By Marjan Golpira

Pakistan Senate chairman: U.S. has fostered terror

August 28, 2017

TEHRAN - Mian Raza Rabbani, chairman of the Senate of Pakistan, sat with the Tehran Times in a one-on-one interview to discuss some of the latest issues in the region as well as ties between Iran and Pakistan. Below is the complete text of the interview.

Q: Could you please give us an update on the latest development of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline commonly called the ‘peace pipeline’ as Iran has completed its end of the deal and Pakistan is yet to hold its end of the bargain up.

A: Pakistan has been working around gas pipeline for quite some time. But unfortunately, because of the sanctions that were in place against Iran in the initial stages, it ran into certain teething problems. And subsequent to that up to lifting the sanctions there were issues with the banking sector and so on and so forth. But now we have an agreement which has been signed between the State Bank of Pakistan and the Central Bank of Iran. That agreement has almost seen the light of day in as much as Pakistan has issued the notification that was required after the signing of the agreement. Iran had given it the understanding [too]. In our meetings with Iranian officials it is in the process of having the relevant notification done. So, once that is in place, I think the last impediment should be out of way.

We on our side have already worked out a strategy and a plan to complete the pipeline in Pakistan and we are estimating about a two-year period. Going over 2018.

Q: Lives of Iranian border security forces have been cut short over insecure Pakistan’s borders with Iran.  Smugglers find way into Iran through Pakistan loose border control. Afghanistan also complains of the same thing. What can Pakistan offer to secure its borders with Afghanistan and Iran?

A: Pakistan has done more than its share and more than its bet as far as the war on terror is concerned. But I do agree with you most certainly on the issue of the border with regard to Afghanistan and Iran. Obviously, it is a long border. It is a border which for historical reasons and way back in time has been unattended. But given the new situation which has emerged up to the war on terror that was fostered on this region by the United States, new concerns have started to emerge.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, Pakistan has started to fence in the borders at various places in particular where crossings used to take place, so we are now in the process of fencing that in. We have wanted to do this for a very long time. But obviously the Afghan government was not looking at it very kindly. That having been said, I still would be a little skeptic, because as I said it is a long border; the terrain there is difficult, at places it is mountainous. And therefore to have a claim that it is totally sealed is not possible. But to say that yes it is better managed than before is possible.

As far as Iran is concerned, we’ve had a number of commissions with Iran on the issue of border management. I know it’s been a sticky point as far as the Iranians have been concerned. But then the feeling, let me put it, has been mutual on both sides.

Iran wanted us to put in place another high border commission which we did, and that border commission had its first meeting in the month of July and substantive progress has been made in that regard. In fact when the president of Iran visited Islamabad for the ECO summit, he expressed satisfaction with regard to the progress that has been made. As a consequence of that, inside the country, Pakistan has created a sudden command of rangers which would be patrolling in the area and again I would say that it would not be clean but it would be a total sealing of the border but of course it would be in a much better position.   

I think if he [Trump] is able to succeed [repeal the JCPOA] and I put that within inverted commas it would create a tremendous amount of destabilization not only in the region but  its vibrations would be felt throughout, be it Europe or be it America itself

Q: Donald Trump has recently said that Pakistan needs to change its “paradoxical policies” in supporting the militants who are causing great losses to the country. Your response to that please.

A: Well, I think the least said about Donald Trump the better. I think he needs to have a clearer perspective on the region that he is talking about, and in particular about Pakistan. Had it not been for Pakistan the United States would have been high and dry as far as the region is concerned, be it the period beginning from the Russian occupation of Afghanistan to the present state of affairs. And Pakistan even at that time came in despite the fact that its national security interest did not demand for Pakistan to play the role it did. But it came forward at the time the Russians were there. Then after that the Americans left us high and dry. Jihadis are today’s terrorists and the price that Pakistan has had to pay in terms of its economy, in terms of its culture, in terms of its civil society, in terms of the country being torn apart is absolutely horrendous. And I think the Americans perhaps have failed to appreciate that. The introduction of gun culture or the kalashnikov culture, the introduction of the drug culture has all been because of the war in Afghanistan. We have not forgotten that the CIA had put up disutility along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and we had to pay for that. We have also not forgotten the fact that after the Americans pulled out, the jihadis settled into Pakistan and sort of webbed themselves into Pakistani society.

So I think to maintain that Pakistan is running with the head and hunting with the hound is totally incorrect. Pakistan has paid perhaps the highest price that any country in the world has paid in terms of terrorism. Our armed forces have carried out massive operations, both internally and externally [against terrorists]. And have been successful in stemming the tide, I would not say finishing it because I don’t think it is possible to say that it can be eliminated so quickly, but we have stemmed the tide, and I take a strong exception on behalf of the parliament of Pakistan to these remarks of Donald Trump when we are on the front line and we are paying the price.

Q: Where does Pakistan stand on Trump’s approach to the JCPOA?

A: I believe that Obama has made substantive headway, and I think everyone throughout the world welcomed the agreement, and that we found that Iran till today has maintained and fulfilled all its commitments under the agreement. And I think that this policy of Donald Trump like all his other policies perhaps has no roots as such, because these were pronouncements which he made during his election campaign that he would review Obama’s policy vis-à-vis Iran, and that he would try to scrap the agreement that was in place. And I think he is now trying to give deeds to his ill-founded policies that he announced at that time.
I think if he is able to succeed and I put that within the inverted commas it would create a tremendous amount of destabilization not only in the region, but its vibrations would be felt throughout be it Europe or be it America itself. So I think he needs to be cautioned, he needs to tread carefully and he needs to now realize the fact that he is the president of the United States of America and that he cannot afford to make off-the-cuff policies and remarks as he did during his campaign.

Q: Will new avenues of cooperation open up between Iran and Pakistan now that President Rouhani has begun his second term as president?

A: I sure hope so. On the economic side, earlier on, when President Rouhani had a meeting with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, they both had come to an agreement that the trade should touch the $5 billion mark. But then it has been a sort of a seesaw, because of the tariff restrictions essentially in place by Iran on some of the imports from Pakistan. But I am hopeful in particular after having had these meetings here in Tehran and after listening to the officials that we would be able to move forward. They are very keen that some of the MOUs, the agreements that have been inked in by the two governments in electricity, gas pipeline,… be implemented quickly.

So I am hopeful that the economic side will pick up between the two countries. And that I believe would go a long way in fostering or strengthening the ties between the two countries even further. And the banking agreement between the State Bank of Pakistan and the Central Bank of Iran has taken place. We’ve done our part of the notification and hopefully Iran will be doing its own in the near future so that would further facilitate the economic ties on both sides.

Q: Will the political ties between the two states stay the same with the new interim Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi?

A: Well, although I belong to a different party, I think there will be a continuity of policy of Mr. Sharif. And I think as far as Iran is concerned like in connection with China, there is certain countries whose policy regardless of which party is in government is followed by all successive governments and I think Iran is one of those countries, because our relationship with Iran is time tested, it goes back into history, it goes back into culture, it goes back into religion. So I think it is a strong relationship and I think that with each successive government it will be stronger.

Q: How is Pakistan going to resolve issues with neighboring countries, for instance disputes with India over Kashmir and with Afghanistan over the Taliban?

A: As far as Afghanistan is concerned, we have always believed that there is only a negotiated settlement to the Afghan dispute. We have always adhered to the policy that the Afghan dispute has to be an Afghan internal settlement and it has to be an Afghan led settlement and that no country can impose its settlement on it. We also believe that a multilateral approach of the region is required in that respect, and we have welcomed each and every initiative in that has come in that regard. These certain amount of chill that came in to the relationship between Kabul and Islamabad, we have tried to break that or we have tried to defrost the chill. We sent across a very high parliamentary delegation to Kabul which was led by the speaker of the National Assembly; it was a multiparty delegation. So the chief of the army staff has gone, the chief of ISI has gone; so we are moving in that direction. And we would like to allay the fears that Afghanistan has. But then there is certain fears that we also have. We believe that Afghanistan needs to address those issues as well. However, I am optimistic but I do feel that perhaps there is no quick solution to it. But if persistently with an open mind both countries approach the problem, I do not see too much of a difficulty.

As far as India is concerned, I think Pakistan’s position is a principled one. Pakistan’s position is a position which is substantiated by international law and by the UN resolution. It is unfortunate that on one side the UN resolutions with reference to Kashmir and Palestine continue to be the two oldest unresolved resolutions of the United Nations, and we have Western capitals sort of turning a deaf ear on it.

we are ready to enter a new relationship with India on the basis of sovereign equality and if and when the Indian government is ready for CBMs we would be ready to initiate those and to start talks with India

On the other side we find that you have a resolution of the United Nations that justifies troops moving in to other countries. So this duality in the application of UN resolutions is something which I think is becoming far too stuck now and the world needs to realize that. The world also needs to realize that Pakistan has always talked about a dialogue for the settlement of the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. We have been talking about confidence building measures with India. And we have taken a number of confidence building measures with India. But it appears that the Modi government since it has taken over in India has a totally different agenda and perhaps for domestic consumption a secular India has now been converted into a theocratic India and the admiration that the West had that here you have a democracy that is secular is now gone under the waters.

So I think the policies there are driven more by the theoretical and theological bases of anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan, but nonetheless we believe that we are a responsible nuclear power, we will continue to give our unstinted political and moral support to the struggle of the Kashmiri people but at the same time we would like to have a better relationship with India, but India must realize that it can be an Indian and American dream that India has hegemony over the region. But we believe that we are ready to enter into a new relationship with India on the basis of sovereign equality and if and when the Indian government is ready for CBMs we would be ready to initiate those and to start talks with India.

As far as the talk of terrorism is concerned, India so far has been labeling vague allegations against Pakistan, no tangible proof of such has come forth, whereas Pakistan has arrested [Kulbhushan] Jadhav who has confessed to the fact that he is a serving commander in the Indian navy and he was stationed in Chabahar, he had to other accomplices with him, he was carrying on activities from here for a period of time, he would cross over into Pakistan in all probability for an operation when he was arrested. He confessed to a number of terrorism acts that he had undertaken or was planning to undertake in Pakistan… So here you have clear cut proof and these are not here allegations that Pakistan has leveled, take the city that these allegations have been worn out by India itself when it is taken the matter into international court of justice. So I think the shoe is on the other foot. It is for India to clarify its position not only to Pakistan but to the entire world that how it has been carrying out activities to destabilize Pakistan and in particular the province of Baluchistan by sending infiltrators into Pakistan.

Q: So you are hopeful that the matters can get resolved with India?

I am an optimist. I believe that the people of Pakistan want to live in peace. The people of Pakistan want to channelize their energies for their own development and for building economic bridges with countries; so I am optimistic, elections are around the corner in India. Hopefully, Modi would change his frame of mind or after that when a new government comes in. It is always easier to do business with a non-BJP government. So let’s look forward to that.

Q: As the chairman of the Senate of Pakistan, how do you assess the parliamentary relationship between Iran and Pakistan?

A: Well, we have a fairly good relationship even at the present moment with Iran, both the houses have friendship groups in place. He [Iran’s Majlis speaker] and myself are fairly frequently in touch over the telephone.  We have good cooperation at various other international parliamentary forums, like the IPU. We are bound together in the APA that is the Asian Parliamentary Association whose headquarters are here in Tehran. For in the last two years not this year but the last two years Pakistan has been the president of that. So our relationships are good. When I met Iran’s Majlis speaker I offered to him a memorandum of understating between the two parliaments  which would not only cover the parliamentarians but would cover our standing committees as well, would cover the secretarial as well so that we could learn from exchanges and from the experiences of one another. He in principle agreed. I will go back and send a draft, they will probably send us a draft. So we are looking forward to a much richer period of parliamentary cooperation.

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