have our schoolgirls like Malala shot by TTP terrorists massing in Kunar, on the Afghan side of the border, we do not leap to the public conclusion that this was deliberate or planned, notwithstanding the conspiracy theorists or the fog of war. We expect the same consideration.
3) To recognize that the problems in Afghanistan are multidimensional and require the same complex solutions. Pakistan has been making this point since the first year of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Force is of course an important element. It is, however, only one of many, and on many issues, not even the major necessity. There has to be an equal emphasis on a political solution. The more people and groups the U.S. can bring under the reconciliation tent, the better. No one who is disposed to talk should find the road too difficult or the door too tightly shut. We are therefore glad to see such emphasis from the U.S. on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. I believe the phrase “Better late than never” applies here.
4) Lets do a reality check on the situation in Afghanistan. Do not go crashing out in an exit that run the risk of sinking Afghanistan into instability and economic un-sustainability. More than a military victory, what the U.S. must now try to ensure is to leave an economic infrastructure behind that allows the Afghans to build on after U.S. departure. After fighting the war, the U.S. must win the peace. We will work with you on it, and I believe we are.
5) There needs to be a robust anti-narcotics element to U.S./ISAF activities in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a great deal of time has already been lost. This seemingly ancillary issue can threaten many of the gains made over the past decade. According to a United Nations report published last November, the acreage devoted to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 18% from 2011 to 2012. This should be a cause for concern to all of us. An immediate result of such increase is that the Afghan insurgents will have more funds available to continue their opposition to the U.S. and the government in Kabul, and become intransigent in their demands. A longer term casualty will be Afghanistan’s post 2014 stability.
6) Know the limits of our reach and capacity in Afghanistan. Both sides should understand this. Do not expect us to deliver stability in an arena where 40 countries and billions of dollars could not. We are not the coalition of the unwilling. Know that we spend 5 billion dollars a year on defence, while the US spends two a week just in Afghanistan. Pakistan has lost 78 billion dollars to just the war on terror. The glass must be seen as half full, not half empty. Demonising a partner doesn’t help.
7) Stabilize and moderate the US footprint in Pakistan. Enough said.
8) Work with the societies and people of our two great nations. Expand the opportunities for travel, investment, education.
9) Make trade the highway to our new future.
10) Do not just see us a function of Afghanistan. Lets build on a common future together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Enough of looking back.
I believe Pakistan – U.S. relations provide an opportunity for an exercise in foresight; we are looking forward rather than backward.
2014 is certainly important. However, history will not end in 2014. Pakistan hopes to be a valuable friend and partner of the United States beyond that important milestone.
Pakistan is the world’s sixth largest country and the second biggest Muslim country. With a median age of 21.5 years, Pakistan is among the world’s twenty youngest countries and the biggest in this group. Pakistan one of the biggest middle classes outside China and India. This middle class is upwardly mobile, technology savvy and historically consumption oriented. Pakistan has the ninth largest pool of English language speakers, it has one of the biggest trained work forces in the world. It is served by a competent bureaucracy and boasts a network of good universities and colleges. Of course, Pakistan is doing everything it can to invest in its youth cohort, but the results will be better if the U.S. joins in this endeavor. There are scores of workers, professionals, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and consumers in this enormous pool of young people. Properly equipped, they will lead Pakistan and contribute to the prosperity of our country, region and the world.
The relationship is back to a new sober but stable and upward trajectory. Our working groups are engaged even as we speak, in Washington, and a level of confidence is returning as we the GLOCS and AIRLOCS become the main artery for the NATO supplies and drawdown.
But allow me to finish with what I think are the most important stories; they happen right here in rooms like this:
At a recent ‘All World Network Meeting’ a gathering of the world’s most successful and rising young entrepreneurs at Harvard Business School, arranged in collaboration with U.S. State Department. Pakistani participants constituted 30% of the total.
The “Pakistan 100” as they are called, was defined by success stories of young Pakistanis who have excelled in business enterprises through their innovation, creativity and hard work. These 100 Companies from Pakistan achieved the “All World International Standard” for competitive fast growth by growing on average at 55% a year, with the top ranking company registering an amazing 2000% growth.
So of course, yes, we can.