Former Pakistani PM Urges Open Talks on Afghanistan

Former Pakistani PM Urges Open Talks on Afghanistan

Photo by Todd Cheney

Shaukat Aziz, who served Pakistan for eight years as finance minister and prime minister, argues in a talk at UCLA that global and regional powers will need to meet with all Afghan factions, the Taliban included, and offer a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan in order to put the country on the right track.

There are many in this room, I'm sure, who feel that extremism and Islam are interlinked.

UCLA Today

AS THE OBAMA administration decides whether to send thousands of additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan, a former Pakistani prime minister told more than 200 people at the James West Alumni Center that the conflict cannot be ended by a military solution alone.

The Sept. 30 lecture and discussion with Shaukat Aziz, who left office less than two years ago, was sponsored by the Burkle Center for International Relations and the International Institute.

"Everyone has to be brought to the [negotiating] table," said Aziz. "If we think we can achieve this through military action alone, in my humble opinion, that will not be successful."
Aziz called for "a global approach" to Afghanistan with broad talks among all of the relevant Afghan factions, including the Taliban, along with Central and South Asian countries, Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, the European Union and the United States. Afghanistan will need new economic assistance and incentives, a "Marshall Plan–type approach" that Aziz said he's advocated for years, to control opium production and extremism.
"Pakistan used to be a major drug producer 20 years ago. Thanks to USAID and our own efforts … we are now poppy-free, so it can be done," he said. "But you have to give them alternate sources of income. You can't just pull the plug."
During the lecture, Aziz described military power as a tool "used to affect the outcome of dialogue and discussion." He praised the Pakistani army for a "marvelous job" in defeating Taliban forces this year in the Swat Valley, but emphasized that the key to that conflict was support for action from the local people.
Rather than force, discussions about Afghanistan should focus on economic development, according to Aziz, a former Citibank executive who traveled to Kabul often in his eight years in government, first as Pakistan's finance minister. He criticized the lack of a single official in charge of the Afghan economy.
"They need somebody who'll call the shots and get maximum bang for the buck for the aid which is coming in or will come in."
As Aziz spoke, the U.S. Congress was about to vote through a large increase in non-military aid to Pakistan, the world's second-largest majority Muslim country and a nuclear power. But Aziz told the audience that he would prefer a different approach to this bilateral relationship, which has followed a cyclical pattern of engagement, then  flagging U.S. interest.
"What Pakistan needs, I believe, more than aid, is market access," he said, arguing that trade reaches poor families effectively without costing U.S. jobs.
For its Federally Administered Tribal Areas near the Afghan border, he said, Pakistan for six years has been seeking, without success, the creation of opportunity zones with special access to the U.S. market, "so people could drop their weapons and start producing whatever is needed here."
"When we talk of terrorism," said Aziz, a survivor of assassination attempts during office, "we must also look at the root causes of why people behave a certain way. ... Deprivation manifests itself in many forms: lack of justice, lack of democracy, lack of human rights, lack of a voice, lack of basic needs being met, lack of disputes being resolved."
Aziz sought to reassure audience members on a variety of topics, saying that Pakistan has firm control over its nuclear arsenal, that it opposes the further spread of nuclear weapons and that it is working to improve the lot of women. He also called on them to work towards better relations among world faiths, which he said share common values.
"There are many in this room, I'm sure, who feel that extremism and Islam are interlinked. Nothing is further from the truth," he said, observing that history offers examples of violent extremists from everywhere in the world.

Published: Friday, October 02, 2009