By Arul Louis
New York, Sep 27 (IANS) Pakistan Foreign Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif has admitted that Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its leader Hafiz Saeed are liabilities to Islamabad and that it needs time to get rid of them.
“It is easy to say that Pakistan is supporting Afghanis (terrorists), Hafiz Saeed and Lakshar-e-Taiba,” he said here on Tuesday.
“They are liabilities… I accept they are liabilities. But give us time to get rid of these liabilities because we do not have the assets to manage those liabilities. You are increasing the liabilities further” by harping on them, he said.
Asif was answering questions at the Asia Society after a speech on Pakistan’s priorities under the new Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The moderator, Columbia University Journalism School Dean Steve Coll, specifically mentioned Hafiz Saeed — the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack that killed 166 Indians and foreigners — starting a political party.
The Foreign Minister replied: “I agree we should continue our efforts (to) defang, dismantling whatever remnants are there of extremism or terrorists in Pakistan. I don’t disagree with that.
“You mentioned a name. It is a proscribed organisation, the gentleman is under house arrest. But I agree with you that on that score, on that account we have to do more.
“There are people in Pakistan who can be a liability in times of crisis for Pakistan and for the region, I agree,” he added.
Asif blamed the US for the rise of terrorist organisations in Pakistan, citing its support for the jihadists against the former Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan.
“Don’t blame us for Hafiz Saeeds,” he said.
On India, Asif said that while the Jammu and Kashmir issue was non-negotiable and Pakistan won’t give up its stand, deposed Prime Minister “Nawaz Sharif staked his political career, for achieving or stablizing our relationship. I don’t say … pleasant or lovey-dovey relationship can be achieved overnight. But stabilizing our relationship with India” was possible.
He added that Nawaz Sharif was called Indian Prime Minister Narendra “Modi’s friend and traitor” by the opposition in Pakistan.
“But despite that Nawaz Sharif pursued that objective. In all sincerity and all commitment, today he thinks that friendship with India will be good for both countries and bring lasting peace to the subcontinent.”
Asif said he pinned his hopes on improving relations in the region of economic integration.
He held up the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a model and said its success could improve ties between “us and India, between China and India”.
Once it becomes an economic success, regional cooperation will get the support of the people, especially the businesses for whom there will be money to be made.
Asif was forthright about the legacy of the Afghan war on Pakistan, which changed the ethos of a country that had been liberal.
“That is the tragedy,” he said. “It makes my heart bleed.”
The Pakistan of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a very liberal, pluralistic society, he said. “But what we did in 1980 to justify the jihad reversed everything.
“We rewrote our histories,” he said. “Heroes became non-heroes, non-heroes became heroes because we wanted to justify jihad because that suited our friends, our good friends the Americans.
“They wanted to kick out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, that was the objective. And we supported (it) and in the process our ethos was destroyed.”
After the defeat of the Soviet Union, “You shouldn’t have left the way you left that region,” he said.
“You thought the Cold War is over, ‘We are the sole superpower and so we don’t have to bother about Pakistan or this region can go to hell.’ And that is what happened. We went to hell. And We are still burning in that hell.”
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])
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