Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf Image Credit: Supplied

Composure. That is the first thing I notice whenever I hear Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf speak. He remains imperturbable even when asked the most provocative questions. He smiles, often laughs, seldom raises his voice, never loses his temper, and his responses even when scathing are perfectly articulated.

Dr Yusuf’s tone matches the veracity and strength of his words: contextualising Pakistan’s past missteps, present trajectory, and future roadmap, he believes in Pakistan’s potential. Pakistan’s tomorrow is peace, inclusivity, and prosperity, all intrinsically interlinked, and Dr Yusuf as an intrinsic part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s team is fully committed to turn big words into sustainable action.

Dr Moeed Yusuf, as Pakistan’s NSA, is one of those few people who I believe are retelling Pakistan’s story—truthfully, powerfully, unapologetically.

The resume of Dr Yusuf is so extensive and so impressive it needs its own pedestal. Dr Yusuf has served as Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning, December 2019-May 2020; Chairman, Strategic Policy Planning Cell, October 2019-December 2019: Associate Vice President for Asia at the US Institute of Peace, Washington; Fellow at the Frederick S Pardee Centre for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University; Research Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Centre, Harvard University’s Kennedy School; has worked at the Brookings Institution; co-founded in 2007 the Strategic and Economic Policy Research, a private sector consultancy firm in Pakistan; was a consultant for several Pakistani and international organisations including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Stockholm Policy Research Institute, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad; and taught political science and international relations at the Boston University, George Washington University, Lahore University of Management Sciences, and Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

Dr Yusuf’s last book, Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia, was released by Stanford University Press in May 2018. He edited Pakistan’s Counter-terrorism Challenge and Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in South Asia: From a Peacebuilding Lens, and coedited South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures and Getting it Right in Afghanistan.

For Gulf News, I asked NSA Dr Moeed Yusuf a few questions:

What is Pakistan’s evaluation of the rapidly evolving developments in Afghanistan? Although Pakistan claims that it supports peace and stability in Afghanistan and opposes an armed takeover, how does that translate into more than mere rhetoric? Will Pakistan be one of the first few countries to recognise a Taliban-led government?

This is not rhetoric. Pakistan has demonstrated its commitment and sincerity for peace in Afghanistan through practical actions. Pakistan’s role in facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan has been publicly acknowledged by the United States and other countries. Pakistan believes that only an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan can lead to a lasting peace. That is why we remain engaged with all Afghan stakeholders and the global community to push for an inclusive political dispensation in Afghanistan.

We are working with our international partners and the regional countries to closely follow the developments inside Afghanistan. We will make a decision regarding the recognition [of any new government] based on our consultations with the international community. We believe that disengagement of the international community from Afghanistan at this point will be a repeat of the mistakes of the 1990s. We can’t expect the outcome to be much better.

The world owes it to the Afghan people to remain engaged with the new government in Kabul, and not as a favour but in the national self-interest of all those who do not want to see a humanitarian crisis or a security vacuum that may again be filled by foreign terrorists in Afghanistan.

But we must be honest: is the world ready to do this? Everyone said that the mistakes of the 1990s would not be repeated. Now people on the ground in Afghanistan are asking whether those who promised much to Afghans in the last twenty years are willing to walk the talk. From Pakistan’s perspective, this is essential.

How does Pakistan plan to engage the Taliban?

Pakistan’s engagement with the Taliban is not unlike the world’s engagement with them. Being a neighbouring country, Pakistan has a great stake in Afghanistan and is investing its efforts for durable peace. At this point, Pakistan’s leverage is really the same as any other major country: assistance and recognition in return for coming through on the commitments made to the international community. In fact, one could argue that the Western powers that offer legitimacy through recognition and financial assistance have greater leverage.

Elaborate how peace and stability in Afghanistan would help Pakistan.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan will fundamentally benefit the people of Afghanistan who have suffered for the last four decades. As a neighbour, Pakistan has had to deal with the negative fallout of the Afghan war. Pakistan has been a victim of a war in Afghanistan that was not of our making. We joined the United States’ war against terrorism and suffered the blow back. We suffered more than 80,000 casualties, over $150 billion in economic losses, and millions of our own citizens were displaced.

No other country has contributed as much or suffered as much as Pakistan has due to the two-decade long Afghan war. The world must recognise this instead of asking us to “do more” and looking to use Pakistan as a scapegoat. The fact is Pakistan has already done “too much”. The failures in Afghanistan were colossal and internal, as the events of the past month have confirmed.

Pakistan has also been hurt by the spoilers in the region. The Afghan territory has been regularly used to foment instability against Pakistan by supporting anti-Pakistan terrorist groups that attacked our cities, soldiers, children, and infrastructure. We have even put out a detailed dossier last year detailing these facts. Unfortunately, the international community has chosen to look the other way while Pakistan has been harmed. So, the honest truth is that no other country has the same degree of interest in ensuring a peaceful Afghanistan as Pakistan.

Pakistan expects that durable peace and a responsible dispensation in Afghanistan will yield economic, political, and social benefits for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region. No war means more opportunities for economic growth, less refugees, and a stable Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there are spoilers both inside and outside Afghanistan. Those that have used ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan to further their geo-strategic interests against Pakistan are not friends of Afghanistan. They only seek to exploit instability in Afghanistan and are not invested in peace.

Is Pakistan working closely with China to give it a footprint in Afghanistan that will enable China to create a Eurasian linkage of the Belt and Road Initiative through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia?

Pakistan and China are strategic partners and have great economic ties. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the former has entered an advanced stage. In recent times, Pakistan has boldly enunciated its geo-economic vision—Pakistan as the melting pot of regional connectivity.

China is not the only country we seek to engage in expanding our economic footprint through regional connectivity. Pakistan continues to encourage all countries to invest in projects that will help Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the wider region.

The Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Pakistan have great potential to expand their economic ties. Pakistan gives them the shortest route to international water bodies for trade, and CARs have abundant hydrocarbon and untapped mineral resources that can help meet our energy demands.

Pakistan envisages a peaceful Afghanistan as a springboard for more economic inter-dependency through regional connectivity and increasing trade. This is equally important for Afghanistan as well.

We are very concerned that there is no international plan to sustain Afghanistan’s economy. Pakistan has been raising this issue, offering to extend our connectivity into Afghanistan, work on co-investment models involving the richer countries, and even offering special manufacturing units to utilise Afghan raw materials and bring Afghanistan the much-needed foreign exchange.

If I were to be honest, everyone seems focused on the here and now but not the strategic need for an economic plan. Pakistan will keep pushing because an economically unstable Afghanistan means a spill over of people and a greater economic burden on Pakistan that we are unable to absorb now.

How do you foresee US-Pakistan relations evolving in the short and medium term in the context of the developments in Afghanistan?

The US-Pakistan relations should not be framed solely through the Afghanistan context. Pakistan envisages a relationship with the US that is broad-based, with a focus on economic ties, climate change, energy projects, and cooperation on security and counterterrorism.

There are many areas in the context of Afghanistan on which Pakistan and the US have a convergence of interests. Both states want a peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan, an inclusive government, and an assurance that terrorism has no place in Afghanistan. Policymakers in both countries comprehend the consequences of a weak and lawless Afghanistan that will attract global extremist groups.

We have a promising, structured dialogue taking place at the level of the National Security Advisers in addition to multiple other positive conversations, but we need to build greater momentum.

Pakistan’s vision is centred on three pillars: connectivity, development partnerships, and domestic and regional peace. On all three counts, Afghanistan remains absolutely critical. For instance, our economy has now recovered, but for the optimisation of the connectivity plank, we need to connect to Central Asia. Afghanistan is critical for that.