Pakistan’s foreign minister discusses his country’s often-tense relationship with the U.S.

It has been a year of political tumult and natural disasters in Pakistan. And to the west, there is another humanitarian crisis in neighboring Afghanistan more than a year after the Taliban conquest there. Pakistan's foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari joined Amna Nawaz to discuss the slate of urgent issues and the often-tense relationship between his country and the United States.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It has been a year of political tumult and natural disasters in Pakistan. And, to the west, there is another humanitarian crisis in neighboring Afghanistan.

    It's a full slate of urgent issues for Pakistan's foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

    A short time ago, Amna Nawaz spoke with him and asked for his thoughts on the often tense relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistani Foreign Minister:

    I absolutely believe we are now heading in a positive direction, with increased engagement on both sides.

    And I think it's all the more important, in a world that offers a multitude of challenges, for us to find areas in which we do agree on to work together. And we are — we're doing that on climate. We're doing it on health. We're finding business and economic opportunities, particularly for women.

    So, there's a whole host of areas in which Pakistan and the U.S. are cooperating. I think this is all a healthy sign, given, in the past, our cooperation was very narrow and specific within the context of the war on terror. We're now building a more broad-based partnership.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Your nation has just announced you will pursue a discounted oil deal with Russia. You have also strengthened your ties with China.

    Can you ally with the U.S. and still do business with their geopolitical foes?

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    As far as Pakistan's relationship with China is concerned, China is our neighbor. We have a long history with them. And we have a lot of cooperation, particularly on the economic front.

    But we also have a historical relationship with the United States that stretches back to the 1950s. And we have partnered over the course of history, and I believe, whenever the United States and Pakistan have worked together, we have achieved great things. And whenever there's been a distance developed between us, then we have faltered. So I do think it's absolutely possible for the United — for Pakistan to engage with both China and the U.S.

    As far as Russia is concerned, we aren't pursuing or receiving any discounted energy, but we are facing an extremely difficult economic situation, inflation, pump prices. But we do have energy insecurity. And we are exploring various avenues to expand our areas where we can get our energy from. Any energy that we receive from Russia will take a long time for us to develop.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'd like to ask you about the political landscape.

    Back in Pakistan, as you well know, the former Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote earlier this year. He has led thousands of supporters on a march calling for early elections. He is very popular, right? In October, he won six out of seven National Assembly seats that he contested in by-elections.

    If you were to hold early elections, would he win?

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    A, he wouldn't win.

    Absolutely right. We did remove Mr. Khan through a no-confidence motion, which is a cornerstone in Pakistan's democratic development. Every other prime minister before Mr. Khan was either removed through a military coup or the orders of a Supreme Court. This is the first time through a democratic constitutional procedure a prime minister was removed from Parliament.

    As far as the by-elections are concerned, Mr. Khan resigned from seats that he held himself. So I believe this there is a false perception that's been created about Mr. Khan's popularity through social media and falsely portraying winning by-elections in his own seats as some sort of testaments to his popularity across Pakistan.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I hear you saying then you will not be calling for early elections. Is that correct?

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    No, absolutely.

    Pakistan's democratic achievement over the last decade is that we have had one Parliament after the other complete their five-year term. We had a government from 2007 to 2013. That Parliament completed its term and peacefully transferred power to the next Parliament, and that Parliament completed its term and transferred the power to this Parliament.

    I don't think that it's a justifiable reason for Pakistan to break that precedent just because Mr. Khan hasn't remained prime minister for the last six months.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'd like to ask you as well about Afghanistan, because you have called for the world to engage with the Taliban leadership there and allow women equal freedoms there. You have called for the leadership there to do that, to let girls back into school.

    They have — as you have seen, they have done the opposite, right? They have rolled back those rights. Girls have been out of school for over 450 days. So, what can you, in your role, do to pressure them to allow women to have equal freedom and allow girls back into school?

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    So, let me unpack that.

    As far as advocating for the world to engage with Afghanistan, that's absolutely correct. It is something that I have been insisting on, because I believe we shouldn't repeat the mistakes of the past. The last time in Afghanistan posted the — sort of the Cold War jihad, et cetera, the world up and left. And that left us with more problems and resulted in having to go back all over again.

    So, absolutely, we insist, not only Pakistan, but the international community must engage with Afghanistan. As far as women's rights are concerned and women's education is concerned, I believe that it is — it within — at least, in Pakistan, we believe that women have a right to education and a right to equal space in society at all levels.

    We're proud of the fact that Pakistan elected the first Muslim — female Muslim prime minister. These are examples for us. In the Afghanistan context, obviously, we encourage them to do the same for Afghan girls. And this is a commitment that they have made with the international community, with their own people, and with everybody else.

    So, we do hope that they do live up to their own commitment. I would also like to note, however, that they have been in power now for maybe a little bit over a year, and one year isn't a very long time for them to be able to deliver in Afghanistan. It is a long time, however, for girls to go without an education.

    So, that is why we continue to raise it with them. We encourage the fact that primary education for girls is allowed in Afghanistan. Tertiary education for girls is allowed in Afghanistan. And we look forward to the day where secondary education will also be allowed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I have to ask you while I have you, Mr. Minister, you do come from a storied political dynasty in Pakistan.

    Your grandfather, of course, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister. He was executed in 1979 under a military dictatorship. Your mother, Benazir Bhutto, was the first woman to lead the nation and was assassinated campaigning for reelection.

    Your critics say that politics shouldn't be a family affair, though. And I wonder what you would say to that.

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    I would agree that politics shouldn't be a family again — a family affair.

    And I, perhaps more than anyone, wish it wasn't. In the last 55 years of my party's existence, we have gone through three generations of leadership. It should still be the first generation of my family doing politics, let alone the second already being lost, and me having to step up and fill the role that I am fulfilling today.

    But my party has in the past and does today pursue democracy, advocate for democracy in Pakistan, and leave it to the people to decide who they wish to elect and be their — their representation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is the foreign minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, joining us tonight.

    Thank you for your time, Mr. Minister.

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment