“Pakistan’s army does not have a relationship with India, the state does,” PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, fielding questions from a representative of India Today in Davos on Friday, made clear as he set the tone for what was his first interview to an Indian news outlet.
Maintaining that Pakistan needs a strong army since it is engaged in the fight against terrorism, Bilawal — when questioned about Pakistan Army’s alleged links with extremist forces — asserted that: “It does not serve my purpose or my country’s purpose to criticise my armed forces when they’re fighting terrorists.”
The security-focused interview also touched on the relationship between Pakistan and India, with the PPP leader saying that although things were not at their best at the moment, he felt there was still hope for the future.
“Despite hostilities on both sides and genuine complaints, ultimately the youth of both countries understand that the only solution is peace. We just have to figure out a way to get there.”
However, he was quick to add that the relationship was not going to improve if India — and the world — continue to dictate to Pakistan.
“That’s not how a partnership works or builds. You have to have a conversation about what reservations perhaps Pakistan may have with India, and India will also have reservations about what is going on in Pakistan,” he asserted.
“You have those discussions not in front of the public and cameras, you have those discussions behind closed doors,” Bilawal explained to his interviewer.
He also commented on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies both before and after he became the Indian premier.
“His image in Pakistan after the incidents in Gujrat is not positive,” he said, referring to Modi’s stint as the Indian state’s chief minister when deadly riots between Muslims and Hindus led to much bloodshed in 2002.
He also did not shy from giving his views on Kashmir. “In the age of social media, you cannot hide what’s happening in Kashmir on either side. But for social media to see bullet-riddled bodies in [India-held] Kashmir makes things a little difficult.”
Responding to a question asking him why Pakistan had not reciprocated Modi’s efforts to improve relations by going out of the way to visit Sharif’s in Raiwind, Bilawal said: “Modi’s trip to Pakistan, while perhaps intended to send a positive sign … [was not followed] up with any sort of state cooperation [which] sends the image that they’re just showing that they want to have peace but are not actually taking the concrete steps necessary.”
Extremism not Islam-specific
Asked what he makes of United States President Donald Trump’s tweets about Pakistan giving the US “nothing but lies and deceit”, Bilawal said: “I don’t think Trump wanted to give the impression that America doesn’t pay its debts.”
“The Coalition Support Fund is not aid; it is the money Pakistan is due for the work we have done in fighting terrorism,” he said, stressing on the need for having meaningful conversations to defeat terror.
“We are not even having a conversation on how to counter violent extremism,” he claimed.
“Extremism is not Islam-specific,” Bilawal said, addressing the global rise in extremism. “You have it in Myanmar, India, America and in Pakistan. Not only do we have to eliminate terrorism, but also talk about defeating extremism.”
Pakistan needs a progressive alternative to hate-driven politics
In the short interview, he also drew parallels between the kind of politics prevalent in the two nuclear neighbours.
“Unfortunately, some politicians choose to do more populist, more hate-driven politics [and] feed off on negative emotions of people, split communities on ethnic, religious lines,” he said, referring to the rise of the right-wing in India.
“I don’t believe that is positive for any country. That’s not positive for my country or India.”
Asked about the rising popularity of the Indian premier exemplified by his recent election victories, Bilawal shot back, asking: “Is winning what’s important or is doing the right thing what’s important?”
He added that Pakistan “needs a genuine progressive voice, a progressive alternative to the populist, hate-driven politics of the two other mainstream political parties in Pakistan.”
“PPP has always been a progressive force in Pakistan and I feel that that is the way forward and that is the kind of politician I want to be.”
“We cannot tolerate prejudice, we cannot tolerate misogyny, we cannot tolerate discrimination, we cannot tolerate hate. And if we do not tolerate all these things, there won’t be any space for extremism,” he added.
Bilawal also reiterated that he did not choose the life of a politician. “It’s absolutely something that has been thrust [upon] me.”
“But at the same time, for a son to be working in what was his mother’s mission, I find solace,” the heir apparent of the slain two-term prime minister Benazir Bhutto said. “I am doing this because i believe i am following the mission of my mother.”
“I did not choose this life, it chose me,” Bilawal said. It was not the first time that the PPP leader has made such remarks about his entry into politics.
“If they stopped assassinating us then my mother would be in the Foreign Office and I would still be a student,” he had said in an interview last month.
“My mother often said that she didn’t choose this life, it chose her,” he had told the AFP at his family home in Karachi. “The same applies to me.”