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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interview | Ch Nisar Ali Khan

Security strategy eyed to stabilize region: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 12:06 AM
Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan makes a point during his interview with Okaz/Saudi Gazette’s Fahim Al-Hamid. — Courtesy photos

PAKISTAN — The security portfolio in Pakistan, no doubt, for any minister means entering a wasps’ nest. This is not due to the significance of the portfolio, but because of security diplomacy’s tough legacy.

The new government not only inherited issues from the former President Asif Ali Zardari government but also had to face situations aggravated by the complications that had followed the 9/11 attacks.

After these attacks, Pakistan saw a new wave of violence and terrorism across its borders with Afghanistan.

This wave has also consolidated terrorism in the tribal area in Pakistan, which has become a haven for Al-Qaeda leaders and the Taliban during Zardari’s reign.

Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in his interview to Okaz/Saudi Gazette, says the security issue in Pakistan is not the country’s concern alone but is tightly linked to neighboring Afghanistan, Iran and India who are the main beneficiaries of every change in Pakistan.

This link extends to other major powers such as the US, the NATO, Russia and China.

The US and the NATO are the major beneficiaries of stability in Pakistan and at the same time the most hit by the lack of it.

They are both looking for a strategy that would enable Afghanistan and Pakistan to confront the challenges posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Discussions are ongoing inside Pakistan especially in light of the recent initiative launched by Nawaz Sharif’s government to enter into negotiations with the Taliban.

The government has got the green signal from all the political parties for its move.

A dialogue with the Taliban is aimed at restoring the internal security and protecting Pakistan against any new wave of terrorism that may follow the withdrawal of the NATO and US forces from Afghanistan.

It is obvious that the initiative of dialogue with the Taliban is still fragile. Furthermore, this initiative has relapsed following the American drone raid in the tribal area that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. The killing of Mehsud has frozen the dialogue.

Pakistan, which is searching for a prescription to establish internal security and end terrorism, does not want to wait with its hands tied for terrorism, which could come from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the NATO and the US forces.

“With terrorism in mind, we have to frame a National Security Policy of Pakistan that will have both the strategic aspects and the operational aspects,” the Interior Minister said.

Following are the excerpts from the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?

A: Relationship between two fast, very close friends is always fruitful. As it’s not only people to people relationship but also on a common Imaan and Aqida. Saudi Arabia has the kalima shahada on the flag and Pakistan owes its origin to the kalima. It is part of your flag and is part of our Imaan. There can’t be a bigger bond than that. Whenever there has been a difficult time for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has been the strongest supporter; and vice versa. The government of Nawaz Sharif feels that the security, well-being and the defense of Saudi Arabia is the security, well-being and defense of Pakistan. So nothing can come between us. Prince Saud Al Faisal’s recent visit was very productive, positive and I can tell you the discussions that took place were not normal diplomatic discussions. They were discussions between two brothers. They are one in soul and one in spirit and one in Imaan. I have invited Interior Minister Prince Muhammad Bin Naif to Pakistan and he will be visiting Pakistan soon.

Q: How do you view the security cooperation between the two countries at this stage?

A: Having said at the outset that security of one country is the security of the other country, it is important for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to get together in all fields including security to try and address the issue of the region being increasingly unstable by a chain of events over the last few years and to somehow bring about some level of security in the region, which has suffered a lot over the last few years.

Q: Combating terrorism is very much high on the agenda of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. What’s your vision to further develop relations with Riyadh?

A: We are processing a very high profile security agreement with Saudi Arabia. We have done the initial homework. And hopefully that Memorandum of Understanding would be signed on the impending visit of the Saudi Interior Minister. We have charted out certain common areas but discussions are still ongoing. The broad base is that it shares the vision of both the countries in addressing areas of terrorism, not only in the respective countries but also in the region and having a proactive role in addressing the origins of terrorism, working together to cut off their funding, working together to have a proactive policy in close cooperation including intelligence sharing to address this menace.

Q: Will this agreement include cooperation in drug trafficking, organized crime, exchange of prisoners?

A: These are three MoUs: drugs and trafficking is one, security and fighting terrorism is the second, and transfer of prisoners or offenders is the third. We are working on these three MoUs. The MoU on drugs and trafficking is almost final. The other two are in the process. Hopefully within the next few weeks we will have consensus on all three.

Q: Signing the security deal will be a very significant step. Do you think this agreement will help enhance regional security between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia since both can be main players in regional security?

A: I think relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is not influenced by any third country. We have a bilateral relationship and these are bilateral MoUs. Naturally this is the first step in any improvement or any extension of the objectives of the MoUs. There are various aspects of the MoUs that have regional implications. So as you go forward, as you operate along these MoUs, naturally certain aspects of the policy regarding these MoUs will have implication for the region. So it will contribute. But what is more important is that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia must cooperate. They are important players in Middle East, in South Asia and in Islamic Ummah. So whatever they do or whatever agreement they come to, naturally, it does have fallout on the respective regions.

Q: My question was that is Pakistan willing to play a role with Saudi Arabia to maintain peace in the regional aspect?

A: That’s a difficult question. Because that has certain undertones but we are willing together to play any role to bring about peace.

Q: Can you give us what is the focus of your ministry to maintain peace in the country?

A: There are two aspects. One is strategic and other is operational. On the strategic side basically we have to decide whether the situation that prevails in Pakistan is to be handled through a military operation or is it going to be dialogue, which will pave the way for the future. The third option is a reactive mode. Pakistan has been in a reactive mode over the last many years. If there is an attack from one side then we react otherwise you go back to the status quo. That is more of a reactive or a protective policy. And the fourth one is mixture of the dialogue and … a combination. At the moment we have chosen the path of dialogue. That doesn’t mean that the other options have been marginalized. The other options are available. At this moment of time we have the resolution of the All Parties Conference, we have had intense discussions within the government and that includes both the political parties and also input from security forces. So the whole consensus at the moment is for the dialogue process. I think I can tell you I have not made public yet that there has been some significant progress in that respect but it will take few weeks before we can honestly say which way the dialogue process is going to take. We had channelized a very clear cut and a very transparent policy on the dialogue process but then one drone attack jeopardized the whole efforts, we are trying to pick up the pieces and I think it will take a few weeks before it is clear as to the way forward. On the operational side it is very, very comprehensive strategy and a very comprehensive framework. At the federal level we are basically responsible for security of the capital area and providing institutional support to the provinces. The law and order is basically the responsibility of the provinces themselves.

We provide them the institutional support in so far as intelligence support and support of the civil armed forces, the Rangers, the FC, the Coast Guards. We are trying to conceive a central Directorate of Intelligence based solely on “one-point” agenda, “terrorism”. So we are in process of announcing soon the first ever National Security Policy of Pakistan. It will have both the strategic aspects and the operational aspects so hopefully we will put all the aspects together in the shape of a comprehensive National Security Policy.

Q: What do you think about talks with Taliban? Do you think that killing of Mehsud has sabotaged these talks or there’s still room to revive it?

A: It originally sabotaged the talks. We are now faced with the situation in which the new head of this militant faction has repeatedly said that they don’t want to engage in talks. That leaves us with few options, yet we still feel that dialogue is the way forward. Military operations might have an impact in the medium- and short-term, but it is always dialogue and reconciliation that have far-reaching and long-term implication and long-reaching effect. What exactly is the strategy, it will not be really possible for me to divulge at this stage, but yes dialogue is going on even at this stage. Which are the factions, I think you will have to wait for couple of days or maybe for couple of weeks before they are made public.

Q: What’s the main objective of the talks with Taliban?

A: Basically the objective is to ensure peace within Pakistan. I think you would probably recall that before 9/11 there were never any signs of violence within Pakistan or even FATA. FATA was basically very peaceful. It was only after Gen. Musharraf decided to become part of the American coalition, the so-called War on Terror that the fallout occurred on our side of “border.” The objective of the dialogue process is to regain peace for Pakistan, not only in FATA but also in the rest of Pakistan.

Q: Are you satisfied with the security in Pakistan?

A: When we took over it was a complete mess. We have tried our utmost. We have burned the midnight oil, as I normally say in the Assembly to try and raise not only the framework of a National Security Policy but also the morale of our brave soldiers, security forces, police, who are fighting and sacrificing their lives for Pakistan but having said that it will take some time before I will be totally satisfied on that account.

Q: Do you think the suicide bombing has reduced?

A: At least in last couple of months, yes.

Q: What about the situation in Karachi? Why is it out of control?

A: It’s not out of control, the rate of heinous crimes has come down by forty percent. Yes, there are ups and downs, when the criminals are taken to task over a period then there are certain times when there are spurts of reaction. They are not consistent. It occurs suddenly. But all said and done, as I said, the crime rate as far as target killing, as far as kidnapping for ransom, as far as terrorists related incidents are concerned they have gone down by 40%. We would like to bring them down further, the biggest problem of course is that the focal point there is the provincial government, and we have to work with the provincial government, and the provincial government is controlled by the opposition party, but we are working very closely. We are trying to bring about peace.
It will take a bit of time and more efforts to ensure peace in Karachi but we are getting there. InshaAllah.

Q: In my opinion you despite being an aggressive Interior Minister are having a very soft approach towards Madrassas?

A: You can’t categorize Madrassas under one head. The general scheme of things as far as Madrassas are concerned is positive. They impart knowledge. When the governments do not have the capacity to address that particularly area of education and if the private sector comes in why should anybody react to that. It is only a very few that has somehow used the Madrassas name for militancy, and on that area of course I will come down with an iron hand and these people have misused the very concept of Madrassas. We are already on it, we have been trying to address the situation but to say that all Madrassas are terrorism incubators is the biggest fallacy. The previous government did not have the concept. They were not even aware of the situation as it existed on the ground and they were always trying to appease the foreign lobby. My responsibility is to be responsible to the Pakistan lobby, to Islam, to anybody and everybody imparting religious knowledge.
How can I differ with that? But if anybody is misusing that aspect for militancy or to create or spread terrorism, you can be rest assured that the state will come down with an iron hand.