Among his colleagues, Dr Shahzad Waseem is known for his graciousness and politeness of discourse. Since his affiliation with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2012, first as the advisor to the party Chairperson Imran Khan on foreign and diplomatic affairs, and later as a Senator in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in 2018, Dr Waseem is also known for his effective interactions with foreign envoys and visiting dignitaries. Currently, the Leader of the House in Senate, Dr Waseem heads the business of government in the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament.
After being elected a Senator in 2003, Dr Waseem was appointed as the Minister of State for Interior, 2003-2006. He has also served on various foreign affairs, interior and defence committees.
Dr Waseem’s debates in parliament are a testament to his expansive understanding of the imperativeness of the strengthening of national security, foreign policy, democratic ethos, and human rights for an inclusive and pluralist Pakistan.
I asked Senator Dr Shahzad Waseem a few questions:
Mehr Tarar: As the Leader of the House in Senate, what are the restrengthened efforts of Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government to bring dignity and nobility to the proceedings of parliament?
Senator Dr Shahzad Waseem: In the parliamentary system of government, the fundamental job of parliament is legislation. National and social issues are also debated in parliament. What is unviable is that if the government is working on something, the opposition decides to oppose it just for the sake of opposing, and to stop the parliament from functioning. Create such an environment in which legislation and healthy debates become unmanageable actions.
I’ll give you one example: the opposition’s behaviour during most of the Prime Minister’s speeches. The opposition creates a pandemonium. We understand that it is their right to protest and oppose. But I believe that in the matters of national interest and important legislation, the opposition should have a positive outlook.
Our intention is to have a constructive synthesis inside and outside parliament on important legislations. Electoral reforms for which the Speaker has formed a committee is an issue that is vital for the consolidation of democracy. Most of the elections in Pakistan have been considered controversial, their results rigged or unfair. What is required are reforms for which all parties are on one page. One of our proposals is the introduction of EVMs, the use of which will remove a regular electoral grievance.
We’ve reiterated to the opposition that we’re willing to discuss any reservation they may have about EVMs. Consider the proposal, bring in your own experts, have a debate on all questions, we will answer. But so far, we’ve not seen any positive response.
Another important national issue is that of accountability. The process of accountability should be strengthened. Whenever any legislation related to accountability came under discussion, most of the suggestions that the opposition presented were in the context of ways to find “relief” for themselves. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Khan our stance is very clear: we’re ready to have a dialogue with the opposition. There’re, however, a few red lines. The process of accountability should not be affected. We wish to institutionalise and strengthen the entire process of accountability so that Pakistan does not ever suffer the economic setbacks of the past.
Recently, some human rights bills presented by the opposition members were passed in both the houses—a sign of the constructive mindset of our government towards important legislation.
Our efforts to improve the environment of parliament will continue. Legislation should continue. And we re-invite the opposition for dialogue on all issues.
As a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, how do you rate Pakistan’s current diplomatic relations within the region and beyond?
Amidst several complicated scenarios, Pakistan’s foreign policy is moving forward with farsightedness, composure, caution. Pakistan’s foreign policy rests, fundamentally, on one point-agenda: what is best for Pakistan.
Our leader has his own standing internationally. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is known to the world for his integrity and passion to take the country forward. Globally, Pakistan’s role is now that of a responsible nation. Pakistan’s leadership is bringing forth a message of peace–internally, regionally, internationally. Imran Khan is an ambassador of peace. He has always talked about peace. He was called “Taliban Khan” when he said that the only workable strategy for Afghanistan was not a military solution but a political compromise, starting with a dialogue with all stakeholders. No one paid attention.
Prime Minister Khan has focused on the importance of peace even with India. Unfortunately, the hard-line, anti-Pakistan mindset of the current leadership is an impediment to start a dialogue on all our outstanding issues with India, starting with the fundamental one: Kashmir. The present stalemate is endangering the peace and stability of the entire region.
Prime Minister Khan, on international forums, is also speaking against Islamophobia, a subject that is of great importance to not just Muslims of Pakistan but all Muslims globally. Islam is a religion of peace, and Prime Minister Khan highlights that in most of his global discourses.
CPEC with China has entered a new level. Our strategic alliance with China is strengthening with time. Our relations with Russia have greatly improved. The April visit of the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation was one of its kind in a long time—a positive sign of the reshaping of Pakistan-Russia relations. Our ties with the Central Asian Republics are improving on mutual recognition of bilateral interests. There is an improvement in our relationship with Iran. We have a splendid bond with Turkey. The same is true of our ties with the GCC countries.
A special warmth is visible in Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia. The recent visit of Prime Minister Khan to Saudi Arabia was a very positive one. Based on the sentiments of mutual wellbeing, a future road map was formed, MOUs were signed, and strengthening of economic cooperation and restructuring of the relationship were discussed. We believe that Saudi Arabia has always helped Pakistan, and Pakistan has always stood by Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan is also focused on reshaping its ties, based on a convergence of bilateral interests, with the other global powers.
What is Pakistan’s official stance on the situation in Afghanistan? Whilst we attempt to be the bridge of peace and dialogue between the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the world, how successful have our efforts been, so far, in achieving this goal?
Pakistan has played a very constructive role in Afghanistan’s peace process. Whatever influence Pakistan had it was applied to make the Doha peace process successful. The US and the other powers have acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for peace.
Pakistan’s long-standing stance is that for a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan. We believe that there is no other option than a political dialogue and a political process. All military tactics have failed in Afghanistan. Now the various factions of Afghanistan should sit together to solve their issues. The regional and international powers should also become facilitators in peace; Pakistan has been doing its best in its role of a facilitator for a long time.
It is imperative that all major components of the Afghan nation—Taliban, members of the [now ousted] Ghani government, other opposition parties, and civil society, including women—have an intra-Afghan dialogue to make a roadmap for the future. Things in Afghanistan have changed so rapidly, the basic reason for that is the US’s hasty pull-out in the end. Pakistan’s stance, since the beginning, was that the US should exit from Afghanistan but in a responsible way, and that too only after the implementation of a strong political system to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a victim to chaos and bloodshed again. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The next few months are crucial. The question of legitimacy and the formation of the next Afghan government are very important. It is hoped that soon the Taliban and the opposing sides will sort out their differences, on their own, in a peaceful manner, and the foundations of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan will be laid. The world powers, without playing for their favourites, should support all processes of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
I will reiterate that Pakistan’s government has a very clear, categorical stance: we do not have any favourites in Afghanistan. We just have one wish that there is peace in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have suffered immeasurably, they deserve a peaceful and prosperous future. For that to happen Afghanistan must be stable internally.