Interview : Afrasiab Khattak on Pak India dialogue -by Jyoti Malhotra

Senator Afrasiab Khattak, President ANP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and former Chairman HRCP and member of Constitutional reforms committe chaired by Raza Rabbani recently has in an interview to Jyoti Malhotra in discussed Pak India peace dialogue, Terrorism and constitutional amendments. We are posting it for its relevance to the current phase of Pak India talks. (aliarqam)

‘We must not indulge in tit for tat’

Afrasiab Khattak is the president of the Awami National Party in the recently-renamed Khyber- Pakhtoonkhwa province of Pakistan, once led by Badshah Khan, and a champion of political leaderships setting the direction of the India-Pakistan relationship.

JM: The prime ministers of India and Pakistan took up the dialogue thread in Thimphu recently. What are your expectations?

We welcome this development. The truth is, there is no alternative to dialogue. We condemned the Mumbai attacks, they were a horrific event, but I also want to say that war is not an option between India and Pakistan. The resumption of dialogue will definitely ease the tension between us and lead to softening of positions. I don’t think our expectations are dramatic, but we are glad we have got over the Mumbai period.

JM: What aspects of the dialogue are you focused on?

Dialogue itself should be a principle of policy. We should maintain good neighbourly relations irrespective of the events that seek to destroy these ties. We should grow out of the transactional relationship that we have with each other, the quid pro quo, the tit for tat.

JM: But Pakistan continues to use terrorism as a war by other means.

I understand the anger in India. I request the public opinion in India to understand that these terrorists are monsters and are not controlled by anyone. People say the Pakistan army controls them, but they attacked the general headquarters of the army. Did the army ask them to do so? In fact, last year, the ISI headquarters in Peshawar was demolished in a terrorist attack.

JM: Do you fear that they could take over the Pakistani state?

They are against any modern state. Their success starts when states fail.

JM: The Pakistani political leadership is not able to confront this monster.

We are confronting it. Thousands of soldiers have died in clearing the Swat and Malakand areas. In fact, as many as 350 activists of our party, the ANP, have been killed while fighting these terrorists.

JM: Do you think both states should separate the official relationship from the popular one?

That is extremely important. I am a parliamentarian and we look forward to links with Indian parliamentarians. Political will is very important. We have to learn lessons from our past. Our geography and history must be reconciled. We have to compromise with each other. The visa regime should be much more relaxed, whether it is for mediapersons, for academics or for ordinary people, so that we can at least visit each other and get to know each other.

JM: What is the nature of this compromise?

Kashmir is the oldest issue, but there is also terrorism, which we must fight jointly.

JM: Will you take up the back-channel from where it was left during the Musharraf regime?

People in India have so much praise for General Musharraf. They say he was a one-window clearance for everything India wanted to do. But I want to say that there is a basic flaw in dictatorship, which is the question mark over its legitimacy. In a dictatorship, there is no ownership by society and its institutions. I would like to ask you, is there any institutional memory on the back-channel?

JM: Do the two governments have some sort of a document?

If there is, then we are happy to take it up from where it was left off. But the question is, what is it that we have?

JM: India is happy to deal with dictatorships because political leadership in Pakistan has usually been weak…

Unfortunately, democracies are messy, transitions are long and complicated and often contradictory. Dictatorships are not the only way of building relationships, societies and political leaderships. Whatever was achieved during the Musharraf period is unfortunately not sustainable because the civilian leadership was never consulted.

JM: Are you saying that India made a mistake in talking to Musharraf? After all, he was the man in power at the time.

What I will say is that the idea that it is easier to talk to a dictator is flawed. Unfortunately, many people in India still feel that way.

JM: On Afghanistan, has it become the latest sphere of rivalry between India and Pakistan?

Yes, the India-Pakistan rivalry has hugely impacted the Afghanistan situation. It is very sad that we continue to think of each other as rivals, instead of as neighbours. It is unfortunate that the zero-sum game continues, that there is no convergence, even when regional cooperation is the order of the day elsewhere in the world. Economic cooperation should be the key. That is what makes relationships more sustainable. Pakistan’s market is so much smaller than India’s. You should take the lead in opening up trade with Pakistan and you will find that as the major economy of the region, you will only benefit from this.

JM: Tell me about the recent18 th amendment to your Constitution?

This is the best news from Pakistan recently. The 18 th amendment has amended 102 articles to the Constitution, as many as one-third. It has significantly diluted the powers that illegal dictators like Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf accumulated for themselves. We have at last been able to restore the parliamentary and federal nature of the Constitution. Balochistan was bleeding under Musharraf. In fact, he ordered air strikes against the people in that state, but our government has considerably defused the situation. President Zardari went to Quetta and publicly apologised for what had happened there.

JM: What does this federal nature mean?

There is much more provincial autonomy today than there was ever before. Our Concurrent List has been abolished, and subjects like health, education, environment, tourism, agriculture and the social sector have completely been given over to the provinces. We used to have a Council of Common Interest with members from all four provinces. It was mostly dormant and held only 11 meetings in the last 36 years. Now, any province can requisition a meeting anytime, and there must be three meetings every year. Provinces can even raise loans from international donors, with certain central oversight of course.

JM: How does this compare with the Indian Constitution?

Ours is much, much more federal, there is no comparison. The Indian Constitution is much closer to the 1935 Constitution. In fact, when we were amending our Constitution, an exercise which has taken the last nine-and-a-half months, we constantly referred to the Indian Constitution.



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