Islamabad: As Delhi puts the 26/11 attacks trial on centre-stage in talks with Islamabad, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that her government has "no love lost" for Hafiz Saeed or individuals like him. In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, she said Hafiz Saeed is not a crony of the Pakistani government.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: When Hina Rabbani Khar visited India last year as Pakistan's youngest Foreign Minister and also Pakistan's first women Foreign Minister, she immediately grabbed many gushing headlines. In fact, many said that Hina Rabbani Khar had 'wowed' the Indian media. But now, beyond the rhetoric and the headlines as India and Pakistan talk again, the question is how much progress has really been made in this equation? What still are the roadblocks and what are the obstacles? Cynics even say are we just innocents, marking a date in the calendar by talking, or are things really improving? Here in Islamabad, in her office, is Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Nice talking to you here. You know and you must have seen the media reaction to you when you visited lndia last year. Were you surprised that so much of media coverage focused on your personality, your gender, your age, even your clothes?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Well, first of all let me welcome you to Islamabad. It's a pleasure to have you and your many colleagues here. Surprised? I think these things are natural, I think, since I was somewhat younger than many of my peers. But what was more important, was, I like to believe, that we were carrying a different message from the government of Pakistan to the people of India. And that is, I hope, what got more attention than anything else. And to be quite honest, if you look at the state of relations between the two countries one year on, I can only say that I'm satisfied.
NDTV: You are?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely. And you can look at the views of the cynics, but I would take them with a pinch of salt, and I would like to say that we have to continue to look at the glass that's half full rather than half empty. India and Pakistan have had historically very, very difficult relations. That's the first thing we have to acknowledge when we do a judgment call on where we are today, or where we want to be. Now what has been very clear from Pakistan's side, I hope and I hope it is very apparent also to the Indian side, is that we have really worked very hard to send a serious message to the government of India, and to the people of India, that we mean business and we are walking the talk of moving towards a different relationship with India. And I can tell you that in the last year, if you look at the atmospherics, which were prevalent in the last year or so, and compare them to what they are today; if you look at the interactions which have happened at the high level, the President's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both in New Delhi and then recently in Tehran. All of them have added momentum to move towards what is our eventual goal. And where is our eventual goal? Our eventual goal is first of all to sustain the on-going dialogue process; to consolidate the on-going dialogue process, and most importantly to make this process a more productive one. Now, Barkha Dutt, we cannot achieve everything overnight. And let's bear in mind the fact that with India and Pakistan I thought the first requirement, when I arrived in New Delhi in July also, I think at that time really, the goal was to be able to improve the environment and the atmospherics to the extent that we can seriously sit on the dialogue table, on the negotiating table, not be burdened by history, at the same time learn lessons from history. And again, you can either have a hawkish view, to learn lessons from history and continue to talk about the wars we have had, and about the difficulties we have had, or you can have a view of optimist and say that in order to move forward we have to unburden ourselves. The lessons that I would like to learn for instance are the lessons of the missed opportunities, and I convey you this on behalf of the government of Pakistan. Pakistan has no intention, and Pakistan is very, very keen to not have another missed opportunity between the two countries; the missed opportunity towards a more peaceful, a more stable relationship, which is based on trust. And when I talk about missed opportunity where I'm referring to, you know, that we have had many occasions where we could have come very close to resolving some of our disputes, some of our important, territorial disputes.
NDTV: And those have always stayed short of been signed on the dotted line. But let me ask you, you have also had an occasion now to meet your counterpart SM Krishna a number of times, whether in Tokyo or other occasions. Now one of the things that India has repeatedly said, and this comes up with the highest level between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari as well, is the Mumbai trial. And again and again India is making the point to Pakistan, that without substantive progress on these trials, this is the most serious roadblock today. Now, at the Foreign Secretary level, evidence has been shared by India about Abu Jundal, who has in fact made some very serious allegations even about sections of Pakistan's official agency being involved in these trials, something that Pakistan has denied. But he had a Pakistani passport; he had Pakistani identity papers. What assurance today can you give to the people of India that you and your government are serious, because it's been so long since 2008 and substantive progress hasn't been made?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Sure, Barkha Dutt, let me make two general points before I move to answer your question directly, and I'm not trying to hoodwink your question in anyway, but I'm just trying to make two general points. First of all, as the leading light of the Indian media, let me convey to you with full confidence and the fact that if you look at Indian media today and compare it to the Pakistani media, whether it is electronic media or the print media, I'm proud to be a Pakistani and I'll tell you why I say that. I say that because the narrative in Pakistan today is no more of hostility, of breeding animosity...
NDTV: Nor is it in the Indian media...
Hina Rabbani Khar: ...Absolutely. Let me just complete this. And that to me is very, very important, and in India, when I was there briefly in New Delhi for only two days, your headlines are about the role of ISI, the economic terrorism or this terrorism. Your headlines are about somewhat less of an optimist view of the relations or the state of play that is currently within the two countries, so that's one point. The second point, if you tell us that it has been far too long, you know, we can tell you back, so if you want to do a tit for tat of an interaction, we can tell you what about the Samjhauta Express, it has been even longer, okay. But we would not choose to do that, simply for the reason that we understand that whatever are the issues which are of pain to the Indian public or to the Pakistani public, and there are many which are to the pain of Pakistani public, we need to look at them in a reality check mode, in a pragmatic mode, and when I look at, for instance at the Mumbai trial in a pragmatic mode, there is a clear movement forward. There has been a clear movement forward in the past and currently I think it hinges upon giving the Judicial Commission the right to cross-examine.
NDTV: ...Which is going to happen now. It is going to make a second visit from what we understand.
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely. So once that happens we cannot hold ourselves hostage to that particular process, which is by and large a judicial process. Now you know the judicial processes in India, whether they are domestic or ones like this, which are less domestic and same is the case with Pakistan. Now, when a judicial process is ongoing, and when we had said categorically and clearly that the right, and not we as the government, but the courts have said, that they should be allowed to cross-examine. Once we move beyond that, we should be able to hopefully move to a point where this ceases to be an issue. So what I'm trying to say is, try and move beyond issue based relationship.
NDTV: But you do understand the pain and anger about Mumbai, don't you?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Of course, and I understand many other pains, angers which exist in the Pakistani public also and in the Indian public. What I'm saying is that, let's not doubt our intentions because, as I said, then we could roll on the Samjhauta Express story more often than we do, and we do not, for the simple reason that we understand the judicial processes are working, and we hope that we will find a conclusion to all of these. So that, as I said, is the baggage of history, the new baggage of history, because these are somewhat new. Baggage of history should also put to an end and we are able to look forward to a relationship in which we can move forward. When I say moving forward, do I mean moving forward without staring in the face the issues we have between the two countries? So if we, for instance, are allowed not to talk about or we are not so keen to talk about the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, and I think it will be unfair to the relationship, because this is a factor in the relationship, and what do we plan to do? I think a clear lesson learnt should be that for 65 years we have tried to solve our problems through a certain track, and the track has been mostly marred by hostility and animosity and doubting each other's intentions, and throwing at each other evidence of misbehaviour, bad intentions in the past. So do we want to continue in that trajectory, or we want to say that past is past, if there are mistakes or not. We need to move forward. Let me tell you this much and we can end this topic over here - the government of Pakistan is committed to ensuring that all of these issues cease to be issues. How do we ensure that they cease to be issues? Let me resolve them. So we are committed to doing so. Let me also say, be a bit bold and say, that it is not in Pakistan's national interest, it is not in Pakistan's interest for this issue to continue as an issue. We want a resolution to this issue so we can move on.
NDTV: I understand what you are saying. You are saying leave it to the judicial process. The Judicial Commission will visit India a second time, hopefully with cross-examination of three witnesses it will be able to make a stronger case in the courts here. Got that point. But one more question, related to this, is something you are asked again and again, and I know you are asked this officially, the issue of Hafiz Saeed. Now when I was speaking with your High Commissioner to India, who was Foreign Secretary previously, also been involved in the talks, Salman Bashir, I said you know Indians feel very disturbed when they see Hafiz Saeed being able to hold rallies, being able to make anti -India statements, because they see him as a mastermind of 26/11. You had the Americans announcing for example a 10 million dollar bounty for information that could lead to his arrest, and he spoke about how even under Pakistan law there are restrictions on the activity of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. What would you, Foreign Minister, say to the people of India through this interview about Hafiz Saeed?
Hina Rabbani Khar: I would say simply that again this is another example. You see Hafiz Saeed was taken to court, you know that, and a process took place. We will be happy to receive any evidence which can assist us in doing what you think is a reasonable thing to do. So as far as Hafiz Saeed is concerned, when it comes to his relationship with the government, it's not particularly an amicable one either. If you look at the statements which come typically, so it's not any crony of the government which we are allowing to go free, but in order to take anybody to court we do need serious evidence that courts will hold. So if there is any evidence, we would encourage that, and I think the Interior Minister made many statements to the same extent. Now we do all operate in a political and democratic polity, and yours is a much more mature one than ours. So we have to understand that anyone can say. Now, there are many people in the Indian Parliament or outside of the Indian Parliament who would give statements about Pakistan, which are not particularly those, which are moving towards a peaceful track.
NDTV: But he is linked to the 26/11, which is why I'm asking.
Hina Rabbani Khar: Well, as I said, any evidence specifically which can be held in the court of law will help, and we have no love lost for any of these individuals whatsoever. Pakistan today is trying very hard to become a pluralistic society, a democratic pluralistic, liberal society and that's the society or that's the country and that's the ethos that was bequeathed to us by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
NDTV: So no love lost for Hafiz Saeed?
Hina Rabbani Khar: And I look at these problems of personalities and of issues, and issues like terrorism also to be regional problems. And I think, that in order to move forward, if we refuse to put on the regional lens, then we will continue to spat at each other and I think spatting at each other should be old fashioned. I feel sorry for people who want to do a tit for tat and I have often said to my own people, that I don't believe in some ways, in reciprocity. So we are going to go into proactive diplomacy and we are going to try and lead on the positivities and we are going to try and lead on the peaceful resolution of disputes. That's our track. We will choose our track and we hope from what we see from your political leadership, from Mr Krishna, from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, we feel reciprocity.
NDTV: You know some people say that younger people, and I am asking you this as the youngest Foreign Minister of Pakistan, younger people on both sides of the border don't care that much about the old narratives. You know older people were, in a sense, influenced by memories of partition...
Hina Rabbani Khar: Sure...
NDTV: ... what their parents have told them
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely...
NDTV: ... very different understanding. They've seen wars. As a young Foreign Minister, do you feel that 'generationally' there has been an attitudinal shift?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Look, I would just say it would be unfair to say no to that question and I say it's a reality. For instance, let me give you an example: when we were meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr.Krishna and their team in Tehran, you know the President was of course leading the talks, and we had the Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party Mr Bilawal Bhutto and myself also...
NDTV: ...Sitting in on the talks
Hina Rabbani Khar: ...and I said this during the talks, and I said that - you know Mr Prime Minister, people like the Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party and myself, we haven't seen the 1971 war. We were born after that, right, so a lot of that baggage we do not carry and what we would like to be able to contribute is a narrative which is different from the younger generations. You know we've done a fantastic job in having a negative narrative, which is being fostered in people of the younger generation also. So the identity of Pakistan today is not coming from being hostile to India. Pakistan today wants to develop an identity, which is a positive identity unto itself first, and then with all of its neighbours. And I hope you have noticed this government's pain and efforts to have a relationship based on more trust, I am using the word more trust because I think we've gone over the trust deficit part...
NDTV: ...Trust deficit cliche
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... and we're now in the zero zone and now we need to move forward.
NDTV: How much of trade equation changes things?
Hina Rabbani Khar: I think it is absolutely right for the trade equations and anything that is positive to change things, and for that please give us a lot of credit. Because here is a serious demonstration of Pakistan and the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people to say let's move on. To say we are not going to be held back by decisions which were taken decades ago and we are not going to be hostage to them, and we are not going to just follow them without any thought. We are going to move forward and we are going to move forward with a different mind-set and a mind-set which really, you know, at the end of the day if we can just change the lens and put on a regional lens and realise that we have held SAARC, ourselves, hostage to the rivalry between the two countries, and does it suit a country or a nation as big and large as India? You know democratic, one of the ancient civilizations and a nation as resilient, strong you know as Pakistan to be, to continue to be in this, you know, literally enforcing an identity on our own people which is, one which is hostile to another? I think it doesn't suit us and we have to move beyond it.
NDTV: You have spoken about holding SAARC hostage, but there are actually people, and I did a programme on this recently, innocent people on both sides of the border, prisoners you know, prisoners held in jail, hapless fishermen.
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely...
NDTV: ...we see every few months, of them being released. And then there are high profile cases; there was Dr Chishty. In India, there is an on-going debate in Pakistan about Sarabjeet Singh, any movement on that, that you can convey to the Indian people? It's a case that's acquired a lot of interest, as you know. We understand Pakistan's position on it as well but any forward movement on this one?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Look, let me just say this much, both on high profile cases which are very important, but so are the case of the...
NDTV: ...the anonymous people
Hina Rabbani Khar:... hundreds of fishermen
NDTV: Yes, Yes and ...
Hina Rabbani Khar: While we were preparing for Mr Krishna's visit you know, this was one of my points within the inter-ministerial discussions we were having in Islamabad, that we need to look at the numbers, you know, we need to stop talking about the generalities on fishermen's release, and we need to look at the numbers and we need to make sure, and I think this will be an important thing that we are able to achieve in this meeting. That we need to make sure that once we sign an agreement that agreement does not fall prey to ...
NDTV: ... politics
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... not to politics
NDTV: ... or differences, or trouble ahead
Hina Rabbani Khar: No, no. I would say red tapism. I mean, colonial bureaucratic structures in both countries. Let's be honest we have both...
NDTV: ... plenty of that on both sides
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... plenty of that on both sides. So that must not be allowed and for that we need, obviously you know, I guess a lot of proactive effort at the leadership level, at the political leadership level, because we must not allow once. For instance if, Inshallah, tomorrow, once we sign the Visa Agreement, once the Visa Agreement is signed we must make sure that we abide by that agreement, right, we don't create problems, issues and that to me is a very big confidence building measure.
NDTV: So how big is the visa liberalisation agreement going to be?
Hina Rabbani Khar: I think big enough, I think big enough.
NDTV: It was held up earlier because there was a sense that political protagonist must be signing it, so can you confirm to us now, that this is going to be a substantive forward movement?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely...
NDTV: ...in the talks this time?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Absolutely it will be, it will be and I just don't want you to, you know, undermine the importance of what we've been able to do in trade ...
NDTV: No, no, no, not at all. I am just taking it a step forward and ...
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... because what I am saying is that for those cynics okay, who say that, okay this is another you know, dot in the calendar or a tick mark on the calendar, I don't think that's been the case. I think if you look in the last year and a half or so, we've moved forward on substantive issues. However, as I said before, at the beginning of this interview, it will be wrong of us to imagine that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir for instance, does not exist between the two countries. And as I have said repeatedly, this is not an issue that is based on a figment of Pakistan's imagination; it's the Security Council Resolution. So, but we need to move towards a point where we can pragmatically sit on the negotiating table and solve it. And to all of those who say that, what have you been able to achieve by being on a course of peace with India, I normally say something which should be expected of somebody from our generation, and I say that if you could give 65 years to the warmongers, you know, a chance to solve the disputes, will you not allow us the luxury of even 6 years?
NDTV: Okay, two last questions, one is this issue could come up and has come up between India and Pakistan, the issue of minorities in Pakistan. Now we've seen statement from Pakistan's President setting up a committee promising a protection, but we've also seen an official statement from India saying that there are a number of Hindus who came to India, and they've applied for long term visas, more than a thousand is the official figure released. So how does Pakistan plan to handle this issue and what will be your response to those who have actually sought these long-term visas on the Indian side?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Listen, on the question of minorities, we are a country and a government which is committed to upholding the rights of minorities and giving them equal, if not proactively reaching out to make them part of the main stream society. And I think Pakistan, over the years, has been able to do, quite frankly, a decent job at it, because you know a lot of reports come about the treatment that is meted out to Muslims in India, which happens to be a much larger minority. So to speak right, so now without falling prey to those headlines and moving forward, this is something, which we feel, as democracy, solidifies in Pakistan. It will find a natural, you know, momentum forward, and as far as the government is concerned you have seen this very strong statement because the President often says that minorities are his constituency. You know the previous Prime Minister, Prime Minister Gilani, used to say that also. So we have to make sure, look right now what we have to do in societies which are, you know, South Asian societies, let's just say yours and ours, in some ways we have to, through legislation, through action by government, build the walls which protect minorities and which try and mainstream them. Eventually we hope to have a Pakistan in which the society will be the walls of protection around it and you will not need legislation. However if you look into the track record of Pakistan People's Party, we have made executive decisions to make sure the minorities are represented in civil service of Pakistan, this is all an effort to try and mainstream them. Now, whatever is the reality that exists in societies, we have to move forward to change, so I can just tell you this much, that Pakistan is committed to move forward, to ensure that minorities are main streamed, that minorities are not meted out any unfair treatment.
NDTV: In conclusion, I have to ask you this on a slightly personal note, as the youngest Foreign Minister, as a woman minister do you find it annoying that there is a lot of focus, that wouldn't be on you if you were indeed male? Because I remember once I was interviewing Hillary Clinton and she said that you know it's only about me that they'll say Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, comma wearing dash dash dash dash dash ..
Hina Rabbani Khar: Sure
NDTV: ... and then go on to the next thing ...
Hina Rabbani Khar: Sure
NDTV: ...and you saw that was sort of the kind of focus you got when you came to India. It's a kind of focus you get in the International media a lot. Do you laugh it off or does it annoy you? In other words, how much is gender playing a role in your experience of being Foreign Minister?
Hina Rabbani Khar: Okay, first of all, I think working within the government of Pakistan and internationally, gender has only helped. So I feel, you know, a person who is, and I am being very honest over here, who is male in the same position that I am, even before I was made Foreign Minister, you know if you're good you stand out much more, if you're a woman, you know, I don't mean it.
NDTV: ... it's helped
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... in that way. I have never felt any gender bias in working of government at all what so ever. So that's never been a consideration. As far as the attention to, you know, the other things are concerned, I think it's just, you know, in good humour. You just have to laugh it off and move forward.
NDTV: You were called the weapon of mass distraction...
Hina Rabbani Khar: Well, I don't know about that. But really I think I intend to be taken seriously in spite and despite of that, and I think it is not fair to, you know, overly be...
NDTV: Focused on that?
Hina Rabbani Khar: ... focused on that at all. But if people do, then you just have to. I think, the message that we carry especially in this relationship is far more important, and I like to believe even in New Delhi it was really the message which was also different, even if other things got more attention. In the year and a half you've seen, or in the year you've seen that the message was serious and the message was not of an individual who was younger may be, and woman who carried to the people of India. It was a message, it was a message which was coming certainly first and foremost from the government of Pakistan, but also all the political parties, you know, it's interesting, and that's why I say I feel proud to be a Pakistani, that there is today consensus amongst all the political parties in Pakistan, no matter where they are, right wing, left wing, middle of the road...
NDTV: ...about progress with India
Hina Rabbani Khar: ...about progress with India, and we need it for our own stability. We need it for our own peace and we need it for regional peace and allow me to end on the note, that I think we should all be better off, we should all be better off understanding the fact that there is no single country which has emerged from a region which is in turmoil. It is the regions which have emerged, whether you look at the European Union, whether you look at the East Asia model, any of those models, in some ways even in South America, it is regions which have emerged and what is being, at some level, the critical mass over there, it has been intra- region trade, right. And therefore I look at, I view what we've been able to achieve with India within that context very, very positively. And the only thing I have to say is that if Pakistan can move forward and put aside its considered views, for almost decades, for four decades on certain issues, we would just hope the same reciprocity from the Indian side also. And we hope that the Indian public, by and large, as the Pakistani public will assist the process. The Indian media, by and large, as the Pakistani media will assist the process in creating the pathway, in creating the environment, in creating the atmospherics. And I do not at any point undermine the importance or underestimate the importance of the atmospherics and the environment, because as I said before, it is the environment and atmospherics which has in the past held us back. So a lot of politicians will tell you, we cannot do anything, which does not have a political support or the public opinion, has to be considered very seriously. I say we also have to have a role to contribute towards improving...
NDTV: ...changing the environment of
Hina Rabbani Khar:...and changing the environment and the public opinion and the public sentiment
NDTV: Well, you have one of the toughest jobs in the world, thank you, pleasure talking to you, Hina Rabbani Khar.
Hina Rabbani Khar: Thank you, pleasure.
NDTV: Thank you so much.