Building trust

Print edition : April 19, 2013

Hina Rabbani Khar.

Passengers wait in Poonch to board buses. Cross-border trade and bus service between India and Pakistan resumed on January 28. Photo: PTI

A customs official checking cement bags imported from Pakistan inside the warehouse of Integrated Check Post on the Attari-Wagah road in Amritsar on December 20, 2012. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna with Hina Rabbani Khar prior to their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi in July 2011. Photo: Kamal Narang

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, on their arrival in New Delhi on April 8, 2012. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Photo: Akram Shahid /REUTERS

Indian Army troops patrol the border with Pakistan near Magam village in Jammu and Kashmir on May 25, 2001. Photo: FAYAZ KABLI/REUTERS

An Afghan boy plays with toy guns during a gathering to celebrate the Afghan New Year, Nawroz, in Kabul on March 21, 2013. "We urge that there be no divergence of views on Afghanistan at all between us and India or between us and any other country," says Hina Rabbani Khar. Photo: OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

Hina Rabbani Khar, until recently Foreign Minister of Pakistan, speaks about her country’s commitment to normalise relations with India on every front in order to be able to build mutual trust and solve outstanding problems.

HINA RABBANI KHAR’s record in office as Foreign Minister of Pakistan revealed her passionate commitment to Pakistan’s interests, for which she fought with conspicuous ability. She has a rational, enlightened concept of those interests which she assesses in the light of the situation at home as well as the entire region of South Asia. This was evident enough in the debate in the National Assembly on January 21, when the Leader of the Opposition Chaudhury Nisar Ali Khan, like his counterparts in India, accused the government of appeasement of India after the shrill cries in India following the flare-up on the Line of Control (LoC). “Don’t sell away Pakistan’s honour like this,” he said. Her response was to reiterate “our commitment not to escalate the situation”.

The maturity as well as proud nationalism were very evident in the remarks she made on February 26 in an interview to this writer at her office in the Foreign Office in Islamabad.

The one constant theme was “the learnt lessons” from the past. Here was a modernist with a fresh outlook speaking while emphasising the correctness of her government’s policy. She reckons with the realities of domestic politics in India as well as in Pakistan but is determined to break from a sorry past. “In the last 60 years both India and Pakistan have done a fantastic job in creating hostility and animosity in the minds and hearts of our people against each other and in the world against each other.” Very many in both countries are still at work on this shameful exercise. It requires courage on the part of one in high office to condemn it.

Governments must lead and mould public opinion. That is the test of true leadership.

The Foreign Minister repeatedly stressed the need to resolve “the core issue” of Kashmir. The road map she defined envisages tackling confidence-building measures (CBMs) and issues like the Sir Creek and Siachen so that trust is built upon to enable the leaders to make a determined effort to resolve Kashmir.

That, of course, requires leaders of courage and determination who do not compete with an irresponsible opposition in striking hawkish postures. Unfortunately the dialogue process has been brought to a halt. In the last of her pronouncements, before demitting office on March 17 along with the rest of the Cabinet for the caretaker government to assume power and hold elections, the Minister spoke of an “uninterruptible” dialogue between the two countries. That was envisaged in the joint statements issued even after the Mumbai blasts of November 26, 2008. However, a far smaller event on which culpability is uncertain has been invoked to interrupt a promising improvement in the relations.

Comments in the interview reflect disappointment as well as hopes for improvement in India-Pakistan relations. More, they touch on the fundamentals of the relationship. Hina Rabbani Khar has ceased to be Foreign Minister, but her record as Finance Minister and as Foreign Minister has earned for her an assured place in the politics of Pakistan. She is a person to watch.

Foreign Minister, it is very kind of you to grant this interview amidst your busy schedule. You are held in high regard in India and are noted for your moderation. Let me begin with the question that is uppermost on our minds today. Given the impasse in the Indo-Pak situation, where do we go from here and what steps can be taken by both sides to lower the temperature?

Thank you, first of all, for giving me this opportunity of expressing my views, Noorani saheb. I think really if I look back at the tenure of this government in the last five years—as you know in just about a few weeks we will be handing over to a caretaker government—I can tell you that I am highly satisfied with the Government of Pakistan’s approach towards India. I can talk about the last two years when I have been Foreign Minister of Pakistan. I believe that it came from a deep, abiding understanding, and learnt lessons, to be quite honest, that Pakistan needs for its own peaceful growth and development a stable atmosphere on its borders, both in the east and the west, and on the other side of course. I think we really went out of the way to reach out to India to start a normal dialogue process, to continue with the normal dialogue process, to get out of the trust deficit mode and to get into the trust-building mode. I can say that until about three months back, up to the last visit of Foreign Minister [S.M.] Krishna, we were fairly satisfied with the way things were moving because trust was building, we were able to have a deeper, saner conversation and we all agreed that we need it to get the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir resolved, and other territorial disputes resolved, for Pakistan and India to be able to coexist peacefully. We have to start on that road of trust-building so that we can trust each other enough to be able to solve the problem on the dialogue table.

What I am trying to say is in the last five years the Government of Pakistan has been very clear, every time we have been presented with the choice of taking a course of action or of chalking out a new course of action which leads to the future which we want in Pakistan-India relations. I am very satisfied with the fact that we have not fallen into the trap of domestic rhetoric or domestic requirements of politics. We have always created the pathway for good diplomacy and then the domestic rhetoric has changed. We have been able to do that. I give a lot of credit for that to President [Asif Ali] Zardari because, instead of falling into domestic compulsions, domestic politics, domestic requirements, he has led it [public opinion] by clarifying that Pakistani interests are important and we will continue to forge ahead on it. I give you two or three examples because talk is cheap but walk is not cheap, and walk is more important than talk. When this government changed the 40 years’ policy on trade normalisation with India, we got a lot of backlash. What did we do? We persevered through the backlash and made sure that the negative entity turned into a positive entity. Today there are many people in Pakistan who do understand the intentions behind it because what we are trying is to build stakeholders in others’ future. We are trying to normalise our relations on every front, enough to be able to build the trust in order then to be able to solve more important problems.

The agreement has not come into force, I gather.

It is a Cabinet decision which has been taken. We have to tie up the last few knots. Believe me, Noorani saheb, we have many many CBMs to our credit on our side and we are hoping for some CBMs from the other side also. Then you take the latest LoC incident.

If you forgive my interruption, I will come to the LoC later, can the visa agreement be fully wound up and liberalised? Why does a 65-year-old have to come to Wagha? Why cannot he present himself at the Delhi airport or the Mumbai airport?

I completely agree with you. This was the first step, not a good enough step.

But the agreement itself has not been fully brought into force.

Yes. That is what shows the compulsions and the restrictions on being able to do what you have said, because something as small as this has still not fully come into force. I am coming to the LoC. The LoC incident, if you go by the record or the stated claims because we believe that there was no beheading and no record of any of that to have happened. We believe that, if we believe the claims, there are two people dead on their side and there are four people shaheed [martyrs] on ours. Even by that token, did you see the ratcheting [up] of tension from the Pakistani side? Did you see the Pakistani government going viral on television screens against “India’s designs”, “India’s intentions” etc., etc.? You saw none of that. Because all of that was intentional. We from the Foreign Office ensure that we do not create unnecessary hostility, even if it was an incident that we did not appreciate. Nobody appreciates the killing of their soldiers. No country appreciates that, but we did not use that route because we thought we do not want any incident to come in the way of Pakistan-India normalisation [of relations].

Unfortunately we saw from the other side practically any level of provocative statements that may suit or not suit some statesmen or military people. We could have chosen a course of action in which we have reacted and tried to match up or exceed any one of those statements. However, what we did was that we chose to move away to where we were, constantly moving back to the dialogue process. We are constantly saying that we need to resolve this issue on the table; we were constantly saying that we resort to the mechanisms which are available, such as DGMOs [Directors-General of Military Operations]. Finally I said we are willing to have a dialogue with the Foreign Minister or any people you may designate because we understand that we are deeply committed and deeply convinced that it is neither for India’s benefit nor the Indian citizen’s benefit nor is it for Pakistan’s benefit as a nation or the Pakistani citizens’ benefit to have constant hostility with India. We believe very strongly that we need the regional lens to overshadow and be worn over our national lenses which are very, very important. If you are committed to regional prosperity and development and if you are convinced that your country’s prosperity and development are linked to the region’s development, then I would want the region to prosper, I would not want my neighbour to be harmed.

When do you expect the next dialogue attempt at a fairly big level to take place?

I can tell you, Noorani saheb, that we continue the normal course of dialogue.

Given the situation would you urge or propose a meeting early enough at the Secretary level or the ministerial level?

We are open to all options; that is what I meant when I made that statement we would like to resort to dialogue. First, there is the normal course of dialogue. We hope that both countries would show their commitment to the normal course of dialogue. If a meeting at the Foreign Secretary level or at any other level is required to propel that process, then we will be open to that. You will never find us short; you will never find us ambiguous or ambivalent. If you take one step, you will find us taking steps by leaps and bounds and, therefore, I gave a notice in the Parliament of Pakistan when this was taken up as the Leader of the Opposition referred to Pakistan as having caved in. We were not defensive about it. We said that this is the policy of Pakistan. If you consider it caving in, you might consider it caving in. But we consider it to be a commitment to a process for a dialogue and to normalisation of relations and that is a deep, abiding commitment. Therefore, one incident here and there cannot come into that.

MFN status

What about the MFN [Most Favoured Nation status]? It is stalled I believe.

I would like to believe that nothing is stalled from the Pakistani side. And this was not accidental, Pakistan agreeing to complete trade normalisation with India. It was a part of policy mechanism and we are still committed to this and we hope that in its time it will see itself through very, very soon. Frankly speaking, if there was no election in the next few weeks—as you know the caretaker set-up will be coming in the next few weeks not months—maybe I would have been in a position to give you a date and tell you that in four to six weeks it should be resolved.

This brings me to Sir Creek. Any progress?

Dekhiye, I think we are very, very keen to have progress on each and every one of those issues. We thought that Sir Creek and Siachen were very well placed, to begin with, to reach Kashmir. You know the road to a Kashmir settlement would have gone through Sir Creek and Siachen. I do not like to take a typical view or a typical position because it is very typical for any Foreign Minister of one country to blame another. That is not anything new; that is not refreshing. That is not even very innovative or anything to be proud of. But, unfortunately, I must say that in the last few rounds what we have seen is that, instead of trying to create the pathway of moving forward and the space to move forward, we have been just going back and going further away from the position that we had even presented before. So, it appears, and I hope I am not being presumptuous, it is not my place to be speaking for somebody else’s policy—as if the political view on resolving and the political committing on resolving these issues has been overtaken by other entities who seem to be more well-placed to hold on to the positions.

Are you referring to the Indian Army?

As I said, it is not my place to refer to [it]. I do not know if it is the Indian Army or the Indian Establishment or Indian politics or domestic politics. I do not know what the facts might be. But I can tell you what I see is a moving back from the already placed possible options that obviously cannot be gratifying to anyone or encouraging to anyone. For instance, on Siachen it was the Congress government with Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister and the PPP [Pakistan People’s Party] government with Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as Prime Minister who had agreed on a certain formula. Right?

Minister, do I take it that war has ceased to be an option and that war is no longer an option?

Noorani saheb, I am amazed. You might have much more experience than I do. You might have seen much more than what I have, but I think when we talk in terms of the future of this region and of India and Pakistan—you might be holding very similar views—I am amazed at people who have refused to learn the lessons from history. I am appalled at them and I look down upon them. I must say if we are going to be two nations which refuse to learn our lessons of history and continue to repeat the same mistake again and again and again and pass on the habit of making those mistakes to the future generations, then who is going to call us what is what I have asked myself. We have seen it ourselves, in 1965, 1971 and many other things here and there. Can we ask ourselves, have any of us been the better for that? I absolutely think that war is not an option.

War should not be considered to be even a remote option; but our moving forward, not only to improving the atmospherics but also the trust between the two countries. But for that we have to play our own [respective] roles within our own country also. For instance, I think I might mention, even at the risk of repetition that the PPP government under President Zardari can take the credit for improving the atmospherics for India in Pakistan. We have improved and expanded the space for this government to be able to do an intensive dialogue with India within Pakistan. I think that is what leadership is, that you take the lead in expanding the space to do whatever you think is necessary. That is why I am very convinced that the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir and other territorial disputes between the two countries need to be resolved. And why do they need to be resolved? Because if they are not resolved, then what I call the naysayers and the warmongers will not lose their constituencies. They will still have ammunition to throw at us and to be able to ratchet up the tension and the rhetoric that we have seen in the past.

Policy on Afghanistan

What do you think about our policies on Afghanistan, now that the Americans are set to withdraw next year? What do you expect of India and Pakistan, having divergent policies on Afghanistan?

You know, I would hope that we have come to a point of having learnt from history not to have divergent policies. I can tell what our policy is. The Government of Pakistan’s policy and the nation of Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan is that a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan is in the vital national interest of Pakistan. Now, the road to a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan does not pass through Islamabad or Washington or London or Berlin or New Delhi or any other capital of any country in the world. The road to a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan only passes through Kabul, what we call an Afghan-owned, Afghan-driven route to prosperity. I think one thing which we, the international community, should have learnt in the last 30 years is that no solution can be imposed upon a nation or a people, and Afghanistan is the best crying example of that.

We as immediate neighbours, of course, have higher stakes than India, for instance. I am just talking about stakes because we share an immediate border with Afghanistan which runs into thousands of kilometres. We, as neighbours, have huge stakes in Afghanistan’s prosperity and stability. We as responsible neighbours must promote and support whatever the Afghan people choose for themselves. The countries which are within the region but which are not immediate neighbours must do exactly the same. We urge that there be no divergence of views on Afghanistan at all between us and India or between us and any other country. What are we concerned about? We have heard about the proverbial Indian role in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s concern about it. Let me clarify that we are not against—in fact we support—any country, including India, playing a positive role in Afghanistan, a role that increases the Afghan’s stability, and its economic prosperity. We will be very much encouraging of that and will look forward to that.

What our concern is, and a very legitimate concern it is, that Afghanistan’s territory must not be used by any country against Pakistan. There must not be plans made on Afghanistan territory and financed by nations hostile to Pakistan which come back to haunt Pakistan. This is the way the Government of Pakistan looks at it. We are absolutely fearless about any country having a positive role in Afghanistan. We, in fact, encourage all countries to do so. I will give you a simple example. Recently, just last week or the week before that, I invited what I call the Heart of Asia countries of the entire region—Central Asian Republics Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, then, of course, China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE and also India. I invited the ambassadors of all of these countries to have a discussion on the region and on Afghanistan and how we can achieve more prosperity and development there. Yes, we will be fearful if any country designs negatively to influence Pakistan through Afghanistan, including India or any other country. You must have heard, when we talk about legitimate concerns, about what is happening through Afghanistan in Balochistan. These are legitimate concerns which need to be addressed. When we say that we want to move away from the trust deficit into a trust-building mode, how is the trust building done if we are not able to give each other the comfort that we are not working against each other’s interest? That we are not ratcheting up tensions in our own neighbourhood and in our own country? Really what this requires is a different mindset. This is not impossible, Noorani saheb.

Forgive me for interrupting you, Minister. But India also has concerns about Pakistan’s help to infiltrators into Kashmir. What do you have to say about that?

I always say that we cannot deny the lessons of history. But we have to be future-oriented. In being future-oriented I can commit that the Government of Pakistan has no interest or has no desire and has no policy to infiltrate anything anywhere. We understand that Kashmir is a disputed territory. However, we understand that the road to solving the Kashmir dispute does not come through such behaviour. We are fully, fully understanding of it and are fully committed to that.

What happened about the pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India?

A democratic Pakistan chose to do what was in Pakistan’s interest, what it thought was in Pakistan’s interest. We are, as you know, an energy-starved country. So, we will take energy from wherever it comes from. India has to really make its own decision, and when India got out of that, the project became slightly less feasible. But, because it was a matter of high priority and high national interest, we continued to persevere and I believe we are very close to be able to see it through.

Hostility in international fora

Minister, don’t you think we should abandon the policy which we both have, speaking objectively of opposing each other in international organisations, in regional ones? Don’t you think that it is time we had an understanding on that? We let Pakistan join organisation A where we are a member and Pakistan does likewise in organisation B where it is a member?

You know, Noorani saheb, what I am very proud of and I say it with great pride, because as you know we will be ending our term in the next few weeks, that in Pakistan Foreign Office today you will not find, you will not see, the usual talking points which are hostile to India. In every conversation that we have with any other country or at any regional or international forum, we have come a long way. In Pakistan we have truly come a long way because, I continue to say, it comes from a deep understanding that this is not the way to go forward. I can seriously tell you that we do not believe in hostile comments, and hostile innuendos or insinuations.

I think Pakistan is on its way to becoming a very confident democratic country whose identity is not linked to one which is hostile to another country. I do not want Pakistan to be a country which derives its identity by being hostile to another country. As you said, let us be objective. If you really look at it objectively, in the last 60 years both India and Pakistan have done a fantastic job in creating hostility and animosity in the minds and hearts of our people, against each other and in the world against each other. I think it is a flawed policy. I think it is a policy which should have no place in future generations. So I completely agree with you. I think that is not the way to go forward. When I talk about, for instance, inviting the Indian High Commissioner to the Heart of Asia Conference to discuss the region, that shows the difference and the change in the mindset that Pakistan is presenting.


I read in today’s ‘Dawn’ that a Bill has been introduced in the National Assembly of Pakistan to make the law more stringent in dealing with terrorism. It occurred to me that we in India also have such statutes. Why don’t we put our heads together and learn from each other’s experience so that we profit by your legislation and you profit by ours. Would you like to have an exchange at that level?

Certainly we can have an exchange at any level.

What about exchanges between the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis in New Delhi?

I think, again, that is a very good idea. The more the exchanges, the better. We believe that while exchanges at the political level are, of course, important, exchanges between parliamentarians are very important, because [it is] the constituency you need to develop.

What about military leaders?

Absolutely, that too, between them, between the military institutions.


Between the universities and between the students, between the traders, between businessmen, the more exchanges the better.

Publishers? Oxford University Press Karachi deserves credit because, at a time when the relations between India and Pakistan were in poor shape, Oxford University Press Karachi books could come to India through Oxford University Press in New Delhi, and Indians could read Pakistani books. Don’t you think that publishers should be encouraged, not merely permitted, to meet so that there is a freer exchange of literature?

Absolutely, certainly.

On archives also?

On anything and everything.

Human Rights Commission could meet and compare notes?

The more we meet, the more we compare notes the more we can learn from each other; the more the better.

Journalists’ delegations? Women’s delegations?

All of that.

Thank you very much, Minister. You have been very forthright and I appreciate the time you have given. Thank you very much.

It was a pleasure.