Sartaj Aziz is the adviser to Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, on foreign affairs. Subhash Ghimire, Guna Raj Luitel and Teknarayn Bhattarai talked to Mr. Aziz on a number of bilateral and regional issues in Kathmandu yesterday.
This is you first visit to Pokhara? How was the city?
I loved Pokhara. I love the city and the mountains.
The 37th SAARC ministerial meeting is over. What was the outcome of the meeting?
SAARC is a very elaborate agenda. This WAS the pre-summit meeting of the council of ministers. The meeting was successful, and there were a few issues on which we had to reach consensus. The agenda is moving forward. Large areas of cooperation have been identified. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN has provided a new framework in which SAARC countries can realign its national goals and create mechanisms by which you can cooperate. First goal is to create national goals as per the SDGs. Each country needs a monitoring mechanism, and we will have common goals to achieve by 2030.
There were three agreements in the Kathmandu summit. We hope that the transport ministers will convene soon to discuss the details of the regional connectivity before the next summit in Pakistan. Disaster management and environment are important for the region. We are working on cooperation on agriculture, food security, climate change, education and health. We decided to review what we achieved and want to focus on few areas for result oriented outcome.
There have been lots of talks about your meeting with Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India. What was the outcome of the meeting?
The primary purpose of the meeting was to deliver the formal invitation from the PM Nawaz Sharif to attend the 19th SAARC Summit in Pakistan, and did the same with all seven the foreign ministers. In addition, we had agreed, on December 9th, at the time of Harder Asia conference in Islamabad to start comprehensive bilateral dialogue. That was pending. We discussed generally how to resume the dialogue. The incident had delayed the foreign secretary meeting. That has been moving very well. A joint investigative team will be going to New Delhi on the 27th of March and will their work on the 28th.
What are potential areas of cooperation between Nepal and Pakistan?
First of all, there is a large reservoir of political goodwill between the two countries. The willingness on both sides is very strong. But we face transport hurdles. We have to look into cultural cooperation, tourism, sports and education. In education, we provide more than 25 scholarships every year and we are ready to increase as required. There are 6,000 alumni in Nepal who studied in Pakistan, mostly engineers and doctors.
In tourism, there is a great scope for religious tourism. We have very strong presence of Buddhist stupas and relics. Some groups have visited but can be increased. For mountain tourism, Pakistanis can come to Nepal.
We can have strong sporting links. Cricket and football are popular in both the countries. I hope we can expand on those. But for all these require better linkages. We are exploring very actively to resume direct flights from Pakistan to Nepal.
We look forward to welcoming PM KP Oli on 9th and 10th of November, 2016 for the 19th SAARC Summit. This provides an excellent opportunity for a high level context because we need those contexts for a number of cooperation. And they all gather impetus with the high level engagement.
We need to accelerate our past agreement. The Joint Economic Commission in 2013 signed a number of MOUs and we would like the implementation to speed up. We had a business council agreement so that our traders can meet and expand trade. We are hoping that the business council will start exchanging their business relations soon. We had other MOUs on culture and tourism. They need to be implemented.
The people in SAARC feel it's not moving towards ASEAN or the EU model. How can we activate SAARC further?
If you study ASEAN and EU, the basic impetus comes from the role of the dominant countries. Large countries have not tried to dominate the region in both the union. They play magnanimous role to accommodate the concerns of smaller countries, respect their sovereignty and bring everybody along. ASEAN has very successfully managed not to allow any political differences among the countries to dominate the problem in economic cooperation. After EU, this is the most successful example of regional integration.
SAARC's potential is equally good. Our human resource is comparable, if not better. What we require is stronger political will to not allow our political differences and accommodate differences in the region so that we can move forward. The world is not going to wait for us. Without regional cooperation, without greater market, we cannot compete with the rest of the world.
Markets in Europe and the United States are not doing well. We have to look inwards. Our regional trade between the countries is very small, but the potential is enormous.
What is Pakistan's take on expansion of SAARC membership?
We supported the entry of Afghanistan and became a SAARC member. China is now an observer. They can play important role. The integration of South Asia with Central Asia and other region is important. Pakistan and China have signed a China-Pakistan economic corridor; this will extend both east and west, towards Afghanistan and India. Inclusion of regional players is important for the vitality of the organization.
How can smaller countries collectively work to promote interests of small countries in the region?
If you have substantial development cooperation, it helps small and large countries. Nepal has enormous hydro and water resources. This country's economic future depends largely on how well it can manage its hydro and water resources. Similarly, Pakistan is rich in hydro resources and has experiences. We can collaborate. If we create energy market in the whole of South Asia, then the demand for your energy will increase and in competitive market you will get higher price. This then will help Nepal.
We need to develop integrated markets within the region. We have one for energy already. So if we develop connectivity, it will help us. We are now importing electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan; both the countries have a much longer distance than between Pakistan and Nepal. We have gas pipeline from Turkmenistan and Iran. So Pakistan is already connecting with energy markets in Central Asia. I hope we can similarly develop energy pool in South Asia and the countries producing energy will be much better off.
Both Nepal and Pakistan experiences earthquake tragedies. Pakistan has done a really good job in rebuilding communities. How can we explore potentials for the transfer knowledge and expertise in supporting our rebuilding processes?
Nepal went through a very tragic incident. I am glad to say that Pakistan's first hospital arrived within 24 hours of the earthquake that provided operation and other services. Reconstruction phase is more complex. We set up an agency after the 2005 earthquake. Pakistan will be very pleased to support Nepal in setting up its own disaster management and earthquake rehabilitation agency. We have a large number of experts working on the issue.
Cricket is popular in both the countries. How can Nepali team benefit from Pakistan's resources in cricket?
It's a very promising area. We are happy that your Under-19 team performed very well. They are the future of your cricket. We will be glad both to provide coaching facilities and exhibition matches. Without this level of exposure the team cannot develop. Our cricket board is very anxious to participate in these activities. I hope Nepali cricket officials will be ready to interact with them. We will be happy to contribute in developing first-rate cricket team in Nepal.
How has Pakistan been working to defeat terrorism? Is there a way for countries like Nepal to learn from your experiences?
Pakistan has been the victim of many global fault lines in the past 30 years after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and it was growing. We have taken some decisive steps to control terrorism in the last three years, first in Karachi in September 2013 and then operation Northern Waziristan in June 2014 and adoption of the National Action Plan in January 2015. As a result of a very comprehensive action plan, incidence of terrorism has declined by more than 50% in 2015, compared to 2014. We have gained some valuable experience in this task and we would love to share this experience with Nepal. This is an area where we can work together.
How do we expedite economic activities despite political instability?
The key lesson from Pakistan is that the only way to avoid political instability is to strengthen democracy. Our two main parties in 2006 signed a charter of democracy and as a result we had a smooth transfer of power from 2008 to 2013. We now have been able to create synergy and strengthen our federation.
I am glad that Nepal has democratic transition; a new constitution has emerged with consensus. All the elements of the constitution are coming together. This is the root to stable political consensus, as well as stability. In our case, with the control of terrorism and democratic systems in place, investments are coming back and our economy is growing. If you have political stability and sound policy, economic development will take place. I am glad to see that this is happening in Nepal and I wish that Nepal have a very long spell of stable government and good economic development.
Can we expect PM Nawaz Sharif visiting Nepal anytime soon?
Absolutely! When Nepali PM visits Pakistan for the 19th SAARC Summit, that agenda will certainly be in the background.