Promoting U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Future Challenges and Opportunities
Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the Pakistani prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, joins Mary McInnis Boies, counsel at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, to discuss U.S.-Pakistan relations. Aziz describes the "new face" of Pakistan, highlighting new policies towards terrorism, noninterference in Afghanistan, normalization of relations with India, a common fight against extremism, and structural changes in government that bring together military, research, and policymaking arenas. Aziz states that these changes position the United States and Pakistan at a crossroads in their relationship, and make Pakistan more relevant internationally.
Sartaj Aziz on new policies against terrorism:
"…there have always been suspicion[s] that underneath our armed forces, our intelligence agencies support some groups which qualify as terrorism, but I think we have now made a very conscious decision that violence in any form—and particularly violent extremism—is very bad for the country, it has become a threat to our—existential threat to our survival, and therefore we should fight terrorism."
Sartaj Aziz on policy towards the Taliban in Afghanistan:
"Our policy now is that [having] the Afghan Taliban coming to force, coming to power by force in Afghanistan is not in our security interests. So we are no longer supporting them and their jihad or whatever they wish to call it, because...that is the definition of our policy of non-interference in Afghanistan and no favorites."
Sartaj Aziz on Pakistan's nuclear weapons:
"…our nuclear program is entirely deterrent in nature, in the sense that if India—we have to have enough parity to defend ourselves. And if we hadn't any nuclear weapons in 2002, after the parliament attack, we would have had a major war with India, and several other opportunities, so there's no question that nuclear capacity has given us some insurance, because our conventional capacity, the gap is increasing."
MCINNIS BOIES: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for coming. We are very pleased today to have with us Sartaj Aziz, who served—who is the adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs since 2013. He has served in Pakistan as minister of state for food and agriculture, as finance minister, and as foreign minister. He is the author of two books, "Rural Development: Learning from China," and "Between Dreams and Reality: Some Milestones in Pakistan's History." He graduated from Punjab University and has an MA from Harvard.
This is a very interesting time. There are many changes going on in Pakistan. We will hear about them. And we welcome you, Mr. Aziz.
AZIZ: Richard Haass, participants, I am indeed very honored to have this opportunity to speak again at the Council on Foreign Relations. Whenever I have been here, this has been a very stimulating experience, so I hope this one, too.
The topic for today, of course, is U.S.-Pakistan relations, its challenges and opportunities. And let me start off by saying that our relations with USA is not only important, but is also unique in many respects, and that is something that is not commonly appreciated.
It has gone through many ups and downs. Both countries have seen different facets of this. But importantly, we have never differed too apart from each other. Despite all the crises, we have always stayed within certain limits.
We have had several historical milestones and turning points which must be considered in our—in the total context, because these milestones in terms of our work together in Afghanistan, when we started in 1979, before that, initially in the Cold War years of '60s, then later on in Afghanistan, and then war against terrorism, in which one of these became much closer together, in between there were difficulties of one kind or another.
But these milestones and these historical episodes must be kept in mind to recall why Pakistan—the people of Pakistan, not just the government—feel about certain things in a certain way. And so generally, there is a perception that our security concerns have not received enough attention, and, therefore, while USA needed us, it—we helped them, but then after that, they either walked away, as they did in '90s or earlier in the '70s, but generally I think people still realize that the relationship is important.
I think more recently, the security compulsion coming out of Afghanistan have driven us together. And we became very close allies in that sense. And now that Afghanistan—U.S. forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, there is a new phase, much more positive in that sense, when this relationship can move further forward.
And therefore, we are at a very basic crossroads in this relationship, because of these factors that I mentioned, but there are two key developments, one internal, one external, which can fundamentally alter the course of this relationship.
Internally, Pakistan has undergone a very silent revolution. Some of you who observe Pakistan may have noticed that we are a changed country. Today we share more with the USA than we differ or disagree with. First of all, we have a vibrant economy, democracy, although democracies are always noisy, and you may hear the duster noise here and there, but it is a very vibrant democracy. And more recently, when an attempt was made to dislodge an elected government through agitation, the entire parliament came together, all the opposition parties came together and said, no, this precedent of any elected government being dislodged by demonstration is not right. So that shows the vitality of the democratic process.
The other pillars of democracy—a free media, an independent judiciary, and active civil society—these are also very much vibrant today in our situation. Of course, in terms of economics, we have believed in the principle of free-market economy, but now, because of the emphasis of our prime minister and the new government on economic revival as the main focus of our attention, things are improving in the economic field.
The—within that, the other requirement of democracy is good governance, protection of liberties, and protection of human rights of the citizens. So there again, in the last few years, very large-scale resolutions and parliamentary acts. Legislation has been adopted to protect women's rights, to protect domestic rights, to protect minority rights, to protect generally what you call provincial rights through constitutional amendment in which provinces were empowered and parliament was empowered.
The sixth element of our new face, you can call it, a new manifestation is the fight against terrorism. There are—there have always been suspicion that underneath our armed forces, our intelligence agencies support some group which qualify as terrorism, but I think we have now made a very conscious decision that violence in any form—and particularly violent extremism—is very bad for the country, it has become a threat to our—existential threat to our survival, and therefore we should fight terrorism. And we have in the last one year had very strong action both in Karachi and now in North Waziristan, and we have decided that we will not allow our territory to be used against any other country, and I hope other countries won't allow that, either. So it's a very important change in our policy in this respect.
Again, we are a responsible nuclear state in which we have invested heavily and skillfully in the safety and security for our nuclear programs and installations, and this has been acknowledged internationally, and in the--more recently in the nuclear conference at The Hague. And I think it has been now accepted that Pakistan is a responsible holder of nuclear weapons.
We are keen to build partnership and promote regional connectivity and peaceful region, because Pakistan is in between Central Asia on the one hand and West Asia and Central Asia on the other. So it's a very important opportunity for connectivity, both trade connectivity and energy connectivity, that we hope will open up many new opportunities in its entire region which is the least connected today.
And then, of course, we have cooperated fully as far as Afghanistan is concerned, because it's going through a security transition, a political transition, and an economic transition. So since we decided, as I mentioned earlier, that we will not interfere in the affairs of other countries, so our non-interference, no-favorites policy has improved our relationship and we have improved our trade, as well as trying to cooperate with them fully in their electioneering and other things.
I think, finally, normalization and relations with India is also a part of our policy, because the prime minister's agenda of economic revival is not possible if you don't have a peaceful neighborhood. So our relationship with India and with Afghanistan and with Iran is a part of that equation. And that's why the prime minister from '99 onwards, when Prime Minister Vajpayee was invited and the Lahore Declaration was signed, he picked up the threads when he came back, and with both the governments right now, we have had a setback because the government of India canceled the foreign secretary-level talks which (inaudible) 25th of August, but we hope that soon—without dialogue, you cannot resolve an issue and, therefore, they have a strong economic agenda, we have a strong economic agenda.
So these are the nine or ten elements of our reality today which makes us a much more relevant member of the international community, because these are not just aspirations or goals that I've talked about. If you go into them carefully, you find that they're not only policy positions, but in many cases concrete progress has been made in moving towards those elements that I talked about.
I think similarly the military operation in North Waziristan is highly successful. And generally, the—our standing in this respect in the global—in the region as a whole, and particularly our relations with China, are important factors in our regional connectivity and continued expansion.
So this is the one dimension to look at, that the—the—Pakistan's own policy stances, its movement and its priorities are in line with what is required of us as a member—as a responsive member of the international community.
But the second part of this transformation, second element of this changed situation, which improves the prospect of better relations with the United States, is the transformation in the global environment that both dominates the world, not only the media, but all the policies that are focused on foreign policy and security.
There is a rapidly growing arc of instability and rising adherence to extremism, which is a threat to everybody, as you all know today. Ragtag militias are taking over regular standing armies, as you see in Iraq and in Syria. Forces of modernization and democracy are under attack. And there—as we all know, these extremists are both vicious and thrive on an environment of fear and isolation. So these are challenges that the global community as a whole faces in different parts of the world.
And, therefore, in this entire scenario, Pakistan is the sixth-largest country and one of the largest democracies in the Muslim world, with well-established structure and institutions, including a disciplined standing army and English-speaking and Western-trained civil-military bureaucracy, serving an elected government, an empowered parliament, could be a beacon of hope and promise for those who are still undergoing transition and transformation.
So in this backdrop, I believe Pakistan stands at an ever-more important vantage point to contribute to maintaining the widening security challenges. And a strong U.S.-Pakistan partnership, therefore, not only strengthens Pakistan's ability to contribute to security and stability in the region, but also perhaps in the world.
So as we look ahead at these opportunities and challenges, we consider the United States as a vital partner for the future. We are keen to base this enduring relationship on principles of mutuality of interests and respect. It is with this clear realization that both sides have made a deliberate choice and effort to better understand each other and to remove any (inaudible) that may still remain.
Happily, in the last 12 months at least since the prime minister visit to Washington in October, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship are on a positive trajectory. Sustaining this positive momentum in our relation is paramount importance to us. Its endurance and strength in the long term depends on the people-ethnic-centric dimension, and not on the calculus of political expediency.
That is why we believe more in trade rather than aid, because aid just goes to the higher echelons. Trade promotes environment and expands people-to-people contact, and that's why our focus is on expanding trade and investment. And this, of course, all this requires building trust, because most important element of any strategic relationship is trust, trust not just at the governmental level and among the institutions at different levels as you go down.
And we are working very hard in different working groups under the strategic dialogue concept on trade, on education, on energy, on terrorism, on strategic weapons and nuclear weapons, and so there is very extensive agenda for these discussions, which once a year is reviewed at the ministerial level.
So I hope that these building blocks, in view of the broader global and regional environment, will further strengthen this relationship and—as you watch this relationship in the coming one or two years, you'll be happy that this much-needed collaboration on global and regional issues has come together to meet the much-growing challenges that we face in the coming years, and I think we'll both be better off for doing that.
So this concludes my opening remarks, and I'll be glad to elaborate on any of these points in the discussion that will now follow. Thank you.
MCINNIS BOIES: Thank you, Mr. Aziz. You have touched on many of the more important developments that have occurred in recent times. As you say, there is a new face in Pakistan, and we're beginning to see it here.
I want to start in a slightly different way, and that is to ask you about Pakistan's population growth and the implication for its security going forward. It is said that Pakistan today is Malthusian. The population is growing far faster than the capacity of the government to feed and clothe and have the capacity and infrastructure to take care of them.
But more important, it's said that some 44 percent of young Pakistanis are so malnourished that they will not grow either physically or mentally to full adult capacity. And they, in turn, will have a reproduction rate that's even higher. Is this something that concerns you? Is the world wrong in that perception? But if it is true, what is it that Pakistan is doing to address that issue?
AZIZ: I think the first part of your assessment and correction is correct, the second is not. It's true that our population growth rate, unfortunately, doesn't compare very favorably either with India or even Bangladesh. China, of course, has gone to 1 percent long time ago.
The setback, of course, came in the '70s, when Ayub Khan was president in the '60s, he was very keen on population and made very successful population program. But when Zia-ul-Haq came in 1977, he somehow deemphasized the program, and so we had a very sort of setback to the population (inaudible) program.
So in the '80s, we grew at about 3 percent, which was very—one of the highest growth rates. In the '80s, then this thing was reversed in some respects, and when the '98 census was done, the growth rate came down to 2.6 percent, then 2.1 percent, and now it is 1.9 percent, the annual population growth rate. India came down to 1.5 percent sometime ago. Bangladesh, also.
So as the result, if we had the same population growth rate as India or Bangladesh, today our per capita income would be much higher (inaudible) would be much higher, so I agree that this (inaudible) but now it is catching up.
And in our assessment so far, in light of our experience, the most important element for population control is female literacy. If there are girls educated, then obviously you have. Contraceptives, et cetera, are fine, but unless you have basic education and education for girls.
So there in the last ten years or fifteen years, I would say, the total involvement of girls has been moving faster than that of boys. So it is one dimension that is helping.
So now the growth rate has come down below 2 percent, is 1.9 percent, and the target is to take it to 1.5 percent by 2020. If we achieve that, then we are now at replacement level, and so it will become slightly better.
But this catching up, of course, is very difficult, but we do have a young population, as a result. And a young population is also an asset. If you educate them and train them, then obviously they play a very major role. So let's hope that it's not an unmissed blessing.
In terms of nutrition, we have very good food security, are generally food self-sufficient. We have some specific deficiencies in certain mountainous areas, iron deficiencies, salt deficiencies, and other things, we do have a nutritional problem. But if you look at the UNICEF goals on child nutrition, other things, it is not as bad.
There is, of course, in the last few years, some—particularly last six years, the growth rate has been 3 percent and, therefore, per capita income has not gone up, so poverty-related malnutrition may be there, but as compared to other countries, our food security situation is much better. So I hope as the population growth rate controls further, and the answer is further emphasis on female education.
MCINNIS BOIES: When I last visited Pakistan, there was great concern about the electricity capacity and other just forms of infrastructure that would make growing trade difficult. It's difficult for foreign investment to come into a country that lacks many of the most basic necessities, such as uninterrupted power during the working day. And I know that Pakistan for many years has been trying to attract the investment and raise the capital to build the kinds of dams and hydroelectricity you need. Have you made any progress on that front?
AZIZ: Well, it's a very long and sad story, because in the '70s, we had 70 percent of our energy coming from hydroelectricity, and only 30 percent from thermal. And we needed more hydroelectricity, but the water issue, water dispute between the provinces was a major bottleneck. And only in '91, when our government came at that time, the 70-year-old water dispute was solved between—allocation between provinces. And the ground was prepared for new projects in the hydroelectricity sector.
But before that opportunity could be used, our government was dismissed in '93. And the new government which came in '94 at that time, they went in a different direction towards what I call thermal energy based on imported oil. So now today, 45 percent of all our energy is produced in these private power plants, which are based on imported diesel or fuel.
At that time when this policy was formed, oil was $10, $15 a barrel. Now it is $100 a barrel. So the cost of generating one unit of electricity has gone up to $0.16 to $0.18 a unit, whereas at that time, in the beginning when we started, our own electricity was $0.01, $0.02. Hydroelectricity was $0.01 or $0.02. Even thermal was $0.04 or $0.05. Today, every sale price is $0.09.
As a result, when we produced that high expensive electricity, we are subsidizing every unit by $0.07 or $0.08. And since we don't have the budgetary resources, that becomes a circle of debt. So as a result, our total installed capacity is 20,000 megawatts, in which the hydro is 6,500 and thermal is 13,500. But that's 13,000 thermal is producing only nine, because you cannot afford that electricity, so the people are not producing. So that's the reason.
Now, because this surplus electricity came at that time, the compulsion to go for hydro was not realized, because thermal is there. And when it came, the Kalabagh Dam, which is one of the major dams that we are planning, became controversial and so, therefore, no other dam was constructed in the meanwhile. So for the last fifteen years, no new capacity has been added while the demand has gone up and has caught up.
So in the last twelve months, some dramatic policy changes have come about. The challenge is to add to the system electricity as less than—whose cost of generation is less than $0.09, which is our average sale price. And that is now hydroelectricity, which is—we are starting two dams, Bhasha and the Dasu, 4,000 megawatt each, and—since that takes eight to ten years, in the meanwhile, we are setting up 7,000 megawatts of coal plants, imported coal, which is a bit polluting, although we'll have the latest plants, but it produces at $0.07, $0.08, so our criteria is met.
So in these fourteen months, 10,000 megawatts, 50 percent of our installed capacity, has been planned to be added, but the better energy makes—based on our own resources, rather than imported fuel. So I think it will take another two years for these thermal plants to come on stream, so—but the (inaudible) has already come down, so I agree with you that this is a very important prerequisite for economic revival, as well as for foreign investment.
MCINNIS BOIES: So President Haass is reminding me that this is the Council on Foreign Relations, so we will turn now to those issues. For many years, Pakistan has been criticized—rightly, I think—correct me—I'm sure you will—as distinguishing between, let's say, the good Taliban and the bad Taliban. Pakistan would fight the militants in, say, North Waziristan and the FATA, but when it came to the south, to the Haqqani network, to Baluchistan, well, it's always seemed that the Pakistan government was willing to look the other way and, as a result, many insurgents were able to cross the border into Afghanistan, where they killed Afghan, U.S. and other ISAF soldiers and police, and then found sanctuary back across the Pakistan border.
Are you saying—and is your government saying—that that policy has changed? As your—one of you ministers has said, there's no longer a good Taliban and a bad Taliban. Would you explain more about how that came about and what implication that has? We, of course, want the implication to be that you're now willing to fight them all.
AZIZ: I think we'll have to go in a bit of history in this case.
MCINNIS BOIES: OK.
AZIZ: When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, both USA and Pakistan decided that the best way to defeat them is to train what you call local mujahadeen, local holy warriors, to say these are infidels who have invaded Afghanistan, and so you should try and fight them.
So these—those whom we're calling Taliban and terrorists today were the mujahadeen of yesterday, whom U.S. and Pakistan jointly funded, armed and trained. And they really succeeded in defeating a superpower with small arms. I mean, just like in Vietnam U.S. was defeated, both the superpowers were defeated—America in Vietnam, and Russia in Afghanistan—through small arms, without having any airplanes, without having any tanks or anything like that, because of ideology.
Now, when that happened, Taliban then started fighting among each of them, because when the Russians left, and that is the first mistake that was made. When the Russians left, everybody else left Afghanistan. If at that time, 1/20th, 1/30th of the amount that has been spent now on Afghanistan had been spent in Afghanistan for reconstruction, all these people would have found jobs and Afghanistan would have been a different place today.
But they did not. And as a result, all these people started fighting with each other, started extracting money from people who are crossing roads, and then the Taliban came on the scene four years later after the Russians left, because they felt we did not fight the Russians—the Taliban were the soldiers under the warlord—under the commanders who had fought the Russians. So these Taliban then captured Afghanistan gradually, starting with 1994, when they captured Kandahar. By '95, they are entered Herat. And in '96, they entered Kabul. By '98, they entered Mazar-e Sharif, so they had captured 90 percent of Afghanistan by the time 9/11 came.
And that is...
MCINNIS BOIES: And that's a very important history, but 9/11 is the point, correct? Doesn't that history change in 9/11?
AZIZ: Gradually, gradually. When 9/11 happened...
AZIZ: When 9/11 happened, and U.S. invaded Afghanistan, those very people that had fought the Russians were pushed into our side of the tribal area, because they were—they couldn't disappear in thin air, so those who could, they came here. And now all of them have become threat to us as Pakistani Taliban, because they came here and they initially came to take safe havens, but then they realized that they needed some place where they can make a living, as well as improve themselves. So they established themselves in the tribal area. They started expanding. They started recruiting. And they have become a threat to us.
Now, the Afghan Taliban, of course, were fighting against foreign occupation. And we were against our Taliban, because they are threatening (inaudible) but the Afghan Taliban were not saying anything to us. Now, the people who came about here—so for Pakistan, it was a very difficult choice, because we have to live with these people through the next centuries. You can come for ten, fifteen years and then go.
So we could not under enmity and go across the border and kill them just because—they will say, we are fighting against foreign occupation. Why are you trying to do so?
So gradually, as the Pakistani Taliban began to threaten us, we started the operation in Swat, if you remember in 2009. 2010, South Waziristan, we had captured six (inaudible), North Waziristan in the last one. Now, this is the cleaning up of our own process, and now coming back to your question.
Our policy now is that the Afghan Taliban coming to force, coming to power by force in Afghanistan is not in our security interests. So we are no longer supporting them and their jihad or whatever they wish to call it, because—so that is the definition of our policy of non-interference in Afghanistan and no favorites.
But that requires that other countries in the region also follow the same policy. In other words, we should not start fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan, India, Iran, other Central Asian countries, they all should follow a policy of non-interference and we should not be—once the Afghans sort their own problems, we can all compete and trade, investment, and reconstruction. So this is one dimension.
The second dimension is that we should not allow our territory to be used against Afghanistan or any other country, provided other countries also don't allow it. So we are—the second dimension is better border management between Afghanistan, so that we have regulated flow of people and we don't allow.
But many of the Afghan—Pakistani Taliban have gone to Afghanistan and are now attacking us from there. So that is where the U.S. and Pakistan have a common interest, to make sure that nobody from Afghanistan—and I hope this is one of the targets or objectives of the ISAF forces that will be left—to make sure that nobody from Afghanistan attacks our territory and we make sure that nobody from here goes there.
So I agree that now the distinction between good and bad Taliban is over, but we cannot take responsibility for fighting anybody outside our borders. We'll fight those who are here, and we hope that others will fight their own battles.
MCINNIS BOIES: But have you made that decision that you will fight good and bad Taliban? Now that we've converged in our interests, is the U.S. and ISAF departure from Afghanistan going to make it more difficult for you to implement this new approach that you have?
AZIZ: It depends on two things. One, it depends on the Afghan government and what kind of reconciliation policy they have, because on the one hand, Taliban can be categorized as terrorists, but they're also stakeholders. They actually control and manage a number of provinces in Afghanistan.
So if they—and our effort will be that they should come into the mainstream of politics. They should—they can't take part in the elections right now, but they'll work out some kind of a reconciliation, as we call them, so that they can coexist for the time being.
MCINNIS BOIES: And what are the prospects that the—that certain Taliban in certain provinces will see it that way?
AZIZ: At least our information is that there are some people who like to fight and say, "We were thrown out of Afghanistan in October 2001, and now we want to get back." But others know that it's no longer possible. Afghanistan is a totally different country from the '90s. In the last twelve years, education, media, civil society, they've all changed in Afghanistan. And so a majority of people in Afghanistan do not want Taliban to get back to power or any influence. So the space for them is very limited.
Secondly, no country in the world, including all the Islamic countries—including this morning, we passed a resolution or communique in the OIC, Islamic conference, in which they condemn all terrorists, including Taliban. So nobody's favoring them in terms of sort of coming and fight their way.
Thirdly, I think there is, of course, 350,000 Afghanistan army, plus support from the U.S., of course, air support. So the possibility of the Taliban running over Afghanistan to a blitzkrieg is no longer a possibility. So if they are able to achieve some kind of an adjustment, they'll try to push their boundary a little bit, but this I call manageable insurgency. And if in the meanwhile I'm sure both the new—the president and the chief executive have made—have thought deeply about how to start reconciliation process.
I don't think we should all try to manage like Doha and other processes from outside, try to manage. One of the important—the third one, which I must mention, policy implication here, is that for the last twelve years, everybody has been trying to micromanage in Afghanistan from outside. We must allow Afghanistan to grow up, to manage their own affairs, and they're very wise people, once you left to them, they do so.
And whatever help they need, we should give them, but we should not tell them, "You do this, you do this, you talk like this, you don't—this is"—so I hope that this policy will be followed by every one of us and we'll Afghan to decide their own future. Thanks. Sorry for this long answer.
MCINNIS BOIES: The Pakistan army this past week announced a new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence, General...
AZIZ: Yeah, Akhtar, Rizwan Akhtar.
MCINNIS BOIES: ... yes, Rizwan Akhtar. Is this choice part of the new face of Pakistan? This is a gentleman who studied at our U.S. Army War College in Carlisle. In 2008, he wrote a paper calling for a more stable democratic system in Pakistan and for less anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Is his selection a piece of the larger new face that you've described to us today?
AZIZ: I think this basic choice was his experience in fighting terrorism, because he—in Karachi, he managed a very good operation. And so the basic thing was, he is a good soldier and he's got experience, because that is a priority in the coming years.
These other things are bonus. I mean, they happen to be good, so that's good.
MCINNIS BOIES: And who does he work for? Does he work for the...
AZIZ: Well, dual.
MCINNIS BOIES: ... for the army or for himself?
AZIZ: No, no. The DG ISI, of course, is under the army chief, but he has special reporting responsibilities on intelligence matters to the prime minister. So he's one of few people who does brief the prime minister independently. Otherwise, other senior officers of the army, they should not come to the prime minister without consulting the army chief. That is a system.
But he is one officer of that level who can report or he can be called by the prime minister to brief him on intelligence matters.
MCINNIS BOIES: And that's the way the system is set up. Is that the way the system actually works? Because as you know, there are many in the West who believe that there are three governments in Pakistan, the government, the army, and the ISI. Are you saying that the system as it is set up is, in fact, the way it's now being—is functioning? And is that a change from prior years?
AZIZ: You see, two things. One is that since we have had prolonged periods of military rule—there was only one government, and they did everything, et cetera. And the brief spells of civilian government which came, they never developed the capacity, the research capacity or policymaking capacity, to deal with security issues. And so indirectly, they continued to manage those. So this was inherent in the structure.
But we have now created a mechanism of the national security council, which you have and most other countries have, which creates an institutional mechanism to bring these rules together. Simultaneously, we're also developing the research capacity of the civilian set-up to strengthen our own, so that when policy options come, we also know what policy options are available.
And it's not that we are superior or they are superior. It's only a different perspective. So when you bring the two perspectives together on the table, then you look for common ground, and then you evolve. And this policy on Afghanistan that I mentioned was actually evolved by the security committee.
In our very first meeting on 22nd July last year, this question was asked. Whenever we make a security policy, the basic barometer is, is it good for our security or not? So then the question is, is Taliban coming to power by force in Afghanistan in our security policy? And we would say, no, it will be disastrous. So then it became a policy.
So as you see, the system is now evolving that way. I won't say that we have achieved that coming on one page, as they call it, immediately, but the process is moving well.
MCINNIS BOIES: Thank you. I would now like to open this up for questions. Please stand, identify yourself, speak into the microphone, and if you could be short and crisp, apparently unlike I have been, ma'am in the middle.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I'm correspondent for Aliana Television from Afghanistan. And originally I am from Afghanistan. I'm so glad and delighted that we have Mr. Aziz. And you gave a very, very good statement. I'm looking forward to keep this commitment.
I would like to ask you that what will be the new commitment and keep it honestly for Afghanistan and this new situation, new government. And also, now with these people in Afghanistan, they're really worried about the firing rocket from Pakistan. Still Pakistan continue to fire some rockets daily, and so many people has been killed in Afghanistan. Do you have any comment? And thank you so much.
AZIZ: You see, this was implied in the comment I made, because the TTP, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is—you referred to, their chief, Mauli Fazlullah, is in corner in Afghanistan. And a lot of his companions and other people who have—after (inaudible) was emptied out, they also moved there. So they are launching against Pakistan from Afghanistan.
When we fire back at them, they become rockets in Afghanistan. They are not. And so the answer lies that they should prevent them from attacking, then we won't have to counterattack, and that is the—Mr. Spanta, the new—the old national security adviser, came to Pakistan last month and we have agreed on standing operating procedures, at the local level discussions, commanders, intelligence level, political level, and then finally at the summit level.
So I hope the new Afghan government, this consultation process will be intensified. And so once we agree on this basic commitment, that we won't allow our territory to be used against Afghanistan, you don't allow Afghanistan territory to be used against—then this problem will get sorted out. Otherwise, we cannot afford people going and hitting us from Afghanistan. We'll take total action to protect ourselves. So I think these rockets are—this transition period, which I hope will be over very soon.
MCINNIS BOIES: Ma'am in the front, in the red.
QUESTION: Teresita Schaffer from Brookings and McLarty Associates in Washington. And it's lovely to see you here again, Aziz (inaudible), and I wanted to pick up on something you said about India-Pakistan relations. You said both countries have a strong economic agenda.
I wonder if you could talk a little bit about where you see—where your government would like to see the economic relationship with India going and how strong the political support is across Pakistan for what you would like to accomplish there.
AZIZ: You see, the economic potential between India and Pakistan is enormous. We can't even anticipate it fully. The experts have talked about trade going up from less than $3 billion to $10 billion in three to four years, if you open up the trade system and improve the infrastructure.
But you can never judge what else can happen once the borders are open. Energy trade can develop because there are pockets in which a lot of surplus energy is available. Gas connectivity can take place. And a number of investments can happen. We were talking about power earlier. Thar coal is a very big deposit in Pakistan. Only a tail of that deposit is in India. And there are Indian companies which already set up power plants of 3,000, 4,000 megawatts that would very much like to come over to Pakistan, invest in coal, and sell the electricity both to Pakistan and to India. So these kind of possibilities we can't even anticipate right now once it starts.
And we, in fact, were ready. We had done all the homework to grant most-favored nation treatment to India, which is now called—because this—non-discriminatory market access, because previously this term "most-favored nation" doesn't translate very well into our language. How can you make India the most-favored country? Because it basically means normal trade relation; it doesn't mean most-favored. But GATT discovered this thing in the '60s, and that somehow has survived. So we, therefore, re-translated it into NDMA.
So we were ready with that package. But then the change of government was taking place, and we received kind of signals that it would be better for us to wait for the new government, rather than—otherwise it becomes an election issue for them.
And we were hoping that the prime minister was invited for the inaugural session of Prime Minister Modi on the 26th of May this year, and he went there, and they had a very good bilateral meeting. And the prime minister told him that you have a strong mandate from the people, I have a strong mandate, this is a new beginning. Let's use it and try to develop our relationship.
And they both agreed that the two foreign secretaries will meet very soon, and they implied before September, so that the two prime minister to meet on the sideline of the General Assembly, the discussion will have taken place.
So the two foreign secretaries talked to each other, agreed to meet on 25th of August this year, but suddenly on the 18th of August, they canceled the meeting. Why? Because our high commissioner had met two Kashmiri leaders.
Now, those Kashmiri leaders have been meeting at a high commissioner for the last 30 years, and not once, but twice or thrice a year. Every time there's a negotiation, you consult them. What do you expect, et cetera?
So we think it was an overreaction and it was a lost opportunity, because these two foreign secretaries have agreed on the revival of the dialogue, including trade, which was one of the items of the agenda. So now it's an interruption in this process. Let's hope the ball is now in India's court, because they are the one who interrupted (inaudible) so they'll take the initiative.
But we expect the international community to point out the importance of better peace in the subcontinent and the importance of dialogue without which peace can't be restored so that they have the opportunity to learn from these lessons. Thank you.
MCINNIS BOIES: Farooq, I can barely see through the lights. Is that you? Yes. You're next.
QUESTION: Mr. Aziz, Farooq Kathwari. Good to see you.
AZIZ: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ambassador Schaffer really took my question. It was really relating to India-Pakistan relations. And crisis does create opportunity, and as you know, in the last few weeks, the Kashmir Valley has been devastated. Almost 30 percent of the people are out of—have been flooded out. So I think this sort of gives an opportunity hopefully for India and Pakistan to work together, especially with the kind of a disaster that Kashmir is faced with.
AZIZ: No, I agree with that. And I think Prime Minister Modi sent a letter to our prime minister after these floods. This was after the cancellation. And he offered help to the victims of floods in Pakistan Kashmir. So obviously, our prime minister said the same thing.
But then, he also added that both countries should cooperate, not only in disaster management, because both have different kind of experience, but also into dealing with the deeper causes of recurring floods, which is, you know, glaciers, global warming, and the climate change issues. So this is another area of cooperation I think potentially, which is very important, if we can achieve this.
Even these floods, the warning systems did not work very well. The rivers came from Kashmir, and if we had a few hours more warning, many lives would have been saved. But unfortunately, the system is not working to that extent. So these are elements of disaster management that I hope can work out. So whenever the dialogue is resumed, I hope this will be one of the items that we'll include.
MCINNIS BOIES: And I recall that the U.S. gave a lot of assistance to Pakistan after the earthquakes...
MCINNIS BOIES: ... after floods...
AZIZ: 2005 and...
MCINNIS BOIES: And I was there shortly thereafter and thought maybe somebody would remember, but once the disaster was more or less stabilized, the good opportunities seemed to be lost. I think--Harry, you're next, and then you in the back. Sir Harry. You're next.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, first of all, I've been going to the subcontinent for many years. We were very impressed by the struggle you made to prevent Pakistan becoming a nuclear power. Now you have 100 nuclear weapons. What the hell are you going to do with them? Why do you need them?
We in the West, whatever we call ourselves, are not particularly impressed by governments in the East who've succumbed to ISIS. So just reassure us, why do you need 100 nuclear weapons? What are you going to do with them? Is there some insurance policy? What is it for? Now, are you a convert to nuclear weapons?
AZIZ: I think if you recall the history, after India tested its nuclear weapon in 1974, we went to the General Assembly every year and (inaudible) resolution with so many countries to declare South Asia a nuclear-free zone, asking both countries to sign NPT and CTBT, so that South Asia—because with nuclear weapons, you can't afford.
That resolution was passed, I think, twelve or fourteen years in running by 120, 130, 140 countries. But India ignored that totally and went ahead with this program. So we have no option but to match that capacity.
Now, in other words, India is the independent variable in this equation. We are the dependent variable. So if the world wanted South Asia to be nuclear free, India had to be pressurized to give up the—India had ambitions of regional power, Security Council membership, et cetera, so they went ahead. So when they tested the nuclear weapon in 1998, we had no option but to follow suit.
Now, India has gone ahead after that, developed their second strike capability, defended their water and other capacity. We are not able to compete with all that. And then their Cold Start strategy, in which you try to attempt below the nuclear threshold certain hostilities which will not attract a major nuclear attack.
So these are the domain of the experts who decide how—like USA and Russia, if you recall, how do deterrent works and how does it not work? So our nuclear program is entirely deterrent in nature, in the sense that if India—we have to have enough parity to defend ourselves. And if we hadn't any nuclear weapons in 2002, after the parliament attack, we would have had a major war with India, and several other opportunities, so there's no question that nuclear capacity has given us some insurance, because our conventional capacity, the gap is increasing.
In some years, the increase in India's defense budget was equal to our total defense budget, so you can't possibly compete, and nuclear is the only one. So I hope—and I think your experts now understand this very well, and they have virtually accepted. So I don't think anybody needs even one weapon, because it's never used, but it's a deterrent that you have to keep in mind the calculation as you go along with your adversary.
QUESTION: Keep your hands on the key.
AZIZ: Oh, yeah, of course. Don't worry. Nobody misuse it.
MCINNIS BOIES: Right, and take the components off the trucks that are driving around Pakistan.
Yes, sir, in the way back?
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Aunshuman Apte, and I'm covering this event for Voice of America Afghanistan Service. My question is that the new president will—will be sworn in, in Afghanistan. What will be Pakistani government's expectations from the new government in Afghanistan and from the new president to achieve a long-term peace?
AZIZ: Well, I think our representatives have been in touch with both of them, and the prime minister has also talked to both of them, and I think they both expressed a very strong desire for not only strong, but special relationship with Pakistan, because Pakistan-Afghanistan are like twins. You can't really separate them.
We have all the essential items in Afghanistan go from here, 35,000 students are studying in our universities and colleges, and they don't even require passports or permissions or anything, scholarship. They just come like normal citizens and get admission, and they're readily admitted in our universities and colleges.
Then about 50,000 in busy period, 100,000 people cross every day from Afghanistan into Pakistan to do work and then go back. So I think the relationship is very, very strong.
But these—unfortunately, these global fault lines that have been traveling to our regions have created these problems in our relationship. And now there's an opportunity for us, once we deal with the terrorists and extremism and achieve peace and reconciliation, because on the economic front, we already a very strong agenda of common—better road linkages from us to—up to Kabul, because right now the road linkages are not good. Some rail links, common power plants, so that both countries can share electricity, and much better transit rate facilities. And we have managed to solve some of those problems, because Afghanistan is landlocked and need this facility.
So we are hoping to establish contact with the new government as soon as it is sworn in on the 29th. And I hope that it will see further—we have already improved our relationship considerably in the last twelve months, but I see it moving further, much better, particularly if the external environment remains peaceful and trouble-free.
MCINNIS BOIES: Yes, miss in the middle.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Laurie Garrett from the Council. TTP in particular, but Taliban generally, have issued fatwa after fatwa and assassinated now—I think it's 63 health care workers that have been trying to do polio vaccination in your country. And as a result, you have out-of-control polio. And yesterday, all your polio vaccinators went on strike for lack of salary, saying that they were not getting paid enough to stand up against possible assassination.
And the strain of polio circulating in Waziristan is genetically identical to the newly exported strains in Syria in the ISIS-controlled areas. What can you say to the world to assure us that all the children on the planet are not at risk of paralysis because Pakistan cannot control polio and stop the TTP from assassinating vaccinators?
AZIZ: Well, this is a very legitimate question. And the problem started some years ago when, of course, the tribal area was infested by the Taliban, who were pushed out from Afghanistan into our part of the world, and they would not allow polio vaccinators to go there.
And so the five, six agencies that we cleared out in 2009 and '10 were able to receive some, but North Waziristan was totally inaccessible. Now when we launch the attack and 1 million people internally displaced persons brought to the camps, this was a valuable opportunity to catch up, and we launched a very, very rigorous campaign to inoculate—to administer polio drops to almost all the children of these 1 million population where it come.
So now we are virtually plugged the system by which this virus was spreading. But some people have already moved to other parts of Pakistan, so obviously we have detected one case in Karachi, one elsewhere. So now we see in the next twelve months, because this operation took place three, four months ago, and from 15 June onwards, so we see a very big drop in the incidence of new cases in the coming twelve months because of this.
And this would also then stop, of course, any—the people willing to see as bad, not just for polio, but otherwise, and the Security Council has passed a very strong resolution to prevent fighters, foreign fighters from going anywhere else, so that we need to control anyway.
But I think this polio was a very unfortunate development which happened because—I mean, they are getting salaries, but because of the risk involved, they need higher salary. Last month, we passed a new project for polio eradication in the country, which includes provision for upgrading their salaries. So I hope that problem will also get sorted out.
MCINNIS BOIES: Yes, sir? In the third row here.
QUESTION: Bruce Gelb, the Council of American Ambassadors. I want to thank Mr. Aziz for one of the most total informational series of answers on virtually every question from how we increase the degree of electricity to this most recent answer on the question of infantile paralysis.
But my question is a much simpler question. And perhaps it was answered, and I never got the answer by reading the newspapers, but just a few years ago, one of the number-one enemies of this country, whose fallout is still existing in the Middle East, and I'm speaking of Al-Qaeda and the spin-offs of Al-Qaeda. And I'm thinking specifically of Osama bin Laden—was taken in as a friendly gesture by your country, and we had to send troops in by plane in the most unbelievable attempt to eradicate this individual.
What I'm wondering is, because of the nature and the background of some of the things you've been talking about, what else do we have to worry about from your country when we're looking for allies in what appears to be one of the most dangerous, based on what our president and what recently here in this room the head of homeland security has said, the problem of attacks on the America, United States specifically, by the people who have been part of Al-Qaeda and are now in the group known as ISIS and ISIL?
MCINNIS BOIES: Thank you, Mr. Gelb. Put another way, under the new face of Pakistan that you described, would Osama bin Laden have been able to hide in plain sight in a very obvious structure in terms of being unusual in the backyard of the main academy of the Pakistan army?
AZIZ: No, I think the—if you check with your own people, I'm sure they'll verify that Osama bin Laden was hiding there without connivance, without the protection of anybody responsible in our system.
QUESTION: That's impossible (OFF-MIKE)
AZIZ: And there may have been some private connections here and there, but the government as a whole, so that I think people have verified. And so he was hiding, and he was then apprehended. Otherwise, for us to offer that as a prize to America would have been—why would we allow that kind of a thing? It was such a major—like we did—we must have handed over—I don't know—hundreds of people who were involved in these things, so why not him?
In the future, of course, it depends—your question—it depends on whether—the policy is always like this, that we do not try to protect terrorists or people who are required by law. But it depends whether your capacity is to apprehend them. We have kidnappees who have been there for three years, and we don't know where they are.
So our mountainous area, in the tribal area, is such that you can hide people for a long time without discovering them. But policy-wise, of course, it's clear that we will never do it again. OK.
MCINNIS BOIES: Mr. Aziz, you are a very good man to come here, answer these direct questions, and meet with us today. We thank you, and we look forward to your return.
AZIZ: Thank you.