An Interview with Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry
Fletcher Forum: How would you describe the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in three words?
Aizaz Chaudhry: A long-standing relationship.
FF: With the change in leadership in the U.S. and Pakistan, how do you see the relations evolving in the near future?
AC: I think there is a desire on both sides to take the relationship forward. We need to build on areas where we agree, and work on areas where we differ.
FF: What are the implications in the long term for this change?
AC: Pakistan and the United States have worked with each other to pursue our common interests, irrespective of which political party holds office in either capital.
FF: It has been 70 years since India and Pakistan gained independence - what are the common challenges to both and what can they learn from each other?
AC: India is Pakistan’s neighbor. Naturally, we would like good relations between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Government in India has decided it will not engage with Pakistan. I think both sides realize that we need to resolve our issues. Pakistan believes there can be no lasting peace in South Asia without resolving the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. Indians believe the issue of terrorism needs to be resolved; we also share that concern. Bottom line is if we do not talk to each other, we cannot work out our differences and move forward.
FF: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) cuts directly through Pakistan. Do you see any implications it might have down the road in terms of disproportionate and imbalanced geographical and economic growth?
AC: CPEC is a project for the whole of Pakistan. Several CPEC projects are related to energy. These projects come online soon and we would hopefully have overcome our chronic electricity shortage for good. CPEC also comprises major railroad projects, which will modernize our infrastructure and open up some of Pakistan’s more underdeveloped areas. CPEC enjoys the full support of all major political parties and provincial legislatures. This is because CPEC will bring prosperity to all regions, especially Balochistan which would be its terminus. Ultimately, we believe it is a project that will also yield dividends for the entire region.
FF: You mentioned energy. On the one hand, Pakistan is a nuclear power but on the other hand, there are regular power outages. How do you square these priorities?
AC: We have some nuclear power generation capacity. But our nuclear capability is dictated by our security concerns. It was driven by the imperative of deterring any aggression from our east. The important point, as I said, is that we are now very close to overcoming our energy deficit.
FF: What role is the Pakistani diaspora playing in state-building in Pakistan. What role does the Embassy play in facilitation and in providing resources to the diaspora to help them achieve their goals?
AC: I think the Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. is a national asset. They are a bridge between Pakistan and the United States. They offer the advantage of being a permanent resource because they are insulated from the ups and downs that are natural in any bilateral relationship.
The Embassy is closely engaged with Pakistani-Americans and I, personally, place great emphasis on reaching out to the community. When I came to the Fletcher School to speak at the invitation of Professor Shultz, for example, I made it a point to meet the Pakistani diaspora in the area. This is my habit wherever I go in the United States.
FF: Afghanistan has been mired in conflict for three decades. Do you think the conflict is chronic? What role can Pakistan play in statebuilding of the country?
AC: Pakistan has a greater stake in Afghanistan’s stability than any other country. This is because we have paid a higher price for instability in Afghanistan than any other country. We have been hosting between 3 to 5 million Afghan refugees for 38 years. And we have borne the spillover effects of the conflict in Afghanistan in the form of drugs, violence and extremism.
Our stakes in Afghanistan’s peaceful future are even higher now because we have made enormous strides in reversing the tide of terrorism. We have taken the fight to the terrorists and forced them to flee. Our economy is on the up and there is genuine excitement about Pakistan as an emerging market. So, naturally, we want to see peace in Afghanistan. Otherwise, the gains we have made – at enormous human and financial cost – would be at risk.
This is why we find it strange when we are told that there are militants hiding in Pakistan. This is simply not true. One, militants are on the run in Pakistan. This is backed up by evidence of the sharp fall in terrorist incidents in the last three years. Two, why would militants live in Pakistan, where they would be under constant threat from our ongoing counterterrorism and combing operations, when they have access to 40% of Afghan territory that is ungoverned?
We think that a comprehensive approach is required to resolve the Afghan conflict. A military solution has been tried and it has failed. We need a political approach that engages all Afghan factions. The United States and Pakistan have both paid a high price for the Afghan conflict. We both want peace in Afghanistan and should work together to that end.
FF: Some people purport that instability of Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan. How would you counter that argument?
AC: Since joining the war against terrorism, we have suffered direct economic losses of $125 billion. There is accounting for indirect economic losses. We have suffered a huge number of casualties: 6,000 security personnel and 23,000 civilians killed. Why would we allow this to continue? To kill our own people? It hurts us when such preposterous accusations are made. Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan. It is Pakistan that suffers because of instability in Afghanistan. In the last 10 years, we have suffered over 2,500 terrorist attacks that originated in ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan. We should move past media stereotypes and look at the facts.
FF: What has changed, if anything, from your time at Fletcher in 1990s and now?
AC: Well, frankly, I did not see a lot that has changed. The only change that I saw was in the geopolitical setting, the environment, and the subject matter that you guys study. When I was there – it was 1989, the Berlin Wall was coming down. I remember sitting in Blakeley Hall dormitory and watching this momentous event unfolding before my eyes on television. We thought the Cold War was over and there would now be peace. There was great euphoria and hope. This time around, I felt that students were more worried than hopeful about the world. I think there is a lot more uncertainty and fear about the future.
FF: What brought you to Fletcher?
AC: I was already in the Pakistan Foreign Service when I came to Fletcher as a mid-career officer. I had come from an organization called the Economic Cooperation Organization, which is now a regional organization for promoting economic cooperation between Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and the Central Asian States. So I was more interested in studying international economics than international politics.
FF: Who was your favorite professor at Fletcher?
AC: I studied international trade and monetary system from Professor Benjamin Cohen. He was a very good professor and I really enjoyed his classes. I also took some courses on diplomacy with Professor Andrew Hess. I should have taken more courses on international politics because after 9/11, the security paradigm has become the dominant discourse.
FF: What is one piece of advice for graduate students as they embark on their journeys in international affairs where they will interact with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences?
AC: I have learnt that one should always be open to new ideas. I have benefited from reaching out, but I have seen no benefit in arguments. Every culture has its own wisdom. It is more important to understand others than to impose your own ideas on others. To those of you who are starting your careers, be open to new ideas and you would see that as you go higher in your career, you will find these new ideas always helping you.
Based on my own personal experience, I will advise all of you that, whatever you do, keep notes. They will help you in later years. As someone once said, “palest of ink is better than sharpest of memory.” That would be my advice. I have not strictly followed it. I started doing it in the latter part of my career but I wish I had done it right through the years.
FF: What advice do you have for the participants of the first-ever Fletcher Pakistan Trek taking place this December?
AC: Visitors to Pakistan are always overwhelmed by our hospitality and love. You will feel this for yourselves. I hope you will meet all kinds of people — elected officials, people on the streets, government functionaries — you will discover the real Pakistan, not the one you see on TV or read about in the newspapers.
FF: Thank you for your time. It was a real pleasure for us to interview you and to listen to your experiences and thoughts.
AC: I am also very pleased that you took this initiative. I wish I was as agile and active as you guys are, when I was your age. It gives me great confidence that every succeeding generation is better than the previous generation. My best wishes to you in your careers.
Image Courtesy Pakistan Embassy in Washington D.C, U.S.A
About the Interviewee
Ambassador Aizaz Chaudhry has been a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan with 36 years of bilateral and multilateral experience. Since since 13 March 2017, he has been serving as Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States of America.
Earlier, he served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan from 27 December 2013 to 12 March 2017. Prior to this, he served as the Foreign Office Spokesman.
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Chaudhry has served as Additional Foreign Secretary for UN and Disarmament Affairs, and Director General for relations with South Asian countries, in which capacity he has remained closely associated with the peace process with India.
Overseas, he served as Ambassador of Pakistan to the Netherlands, where he engaged in active public diplomacy in cooperation with Pakistani community to win friends for Pakistan. He also authored a book “Pakistan mirrored to Dutch eyes” published by Sangemeel publications.
In his other overseas assignments, Mr. Chaudhry served as Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary General of ECO in Tehran, and Pakistan Embassies in Washington, Doha and Cairo.
He holds Masters in International Relations from Tufts University, Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Science from Punjab University, Lahore.