Washington: Despite the embarrassing evidence of the Pakistan Army's links with terrorist organisations that recently surfaced via Wikileaks, Pakistani authorities maintain that their relations with the United States will not be negatively affected. In an Exclusive Interview Pakistan's ambassador to the US Mr. Husain Haqqani tells NDTV's Sarah Jacob - that the US should be more concerned about the leaking of military intelligence than reports of the ISI working hand in glove with the Taliban.
Here's the transcript of the full interview:
NDTV: Ambassador, Pakistan has denied and rejected the Wikileaks leaks, so let us not waste time getting into that. However, you can't deny that they have cast a shadow on Pakistan's relationship with the US here; does it feel like you have crash-landed after the high of pulling off the fourth successful strategic dialogue?
Ambassador Haqqani: We have the fifth strategic dialogue talks coming up in October. Quite clearly the strategic dialogue has not only 'not crashed', but will continue. The Wikileaks episode is more of an issue for the United States to determine how documents that they had classified got leaked. And it of course is a little media event. Americans tend to be, like every nation, very concerned about the safety of their troops, and I think the American public is going to be reactive towards those who put them in danger, because let's be frank, the more classified documents that come out in the public realm, the more likely it is for terrorists etc. to work out how the other side thinks, so the real impact of the Wikileaks episode is not on Pakistan, but on the security of American troops in Afghanistan, because the terrorists will definitely go over these documents and see how American field intelligence works, what kind of sources they cultivate, how they get their information, because after all it's possible for them to work backwards and say what have they found out and how, and that is going to endanger American soldiers and American intelligence operatives on the ground in Afghanistan. Out of the 92,000 documents only 80 refer to the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and only 30 of them are particularly negative about the ISI with undocumented reports, which are basically field reports unprocessed initial reports, which often prove wrong, so I don't think that this is something that will cause any rupture in US-Pakistan relations on a permanent basis. That being said, there are people in the United States, as there are in India that remains wary of Pakistan and Pakistan's approach in the region. We intend to prove them wrong through our actions.
NDTV: Ambassador, may I remind you of something you said a few years ago. In Sept 2008, when a U.S. commando raid in South Waziristan killed as many as 20, Pakistan was infuriated and you warned the US saying, "Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion." Similarly, the Obama administration and Pakistan may dismiss the claims of the Wikileaks but it has enrages public opinion in America. That is a serious worry for you.
Ambassador Haqqani: I do not see American public opinion particularly enraged on the particularities of the Wikileaks episode, in fact there are Americans who are enraged over the mere fact of leaking. So, that I think is going to be the greater concern for US public opinion and not what a few of those documents say about Pakistan. That has already been discussed in the international media on more occasion than one and been discussed sufficiently.
NDTV: Senator Reed, Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who visited Pakistan this month said, "The burden of proof is on the government of Pakistan and the ISI to show that they don't have ongoing contacts with the Taliban." What would you say to that?
Ambassador Haqqani: Pakistan's Intelligence Services, Pakistan's Military, and Pakistan's Government have taken a very clear stand against terrorism and extremism. Over the last two years, more Pakistanis have died fighting terrorism than any other country's military. We have already proven our sincerity in fighting terrorism through our actions. I don't think that we will engage in a debate with anyone - an individual legislator in the United States, an individual political figure in India, or for that matter any of our individual critics in the region. Time will prove that Pakistan made a clear choice, and our choice was to rid our entire region and the world of terrorism, and we will not endure terrorist attacks in any part of the world, including in any of our neighbouring countries.
NDTV: Since a lot of what you do here in Washington as Pakistan's Ambassador is impacted by the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan dynamic, what role do you think India can legitimately play in Afghanistan without causing Pakistan to feel buffeted in?
Ambassador Haqqani: I think that the best course for India in Afghanistan is to make sure that whatever they do there does not create misgivings in Pakistan, a little more transparency, a little more open discussion as neighbours that this is what we are about to do. It's a part of the confidence building that we need to do to overcome the misgivings of the past. Look, we all know that there are always issues that each side can raise with one another, complaints that one can have towards one another, but if the intention is to have a stable Afghanistan, a stable Pakistan, and a stable India, playing their respective roles, working together, then I think we can find a way of reassuring each other. In Afghanistan, as long as there is no significant military intelligence activity that Pakistan finds threatening, India of course will remain a country with which the Afghans will do business, and similarly, at some point in future, Pakistan itself looks forward to a normal trade relationship with India, but until we get there, we have to have a more reassuring posture towards one another. There are things Pakistan has to take India into confidence over just to be reassuring, and similarly India has to understand that it had to do that.
NDTV: Is it fair to say that Pakistan wants and demands primacy in Afghanistan once the US engagement begins to scale down?
Ambassador Haqqani: Pakistan does not seek control over or primacy in Afghanistan. We want to be a friend to Afghanistan and a neighbour. We recognize Afghan sovereignty and we want Afghanistan's internal politics to remain Afghanistan's internal matter. At the same time, we are concerned like any other country would be about not letting Afghanistan be used as a military or intelligence staging ground, that would interrupt our own security, and very frankly even that in the very long term future, and I'm not talking about tomorrow, in the very long term future, if we have greater confidence on each other and India and Pakistan have reached a point where we start trusting each other, then even those issues would slowly start disappearing, but our concerns are not very dissimilar to what would have been American concerns. If for example the Soviet union had started creating a military or intelligence base in Mexico or in Canada during the cold war, so I think that the onus of creating trust lies on both sides, and in the case of Afghanistan, our Indian neighbours can find a way of reassuring Pakistan so that this does not become another sort of sore point between our two countries.
NDTV: It is well known that you have an excellent relationship with Richard Holbrooke. You have direct access to him and his ear at all times. India was dropped from his purview as chief envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan after protests from New Delhi, because they were suspicious that he would try to mediate what India sees as a strictly bilateral dispute over Kashmir. Since you have an inner track with the Obama administration here, what is your perspective from Washington about what the Obama administration thinks about the fractured state of India-Pakistan dialogue?
Ambassador Haqqani: Indian-Pakistan dialogue is essentially a dialogue between two estranged neighbours. We have a lot of baggage of history and emotion on both sides of the border, but the fact also remains that we are neighbours, we have to find a way forward, and India and Pakistan eventually will find a way forward. Our friends in the United States would like to facilitate that dialogue, but I don't think they want at this particular point to do anything that would upset our Indian neighbours or us, and I think that that is a situation with which we are not uncomfortable.
NDTV: Is it your sense that Washington is leaning on New Delhi to continue or the Indian Government has taken a principled stand to continue dialogue?
Ambassador Haqqani: I think that India, like Pakistan, understands that there is a dynamic of history that requires both of us to bury the hatchet and move forward. We have outstanding grievances, both have accused each other of many things over time, but none of that changes the fact that we also have shared history and we are neighbours, and so I think that whether the US facilitated the current round or recent round of talks or somebody else did is immaterial. What is important is our own awareness, and I think the leaders in India are people with a vision they want the best for India, the leaders in Pakistan are elected by the people of Pakistan and we have had a return to democracy after ten years of dictatorship, and our democratic leaders are aware that Pakistan's long term future lies in working out difficulties with India. That is not to say that we do not have grievances against each other, that is not to say that there are no outstanding disputes including the J&K, but at the same time there's a will to try and find a way out. We may not find the way out tomorrow. We may have to wait until the day after or the day after that or the day after that, but a way will have to be found, because that is essential for the stability of the entire region, and the prosperity of the people on both sides of the border.
NDTV: With $7.5 billion in civilian aid for five years and $2 billion in annual military aid, isn't the US is putting its money where its mouth is while dealing with Pakistan?
Yet, the latest pew poll shows that 60 per cent of Pakistan views the US as an enemy. How do you explain this dichotomy to the Obama administration?
Ambassador Haqqani: Well there are two elements to the polling data coming out of Pakistan. One is that a lot of Pakistanis do not have a favorable view of the United States, but at the same time, 64 per cent of Pakistanis seek better relations with the United States. What we are dealing with is the legacy of dictatorial regimes, of unhappiness over American support for a dictatorship in Pakistan, a legacy of Pakistanis feeling left in the lurch after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, that is the legacy of the past that we are dealing with. What is happening today will eventually influence opinion in the future, and that is I think how the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership in the form of Senator Kerry, Senator Luger, Congressman Howard Berman who have all supported enhancing civilian economic assistance for Pakistan. They all look upon it as investment for the future. Look, public opinion changes. Ten years ago, fifteen years ago, if you look at polling data, there was a time when the United States was not very popular in India, and now things have changed, so relationships change, relationships evolve. I would only say that, if you see Germany and France today, would you even, without knowing the history, be able to say - Gosh! these are the same two nations that were are the center of two World Wars and of many many wars before that, and basically destroyed each other several times over, so things change, and I think the US-Pakistan dynamic is similarly going to change as I am confident will the India-Pakistan dynamic, I hope sooner rather than later.
NDTV: And you have done a marvellous job maintaining US-Pakistan relations despite all odds. Many in India are amazed at how you have mastered the American media. You were described by the NYT as a silver-tongued interpreter of Pakistan's bewildering politics, and a relentless defender of Pakistan's image and reputation. Does it bother Pakistan that almost all markers about it are negative in nature?
Ambassador Haqqani: Negative news often is a reflection of perceptions, of actions of different people. I think that Pakistan is in the process of transformation. We have embraced democracy after dictatorship and we are in the process of changing our fundamental relationships with our two most important neighbours - Indian and Afghanistan. We will continue our close relations with our other important neighbour China. We are also investing in our people after a long hiatus. You'll realise that Pakistan has not invested as much in its education and healthcare as it should have, creating low literacy rates and an educational system that is not necessarily world class, and we are changing all of that. I think once we are able to change that, the people's government in Pakistan, the elected democratic government led by led by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani, once it's able to bring about those changes, much of the negativity will be overcome. I do not allow the negativity of the moment to ever get me down. A few years ago everybody used to say that Pakistan would never become a democracy again - I stood by Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan People's Party during that period as an academic. People used to say to me - "you know, you are on a losing side." Well guess what, It didn't prove to be a losing side, and now when I say I stand for a Pakistan that will be democratic, that will be at peace with its neighbours, that will not be the center of conflict, but will be a country embracing prosperity in the future, and that will be a friend of the United States and all our neighbours, I think that that is also a vision that will materialise some day. One has no choice but to be optimistic, because pessimists get their heart broken every day.
NDTV: Pakistan has done an excellent job of maintaining US support for it, despite all sorts of revelations. Much of that credit goes to you. A few years ago we had revelations about AQ Khan selling nuclear secrets to Iran, and more recently the Wikileaks reports linking the Pak army with terrorist groups- that would have led to any other country promptly being classified as an enemy of the United States. How much of this is fear that Pakistan might side with those opposing the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, versus a genuine belief in Pakistan as a long-term ally?
Ambassador Haqqani: Pakistan is a strategically located country that is very important for the United States, and it is important in the global order, and I think that everybody who thinks about these things realises that the best course in dealing with an important country like Pakistan is to engage, not to antagonise, and I think US policy has been very mature. I think US policy has taken the right course. Pakistan has improved its relations with the US on a regular basis and any difficulties that we have at this moment, we hope we will overcome in the future.
NDTV: India sees these Wikileaks as a testament of India's belief that the ISI is helping sponsor terror and now has been exposed internationally. What would you say if and when New Delhi brings this up?
Ambassador Haqqani: My response to anyone who tries to cite the Wikileaks as a source to criticise Pakistan would be to say that there is a history that we are all familiar with. The United States itself took the lead in 1979 to support the Mujahidin. The radical elements got support and sustenance for many years. Now it is time for all of us to work together. There is a role for all our neighbours and there is certainly a role and duty for Pakistan in bringing that whole enterprise to a close and I think that the terror enterprise is not going to survive if we all work together. We can always try to score political points against each other but that is not going to solve the problem. We saw that in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan rose - and I was among those who stood up- and said that we share the pain of our neighbours. There are people who are cynical and skeptical but the fact is that Pakistan continues to pursue the attackers and will bring them to justice but these are slow processes and when competed I am sure that there will be more and more people convinced that Pakistan feels the pain as a victims of terror that other victims of terror feel and we have no interest in continuing to allow any body to continue to blame us for terror attacks.
Story first published:
August 02, 2010 22:33 IST