Former Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar defended Pakistan’s civilian leadership and her government’s role in the country’s disrupted democratic process, saying that the US government’s preference of dealing with military regimes has resulted in the pre-eminence of military influence in Pakistan.
“The US government has had a long history of immense fascination with the military of Pakistan,” Khar asserted in an interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera's 'Head to Head'.
Despite being pushed on this point, Khar refused to concede that the Pakistani military “runs the show”, though she admitted that the "military has historically played a much a larger role than the Constitution should permit".
The US, she said, was complicit in causing a constant disruption in Pakistan’s democratic process by propping up one military dictatorship after another.
“When Ziaul Haq came in, when Musharraf came in, Pakistan got the best possible military and civil assistance ever possible,” she remarked.
Khar stated that a civilian-made constitution – one without any amendments – had only been applicable in Pakistan twice; once for four years after 2010, and another for two years from 1956 to 1958.
Khar’s term under president Zardari’s government was marked by concerning reports of alleged human rights abuses by the Pakistan military, stated the host. Khar was asked how she addressed these concerns, or if she merely “threw them in the bin.”
Khar, deflecting the question, launched into a breakdown of the various commissions set up under her watch to deal with individuals who were reported missing.
“How many were prosecuted after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay? It’s very difficult in most societies to be able to prosecute the people who are supposed to be protecting the country.”
Despite her shortcomings in dealing with the military’s human right abuses, Khar maintained that she was always “fiercely independent” and was never pushed by the military to direct policy matters.
She added that she only consulted the military leadership in matters where they were “relevant stakeholders.”
“On issues on which I thought they were not relevant stakeholders, for instance trade with India, I didn’t,” she explained. “It’s none of their business.”
Journalist and commentator Omar Waraich, present on a panel during the interview, called Pakistan ‘a fledgling democracy.”
Waraich noted that the country’s pattern of democratic and military rule replacing one another at times of crisis, a pattern that could only break under two conditions: the absence of war, and a competent government that produced economic growth. Khar’s government, he added, had “certainly not” managed either.
Partial relics of the past
Pakistan has been long accused of sponsoring extremist organisations such as the Taliban at home and abroad. Khar defended these accusations fiercely, including the assertion that Pakistan sponsored “good Taliban” at home, and that proxies working for the government were attacking Afghan troops and civilians across the border.
Khar noted how the military had changed its policies during Zardari’s time in office. “Pakistan did not have the ability to take on every terror network in the region at the same time,” she said, referring to earlier regimes.
Khar then briefly acquiesced, saying that the accusations contained “relics of the past” which “superimposed on the present” and contained “waves of truth” but held on to the assertion that rumors of state-sponsored proxy groups were “misguided” at best.
“As far as sponsoring or funding them was concerned,” she said. “I would like to believe that under our watch that was not the policy direction at all,” she then stated.
“I believe history will prove us to be correct,” Khar added. “Pakistan was scapegoated fantastically for all the ills and the wrongs of the war in Afghanistan.”
'Guilty of incompetence'
Former Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, who was also part of the government during Khar’s term, recently claimed that the government was aware of Bin Laden’s whereabouts.
But Khar, who was also a government minister at the time, claimed that the Pakistani government was not protecting Bin Laden.
“He [Chaudhry] doesn’t know the first thing he’s talking about,” Khar said. “He knows nothing about defence, or the foreign policy of Pakistan.”
She was shocked when she heard the news, she said, and admitted that Pakistan “was guilty of being incompetent” when it came to tracking Bin Laden.
'I was not in the room'
The former foreign minister also denied the Zardari’s government complicity in the US’s controversial drone programme.
A series of allegations were leveled at Khar implying that Pakistan had been involved in a double game where it denounced drone attacks at home, but privately supported them.
Former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, for example, had privately said that he ‘didn’t care if they [the US] wanted drone strikes’; leaked documents revealed that the ISI was helping the CIA pick targets for strikes; and Zardari, in a statement to journalists had stated. ‘There are no differences between Pakistan and the US, including drone attacks.’
Khar, however, denied all these allegations. “I am not willing to believe he said that,” she said about Gilani.
She also clarified that Zardari’s statement declaring no differences between the two countries implied that the US also does not believe in drone strikes being a permanent solution.
Khar argued that the other allegations were most likely “misrepresented” or “misreported” since she was “pretty much in every important meeting” and had not heard Pakistani leaders discuss the drone program with such apathy and carelessness. At the very least, she clarified that none of those conversations had taken place with her in the room.
“We said that drone strikes are counter-productive,” she leveled. “What does counter-productive mean? It means that they are actually fueling extremism, and assisting people to attract more people to extremism. We said that it was against Pakistan’s territorial integrity.”
Rabbani lauded her time as foreign minister, saying that the Zardari government had done “humongous work” in that department.
“We didn’t need to have a great relationship with London, or with Washington DC, but we needed a great relationship with Kabul and Delhi,” she said.
After 35 years, she noted how no other military or civilian government had showed the will to normalise trade with India.
Khar especially commended the Zardari-led government's ability to shift Pakistan's policy on India.
Previously, Pakistan and India were unwilling to discuss trade until the issue of Kashmir was resolved first — a condition that no longer applies to bilateral trade discussions between the two.
On the topic of Kashmir, Khar also added that she “would be very happy if the Kashmiri people get the choice to choose between India, Pakistan or an independent state”.