‘Words, not guns, can solve many problems’
Retired Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Abdul Qayyum, who spent four decades defending his country, is a firm believer in dialogue to resolve conflict.
A veteran of two wars, he served as military secretary in the cabinets of Moin Qureshi and Benazir Bhutto. He retired in 2004 and was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of Pakistan Steel Mills.
He joined the ruling Pakistan Muslim League in 2011 but stresses that he is just a member. Qayyum now writes a weekly column in the popular Nawa-e-Waqt newspaper where he shares the insights of a wise old commander who believes dialogue is far more effective than bullets in resolving the region’s complex problems.
Qayyum was in the Kingdom at the invitation of Pakistani community in Jeddah to celebrate Youm-e-Takbir, and shared his views with Arab News.
What is your take on the opening that has been created between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?
India and Pakistan have been fighting wars. We have not been able to achieve anything. Our fundamental issue with India is Kashmir. This has been further aggravated because of India building dams on our rivers. All this has led to negative feelings building up among Pakistanis since the 1980s. Our forces are sitting eyeball-to-eyeball along the 900-km Line of Control in Kashmir. The policy of our Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is that we want peace in the region. We want peace with Afghanistan. Peace with India. We don’t want non-state actors to use our soil to launch attacks anywhere. We are of the view that meaningful peace can be achieved in the region only if the fundamental issues are either resolved or an understanding is reached over a well-defined period of time. There is mistrust. Now the point is that our prime minister has two options. One is to carry that hatred and bitter feelings and say that we are not going to talk to India. The second better option is that we engage India and try to understand what they are telling us, and we should make them understand our position. We have certain apprehensions about India’s role in Afghanistan and the penetrations they make in our Balochistan. Under the circumstances, I think it was a wise decision on the part of our prime minister to engage and sit across the table and listen to Narendra Modi. I think this is good.
You know what happened when former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee came to Lahore. There was this handshake and then Kargil happened. Is the army on board this time? Since you belong to the army, you must have a better idea?
I am 100 percent sure that the army is on board. The army wants better relations with India, but the army wants the fundamental issues to be addressed. Actually, our understanding is that even in India the last Congress government wanted to resolve the issue of Siachen, but the Indian military people didn’t allow that to happen.
Since Nawaz Sharif took over what positive changes have you seen?
One, he went to Afghanistan and talked to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It is unfortunate that Karzai has been constantly criticizing Pakistan. One of the presidential candidates has acknowledged that ever since Nawaz Sharif took over they have no doubts about the sincerity of the Pakistani government. Two, he met former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and told him that they have to sit together and resolve issues. He even invited him to our country to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
Unfortunately, he didn’t come. Then Modi invited him and our prime minister went. So all these are positive steps.
How much has Nawaz Sharif succeeded in stabilizing the country?
On the domestic front, the top priority is militancy, then the power crisis. He has engaged those militants in dialogue who want dialogue — those who refused are being taken to task, and force is being used against them. He has called an all-party conference, although he has an outright majority in Parliament. He wants to take collective decisions. He has also gone and spoken with the US president to come and help us, and he has extended full cooperation. There is a remarkable reduction in drone attacks. This is the success of Nawaz Sharif. On the economic side, Pakistan’s credibility has risen because he went for bonds with Europe and has already started one coal-fired project for energy in Nandipur (Punjab).
He has gotten massive investment from China where they will develop an energy corridor from their country down to our coastline. They will make the investments and reap the fruits, and we will have the facilities. So this is the financial management. You cannot produce energy overnight because you can’t build dams, windmills and solar plants overnight, but Nawaz Sharif has long-term plans.
What is Pakistan’s view about Afghanistan since the US announced its complete withdrawal?
As far as we’re concerned, we want a neutral and peaceful Afghanistan. That is our desire. But we should not be dictating terms to any government. At the same time, it will not be in Pakistan’s security interests if India or any other country decides to have a presence in Afghanistan and works against our interests. That is our concern. I think it is in the best interests of the area that all American forces withdraw gradually, and we should have a neutral army — maybe for a peace mission in Afghanistan — other than Afghan national forces. I say in addition because Afghan soldiers are not very well trained. There are structural flaws in the Afghan army.
Because the Pashtun tribe is in the majority in the country but 80 percent of the army is non-Pashtun, so these are the seeds that can create problems. They will have to make a balanced force so that every tribe has representation. There should be a neutral international peacekeeping force because there is a danger of civil war. We know the history of Afghanistan. There has never been a strong central government and now with these 10 years of war against terror, the contractors and many warlords are rich. They have billions of dollars, and they have all types of weapons. I feel if you don’t take precautions that is, in addition to making their own security forces potent and balanced, if they need outside forces they should not be partisan. It should be a neutral force under the United Nations, mainly drawn from Muslim countries, and they should remain there for some time.
You said you are war veteran?
I participated in the 1971 war with India as a captain. I am sure both the armies understand that with war we cannot resolve issues because both are now nuclear. War is a political decision. The point is that if the Pakistan and Indian armies were ordered to do so, there would be an all-out war. The political leaders would want their armed forces to execute their orders. I am sure that any person would say that you cannot achieve things militarily. You can for a time gain victory in war, but you cannot destroy the will of the people. India has not been able to destroy the will of the Kashmiris even though they have 700,000 troops in Kashmir.
You said you were in the Kingdom in the 1980s as part of the Saudi land forces?
Yes, I was part of the Saudi land forces for two years from 1985 to 1987. Saudi-Pakistan relations areexcellent. We consider this our own homeland because of the two holy mosques and the help Saudi Arabia has given to Pakistan. Look, when we had the nuclear explosion there were total sanctions against Pakistan, but Saudi Arabia decided to give us 50,000 barrels every day free of charge. And very recently when we were in trouble economically, they gave us $1.5 billion. They have been of great help to us.
They gave us moral and political support in both our wars in 1965 and 1971. They support our stand on Kashmir internationally, and we have the best of relations with the military and civil leadership. The moment officials take the oath, their first visit is to Saudi Arabia to meet the king. If Saudis are in any danger Pakistan will be standing next to them. Always.
Has democracy taken firm root in Pakistan?
Yes. I think the credit for this should also go to our former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiani. For five years there were problems, but he supported the political leadership. And now the new army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is an excellent professional soldier. We have a firm belief in democracy, the rule of law and protection of the constitution.