- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Washington and New York last week. Here are excerpts from an interview with Washington Times U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik at the United Nations:

Question: You’ve just met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in Washington. What did you tell them?

Answer: The spirit behind the discussion was how to cooperate to achieve our objectives. We have some concerns.

Q: Such as?

A: The administration wanted us to be cognizant of the failure that we experienced in negotiating with militants in 2006. I highlighted the differences this time: We are talking through a position of strength. If there are violations of an agreement, we will take action and use force.

Q: Please describe the strategy for tribal areas along the Afghan border.

A: We are talking to tribal leaders who are influential in the area, and the elected representatives from those areas. Not the insurgents. The idea is to get grass-roots support. We can make military gains but still need public ownership, right?

The military can use force [and] the military can flush the terrorists out, but to hold the ground once you’d done the job you need the people’s support. You have to win them over, win their hearts and minds.

Q: Are the influentials on board?

A: You’d be surprised that the approach [by tribal leaders] was made to us. Instead of we seeking them, we were sought after.

Q: By whom?

A: By people who need to negotiate a way out. Hard-core militants are a minority. We are offering peace and security and stability and development and alternative economic opportunities, a better standard of living.

Q: What is the role of Frontier Corps?

A: The Frontier Corps is doing the main job there. We are trying to improve capacity with [the] help of the United States. They have to be equipped and trained to deal with insurgency. They understand the land, the terrain, culture, customs, the language.

Q: President Pervez Musharraf said Baitullah Mehsud killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. What does the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani think?

A: It would be an irresponsible statement if I start calling names and pointing fingers. We cannot pass a value judgment unless the [U.N.] inquiry has been conducted. We have succeeded in convincing the secretary general to set up an independent inquiry commission. Hopefully we will get a free, fair, independent and impartial inquiry.

Q: What are your priorities as foreign minister?

A: I want Pakistan to have good relations with its neighbors. I want to use diplomacy to promote economic development in Pakistan. I would want to improve the image of Pakistan. I want Pakistan to play its role in the region and the Muslim world.

Q: What is your priority with Afghanistan?

A: I want to build trust and convince them we have a vested interest in peace and stability. Afghanistan has serious food security issues and serious infrastructure problems. Pakistan is one country that can come to their help immediately. Our future is linked.

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