Pakistan’s Minister of State for Interior Tasneem Ahmed Qureshi has told RT’s sister channel “Rusiya al-Yaum” that Pakistan is paying an unprecedented high price for becoming hostage to terrorism.
The fight against extremism in Pakistan's tribal belt continues, with more than 160 Taliban militants killed in air strikes and a ground offensive.
RT: First of all we would like to ask you about the general situation with regards to security and law enforcement in Pakistan. Tell us about the measures that Pakistan’s authorities are taking, especially the Interior Ministry, in order to protect cities from terrorists and militants, attacking from the north-west of the country?
Tasneem Ahmed Qureshi: When the government assumed power and began to act, some difficult urgent problems arose, and we see the War on Terror as the most significant of them.
Our government’s stance on this problem is absolutely clear. That is why we included it in the list of our priorities and set a whole strategy of counteracting this evil, in order to get it under control. During the first eight months of this government’s work we chose the tactic of dialogue with these people in tribal areas, and we have discovered that they seek to hurt the state and the people of Pakistan. You can call them whatever you want: militants; extremists; terrorists – whatever you call them, one thing is for sure – these forces tried to go against the government and execute their own justice. And even though we know the reality, we chose the way of dialogue with these forces. The fact that we chose dialogue may have caused some irritation among the party leadership: some preferred a more radical stance against these forces, especially considering the fact that this dialogue with terrorists, who are fighting against the government and execute justice on their own, is in violation of party principles. But we realized that this was a dead-end strategy, especially after regional authorities in the north-west of the country could not establish a connection with these forces.
In such conditions it was necessary to proceed with military action. I think our soldiers were successful in Swat and Malakand. Blood was shed in our camp as well, but they did it for the sake of security, and the supremacy of law and government agencies in the region.
As a result of military activities in Swat, militants retreated to South Waziristan, trying to challenge the central government of this region. After failing in Swat, they began to look for other places where they could carry out their anti-government activities. As a result, the number of terrorist attacks by suicide bombers increased. They tried to strike back against law enforcers and special services. Cities in Pakistan witnessed an increase in violence and a large number of suicide bombers. As the Interior Ministry, we had to take measures and stop the terror.
Therefore we took more serious measures to achieve results.
Let me explain one important issue. What is the main reason for the lack of security, and law and order? I think there are social and economic reasons for that. First of all, it is unemployment and the economic underdevelopment of Pakistan. Here we have certain forces working against us, trying to interfere illegally with state affairs in this region. We also blame these forces for the further worsening of the situation with security and the economy in Pakistan.
In this case, we continue paying for the mistakes of others. The combination of all these factors has created an unhealthy atmosphere which contributes to a rise of terrorism and extremism in our society. That has actually plunged Pakistan into crisis. Let me make myself clear. As you know, we are living through a period of the Afghan Jihad. Some forces in pursuit of their own interests have turned this region into an area of hostilities. It turned out that Pakistan has to pay a high price for this standoff. If we try to find a material equivalent to these losses, it is going to be estimated at approximately four billion dollars.
However, we have succeeded in bringing home to them one simple truth: this is that Pakistan has become a hostage of confrontation of the aforesaid forces and has sustained the biggest losses. Now, we are calling on them to share this responsibility with us and not to set a goal of using these losses as a pretext for accusations. If they are really our friends – as they claim it to be – they should, to a certain measure, share with us the burden of the consequences of the Afghan Jihad rather than pretend that they have nothing to do with this region.
I would like to emphasize once again that we do not need assistance and do not intend to ask for it. However, we demand that economic assistance be granted to us in a different way: for example, through the opening of foreign markets to our goods. That could give an impetus to our impoverished economy. We do not need assistance, we want to trade.
RT: You told us about the general strategy of Pakistan’s leadership for security and law enforcement in the country, especially in tribal areas. I would also like to talk about the city of Karachi, which has been the focus of attention for national and international media after the arrest of leading Taliban figure Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Do you think the US is trying to pressure Pakistan in order to see more major leaders like this arrested, especially because, as we have seen with this arrest, they reside in Pakistan?
TAQ: Let me explain something to you. We are not under some kind of pressure on the part of someone and we have no plans to work in the interests of any other side. Pakistan’s interests are our main priorities. They include the security of our homeland, its stability and the preservation of its sovereignty. We focus exclusively on that.
If we get reports about the presence of hostile elements, we undertake relevant actions.
I would like to say that our security services have their own sources and provide us with necessary information. That helps us tracking down those hostile elements irrespective of their whereabouts. We should not think that we start acting when we receive information from abroad. It is not so. We first check this information through our own channels, and then we get down to work.
The problem of Karachi, as I have said, consists of the fact that we are facing great problems in this city in terms of security as well as law and order. Most of them are caused by high population density and unemployment.
Tribesmen gather during a protest against military operation in North Waziristan. (Click to enlarge)
What happened in Karachi is a recurrence of what happened in Malakand, Swat and other tribal areas. Terrorist organizations recruit young people, providing them with food, housing and generous rewards. That draws young people into their ranks. Now, we are trying to explain to the world community the truth about our terrorism-related problems. The world community, especially countries that call themselves friends of Pakistan, should meet its commitments to Pakistan. For example, the United States promised to help Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar program.
We are suffering most from the fact that as result of the Afghan Jihad the United States has given up Pakistan and has left it alone to deal with these wild armed extremists. They had nothing left to do than to join the armed groups.
We will be unable to operate in this region if we do not get real support from the world community. And if peace and accord do not set in here, I believe that anarchy and fear will spread to the whole world and then we are going to roll back to an era of total collapse.
RT: As far as it is understood from your answer, you call for regional co-operation in the fight against terrorism and extremism, in which India, Afghanistan and other countries in the region could participate. After a long break in negotiations, talks between India and Pakistan have resumed. Are you hopeful about these talks, do you feel optimistic?
TAQ: As you know we continue discussing this issue and I am not inclined to make any statements that could harm contacts between the two sides. We continue raising the question about the presence of more than 16 Indian consulates in Afghanistan. We ask ourselves a question: “What functions do these consulates serve?” Everything is clear to everybody. But this situation upsets the general atmosphere in the region and does not contribute to the solution of the problem. Our statements are genuine and clear. If the Indian presence in Afghanistan destabilizes the situation in Pakistan then that will directly affect the situation in the South Asian region. And if the situation in Pakistan is destabilized, everybody should come to understand one truth: the disaster will hit the entire region, including India in the first place. Today, we have an opportunity for a dialogue even if this dialogue is going to be protracted. This dialogue will help us in solving our problems and differences, including the Kashmir problem, the problem of water resources and terrorism.
I think that people in India and Pakistan understand that war is not a solution to problems. We are both poor countries suffering from poverty. Therefore, the governments of the two countries should give up their policy of stubbornly sticking to the same position, a policy of gaining instantaneous profit, and instead think about the prosperity of the people which can be reached through an all-embracing dialogue. I do not see the reason why these talks cannot succeed.
RT: Some say there is co-operation between American and Pakistani special services aimed at uncovering Taliban and Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. Could you tell us about the scale of this co-operation, considering that Pakistan’s authorities deny that there is any direct co-operation between their military and US forces?
TAQ: In our relations with the United States we are interested in co-operation between our security services, so as to put an end to terrorism and extremism. Sometimes, the Americans say that Osama bin Laden is hiding in Belugistan in Pakistan. But when we ask them for evidence or reconnaissance data, they refuse to present this to us. However, as soon as we get information about the presence of hostile elements, we immediately undertake necessary actions. But we do not get any information about terrorist chieftains and their probable whereabouts in our territory. If the Americans have any doubts, they should try to meet us to discuss everything. After that we could take the necessary steps.