By Patrick Benjamin
On the 7th of July, by kind invitation of Lord Arbuthnot, the Henry Jackson Society was addressed by Shaukat Aziz, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Anna Mikhailova, journalist and co-author on his recent book From Banking to the Thorny World of Politics, which was the subject of their talk.
Prime Minister Aziz sought in his address to clarify the current position of Pakistan in global relations, so that the world might better understand the country through an insider’s account of Pakistan’s current challenges. He began by outlining his career progression from president of Citi Private Bank to Finance Minister in General Musharraf’s government, in which position, he explained, he undertook the basic structural reforms of liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation to achieve a huge economic turnaround. He also described the pride he felt upon securing “economic sovereignty” for the country after paying off all outstanding IMF loans.
Mr Aziz then spoke about the attempt on his life while he was campaigning to become Prime Minister, in which suicide attack a total of ten bystanders were killed. He explained how he had perceived his survival of the attack as a God-given second life in which to serve his country, strengthening his resolve to fight extremism.
He next discussed what he termed the US’ “transactional relationship” with Pakistan, which was always strongest at the times the US perceived his country to be useful. He explained that Pakistan was seen as being extremely well strategically positioned in the aftermath of 9/11, when it became the US ally in the most alliances with the US, at the same time as being the ally most sanctioned by the US. He described how Pakistan also received a large amount of money from the US and UK for reforms at this time, but stated his belief that international relationships should be continuous rather than based on individual events.
Mr Aziz said he thought that Pakistan would be marginalised were it not for its nuclear weapons, which he highlighted were developed indigenously in response to India’s nuclear programme. He talked about the complexity of Pakistan’s relationship with India, which he believed had come closest to resolution under the “Northern Irish formula” for the settlement of the problems in Kashmir. He said that today Pakistan continues to seek common ground with India, but the process is hampered by such issues as Indian spies stirring up cessation movements within Pakistan. He added that the outcome of the Pakistan-India question would be such that either both countries win, or both lose.
He discussed Pakistan’s broad and deep relationship with China, which he explained has always been purely bilateral, and never based on mutual interests with respect to any third country. He mentioned that Pakistan’s relationship with Russia has been improving, and that he believed it would reach the strength of the Pakistan-US and Pakistan-China relationships within three to five years. He finished by talking about how the relationship with the Bush administration had been better than that with Obama, and saying that relations had sometimes been strained by the US’ desire to focus on tackling al-Qaeda, in contrast with Pakistan’s greater concern with other more local terrorist groups.
For a transcript of this event click here