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New Envoy Calls For Revival Of Pakistan-Afghan Peace Councils

Afrasiab Khattak (right) is a veteran Pakistani human rights activist

Afrasiab Khattak (right) is a veteran Pakistani human rights activist

The government of Pakistan’s restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP) recently appointed veteran Pashtun politician and human rights activist Afrasiab Khattak as its peace envoy. In his new job, Khattak will be dealing with dangerous and complicated security issues along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, widely believed to the bastion of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militancy.

Just before Pakistan launched a military operation against Islamic militants near NWFP's capital, Peshawar, RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique interviewed Khattak on some critical issues related to peace and security in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Some media reports from the region indicate that the Taliban have put Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), under a virtual siege. How do you see the situation on ground?

Afrasiab Khattak: The peace and security situation in Pakistan over the past few years has deteriorated because of the flawed polices of [President] General Pervez Musharraf. Years of bad policies and judgments have resulted in the current grave state of affairs. The security situation in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and the adjacent settled districts of NWFP is bad. Across the border in eastern and southern Afghanistan the security situation is dire, too. Peshawar is not facing an imminent particular security threat, but it shares the security situation and concerns of the surrounding regions.

'See Results Soon'

RFE/RL: Why has the new Pakistani government so far failed to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with the complicated security problem in the border regions?

Khattak: The new government has been in office for less than 100 days. But over the past few weeks, we had a lot of high-level meetings in the [national capital] Islamabad and Peshawar, and we have completed a comprehensive strategy. This strategy will be implemented, and you will see its results soon.

The government is fully aware that protecting the life and property of its citizens is its primary responsibility. Unlike in the past, when using military might was the first and only strategy, the new government will engage in negotiations [with the militants] but will use force against those who break the law.

RFE/RL: But in the insurgency-plagued region of Swat, your government signed two peace deals with pro-Taliban militants, and yet peace has not returned. Even now, schools for girls are being burned and political opponents are being killed. Why?

Khattak: If somebody expected that signing a peace deal with one or two groups will resolve all security problems, it is not that simple. There are many militant groups operating in these (NWFP and FATA) regions. Also there are many spoilers who wants to sabotage such efforts because they will be unable to advance their nefarious agendas if peace returns. But if you compare Swat’s situation to the four months prior to the peace agreements, the situation now is a lot better.

RFE/RL: You have been advocating reforms and development in the tribal areas as a prerequisite to restoring regional peace and security in the region. But so far we have not seen the new government taking steps to that end. Why?

The [February 18] elections gave people high hopes in Pakistan. They thought the country had undergone a democratic revolution and that, similar to the [1789] French Revolution, the whole [political] system will change within weeks. It is not like that. But the important thing to remember is that we are committed to our agenda of reforms and progress.

Increase In Tensions

RFE/RL: In recent months, U.S. forces have reportedly stepped up attacks against militants inside Pakistan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also threatened retaliatory attacks against the Taliban on Pakistani soil. How do you assess these developments?

We are not happy about the increase of tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We think that they are brotherly neighboring countries and in the final analysis they need mutual cooperation and friendship. We recognize that there are a lot of issues that are damaging their bilateral relations, but we need to understand such problems and find [negotiated] solutions for their resolution.

RFE/RL: Can you elaborate on the specifics of how to resolve the complex peace and security issues afflicting Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Khattak: All disputes and problems can only be resolved through negotiations. The problems [afflicting both countries] are political, so there can be no military solution to resolve them. Military might should only be used as a last resort, but even then negotiations should go on as you can never remove blood stains by spilling more blood.

Last year the regional peace jirga in Kabul, involving the representatives of both the people and governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, was a good step in the right direction. The jirga declared that both governments should talk to each other and hold negotiations with their respective opponents. In my opinion, we should have held, as agreed, another jirga in Pakistan. Now is the time to do so.