Echoing his country’s leaders, Pakistan’s new ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, affirmed that his government will take an across-the-board approach to controlling extremist groups without regard for their particular cause or connections.
In an appearance at the U.S Institute of Peace this week, Khan responded to questions about the recent flare-up between Pakistan and India in disputed Kashmir, which USIP’s head of Asia programs, Andrew Wilder, called “the most serious military confrontation between two nuclear states in recent history.” The immediate spark for February 26 clash was a mass-casualty attack on Indian troops claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed, an insurgent group that Pakistan allegedly formed, supplies, and allows to operate inside the country.
Khan said Pakistan has received inadequate credit for its efforts to fight extremist and terrorist groups. Since 2017, he said, the government has carried out about 20,000 intelligence-based operations that have, for example, routed the Pakistani Taliban to restore the Swat Valley as a tourist destination, cleared tribal areas of terrorists, and dismantled various networks supporting insurgents and terrorists.
“The improved security speaks for itself,” he said.
How Will Pakistan Deal with Terrorism?
USIP’s Moeed Yusuf, who led the discussion with Khan, said that in Washington and other capitals, the focus is shifting from exclusive concern with escalation of any clash between the nuclear-armed powers to the capacity of terror groups to instigate crises—and the perception that Pakistan isn’t doing anything about it.
“The finger is pointed at Pakistan because of these groups again and again,” said Yusuf, the associate vice president of USIP’s Asia Center. Will Pakistan take an approach that’s “indiscriminate” in dealing with all of them, asked Yusuf? “Yes or no?”
“Yes,” Khan replied.
He argued later, however, that to frame the problem of Kashmir—a conflict born with the creation of the Pakistani state—as an extremist issue was a “disservice” to thousands of Kashmiris being killed in the struggle.
How the Afghan War Impacts Pakistan
Asked by a member of the audience whether Pakistan shouldn’t take responsibility also for hosting groups “making trouble” in Afghanistan, Khan replied that no country apart from Afghanistan itself had suffered as much from the war there.
Pakistan has lost 70,000 people to the “war on terror,” he said. To deal with the allegation that insurgents were crossing from Afghanistan, Pakistan has established 780 border posts and fenced 900 kilometers of its 2,200-kilometer border, he said. Pakistan is eager to turn its full attention to economic development and closer relations with its neighbors, Khan said.
The challenge of the past decade in U.S.-Pakistani relations has been the “centrality of Afghanistan” to the exclusion of any other aspect of the relationship, Khan added.
“President Trump has shown a lot of courage and vision in seeking peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said, referring to ongoing U.S. talks with the Taliban. “On this score, he is on the same page with the prime minister,” said Khan, a career diplomat appointed to his new posting by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who took office in August.
During a brief speech and question-and-answer session, Khan commented on other aspects of Pakistan’s foreign and domestic situation.
- On peace and dialogue with India: “We hope the worst is behind us and that some sense and sanity will prevail in India, allowing the present government to see the escalation with Pakistan beyond their narrow, domestic political considerations and as the serious threat its poses to the region and beyond.”
- On whether Pakistan has chosen to join “the China camp,” in part due to the growing U.S.-India strategic partnership: Khan said adopting a view of “hard alliances” is a relic of the Cold War, when many countries were forced into silos with one bloc. “The world has changed tremendously. China is the United States’ largest trading partner. China is a major trading partner with India, also. Despite there being strategic competition, these are not either/or relationships … Our friendship with China is not something that started yesterday … In the context of CPEC [the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor] it does not mean that the Chinese investments are to the exclusion of everyone else ... China came to Pakistan, frankly, when no one else was willing to do so.”
- On what kind of “peace dividend” Pakistan might expect after if an agreement is reached with the Taliban and relations with India stabilize: Khan noted that Pakistan has the world’s fifth-largest population, 45 percent of which is middle class and driving rapid increases in consumption. “We want to start looking inwards. There is huge potential in our bilateral relationships, and through them a chance to explore wider economic possibilities … It is only after you are able to bring security to Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan and peace in the wider region that we will be able to fully explore and harness a peace dividend.”
- On Pakistan beyond terrorism and war: “There is a conversation in the public domain. But then there are also realities on the ground. Proctor & Gamble made six times more profits than its global average in Pakistan. Pepsico and Coke doubled and tripled their investments. And this all happened during the past 10 years. Businesses have their own sense and appreciation of a country and its potential. But that conversation doesn’t get reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post.”