Pakistani Wants U.S. to Talk to Taliban

This week the Obama administration is expected to release its review of what is known as "AfPak" -- a new policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, increasingly seen as one front in a wide war. ABC News sat down in Islamabad with Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, to talk about that policy shift, Pakistan's own attempts to fight militants, and what Pakistan hopes is a greater emphasis on economic development.

The U.S. has spent a lot of energy and relatively a lot of money on Pakistan in the last few years. Do you think that, up until now, the strategy has worked?

The strategy has not worked. If it had worked, why revise it? The review is a clear acceptance that we need a new direction. We need a new strategy.

Where did the previous administration's policies fail?

I think there was too much emphasis of use on brute force. Too much reliance on the military option. And not enough attention was paid to capacity-building. Not enough attention was paid to issues of governance… Perhaps enough effort was not put on engagement with the reconcilable elements [of the Taliban], and the Obama administration I think is now it seems more focused in this direction.

Criticism of Bush Administration

You criticize the Bush administration for focusing too much on the military. How important is a greater emphasis on economic development?

Let me be very honest. FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] were one of the most neglected areas of Pakistan. If you look at the levels of poverty in FATA, if you look at the level of illiteracy in FATA, obviously the social indicators are not talking very highly of our effort in the past. So there is a realization from within and there's a realization without that a greater focus of economic assistance, developing civilian infrastructures, catering to the needs of the people is important. If we have to win this fight, we have to change the mindset. Well how do we change the mindset unless we educate people? If we do not provide boys and girls of FATA with quality education through a proper public education system, obviously they'll go to the madrassas. They'll have no choice…

If you want economic stability you need security. And if you want to protect the homeland, you have to invest here. Because there is a linkage here to security over there. And I think the American academia and think tanks are more aware of it.

You've mentioned in the past that Pakistan does not have some of the tools that you need to fight militants. What specifically are you asking of the U.S. in terms of military hardware?

For quick action, for quick deployment, and then pulling out of there, we need helicopters. We don't have enough helicopters. For consolidating the gains that the military has made and to hold them, we need night vision. We do not have it. To give additional support to the troops, we need a well trained and well equipped law enforcement agency, which is the police and paramilitary.

The Swat Dilemma

You've identified the militants in Swat as those who cannot be reconciled. Yet the provincial government is signing a peace deal with them. Why?

Swat was a princely state until 1969, when it was amalgamated into Pakistan. They had their own judicial system, which was local juries, and quick dispensation of justice. There was a growing public demand for the revival of that system. The militants tried to get onto this bandwagon and gain popularity and increase their outreach vis-à-vis the people by being supportive of this movement. What we have done is recognize the need and addressed this local problem through a local solution and have created a bridge between the hard-core militants and the ordinary Swatis who want to live in peace and want a normal life.

But there is a huge difference between the Sharia, or Islamic law, that Swatis associate with quick judicial action and the Sharia of former militant Sufi Muhammad, who is negotiating the deal. His Sharia bans education for older girls, tries to limit access to certain medicine, who is against music and television.

We have to carry the public opinion with us. I think when peace returns to Swat, when the government is able to reestablish its writ in Swat, in my view, the overwhelming number of people will subscribe to our point of view. And why do I say that with such confidence? The results of the elections. In 2008, the people of Swat spoke, and out of the eight national assembly parliamentary seats in Swat, seven were won by a political party which is secular and which has a clear political agenda.

But people didn't elect Sufi Muhammad, they elected the ANP, who has been driven away by the terrorists you're now negotiating with. Was Sufi Muhammad brought in to create a bridge -- or was he brought in because the military failed to defeat the militants?

Bifurcate the reconcilables from the irreconcilables. It's a step forward.

Role of Spy Agencies

You work closely with the military and the spy agencies here. What's the relationship between the military, the ISI, and the government now, as compared to a year ago and five years ago?

I think the present leadership of the military is very supportive of the democratic dispensation. And they have demonstrated that of late. I think what we have in place is a thinking general who understands the challenges Pakistan faces, who understands the economic challenges we face, who understands the challenges of governance that we face, who understands how civilian institutions over the years under a dictatorship had weakened and why we need to strengthen them again.

And do you think Army Chief Gen. Kiyani's colonels and majors agree with that?

Absolutely. We have a highly professional army. A highly disciplined army. And they toe the line of the chief.

Lots of U.S. critics accuse Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, of supporting militants in the past and say they continue to support them --

They do not support them anymore. I cannot speak for people in the past because I was not interacting with them. But I can speak with confidence of the present leadership of the ISI. I have worked closely and am working closely with [ISI Chief] Gen. Pasha. I think he is very clear headed where the interests of Pakistan lie. And I can tell you he's not soft on extremists or militants.

The U.S. is concerned about militant safe havens in the tribal areas. Recently in Waziristan, three once-feuding Taliban commanders have formed an alliance to attack U.S. soldiers. Yet there is an unwritten agreement between the Taliban and the military in Waziristan not to attack each other. How can the U.S. have confidence the Pakistani military will fight across the tribal areas --- and do you think the military should be fighting across the tribal areas?

Yes they will and they should. We have to go piecemeal. We have to devise a strategy which is workable. We have to see our resources and we have to develop our strategy according to our resources… For example, [the northernmost tribal area], Bajaur. Today that sounds and looks very peaceful. We've flushed the militants out of Bajaur… And it's not going to stop here. We're moving on from agency to agency…

There is a change taking place. And you would recall, when your troops went into Iraq, the first couple of years, or perhaps even three to four years, it took you time -- with your sophistication, with your equipment, with your technology – to adjust to the new situation. We are adjusting to a new situation. Let's not forget that our army, that our troops are trained for a different theater of war. And this insurgency and this sort of fight that is taking place up in the north is somewhat different. They have adapted and they have adapted very quickly.

With better training, which has started with U.S. help -- and I am appreciative of that -- and hopefully with capacity enhancement we will become increasingly effective in the days to come.

Training Army Officers

The U.S. has trained the paramilitary Frontier Corps, but Army Chief Gen. Kiyani has resisted attempts for the U.S. to directly train army officers. Why?

We don't need that… [The U.S. is] training trainers. Once we have our trainers trained, we can do the training. We don't have to start from scratch. We have institutions, functional institutions in Pakistan. All we have to do is strengthen them further, and that's exactly what's taking place.

The U.S. argues the drones are the only way to attack militants in Waziristan, especially because the military is not fighting the Taliban there, but your government opposes them. Why?

I personally feel the militants build on their goodwill on the collateral damage that is there in front of them. They build for themselves support and sympathy through that. And we want to deprive them of that support… Our view is that primarily, the problem lies on that side of the border. I'm not saying it's not all hunky dory over here. No. I do realize the challenges that we have. But we are very clear in our direction. And we are very determined to eliminate sanctuaries on our side.

Visions of Pakistan's Future

When you look at the current state of Pakistan, do you ever wonder how it got to be so bad? And do you ever get sad over the state of the country?

We know how we got here. We've all contributed to that. You have contributed to that. We've been part of an alliance that drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and there was a design, there was a strategy. And some of the consequences of that strategy, we are living through. And now we have to sit again and rethink what needs to be done in the future.

Yes it makes me sad because the founders of Pakistan had a very clear vision of Pakistan which was a moderate, Muslim, democratic country. Liberal, progressive in its outlook, going from strength to strength.

And what would the founders say about Pakistan today?

We have to go back to the origins. And we will go back to the origins. The vision of Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and we will have to go back to the spirit of the 1973 constitution.