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Sartaj Aziz 1929-2024

Jinnah’s Pakistan died last week. His name was Sartaj Aziz. Rather than using my own words to capture just how central a figure Sartaj Aziz was to the idea of Pakistan – and what Pakistan so desperately needs in 2024 – I want to honour his memory by using his words.

I share some excerpts from the second edition of his book, ‘Between Dreams and Realities’, on issues important for Pakistan, and on which I was able to benefit from his wisdom, most recently in the spring of 2023. There was only one Sartaj Aziz. May Allah bless his soul and grant Pakistan many, many more Sartaj Azizs.

On the East Pakistan Crisis: “I recorded the following in my diary on 28 March 1969: East Pakistan economists are convinced they would be better off economically if they were separate. They have no large defence burden to carry, they would be responsible for only 10-15 per cent of the total debt, and they could get food under PL-480 from the USA to balance the inter-wing trade.

“They would still be left with Rs100 crores of foreign exchange for development, unlike West Pakistan which will give up all its foreign exchange in debt, defence, barter, and bonus voucher scheme. Whatever the outcome, Pakistan will never be the same again. That Pakistan for which we fought and struggled in 1947, has proved to be unviable and ‘our dream come true’ is now shattering. I have the feeling of a person whose legs are being chopped, but he will die if his legs are not chopped.”

On the 1993 GIK vs Nawaz Sharif Political Crisis: “My meeting with the president was very tense. I told him that political uncertainty was not good for the economy, foreign investments, or aid prospects. With great difficulty, I had lined up additional support from the IMF and World Bank in preparation for a donor’s consortium meeting in Paris on 22 April. Nothing should be done to deprive the country of these resources.

“He said the ball was in the prime minister’s court. ‘I have already told him what is to be done. So many ministers had resigned. The real issue is not his re-election but the viability of the system?

“I told him, his assessment of the government’s performance, particularly in the economic field and regarding privatization was not objective or even fair. In fact, the period 1990-93 will be remembered for its far-reaching reforms which were overdue for two decades. He said I didn’t know all the facts. I replied, ‘You are surrounded by disgruntled elements and defeated politicians, who are giving you wrong advice. He said that he was not so naive as to be misled.

“Finally, I asked what was the object of all this? ‘Whom do you want to bring in place of Nawaz Sharif? If the strategy is to bring back PPP, then it is working very well. Otherwise, I don’t see the purpose?’

“He said, ‘What is wrong with that?’ (bringing back PPP) and I literally sank in my chair, as I could not imagine he would forget ‘Go Baba go’ so soon. Before I could say anything, he raised his voice and said, ‘You are taking undue advantage of our friendship to ask such questions?’ I said I was saying these things because I was his well-wisher and what he was doing would not be good for him or the country. As I got up to leave, I could not restrain myself from saying, ‘You have had such an illustrious and spotless career but now you are spoiling your ‘aqibat’ (life hereafter) by diving so deep in politics and dismissing another elected government in less than three years?’”

On the post-1998 nuclear tests crisis: “I was also struck by another paradox. I was the foreign minister of a country that had just become the first Islamic country to possess nuclear weapons. But the price it had paid for achieving that status was rising by the day. In 1990, USA had suspended economic assistance and military supplies by imposing sanctions under the Pressler Amendment.

“Now in 1998 after the nuclear tests, all the G-7 countries had imposed comprehensive sanctions which also included loans from multilateral agencies like the World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank. Our foreign exchange reserves were only $1 billion, enough to cover one month’s imports. The net flow of foreign assistance had already become negative. Tensions with India were growing after the nuclear tests. My foremost priority would be to end this isolation and enable the country to concentrate on strengthening its economy.”

On the irony of Musharraf’s Coup Removing Nawaz Sharif: “Pakistan was confronted with a similar [of a lack of transparency and accountability in major national events] situation in 1999. The leader who saved Pakistan from a disastrous all-out war with India, was deposed and then exiled from the country and the army general who overstepped his authority and caused irreparable damage to the Kashmir cause, became the undisputed ruler of the country for nine long years. It is difficult to imagine a more ironic and unjust episode in history.”

On India since 2016: “As we analysed these developments and India’s overall strategy towards Pakistan, we came to the conclusion that, notwithstanding occasional gestures to satisfy international opinion, India under Modi, had launched an insidious plan to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and damage its image abroad as a safe haven for terrorists. It had also intensified its efforts to support destabilizing elements within Pakistan to promote violence and insurgency. Simultaneously, it had started out-spending Pakistan on defence to force Pakistan to divert more resources from development to defence.

“During the late 1990s, in my previous tenure in the Foreign Office, I had realized that friendship with India was not a realistic goal. However, if we could have ‘normal co-existence, in which we could expand trade and sporting links and keep Kashmir on the agenda, at least, some issues like Siachen and Sir Creek could be resolved and the people of Kashmir, while waiting for their inherent right of self-determination, will not suffer greater repression. Meanwhile, we could also expand cooperation in other areas under the SAARC umbrella.

“Presently, we are facing a ‘new normal’ with India virtually setting new benchmarks, by escalating tensions with Pakistan without resorting to old style military build-up.”

On Nawaz Sharif’s proposed change to Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy in 1998: “[A senior military officer asked Sartaj Aziz to] ‘Please persuade the prime minister to defer his decision to review Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban regime for some time. After a long time, we see the prospect of having a peaceful and friendly neighbour in Afghanistan, because the Taliban are expanding their influence. All other alternatives will be worse.

“I heard him with great anguish. I knew that the Taliban were ideologically motivated and considered Osama bin Laden a true mujahid. They were also convinced that they were following the right course. But they did not realize the enormous dangers they were facing by protecting Bin Laden.

“Pakistan was caught in the middle of this historical tragedy. It genuinely wanted peace and stability in Afghanistan and had been working actively to create a broad-based government in Afghanistan so that after twenty years of war, Afghans could live in peace. But there was enormous mistrust among the Pashtuns of Southern Afghanistan and Uzbek-Tajik-Hazara leaders of the North. ‘We are in a real bind, by following a policy that is not sustainable’ I said to myself.

“In the next few days I conveyed the message from ISI to the prime minister and said, I will pursue the subject and revert to him after some time? Meanwhile we were actively engaged with the UN special representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to find a political solution between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance under the Six plus Two Group. In preparation for these efforts I also invited the foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to visit Pakistan for in-depth discussion in the months of January and February 1999.

“True to their style, the Taliban while participating in each stage of these negotiations were also preparing to capture the remaining 10 per cent of Afghanistan and continue their suicidal course.”

On keeping the dream of Pakistan alive: “The national interest of a thriving state is in fact the sum total of its national cohesion, internal and external security, health of its economy, a credible and just judicial system, depth and quality of its education system; a rational and coherent foreign policy, and above all, singularity of the locus of state authority.

“These important ingredients can be harnessed over time only through a broader and inclusive democratic system. That is the only way to ensure that ‘the dream of Pakistan is never allowed to die.”

Innalillah hi wa innailehirr rajeoun

Mosharraf Zaidi, "Sartaj Aziz 1929-2024," The News. 2024-01-09.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign policy , Democratic , Elections , Sartaj Aziz , Osama bin Laden , Pakistan , ISI , PPP