ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir have paved the way for the international community to intervene and resolve the longstanding dispute, the advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister on national security has said.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Moeed Yusuf reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to peace, including with India, but called on the world to compel India to implement international law vis-a-vis Kashmir, i.e., UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions that call for a plebiscite in the Muslim-majority region.

Expressing willingness to take things forward, the official said: “Pakistan will take two steps if India takes one.”

He also spoke on bilateral relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, economic security, recent disclosures by the EU DisinfoLab’s on India’s disinformation campaign against Pakistan, and terrorism.

Yusuf took charge in late 2019 and served at the Asia Center of the US Institute of Peace, a think tank in Washington, DC. Excerpts from the interview:

Civil-military relations

Anadolu Agency: It has been a year since you assumed office. In Pakistan, the civilian leadership is believed not to have much say in security affairs. What has been your experience?

Moeed Yusuf: Let me first explain what security means for us in Pakistan. For the prime minister and for Pakistan’s state, security is economic security at the core, and everything else is flowing from that.

Pakistan is decidedly on an economic security paradigm. What does that mean? If you don’t have economic security, you can’t formulate an independent foreign policy. If you don’t have economic security, you can’t have welfare for such a large country of over 220 million people. If you don’t have economic security, you can’t sustain a strong military.

So, Pakistan’s focus is on economic security.

When you talk about economic security, human security, diplomacy, even military security, the civilians are part and parcel of that.

I’m sitting in this office. God has been kind that I’ve been allowed to serve the country. Do I have a political background? No. Do I have a military background? No. Do I have a bureaucratic background in Pakistan? No. I come from the field of policy analysis, research, and advice.

In terms of national security, Pakistan’s focus is strategic, policy planning, economic, human, and everything combined.

The notion that only one actor is involved in security pre-supposes that Pakistan is focused on a narrow security paradigm.

So, this question is a misnomer. In Pakistan, both the civilian and military leadership are working in tandem with each other.

I can tell you this with complete authority because I am the conduit in a lot of ways. This office works as a coordinating hub for a lot of things in government everywhere in the world. That’s what national security divisions and advisors do.

The prime minister of Pakistan is fully empowered to make all decisions. It is his right to call upon his military for anything and everything that is constitutional. And he uses that right.

Today, civilians are empowered to decide on everything, and both civil and military leaderships are on the same page.

If our detractors or adversaries want to keep talking about the old narrative to project a negative perception of Pakistan, good luck to them. I am just telling you that a person with my background would not be sitting in this office if what you say had been true.

AA: How is Pakistan confronting today’s international and domestic challenges? How difficult have been the choices?

MY: The real genius of policymaking is maneuvering to your advantage in a constrained environment. And yes, we are in a constrained environment.

There are challenges, but also the opportunities are vast. We are dealing with a country with one of the largest youth bulges in the world. It is incumbent upon us to turn this youth bulge into a real dividend. That’s what we are working towards.

We take comprehensive security, look at economic security, and how those dividends can flow to military security and human security.

Another narrative that has been projected about Pakistan is the resources that we get are completely skewed towards the military.

In reality, our military is grossly under-resourced, given the challenges we face. If we were sitting in the Pacific Ocean and were an island, I would argue we have given too much money to defense.

But we are sitting in a region that’s the least integrated with the world, where we have an adversary that showed you that despite a nuclear environment, they’re willing to send planes to attack.

We have Afghanistan on the western border, which is unfortunately in turmoil for decades now. Hence, one cannot expect a responsible government and military not to invest in its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Only through strong economic security can we make an even stronger military and a true welfare state.

AA: Keeping in view your background as a researcher on South Asia issues, what has been your experience with India?

MY: I’ve lived in the US for a long time. But when research comes in, you interact and coordinate to know all sides of the story. This helped me understand everybody’s point of view, even the point of view of the adversary.

Unfortunately, the problem right now is that we are not dealing with India the West wants to see. I have been a proponent of India-Pakistan peace. I’ve written, talked about it.

Our prime minister continues to say that the real problem is poverty. How do you work on poverty if the region is not together? The sad part is that since I’ve been in office in the last 15 months, we have dealt with a neighbor [India], which is motivated by an exclusionary ideology that is expansionist, and that is doing every single thing to undercut Pakistan.

We put out a whole dossier recently. The specificity with which we have informed the world of what India is doing is unprecedented. Unfortunately, my time in office has been spent thinking about and dealing with this India.

It is, unfortunately, behaving like a rogue actor.

Not just Pakistan, there’s been a conflict with China. Nepal has gotten up and passed parliamentary resolutions with a new map and taken on India. Bangladesh has raised its voice. Its relations are not good with Sri Lanka.

We even pointed out that India is being a spoiler in Afghanistan, undermining Pakistani sovereignty and stability. That’s the adversity you’re dealing with.

But, the idea of peace remains. I tell you today on record for the world to know that the Pakistani prime minister’s number-one goal in the region is peace with everybody.

I started off by talking about economic security. Can you have economic security without peace in the region? No, it’s an oxymoron.

We stand for peace today. If you want peace, we have to move forward. If you want to move forward, everybody has to be rational, not ideological.

Kashmir is under occupation, an open jail. Humans are not being treated like humans; that reality has to change for things to move forward.

Now, how will it change? Are we talking about conflict? Are we talking about waging war? No, we’re only talking about two things, human rights and human security.

I insist on international law. Why? Because all responsible states within the comity of nations behave under international law. International law through UNSC resolutions tells us how the Kashmir issue should be resolved. That’s what we stand for.

What more is the responsibility of a state? If another country is perpetrating terrorism on my territory every day to kill my countrymen and women, that reality has to change for us to move forward.

Our prime minister said when he came into office, if India takes one step, we will take two towards peace.

The problem is India has taken one thousand steps in the opposite direction. So, we’re hoping for that enabling environment to be created by our neighbor. The Indian government needs to do the right thing to resolve the Kashmir issue and find a way forward to connect the region.

Changing Pakistan’s perception

AA: In your appearances on the media, you have talked about changing Pakistan’s perception? Can you elaborate?

MY: Pakistan has been treated unfairly in terms of the Western world, creating a negative perception.

We know how that has happened. We have raised our voice on this for years. Now, we know how the EU DisinfoLab report laid out 116-plus countries, 750-plus fake outlets, 550-plus fake domains that India was using to malign Pakistan.

They were maligning Pakistan in every capital, doing identity theft, taking fake NGOs to the UN, breaking every law possible.

Pakistan must let the world know what its rightful, justified position is. The rightful narrative must be built around that. Now, let me also tell you the pillars of this vision.

Number one, connectivity because Pakistan has a pivotal geo-economic location. We connect crossroads: West Asia, South Asia, CPEC. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a great example of North-South connectivity.

We want connectivity with Central Asia because it has major energy reserves. It’s landlocked; it wants to use our port. That’s why we want peace in Afghanistan. And as I told you, we are open to connectivity to the East.

Second, development partnerships. Pakistan is open to providing economic bases to the entire world: The US, Russia. Turkey is a great friend and partner. Come and invest.

We already have a relationship with China, which is unparalleled anywhere, going from strength to strength. Come and invest. Not talking of assistance but genuine investment partnerships.

Third, peace beyond our borders and peace within Pakistan.

These are the pillars on which we are focused as a country and moving forward. The narrative is crucial. Our narrative has been hurt by our adversary through these campaigns, and it has managed to create a false impression of Pakistan.

People in the West who haven’t visited Pakistan think of it as a dangerous country. But when they land in Pakistan, they see a different reality.

AA: It seems many countries often don’t buy Pakistan’s narrative against India. The same happened when Islamabad recently presented its dossier against New Delhi. Why is that so?

MY: This question comes up again and again. Even if nobody supports it, we will continue to tell the truth, raise it unapologetically and proactively. Why should we hide facts?

India can challenge it and say it is not correct. We are open to that. Come and have a conversation with us. If you can’t challenge it, then act upon it. Do the right thing.

In reality, the Western world wants a counterweight to China, a larger market to sell arms. So far, we haven’t got the response we think we should get, not only on the dossier but on Kashmir as well.

The EU DisinfoLab’s recent disclosures are not our creation. So, it’s the EU. It’s they who have to take this on now. The EU Parliament has already held an open hearing. There is an investigation going on; it must reach its logical conclusion. It’s crucial.

AA: And what is your view on the reaction from the UN?

MY: Would any country in the world put out a dossier with such specific information if it wasn’t fully sure of its veracity?

Do you know any country that went to this extent? That’s how sure we are. And we know that other countries and other intelligence agencies would look at this, why do we want that to happen? Because when they look at it, they will know it’s 100% true.

But then the response must come. We can only push it so far. We’ll explore diplomatic options. We’ll explore legal options.

But there’s also ethics and moral element to this that we hope the world picks up on. I’m telling you myself, I think the response has been not nearly as proactive and as hard and serious as it should have been. We hope it will come.

We know our partners are looking at the dossier closely, they’ve already told us, and we’re hoping for a positive outcome. Not because we can malign another country, not because India is our adversary, but because there are facts that speak for themselves. And there’s international law that dictates that certain things have to happen if these facts are true.

Disclosures by EU DisinfoLab

AA: And how is Pakistan dealing with the EU DisinfoLab exposé?

MY: Pakistan will continue to remind the EU and the world that there are laws that have been broken. There are multiple laws that have been broken in the West. In fact, even in India. Pakistan will also raise its voice, but this is in black and white. It’s in front of you, the EU DisinfoLab report. It’s a credible organization. Why must Pakistan have to tell the world to do what is already in their laws?

Pakistan will raise its voice and continue to do so. But there’s nothing more to be done than to pick that up, follow international law, follow domestic law, penalize those who were involved, and call out the state and the intelligence apparatus behind it. Can something like this happen without state involvement?

All the evidence is in front of you. Pursue it as a global community. I request the international media to follow up.

Kashmir

AA: Feb. 5 is Kashmir Solidarity Day. What is Pakistan’s current policy on the disputed territory, especially after Aug. 5, 2019?

MY: The Kashmir issue is a tragedy of human suffering. Pakistan has always stood and will continue to stand with the Kashmiris till their right of self-determination is exercised.

Yes, it’s a territorial issue. But first and foremost, it is the human suffering Pakistan wants to stop.

The solidarity day is to prove that every Pakistani stands for the Kashmir cause. We may have our differences; we may have political ramblings and debates. But when it comes to standing for the Kashmiris, all are one.

And we know that we are fighting against odds. We know it’s not easy. We know the success won’t be overnight. This is precisely what we keep telling the world: Prevent crises and solve the problem.

The situation is not entirely hopeless. India is being censured every day in the Western media. People are writing about human rights violations. It’s not only Pakistan; the UN secretary-general has given two major statements, the OIC foreign ministers recently made a clear resolution, the UNSC held three discussions since Aug. 5, 2019.

The UK, US Congressmen, and Congresswomen… all have spoken for Kashmir and Kashmiris. So, Pakistan and the entire world is doing that. Now, we just need to take this to the next logical step and alleviate the sufferings of Kashmiris. Start a real conversation on how to resolve this outstanding dispute.

AA: You have been demanding a rollback of India’s Aug. 5, 2019 action, which also divided the region into two federal territories. Will India ever conform?

MY: Any state that follows international law and falls within the comity of nations and does not want to be a rogue state must follow that.

Because all Pakistan is saying is to follow the norms and laws that apply to all responsible nation-states. Does anybody disagree with the sanctity of UN Security Council resolutions? Does anybody disagree that human rights laws exist and must be followed? That’s all we’re saying. That’s why India should listen to us. Listen to the world. Listen to Kashmiris on the ground.

An occupied territory wants to be outside of India’s occupation. If there was any doubt left, just look at what has happened since Aug. 5. Curfew after curfew, and communication blockade. If the people of Kashmir wanted what the Indian government has done, would the state of India be so draconian and inhumane as it has been?

The UN, the global comity of nations, has decided that there should be a plebiscite. Hold it and respect the decision.

AA: Who will ensure that UNSC resolutions are implemented?

MY: Absolutely, it is the responsibility of the UNSC. And that’s the disappointment for the Kashmiris and for the rest of the world. It is very much their responsibility because they promised it.

That’s what our prime minister said in his first UN speech: ‘You [UN] have promised, please help now and implement it. And we will respect the outcome.’

If India is sure of support from Kashmiris, what is it waiting for? The truth is it knows what the result is going to be.

That’s the point to get to the first stage. Pakistan stands for peace and for dialogue in principle. The only way to move forward is dialogue.

But for that to happen, you’ve got to create an enabling environment. India needs to come back to where mature nations and states are — don’t act as a rogue actor and move forward.

AA: India has changed domicile laws in Kashmir to alter its demography. Will this not affect any future referendum?

MY: Demographic change in any occupied territory is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

If there is a systematic effort to create demographic change, that is breaching the most fundamental of conventions. The provision that outsiders can buy land to further occupy Kashmir is against international law and illegal.

Again, it is the responsibility of the entire world. This demographic change would not affect the plebiscite because it is locked in international law. Any illegal activities will be null and void at any point the plebiscite takes place.

AA: You claimed India sent feelers to Pakistan for dialogue. New Delhi denied. What is the truth?

MY: What benefit would I get by stating this if it wasn’t true? Simple, no benefit. I could just come out and say no dialogue forever. I am repeatedly saying dialogue and peace. What is surprising is why there is such a negative reaction from India attached to the most mature thing possible, which is to talk and resolve issues.

This is the surprising part.

If I were sitting there, I would say if I’ve offered dialogue, what’s the problem? It’ll make you look good that you actually want to move forward — the only mature thing to do in statecraft.

You feel embarrassed; is talking to another country a reason for embarrassment?

This reaction may have come because the entire domestic political conversation in India is built around Pakistan-bashing when it comes to foreign policy. It brought a region into a conflict just to win a domestic election. That’s why the talk of dialogue is so embarrassing. New Delhi doesn’t want the anti-Pakistan narrative to be diluted.

That’s where I think we need a change. Pakistan will take two steps if India takes one… we are ready even today.

AA: India is also not ready to accept any third-party mediation on Kashmir. Do you see a military solution to resolve the dispute?

MY: We have talked about constant diplomacy, law, political and moral support, and we will keep providing that to Kashmiris. It’s our right.

The third-party mediation role has to be understood not as Pakistan’s weakness. What we are telling the world is you are the custodians of the legality of Kashmir because of the UN agenda, because that’s what you champion.

The Western world must come and tell India to do the right thing. We don’t have leverage over India. It’s an adversary. India doesn’t have leverage over us. If this issue could be resolved purely bilaterally, it would have been resolved by now.

India always anchored its bilateralism argument in the 1972 Simla agreement, which says that both sides will resolve issues bilaterally.

After Aug. 5, 2019, India boasted and proudly told the world that they have taken a unilateral decision and will keep taking decisions unilaterally, which means it undermined even the bilateral agreement spirit.

In that case, the only other option left is that the world must come in and help resolve an issue that keeps a billion and a half hostage, millions in poverty, and Pakistan from achieving its economic security objectives.

AA: Pakistan’s foreign minister welcomed the Gupkar Declaration adopted by pro-India political parties of Kashmir, which calls for restoring Kashmir’s pre-Aug. 5 level status. Does this symbolize a change in Pakistan’s policy?

MY: On the Gupkar Declaration, it was actually the foreign minister and me who did that press conference, so I know that is not what was said.

Our point was that even actors in [Indian-administered] Kashmir, who have been part of state politics, who have allied with the governments in New Delhi, are coming out and saying this is unacceptable.

Farooq Abdullah, who formed governments for years in Kashmir with New Delhi, said Kashmiris are willing to be with China, but not with India. We said this reality should be heard.

So, just because they happen to be parties who worked with the Indian government, if they are now saying the right thing, why shouldn’t we tell the world to listen?

That doesn’t mean that we agree with the Gupkar Declaration, all the parties, or their stance or what they will do tomorrow. So, Pakistan’s policy is clear: The right to self-determination is enshrined in international law. We stand with Kashmiris and will continue to do that.

We stand for peace, the mature way to move forward is clear: Enabling environment, which means doing the right thing in Kashmir, stopping from perpetrating terrorism in Pakistan. And you’ll find Pakistan a willing partner anywhere for peace.

Relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan

AA: The foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan recently met in Islamabad. What is the roadmap to take this trilateral relationship forward?

MY: It was a good visit, they met our leadership, and all three countries resolved to continue improving their relationship further.

Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan have worked closely in the past and have a good and solid relationship.

Both provided diplomatic support to Azerbaijan during the Karabakh conflict.

This particular trilateral is a sequence, part of a process. The first meeting was held in Baku in 2017. And this was the second meeting. And the vision going forward clearly further improved economic ties, engaged further politically, and moved forward.

This engagement is against no other country. There are common interests of connectivity, economic gains, investment, politics.

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