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Ally Says Sharif Committed To Democracy

Mahmood Khan Achakzai
Mahmood Khan Achakzai

PRAGUE, Lawmaker Mahmood Khan Achakzai, head of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, says his ally and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is committed to establishing democracy without it being controlled by the country's powerful military because only a democratic Pakistan is viable.

RFE/RL: In recent years, questions have been raised about the viability of democracy in Pakistan. What is your take?

Mahmood Khan Achakzai: Present-day Pakistan is the historical homelands of different peoples; Baluch, Sindhis, Punjabis, Siraikis and the Pashtuns have continued to live on their ancestral lands for centuries. Pakistan is a young state, and it is only 67 years old. Before its creation, all of these regions were under the Union Jack [of the British India].

So Pakistan is a diverse and multinational state, and it is viable only if it is a democratic state in accordance with the standards of the 21st century. Smaller nationalities such as the Pashtuns, Baluch, Sindhis and Siraikis must be given constitutional guarantees for the protection of their rights, resources, languages and culture. The first condition for achieving all of this is that the elected parliament of the 180 million Pakistanis must be the ultimate source of power. Intelligence agencies, civil or military, should not have any role in politics, and nor should the army.

RFE/RL: You have been the leading critic of the opposition protests that have been staged outside Parliament since August. Do you see this crisis as over yet?

Achakzai: I think a battle has been won by the democratic forces [by not allowing the government to fall in the face of protests]. For the first time in Pakistan's history, most of the major political parties in parliament united to confront the protests. We are not against protests, but we will confront anyone who tries to sabotage democracy under any pretext.

I think this episode is also a good reminder for Western democracies. They should link their financial support to Islamabad with democratic rule.

RFE/RL: You are an ally and a close confidant of incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Where do you seem him moving during his current term in office?

Achakzai: Unfortunately, most political leaders in Pakistan's history have been propped up by the military. But, I think, history will absolve Nawaz Sharif because, after learning from his experience [as an ally of the military], he has concluded that a diluted or limited democracy will ruin Pakistan. So he defied efforts to control democracy. He is the only Pakistani leader who removed an army chief [General Jehangir Karamat in 1998] while asserting his constitutional rights.

As a democrat, I supported his right to remove General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, but it was sabotaged [by a military coup], and he was forced into exile along with 72 members of his family for 10 long years.

He returned to office last year more resolute in his democratic thinking. We support him for being the only leader from [the prosperous and dominant eastern] Punjab province [who can nurture democracy]. Luckily the judiciary, our civil society and the media all support democracy.

RFE/RL: Sharif had differences with the military on key domestic and foreign policy issues. But, in recent months, we have seen him trying to appease the military by, for instance, taking a hard line on the Kashmir issue. Do you see him as being ready to live under the military's shadow?

Achakzai: What Sharif is doing is not wrong. He has tried to establish good relations with [neighboring] India and Afghanistan.

We want our army and the intelligence agencies to be like the armies and spy services of the democratic world. Most countries are protected by the army because this is their professional job. All institutions in Pakistan ― [including] the judiciary, parliament and the army ― must operate within a constitutional framework.

RFE/RL: You have said Balkanization is not a solution. Can you explain this in light of your role as Sharif's special envoy to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai this year?

Achakzai: Our region has many global powers, and I think war and Balkanization is neither a solution nor will it be permitted. Afghanistan and Pakistan have had long-standing disputes over the [19th-century] Durand Line border. I think the best solution for the two countries would be for the global powers and European democracies to push Afghanistan's neighbors to guarantee that they consider Afghanistan a sovereign state.

Secondly, China and the United States can broker an agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran [to guarantee] that they will not provide sanctuaries for armed rebels to target each other. I can assure you that if this is done within a period of 10 years, we will have free borders like in Europe. Pakistan and Afghanistan could be best friends and a junction for regional cooperation.

RFE/RL: Realistically, do you see Sharif taking over foreign policy and security from the hands of the military?

Achakzai: The military is not something that is from above; they are equal citizens of Pakistan, and they are well-read people. Some of their leaders are trained here in the West, and they know the contemporary world. I think sanity will prevail and the army will cooperate with parliament, the judiciary and civil society to allow Pakistan to be a democratic country.

RFE/RL: You are from the restive province of Balochistan, which is reeling from many conflicts including a Baluch separatist insurgency, sectarian attacks and proxy wars involving Pakistan's neighbors. How do you see its future?

Achakzai: Under British rule, the Subcontinent witnessed a lot of development. They built roads, canals, universities and a functioning government system. But our leaders, including my late father, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, wanted them to leave India. Why?

They were not asking the British to leave Christianity, and they were not hated because they had blue eyes. But all the Muslim and non-Muslim leaders asked them to leave on the basis that, as foreigners, they were not supposed to rule our homeland.

After Pakistan came into being, the same applies to the Baluchis, the Pashtuns and other [minority] nationalities. They must be given constitutional guarantees of [self-] governance in their areas and constitutional guarantees to be the masters of the natural resources there.

RFE/RL: During the past decade, more than 2,000 Pashtun tribal leaders and political activists have been killed with what appears to be absolute impunity. Why has Pakistan failed to arrest the killers or even investigate the majority of these murders?

Achakzai: Since British colonial times, FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] was kept outside the mainstream of "settled districts" [ruled under municipal laws]. Even today, only four articles [out of a total of 280] of the Pakistani Constitution apply to FATA. Most Pakistani political leaders such as Sharif, Afandyar Wali Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman cannot enter FATA [because of government restrictions].

Now the question is that, if Pakistani citizens cannot enter that part of the country, how did these foreigners [militants] get in? How did the Uzbeks, Tajiks and [famous figures such as Al-Qaeda leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri end up in FATA?

Now the Pashtun tribes comprising the population of FATA are born fighters who understand very well how to protect their country. How did these strangers [foreign militants] become so powerful that they are killing the brave Mehsud, Wazir, Sulaimankhel, Dautani, Mohmand, Afridi and other tribal elders in the region?

Why has the entire population of the Mehsud tribe been forced to leave their homeland in South Waziristan [since 2009]. We now have a new phenomenon, that of internally displaced persons [IDPs]. It is very strange that the military has pushed out the populations of entire districts to then look for and confront terrorists. The Pakistani Army cannot fight terrorism alone. It must empower the people of the tribal areas.