A long and winding drive takes us to the residence of Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, located on an elevation in Islamabad. The elegant residence is far more sophisticated and plush than the home of his Indian counterpart. Over a cup of tea and snacks, the former banker and finance minister, projected as the face of modern Pakistan, spoke to Saba Naqvi Bhaumik for close to an hour both on tape and off the record. Full text of the interview, excerpts from which appear in print magazine:
India has called off the peace process after the Mumbai blasts and pointed a finger at Pakistan.
Terrorism in general is something we all have to fight. It knows no borders. The world has realised we have to fight this scourge together. It can damage all humanity today and tomorrow. The incidents in Mumbai are deplorable and the president and I immediately gave statements condemning this. The authorities in India and here are investigating and we have said that if you want Pakistan to help in any way all, please tell us. But I am sure they are at it and these things are complicated and need thorough investigation. As regards pointing fingers, with the investigation just having got off the ground, it is difficult to point fingers at anybody.
But your own president regularly talks about growing extremism and conservatism. There is a belief that Pakistan has become a jihad factory.
Pakistan is a peaceful country. It is a fast growing economy. The Pakistan of today and tomorrow is not the Pakistan of yesterday. But clearly we have lots more to do. People practice their faith no matter where you are in the world, and every faith has seminaries which teach people to practice and propagate their faith. So I think this is a bit overstated.
The events going back several decades to the war in Afghanistan and the take-over by the Soviets, changed the paradigm in the entire region. Young Muslims were recruited from all over the world by major powers and trained to fight the Soviets. The Soviets withdrew, the occupation of Afghanistan ended, and the people who brought these youth to take part in the struggle left faster than anybody. That was the sowing of the seeds of certain elements that felt disenfranchised, and wronged. And when everybody left, Afghanistan became a free for all. These fighters didn't want to go back and got refuge in Afghanistan. People in this part of the world are very hospitable. Even in Pakistan we had millions of refugees. We still have three million, even today. That was the seeds of Al Qaeda and the world started noticing what is going on in these parts only after 9/11.
Since then all of us have tried to deal with the situation, to look at why people behave in a certain way. The world also realised the intensity and globality of the challenge. And if you look at the history of the world, you will see that extreme behaviour manifests itself in many forms. And to link it to a particular faith or geography is, frankly, simplistic. There are root causes we need to look at. Being next to Afghanistan, Pakistan has had a fallout and has tried to manage it. The number of strikes in Pakistan has come down dramatically. It has taken hard work, and very good policing. Yesterday I had all the police chiefs of the country in my conference room down the hall. We talked about the mind-set that causes people to do certain things.
Do you dispute that there may be groups in Pakistan that hate India?
In my view the security of any country is the responsibility of the country. These are all speculative views. You may have a view about a country, but that does not mean you will go and do what happened in Mumbai. We are a very open country and people have many views. There may be people here or in the regions with different views about India but that means nothing.
You have been attacked once, two attempts on President Musharaff...
That was many years ago. If something happens in Pakistan, we tell our security services to find out, get to the bottom of it, investigate, find. We don't blame anyone else. Karachi has had so much strife: sectarian and religious. I have never been to Mumbai so I don't know the dynamics of the city. From what I've seen in the press, the Mumbai thing was different. Synchronised blasts in trains. I think the answer lies in Mumbai. I'm sure the Indian government will get to the bottom of it.
There's a lot of talk in India about the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and its current avatar, Jamaat-ud-Daawa. What is your understanding of these groups?
There is a lot of talk. We have said we will act if there is concrete evidence. These are people who have a view on Kashmir, always have. The LeT is a banned organisation. We don't see any evidence of their activity that is prejudicial. We've done a lot to transform some of these people. The Jammat-ud-Daawa did a lot of work after the earthquake.
You have met Manmohan Singh many times. Do you think he was keen on the peace process before the Mumbai blasts? Or do you think India was looking for an excuse to get out of it?
No, I don't think so. Look, a peace process only works when both countries see the benefit. Certainly, I can tell you about Pakistan. We feel that peace and solution of the Kashmir problem will transform South Asia, where more people live below the poverty line than in Africa. So if we can get peace, we will be much better off than we are. But I believe you must have a passion for peace. We in Pakistan, President Musharaf and I, have a passion for peace. I have yet to see this passion on the part of India. The real issue is that Pakistan wants peace.
Indian diplomacy complains that Pakistan hinges everything on Kashmir....
We think discussion on Kashmir is critical for sustainable peace. We have suggested several ideas for discussion. We have also pursued a broad agenda. We started things such as the buses, LoC crossings and the trains. We never stopped them either, by the way. India stopped them at some point. Then they said, let's start. We said we are always ready. It takes two to tango.
You don't think India is tangoing?
No, they are, but they have their own domestic considerations. Having said that, there is progress. We have just relaxed our visa policies. I think Indians also are included, as group tours can come. We welcome Sikh and Hindu pilgrims. We are trying to build bridges. Indians are also moving but things have to move in tandem. They move sometimes, sometimes they get derailed.
There's again focus on a nuclear reactor in Pakistan....
There's nothing new about it. The Washington Post just found out. Our nuclear programme is a reaction to India's. We only started our programme to maintain a balance in South Asia. We are not in an arms race. Our defence expenditure in the percentage of GDP is coming down.
Do you think people in Pakistan now believe in a clash of civilisations?
No I don't believe that civilisations can clash. But the gulf between various people is widening because of lack of trust, and fear. No religion preaches hate or violence. It is our responsibility to stop this or we would be doing a disservice to coming generations.
If India was to give you a list of terrorists would you act? President Musharaff has promised to help.
Every intelligence agency can give you lists. Let us talk and see what we can do to help each other. Lists are neither here nor there.