Makhdoom Shah Mahmoud Quraishi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, hails from a well-known political family of Multan in Punjab province of Pakistan. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Pakistan has proposed to GCC states the setting up of a formal ‘security bloc' to combat any external or internal threats in the region, said Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmoud Quraishi.

"The strategic partnership will also ensure food safety, economic development and the security of the countries which will be part of the security bloc," said Quraishi in an exclusive interview with Gulf News in Islamabad.

He said that the GCC states have accepted his request to hold a ‘Pakistan-GCC Strategic Dialogue' in Jeddah next month to discuss the issue of a strategic partnership.

He said Pakistan and GCC countries can complement each other well due to their close proximity and common interests.

"This partnership will be a win-win situation for all as Pakistan is rich in food production while GCC countries are rich in energy resources. We can fulfil food needs and actually feed the GCC states by offering partnerships in the agriculture sector as Pakistan has a lot of agriculture land which can be better utilised with the investment and technology from Gulf countries," Quraishi explained.

Also, he said, Pakistan has a keen interest in the security of the UAE and other Gulf countries. "We will stand by Gulf countries in case any security situation arises. Pakistan gets affected if there is any security problem in any of the GCC states because millions of Pakistanis are also working in these countries and contributing massively to the economic development."

On whether Iran will be offended by this "strategic partnership", Quraishi noted that the initiative is not aimed against anyone.

Quraishi also insisted that India and Pakistan should stop levelling accusations against each other and resume their composite dialogue to settle core issues like Kashmir, as it is the only way to move forward towards peace in the region, said Shah Mahmoud Quraishi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan.

Quraishi, who has been invited to India for peace talks that stalled again more than two years after the Mumbai attacks, expects his visit to be meaningful and not just another round of dialogue.
"Though it is not going to be easy, I want to build a peace bridge between the two countries," he said.

Quraishi said he would ask India to include Kashmiris as a third party in the dialogue over Kashmir, as a decision on Kashmir cannot be taken without their consent.

In an interview with Gulf News in his office in Islamabad, the Pakistan Foreign Minister also spoke of his country's readiness to accept the State of Palestine, achievements in the war on terror and the emerging scenario in Afghanistan in the wake of the US decision to gradually withdraw forces from the country.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Gulf News: You have been invited to India for talks more than two years after the Mumbai attacks. What are your expectations?

Shah Mahmoud Quraishi: I look forward to my visit to India, but I want my visit to be meaningful this time. I have suggested to them to let us work out an agenda which addresses outstanding issues between India and Pakistan — because unless we address them, we cannot have lasting peace in the region. And we want peace and good neighbourly relations with India. My expectation is to make both countries realise that dialogue is the only way forward. And our issues can only be resolved if we sit together and talk to each other and look for a peaceful, negotiated settlement. We should resume the composite dialogue which was going on for the last four years but was broken after the Mumbai attacks.

What are you putting on the table during the upcoming talks?

We need to address our core issues, including Kashmir, because since June 2010 there has been a continuous expression of the people on policies pursued by the security apparatus in Indian occupied Kashmir.

Now a stage has come when even the Indian intelligentsia and the Indian media are asking to revisit the Kashmir policy. It is a political problem and needs political solutions, so I will urge my Indian counterpart to have a fresh look to address this problem. Other issues to be discussed are Siachen and Sir Creek, in addition to bilateral and economic relations.

How can you move forward when both countries are accusing each other of direct or indirect involvement in terrorist attacks?

Both sides should be very cautious in levelling accusations. It is easy to make the climate hostile but it is difficult to build bridges.

My visit is intended to build bridges between the two countries and the people. However, recognising the challenges at hand, it is not going to be easy to settle long-outstanding issues — but sufficient progress can be made.

But there is a complete trust deficit between India and Pakistan?

True. The point is, how do you bridge this trust deficit? By disengaging, we cannot bridge the trust deficit. The only way to do this is to talk and understand each other. Even if we agree or disagree, it will still be progress and the trust will be built gradually.

How do you think the talks on the Kashmir issue can progress? Are you going to give any new suggestions on this issue?

I am going to suggest that they need to engage with the Kashmiris in addition to Pakistan. The Kashmiris within India are very unhappy with the state of affairs. The economy and tourism in Kashmir are suffering badly due to the trouble. It is important to give them place in the parleys between both the countries as they are the third force. A solution of the Kashmir issue is not possible until Kashmiris are on board.

It seems that the current stance on Kashmir adopted by both sides is not helping to resolve the dispute? Do you have an ultimate goal — a solution?

Yes, there has hardly been any progress on Kashmir and the situation is not satisfactory at all. I do not suggest any solutions at this stage because it will pre-empt the whole thing. Let the discussions begin and let the situation evolve, let all the three players sit together and see what is doable and what is the way forward, and chart out a solution in that direction.

The Indian government is focused on the Mumbai attacks and refuses to move forward without achieving its demands. What's your take on this situation?

What happened in Mumbai was tragic and sad, and the government of Pakistan condemned it. But it has happened. There are other incidents which are sad and should not have happened, like the attack on the Samjhauta Express where Pakistanis were killed. And now the RSS has claimed responsibility in India [The incident happened two years prior to the Mumbai attacks].

If we get stuck in Mumbai first or Samjhauta Express first, it will not solve the problem. We both are suffering from the problem of terrorism. Terrorism is not a Pakistan and Afghanistan specific issue; it is a regional and global issue. We cannot deal with it individually. We need a global strategy and regional approach to solve this problem. I suggest to India to evolve a common approach.

There is a lawsuit in a US court against ISI Chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha accusing him of involvement in the Mumbai attacks. How will you respond to this?

The Government of Pakistan defends its officers. We feel that we can defend our case. We will contest it if there is a need to do so. If they ask us to contest it, we will do so.

 There have been conflicting statements on the drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas. It seems no one likes it in Pakistan but still the drones continue to hit. Is there any secret agreement?

There is no agreement, written or verbal, between the US and Pakistan. Let's look at the issue as it exists.

Drone attacks started in June 2004 during General [Pervez] Musharraf's time. Our government, in fact, has taken up the drone attack issue seriously on every political and diplomatic level. We have discussed how these attacks can be counter-productive. The United States argues that they are targeting enemies of Pakistan — the people who are creating mischief in Pakistan. They [US] also argue that they are helping Pakistan by eliminating those targets which are dangerous to Pakistan.

One understands their arguments but there are two issues of concern to Pakistan and I have pointed them out to the US. One of the issues is of collateral damage, as innocent people are also killed and that is of concern to Pakistan because they are Pakistanis. So the question is how we can minimise collateral damage.

The other issue of concern to Pakistan is that our country's sovereignty is violated. It is a very important issue for us. People on the streets have very strong opinions about that and we, as an elected democratic government, cannot overlook public opinion. We have to speak their language and address their concerns.

Why don't you just tell them strongly to stop the drone attacks if you really don't want it?

We don't like it but we acknowledged the fact that high value targets have been targeted successfully as well. That is why we have suggested a solution which addresses Pakistan's concerns. We have suggested to the US to transfer the drone technology to Pakistan and give Pakistan ownership of these drones and let the Pakistan military decide how, when and where to use this technology in an effective way. When we do it, the questions of violation of sovereignty will evaporate. The United States is mulling over it but so far has not said yes or no.

After drone attacks, do you fear that US forces may enter Pakistan to flush out militants as part of their exit policy plan from Afghanistan?

US boots on Pakistani soil! No, there is no question of that as there is a red line. The government of Pakistan has very clearly and categorically told its coalition friends that it is not acceptable. No boots on the ground. I think they understand that and they have amply said that they have no intention to do so.

Why is India's heavy presence in Afghanistan bothering Pakistan?

Afghanistan is a sovereign country and they have the right to have bilateral relations. Pakistan cannot grudge that and I should, as foreign minister, never grudge that as well.

India has contributed in financial terms to the advancement of Afghanistan's reconstruction and I cannot stop that. But we have to draw a qualitative distinction between Pakistan's role and India's role in Afghanistan. Their role cannot be the same as Pakistan. As Pakistan, we feel that we have contributed to Afghanistan brothers much more than India. We hosted Afghans during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, we hosted the Mujahideen, we opened our doors to Afghanistan. And we protected millions of refugees, and even today there are more than three million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.

We are contributing to Afghanistan's reconstruction both in financial and human terms and we share a long border, common religion, common tribes and culture — but India does not. Pakistan has paid a huge price for Afghanistan in human and economic terms and Pakistan is their best bet for a solution. If things improve in Afghanistan, Pakistan will benefit from it but if things deteriorate in Afghanistan, Pakistan suffers while India is far away. We are facing suicide bombings and killings due to the Afghan war.

Does it mean Pakistan wants to have a bigger role in Afghanistan?

We are not asking for any role. We did not play any role in the presidential and parliamentary elections. We are playing a role in facilitation and not telling them what to do.

Do you think the current political set-up in Afghanistan will be able to improve the situation in the country as the US-led forces start withdrawing starting July this year?

Yes, our view is that there is no military solution. It requires a political situation and we need political reconciliation in Afghanistan, and that is why Pakistan is supportive of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation. We have told Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, Chairman of the Peace Council, that it is for you to determine who to reconcile with because they are your people. You tell us what you want from Pakistan.

Why is there no clear demarcation of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Historically, there is a porous border or the Durand Line, and we consider it a settled issue. There are certain areas which are undivided because of the nature of the terrain.

What role is your Foreign Ministry playing to help Pakistan come out of the current severe economic crisis?

The foreign office helps in a number of ways. It created a Friends of Democratic Pakistan Forum (FOPF). At this forum, we are trying to solicit international help for projects that would help stabilise economic growth. We are trying to engage with other countries to enhance bilateral trade and investment. Through "economic diplomacy", we are trying to achieve economic stability.

But it seems that the FOPF has not had much success in its objectives, as most promises made to Pakistan by your "friends" have not materialised so far?

I would say yes. We had difficulties in the realisation of the Tokyo pledges. But things are improving and we have negotiated with the US and other countries. We are thankful to countries that are helping us. But our economic challenges are much bigger and we need more assistance.

We have paid a huge economic price being a frontline state in the war on terror, but the realisation is not there about the economic cost that Pakistan has paid in the war on terror. Look at the capital flight that has taken place and look at the investors' shyness due to the security situation. Pakistan needs a much larger economic package and that is why we are asking international financial institutions to be sympathetic to us because we are living in abnormal times. It is not business as usual for us now. We are in a state of war and this war is not of our creation. It is a fight that Pakistan is contributing to not just to save Pakistan but to save the region and the world. If things deteriorate in Pakistan and the country becomes unstable, and the extremist mindset is allowed to grow, the entire region is going to be affected.

Why don't you make foreign aid conditional on the war on terror?

See, we are trying to tell them how it is in their benefit to have a stable and prosperous Afghanistan and Pakistan. There has been progress, but we need more progress. There are certain things that have been promised but are still in the pipeline. The Reconstruction Opportunity Zone which was promised to be built in the troubled tribal areas by the Bush administration is still waiting to see daylight.

Why is Pakistan not as active as it used to be on the issue of Palestine?

Pakistan historically stood with our Arab brothers on the issue of Palestine. At times, people complain that though we have stood for Palestine, our Arab brothers don't stand with us on the Kashmir issue. But, despite that, we have been consistent in our policy and will continue to stand by our Arab brothers. Our policy has not changed on Palestine but today we are facing many challenges. We have a fire burning right in front of our house and we need to put this out first to be able to put out the fire at a distance. Our Arab brothers should understand what we are going through. Pakistan has always advocated the Palestinian cause and we support the State of Palestine.


Makhdoom Shah Mahmoud Quraishi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, hails from a well-known political family of Multan in Punjab province of Pakistan. He was born on June 22, 1956, in Murree, a hill station near Islamabad. An agriculturist by profession, he completed his Bachelor's degree in 1978 from the Punjab University, followed by his Master's degree in 1983 from Cambridge University.

During his political career, he has been elected a member of the Punjab Assembly in 1985, 1988 and 1990. He has also served as the Chairman of the District Council Multan from 1987 to 1991.

Quraishi has also remained a member of the National Assembly from 1993 to 1996 and District Nazim Multan from 2001 to 2002.