Interview with Farhatullah Babar

Farhatullah Babar is a man of integrity, fortitude and courage. He is among the very few  politicians who are respected by their opponents and public at large for their credibility and prudence. Throughout his political career, he has showed persistence in his principles.
A civil engineer by profession, Farhatullah Babar is a politician by passion. He has been senator from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2012 till 2018. Currently, he is the media manager for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
My meeting with Farhatullah Babar was delightful. I found him very humble in his demeanour. When I requested him for an interview, he suggested that he was not worthy of it. It is indeed characteristic only of great people to be endowed with such modesty.

Dr. Ejaz Akram, Comparative Religion Scholar

Dr. Ejaz Akram is Professor of Religion and World Politics at National Defence University, Islamabad. He is also serving as an advisor to President NDU. Prior to this, he has been associated with the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS for almost ten years.

Being a scholar of Religion and Politics, Dr. Akram has deep insight into the study of Comparative Religion, Political Philosophy, and World Politics.

My meeting with Dr. Akram was very enlightening. He is tenderhearted and regardful in his comportment. Off the record, we had an exhaustive discussion on religious and philosophical matters which betrayed a certain mysticism in Dr. Akram’s personality and had a unique effect on me.

The interview covered some very important issues, unfortunately, the last two questions could not be recorded due to unforeseen technical difficulties.

Puruesh Chaudary, Founder & President of ‘Agahi’

Puruesh Chaudhary is the Founder and President of AGAHI, a non-governmental organization, which works extensively on creating platforms based on knowledge collaboration and information sharing initiatives.

She is a futures researcher, development and strategic communication professional. Her work mostly involves foresight research, knowledge-collaborations and content intelligence. Puruesh has worked with multilateral donors and aid agencies, news organizations and multinationals in Pakistan.

Being a young, successful woman, she is a true inspiration for Pakistani women.

Ambassador Abdul Basit, Former High Commissioner of Pakistan to India

Ambassador Abdul Basit is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Earlier, he was Ambassador of Pakistan to Germany and has served as the Foreign Office Spokesperson. He has also been part of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions in Geneva, Moscow, New York, and London.

Currently, he hosts a TV show on News One “Awaz e Pakistan”.

Amb. Abdul Basit is an expert on Indo-Pak relations. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from Quaid e Azam University, and – upon knowing that I am also pursuing my post-graduate degree in International Relations at the same university, he eagerly asked about the prevailing ambience and shared past experiences.

Dr. Maria Sultan, Director General South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI)

Dr. Maria Sultan is Director General of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) and Pakistan’s leading defense analyst. She has a deep insight of South Asian strategic environment and its nuclear/security dynamics.

Dr. Sultan comes across as a delightful person, humble in demeanour. Her optimism and faith over the future of Pakistan is unwavering and invigorating. Interviewing her was encouraging for me as woman since she embodies the success young women aspire to. 

Dr. Farooq Sattar, Leader MQM-Pakistan and Member National Assembly

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Director School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid e Azam University

Dr. Istiaq Ahmad is a current Director of School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is a well known academic professional, political analyst and the author of several books, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: An Afghan Trail from Jihad to Terrorism;  The Nuclear Danger: Going Down to Minimum Deterrence; India and Pakistan: Charting a Path to Peace; and Nuclear Non-Proliferation. He has also contributed various research publications, news articles, and reports that were published both at national and international newspapers and journals. 

Q: There is complex security interdependence among South Asian states, especially India and Pakistan. Previously it was confined to strategic rivalry but now it is moving towards commercial and economic rivalry. How do you see this?

Ishtiaq Ahmad: It’s a great transformation that is applicable to relationships all over South Asia, particularly India-Pakistan. Competition and cooperation among states, and even great power intervention in the region is now shifting from geo-politics to geo-economics. This is a healthy trend, I look at it in a very positive light. The former entails a tendency towards conflict while the latter towards cooperation. If countries are competing with each other for purely economic interests, there is always a probability of this competition turning into cooperation.

As far as Gwadar and Chabahar are concerned, I don’t see much of a difference between the two. They are both economic projects and, as such, there is great computability between the two.

Q: In an environment as hostile as South Asia’s, can two strategic ports function without feeding the security dilemmas of the respective states? Or will each seek to disrupt progress of the other?

Ishtiaq Ahmad: This is a great opportunity for Pakistan, for India, China, South Asia, Central Asia and even the world. Gwadar, Chabahar, CPECC, TAPI and CASA 1000 are all compatible projects with more areas of convergence than divergence. For the first time in history, all great powers – global and regional – have their interests converging in the same areas. The challenge is to harness this opportunity. Pakistan can overcome this challenge through ensuring internal and external stability, economic development, and an end to regional isolation.

Q: Is the cooperation you speak of possible without resolving the Kashmir issue?

Ishtiaq Ahmad: Unless you arrive at a viable resolution of disputes like the Kashmir dispute, matters will not stabilize. More than Pakistan, it is India that has a pragmatic interest in the resolution of Kashmir dispute. It is essential in order to avail the opening that has recently emerged in the region.

Q: Gwadar port is believed to be a game changer. Do you think it has the potential to bring a significant change for Pakistan and, by extension, South Asia?

Ishtiaq Ahmad: That depends upon the state and the leadership. It is a blessing in disguise, better than having nothing. Perhaps we did not even deserve it. But calling it a game-changer and a fate-changer is blowing it out of proportion. It is a slow-moving, long-term project. Gwadar can also have its costs. China is, after all, a great power. Its investment in Gwadar is based on pragmatic interests. China is undergoing economic stagnation. It needs to reach out to other regions and CPEC is just one of its projects, though it is the greatest.

It is also up to us to convince neighboring states, particularly India, that this is in their interest. Economic partnership with Pakistan is extremely important for India’s regional and global ambitions. So is the resolution of by standing conflicts. We should reach out through proactive diplomacy and regain the confidence and interest of states, especially our neighbors.

Video Credits: Nida Abbassi

Write-up Credits: Naima Shahab

Dean, Faculty of Contemporary Studies, National Defence University, Prof. Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema

Prof. Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema is Dean Faculty of Contemporary Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad. A seasoned teacher and experienced researcher Dr Cheema has served many academic institutions both inside and outside the country in various capacities over a period nearing four decades. He has numerous research publications to his name that were published inside as well as outside Pakistan.

Q: Gwadar Port is believed to be a game changer. Do you think it has the potential to bring a significant change for Pakistan and, by extension, South Asia?

Pervaiz Cheema: It is definitely a game-changer. But projects like these involve pragmatic interests on both sides. No state helps you for the sake of helping you.

China is an energy-dependent country. It imports energy resources from the Gulf which have to cover an estimated 10,000 km distance just to reach China and an additional 5,000 km inside it. China can find a replacement for this route in a) the Southeast Asian straits; b) Myanmar or Pakistan. Now India has military bases in proximity of the said straits. If the Sino-Indian rivalry continues, India can block those straits posing an insurmountable obstacle to Chinese trade. On the other hand, the Pakistan option is much safer. Once Gwadar is functional, China will be indifferent to obstacles posed by India in other trading routes.

Similarly, Pakistan has its interests. Gwadar is a potential trading hub. It will provide a shorter trading route to regional states.

Q: Do you think the development of Chabahar Port will threaten the successful functioning of Gwadar Port?

Pervaiz Cheema: Chabahar will not obstruct Gwadar’s potential. Iran will not allow it to be used toward that end. Naturally, due to their proximity, there will be competition. The neutral state will opt for a port based on political and geographical and technical factors.

Q:  Which port is more suitable for Afghanistan – the country believed to be crucial for the success of both?

Pervaiz Cheema: Both, but Gwadar more than Chabahar. Afghans will opt for Gwadar once their relations with Pakistan are mended, until then, they’ll go for Chabahar. We share certain commonalities with Afghanistan such as the Pushtoon race. These factors too will count.

Q: For Central Asian states which port would be more favorable for their trade?

Pervaiz Cheema: They would like to utilize both options now that they have them. But as it is, one assumes that they will go for Gwadar.

Q: In an environment as hostile as South Asia’s, can two strategic ports function without feeding the security dilemmas of the respective states? Or will each seek to disrupt progress of the other?

Pervaiz Cheema: There are a number of examples of proximate ports operating without conflict or hostility. Central Asia is a huge area and all its states are landlocked. They need access to the waters and they will avail the opportunities offered by both ports in this respect.

Write-up Credits: Naima Shahab

Video Credits: Nida Abbassi

Nuclear Physicist and Professor of Physics at Quaid e Azam University, Dr. Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

Dr. Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy is a nuclear physicist, and a political-defence analyst. He has been associated with Quaid-e-Azam University as a professor of Physics since the 1970’s, and taught in other institutions such as the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He has also served as a member of the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament.

Dr. Hoodbhoy is the recipient of national and international awards, including the Abdus Salam Prize for Mathematics and IEEE W.R.G Baker Award for Electronics. He has authored several books, among them Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality which has been translated into various languages.

Meeting Dr. Hoodhbhoy for this interview was a wonderful experience. He is welcoming and appreciative, especially when it comes to students. He is a true gentleman, polite and humble. He sits in his decorated office, opposite a green board with calculations handwritten all over – it mirrors his personality in all its colour, creativity and genius.

Dr. Hoodbhoy speaks the most beautiful Urdu. His speech is consistent in the purity of language and the tranquillity of tone.


Video Credits: Nida Abbasi

Former Director General Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General (R) Asad Durrani

Lt Gen (R) Asad Durrani is a retired three-star general of the Pakistani Army, and former head of the country’s premier intelligence agency – the ISI. He is a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars. Beside holding top positions in the military, he has proved his mettle as a diplomat, having been appointed as Pakistan’s ambassador first to Germany, and then to Saudi Arabia.

1. Thank you, sir, for taking out the time for this interview. Beginning from your career, how was the journey from a Second Lieutenant to a Lieutenant General and, later, as Director General (DG) Military Intelligence (MI) and DG Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)?

Asad Durrani: There was nothing extraordinary about it. I got my commission as a regular line officer, and the career ran a reasonable course. For that I am very grateful to the Almighty. My landing as the DG MI was more of an accident. When Gen Aslam Beg took over as the Army Chief after Zia’s plane crashed in August 1988, he inducted me as the DGMI as I had earlier served with him. I had no prior experience of Intelligence. Had only done a stint as defence attaché and that too in a friendly country like Germany, where I represented the armed forces. But then in many other armies too the head of intelligence is an “outsider”. I spent two years on that assignment.

The next destination was DG ISI – that too was an “accident”. When Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the first government of Benazir Bhutto, someone who was up to date with the situation in Afghanistan and Kashmir was needed to head the ISI. As DGMI, I was readily available. After serving there for an year and a half, I, by then a three-star general, went back to the mainstream, taking over as the Inspector General Training and Evaluation (IG T&I) in the GHQ. My last position was Commandant National Defence College- that is now a university.

2. What was it like to be part of the 1965 and 1971 wars?

AD: It is a matter of great pride for a professional soldier to have had combat experience. War may not be exactly something desirable, but in the military it is the ultimate test – an “acid test” as they say. I was a captain during the ’65 war – and did my part as a junior officer both in Chamb and Sialkot sectors. By the time the ’71 war broke out, I had done my Staff Course as a Major. I was deployed on the Rajasthan front where a crucial battle was fought. The experience was invaluable but more important was the self-confidence that developed after it. Again, I count it as a blessing that one came out of it in reasonably good shape.

3. Coming to the internal situation, it is widely believed that terrorism is the greatest threat facing us today and is of our own making. Would you agree with this?

AD: I would not. Terrorism is not the greatest threat facing us. Most of us can neither define this beast nor understand what it is. And as far as the current phenomenon- call it insurgency or militancy- is concerned, it is largely the result of governance deficit, inability to take care of our own people, and failure to manage the fallout of developments in our neighbourhood, especially the Soviet and American invasions of Afghanistan. To elaborate the last factor; management of the spill over of these wars had to ensure public support. Post 9/11, we failed to take the masses along over our relationship with the US. Resultantly, the disaffection acquired its own dynamics: many groups emerged in the aftermath; some with a political agenda, others with an ideological, and still others who were backed by anti-Pakistan elements, which, by the way also included our allies—and they networked. This development was expected, and taking care of such situations is a challenge that any state would face.

Therefore, the present troubles are a result of our failure to cope with the regional developments and orchestrate our responses. The fight against non-state actors is a complex affair. It has military as well as non-military dimensions. We did reasonably well on the military front, but that is only a small component of the onerous task, that essentially requires administrative, political and ideological measures that have largely remained unaddressed. If these aspects continue to receive scant attention, the root-causes remain and the scourge bounces back.

Let’s also remember that the phenomenon of terrorism goes back a long way in history and is there for all times to come. Terrorism is a technique of war that targets non-combatants, and is employed by states– Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fallujah, Dresden, are some of the examples—as well as by the non-state actors. You can get rid of the terrorists but not of terrorism.

4. What then is the greatest challenge for Pakistan?

AD: How well the political leadership, the establishment, and the system address the needs of the people. The problem is that whereas it is the masses that bring the governments to power, it is the elites who decide what actually gets done. The result is poverty and alienation, which is then exploited by forces, including the militants, inimical to the state.

5.  Do you think that the decisions that Gen Zia took in the late 1980’s and that Gen Musharraf took post 9/11 were in the best interest of Pakistan?

AD: One must first understand the environment in which a decision was taken. Zia ul Haq decided to support the Afghan resistance because after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with a hostile India in the east and now not a very friendly a superpower in the west, we had fallen so to speak in the “jaws of a nutcracker”.  Thereafter, we had three options: wait and watch; reconcile with the fait accompli; or do something. No substantial help from the so-called international community was forthcoming and It was just us and the Afghan resistance, who had to hang-in there for two years till the US, followed by many others, joined in. It would therefore be an unkind verdict that we fought a proxy war. In fact we fought what actually was our war, and in due course, indeed with some outside help, succeeded to have the Soviet occupation vacated. If there were spill-overs like drugs, Kalashnikovs, or an ideology, countering that was also our job. So we succeeded on the external front, but not quite on the internal.

Post-9/11, the world body had sanctioned the invasion of Afghanistan. The US sought our help but India offered to stand-in; proclaiming that since “Pakistan was part of the problem, it could not be part of the solution”. The mere thought that combat aircrafts from the mighty western alliance would fly over Pakistani territory from Indian bases to bomb Afghanistan was not very comforting. So Musharraf decided it was better to cooperate with the coalition. But that of course did not mean that one had to do American bidding even when it was not in our interest. We could have negotiated with them “terms of engagement”: what we could do or would not do; we could lay down “redlines”, beyond which we would not go since that would be against our national interest. That is something all states do as a matter of right.

Since we failed to do that right at the outset, in due course the two countries were in a state of “low intensity conflict”. We did not have the same objectives, nor were our preferred means to achieve them in sync. Their assets, including Drones were going for targets in Pakistan, while certain individuals from here – those who were against the foreign invasion of our neighbouring country or were against our policy – went and fought the allied forces in Afghanistan. In the military jargon, you would call it a low-intensity war. 2011 was the climax of this war: Raymond Davis, Osama Bin Laden, Salala attack etc. After Salala, we blocked the NATO supplies for seven months and only then the nature of relationship was reviewed. There was a lesson to learn. if you are in the position that the other side needed your help, you can work out favourable terms for cooperation. The other side would always ask you to do more, and you can always insist on doing less. And if you take a firm stand you will always be successful- like we were when we stuck to our policy on China in the 1960s, on Iran post the revolution, and on our nuclear programme.

If we submit to pressure because of any weakness, we would always be told to do more, and the results will be disastrous. But whenever we take decisions in our interest and for our own people, we will succeed. And remember no state worth its name would change its policies in return of aid that it received.

6. What should be Pakistan’s present policy toward the U.S.?

AD: I think we’re now on the right track. We have understood that we must keep our options in foreign relations open. We have improved our ties with Russia and Iran- with the latter even at the expense of annoying our old friend, Saudi Arabia. But of course, it is the domestic scene that matters more. Internally, there are serious shortcomings. Some believe that given time the present system, that passes for democracy, would take care of our internal issues. I’m not an expert in this field but I don’t think the system is robust enough to improve on its own. There are deep structural flaws that will overtime cause more harm than good.

7. Can we still differentiate between good and bad Taliban?

AD: Good or bad is a judgment that all of us can individually make, but differentiate we must. Even if all of them were bad, we still have to stagger our approach, to deal with them, in time and in methodology. Taking on all of them at the same time would not only unite them but would also over-extend our resources. Some must be dealt with urgently- the present enemy; others whose tackling could wait- the future enemy. The methodology too must vary. Against some groups you have to use force, some others would require political treatment, and still others who may have to be eliminated by intelligence operations.

Moreover, the military instrument that we usually employ can only  win time, and space, for the political and administrative means that may be more complex but unless pursued whole-heartedly, would not eliminate the root causes of this problem.

8. India and Pakistan both want their influence in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, there is a hatred for in the Afghanistan public, while India is one of the biggest investors in Afghanistan’s infrastructure development. How do you see the future nexus of these?

AD: The Afghans are not a monolith. They are split along tribal, ethnic, linguistic and cultural lines. Then there are other divisions: those who resist the invaders, and those who collaborate with them. There are good reasons that we support the resistors and our people empathise with them. Liberating Afghanistan from foreign military presence is the first step towards restoring stability. However, those who are the beneficiaries of the occupation would indeed be unhappy with our policies. According to a New York Times survey done over a year ago, one-third of the Afghans support the cause of the Taliban, so at least that number should be happy with us.

Regarding the Indian influence; we should have no objections to India pursuing its economic, even cultural objectives. It is their right. Indeed, we have problems when the Indians sponsor anti-Pakistani activities from Afghan soil. But again it is our job to counter them, and if we cannot do that in our own “backyard”, with all the advantages of history and geography, then the fault is  all ours.

I don’t lose any sleep over the state of Indo-Pak relations. They have been frozen in time ever since we achieved a strategic balance- conventional as well as unconventional. Some cosmetic or atmospheric variations were still possible but there is little chance of a breakthrough. India prefers the status-quo, and we have also learnt to live with it.

9. If you were to give a message to the people of Pakistan, what would that be?

AD: Pakistanis are wise people. They don’t need any message from me. The sub-state sector of the polity has kept us afloat, but of course the optimum returns are only possible when the state too starts performing as efficiently as the people. The various divides that we hear about- between the ethnic groups, for example- are essentially political in nature. All these factions know that sticking together was their best bet, and all of them believe that they are part of this country and have a stake in its well-being.


Video credits: Nida Abbasi

Write-up credits: Naima Shahab