KARACHI: “Pakistan’s army does not have a relationship with India, the state does,” Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, fielding questions from a journalist of India Today in Davos on Friday, made it clear as he set the tone for what was his first interview to an Indian news outlet.
Maintaining that Pakistan needs a strong army since it is engaged in the fight against terrorism, Bilawal — when questioned about Pakistan Army’s alleged links with extremist forces — asserted: “It does not serve my purpose or my country’s purpose to criticise my armed forces when they’re fighting terrorists.”
The security-focused interview also touched on the relationship between Pakistan and India, with the PPP leader saying that although things were not at their best at the moment, he felt there was still hope for the future.
“Despite hostilities on both sides and genuine complaints, ultimately the youth of both countries understand that the only solution is peace. We just have to figure out a way to get there.”
However, he added, the relationship was not going to improve if India — and the world — continued to dictate to Pakistan. “That’s not how a partnership works or builds. You have to have a conversation about what reservations perhaps Pakistan may have with India, and India will also have reservations about what is going on in Pakistan,” he asserted in the interview carried by dawn.com.
“You have those discussions not in front of the public and cameras, you have those discussions behind closed doors,” Bilawal explained to his interviewer.
He also commented on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies both before and after he became the Indian premier. “His image in Pakistan after the incidents in Gujarat is not positive,” he said, referring to Modi’s stint as the Indian state’s chief minister when deadly riots between Muslims and Hindus led to much bloodshed in 2002.
He also did not shy from giving his views on Kashmir. “In the age of social media, you cannot hide what’s happening in Kashmir on either side. But for social media to see bullet-riddled bodies in [India-held] Kashmir makes things a little difficult.”
Asked why Pakistan had not reciprocated Modi’s efforts to improve relations by going out of the way to visit Sharif’s in Raiwind, Bilawal said: “Modi’s trip to Pakistan, while perhaps intended to send a positive sign ... [was not followed] up with any sort of state cooperation [which] sends the image that they’re just showing that they want to have peace but are not actually taking the concrete steps necessary.”
Extremism not Islam-specific
When India Today asked about US President Donald Trump’s tweets about Pakistan, Bilawal said: “I don’t think Trump wanted to give the impression that America doesn’t pay its debts.
“The Coalition Support Fund is not aid; it is the money Pakistan is due for the work we have done in fighting terrorism,” he said, highlighting the need for having meaningful conversations to defeat terror. “We are not even having a conversation on how to counter violent extremism,” he said.
“Extremism is not Islam-specific,” Bilawal said, referring to a global rise in extremism. “You have it in Myanmar, India, America and in Pakistan. Not only do we have to eliminate terrorism, but also talk about defeating extremism.”
Asked to comment on the Indian premier’s popularity, he said: “Unfortunately, some politicians [in BJP] choose to do more populist, more hate-driven politics [and] feed off on negative emotions of people, split communities on ethnic, religious lines. I don’t believe that is positive for any country. That’s not positive for my country or India.”
When the interviewer referred to the recent election victory reflecting the rising popularity of the Indian premier, Bilawal shot back, asking: “Is winning what’s important or is doing the right thing what’s important? And I think India will decide in history when its history books are written who did the right thing.”
About dealing with extremism in Pakistan, the PPP chairman said besides military action, “Pakistan has come up with National Action Plan, which has a more holistic approach that addresses issues within the society, hate speech, structural reforms in Fata, and all that.. and that’s the way forward for Pakistan to deal with extremism. We also have to look what we are teaching to our kids.
“We cannot tolerate prejudice, we can’t tolerate misogyny, we can’t tolerate discrimination, we can’t tolerate hate. And if we don’t tolerate all these things, there won’t be any space for extremism,” he added.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2018