A Conversation With Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of Pakistan
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari discusses seventy-five years of Pakistan-U.S. relations, as well as the challenges of climate change, including the recent flooding in Pakistan.
TREVELYAN: Hello, everyone. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for your patience and welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. I’m Laura Trevelyan, the anchor of the BBC’s World News America broadcast, and I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion.
We’re changing the format a little bit because we’re running behind. We’re going to finish at 2:40. We’re going to start with the foreign minister making a few minutes of remarks, then he and I will have a Q&A, and then we’ll open up this to the audience.
So without further ado, I will introduce the foreign minister. He is himself a historic figure at the age of only thirty-four, which is more than can be said most 34-year-olds. He’s a member of a famous Pakistani political dynasty. His grandfather was prime minister of Pakistan, his mother was prime minister of Pakistan. They met untimely ends through different acts of political violence. And he now is foreign minister of Pakistan at a time when his country has seen biblical levels of flooding, as foreign minister. And as the U.N. secretary-general said, Pakistan is drowning not just in floodwater, but also in debt. So he has quite the challenge this week at the United Nations and beyond.
So without further ado, I will introduce to you the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who will address you first. Thank you. Foreign Minister. (Applause.)
ZARDARI: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Firstly, apologies for being late. I got stuck in your president’s motorcade. (Laughter.) I am going to throw out my written speech and just very shortly brief you on the floods. And then I look forward to taking all your questions.
Ladies and gentlemen, I arrived from Pakistan, and I’m sure you’ve been following the news. You’ve been watching television and seeing the devastation caused by the floods, by the monsoon rains. But I feel that the word “floods,” the word “rains,” the word “monsoon,” doesn’t quite encapsulate the devastation that we are experiencing at the moment. This is a catastrophe of epic, apocalyptic, biblical proportions. I’m sure you’ve all heard—we’ve all heard of Noah’s floods. And it is said that it rained for forty days and forty nights. Well, our monsoon climate catastrophe started in min-June and the rains went on, and on, and on till the very end of August. And when the rains did finally stop, a 100-kilometer lake formed in the middle of my country, that can be seen from space, covering areas of Balochistan and largely my home province of Sindh.
And usually when you think of natural disasters, whether it’s an earthquake, a tsunami, even flooding, the disaster comes, the disaster goes, and you deal with the aftermath. But more than a month on, we’re still in an active disaster. That 100-kilomter lake is still descending towards the ocean, leaving devastation in its wake. It was a third of the landmass of my country that was underwater. One in seven people effected, 33 million people. More than the population of New York state, more than the population of Sri Lanka, 95 percent of the population of Canada immediately homeless, lost, and facing—staring death in the face.
This is a compounded catastrophe, because we’re still in the rescue and relief phase of this flooding, but we expect one crisis to follow another. We are already seeing initial signs of various epidemics as a result of water-borne diseases including malaria. And in a time when we’re already facing economic insecurity, food insecurity, we had four million acres of standing crop devastated. We fear that two months from now, when we were to plant our wheat crop, that now will not be possible. So in addition to the climate catastrophe, we are also staring at a potential health catastrophe, food security crisis.
And on top of all of that, for all of you who have been following Pakistan must know, we were already engaged in very difficult negotiations with the IMF, and had just reached our IMF agreement, and were hoping to be able to enjoy a short space of economic relief. Now, that entire IMF deal with Pakistan, all the figures, all the
estimates, that too has been washed away by the floods. The guestimate—and I say initial guestimate because once—until the water recedes, we can’t actually come to a proper figure. But the guestimate of economic damage cost is close to $30 billion.
This crisis, this catastrophe is not the fault of the people of Dadu in Sindh, or Nasirabad in Balochistan, of D.G. Khan in South Punjab, of D.I. Khan in Pakhtunkhwa. Our overall carbon footprint, our carbon output, is 0.8 percent, but all of a sudden, we are amongst the ten most climate-stressed countries on the planet. I think officially we are number eight.
So, I’m here and I’m speaking to the United Nations and various different countries. I’m extremely grateful. I mean, the U.N. secretary-general came himself to Pakistan, delegation after delegation from the United States, including USAID, congressional delegation, and others have come and offered assistance.
But I don’t want to beg for aid or for dole. I want justice for my people. I want climate justice. We want to be able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods in a just manner, and every crisis does indeed also offer an opportunity.
We will have to reconstruct our lives, our infrastructure, our irrigation infrastructure, our communication infrastructure, and we want to do so in a better way, in a greener way, in a climate resilient way.
And I believe that this is the moment that Pakistan can now plan going forward to adapt ourselves to the increasingly frequent climate catastrophes that we now regularly face.
I must say that while the Pakistan’s People’s Party has been a leading voice on climate in Pakistan, on environment in Pakistan, and putting this agenda forward, we are focused on wind energy, solar energy—perhaps feeling that, you know, we’re not quite doing enough, but we’re at it. We’re working, sort of, in the right direction.
Now I understand that it’s woefully not enough, and we have to reprioritize. While we will continue to focus on green energy, our adaption has to be our main focus. We have to adapt to live in this new world, hotter world, where we will face increasingly more frequent monsoons, once in a hundred-year floods more regularly, and I can only pray that they’re not as apocalyptic as the scenes back home.
Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to taking your questions. (Applause.)
TREVELYAN: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for that update there on the flooding.
So, if I could ask you, you’re here at the United Nations this week. You’re having all of these meetings. Are you getting what you need?
ZARDARI: So I am encouraged by the sympathy, the solidarity, the support of the various—the government of the United States has offered. The United Nations secretary-general has put himself forward. You would have seen at the U.N., you walk in and he’s put a display of everything that’s—of the flooding disaster that’s happening in Pakistan. He himself in his speech called for action. He called us, invited us to the sideline meeting, and we’re looking forward to working with him going forward.
But as far as the assistance is concerned, the aid is concerned, the supplies are concerned, it’s all a drop in the ocean when you compare it to the requirements. Feeding 300—sorry—33 million people—providing them with shelter, providing them with mosquito nets, providing them with medical facilities through what is a long drawn-out process is incredibly challenging.
TREVELYAN: And as you said, there is now a second looking catastrophe. Already water-borne diseases are being reported. Malaria cases are coming.
What do you need for that?
ZARDARI: We need the assistance of the international community, of the World Health Organization. I’ll be meeting with Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, and other certain institutions because particularly in the affected areas where much of these people are, our health infrastructure, although not great, was there.
But it, too, is a victim of the flooding and the devastation, and many of our hospital infrastructure, our educational infrastructure has been damaged. And as I said, it’s the sort of climate crisis. There’s a potential health catastrophe, a food insecurity catastrophe, and given our economic conditions and the IMFD we were in, we are also looking at potentially an economic catastrophe.
TREVELYAN: The U.N. secretary-general said that you’re drowning not just in flood water, but also in debt. The U.N. secretary-general has suggested a new debt forgiveness mechanism. Do you think that’s what is called for? As you said, Pakistan may need $30 billion to rebuild. So how can you possibly make debt repayment?
ZARDARI: Absolutely. And I think it would be incredibly unfair to expect our people, while they’re drowning, to make these debt repayments at this time. We’re not asking for them to be sort of wiped off forever, but just given the priorities we have now, we’d be much better placed being able to use that money in immediate flood relief in going forward for reconstruction, rehabilitation. I think that the United Nations secretary-general has shown true leadership and has some particularly compelling ideas about how we can meet this challenge, one of which is his suggestion of debt swap, which I find quite compelling. For example, we owe a lot of debt to many advanced countries that have contributed significantly to climate change and they have sort of a climate debt. We have an economic debt for which we can do—I don’t believe there’s an actual mechanism in place, but what the U.N. secretary-general is suggesting is that instead of, at this moment, our repaying that money in debt, if we were to spend it on climate infrastructure, on climate-resilient infrastructure, on green infrastructure, that that may be—that may be a way forward for now.
TREVELYAN: Because as you said, Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 percent of the world’s emissions. We’re here in the United States which is one of the world’s greatest emissions. Do you feel that the people of Pakistan are paying the price for the economic progress of countries like America and that you are being impacted unfairly by climate change?
ZARDARI: I wouldn’t want to specifically point out any one country and I don’t actually think it’s a question of sort of, you know, rich versus poor, developing versus developed, north versus south. This is a global crisis of sort of everyone’s making and its solution is surely also global. There is an irony to the fact that those who contribute the very least are the most impacted by this crisis. At the sideline meeting for COP-27 yesterday, while I was putting forward Pakistan’s case, there are many small island nations who’ve also been devastated time and time again by such climate shocks, and the sad thing is that we obviously have to rebuild every time, but that rebuilding does come with its own debt as well.
TREVELYAN: You go from the United Nations to Washington where you’ll have many meetings with members of the administration. Clearly flooding will be top of the agenda for your discussions. But what else is it that you want to raise with the U.S. about the relationship?
ZARDARI: At the moment, absolutely honestly, whether I’m here in the U.N. or when I go to the United States, there’s just one topic on my mind and it’s these floods and the climate catastrophe that we are dealing with. I mean, there is nothing else that I would focus my attention on right now. Suffice it to say, in the sense, as I
mentioned, we’ll talk about the actual flooding, relief and rescue, rehabilitation, but then the health, food, and economic crisis as well.
TREVELYAN: And if we could talk about your neighbor India.
TREVELYAN: Is this opportunity—this tragedy, is it an opportunity for a reset? You mentioned that out of a crisis can come an opportunity. There’s not much sign of it so far, but could that happen?
ZARDARI: I haven’t seen any signs of it. And at the moment, obviously, our primary focus is doing whatever we can to help our citizens. India is not one of the countries that have offered assistance. But as far as my party is concerned, my prime minister’s party is concerned, we’ve long tried to create a peaceful environment with India and we’ve consistently been strong advocates for engagement and peace with India. What has happened, unfortunately, is that
India has fundamentally changed. It was once a secular country for all its citizens and it’s increasingly becoming a Hindu-supremacist state, not only persecuting their own Muslim population but particularly—a problem for us—is the Muslims in Indian-occupied Kashmir. And after the unilateral actions of August 2019, where they unilaterally tried to change the internationally disputed territory, subsequent actions to try and make the only Muslim-dominated region under their control, to try and convert the Muslims of that land to a minority in their own land, has made it incredibly difficult for Pakistan to engage. And now the onus is on India to create that space by stepping back from the extremist positions it took on August 2019, so that we can engage and so that we can talk. I honestly believe that the new generation, the younger generation—be it in Pakistan or in India—want to be able to live together as neighbors, in harmony and in peace.
TREVELYAN: You represent that young generation, as someone who’s thirty-four, who has five million followers on Twitter. You can be influential in so many ways. Do you think that it will be easier for you to confront some of the old, thorny problems that have bedeviled the Indian-Pakistan relationship since partition?
ZARDARI: I think that younger people do have the space and the sense that we’re not carrying the baggage of the past as much. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, even for those of us in Pakistan who have been strong advocates for peace with India and for engagement with India, the actions of August 2019 have really, truly made it incredibly difficult for us.
TREVELYAN: The United States seems to see India as something of a hedge against China in the region. How do you see the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Do you feel the U.S. is still prioritizing you?
ZARDARI: So I believe that our relationship with the United States stands on its own, and it’s not linked to any other country. We have strong historic ties that have stretched over many, many years. I believe that with the withdrawal in Afghanistan—and I’m sure you’ll get to that; it’s its own topic in and of itself—but this does provide an opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to engage on broader terms, and not just through the prism of Afghanistan. And there are a whole host of areas that we can cooperate, that we are looking forward to cooperating in, whether it is climate, whether it is agriculture, whether it is business. Your business envoy came to Pakistan before the flooding. And I’m looking forward to enhanced engagement with the United States.
TREVELYAN: Do you think it’s a Western obsession, the idea of girls’ education, that the Taliban must educate girls? So much aid is being withheld until the Taliban will educate young women. But from where you sit, does that seem right? Pakistan has not yet recognized the Taliban government.
ZARDARI: So as far as a Western obsession, no. I absolutely disagree. It’s not a Western obsession. It is—it should and is our obsession as much, the modern Muslim nations. I mean, particularly from a Pakistani perspective we have had the first female prime minister in the Muslim world, we have women—incredible women’s representation in our national assembly, in our parliament, sort of active participants in all forms of life in Pakistan. And I believe perhaps more so than the United States, the onus lies on Muslim countries, including on Pakistan but other Muslim countries, that we too in our engagements with Afghanistan should emphasize on the importance of women’s education and women’s rights. So I absolutely don’t believe that it’s a Western obsession.
But as far as withholding assistance, engagement, or aid as a result of this topic, I believe that is counterproductive. And I’ll explain why. I believe that it has been seen throughout the course of history, particularly in theocratic states or autocratic states, that when the times are tough, when the people are hungry, that they tend to grasp onto cultural issues, religious issues. And you see a reversal in rights. We are facing—the people of Afghanistan are facing a humanitarian and economic crisis. And the more severe this humanitarian and economic crisis becomes I believe, unfortunately, we will see them moving away rather than towards women’s rights.
TREVELYAN: So you think the West should give aid to Afghanistan because it will make the situation even worse in Afghanistan if there isn’t aid?
ZARDARI: A viable economy is not one that relies totally on aid. And whether it was before the Kabul regime—I’m sorry—the new regime took over in Afghanistan, the last—during the last regime, their entire—a lot of their economy stood on the basis of that foreign aid. So I’m not going to say as far as aid is concerned, but we should all work together—particularly the international community—to avoid a complete economic collapse in Afghanistan, for the reasons that I said. I honestly feel if the economic situation continues to get worse and worse, you’ll see less rights for women in Afghanistan. You might see a reversal to, heaven forbid, what the situation was like in the 1990s, with floggings and amputations and such. So it is in our interests, it’s in the people of Afghanistan’s interest, it’s in the interests of the women of Afghanistan that we all work together to ensure that their economy doesn’t face a total collapse, and we mitigate this humanitarian disaster.
TREVELYAN: I have two questions for you, and then I’m going to open it up to the floor. But the first one is just about yourself and your history. Your grandfather was prime minister of Pakistan and was hanged. Your mother was prime minister and was assassinated. Your father was president of Pakistan. This is an extraordinary political lineage. How does it make you feel, the burden of responsibility on you at this moment?
ZARDARI: There is absolutely a burden of a responsibility, and a legacy. But something that my mother used to always say, and I often repeat, is that she didn’t choose this life, it chose her. And in many ways, I feel that’s the same for me. It’s not something that I actively went out and sought at the age of nineteen. But unfortunately, following my mother’s assassination, I was propelled into this profession. And my memory of her is what drives me, what inspires me, is the drive to fulfill her uncomplete mission, as far as her belief in democracy, in human rights, in a left-of-center approach to our economic injustices. So that’s what sort of motivates us going forward, despite the incredibly difficult history of my family and of Pakistan.
TREVELYAN: As someone who’s both British and American, I have to ask you about cricket.
ZARDARI: OK. (Laughter.)
TREVELYAN: Because I see that the England cricket team is playing in Pakistan, after a bit of a hiatus. What is the global significance, though, of the fact that we have this cricket match happening? What does it say about Pakistan? What’s the message there?
ZARDARI: I think that it’s a fantastic message. And obviously, if we hadn’t been distracted by the flooding and everything else, this would be the biggest news back home.
TREVELYAN: For sure. (Laughter.)
ZARDARI: Back home, as well as over here. I think it says a lot. It says a lot about where Pakistan is today. That we’re not the same Pakistan from the sort of post-2001 all the way to 2013. And the issues of terrorism, extremism, sort of the almost weekly terrorist attacks that we were facing and the law and order situation, the difficulties that we were facing, that’s no longer the picture of Pakistan today. We have overcome domestically, to a large extent, the number of terrorist attacks that were taking place. And that’s why teams like your team is visiting our country today. So I think in that context it sends a very strong message.
TREVELYAN: Foreign Minister, thank you very much. I’d like to thank you so much for that. And I’d like to invite our members to join the conversation, both here and remotely. Just a reminder that this meeting is on the record. And we’ll start by taking questions here. Sir.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister, for your great comments. Appreciate it.
Twenty years ago my wife and I were invited to come to Pakistan for the wedding of a wonderful man who’s now the CEO of your second-largest bank. He used to work for me. His name is Shazad Dada. And Shazad was a wonderful colleague in banking here in New York. And just days before the wedding I had to call him up and say: Shazad, we obviously cannot come. His wedding was in late September of 2001. So he said, of course, you and Tressa (sp) cannot come. And we’re devastated. And I hope we’ll see you soon in Pakistan. Last week Shazad came to see me in New York. And he said, I’m always—I always want to come see you when you’re in New York. So can you see me? And I said yes. And he said, well, can you come to Pakistan now? And I said yes.
But here is my question for you: What should we expect or how should we educated Americans think about Pakistan’s world and center—if you can discern the center of its role and desires for a position with the United States, with Europe, and what we might loosely refer to around here as world order? Where is Pakistan now?
TREVELYAN: In two minutes. (Laughter.)
ZARDARI: First of all, I really do hope you get a chance to come to Pakistan. That would be fantastic.
OK. I think that Pakistan wants to be where we want to see Pakistan as a modern and responsible modern Muslim nation playing its responsible role on the world stage.
Given the crises we face at the moment—and this is my honest opinion even though we’re on the record—that this is not a time for the conflict and tensions that we—and tensions that we are seeing develop all over the world.
And it’s not just now. I really truly feel that history will judge this time, judge us all, for our conduct during this time quite harshly. We faced the existential threat of a global pandemic, the worst in a hundred years. We’re facing climate catastrophe that, more than a talking point, is a new apocalyptic reality for countries such as myself.
And what does it say about humanity that at a time when we’re faced with not one but multiple existential threats we chose, instead, to go to war in Europe? We see increasing tensions, unfortunately, even in our part of the world.
So the role I would like to see or my generation would like to see Pakistan playing, going forward, will be one of a bridge rather than one that divides or aggravates these divisions, and particularly in the context of my region, Pakistan, in the past, has also played a bridge between the United States and China, and even though things are looking difficult as we speak I do hope we can play that role once again because, honestly, what I would have hoped to see when we were facing the initial shock of COVID would have been the president of the United States and the president of China standing side by side saying that we, as humanity, will overcome. And, unfortunately, that’s not what we saw and it’s not what we’re seeing today.
MS. TREVELYAN: Thank you. I think we have a remote question now.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from David Fenton.
In addition to the unfortunate climate catastrophe there’s also a democracy catastrophe happening in Pakistan. Your government has banned two popular television networks. Journalists have been arrested and tortured. You’ve banned the broadcasting on television of speeches by Imran Khan, the leader of the popular opposition, whose chief of staff has also been arrested and tortured. This government of yours, fourteen members of the Cabinet are under indictment for corruption as well as your prime minister. So my question is, as someone who supports human rights and democracy how can you be part of this attack on the media, democracy, and human rights and why should we support it?
MR. ZARDARI: Thank you so much for your question. And that’s no joke, because Pakistan is not just in a democracy crisis right now and Pakistan’s struggle for democracy did not start a few months ago when Mr. Khan lost power.
Pakistan has been, and, particularly, various political parties in Pakistan, civil society, human rights activists, have been struggling for democracy and civilian supremacy in Pakistan for decades now and, as you’re well aware, democratic progress in Pakistan has been sort of two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back again.
We saw a fundamental shift in the right direction after the unfortunate assassination of my mother in 2007 where Pakistan made fundamental democratic reforms—constitutional reforms—restored our 1973 constitution, devolved power from all-powerful presidents and individuals to parliament and to, more importantly, the provinces or what you would see as states, and we saw a drastic improvement in whether it was media freedoms, the institutional functioning of democracy, the normative functioning of democracy. And I was very proud to say that despite having come from a family who’d been sort of the victim of the most brutal political repression in my country’s history—where my grandfather was hanged and assassinated, where one of my uncles was poisoned and assassinated, the second uncle was shot and assassinated, and ultimately my mother was assassinated in a(n) attack in Rawalpindi—I was very proud to be able to say that from 2008 and 2013, when my party was in power, there was not one political prisoner. There was not one—the media freedoms in Pakistan was at its height. There was nothing the media could say that we would—true or not—(laughs)—that we would undermine.
TREVELYAN: So how do we have a situation now where the Committee to Protect Journalists is very critical?
ZARDARI: I’m getting—no, absolutely. I’m getting to that. Unfortunately, usually, sound bites in thirty seconds don’t cover such topics.
So, after an incredibly long struggle, after people had given their lives, we created this balance, this equilibrium in Pakistan’s history for the first time, and we had one democratic government peacefully transition to the other. And they too could say that there was no political prisoner, that they weren’t victimizing the press. But
unfortunately, the powers that have never wanted democracy in Pakistan, never wanted this transition to succeed, worked consistently to undermine and reverse this progress.
TREVELYAN: Those powers being who?
ZARDARI: And the answer was Mr. Khan. Mr. Imran was a perfect symbol, a perfect individual to take forward this mission to reverse the progresses that we had made, which is why we had the 2018 general elections that the European Union, I don’t know how many observers at the time, all had stated we’re not only rigged but we’re incredibly rigged. In fact, all your media had cartoons of how Mr. Khan was brought to power. And we saw the cutting away of all the advancements we had made. We saw the pictures of political prisoners return, whether it was from my party, Mr. Sharif’s party, not only sort of the active men in politics but the women of their households, aunts, daughters, all taken into prison, and all these advancement that we had made seemed not only an imminent threat but at stake of a permanent threat. It was very—
TREVELYAN: But I guess the questioner is saying, what will you do to reverse all of this?
ZARDARI: This is where I’m coming to explain it. Don’t worry.
So in order to reverse the achievements that had been made, Mr. Khan was brought in, we saw our democratic institutions undermined. All your—the channels that you’re referring to being banned were actually banned for the first time by Mr. Khan. Journalists speaking on certain topics were brought into the loop of the law, which we would call victimization of the media. And that is why all our parties joined together for the first time in our history, rather than in a prime minister being hanged and removed from office, a coup and an exile, for the first time in our history we removed a prime minister through the democratic constitutional process of a vote of no confidence. And unfortunately, what we’ve seen following that was Mr. Khan’s response, inspired, I have to say, by events in the United States, and—
TREVELYAN: Are you referring to the former president?
ZARDARI: —and when our members got up we had the majority and we stood up in Parliament ready to vote, the speaker sitting in the chair, where your vice president sat on January 6th, declared that we are all traitors and our votes will not be counted, and we had a long, arduous political struggle through the judiciary that ruled that unconstitutional. Now, unfortunately, in the few months that the new coalition government has taken over, we haven’t managed to reverse all the precedents and norms that Mr. Khan has set into place.
TREVELYAN: You’re saying that you will do?
ZARDARI: That’s what we want to do, absolutely. Let me get there.
So whether it’s media freedoms, I absolutely don’t believe that any channel should ever be banned—even though, honestly, the channels that have been banned are—would make your Fox News look like CBBs (sp). But—(laughter)—but absolutely not. I am a firm believer of freedom of speech. And I could never support a channel being banned, a journalist being arrested for saying anything, no matter how outrageous. I don’t think—no matter how outrageous.
The unfortunate thing is that it took us thirty years to set those precedents into place, to set those norms into place, to set those institutions up, to ensure that there was no political vendetta, there was no media censorship. And Mr. Khan reversed that in the four years that he was in power. And it will take us time now to go back to the point where we no longer see these things happening in Pakistan. It’s absolutely not the sort of Pakistan that we want to be living in.
But for democracy to work, everybody has to want democracy to work. Unfortunately, democracy is fragile. And as you’ve seen here in the United States, even a 200-year-old democracy that’s sort of shining light on the hill for democracies across the world, one person stands up, or one party stands up and says: The norms are not for me. The laws are not for me. Starts undermining institutions. And even a democracy as strong and vibrant as the United States can falter. And so—
TREVELYAN: Can be tarnished. Now, I’m going to have to stop you, only because we only have a couple of other minutes.
ZARDARI: I hope I answered your question.
TREVELYAN: Certainly did, via a history lesson. We’ll take another question from here. Ma’am.
Q: Thank you. Maryum Saifee, Foreign Service officer. And I actually served in the consulate in Lahore in 2018 as spokesperson.
So I’m grateful for your leadership, especially around climate. Can you give more specifics on the climate agenda, adaptation in particular, and how to ensure it’ll be equitable and inclusive for those hardest hit?
ZARDARI: So at the moment there is no money available, nor is there fiscal space, nor can we able—nor are we in a position to even take loans for the necessary infrastructure that we will need to build as part of our reconstruction and rehabilitation phase. But what we would like to see, what I would like to see, is a sort of green Marshall Plan. We’re now—we’ve had such a—such devastation over such a large extent of our country. We have to rebuild anyway.
And when we do that, we hope to do that in a more climate resilient manner, not only to absorb the shocks that are to come but take this opportunity to—whether, for example, if we’re providing electricity to ensure it’s solar, to ensure it’s wind. And through that gap, to your point about justice, a lot of these areas are rural, impoverished areas of the country. So I believe that we can perhaps be the testing point, the pilot project for how to rise after such tragedies.
TREVELYAN: Thank you. And I think we’ll take another remote question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Krishen Sud.
Q: Hello. Thank you for taking my question.
With all due respect, Mr. Foreign Minister, you know, it seems a bit rich that comments about minority rights in another country come from, you know, Muslim countries that 99 percent Muslim and don’t have a lot of minority rights. But having said that, my question is more along the lines of, when is the next chief of army supposed to be appointed? And my understanding, and maybe this is a wrong perception, is that one of the issues that resulted in Imran Khan being pushed out was he wanted to influence the appointment of the next chief of army. Can you just shed light on what that process is also and, you know, how that takes place in a normal environment?
ZARDARI: Absolutely. Thank you. Can I put a name and an organization—
TREVELYAN: Krishen Sud, yeah. Krishen, can you say where you’re from?
TREVELYAN: Do you belong to any organization that would be relevant to discuss?
Q: Yeah. I work for an investment fund in Greenwich, Connecticut.
ZARDARI: Fantastic. I’m assuming that your comment at the start was referring to my comments about Muslims in India yesterday, and that it was rich for a Pakistani to talk or suggest that Muslims in India, the largest minority in the subcontinent, are treated unfairly.
My point in the talk yesterday was that while Pakistan still has a long journey to go and we want to see even now an improvement in our treatment of minorities in our own land, that persecuting minorities, vilifying minorities, fanning the flames of hate is not an active policy of the state as it is in modern day India. Actually, quite to the contrary, whenever there are incidences that undermine minority rights, minority communities or where there are people who do want to fan the flames of hatred and pit one against the other, despite our weaknesses and shortcomings, the state of Pakistan actively seeks to protect those individuals and those minorities. And I find it quite sad that in a country as large as India with such a large Muslim population you can’t—Mr. Modi could not find Muslim candidates to run in his election.
I’m very proud of the fact that particularly from my party, the Pakistan’s People’s Party, in our provincial government in Sindh we don’t only have reserved minority members, but candidates who run from Muslim-majority areas and are members of my provincial Cabinet. I have the first Hindu emani (ph), who’s run and won from a general election seat from a constituency in Pakistan, and he’s a special assistant to the prime minister. I have a senator, Ms. Krishna Kumari, from—in India what be called the lower the caste Hindus, but we don’t refer to them like that in Pakistan— and she is a member of my senate. And I’m—unfortunately, Mr. Modi would not be able to say the same.
As far as the appointment of the army chief, this is exactly the sort of issue that we had with Mr. Khan. He wanted our army and our armed forces and our intelligence agencies to serve as his personal political tools. He’s on record. He has admitted on television that he used our intelligence agencies to force coalition partners to come and vote on bills for him.
TREVELYAN: Well, I guess why the delay in the appointment is the question.
ZARDARI: There’s no delay. There’s no delay in it, in any appointment. Mr. Khan wanted to ensure that every appointment, whether it was in the ISI or whether it was in the army, were politically partisan associates to him.
TREVELYAN: And that’s not the case with your government?
ZARDARI: Absolutely not. We haven’t appointed anyone. This is an existential threat to our democracy—that if instead of being of service to the state of the Pakistan and commanders of our armed forces, they conduct themselves as a wing of the Tehreek-e-Insaf political party.
So this is an absolute—what would be and is a threat to our democracy. Even today when Mr. Khan campaigns, when he advocates in his—(inaudible)—he doesn’t say restore democracy in Pakistan. He doesn’t say how dare you remove me through a democratic means. He insists that the army and the armed forces and the intelligence agencies should intervene to bring him back into power.
And if they do not, then they are somehow in the wrong. This is—anyone who understands the history of Pakistan, for anyone who has watched our turbulent history and our struggle for democracy, they will understand how dangerous, dangerous this is for us.
TREVELYAN: Foreign Minister, on that note, thank you so much for joining the session here at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you to our audience. (Applause.)
ZARDARI: Thank you.
TREVELYAN: And I hope that you can join the Council on Foreign Relations tomorrow at 8:00 in the morning, where the guest is Prime Minister Mitsotakis of Greece.