Pakistan's Foreign Minister On Osama Bin Laden, Malala Yousafzai, And The Drones That Plague Her Country

 @MayaErgas
on January 16 2013 9:02 PM
Pakistani Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar
Pakistani Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations with New York Times Journalist David Sanger. IBTimes/Maya Shwayder

In answer to the question hanging over the room, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said no, she has not yet seen "Zero Dark Thirty," the Oscar-nominated film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but she does plan to. Khar did have much to say, however, about the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing by Navy SEALs in her country in 2011.

"Osama bin Laden inflamed emotion on the U.S. side, and it was equally so for the Pakistanis," Khar said, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Wednesday. "Pakistani parliamentarians and U.S. congressmen were equally upset, could not believe it, could not understand it. 

"Osama bin Laden's presence in Pakistan was as much a disaster for us as it was for anyone else," Khar said. "There were intelligence failures, that's a fact."

Asked about the potential lost love between America and Pakistan over the bin Laden raid, Khar said that the fact that the U.S. believed it had to deceive Pakistan spoke to the "lost opportunities" Pakistan had to stabilize Afghanistan. "It is something that we should at least hold ourselves responsible for."

But she asserted that Pakistan and America had a common enemy, and "going into a blame game" would not help anyone.Khar touched on everything from Osama bin Laden to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in her talk at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. Here are the highlights.The Afghan Transition in 2014

"As the international community's transition from Afghanistan takes place, we are of course very concerned, and we request only one thing: a responsible transition," Khar said. "A responsible transition entails a stable Afghanistan, an Afghanistan which will not be a breeding ground for terrorists, where women will have their rights, and will be a source of stability to the region. 

"Let me share with you three barometers which are not very confidence-inspiring for us: 

"1. In 2007, the 5 million-plus Afghani refugees that we have housed for the last three decades in Pakistan had started to trickle back. Since 2009, we have a fresh crop of refugees coming into Pakistan … related to that, property prices in [a border town] have risen by almost 300 percentage points in the last year.

"2. One major objective of foreign presence in Afghanistan was to reduce the ideological space that exists for extremist mindset. I think if you look at the last 10 years, the ideological space for extremists has only increased. In Pakistan, before 2001, there was only one suicide bomb attack inside Pakistan. Only in the last two or three years there have been more than 300 suicide bomb attacks, which have caused 30,000 civilian deaths. 

"3. The number of people crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan … has increased exponentially in the last six months, which means the borders are becoming less well-managed." 

Khar emphasized that Afghanistan had made many gains in women's rights and building schools, and overall, she was choosing to be "concerned but cautiously optimistic." 

Moderator David Sanger, the New York Times' chief Washington correspondent, asked Khar if a continued American presence post-2014 would "hurt or help Afghanistan." Khar said she wouldn't give a judgment call on how many troops should be left, if any, but stressed that long-term, "there should be no foreign military presence in Afghanistan. It would not be good for the stability of the region."

However, Khar said, a "responsible transition" would mean that the Americans would leave at a time when "at least some of the entry-goals have been achieved." Such a transition could take 14 years, one year, or six months, Khar said, but her main point was, "I do not want to leave behind conditions which are worse than the ones they inherited."The CIA's Doctor, Shakil Afridi

Afridi is a Pakistani doctor who was paid by the U.S. to run a vaccination campaign in Pakistan in the hopes of locating Osama bin Laden. The CIA sent Afridi out to take DNA samples of children, in the hopes that they could identify the DNA of the children in the Abbottabad compound. After bin Laden's death, Afridi was arrested and accused of being a traitor to Pakistan. When asked about the doctor, Khar said Afridi "is no hero."

"He did not know what he was doing," Khar said. "He is just a man with a long history of being up for hire both by terrorist organizations, and by any other intelligence organization who so desires. He did not know who he was working for or what he was doing." 

Khar also accused Afridi of leaving millions of Pakistani people and children at risk for polio because of his actions. "To me, he's a villain," he said.The U.S. Intrusion Into Pakistani Airspace To Kill Bin Laden

"Why do you hold it against any nation to have a problem with that?" Khar countered, when asked about the U.S. entering Pakistani airspace unauthorized the night of the bin Laden raid. "If today Mexico were to partner with you to do the same attack, you would say good. It's a common enemy. Osama bin Laden was an enemy to us! [Former Prime Minister] Benazir Bhutto's assassination was at the hands of these terrorists. Millions of Pakistanis have suffered at the hands of these terrorists. In the U.S., you live with a fear of an attack on the homeland. My homeland is attacked every day."U.S. Drone Attacks

Khar has previously said that using drones in Pakistan was "choosing to win the battle at the cost of the war." On Wednesday she stood by that statement, confirmed that the Pakistani government was not approving the strikes, and also that the U.S. was beginning to come around to the Pakistani point of view. "It's important for Americans to understand the dangerous precedents that we are creating," Khar said. "You want to get al Qaeda operative number 112, and Taliban operative number 1,012. And you get them, and you think this is winning. However, you're creating 1,000 more minds and people who will go into the ranks of al Qaeda."Cleric Qadri

Khar all but dismissed the cleric Tahir ul-Qadri as a spotlight-seeking clown, saying that before two three weeks ago, when he began his antigovernment protests, she, nor really anyone else, had heard of him.

"Three weeks ago, he was happily sitting in Canada, oblivious to the many many problems the Pakistani public has to go through at the hands of the democratic government," she said. "He has now taken it upon himself to deliver the Pakistanis from their own chosen government. He caused quite a stir because he dresses up differently from all of us, and then he starts saying things which are preposterous. You know with the media, you say something ridiculous, you get a lot of attention. 

"Anyone with credibility has distanced themselves from him by miles," she said. "He's currently becoming a pariah."The Relationship With India 

On Wednesday, just hours before Khar's talk in New York, India and Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire after two weeks of clashes along Line of Control in Kashmir. "If you'd asked me two weeks back, I would have given you a very positive answer," Khar said. Nonetheless, Khar said that since becoming a democracy, Pakistan's foreign policy priority has been normalizing its ties with India. "I hope for the future, things will continue to go well," Khar said, emphasizing that Pakistan decided to normalize trade with India after 40 years. "We wanted to send a very serious message to India that we mean business," she said, "And we wanted to build stakeholders in each others future."The Future of Pakistan, Malala

"I see the next generation to be represented by Malala, a very brave girl," Khar said, "And believe me, therefore the next generation of Pakistan is much better than my generation."Hear the full audio from Khar's talk here. 

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