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Countering the global narrative by ankur choudhary

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Countering the global narrative by
Article Posted: 08/15/2012
Article Views: 104
Articles Written: 701
Word Count: 1872
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Countering the global narrative

Current Affairs
The international narrative on Pakistan was one-sided, based on leaks, disinformation and fanciful information, according to Islamabad's Foreign Minister.

'And most of all it is insulting to the 200m Pakistanis I represent over here who seek only to live in prosperity with dignity,' Hina Rabbani Khar told a Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House audience.

On the state of relations with India today, she said that both countries had 'invested a great deal of time, money and effort in infecting the minds of the average Indian and Pakistani against each other so we have invested in building hostility in the minds of the average Indian and Pakistani'. At the root of that was the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. So the countries must work to eliminate the trust deficit between them and then build trust to ensure that the dialogue process continues.

'We're saying we've held on to views created through a security lens for far too long by both countries. This is a major departure from a long-held view for Pakistan. And we hope that India will also make some major departures from some long-held views vis-à-vis its relations with Pakistan.'

In another significant departure, Ms Khar said that the notion of strategic-depth which has long dominated the thinking of the Pakistan military — that it needs a strong military influence in Afghanistan to protect itself — was a 'flawed concept'. The best protection was a peaceful, secure and sovereign Afghanistan.

Pakistan was not the only country that had been doing it but the other nations involved walked away from it when they had achieved what they wanted to achieve. 'The Soviet Union was the only one not to be blamed — everyone else got their hands dirty. Pakistan was left with the arms and the ammunition and the people and the narcotics to live with for the next 20 years. We are the ones who should be blaming the rest of the world for that; because we did not have a Kalashnikov culture in Pakistan or a drug culture with it.'

She said everyone had to put to rest what they thought they knew about Pakistan. 'It is important to shelve these pre-conceived notions and start looking at facts on the ground as they exist.

'So if we are really intent to learn what Pakistan is doing in pursuit of its national interest, one of the greatest challenges for the world community is to stop assuming that we already know and start listening to each other, and I mean each other.'

Pakistan, she said, could not change the geography of south and central Asia and 'guess what, we do not want to change our neighbours. We are very appreciative of the wonderful, rich, diversity of our neighbours, of China, of India, of Iran, of Afghanistan, every one of them. We are very proud to be in this neighbourhood.

'To extend this appreciation and affinity for merely mutual cultural admiration to the realm of public policy, Pakistan is pursuing a single-minded policy of transformational change with its neighbours and I hope that the world is noticing.

'Whatever the dispute, whatever the context, we have initiated a dialogue with India that we want to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible — this is a phrase I have borrowed from an Indian civil servant who is now a politician.

'We have begun trade liberalization with India: the more we trade with each other the more normal our neighbourhood will start to appear.'

This was a commitment, she said, that was irreversible for Pakistan because it was backed by a national consensus, and every government agency in Pakistan is committed to doing its job and takes its job seriously.

To a murmur of recognition in the audience, Ms Khar said it was the job of the military and intelligence agencies to define the country's national security or to tell the government what the national security risks were just as it was the job of the ministry of industry and the ministry of foreign affairs to define the country's interests and pass those requirements on to the elected leadership for the formation of the national consensus, which constituted the national interest of the Pakistani people. 'Everything else is gossip,' she said.

'So with our neighbour India, despite the presence of significant challenges including the long-held dispute over Jammu and Kashmir and the common challenge of terrorism that we both face today, we are forging ahead.

'We will, insha'Alla, not stop until our vision of a completely normalized region is fulfilled. No region has been successful without a normalization of relations between big neighbours: the EU, the Association of South-East Asian Nations region are models that we in SAARC, in south Asia aspire to.

'India's leaders owe it to their people; Pakistan's leaders owe it to our people to pursue the path of normalization. It's something we define to be in Pakistan's national interest.”

Speaking of Iran as a nation with which Pakistan had always enjoyed a friendly relationship, she said that today the risks to that country's stability posed a dire threat to the entire region, a region that was already inherently unstable and which had suffered 20-30 years of strife in Afghanistan.

'So we say once again to our friends in the West they must address their concerns by talking to our friends in Iran: talk first, talk second and talk last. That is the only path to the resolution of the challenges in Iran. Any use of force with Iran poses the kinds of risk that no region should be subjected to.'

With China, she said, there was a bond of friendship whose constancy and fidelity was a source of constant strength to both countries. This mutually beneficial partnership would be the source of even more goodwill which would show itself over succeeding years.

But her warmest words were reserved for the 'most important capital for Pakistan' — Kabul, Afghanistan. 'Now this is a relationship that we know the most; this is the relationship we value the most; we know Afghanistan and Afghanistan knows us. We are intertwined; we are like twins. Our destinies are interlinked; we share a porous border, language, culture and we share music, food and poetry. We share the grief of decades of conflict and we share the dead bodies, the broken lives and the valour and bravery of the sons of both Pakistan and Afghanistan — those who have given their lives in the pursuit of a better Afghanistan and a better Pakistan; those who have died in the pursuit of peace over the last few decades in their 1,000s.

'But we share much, much more also. And the reason it is not known in this world is because of our peculiar culture in Pakistan; it is contrary to our culture to speak at the top of our lungs about what we have done for our family or for our neighbour.

Afghanistan is family to us; it is our most important neighbour but we don't just say this, we feel it, we live it.'

Ms Khar then proceeded to give details which she believed would help counter the 'narrative which has been constantly haunting this relationship…a ridiculous narrative' that sought to pit Pakistan against Afghanistan. 'This tries to suggest that Pakistan would ever support anything but peace, stability and security in Afghanistan.

'Despite our affinity and closeness, peace, stability and security in Afghanistan is important to us not because of our bonds of brother and sisterhood with Afghanistan but because of the selfish interests of Pakistan to be able to have peace and stability within its borders.

'To grow rapidly and consistently, we need peace and we need stability. We need it at home and we certainly need it in the region that we occupy — this is indeed Pakistan's national interest.'

She said that Pakistan had lost its stability over the past ten years in being an international partner to secure stability in Afghanistan.

'At the time of 9/11 Pakistan had had only one suicide bombing inside Pakistan territory; today we have so many I have lost count — hundreds, losing 30,000 civilians, 5,000 military personnel, 6,000 paramilitary policemen, all to be able to fight extremist elements within Pakistan; to be a frontline state in the struggle to bring peace and stability within the region.'

Outlining the close links between the Zardari and Karzai governments, she then detailed the relationship at various levels, noting that in 2008 the average number of Afghans crossing the border every day was 44,000, the following year it grew to 52,000 while today it stands at 60,000 Afghan nationals visiting for business, jobs, medical treatment and education or to see relatives.

Two hundred and fifty thousand multi-entry visas were issued to Afghans in 2010 and Islamabad issues more visas to Afghans than all other foreign nationals combined. And there was no evidence of special treatment for any particular ethnicity; the visas issued reflected the broad spectrum of the Afghan population, all of whom entered without charge.

This sense of fraternity between the two countries was the reason that three million Afghan refugees continue to call Pakistan home, a continuing resource burden for the last 30 years, a population which, at its peak, stood at 5.5m. Their affection and dependence on Pakistan is illustrated by the fact that of any refugees repatriated, 37 per cent of them are back in Pakistan within weeks. More than 7,000 students are enrolled in Pakistani colleges and institutions, which represents 60 per cent of all Afghans studying abroad anywhere in the world, while five million refugee children attend schools in Pakistan. Islamabad also encourages third party sponsorship of Afghan students studying in the country. Some 500 students benefit from this, attending all manner of courses, from some which last a few weeks on agriculture up to civil aviation and medicine.

'Most successful professionals in today's Afghan society have studied in Pakistan. They dominate the workplace in government offices, international organizations and NGOs but also as professionals, businessmen, entrepreneurs and skilled and semi-skilled labourers and are paid significantly more than graduates from any other country,' she said.

Pakistan is also providing 2,000 fully-funded graduate and postgraduate courses in its institutions of higher learning over the next four years in ten different fields. More than 90 per cent of Afghans who seek medical treatment abroad receive it in Pakistan, most of the treatment being free. At any one time 40 per cent of the patients in Peshawar's main hospitals are Afghans, 50 per cent are Afghans in Quetta and more than 30,000 Afghans enjoy free eye treatment in Pakistan every year.

The country has also played an active but unpublicized role in the Afghan reconstruction effort. Pakistan has built new facilities at three universities and a high school for 120 students in Kabul along with the Jinna Hospital which, when completed, will be the most modern medical facility in the country. All told, Pakistan is committed to $300m worth of such work across the nation.

On the peace process, the Foreign Minister stressed that Pakistan backed any and all initiatives that are all-inclusive and Afghan owned, led and driven.
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