Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great 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 would share Pakistan’s perspective on them in due course. But I want to begin with how Pakistan envisions the future of its relationship with the United States.
I don’t 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 11terrorist attacks, Pakistan and the United States came together to decimate Al Qaeda’s core leadership and architecture. Our cooperation produced results, leading President Biden to conclude earlier this year that the United States had achieved its core objective in Afghanistan.
Now that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan 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 a major source of foreign remittances, the lifeblood of our economy. There is great 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. Finally, 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 broad based relationship that is anchored in trade, investment, and people-to-people linkages.
As Pakistan shifts its focus towards “geo-economics,” we want to 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 in this regard.
Sitting at the crossroads of South and Central Asia, Pakistan is a market of over 220 million people with a growing middle class. Pakistan’s young but exciting start-up 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, there are now tremendous opportunities for U.S. companies that specialize in renewable and clean energy.
Ultimately, an economically strong Pakistan can be an anchor of stability in a region that has suffered through 40 years of war in Afghanistan. Pakistan can work with the United States through the Development Finance Corporation to generate economic activity along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This could, in turn, help the Afghan people rebuild their war-ravaged country. The Pakistan-U.S.-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan Quadrilateral could be similarly leveraged to support Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was elected three years ago 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 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 UN two years ago and warned that India’s annexation of 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 brought the region to a standstill. India was so frightened of the public’s reaction to the death of this 91-year-old freedom fighter who had spent the last decade of his life under house arrest that it imposed a lockdown in Kashmir. India did not even let Mr. Geelani’s family bury him as per his wishes. This disgraceful episode sums up India’s failure in Kashmir.
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 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 had been 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, there was a risk of more instability, even civil war in Afghanistan. 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. In vain, we urged both the Ghani government and the Taliban to show flexibility.
While the Taliban made rapid military gains on the ground this summer, Mr. Ghani’s government was busy inciting hatred against Pakistan on social media. Unfortunately, successive Afghan governments found it was easier to play to the international gallery by blaming Pakistan for every problem in Afghanistan, 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 Khan have pointed out, continuing the war in Afghanistan would not have changed the outcome.
Here, I want to speak briefly to 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 Qaeda 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—successes that, let me repeat, were achieved with Pakistan’s cooperation.
More worryingly, we are noticing some tired old narratives about Pakistan resurfacing in this 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 re-litigating 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 4 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 farther afield—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 push 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 the exactly the kind of place that would lure terrorist groups. Pakistan is already experiencing an upsurge in terrorist attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Balochistan 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. Just coercion will not do. We should also be vigilant against regional spoilers who were 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.