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Pakistani Envoy Details Efforts to Stabilize Tribal Areas

February 25, 2009 at 6:45 PM EST
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Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top Afghan officials this week in Washington for security talks, saying he is open to working closely with the U.S. to fight terror and extremism. Qureshi explains his views.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Pakistan under review in Washington. Margaret Warner has that story.

MARGARET WARNER: Senior national security officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan came to Washington this week to take part in the Obama administration’s reassessment of U.S. policy toward both countries.

This strategic review was exploring how to carry out President Obama’s vow to intensify U.S. efforts against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Pakistani officials were invited to contribute their ideas earlier this month, even as the Pakistani government was reaching a deal that U.S. officials find disturbing. To get Taliban militants to agree to stop attacking Pakistan government forces in the Swat Valley, Pakistan agreed to let the Taliban bring Islamic rule to the former tourist region.

Pakistan’s delegation here is headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and he joins me now.

And, Minister Qureshi, welcome.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI, Foreign Minister, Pakistan: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: As you’ve been in these talks with the Obama officials, are you starting from the same page, in terms of how dire the situation is, vis-a-vis the growing strength of al-Qaida and Taliban militants in that western region?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: In my view, the strength of al-Qaida is not the same what it was perhaps a few years ago. In my view, they’re weaker. Al-Qaida is weaker.

Taliban has been on the run because of the military operations being carried out in Pakistan in the tribal belt. We were able to take out some very important people and regain areas that they had established a foothold in. So my view is quite different from yours.

'Holistic' approach required

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistani Foreign Minister
What we are saying is, we've got to have a fresh look at how things need to be done. What we are saying is greater coordination between NATO forces, Pakistan, and Afghanistan will give early and more effective results.

MARGARET WARNER: But, no, I'm asking if your view is the same as the Obama administration's, because senior officials within the administration feel the situation has grown worse, more threatening to your government and to the Afghan government and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: You see, the situation in Afghanistan is, I would say, of concern. There have been more incidents in Afghanistan in the last one year. There have been serious governance issues over there. And, obviously, they have a spillover, they have an effect on us, as well, because, you know, we share a common border.

And there are concerns. You know, you've spent almost seven years there and billions of dollars and perhaps not been able to achieve what you're starting to achieve, you know, when you diverted your attention from Afghanistan away to Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, let me ask you this -- you were invited here to weigh in, essentially, on the administration's review. What changes is Pakistan asking or suggesting the U.S. make in its policy there?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: What we are saying is, we've got to have a fresh look at how things need to be done. What we are saying is greater coordination between NATO forces, Pakistan, and Afghanistan will give early and more effective results.

What we are saying is, a holistic approach, as opposed to a military solution, is required. What we are saying is, a regional approach is what is required, as opposed to it just being focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Drones 'alienate' Pakistan people

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistani Foreign Minister
We want to carry the people along, because we feel, if we want to win this fight, we cannot do it by military means alone. We've got to have the people of that area, the people of Pakistan, with us, and these drones alienate the people.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, that is, of course, what Special Representative Holbrooke has been talking about, is a regional approach. But, specifically, for instance, is Pakistan asking for any changes in the frequency or way these Predator drone attacks are being carried out now by the U.S. into the western regions of Pakistan?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Yes, we have an issue with the drones. And I have flagged that issue in talks yesterday. We are in discussions, so I don't want to go...

MARGARET WARNER: What are you asking for?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: What I'm asking for is that they have to review the strategy vis-a-vis drones. They feel they are advantageous because they have a tactical advantage, and they have carried out some successful strikes and taken out some high-value targets. That is correct.

At the same time, there is a collateral damage that is linked to the drones and that has alienated people there.

Our approach, our government, the democratically elected government of Pakistan, is trying to approach the problem differently. We want to carry the people along, because we feel, if we want to win this fight, we cannot do it by military means alone. We've got to have the people of that area, the people of Pakistan, with us, and these drones alienate the people.

MARGARET WARNER: So there are reports today that you are suggesting that Pakistan ought to be able to carry out those drone attacks with U.S. help, that that would be less inflammatory with the population. Is that the case? Is that what you're suggesting?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, if they are necessary, if they are a necessity, then I think we are suggesting that technology should be transferred to Pakistan and that will resolve quite a few issues with the people of Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: What answer did you get from the administration on that suggestion?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Well, I'm sure they'll consider it. I don't know what the answer is yet.

Swat Valley deal controversial

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistani Foreign Minister
We want the schools reopened. We want the girls to go back to school. We want all government offices to function smoothly, and that is the understanding given to us.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you now about the deal in the Swat Valley, because Ambassador Holbrooke called it "very hard to understand." Why has the Pakistan government entered this arrangement with the Taliban militants there?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: First of all, let me correct you. The arrangement is not with the Taliban. The arrangement is with the local people of Swat. It is a local solution to a local problem.

You have to understand what the problem is. The problem is quick dispensation of justice. Swat was a princely state before it was amalgamated into Pakistan in 1969. They had local courts and kind of a jury system of their own. And they gave quick and cheap justice.

Now, under the new system that was the -- you know, when they came into the national mainstream, the system that was introduced was cumbersome, it was costly, and it was distant. So there was a popular demand to go back to the original system.

MARGARET WARNER: But, Mr. Minister, 250,000 people have been driven out of there, 1,200 people have been killed. Talking to people who've been up there, they say there are foreign fighters up there, there are local Taliban fighters, and they have terrorized that area. They've burned police stations. They've closed all the DVD stores and the video stores. They're trying to keep girls from going to school. I mean, is your government ready to accept that as a price for peace?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: No, we will not. What we have said is, we will only talk to people if they lay down arms, and restore peace, and establish the rule of government.

We want the schools reopened. We want the girls to go back to school. We want all government offices to function smoothly, and that is the understanding given to us.

MARGARET WARNER: And how do you...

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: The Taliban, I am not denying that there have been incidents of, you know, attacking police stations. They have been trying to shut down, you know, C.D. shops and so on and so forth.

But the whole of Swat is not under their control. There are two pockets of Swat. You know, there's two pockets of Swat where, yes, some miscreants did enter, and we used military operations and we used military force to flush them out.

No compromise with extremists

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistani Foreign Minister
The Taliban will not be in charge there. The government of Pakistan is going to be in charge there. We are not compromising with the Taliban.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you -- if this happens -- how do you prevent that valley, pretty well-protected valley, from becoming another sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban militants from which they can launch further attacks on your country, on Afghanistan, or even potentially here?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: First of all, the presence of al-Qaida in Swat is negligible, if any.

MARGARET WARNER: But once the Taliban's in charge, that's the danger, isn't it?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: The Taliban will not be in charge there. The government of Pakistan is going to be in charge there. We are not compromising with the Taliban.

What people have not understood is that we have taken the wind out of the sails of the extremists by introducing this quick dispensation of justice, you know, what is called nazah mehudel, you know, quick justice.

MARGARET WARNER: Islamic courts, but quick.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Yes. And they are not different from the law of the land, you know? The constitution of Pakistan says that there will be no laws promulgated in Pakistan which are not in conformity with Islam and Sharia. So it's no different, you know, from the rest.

MARGARET WARNER: So you think you can keep the situation under control there and that somehow this is not going to become another, essentially, hideout?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Not only will we control the situation over there; we are going to drive them out. We are going to push them out. We're going to push them out from Swat, and we are going to drive them out of the tribal belt, because we feel we will not compromise with extremists and terrorists, for our own sake.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Minister, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: Thank you.