The Future of Pakistan-U.S. Relations: A Conversation With Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Janali Laghari/Getty Images

Foreign Minister, Pakistan


President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The World: A Brief Introduction

Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of Pakistan discusses Pakistan's relationship with the United States and the quest for peace and stability in the region.

HAASS: Well good morning. This is the Council on Foreign Relations. We are thrilled to be back after a hiatus of eighteen months, though I should clarify that. We never went away. We just did not have in-person meetings. So this is the first of what will be many this week and beyond. We’re experimenting, but the goal will be gradually, as it’s safe, to open up our meetings to more people in person. But we will also continue to have a virtual dimension. The most overused word, I predict, in the English language this year will be “hybrid.” And going forward for the foreseeable future and then some, our meetings will be hybrid. And we’ll have an in-person dimension as well as a virtual dimension.

I am excited that today for this first meeting, this first hybrid meeting, we are joined by the foreign minister of Pakistan. Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi is in his second tour as foreign minister of his country. And as you can see, Mr. Minister, we’ve got a few people here. We have many more who are participating virtually or digitally. The way this will work is in a few seconds I will step off. The minister will make some opening remarks. Then he and I will have a conversation. And then we’ll open it up to you, our members. And we’ll get it all done within an hour. One thing that has not changed is our punctuality. We want to continue to respect the time of our guests as well as our members, so we will begin and end as close to on time as we possibly can.

So, again, Mr. Minister, I want to thank you for coming here, for initiating the new in-person hybrid era of the Council on Foreign Relations. We’re very pleased to have you back on our premises. So, sir, the microphone is yours.

QURESHI: Mr. Richard Haass, president of CFR, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be back at the Council on Foreign Relations. At a time when we are facing several challenges of a truly global nature, the Council’s mission of promoting better understanding between the United States and the rest of the world is more relevant than ever. Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure that the recent developments in Afghanistan are on everyone’s mind. And I will share Pakistan’s perspective on them in due course. But I want to begin with how Pakistan envisions the future of its relationships with the United States.

I do not need to educate this learned audience on the cyclical nature and the historic ups and downs of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship. Our engagement has often been narrowly framed, dictated either by short-term security interests or the imperative to deal with a common challenge. We want to break out of this pattern. After the horrific September 11th terrorist attacks, Pakistan and the United States came together to decimate al-Qaida’s core leadership and architecture. Our cooperation produced results, leading President Biden to conclude earlier this year that the United States has achieved its core objective in Afghanistan.

Now that the U.S. military mission is over, we want to take our relationship beyond counterterrorism and Afghanistan, which of course would remain priorities. For Pakistan, the United States remains an important partner. The United States is still our largest export market and major source of foreign remittances. There is a cultural affinity between the United States and Pakistan, which is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. Talented young Pakistanis continue to gravitate towards American college campuses and Silicon Valley incubators. We have a large and politically engaged Pakistani American community that is a bridge between our two countries.

In short, we have all the ingredients in place to build a more substantive and a broad-based relationship that is anchored in trade, investment, and people-to-people linkages. As Pakistan shifts its focus towards geoeconomics, we want to re-leverage our connectivity infrastructure, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to enhance regional trade and economic integration. We see the United States as an important partner I this regard. Sitting at the crossroads of South and Centra Asia, Pakistan is a market of over 220 million people, with a growing middle class. Pakistan’s young, but exciting, startup tech culture showcases our untapped investment potential. U.S. companies, like ExxonMobil, have a long history of working in Pakistan.

With the government’s climate-friendly energy policies that are now tremendous—they offer tremendous opportunities for U.S. companies that specialize in renewable and clean energy. An economically strong Pakistan can be an anchor for stability in a region that has suffered through forty years of war in Afghanistan. Pakistan can work with the United States through the Development Financial Corporation to generate economic activity along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This could, in turn, help Afghan people rebuild their war-ravaged country. The Pakistan-U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan quadrilateral could be similarly leveraged to support Afghanistan’s postwar reconstruction.

Ladies and gentlemen, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was elected on a promise of delivering jobs, growth, and prosperity to the people of Pakistan. We knew that achieving such an ambitious domestic agenda would be impossible without peace on our borders.

Accordingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan offered that he would take two steps towards peace if India takes one. Our message was simple. Pakistan and India should be fighting poverty instead of each other. Unfortunately, India not only spurned our overtures for peace, but took actions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir that have pushed South Asia into a blind alley.

Prime Minister Khan had come to the U.N. two years ago and warned that India’s illegal and unilateral actions in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir would not silence the Kashmiri people’s cry for self-determination no matter what level of violence and suppression India unleashes against the Kashmiris.

This has proved to be true. Earlier this month, the death of Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani illustrated the cynical manner in which Indian occupation is being perpetuated. And they were so frightened of the moral authority wielded by a ninety-one-year-old freedom fighter who had spent the last decade of his life under house arrest that it did not even let Mr. Geelani’s family bury him as per his wishes. This was disgraceful, to say the least.

Pakistan remains committed to finding a peaceful solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, which is the main obstacle to lasting peace and stability in the region. It is up to India to break the impasse and create conditions for the resumption of meaningful dialogue with Pakistan.

But seeing the right wing religious frenzy that seems to have India in its grip under Prime Minister Modi, we are not holding our breath. We do hope, though, that the international community would not sacrifice the principles of freedom and self-determination on the altar of political expediency and the exigencies of great power competition when it comes to helping the long-suffering people of Kashmir.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stunning developments in Afghanistan have created a new reality and reset the regional landscape. No one could have expected that the Ghani government would fall so quickly. Once President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan kept calling for more vigorous international diplomacy in support of an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan.

We warned that if we do not achieve such an outcome, more instability, even civil war, would ensue. Pakistan also joined the United States, Russia, and China in the extended “troika” to explicitly convey our opposition to any government imposed by force in Afghanistan.

We urged both the Ghani government and the Taliban to show flexibility. While the Taliban were expanding their territory under their control, Mr. Ghani’s government was busy inciting hatred against Pakistan on social media. Unfortunately, successive Afghan governments found it easier to play to the international gallery to blame Pakistan for every problem in Afghanistan rather than looking at the corruption and rot within.

In the end, Mr. Ghani and his cohorts simply deserted the Afghan people. The expensively trained and equipped Afghan Security Forces were too demoralized to fight any longer for a corrupt kleptocratic leadership. Mr. Ghani’s final act was emblematic of how he had governed. He left Afghanistan to anarchy when an orderly transition had almost been negotiated.

The speed of the Ghani regime’s collapse proved that President Biden had made the right call. As both he and Prime Minister Imran Khan have pointed out, continuing the war in Afghanistan would not have changed the outcome.

Here, I want to comment briefly on the who lost Afghanistan debate that seems to be underway in the United States. First of all, the international coalition did achieve its mission in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida is a shadow of what it was on the morning of September 11, 2001, and the U.S. mainland has not been attacked again. These are clear successes, achieved with Pakistan’s cooperation.

More warningly, we are noticing some old narratives about Pakistan resurfacing in the debate. Let’s be clear. Pakistan and the United States shared the same objectives in Afghanistan, even if we did not always see eye to eye on how to achieve them. Pakistan should not be blamed for correctly diagnosing the limitations of trying to solve the political problem in Afghanistan through military means.

Instead of relitigating the past, we now have to look forward. Our most urgent priority in Afghanistan must be to avoid a humanitarian crisis. We should not add to the miseries of the Afghan people. Pakistan is already home to nearly four million Afghan refugees. The collapse of the Afghan economy could cause another refugee crisis at our border.

Since Pakistan cannot take more Afghan refugees, they will inevitably look beyond to the Gulf, to Europe, even to North America. It is in our collective interest to ensure that our actions do not make economic refugees out of Afghans who have otherwise no wish to leave their country.

Pakistan shares some of the international community’s concerns about the composition of the interim government in Afghanistan. But there is a new political reality in Afghanistan. As an immediate neighbor, Pakistan cannot afford to disengage, not least because of the evacuations of Americans, international aid workers, and at-risk Afghans that we are continuing to facilitate. The international community should hold the Taliban to their commitments on providing safe passage to those who want to leave the country as well as counterterrorism, human rights, and political inclusivity.

With careful engagement and persuasion, we may be able to nudge the Taliban in the right direction. Ostracizing Afghanistan proved to be a mistake in the 1990s and it would be a mistake now. An isolated and unstable Afghanistan would be exactly the kind of place that would lure terrorist groups.

Pakistan is already experiencing an upsurge in terrorist attacks by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Baluchistan Liberation Army, and we all witnessed the horrific consequences of the Daesh suicide bombing in Kabul last month.

So while we should expect the Taliban to honor their pledge and not allow terrorist groups to use Afghan territory to attack any other country again, we have to find more creative ways to elicit their cooperation on a sustainable basis. Caution will not do. Constructive engagement and steps to avert humanitarian crisis and stabilize the economy will be indispensable.

We should also be vigilant against regional spoilers who are opposed to the Afghan peace process and are, clearly, disappointed that Afghanistan seems to have averted a long and bloody civil war for now.

In the final analysis, an inclusive end state in Afghanistan remains the international community’s best counterterrorism investment. We should continue to pursue it. I thank you.

HAASS: Thank you, Mr. Minister. And as I said, I’ll begin with a few questions, and then we’ll open it up to our members.

Since, understandably, a lot of what you said dealt with Afghanistan, why don’t I start there as well? Then we can move on to some other things. How does Pakistan view the Taliban victory? And to what extent does Pakistan, quote/unquote, “take credit” for it? What are you—how important or significant do you see your role having been over the decades?

QURESHI: What you want to know is, are we taking credit for their takeover? (Laughs.) Certainly not. Their ascendency, in my view, is primarily the failure of the regime that was in office over there. You cannot remain oblivious to what’s going on. Let’s being with the elections. Elections were held and they became controversial. You saw two presidents being sworn in on the same day. You are not unaware of the squabbling within the government. You are not unaware of the misgovernance, the ineptitude, and the corruption that was associated with that regime. Their failures, in my view, gave Taliban the ascendency that they have today

What are people in Afghanistan looking for? In my view, they are tired of fighting. They’ve seen conflict—continuous conflict for forty years. And they yearn for peace. So anyone that can give them hope and peace, they will be willing to engage with that authority. Unfortunately, the regime—the Ashraf Ghani government—failed and lost credibility in the people. And you saw when they were moving from province to province, there was no resistance from the people.

HAASS: There are those who say that the Taliban could not have won a military victory over the years without a physical sanctuary in Pakistan. What is your reaction to that assessment?

QURESHI: Pakistan—you know, who would know Afghanistan better than you? You know, you’ve studied Afghanistan. You have written about Afghanistan. And you’re an authority on Afghanistan. I recognize that. But let’s reflect back. When did the Afghans move into Pakistan? You know, it was, you know, when the Soviets moved in. And then we had to—we had to shelter them. And we sort of hosted them. It’s a lot, over four million are still hosted in Pakistan. But the Afghans that you—the Taliban that you see today—I lost the train—the question was, again? Can you just—

HAASS: About those who attribute what has happened in no small part because of the physical sanctuary that the Taliban enjoyed.

QURESHI: Yeah. OK. Right. Now, the sanctuaries that people talk about, what did Pakistan do? Pakistan has done its bit. If you look at the operations that we carried out, from Swat right into areas that many in the West felt we would never move into, we cleansed them. We cleansed them. We did everything possible. Border management, I remember, was a big issue, you know, whenever there were, you know, the U.S.-Pakistan talks. You know, border management was high on the agenda. We fenced the border, despite opposition, through our resources. We tried to introduce, you know, a biometric system over there to regulate the border. And we cleansed our areas.

These sanctuaries are in fact—if you are concerned about sanctuaries, then you should look into Afghanistan. Those sanctuaries were pointed out by Pakistan to the Afghani government. Here they are, right in front of you. Afghan soil is being against Pakistan. And you’re doing nothing about it.

HAASS: Are you worried that could continue in the future? That in a sense Afghanistan—that the Taliban, or elements of the Taliban—because it’s hard to speak about the Taliban as though it’s a singular entity—that elements of the Taliban will see what they’ve accomplished not as an end, but as a way station? And some of them will not be satisfied unless they radicalize Pakistan? Are you worried that Afghanistan could become a sanctuary and a base of operations against Pakistan?

QURESHI: Depends how you deal with Afghanistan today. This is the critical moment. If the international community disengages, if you do not deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis that is in the making, if you let the Afghan economy collapse and you continue with the freeze, Afghan money not being allowed to use for Afghans, then you will be creating space for those elements that we collectively agreed to fight and defeat. We did our bit. The Pakistan Army and the people of Pakistan, you know, collectively resolved on a national action plan. And that is, I think, a success story that many have not talked about. How we cleansed our areas, how we amalgamated that erstwhile FATA into mainstream, how schools are functioning there, how markets are there, how cricket is being played in areas that were sort of—you couldn’t dream of stepping in.

We’ve done our bit. The focus should be across the border. And that is where I think we have to partner. And here Pakistan is ready to partner on counterterrorism, with the United States and with the West, to ensure that there are more sanctions. Now, coming to what the Taliban have said, their initial statement has been that we will not allow our soil to be used against Pakistan or any other country. I hope they stand by that, and they live up to it.

HAASS: If I were an outsider—you talked about the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Afghanistan. You’ve got large numbers of internally displaced people, potential refugees. Already, though, we’re seeing signs that, how would I put it, it does not appear the Taliban 2.0 seems to be fundamentally different than Taliban 1.0. We see what they’re doing on human rights, on education, on women. How is the world supposed to deal with the humanitarian needs of Afghanistan, but at the same time place conditions—or strings, to put it bluntly—on aid in order to encourage certain kinds of behavior, be it on terrorism or on human rights. How do you—how does Pakistan plan to deal with that dilemma?

QURESHI: The question is, Richard, first of all, what we have in Afghanistan is a new reality. I think the sooner the world reconciles to this new reality, the better it will be in taking the correct decisions. Right. There was ample time and opportunity to get rid of them. You know, twenty years of investment, three hundred thousand well-equipped and trained Afghan National Security Forces. They melted away. And you saw that. Now, here we are. How do we deal with them is the question.

We have limited choice. We are neighbors. You have the luxury of disengagement. You know, you had the choice of leaving. Do we? We don’t. So we have to deal with that reality, and I think the sooner you realize and deal with that reality, it will be better now.

How do we expect a positive attitude from the Taliban? Can we get it through intimidation? Can we—could we force them? That was tried. It didn’t work. So if it didn’t work, let’s be more innovative. Let us see if they can be incentivized to behave differently. Now, they also have to realize that their role has changed. They’re no longer fighters. They have said we have declared end of war. If they have, they’re in a new position. They’re governors and they have to provide governance, and if they have to provide governance, then they need support of the international community.

Now, the international community is saying we will judge you by certain standards. I hope they can listen to that. We as neighbors will do our best to persuade them that it is in their interest, it is in Afghanistan’s interest to adopt a more inclusive approach. Afghanistan has changed in the last 20 years. You cannot say women will not go to school. They will go to school. They want to go to school. How can you stop them, you know? (Laughs.) And you talk of Islamic values, then people will—(inaudible)—next door. Aren’t girls going to school, college, university in Pakistan, in other Muslim countries? So where does the Sharia law—where does Sharia law prohibit, you know, girls working, going to school, you know, leading a normal life? If that is what religion says, that is what the world expects, you have to behave differently.

So far, the initial indications are—I can’t speak for them, but I can hope and I pray that they are smart enough to understand what is in their interest. In my view, their interest is to open up, to respect international opinion and international norms. And if they do that, you know, they’ll find it easier for themselves.

HAASS: That is for sure. If they were to do it, they would find it easier. I think the big question is, are they likely to do it?

Let me put three other topics—

QURESHI: Let’s wait. It’s too early. It’s too early to make a value judgment. Let’s not shun them away. And let’s not blindly trust them.

HAASS: I agree. Let’s test them, and I think some form of—you talked about creative ways, conditional engagement, constructive engagement. I think that is likely to be the policy going forward, that they’ll be asked to meet certain behavioral standards and then reactions will depend on it.

Let me just quickly put three other—

QURESHI: Can I just come in here?

HAASS: Yes, sir.

QURESHI: If you look at the way now—the immediate challenge when they took over was evacuation. How did they behave? Were they positive? In my view, they were not obstructive, you know, in letting foreign nationals leave Afghanistan. Now, that’s different. Did they, like in the past, you know—you know, the behavior was noticeably different when they said we will protect embassies and, you know, they should be, you know—we should respect, you know, their, you know, their premises and not violate those things. But that is somewhat different from the past.

HAASS: Again, one subject I want to put out there is U.S.-Pakistan relations. I doubt you would disagree with me if I described it as a history of intermittent and mutual disappointment, those of us who have worked on it from our respective sides. Where do you see now, going forward, that can be changed? Where do you see any opportunities in U.S.-Pakistani relations? Together we’re what, 550 million people? Pakistan now has a population two-thirds that of the United States. What can we build on?

QURESHI: There’s a lot to build on. There are lots of values that we share. You know, we are a democracy; so are you. You believe in a market economy and you are supportive of, you know, private-sector-leading growth; so are we. You are interested in peace and stability in the region; so are we. Right? So there are lots of commonalities. The question is, let’s sit back and reflect: When Pakistan and the United States, whenever in history, whenever they’ve worked together, has it worked to our mutual advantage? In my view, it has. Whenever we’ve turned away from each other, you know, we’ve not helped each other. I think U.S. could make a strategic mistake by pushing Pakistan away. It was a mistake to abandon Afghanistan in the ’90s. It would be a mistake to not have a continued working relationship with an ally that has been with you for over seven decades.

What are we asking for? We’re not asking for any assistance. We’re not asking for any, you know, a dole-out. No. What we’re saying is we are offering opportunities of investment. If they make economic sense, come and take advantage of that. We can trade. There are investment opportunities. Here is Pakistan placed, you know, at a location which can be advantageous to many of your companies. And there is a shift in our focus. We are focusing on geoeconomics, on geopolitics. Now, that’s a huge shift in mindset. If the U.S. is not reading that then they’re certainly missing something. This is a significant shift and they should take advantage of. Here is a new—you know, land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asian republics, you know, that have a lot to offer. And Pakistan can be the hub of that economic activity. So take economic decisions and engage with Pakistan in mutual interests.

HAASS: One issue that we don’t see eye to eye is China, and U.S.-Chinese relations have deteriorated in recent years. There’s now bipartisan, a large bipartisan—

QURESHI: Not on account of us.

HAASS: Pardon me?

QURESHI: We’re not responsible for that deterioration.

HAASS: I’m not accusing you of that. I’m not suggesting that. I would say Xi Jinping has done just fine on his own. The question is, many other countries in Asia—Australia just joined a new grouping with the U.K. and the U.S.; India is participating with Japan and Australia in the Quad. Pakistan looks like, in some ways, the odd man out. Vietnam is obviously concerned about China. What is your perception of Xi Jinping’s China, and why do you seem to be more comfortable with Chinese power, less willing to criticize China than others?

QURESHI: They have been supportive. They have been consistent. When the world turned away, they never turned away. They have, over the years, built a relationship and they have built credibility. There’s trust. The people in Pakistan trust what they say. They have said they have never let us down; through thick and thin they stood with us. They’re our neighbors. And they have been supportive. You know, when we ask the United States to play a constructive role in the interest of peace and stability of the region, what’s your answer? It’s a bilateral matter. You know, you sort it out amongst themselves, India, Pakistan. We say we want to focus on economic security of Pakistan. We want to live in peace with our eastern neighbor. Can you play a role? Can you play the role of a facilitator, of a mediator? You say, sorry, we can’t.

So what—isn’t that disappointing people in Pakistan? When we say that we have taken concrete steps in addressing important issues like money laundering, like terror financing. And we’re in agreement with that, with you, you know, on the direction we should take. You talk to your leadership, you make promises, and maybe get back—you know, when we get feedback from our people who are engaging, you know, on FATF. You know, we find the U.S. playing a very—not hostile, but a very difficult role. Not even recognizing the steps we have taken. So what do you expect the people of Pakistan to—how would they respond to that?

HAASS: I will resist the temptation to answer on behalf of the United States and put one other issue on the table you mentioned, which is India. Can Pakistan and India—can your relationship improve if the situation over Kashmir does not change? Is that—to what extent does that remain not just a problem, but an obstacle to any sort of improvement in Indo-Pakistan relations?

QURESHI: Well, we certainly want our relationship to improve. We certainly want our relationship to improve because, as I said, our agenda, our focus is on, you know, fixing our economy, investing in people, improving social indicators in the country. We can only do that if we have peace, you know, on our borders. The question is there are outstanding issues. How do we resolve them? Can we wish them away? We can’t. We need to resolve them. We need to address them. How do we address them? Through a dialogue, through meaningful dialogue.

If India if is shying away from dialogue and the issue remains, if they continue with the atrocities that they are committing—and, believe you me, you know, you are advocates of human rights. Look at the human right violations that are taking place right now in Jammu and Kashmir. And we’ve just—you know, we’ve just shared with the international community a new dossier with evidence on how human rights are being trampled. We talk about human rights, but then we have selected application of human rights. That is important. If that can be addressed, if the human grievances in Jammu and Kashmir can be taken into account, and if there is a let up over there, yes.

You know, they want their statehood restored. And when Prime Minister Modi invited their leadership—there was engagement with them previously, the former coalition government, with them. They said, listen, what you’ve done on the 5th of August is unacceptable, across the board. We’re not saying that. People who have been in coalition governments with Delhi are saying: This is unacceptable. So if you revisit that, we are willing to sit and talk and normalize. Understanding that there are some difficult issues, it will—they will take time. But then let people breathe.

HAASS: But is that—are you saying that’s a precondition to normalization or dialogue? Or you want that to be the subject of the dialogue?

QURESHI: What I’m saying is they have vitiated the climate, and they should create a conductive environment for us to sit and talk.

HAASS: Again, I will resist the temptation to follow up. I want to get the members involved in the conversation. So I think, Carrie, are we going to take the first virtual or the first physical? And this is on the record. We’ll take one virtual, then we’ll come to people in the room. And just remind everybody, including the minister and yourselves, that this is on the record. Anything you say can and will be used against you. So let’s get a virtual question from digital land.

OPERATOR: We will take our first virtual question from Razi Hashmi.

Q: Good morning and as-salaam alaikum, foreign minister. My name is Razi Hashmi. I am a term member with the Council on Foreign Relations. And I cover South Asia in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department.

So freedom for religious minorities in Pakistan continues to be a challenge with the continued enforcement and abuse of blasphemy laws, persecution and denial of the rights of groups like Ahmadi Muslims, and growing number of forced abductions, marriages, and conversions of Hindu women and girls. Authorities imprisoned approximately eighty individuals—

HAASS: Is there a question? We got to get to a question.

Q: Yes. You spoke earlier about selective application for human rights. So what is the government doing to protect religious minorities and reform the laws that may restrict their practice? Thank you.

QURESHI: We are sensitive to what you said. We recognize that the Christian minority, the Hindu minority, and the Sikhs, and others in Pakistan have played a very constructive, very positive role. There are—there are no laws in the country that discriminate against them. You referred to the blasphemy law. If you look at the cases registered on that law, the bulk of the cases are against Muslims and not minorities. To give you an example, one of the members of the party of Prime Minister Imran Khan, when he—when we found out that he was involved in a forced conversion, we threw him out of the party. So we are sensitive to these rights. And the constitution guarantees fundamental rights. And we are clear that we need to protect our minorities. And an example of that is the Kartarpur initiative that we talked—the corridor that we opened up, you know, for the Sikhs to come and, you know, visit one of their holiest sites.

HAASS: OK. Let’s—sir, here in the room. Hard for me to get people’s names with the masks. And I apologize if I know you and I can’t see who—tell who it is. I apologize.

Q: Hi. It’s Krishen Sud. I’m a member of CFR as well.

Two quick questions. One—

HAASS: So just do one. We’ll do one.

Q: OK. Just one question. Prime Minister Khan said after the fall of the government in Afghanistan that the country has been freed from the shackles of slavery. What does that mean?

QURESHI: He was quoted out of context. What he was talking about—he was addressing a seminar that was talking about a new curriculum that we had introduced. We had—you know, we had an English medium and an Urdu medium set up. And we realized that there were two strains—you know, two different kinds of educational system in the country and we need to—need to unify that. So what he was saying was that slavery is up here. To get away from the shackles of slavery, you have to make people mentally independent. It was in that context, and it was misquoted, and they linked it to Afghanistan.

HAASS: We’re going to ping-pong a little bit between the virtual and the physical, I’m told. Is that right, Carrie? OK. In which case, we’ll do one—another virtual at this point.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next virtual question from Mansoor Shams.

Q: Hello. My name is Mansoor Shams and I’m the founder of

I’m an American Muslim, a former U.S. Marine, and I was born in Karachi. Like you, I’m concerned with Kashmir, the crisis there and the human rights violations. But I wonder why you have not consistently condemned the human rights abuses of all Muslim minorities. For example, you have not said anything publicly about the mass detainment camps of the Uighur Muslims in China or the ongoing struggles of Ahmadi Muslims to include many non-minority groups in Pakistan. Doesn’t all this make it harder to be taken seriously, especially when asking the international community for help? Thank you.

QURESHI: Well, we have not been ignorant of developments that you have referred to. Then there are different approaches with different relationships. The relationship that we have with China is such that we can take up issues, and we do take up issues, in a very frank, candid manner. But it is done through diplomatic channels and not through media communication.

HAASS: So, just so I understand that, so privately you have raised concerns about the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs with the Chinese government? And you have—you have made clear you have concerns?

QURESHI: We have sensitized them. Yes, we have.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am.

Q: Hi. Masuda Sultan, Symbio Investment.

I’m an Afghan American and I’ve been working on Afghan issues for the past twenty-plus years. You rightfully mentioned girls’ education. And we talked about Taliban’s behavior and the need to come up to world standards. We hear that girls in primary school are beginning to go to school. We hear that university students—private university students are going to school, women. But that girls in grades seven to twelve have not yet begun their studies, that the Taliban are promising that this will happen, and we’re reading about it. And my question to you is, A, do you think that they will deliver on that promise? And, B, we’re hearing that teachers’ salaries are not being paid. And can you tell us if Pakistan has any ideas about how to engage on that issue so that teacher salaries can get paid.

QURESHI: I got the question. Ma’am, to begin with, if they’re allowing girls to go to university and open up primary schools, that means conceptually they’ve accepted that women and girls have a right to education. That’s a good step. That’s a positive step. Why haven’t secondary schools been opened? There could be logistical issues. There could be issues of teachers—availability of teachers. I’m just guessing. I’m not fully aware of the ground situation, but I’m guessing. Why haven’t teachers been paid? (Laughs.) Obviously, they are in a tight situation. And that is what we are saying, is unfreeze money that is theirs so that they can pay teachers, so that they can run their hospitals effectively, so that they can manage the COVID situation. Who knows what the COVID situation over there is? There are hardly any people who are vaccinated over there. That’s a concern. It’s a concern for us because, you know, COVID sees no borders, and we are concerned.

So what we are saying is be patient and be persuasive. In my view, that might be a more effective way of dealing with it. Incentivize. Tell them that if they’re doing this, they’re doing it for their own good. Afghanistan would need them, their economy would need them, their, you know, governance structure would need them. And they’ve said—what have they said? If I recall, they’ve said that government servants who were working, please come back to work. They’ve said, we are granting, announcing, general amnesty. There will be no revenge. Now, if this is what they’re saying, we should collectively hold them to it and say: Now, deliver on that.

What have we done, as a neighbor? Pakistan understood a diplomatic outreach. I went to different immediate neighbors of Afghanistan—Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran—and said: OK. We are neighbors. If thing go wrong, the immediate spillover we’ll face. Should we have a coordinated approach? Do we have concerns, common concerns? They said, yes, we do. And if things go right, will we benefit from the peace dividend? They said, we do. I said, OK, if we do, then let’s have a coordinated approach. And in that coordinated approach, we will all suggest—and as the prime minister suggested when he met the Tajik president—we will engage with them, and we will tell them why an inclusive government is in their interest. Afghanistan is a country of different ethnic groups. And getting them in is better than keeping them out. You know, broadening their base will give them the stability that they’re looking for.

If you’re talking of a peaceful Afghanistan—a peaceful Afghanistan will only come about through a national reconciliation. And for that reconciliation, involvement, engagement is important. So we will continue to do that. And all these issues that you are referring to are important to me as much as they’re important to you.

HAASS: OK, Carrie, let’s get another virtual question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next virtual question from Manjari Miller.

Q: Good morning. I’m Manjari Chatterjee Miller. I’m senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Your excellency, thank you very much for your statements. I think they were very interesting. My question is related to a statement that came from General Bajwa and was widely reported, when he said that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, which, as you know, has inflicted thousands of casualties on Pakistani civilians, and the Afghani Taliban are two faces of the same coin. My question is, how do you reconcile his reported statement with Pakistan’s support for the Afghani Taliban?

QURESHI: Could you clarify the question for me?

HAASS: I think it’s basically—Manjari, as I understood it—if I do disservice to you, I apologize, correct me—that one of your generals has basically said that the Taliban within Pakistan as well as elements of it in Afghanistan are basically two sides of the same coin. And doesn’t that give you pause?

QURESHI: Well, the difference is—and how do we distinguish between the two? The Taliban that are in Afghanistan were focused on Afghanistan. And they, in their mind, were fighting an occupation force. They wanted to liberate their country. Taliban we call, you know, the Pakistani TTP, are Taliban who are attacking Pakistan, who were carrying out terrorist attacks on Pakistan. So you have to distinguish between the two.

HAASS: Manjari, is that—did you want to follow up there? Maybe not. OK.

Q: Yes, can you hear me?

HAASS: Yeah.

Q: OK. Sorry. My follow up is that my question was related to General Bajwa’s statement, which was an acknowledgement that it is very hard to distinguish between the two because they are so intricately connected.

QURESHI: Well, they have—they speak the same language, they have common tribes, their culture is similar. But the question is their behavior. Who is doing what? As I said, there’s one element that is destabilizing Pakistan, that is being used by certain elements to create insurgency in Pakistan. They have been killing innocent people. And there are others who have their focus not on Pakistan, but want—you know, who play a role in Afghanistan. That’s the difference. But, obviously, we would not—if they—if they go into things that we feel are against the ethos and start promoting militantism, if they start radicalizing the society, Pakistanis generally do not want to see Talibanization of Pakistan, no. No. We have a constitution. We have our own values. We have our own vision. And our vision is the vision of the founding father, Quaid-e-Azam—Muhammad Ali Jinnah. And that is what we would want our country to be.

HAASS: Yes, ma’am. Want to wait for the microphone. Just introduce yourself.

Q: Rina Amiri, senior fellow and director of Afghanistan regional policy initiatives at New York University.

Minister Qureshi, you noted that Afghans were looking for hope and peace because of the failings of the previous government. Yet, this all Talib, all male government that lacks—entirely lacks inclusively in terms of ethnicity, that has eighteen sanctioned individuals, hardly engenders hope among the Afghan population. You see this in the exodus of the Afghan population. You see this in the internal displacement of Afghan population. It’s also an inherently unstable government.

HAASS: Is there a question here?

Q: Yes. So my question to you is, Pakistan is seen as having had a hand in the composition of this government. There is still a need for political settlement. What will Pakistan and the region do in order to engender a government that is not going to lead to civil war? Because that is not what we see right now. Thank you.

QURESHI: Ma’am, that’s your opinion, that we’ve had a hand in putting a government together. Believe you me, believe you me, believe you me, they are very independent. They do not like to be told what to do and what not to. They have their own ways of working and they take their own decisions, all right? And we have in the past made certain suggestions. They paid no heed to that. So this impression that you’re carrying that the government that is office over there is our placement is not correct, to begin with. And if you follow what I said earlier on, what are we suggesting? We are suggesting what you are asking. We are on the same page, you know?

In fact, if you dispassionately look at what Pakistan is advocating, Pakistan is advocating more or less what the international community is asking. You know, we are in fact the spokesmen of the international community. We are sensitizing them to what the world—how the world is looking at things, and how they have to respond to international opinion if they want acceptability. And if they do not get acceptability, you know, how will they—how will they sustain themselves?

Here is a country that was being basically run through international funding. Did they have the resources to maintain the security apparatus that was in place, to run the government that they were running? They don’t. That money came from the West. The U.S. contributed in large numbers, the Europeans played their role. So why do they want to add to the difficulties? They have plenty, why would they want to add by ignoring that? We are suggesting—we are advocating what the international community is saying. What we are saying is: Don’t rub them the wrong way; nudge them the right direction. That’s the difference.

HAASS: Mr. Minister, we will, like you, be watching events closely. And we hope that what I would describe as your cautious optimism is borne out by events. And the next time you come here, when we get the opportunity to welcome you, we can look at the record that has evolved. But I want to thank you for getting us back into the business of in-person or hybrid meetings. I want to thank you for spending an hour with us this morning. I want to thank our members here, as well as virtually. And also let people know at 10:00 tomorrow morning we have the Taoiseach, for those of you not fluent in Gaelic, that is the prime minister of Ireland will be in conversation with us tomorrow, talking about the situation in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Europe across the board.

Again, though, Foreign Minister Qureshi, sir—

QURESHI: Can I just close with one sentence?

HAASS: Yes, sir.

QURESHI: Our objectives are the same. Our approaches could be different. Objectives remain the same.

HAASS: Well, I’m—I hope that’s the case. I’m skeptical in a few areas, but—

QURESHI: That’s your choice. (Laughs.)

HAASS: That is my experience from history. But I’ll end again by thanking you and wishing you—wishing you and your country well, sir.

QURESHI: Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR


The election date for the world’s largest democracy is set to begin April 19 and last six weeks. What would the results of a third term for Prime Minister Modi mean for India’s economy, democracy, and position in the Global South? 


The response to the temporary closure of the Port of Baltimore—from a deadly tanker collision—demonstrates the resilience of U.S. supply chains despite fears of costly disruptions.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Violence around U.S. elections in 2024 could not only destabilize American democracy but also embolden autocrats across the world. Jacob Ware recommends that political leaders take steps to shore up civic trust and remove the opportunity for violence ahead of the 2024 election season.