Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How successful was the Indo-Pakistan summit in Thimphu and has the conviction of Ajmal Kasab suddendly set back the Indo-Pak rapprochement. Those are the issues I shall raise in the first post-Thimphu interview with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Foreign Minister, let's start with the subject that's right at the top of everyone's mind in India today -- the conviction of Ajmal Kasab for his role in 26/11. As foreign minister of Pakistan, how do you respond to this development?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, we have to begin with respect to each other's judicial processes. Mr Kasab has been found guilty on a number of charges and the sentence is yet to be announced. We will await the detailed judgment and once the judgment is announced, we will give our considered reaction.
Karan Thapar:In all likelihood, the judgment will probably be a life sentence. Would you as foreign minister of Pakistan accept that or would you plead for leniency?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, you have your judicial process and we will have to respect each other's judicial process.
Karan Thapar:Does that suggest that you are keeping an open mind and you will only decide what you are going to do when the sentence is pronounced and you are not going to give any sense before that?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I cannot do that right now.
Karan Thapar:This is connected with the trial case of the Mumbai accused in Rawalpindi. Now, prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has given an assurance to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Thimphu that this trial will be speeded up but when at the same time hear that Pakistan is seeking custody of Kasab. This sends up contradictory messages. So let me ask you up front -- is Kasab likely to become a legal tangle that can hold up this particular case, and worst still, could Kasab also become a cause or a source of hostile rhetoric between Delhi and Pakistan?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: It wasn't government of Pakistan's request, it was the request or the requirement of the court. The government of Pakistan was conveying the decision of the court.
Karan Thapar:But now that Kasab has been convicted, what happens? Clearly, he cannot be extradited. So, is extradition going to be a sticking point as far as the trial of the Mumbai accused in Rawalpindi?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I am not a legal expert and I cannot give you a legal opinion on that but I think that we have a far bigger agenda on the table.
Karan Thapar:Today, the Kasab issue is a major issue in the country. Let me quote to you that your colleague, the interior minister Rehman Malik said on April 20 to the Hindu. He said: "The trial is on fast track. We expect the trial will be concluded in the coming months." And then critically he added: "The kind of credible evidence we have, we will get conviction." That clearly suggests that you don't need Kasab for conviction. Will that continue to be the case or might that position now change?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Pakistan is serious in moving forward. The prosecution has laid out, in my opinion, a very good case but we cannot sit in judgment, it's for the court to decide.
Karan Thapar:But this case will be put on fast track, won't it?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Certainly, we would want to see the case come to a close. We would want the logical conclusion of this trial and the earlier the better.
Karan Thapar:Do you have any idea of a timeline for this conclusion?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: It is not within my power to decide that.
Karan Thapar:The second issue from India's point of view is Hafeez Saeed. When Indian people hear the Pakistani claim that there isn't sufficient evidence to arrest Hafeez Saeed, even though his organisation, the LeT was absolutely central to 26/11, it makes them feel that as if they are hearing someone make excuses about the fact that although al Qaeda is responsible for 9/11, Osama Bin Laden can't be tried. That sort of argument, as I am sure you understand, simply doesn't wash in India.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: We are not making excuses. Hafeez Saeed was picked up and arrested twice by the government of Pakistan. The courts in Pakistan did not feel that the evidence provided to them was legal tenable or sufficient and the let him off. And judiciary is independent.
Karan Thapar:Let me quote to you as recently as February 5 in a rally in Lahore, Hafeez Saeed publicly called for jihad in Kashmir, he also called for the liberation of Hyderabad. On that same day, his deputy, Abdul Rehman Makki called upon Pakistanis to massacre Indian soldiers in Kashmir until the last soldier is dead. No action was taken against these gentlemen and they remained free to threaten India. And people in India ask why is the government not acting?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Firstly, this is not government policy. Individuals all over the world make statements and we respect freedom of expression but government policy and the stated policy of Pakistan is to have good neighbourly relations with India.
Karan Thapar:The court in Mumbai on Monday has also found Hafeez Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi guilty of 26/11. If you are requested, would you be prepared to extradite these gentlemen to face justice in India?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: First communicate the detailed judgment to us. Our legal experts will examine it and then only will I be in a position to comment.
Karan Thapar:But you do seem to be suggesting that you might be open to considering extradition for these gentlemen when the judgment is officially and properly communicated to you?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I have said nothing of that sort. What I have said is that it will be examined when the judgment is handed over to us and we would want to move on, we would want to take steps to improve relations between the two countries. We would not like to vitiate the climate.
Karan Thapar:Are you saying that you have an open mind?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: (Laughs) You want to put words into my mouth, I think I have said very clearly what I had to say.
Karan Thapar:Many people will interpret that as you are having an open mind. Let's move on to the Jamaat-Ud-Dawa itself. Even though it has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nation Security Council, it continues to operate freely and openly in Pakistan. It raises recruits, it holds rallies, it raises funds. Worst of all it distributes leaflets advocating jihad in Kashmir. Why do you permit that?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: The government of Pakistan has taken all and necessary steps to, first of all, proscribe the organisation, secondly to freeze their assets and do everything possible to discourage what they are distributing. But as you know, in every society, there all sorts of people.
Karan Thapar:You say that you have done everything possible to proscribe the LeT but the truth is, it hasn't been notified under the anti-terrorist Act. In fact, In September, when Hafeez Saeed was released by Lahore High Court after you tried to detain him under the anti-terrorist Act, those were the precise grounds on which the judge released him. The organisation is not proscribed. So clearly, even by what you claim yourself , you haven't done everything you could have?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: The organisation is proscribed. And that is the factual position.
Karan Thapar:Then on what basis the Lahore High Court release him? Because the judge in his verdict releasing Saeed said it so specifically.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, judges are judges and they can pass verdicts.
Karan Thapar:So in other words, you are questioning the judge's verdict?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I am not questioning his verdict what I am saying is that he is independent and free to pass his verdict.
Karan Thapar:But you are also saying that the judge is wrong.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I never said that. I said whatever the judges do, at times, one has to respect their decisions. At times, you can like or at times, you are not completely comfortable with their judgment but you have to respect them.
Karan Thapar:Fourthly, the Indian government believes it has evidence that serving officers of the Pakistan army, a certain major Samir Ali and a certain major Iqbal are directly connected with 26/11 and this evidence was part of the dossiers made available to your foreign secretary in February. Will Pakistan investigate this issue and get to the bottom or are you going to brush it aside and dismiss it altogether?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: In the interactions that I have had, nobody has raised this issue with me so far. When the issue is raised, we would look at it with an open mind.
Karan Thapar:According to the Indian papers, this has been formally made part of the dossiers given in February to your foreign secretary?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, a lot of times, you know, papers write sensational stories.
Karan Thapar:The Home Minister of India at a seminar where your high commissioner was present, also publicly said that India had evidence of at least major Samir Ali.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi:We have invited the home minister, Mr Chidambaram to visit us in Islamabad for the SAARC home minister's conference and if he wants, he can have a meeting with his counterparts on the sidelines and he can raise all these issues.
Karan Thapar:When you mention the possibility of a meeting with his (Chidambaram's) counterparts -- that is to say Mr Rehman Malik on the sidelines of the SAARC home ministers conference, let me quote to you what Mr Rehman Malik on April 20 said to the Hindu. He said: He (Malik) would be prepared to come to India to personally meet Mr Chidambaram to sort out these issues. Do you think that after Thimphu, that might be a sensible way of tackling this whole series of problems that I have just been talking about?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: We can tackle your issues by talking to each other. We can resolve issues by engaging with each other and that is exactly what we have resolved in Thimphu -- to talk, to sit together, to put issues on the table and resolve them in a peaceful and amicable manner.
Karan Thapar:Sadly, in the last few days, a new issue of terror involving Pakistani citizens has come to international attention. I am talking, in fact, about Faisal Shahzad, who as you know has admitted to being responsible for the Times Square bomb, he has admitted to undergoing terrorist training in Pakistan and he is said to be the son of a Air Vice Marshal of the Pakistan air force. How do you respond as foreign minister to this development?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: First of all, Mr Shahzad is not a Pakistani citizen anymore. He is an American citizen. He is a naturalised American citizen.
Karan Thapar:Are you absolutely sure he has given up his Pakistani citizenship? I ask you because your country permits dual citizenship and it is possible for Mr Shahzad to be both an American and a Pakistani citizen and news reports suggest that in fact two Pakistani passports and an American passport have been found on him.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I will have to check, I am not aware of that. But I am aware of the fact that he is a naturalised American citizen and the government of Pakistan will cooperate with the United States and help them in whatever way we can.
Karan Thapar:Sadly, as you know perhaps better than me, this is the third time in a year that people of Pakistani origin have been arrested or detained in connection with terrorism in the United States. There seems to be a sort of pattern developing here. Does that worry you?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Citizens and individuals of various nationalities have been identified and have been arrested and picked up from different places in the world, not just Pakistanis.
Karan Thapar:Except for the fact that today, the Washington Times in America that there are 10,000 jihadis a year being produced by Pakistan despite the claim that you make that you are effectively fighting terror and your own citizen Ahmed Rashid has written in the Washington Post today that: 'North Waziristan is now a region that has become an even greater terrorist hub than Afghanistan was before 2001'. The clear impression from just these two papers today in America is that Pakistan is a terrorist-producing factory. Does that impression of your country not concern you?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: We are not claiming to be fighting terrorists or terrorism, the world acknowledges our fight. They acknowledge the sacrifice that the people of Pakistan and the armed forces of Pakistan has made. They acknowledge the successful operations we have had in Swat, Malakand and the tribal belt. And in Waziristan, we have had a very successful operation in South Waziristan and we are moving on according to our plan.
Karan Thapar:And yet the impression in the world outside is that you are producing terrorists.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, every individual has a right to say what he wants to and he can write and I respect Ahmed Rashid as an individual and independent writer but we do not have to entirely agree with his analysis. How has he come to this figure, I have the foggiest idea.
Karan Thapar:Let's come to the meeting between the two prime ministers in Thimphu which both countries acknowledged was a significant step forward but are you now worried that after the Kasab conviction and more particularly after the implications of the judgment for Hafeez Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, that that small step forward could have come under a shadow?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I don't think so. I think the spirit in Thimphu has to be kept alive. That is the only sensible way forward. The two prime ministers agreed and they reiterated their commitment for a resolution of issues through dialogue. They both acknowledged that dialogue is the only way forward. Yes, there will be difficulties and hiccups but we have to move on. We have a much bigger agenda and we should not let any individual, non-state actor or any terrorist organisations impede the peace process. We should develop it such an extent that it becomes irreversible.
Karan Thapar:One thing that you have acknowledged yourself is that there is a trust deficit on both sides and you publicly said that you have certain ideas for tackling it. What precisely do you have in mind?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I think both sides would acknowledge the fact that there is a trust deficit and the prime ministers have asked the two foreign ministers to bridge that trust deficit. I have certain proposals which I am going to share with Mr S M Krishna when I get an opportunity to meet with him.
Karan Thapar:When will that opportunity come?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I would want it as early as possible but I believe he is busy in the Budgetary session. As soon as the Budget session is over, I am going to call him and I am going to propose a number of dates for our engagement.
Karan Thapar:The Budget session ends on Friday, May 7, so will you pick up the phone Friday evening or Saturday morning? Is it as urgent as that in your eyes?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I think it is very urgent. I will pick up the phone and look at his convenient and call him at the earliest.
Karan Thapar:What will you propose -- that he come to Pakistan or will you offer to go to India to expedite matters and take the process further?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I intend to invite him to Islamabad but I have no issues with that. If he is occupied and he cannot come, then I have no issue in coming to Delhi.
Karan Thapar:From Pakistan's standpoint, the big critical issue is Kashmir. How would you like Kashmir to be handled hereafter?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Where there is a will, there is a way and we acknowledge amongst ourselves that Kashmir is an outstanding issue between the two countries. But in my view, we can make progress through peaceful negotiations. We have undertaken and we have in place a number of confidence-building measures vis-a-vis Kashmir and we can build further on them.
Karan Thapar:It is widely believed in both countries that during the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf years, the back channel reached understandings that could become the basis of a resolution the Kashmir issue and that has been confirmed specifically to me in separate interviews both by general Musharraf and separately by Mr Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri . The key issue is -- do those understandings remain valid today or has your government disowned them?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: The present democratically elected government recognises the significance of a back channel. At times, quiet diplomacy is useful. And we do not rule out the possibility of continuing the back channel. But I am of the opinion that the back channel can only work in tandem with the front channel.
Karan Thapar:But what has been agreed, decided or discussed on the back channel therefore remains valid?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: That was between the then leadership. We will have to see. We are a democracy and in a democracy you got to get it endorsed by Parliament. You have to have all stake holders onboard and there is a third party involved. And they are the Kashmiri people.
Karan Thapar:You are suggesting that as long as Parliament endorses it, it remains valid but you would like to have a chance as a democratic government to review it before you decide on its continuing validity?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: Well, anything that has to be sold, has to be endorsed in a democracy by a Parliament.
Karan Thapar:Does your civilian government have a free hand when it comes to India policy or is the army, the army chief in particular, perhaps also the ISI looking over your shoulder?
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: I am confident that the foreign policy is being controlled by the foreign office and I speak for Pakistan. I represent and I in consultation with other stakeholders, obviously I take the national security institutions and consult with them, and I take them into confidence. I consult with the political leadership.
Karan Thapar:Let me quote to you Ahmed Rashid writing in the Washington Post on April 27 that's just about 7 to 8 days ago. He says: "Pakistan's military has virtually taken control of foreign policy and strategic decision-making from the civilian government." And then he adds: "Thus, Pakistan's foreign policy reflects the military's obsession with India."
Shah Mehmood Qureshi: That is his point of view. There is a point of view floating in Pakistan that the foreign policy of India is not being formulated in the South block. But do we really have to buy that?
Karan Thapar:Alright, that's probably a fair point from your standpoint. My thanks to you for talking to us. Goodbye and goodnight.