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Interview with Pakistan FM Qureshi: Full Transcript

TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada sits down with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to discuss the Afghan peace process, Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, Pakistan’s ties with India and other current topics. 

Full text:

Najafizada: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan, thank you for your time. 

Qureshi: Pleasure.

Najafizada: Let's start with the positive news. You say that the policy towards Afghanistan has changed. What has changed?

Qureshi: You see, what has changed is Pakistan’s approach. We want Afghanistan to be peaceful and stable because we feel that a peaceful Afghanistan, a stable Afghanistan, gives us the regional connectivity that is required. If we’re looking for economic security and if we’re looking for investments and promotion of bilateral trade and regional trade, it can only come with peace, and peace and stability Afghanistan is not just Afghanistan’s requirement; it’s Pakistan’s desire as well. You know, we benefit from it.

Najafizada: It was not the strategy before?

Qureshi: It was.

Najafizada: So, what has changed?

Qureshi: What has changed is the approach of the world, you know. People were of the view that peace could be achieved through a military solution. It has not. We have been advocating for years that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. What has changed is this new approach that what is required is a negotiated political settlement that we were advocating. This international environment has changed and that has been the environment more conducive for peace today than ever before.

Najafizada: Former Pakistan prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani addressing the Pakistani parliament once said that there was a state within a state which was not allowing the civilian government here to do its works. Has that changed?

Qureshi: I think Mr. Gillani when he made that statement it was out of perhaps political considerations, and as prime minister, he should have known that he is the chief executive of the country and the chief executive of the country under the constitution controls all institutions, all institutions of the government report and function under the constitution and he is the chief executive of the country. I can speak for the institutions and how things are being run today. All institutions are in harmony with the government. We’re on the same page. Obviously, we have consultations, we discuss, and we take an input from all state institutions and then the institutions carry out a policy of the government.

Najafizada: Right. So Pakistan wants a stable, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Certainly.

Najafizada: And is that only possible with a state in Afghanistan to be run by the Taliban? Does it have to? 

Qureshi: No, no no. That’s for the people of Afghanistan to decide who governs them and what kind of a political dispensation Afghanistan wants? That is your decision. That is the decision of the people of Afghanistan. What we’re saying is you are all Afghans. Peace can only come to Afghanistan if you sit and reconcile. When you sit and reconcile, when you sit and talk, you will determine what kind of constitution we want, what kind of you know system should be in place. All we’re suggesting is that an inclusive system – 

Najafizada: Where all ethnic groups should be represented and?

Qureshi: Would be helpful in reconciliation and promoting the peace process.

Najafizada: And Pakistan wants to deal with central government in Kabul?

Qureshi: We want to deal with the government chosen by the people of Afghanistan.

Najafizada: through elections?

Qureshi: Obviously, we believe in democracy and would want a democratic order in Afghanistan. We have always said we support a sovereign, independent, democratic Afghanistan.

Najafizada: You invite Afghan political party leaders back-to-back. Isn’t that challenging the central authority in Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Not at all. It is just to promote a better understanding. There were misperceptions and a lot of you know talk that Pakistan is just concentrating on a particular faction, particular school of thought. No, we want to engage with everyone, we want to be friends with everyone, we want to be friends with Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan. Now, Afghanistan have different ethnic groups. We want to engage with all of them for a better understanding.

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, are you or Afghanistan and Pakistan are working on a strategic partnership agreement? Is that happening?

Qureshi: Well, what we want to, what we have agreed to, is a mechanism called APAPS. We realized that there are issues that are there and will always be there. We must have a structured, institutionalized mechanism in place so that whenever they arrive, we can bilaterally sit, talk about them.

Najafizada: Is that functioning?

Qureshi: It is functioning, but we can use it more effectively. In my view, we have not used it as effectively as we could have.

Najafizada: Have you offered the Afghan security forces to be trained in Pakistan?

Qureshi: We will be more than happy. We will be more than happy.

Najafizada: What is the response you’re getting from Kabul?

Qureshi: Well, they never say no, but they haven’t yet taken our offers seriously. We honestly feel that we can be of assistance, you know, your cadets coming here, your diplomats coming here, getting training in the Foreign Service Academy, in our military institutions. We can be of service. We speak the same language, you know, culturally, we have so many similarities. They will feel at home.

Najafizada: Before coming to the peace process, and the Taliban in particular, lets briefly discuss the war on terror. Is America defeated?

Qureshi: Well, the Americans have said that they have achieved their objective and their objective was to break the back of international terrorist organizations and to protect mainland United States. They feel in these 20 years, they have succeeded in the objective that they had set forth and it’s time to go back home, and they feel that the Afghan government and the Taliban that they negotiated a peace agreement in Doha have very openly agreed that Afghan soil will not be used against the US or any other country.

Najafizada: What do you think? You think America is leaving Afghanistan with pride and it’s a proud departure?

Qureshi: Well, they came with an objective, and they feel that their objective has been met. Obviously, they couldn’t be here indefinitely. They had to go way soon or later.

Najafizada: And you are happy that they are leaving Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Well, obviously, they can’t be here forever. They had to leave and if they are satisfied that they have achieved their objectives, then we are okay with that.

Najafizada: General Hamid Gul of ISI once said, “the ISI with the help of America defeated America.” How would you respond to that?

Qureshi: I do not understand in what context that statement is made so, you know, if you pick up two lines, I do not know the background and what context that statement was made, so how can I comment on it?

Najafizada: America defeated and ISI helped. It is very simple.

Qureshi: America defeated how, by whom?

Najafizada: By the Taliban.

Qureshi: He is no longer here with us, you know. So I cannot verify what you’re saying, but I think the Americans came for a purpose, they feel that they have achieved that purpose, not just one, both administrations.

Najafizada: And you have an understanding what the US? – 

Qureshi: Can I complete? Both administrations, the republicans under Trump administration, felt the time had come to leave and the present administration, the democratic party, under President Biden has re-endorsed that after review, after careful examination have come to an inclusion the time to leave has come.

Najafizada: And you have an understanding with the US as they leave Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Do they need our understanding? It’s their decision. It’s decision.

Najafizada: That you can help with them in the case there are more threats coming from Afghanistan?

Qureshi: You see, we’re willing to help, we’re willing to help in pushing forward the peace process and as you know we’ve facilitated the peace process and there is acknowledgement of that. We’re willing to help in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, rehabilitation. We’re willing to partner with Afghanistan, with the US, on countering terrorism. Yes, we will be partners for peace.

Najafizada: Will you be giving them basis inside Pakistan as they leave Afghanistan?

Qureshi: No

Najafizada: Intelligence? Military?

Qureshi: I said no bases.

Najafizada: No drones, none?

Qureshi: No.

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, have you seen the secret annexes that the US and Taliban made? The two secret documents apart from what was announced publicly in Doha?

Qureshi: Well, I’ve seen what was shared with us.

Najafizada: The annexes or the main document? 

Qureshi: Main document.

Najafizada: Lets come back to the peace process which I believe is very important at this stage. Where are we in the Afghan peace process? Any progress is being made?

Qureshi: Where are you? How can we say where are we? You know, it’s the Afghans. The peace process has to come to its logical conclusion through an intra-Afghan negotiation. We’re not sitting on the table with them. Wherever required, we’ve facilitated. We cannot decide for you. It’s the Afghans that will sit and decide what they want.

Najafizada: The Afghans who are living here, the Afghan who are in Pakistan, the Taliban I mean, the Taliban leaders.

Qureshi: No, unfortunately. I am not saying they do not have relations here, but the bulk of their leadership, and I say this in confidence, is not living in Pakistan, in fact, is living in Afghanistan.

Najafizada: The Doha negotiators, the Taliban negotiators, are coming to Pakistan they said publicly for consultations. Mullah Baradar has come here so many times. They go to Quetta.

Qureshi: For facilitating the peace process.

Najafizada: To check on their fighters in hospitals in Quetta.
Qureshi: They go to Doha. They have been traveling to other places, they went to Moscow, they went to other places.

Najafizada: We haven’t seen videos of them coming to Helmand, Kabul or Kandahar.

Qureshi: They’re in Afghanistan. You need to engage with them. We’re only engaging with them to facilitate the peace process. We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to be constructive. You know, many have started to recognizing that internationally, but there are some in Afghanistan who still have that mental blockage of accepting the fact that Pakistan is being genuine, is being constructive and is sincere because Pakistan feels it is Pakistan’s enlightened interest that there is peace and stability in Afghanistan. Why can’t people in Afghanistan understand that, why can’t people in Afghanistan, you know – I think people of Afghanistan understand that, generally speaking, because the people of Afghanistan in my view want peace. They have had enough of war.

Najafizada: Of course, the violence is very high Mr. foreign minister.

Qureshi: They’ve had enough of war. They’ve had for decades.

Najafizada: There are more violence these days.

Qureshi: Unfortunately, it should go down and we’ve always advocated – 

Najafizada: How can it go down?

Qureshi: We’ve always advocated reduction in violence leading to ceasefire because we genuinely believe that you cannot have negotiations and violence go hand in hand. You know, violence has to go down and the process of peace and negotiations has to accelerate.

Najafizada: When they have a presence here, they have a freedom of movement, they do the recruitment here, fundraising, they go to Pakistani hospitals. All these are lies?

Qureshi: You’re still stuck in the past.

Najafizada: Are these are lies? These are not correct?

Qureshi: These are exaggerations.

Najafizada: What is the truth?

Qureshi: Exaggerations I’ve said. You are still… See, the problem is until and unless you reconcile with the fact. Now, What’s happening today? Unfortunately, allow me to say this, when things are not moving in the right direction, you’re looking for the scapegoats and the favorite scapegoat you have is Pakistan. When there’s failure within, you blame Pakistan for that. Pakistan is not responsible for the failure within. Pakistan is not responsible for the squabbling that is going on in Afghanistan. Pakistan is not responsible if the Afghan leadership cannot sit and work out a peace deal. We’re not responsible for that. It’s yours. We’re saying we want to be helpful.

Najafizada: Are the Taliban ready for peace, Mr. Foreign Minister?

Qureshi: I think they are. They also, they have suffered as well.

Najafizada: They have taken 30 districts in the past two months. Is that a sign of peace?

Qureshi: Well… the Afghan National Army and the Afghan security forces have to deal with that situation. The international community has spent a lot of money in equipping and training the Afghan security forces, right? And you are far exceeding in numbers, you know, compared to the Taliban. That’s the perception one has. So, why don’t you do your soul-searching what is going wrong?

Najafizada: The question is the intention of the Taliban? Do they want peace or they want war?

Qureshi: I think, I think, in the interactions that I’ve had with them.

Najafizada: Who you talk to? You talk to (Mullah) Baradar? You talk to?

Qureshi: The people, the political community that you are talking to.

Najafizada: You talk to Siraj?

Qureshi: You’re talking, you’re taking – I am talking to exactly the people you are talking to. The people you are talking to in Doha, the people you are talking to while sitting across the table, same people. I feel they also realize that they have suffered and there have paid a huge price. And it’s their country. They are not foreigners! 

Najafizada: Of course.

Qureshi: They’re Afghans. Don’t you think they want peace in Afghanistan? Don’t you think they want stability in Afghanistan? I don’t carry their brief but it’s logical. I mean if there was a disturbance in Pakistan, every Pakistani would want peace and stability here.

Najafizada: Yes, but the violence is very high and they’re taking over territories?

Qureshi: Who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for that? You think, now, again, again, if you try and create this impression that the violence is high because of Taliban, again, that would be an exaggeration. Why do I say that? Aren’t there other elements over there who are playing the role of a spoiler? 

Najafizada: Like who? 

Qureshi: Daesh. Like forces within Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Who?

Qureshi: Who came from the war economy. Who want to perpetuate their power, who are not seeing beyond their nose and just want to hang on to power.

Najafizada: President Ghani is in power. 

 Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: President Ghani is in power. Are you implying that he doesn’t want peace? 

Qureshi: What I know, I will not say that, but I think President Ghani has a very important responsibility on his shoulders that he has to show the leadership and the flexibility to achieve… 

Najafizada: What does that mean? What does flexibility mean? To Step down? 

Qureshi: That is for him to decide, but what I’m saying is – 

Najafizada: When you say flexibility…

Qureshi: Flexibility to reach a peace deal.  

Najafizada: How? 

Qureshi: It is for you do decide. I can’t tell you what to do, but if both sides, listen, if the Taliban stick to their position, right, and the President Ashraf Ghani and his core team stick to their position, will there be peace in Afghanistan? You tell me. Will there be peace? There will be no peace. Don’t you want peace? 

Najafizada: Of course. 

Qureshi: The Afghan people want peace. Why can’t the leadership of Afghanistan understand that people are sick and tired of war. People are fatigued, people are tired, people have lost children and families. 

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, you are right, but the question is that the Taliban is also part of the war. 

Qureshi: Yes. 

Najafizada: Are they showing any signs of peace and flexibility?

Qureshi: What I’m saying is they also want peace. 

Najafizada: How do you know? 

Qureshi: Because in the interactions we’ve had. 

Najafizada: But actions demonstrate something else. No? 

Qureshi: Well, see, again, I cannot sort of get involved in the discussions that are going on between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Najafizada: There is no discussion. 

Qureshi: There were discussions. There’s a stalemate at the moment and I hope you can get over the stalemate because if stalemate continues, and the withdrawal is completed, unfortunately, you will be sacked back into the 90s, which is not good for Afghanistan, which is not good for Pakistan, and which is not good for the region. Can Afghanistan afford another civil war? Can you afford another, you know, a decade of anarchy? You cannot, and you should not. You know, I feel for the people of Afghanistan. They have suffered enough, and – 

Najafizada: Thank you for that. 

Qureshi: And, the second country that has suffered after you is us. We’ve lost 83,000 lives on a counterterrorism. We’ve had our economy suffered. 

Najafizada: If you allow me, Mr. Foreign Minister. Are you against a Taliban military takeover? 

Qureshi: We have never said, we have never supporter or advocated a takeover of Kabul by force. No. 

Najafizada: You’re against it? 

Qureshi: Absolutely. 

Najafizada: Are you against a return of an Islamic emirate? 

Qureshi: See, what I have said is it is for you, the people of Afghanistan, to decide what you want. 

Najafizada:  Even if it is an Islamic emirate. 

Qureshi: How can I speak for you? How can I speak for you? What we have said is – 

Najafizada: You object it, or you don’t object it? 

Qureshi: Can I tell you what we’ve said? We want to see an independent, sovereign, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan. What does that mean? 

Najafizada: No emirate. Democracy?

Qureshi: What does that mean? What does that mean? You can do your own interpretation. I’ve said what you want.

Najafizada:  Why can’t you explain that? 

Qureshi: I’ve explained enough for people to understand what I’m saying. 

Najafizada: We talked about President Ghani and you mentioned civil war. Does that concern you that Afghanistan is heading to civil war?

Qureshi: Obviously! 

Najafizada:  Are we? 

Qureshi: I hope not. I hope not. Please, that’s why I’m saying, please sit together and carve out a way forward, you know, which is coexistence, reconciliation. Accept each other. You have to accept each other. You know, the people and government in Afghanistan and the Taliban that have been fighting for decades now, they’re both Afghans. You have to reconcile, and you have to find a way forward. We’re concerned because God forbid, if there is civil war. 

Najafizada: You see signs of it? Are we going in that direction?

Qureshi: I hope not. I hope not. 

Najafizada: But that’s hope, right? What’s your – 

Qureshi: It depends on you, depends on the Afghan leadership, depends on the ability of the Afghan leadership to carve a way forward. If you fail, if the Afghan leadership fail, then yes, we are heading for a civil war. And God forbid, if there is one, then you suffer and we suffer as well. We fear another influx of refugees. We’re already supporting close to 3 million refugees that the in    ternational community has forgotten about, but we’re supporting them. We’ve opened our hearts and minds for them. We’ve been as hospitable as we could in the given resources that we have. Right? By giving them education, by giving them scholarships, by giving you medical treatments, by allowing trade. Even in COVID conditions, we opened the Torkham border 24/7 for that to facilitate human traffic movement and your trades and goods. You now, we’ve done everything possible. 

Najafizada: It’s mutual, right? 

Qureshi: Absolutely. See, everything, bilateral relationships are mutual. Both sides have to see a benefit in it and we do see. We see benefit in good relations with Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Lets come back to the question of the Taliban and put a step back. Who are the Taliban? Madrassa students, insurgency, terrorist group? How would you define them?

Qureshi: They’re Afghans who have – 

Najafizada: Who have guns and kill people.

  Qureshi: Well, killing has taken place from both sides unfortunately.

Najafizada: Who are the Taliban? You have a definition?

Qureshi: The Afghans. 

Najafizada: That’s it? 

Qureshi: They’re Afghans. Aren’t they? Are you saying they’re not Afghans?

Najafizada: The Taliban are Afghans.

Qureshi: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. 

Najafizada: But then you have Afghans who are terrorists, Afghans who are not terrorists, you have good Afghans, bad Afghans, like good Pakistanis, bad Pakistanis. 

Qureshi: Depends who’s looking at things how? At times, people are dubbed as terrorists, at times people are seen and viewed and they proclaimed to be an element fighting for an occupation, wanting freedom of their land. So depends how you look at it. 

Najafizada: You’re foreign minister of a very important country, particularly when it comes to Afghanistan. So your views matter and your policies matter. So that’s why I ask again for the last time, how would you characterize the Taliban?

Qureshi: Afghans.

Najafizada: Are they funded here in Pakistan? 

Qureshi: These are very those many things that have been going on for years. You’re stuck in the old groove. Get of out that groove, please. Get out of that groove. Now, listen, if you remain stuck in this, believe me you will not be able to travel far. And we want you to travel far. We want reconciliation and peace. 

Najafizada: Are you scared of the Taliban as Pakistan? 

Qureshi: Scared? 

Najafizada: No?

Qureshi: Why should we be scared of Taliban?

Najafizada: They can be a threat to Pakistan. 

Qureshi: Not at all. 

Najafizada: Their relationship with the Pakistani Taliban.

Qureshi: You see, the TTP (Tehreek Taliban-e-Pakistan) has been undertaken terrorist activities, using Afghan soil against Pakistan. And we’re concerned about that. And, we have spoken to the Afghan authorities and we feel they need to me monitored and they need to be checked. When you say no safe havens, we say no safe havens on both sides. 

Najafizada: Right, let’s start with this side. Quetta and Peshawar Shuras, when you hear these terms, how do you feel?

Qureshi: I’ve been hearing of these terms for now decades. Move on. Move on. 

Najafizada: They don’t exist? 

Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: Taliban, Quetta Shura, doesn’t exist? 

Qureshi: I think the Taliban Shura is sitting right there in Afghanistan. Go look for it. 

Najafizada: Of course. They control territory.

Qureshi: Go look for it. 

Najafizada: The question is whether they’re in Quetta or not.

Qureshi: I said that earlier that in our assessment, see, we’ve had a porous border for years. Now we’re in the process of fencing that border. Right? Why are we doing that? For better border management. It is important. If we have to check terrorism, then we have to manage our border, we have to regulate our border, Afghanistan-Pakistan border. 

Najafizada: Which is an important topic. I will come to that. 

Qureshi. Let me finish. Now, we’re doing what we can on our part. What we’re saying is there are million Afghans still living in Pakistan. They want to go home and we want them to go home in an honorable, dignified manner. Once they’ve gone back, and then there is cross border movement, we can be held more responsible for that. If there are thousands of people coming in –

Najafizada: They go home, they fight, they come back, get treated, then they go back. 

Qureshi: If there are thousands of people crossing the border for trade, for treatment. 

Najafizada: You have fenced the border. 

Qureshi: I said we’re in the process of fencing the border. 

Najafizada: More than 80 to 90 percent is completed. 

Qureshi: Yes, we have. And there has been a check. Terrorism gone down, it has gone down. You know, we have our areas at a very big cost, we paid a huge price. We have cleansed areas and amalgamated them into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That’s a huge development. A democracy has been introduced there. Elections have taken place there. They have been given, they have representation in the National Assembly and they’ve also been given representation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elected assembly. 

Najafizada: Your prime minister – 

Qureshi: Funds have been pumped in. Development activities going on. Life is returning to normalcy over there. Cricket matches taking place over there. Bazars are functioning over there. So we made an effort for that. 

Najafizada: You had a military campaign to go after Pakistani Taliban.

Qureshi: It was not just a military campaign, it was a military campaign plus political engagement, plus addressing their needs, plus undertaking development activity, plus in-cooperating them, amalgamating them into mainstream. It is a multi-pronged approach. 

Najafizada: Your prime minister, Mr. Imran Khan, said that “the ISI trained the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda.” This was before he comes to office. You disagree?

Qureshi: See, the international world and the international community along with the United States trained freedom fighters when they were fighting the Soviet Union. 

Najafizada: The Taliban did not exist. 

Qureshi: And when the Soviets left, the Americans pulled out without a comprehensive plan and then different people did different things. 

Najafizada: You recognized the Taliban regime in the 90s as one of the three countries.

Qureshi: Yes, we did.  

Najafizada: Was it the right move? Was it the good thing to do it? 

Qureshi: As I said, we have to work with anyone who is governing the country. They were in charge of Kabul and we had bilateral trade issues with them, we had other issues with them, so we had to engage with someone. They were in charge. So, if today, President Ashraf Ghani is in charge, we engage with him. We’ve been to Kabul. 

Najafizada: The Taliban were shooting women in the stadium, they were banning television, and they were stopping girls from going to school. 

Qureshi: Well, we have never advocated that. I will never advocate that. You come to Pakistan, you’re in Pakistan. Go around and see, there’re women who are in parliament, there’re women who are in civil service, there’re women who are judges. 

Najafizada: We want the same. 

Qureshi: We want you to have the same. There’s no objection to that. It’s for you to decide. What we’re saying is we’re an Islamic country like you. Right? We dress similarly, we more or less eat the same kind of cuisine, speak the same language. 

Najafizada: Masala is a bit different. 

Qureshi: Yeah, perhaps, it is a bit different, but we’ll make it less spicy when you come, right? We will make it spicy according to your taste, but you see our life, you see our institutions functioning, you see girls going to school. Now, if we’re doing it in our country – 

Najafizada: But the Taliban are not allowing this. 

Qureshi: Listen. If we’re doing it in our country, right? Would we be advocating something else over there? No. No. 

Najafizada: But the Taliban that a lot of Afghans believe as well international community they have roots here, they have bases here, they have Shuras here, are not allowing it. So my question is where is Mullah Hibatullah? Do you know? 

Qureshi: Ask the in charge of NDS. 

Najafizada: Does he know?

Qureshi: Perhaps. Ask him. 

Najafizada: They say he is in Pakistan. 

Qureshi: What we know is that there are people in Afghanistan who have been attacking my country. There are outside forces who are using their presence in Afghanistan to undermine Pakistan. 

Najafizada: India? 

Qureshi: Well, who are undermining Pakistan, who are carrying out subversive activities in Baluchistan. 

Najafizada: I will come to that. That’s important. 

Qureshi: And, they are there. And they are funding and they are training and they are doing everything possible, but we’re not allying that to come between us. Despite all that, we want Afghanistan to be peaceful, stable and prosperous. 

Najafizada: Hibatullah is not in Pakistan. 

Qureshi: Ask your government about that. 

Najafizada: Siraj Haqqani? 

Qureshi: Ask your government. 

Najafizada: Mullah Yaqub? 

Qureshi: Carry on. Keep naming them. 

Najafizada: Shaikh Hakim came here last month for consultation with their leaders to Pakistan. They said it publicly. 

Qureshi: They didn’t contact me, so I wouldn’t know. 

Najafizada: So at least you are not their leader. Maybe they did come. 

Qureshi: I am an elected representative of Pakistan.

Najafizada: Are you in the recent visits of Pakistani officials including Gen. Bajwa to Kabul there were discussions about meeting between Afghan leaders, pan Afghan leaders, and the Taliban here. Any progress on that? 

Qureshi: Well, we’ve welcomed all Afghan leaders to Pakistan. Some have come and some will come and we will receive them warmly and sit with them, talk with them, hear them out, but I think engaging with the Taliban leadership, perhaps Pakistan is the best place. There has to be a – why don’t you engage with them, well you’re already engaging with them. 

Najafizada: In Doha? 

Qureshi: The best place perhaps could be Doha. 

Najafizada: Why not Pakistan? 

Qureshi: Why not Pakistan, because they are not in Pakistan. The bulk is not in Pakistan. 

Najafizada: Well, it can be in Afghanistan then. 

Qureshi: In Afghanistan? That’s for your government to decide. I mean if they’re in Afghanistan, you decide where do you want to meet. 

Najafizada: Prime Minister Imran Khan called Osama bin Laden a martyr. 

Qureshi: Well, again – 

Najafizada: Simple statement. 

Qureshi: Out of context. He was quoted out of context. And, a particular section of the media pair it up. 

Najafizada: Is he a martyr? You disagree? Osama bin Laden?

Qureshi: I will let that pass. 

Najafizada: Let’s come back to the Indian influence in Afghanistan. You somehow refer to it. How many Indian consulates are in Afghanistan? 

Qureshi: Well, on paper, perhaps four. 

Najafizada: Unofficially?

Qureshi: You would know better.

Najafizada: You doubt it? You doubt what’s on paper?

Qureshi: No, I’m saying, we feel that, at times we feel that, you know, you don’t share a border with India. Obviously, you have sovereign relations and you have bilateral relation and you have every right to have sovereign and bilateral relations with India. You trade with India, they come and carry out development work there. That’s fine, that’s completely fine with us. But at times we feel that their presence is perhaps larger than it ought to be because they don’t share a border with you.

Najafizada: Does it bother you that they have?

Qureshi: If they used your soil against us, it bothers me.

Najafizada: Are they?

Qureshi: Yes, they are.

Najafizada: How?

Qureshi: How? By carrying out terrorist activities. You know, we have intelligence, we have information, we have shared that, and you know, we have very famous person who is admitted to carrying out subversive activities, terrorist activities, in Pakistan, in Baluchistan.

Najafizada: One would also raise the issue of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish Mohammed, are they Pakistan-based terrorist groups?

Qureshi: Well, frankly our government is very clear. We are supporting no terrorist group. We are support no terrorist group. Even with India when we – 

Najafizada: Maybe you don’t recognize them as terrorists.

Qureshi: Well, don’t put words into my mouth, I can speak for myself. But with India, we wanted reconciliation and the minute Prime Minster Imran Khan came into office, he said you take one step towards peace we will take two. Unfortunately, they did not reciprocate. Unfortunately, they took steps and measures that vitiated the climate. Despite that, despite that we think that the situation in occupied Jammu and Kashmir is a political situation, it is being mishandled. India today with the measures of 5th of August 2019 has alienated the Kashmiris further, they have not helped themselves and today the situation over there is very delicate and simmering.

Najafizada: Lets come back to our issues. Durand Line. Is that a recognized border?

Qureshi: Well, I think if we want to move ahead and sort of coexist as good neighbors that we desire then I think let’s accept the international border.

Najafizada: Is that an issue that you have discussed it with the Afghan authorities?

Qureshi: Well, in my mind, whether they want to accept it or not for domestic political reasons, the border that exists, in my mind, that’s the international border. 

Najafizada: Is that even a discussion between the government of Pakistan and the government of Afghanistan?

Qureshi: I think I felt no need for that discussion, because, you know, it is accepted and recognized as international border.

Najafizada: So, you are not even interested in talking about it, right?

Qureshi: I don’t feel the need.

Najafizada: Let’s come back to some of the internal issues here. Is PTM, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, posing risk to Pakistan’s stability?

Qureshi: Well, they have presence in the national assembly.

Najafizada: They get arrested.

Qureshi: Well, anybody can get arrested if you break the law, you can get arrested.

Najafizada: Minus the Taliban leaders?

Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: Minus the Taliban leaders.

Qureshi: Well, I would not respond to that. I can, but I will not because I, unlike your National Security Adviser, will not like to vitiate the climate between Pakistan and Afghanistan at this critical moment where we’re advocating peace and reconciliation. I can say a lot more than I have said, but that is not the objective, the objective is to move on, the objective is not to remain stuck in the past and I feel at times many in Afghanistan are stuck in the past.

Najafizada: Let’s move on, come back to PTM. Their leaders getting arrested, Ali Wazir, Manzoor Pashteen, Mohsen Dawar.

Qureshi: Mohsen Dawar is not arrested, he was sitting with me yesterday, we were in parliament yesterday, we had a good chat yesterday, we were talking about, you know, some good parliamentary issue.

Najafizada: He has been arrested before, right?

Qureshi: Well, I have said if you don’t break the law, if I break the law, I can get arrested.

Najafizada: And what does it say about Pakistan or even Afghanistan, democracy, and respect for human rights and press freedom and freedom of expression?

Qureshi: In Pakistan?

Najafizada: Yes, the recent arrests and the fact that they are.

Qureshi: Believe me, believe in me, you go around in Pakistan, you look at the newspapers, you look at the television channels, you are here in Islamabad, you know, sit and watch a few talk shows and you will see how independent our press is? The press in Pakistan is completely independent. And, we, as democrats, do not believe in gagging the press because today you cannot, even if you want to, with the new tools available, with social media, now you can’t, you cannot hide things under the carpet. We recognize and accept that so we would never gag the press.

Najafizada: So, what laws have the leaders of PTM breached?

Q: Well, if there is attack on a post, right? Then that’s is breach of some law.

Najafizada: Is radicalism, Mr. Foreign Minister, a challenge to Pakistan?

Qureshi: It’s a challenge to the globe. Unfortunately, the level of tolerance all over has gone down, the level of intolerance has gone up. Extremism and radicalism has been on the rise everywhere, not in Pakistan, everywhere. Look what happened the other day in Canada. Five innocent Canadian Pakistanis were mowed down. Why? For what fault of theirs? I must admire and respect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has recognized it. He recognized it as an Islamophobic attack and terrorism

Najafizada: How do you address radicalism here as a nation as a country?

Qureshi: Well, I personally feel that the overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan are moderates. They are not extremists. They are law abiding, they want peace, you know, they want an improvement in standard of living. They want to support their families and go about normal life.

Najafizada: And what is your vision for Pakistan’s identity in the global stage?

Najafizada: Well, the vision of Pakistan was set by founder Qayed-e-Azam Muhammad    Ali Jannah, the values that he advocated. My party, the party of Prime Minister Imran Khan, believes in his vision and his values.

Najafizada: Which are?

Qureshi: Which are Islamic, democratic, welfare state.

Najafizada: Let’s talk about Islam and Muslims in particular. The Muslims in China, are oppressed ones. Can politics allow you to comment on that publicly?

Qureshi: Well, do you have to comment on everything publicly? Do you have to?

Najafizada: If you believe in values and – 

Q: If you believe in values, you have a different relationship with different countries. And with friends, you adopt a different approach. China is a friend and we’ve recognized China as a friend and China standing by Pakistan through thick and thin.

Najafizada: As closing, Mr. Foreign Minister, how history should judge those who bombed the Bamiyan Buddhas?

Qureshi: Well, I am someone who believes in faith harmony. In Islam, there is room for minorities, people who sort of think differently, practice a different religion, you know, we should respect that. In Pakistan, you can see there are temples, there are Gurdwaras, and there are churches along with mosques, functioning. Minorities over here are going about their lives as ordinary Pakistanis.

Najafizada: How history should judge those who bombed the Buddhas of Bamiyan?

Qureshi: We should respect sites, symbols of all religions.

Najafizada: How history should judge those who hanged and executed President Najibullah?

Qureshi: Anyone killing an innocent person cannot be justified. Human lives are important. Every human life is important and that is one of the teachings of Islam in any civilized society.

Najafizada: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quraishi of Pakistan, Thank you for your time.

Qureshi: Thank you.

Interview with Pakistan FM Qureshi: Full Transcript

Quresh says the world’s approach has changed as it does not hold the view that peace can be achieved through a military solution.

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TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada sits down with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to discuss the Afghan peace process, Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, Pakistan’s ties with India and other current topics. 

Full text:

Najafizada: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan, thank you for your time. 

Qureshi: Pleasure.

Najafizada: Let's start with the positive news. You say that the policy towards Afghanistan has changed. What has changed?

Qureshi: You see, what has changed is Pakistan’s approach. We want Afghanistan to be peaceful and stable because we feel that a peaceful Afghanistan, a stable Afghanistan, gives us the regional connectivity that is required. If we’re looking for economic security and if we’re looking for investments and promotion of bilateral trade and regional trade, it can only come with peace, and peace and stability Afghanistan is not just Afghanistan’s requirement; it’s Pakistan’s desire as well. You know, we benefit from it.

Najafizada: It was not the strategy before?

Qureshi: It was.

Najafizada: So, what has changed?

Qureshi: What has changed is the approach of the world, you know. People were of the view that peace could be achieved through a military solution. It has not. We have been advocating for years that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. What has changed is this new approach that what is required is a negotiated political settlement that we were advocating. This international environment has changed and that has been the environment more conducive for peace today than ever before.

Najafizada: Former Pakistan prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani addressing the Pakistani parliament once said that there was a state within a state which was not allowing the civilian government here to do its works. Has that changed?

Qureshi: I think Mr. Gillani when he made that statement it was out of perhaps political considerations, and as prime minister, he should have known that he is the chief executive of the country and the chief executive of the country under the constitution controls all institutions, all institutions of the government report and function under the constitution and he is the chief executive of the country. I can speak for the institutions and how things are being run today. All institutions are in harmony with the government. We’re on the same page. Obviously, we have consultations, we discuss, and we take an input from all state institutions and then the institutions carry out a policy of the government.

Najafizada: Right. So Pakistan wants a stable, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Certainly.

Najafizada: And is that only possible with a state in Afghanistan to be run by the Taliban? Does it have to? 

Qureshi: No, no no. That’s for the people of Afghanistan to decide who governs them and what kind of a political dispensation Afghanistan wants? That is your decision. That is the decision of the people of Afghanistan. What we’re saying is you are all Afghans. Peace can only come to Afghanistan if you sit and reconcile. When you sit and reconcile, when you sit and talk, you will determine what kind of constitution we want, what kind of you know system should be in place. All we’re suggesting is that an inclusive system – 

Najafizada: Where all ethnic groups should be represented and?

Qureshi: Would be helpful in reconciliation and promoting the peace process.

Najafizada: And Pakistan wants to deal with central government in Kabul?

Qureshi: We want to deal with the government chosen by the people of Afghanistan.

Najafizada: through elections?

Qureshi: Obviously, we believe in democracy and would want a democratic order in Afghanistan. We have always said we support a sovereign, independent, democratic Afghanistan.

Najafizada: You invite Afghan political party leaders back-to-back. Isn’t that challenging the central authority in Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Not at all. It is just to promote a better understanding. There were misperceptions and a lot of you know talk that Pakistan is just concentrating on a particular faction, particular school of thought. No, we want to engage with everyone, we want to be friends with everyone, we want to be friends with Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan. Now, Afghanistan have different ethnic groups. We want to engage with all of them for a better understanding.

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, are you or Afghanistan and Pakistan are working on a strategic partnership agreement? Is that happening?

Qureshi: Well, what we want to, what we have agreed to, is a mechanism called APAPS. We realized that there are issues that are there and will always be there. We must have a structured, institutionalized mechanism in place so that whenever they arrive, we can bilaterally sit, talk about them.

Najafizada: Is that functioning?

Qureshi: It is functioning, but we can use it more effectively. In my view, we have not used it as effectively as we could have.

Najafizada: Have you offered the Afghan security forces to be trained in Pakistan?

Qureshi: We will be more than happy. We will be more than happy.

Najafizada: What is the response you’re getting from Kabul?

Qureshi: Well, they never say no, but they haven’t yet taken our offers seriously. We honestly feel that we can be of assistance, you know, your cadets coming here, your diplomats coming here, getting training in the Foreign Service Academy, in our military institutions. We can be of service. We speak the same language, you know, culturally, we have so many similarities. They will feel at home.

Najafizada: Before coming to the peace process, and the Taliban in particular, lets briefly discuss the war on terror. Is America defeated?

Qureshi: Well, the Americans have said that they have achieved their objective and their objective was to break the back of international terrorist organizations and to protect mainland United States. They feel in these 20 years, they have succeeded in the objective that they had set forth and it’s time to go back home, and they feel that the Afghan government and the Taliban that they negotiated a peace agreement in Doha have very openly agreed that Afghan soil will not be used against the US or any other country.

Najafizada: What do you think? You think America is leaving Afghanistan with pride and it’s a proud departure?

Qureshi: Well, they came with an objective, and they feel that their objective has been met. Obviously, they couldn’t be here indefinitely. They had to go way soon or later.

Najafizada: And you are happy that they are leaving Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Well, obviously, they can’t be here forever. They had to leave and if they are satisfied that they have achieved their objectives, then we are okay with that.

Najafizada: General Hamid Gul of ISI once said, “the ISI with the help of America defeated America.” How would you respond to that?

Qureshi: I do not understand in what context that statement is made so, you know, if you pick up two lines, I do not know the background and what context that statement was made, so how can I comment on it?

Najafizada: America defeated and ISI helped. It is very simple.

Qureshi: America defeated how, by whom?

Najafizada: By the Taliban.

Qureshi: He is no longer here with us, you know. So I cannot verify what you’re saying, but I think the Americans came for a purpose, they feel that they have achieved that purpose, not just one, both administrations.

Najafizada: And you have an understanding what the US? – 

Qureshi: Can I complete? Both administrations, the republicans under Trump administration, felt the time had come to leave and the present administration, the democratic party, under President Biden has re-endorsed that after review, after careful examination have come to an inclusion the time to leave has come.

Najafizada: And you have an understanding with the US as they leave Afghanistan?

Qureshi: Do they need our understanding? It’s their decision. It’s decision.

Najafizada: That you can help with them in the case there are more threats coming from Afghanistan?

Qureshi: You see, we’re willing to help, we’re willing to help in pushing forward the peace process and as you know we’ve facilitated the peace process and there is acknowledgement of that. We’re willing to help in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, rehabilitation. We’re willing to partner with Afghanistan, with the US, on countering terrorism. Yes, we will be partners for peace.

Najafizada: Will you be giving them basis inside Pakistan as they leave Afghanistan?

Qureshi: No

Najafizada: Intelligence? Military?

Qureshi: I said no bases.

Najafizada: No drones, none?

Qureshi: No.

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, have you seen the secret annexes that the US and Taliban made? The two secret documents apart from what was announced publicly in Doha?

Qureshi: Well, I’ve seen what was shared with us.

Najafizada: The annexes or the main document? 

Qureshi: Main document.

Najafizada: Lets come back to the peace process which I believe is very important at this stage. Where are we in the Afghan peace process? Any progress is being made?

Qureshi: Where are you? How can we say where are we? You know, it’s the Afghans. The peace process has to come to its logical conclusion through an intra-Afghan negotiation. We’re not sitting on the table with them. Wherever required, we’ve facilitated. We cannot decide for you. It’s the Afghans that will sit and decide what they want.

Najafizada: The Afghans who are living here, the Afghan who are in Pakistan, the Taliban I mean, the Taliban leaders.

Qureshi: No, unfortunately. I am not saying they do not have relations here, but the bulk of their leadership, and I say this in confidence, is not living in Pakistan, in fact, is living in Afghanistan.

Najafizada: The Doha negotiators, the Taliban negotiators, are coming to Pakistan they said publicly for consultations. Mullah Baradar has come here so many times. They go to Quetta.

Qureshi: For facilitating the peace process.

Najafizada: To check on their fighters in hospitals in Quetta.
Qureshi: They go to Doha. They have been traveling to other places, they went to Moscow, they went to other places.

Najafizada: We haven’t seen videos of them coming to Helmand, Kabul or Kandahar.

Qureshi: They’re in Afghanistan. You need to engage with them. We’re only engaging with them to facilitate the peace process. We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to be constructive. You know, many have started to recognizing that internationally, but there are some in Afghanistan who still have that mental blockage of accepting the fact that Pakistan is being genuine, is being constructive and is sincere because Pakistan feels it is Pakistan’s enlightened interest that there is peace and stability in Afghanistan. Why can’t people in Afghanistan understand that, why can’t people in Afghanistan, you know – I think people of Afghanistan understand that, generally speaking, because the people of Afghanistan in my view want peace. They have had enough of war.

Najafizada: Of course, the violence is very high Mr. foreign minister.

Qureshi: They’ve had enough of war. They’ve had for decades.

Najafizada: There are more violence these days.

Qureshi: Unfortunately, it should go down and we’ve always advocated – 

Najafizada: How can it go down?

Qureshi: We’ve always advocated reduction in violence leading to ceasefire because we genuinely believe that you cannot have negotiations and violence go hand in hand. You know, violence has to go down and the process of peace and negotiations has to accelerate.

Najafizada: When they have a presence here, they have a freedom of movement, they do the recruitment here, fundraising, they go to Pakistani hospitals. All these are lies?

Qureshi: You’re still stuck in the past.

Najafizada: Are these are lies? These are not correct?

Qureshi: These are exaggerations.

Najafizada: What is the truth?

Qureshi: Exaggerations I’ve said. You are still… See, the problem is until and unless you reconcile with the fact. Now, What’s happening today? Unfortunately, allow me to say this, when things are not moving in the right direction, you’re looking for the scapegoats and the favorite scapegoat you have is Pakistan. When there’s failure within, you blame Pakistan for that. Pakistan is not responsible for the failure within. Pakistan is not responsible for the squabbling that is going on in Afghanistan. Pakistan is not responsible if the Afghan leadership cannot sit and work out a peace deal. We’re not responsible for that. It’s yours. We’re saying we want to be helpful.

Najafizada: Are the Taliban ready for peace, Mr. Foreign Minister?

Qureshi: I think they are. They also, they have suffered as well.

Najafizada: They have taken 30 districts in the past two months. Is that a sign of peace?

Qureshi: Well… the Afghan National Army and the Afghan security forces have to deal with that situation. The international community has spent a lot of money in equipping and training the Afghan security forces, right? And you are far exceeding in numbers, you know, compared to the Taliban. That’s the perception one has. So, why don’t you do your soul-searching what is going wrong?

Najafizada: The question is the intention of the Taliban? Do they want peace or they want war?

Qureshi: I think, I think, in the interactions that I’ve had with them.

Najafizada: Who you talk to? You talk to (Mullah) Baradar? You talk to?

Qureshi: The people, the political community that you are talking to.

Najafizada: You talk to Siraj?

Qureshi: You’re talking, you’re taking – I am talking to exactly the people you are talking to. The people you are talking to in Doha, the people you are talking to while sitting across the table, same people. I feel they also realize that they have suffered and there have paid a huge price. And it’s their country. They are not foreigners! 

Najafizada: Of course.

Qureshi: They’re Afghans. Don’t you think they want peace in Afghanistan? Don’t you think they want stability in Afghanistan? I don’t carry their brief but it’s logical. I mean if there was a disturbance in Pakistan, every Pakistani would want peace and stability here.

Najafizada: Yes, but the violence is very high and they’re taking over territories?

Qureshi: Who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for that? You think, now, again, again, if you try and create this impression that the violence is high because of Taliban, again, that would be an exaggeration. Why do I say that? Aren’t there other elements over there who are playing the role of a spoiler? 

Najafizada: Like who? 

Qureshi: Daesh. Like forces within Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Who?

Qureshi: Who came from the war economy. Who want to perpetuate their power, who are not seeing beyond their nose and just want to hang on to power.

Najafizada: President Ghani is in power. 

 Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: President Ghani is in power. Are you implying that he doesn’t want peace? 

Qureshi: What I know, I will not say that, but I think President Ghani has a very important responsibility on his shoulders that he has to show the leadership and the flexibility to achieve… 

Najafizada: What does that mean? What does flexibility mean? To Step down? 

Qureshi: That is for him to decide, but what I’m saying is – 

Najafizada: When you say flexibility…

Qureshi: Flexibility to reach a peace deal.  

Najafizada: How? 

Qureshi: It is for you do decide. I can’t tell you what to do, but if both sides, listen, if the Taliban stick to their position, right, and the President Ashraf Ghani and his core team stick to their position, will there be peace in Afghanistan? You tell me. Will there be peace? There will be no peace. Don’t you want peace? 

Najafizada: Of course. 

Qureshi: The Afghan people want peace. Why can’t the leadership of Afghanistan understand that people are sick and tired of war. People are fatigued, people are tired, people have lost children and families. 

Najafizada: Mr. Foreign Minister, you are right, but the question is that the Taliban is also part of the war. 

Qureshi: Yes. 

Najafizada: Are they showing any signs of peace and flexibility?

Qureshi: What I’m saying is they also want peace. 

Najafizada: How do you know? 

Qureshi: Because in the interactions we’ve had. 

Najafizada: But actions demonstrate something else. No? 

Qureshi: Well, see, again, I cannot sort of get involved in the discussions that are going on between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Najafizada: There is no discussion. 

Qureshi: There were discussions. There’s a stalemate at the moment and I hope you can get over the stalemate because if stalemate continues, and the withdrawal is completed, unfortunately, you will be sacked back into the 90s, which is not good for Afghanistan, which is not good for Pakistan, and which is not good for the region. Can Afghanistan afford another civil war? Can you afford another, you know, a decade of anarchy? You cannot, and you should not. You know, I feel for the people of Afghanistan. They have suffered enough, and – 

Najafizada: Thank you for that. 

Qureshi: And, the second country that has suffered after you is us. We’ve lost 83,000 lives on a counterterrorism. We’ve had our economy suffered. 

Najafizada: If you allow me, Mr. Foreign Minister. Are you against a Taliban military takeover? 

Qureshi: We have never said, we have never supporter or advocated a takeover of Kabul by force. No. 

Najafizada: You’re against it? 

Qureshi: Absolutely. 

Najafizada: Are you against a return of an Islamic emirate? 

Qureshi: See, what I have said is it is for you, the people of Afghanistan, to decide what you want. 

Najafizada:  Even if it is an Islamic emirate. 

Qureshi: How can I speak for you? How can I speak for you? What we have said is – 

Najafizada: You object it, or you don’t object it? 

Qureshi: Can I tell you what we’ve said? We want to see an independent, sovereign, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan. What does that mean? 

Najafizada: No emirate. Democracy?

Qureshi: What does that mean? What does that mean? You can do your own interpretation. I’ve said what you want.

Najafizada:  Why can’t you explain that? 

Qureshi: I’ve explained enough for people to understand what I’m saying. 

Najafizada: We talked about President Ghani and you mentioned civil war. Does that concern you that Afghanistan is heading to civil war?

Qureshi: Obviously! 

Najafizada:  Are we? 

Qureshi: I hope not. I hope not. Please, that’s why I’m saying, please sit together and carve out a way forward, you know, which is coexistence, reconciliation. Accept each other. You have to accept each other. You know, the people and government in Afghanistan and the Taliban that have been fighting for decades now, they’re both Afghans. You have to reconcile, and you have to find a way forward. We’re concerned because God forbid, if there is civil war. 

Najafizada: You see signs of it? Are we going in that direction?

Qureshi: I hope not. I hope not. 

Najafizada: But that’s hope, right? What’s your – 

Qureshi: It depends on you, depends on the Afghan leadership, depends on the ability of the Afghan leadership to carve a way forward. If you fail, if the Afghan leadership fail, then yes, we are heading for a civil war. And God forbid, if there is one, then you suffer and we suffer as well. We fear another influx of refugees. We’re already supporting close to 3 million refugees that the in    ternational community has forgotten about, but we’re supporting them. We’ve opened our hearts and minds for them. We’ve been as hospitable as we could in the given resources that we have. Right? By giving them education, by giving them scholarships, by giving you medical treatments, by allowing trade. Even in COVID conditions, we opened the Torkham border 24/7 for that to facilitate human traffic movement and your trades and goods. You now, we’ve done everything possible. 

Najafizada: It’s mutual, right? 

Qureshi: Absolutely. See, everything, bilateral relationships are mutual. Both sides have to see a benefit in it and we do see. We see benefit in good relations with Afghanistan. 

Najafizada: Lets come back to the question of the Taliban and put a step back. Who are the Taliban? Madrassa students, insurgency, terrorist group? How would you define them?

Qureshi: They’re Afghans who have – 

Najafizada: Who have guns and kill people.

  Qureshi: Well, killing has taken place from both sides unfortunately.

Najafizada: Who are the Taliban? You have a definition?

Qureshi: The Afghans. 

Najafizada: That’s it? 

Qureshi: They’re Afghans. Aren’t they? Are you saying they’re not Afghans?

Najafizada: The Taliban are Afghans.

Qureshi: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. 

Najafizada: But then you have Afghans who are terrorists, Afghans who are not terrorists, you have good Afghans, bad Afghans, like good Pakistanis, bad Pakistanis. 

Qureshi: Depends who’s looking at things how? At times, people are dubbed as terrorists, at times people are seen and viewed and they proclaimed to be an element fighting for an occupation, wanting freedom of their land. So depends how you look at it. 

Najafizada: You’re foreign minister of a very important country, particularly when it comes to Afghanistan. So your views matter and your policies matter. So that’s why I ask again for the last time, how would you characterize the Taliban?

Qureshi: Afghans.

Najafizada: Are they funded here in Pakistan? 

Qureshi: These are very those many things that have been going on for years. You’re stuck in the old groove. Get of out that groove, please. Get out of that groove. Now, listen, if you remain stuck in this, believe me you will not be able to travel far. And we want you to travel far. We want reconciliation and peace. 

Najafizada: Are you scared of the Taliban as Pakistan? 

Qureshi: Scared? 

Najafizada: No?

Qureshi: Why should we be scared of Taliban?

Najafizada: They can be a threat to Pakistan. 

Qureshi: Not at all. 

Najafizada: Their relationship with the Pakistani Taliban.

Qureshi: You see, the TTP (Tehreek Taliban-e-Pakistan) has been undertaken terrorist activities, using Afghan soil against Pakistan. And we’re concerned about that. And, we have spoken to the Afghan authorities and we feel they need to me monitored and they need to be checked. When you say no safe havens, we say no safe havens on both sides. 

Najafizada: Right, let’s start with this side. Quetta and Peshawar Shuras, when you hear these terms, how do you feel?

Qureshi: I’ve been hearing of these terms for now decades. Move on. Move on. 

Najafizada: They don’t exist? 

Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: Taliban, Quetta Shura, doesn’t exist? 

Qureshi: I think the Taliban Shura is sitting right there in Afghanistan. Go look for it. 

Najafizada: Of course. They control territory.

Qureshi: Go look for it. 

Najafizada: The question is whether they’re in Quetta or not.

Qureshi: I said that earlier that in our assessment, see, we’ve had a porous border for years. Now we’re in the process of fencing that border. Right? Why are we doing that? For better border management. It is important. If we have to check terrorism, then we have to manage our border, we have to regulate our border, Afghanistan-Pakistan border. 

Najafizada: Which is an important topic. I will come to that. 

Qureshi. Let me finish. Now, we’re doing what we can on our part. What we’re saying is there are million Afghans still living in Pakistan. They want to go home and we want them to go home in an honorable, dignified manner. Once they’ve gone back, and then there is cross border movement, we can be held more responsible for that. If there are thousands of people coming in –

Najafizada: They go home, they fight, they come back, get treated, then they go back. 

Qureshi: If there are thousands of people crossing the border for trade, for treatment. 

Najafizada: You have fenced the border. 

Qureshi: I said we’re in the process of fencing the border. 

Najafizada: More than 80 to 90 percent is completed. 

Qureshi: Yes, we have. And there has been a check. Terrorism gone down, it has gone down. You know, we have our areas at a very big cost, we paid a huge price. We have cleansed areas and amalgamated them into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That’s a huge development. A democracy has been introduced there. Elections have taken place there. They have been given, they have representation in the National Assembly and they’ve also been given representation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elected assembly. 

Najafizada: Your prime minister – 

Qureshi: Funds have been pumped in. Development activities going on. Life is returning to normalcy over there. Cricket matches taking place over there. Bazars are functioning over there. So we made an effort for that. 

Najafizada: You had a military campaign to go after Pakistani Taliban.

Qureshi: It was not just a military campaign, it was a military campaign plus political engagement, plus addressing their needs, plus undertaking development activity, plus in-cooperating them, amalgamating them into mainstream. It is a multi-pronged approach. 

Najafizada: Your prime minister, Mr. Imran Khan, said that “the ISI trained the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda.” This was before he comes to office. You disagree?

Qureshi: See, the international world and the international community along with the United States trained freedom fighters when they were fighting the Soviet Union. 

Najafizada: The Taliban did not exist. 

Qureshi: And when the Soviets left, the Americans pulled out without a comprehensive plan and then different people did different things. 

Najafizada: You recognized the Taliban regime in the 90s as one of the three countries.

Qureshi: Yes, we did.  

Najafizada: Was it the right move? Was it the good thing to do it? 

Qureshi: As I said, we have to work with anyone who is governing the country. They were in charge of Kabul and we had bilateral trade issues with them, we had other issues with them, so we had to engage with someone. They were in charge. So, if today, President Ashraf Ghani is in charge, we engage with him. We’ve been to Kabul. 

Najafizada: The Taliban were shooting women in the stadium, they were banning television, and they were stopping girls from going to school. 

Qureshi: Well, we have never advocated that. I will never advocate that. You come to Pakistan, you’re in Pakistan. Go around and see, there’re women who are in parliament, there’re women who are in civil service, there’re women who are judges. 

Najafizada: We want the same. 

Qureshi: We want you to have the same. There’s no objection to that. It’s for you to decide. What we’re saying is we’re an Islamic country like you. Right? We dress similarly, we more or less eat the same kind of cuisine, speak the same language. 

Najafizada: Masala is a bit different. 

Qureshi: Yeah, perhaps, it is a bit different, but we’ll make it less spicy when you come, right? We will make it spicy according to your taste, but you see our life, you see our institutions functioning, you see girls going to school. Now, if we’re doing it in our country – 

Najafizada: But the Taliban are not allowing this. 

Qureshi: Listen. If we’re doing it in our country, right? Would we be advocating something else over there? No. No. 

Najafizada: But the Taliban that a lot of Afghans believe as well international community they have roots here, they have bases here, they have Shuras here, are not allowing it. So my question is where is Mullah Hibatullah? Do you know? 

Qureshi: Ask the in charge of NDS. 

Najafizada: Does he know?

Qureshi: Perhaps. Ask him. 

Najafizada: They say he is in Pakistan. 

Qureshi: What we know is that there are people in Afghanistan who have been attacking my country. There are outside forces who are using their presence in Afghanistan to undermine Pakistan. 

Najafizada: India? 

Qureshi: Well, who are undermining Pakistan, who are carrying out subversive activities in Baluchistan. 

Najafizada: I will come to that. That’s important. 

Qureshi: And, they are there. And they are funding and they are training and they are doing everything possible, but we’re not allying that to come between us. Despite all that, we want Afghanistan to be peaceful, stable and prosperous. 

Najafizada: Hibatullah is not in Pakistan. 

Qureshi: Ask your government about that. 

Najafizada: Siraj Haqqani? 

Qureshi: Ask your government. 

Najafizada: Mullah Yaqub? 

Qureshi: Carry on. Keep naming them. 

Najafizada: Shaikh Hakim came here last month for consultation with their leaders to Pakistan. They said it publicly. 

Qureshi: They didn’t contact me, so I wouldn’t know. 

Najafizada: So at least you are not their leader. Maybe they did come. 

Qureshi: I am an elected representative of Pakistan.

Najafizada: Are you in the recent visits of Pakistani officials including Gen. Bajwa to Kabul there were discussions about meeting between Afghan leaders, pan Afghan leaders, and the Taliban here. Any progress on that? 

Qureshi: Well, we’ve welcomed all Afghan leaders to Pakistan. Some have come and some will come and we will receive them warmly and sit with them, talk with them, hear them out, but I think engaging with the Taliban leadership, perhaps Pakistan is the best place. There has to be a – why don’t you engage with them, well you’re already engaging with them. 

Najafizada: In Doha? 

Qureshi: The best place perhaps could be Doha. 

Najafizada: Why not Pakistan? 

Qureshi: Why not Pakistan, because they are not in Pakistan. The bulk is not in Pakistan. 

Najafizada: Well, it can be in Afghanistan then. 

Qureshi: In Afghanistan? That’s for your government to decide. I mean if they’re in Afghanistan, you decide where do you want to meet. 

Najafizada: Prime Minister Imran Khan called Osama bin Laden a martyr. 

Qureshi: Well, again – 

Najafizada: Simple statement. 

Qureshi: Out of context. He was quoted out of context. And, a particular section of the media pair it up. 

Najafizada: Is he a martyr? You disagree? Osama bin Laden?

Qureshi: I will let that pass. 

Najafizada: Let’s come back to the Indian influence in Afghanistan. You somehow refer to it. How many Indian consulates are in Afghanistan? 

Qureshi: Well, on paper, perhaps four. 

Najafizada: Unofficially?

Qureshi: You would know better.

Najafizada: You doubt it? You doubt what’s on paper?

Qureshi: No, I’m saying, we feel that, at times we feel that, you know, you don’t share a border with India. Obviously, you have sovereign relations and you have bilateral relation and you have every right to have sovereign and bilateral relations with India. You trade with India, they come and carry out development work there. That’s fine, that’s completely fine with us. But at times we feel that their presence is perhaps larger than it ought to be because they don’t share a border with you.

Najafizada: Does it bother you that they have?

Qureshi: If they used your soil against us, it bothers me.

Najafizada: Are they?

Qureshi: Yes, they are.

Najafizada: How?

Qureshi: How? By carrying out terrorist activities. You know, we have intelligence, we have information, we have shared that, and you know, we have very famous person who is admitted to carrying out subversive activities, terrorist activities, in Pakistan, in Baluchistan.

Najafizada: One would also raise the issue of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish Mohammed, are they Pakistan-based terrorist groups?

Qureshi: Well, frankly our government is very clear. We are supporting no terrorist group. We are support no terrorist group. Even with India when we – 

Najafizada: Maybe you don’t recognize them as terrorists.

Qureshi: Well, don’t put words into my mouth, I can speak for myself. But with India, we wanted reconciliation and the minute Prime Minster Imran Khan came into office, he said you take one step towards peace we will take two. Unfortunately, they did not reciprocate. Unfortunately, they took steps and measures that vitiated the climate. Despite that, despite that we think that the situation in occupied Jammu and Kashmir is a political situation, it is being mishandled. India today with the measures of 5th of August 2019 has alienated the Kashmiris further, they have not helped themselves and today the situation over there is very delicate and simmering.

Najafizada: Lets come back to our issues. Durand Line. Is that a recognized border?

Qureshi: Well, I think if we want to move ahead and sort of coexist as good neighbors that we desire then I think let’s accept the international border.

Najafizada: Is that an issue that you have discussed it with the Afghan authorities?

Qureshi: Well, in my mind, whether they want to accept it or not for domestic political reasons, the border that exists, in my mind, that’s the international border. 

Najafizada: Is that even a discussion between the government of Pakistan and the government of Afghanistan?

Qureshi: I think I felt no need for that discussion, because, you know, it is accepted and recognized as international border.

Najafizada: So, you are not even interested in talking about it, right?

Qureshi: I don’t feel the need.

Najafizada: Let’s come back to some of the internal issues here. Is PTM, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, posing risk to Pakistan’s stability?

Qureshi: Well, they have presence in the national assembly.

Najafizada: They get arrested.

Qureshi: Well, anybody can get arrested if you break the law, you can get arrested.

Najafizada: Minus the Taliban leaders?

Qureshi: Sorry? 

Najafizada: Minus the Taliban leaders.

Qureshi: Well, I would not respond to that. I can, but I will not because I, unlike your National Security Adviser, will not like to vitiate the climate between Pakistan and Afghanistan at this critical moment where we’re advocating peace and reconciliation. I can say a lot more than I have said, but that is not the objective, the objective is to move on, the objective is not to remain stuck in the past and I feel at times many in Afghanistan are stuck in the past.

Najafizada: Let’s move on, come back to PTM. Their leaders getting arrested, Ali Wazir, Manzoor Pashteen, Mohsen Dawar.

Qureshi: Mohsen Dawar is not arrested, he was sitting with me yesterday, we were in parliament yesterday, we had a good chat yesterday, we were talking about, you know, some good parliamentary issue.

Najafizada: He has been arrested before, right?

Qureshi: Well, I have said if you don’t break the law, if I break the law, I can get arrested.

Najafizada: And what does it say about Pakistan or even Afghanistan, democracy, and respect for human rights and press freedom and freedom of expression?

Qureshi: In Pakistan?

Najafizada: Yes, the recent arrests and the fact that they are.

Qureshi: Believe me, believe in me, you go around in Pakistan, you look at the newspapers, you look at the television channels, you are here in Islamabad, you know, sit and watch a few talk shows and you will see how independent our press is? The press in Pakistan is completely independent. And, we, as democrats, do not believe in gagging the press because today you cannot, even if you want to, with the new tools available, with social media, now you can’t, you cannot hide things under the carpet. We recognize and accept that so we would never gag the press.

Najafizada: So, what laws have the leaders of PTM breached?

Q: Well, if there is attack on a post, right? Then that’s is breach of some law.

Najafizada: Is radicalism, Mr. Foreign Minister, a challenge to Pakistan?

Qureshi: It’s a challenge to the globe. Unfortunately, the level of tolerance all over has gone down, the level of intolerance has gone up. Extremism and radicalism has been on the rise everywhere, not in Pakistan, everywhere. Look what happened the other day in Canada. Five innocent Canadian Pakistanis were mowed down. Why? For what fault of theirs? I must admire and respect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has recognized it. He recognized it as an Islamophobic attack and terrorism

Najafizada: How do you address radicalism here as a nation as a country?

Qureshi: Well, I personally feel that the overwhelming majority of people in Pakistan are moderates. They are not extremists. They are law abiding, they want peace, you know, they want an improvement in standard of living. They want to support their families and go about normal life.

Najafizada: And what is your vision for Pakistan’s identity in the global stage?

Najafizada: Well, the vision of Pakistan was set by founder Qayed-e-Azam Muhammad    Ali Jannah, the values that he advocated. My party, the party of Prime Minister Imran Khan, believes in his vision and his values.

Najafizada: Which are?

Qureshi: Which are Islamic, democratic, welfare state.

Najafizada: Let’s talk about Islam and Muslims in particular. The Muslims in China, are oppressed ones. Can politics allow you to comment on that publicly?

Qureshi: Well, do you have to comment on everything publicly? Do you have to?

Najafizada: If you believe in values and – 

Q: If you believe in values, you have a different relationship with different countries. And with friends, you adopt a different approach. China is a friend and we’ve recognized China as a friend and China standing by Pakistan through thick and thin.

Najafizada: As closing, Mr. Foreign Minister, how history should judge those who bombed the Bamiyan Buddhas?

Qureshi: Well, I am someone who believes in faith harmony. In Islam, there is room for minorities, people who sort of think differently, practice a different religion, you know, we should respect that. In Pakistan, you can see there are temples, there are Gurdwaras, and there are churches along with mosques, functioning. Minorities over here are going about their lives as ordinary Pakistanis.

Najafizada: How history should judge those who bombed the Buddhas of Bamiyan?

Qureshi: We should respect sites, symbols of all religions.

Najafizada: How history should judge those who hanged and executed President Najibullah?

Qureshi: Anyone killing an innocent person cannot be justified. Human lives are important. Every human life is important and that is one of the teachings of Islam in any civilized society.

Najafizada: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quraishi of Pakistan, Thank you for your time.

Qureshi: Thank you.

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