6th Think Tanks Forum of the Islamic Countries


Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 11, 2015

Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 11, 2015

Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 10, 2015

Senator Mushahid Hussain's Speech on June 10, 2015

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed Speech on December 26, 2014

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed Speech on December 26, 2014

Books by Mushahid

'Initial signals from Washington are positive': Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed

Date : 22-01-2016

'Initial signals from Washington are positive': Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed

This interview was jointly conducted by Mian Abrar and Shah Nawaz Mohal

I don’t think the Trump administration is a Republican administration in true spirit. Trump is something of its own kind. He does not represent the Republican establishment. The choice of Republican establishment was Mr Jeb Bush, who Trump defeated

With Donald Trump finally sworn in as the United States’ 45thpresident, it will soon become clear how much of his controversial campaign rhetoric will translate into concrete policy action. If he follows through on his promises in letter and spirit, the world will be a very different, and divided, place before this electoral cycle runs out in the US in four years’ time.

A lot, though, remains uncertain. There is wide expectation that the new president will tone down some of his posturing once he’s had a dose of reality. In Pakistan, like much of the world, there’s no way of telling really, at the moment, which way the pendulum will swing in the initial interaction. Yes there is the encouraging phone call to go by, but there’s also a lot that has unnerved the Republican Congress about Pakistan’s behaviour. So the best that can be done is wait, watch and prepare.

To understand the emerging situation, DNA talked exclusively to Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed.

Question: There is a perception that US Republican administrations tend to tilt more favourably towards Pakistan than their Democrat counterparts. Is this observation based on facts?

Mushahid Hussain Syed: I would not say so, as that is a general view. Let’s not forget that the Pressler Amendment was pushed under President George Bush Sr. This perception took shape because John F. Kennedy — a Democratic Party president — supported India in the ‘60s and Richard Nixon — a Republican — supported Pakistan in  the ‘70s.

But it would not be fair to say so as we saw during the administration of George W Bush there was the India-US nuclear deal. It was the Bush administration that started accusing Pakistan. So, I think this is not quite true and I think the issue is in the interest of the US about how they can match their interests with Pakistan. That should be the focus for now. I feel that there will be challenges and opportunities for the Trump administration. Now it is up to the policymakers of Pakistan as to how they use these opportunities to best promote and protect Pakistan’s national interests.

Q: This Republican administration is hardly of the traditional mould. How do you expect it to posture towards Pakistan?

MHS: Not at all. I see that there are perhaps three pluses of Trump over Obama. Obama was not favourably disposed to Pakistan; rather Obama had a negative view about us. Just two instances I would refer for Obama’s role. He is the only American president who visited India twice without visiting Pakistan. And just a day before leaving his office, on 18 January, Obama made two phone calls — one to India and the other to Afghanistan — conveniently missing Pakistan. So that shows his general attitude. Hence, Obama will not be missed in Pakistan, for sure.

I think the US needs Pakistan, perhaps more than we need them, as we have lots of options available now. I think they’ll pursue a balanced policy

The three pluses I mentioned about Trump are opportunities: Number one – He had a very friendly phone call with PM Nawaz Sharif in which he praised the people of Pakistan. And then he asked how he could help in the resolution of our problem. This shows a marked change from the Obama administration. Secondly, the members of Trump administration – General Mattis who is defence secretary and General Flynn as national security advisor are very important.

Both know Pakistan very well, as they’ve worked very closely with the Pakistan army in their ISAF roles in Afghanistan. So, they know the contributions of Pakistan in the fight against terror infested areas. So they are no strangers to Pakistan.

Thirdly, the choice of Trump of Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State, is important too. Rex has been the Chairman of Exxon, which is a big energy multinational and he is supposedly a friend of President Putin. So a person with Rex Tillerson’s background would be interested in energy cooperation and connectivity and I think he would be favourably disposed to initiatives like CPEC and TAPI. And this connectivity that we are talking about concerns energy. Once these projects are completed, they would lead to greater stability of the region.

Hence, I am not concerned about Trump in the White House and I think Pakistan should have a good professional team in Washington with a clear policy about how Pakistan’s interests could be advanced under President Trump. So the initial signals from Washington are, frankly, positive.

Q: What do you attribute the Republican dominated Congress’ recent aggressive steps towards Pakistan to? They bulldozed the F16 deal, debated whether Pakistan was friend or foe, and froze Coalition Support Fund (CSF) reimbursement. Do you expect an escalation or a drawdown?

MHS: I don’t think the Trump administration is a Republican administration in true spirit. Trump is something of its own kind. He does not represent the Republican establishment. The choice of Republican establishment was Mr Jeb Bush, who Trump defeated. I think Trump is the first American president who is already at odds with the America’s security establishment. So it’ll be interesting to see how this tussle between President Trump and America’s security establishment plays itself out. We’ll be watching with interest as he has criticised the US security establishment and they’ve retaliated by making some of his personal stuff public. So, it is open warfare.

Hence, I think the jury is still out and we would have to see how things play out between the American security establishment and Trump. I remember an interview Obama gave to Geoffrey Goldberg of Atlanticmagazine in May, 2016, where Obama said, “There is a Washington playbook, you are supposed to play according to certain norms and rules and everybody follows that. If you don’t follow that, then they attack you”. Obama said it as US president while answering a query regarding his decision not to send troops to Syria.

Q: How much will Pakistan’s cozying up to China, particularly CPEC, etc, make America uncomfortable? There’s not just the uncertain future of the Pivot to Asia, but Trump’s personal position on China is pretty hostile. What’s your take on Asian regional dynamics?

MHS: It depends on how we play our cards. Ours is one of the most strategic regions as far as American interests are concerned. The Middle East is already unraveling, it has almost collapsed. There are conflicts and there is terrorism. Pakistan is still the freest Muslim democracy in the world. America has already lost Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even Turkey. So can they afford losing Pakistan due to its hostile policies? I think the US needs Pakistan, perhaps more than we need them, as we have lots of options available now. I think they’ll pursue a balanced policy.

Q: Pakistan was able to continue with its policy of ambiguity, of sorts, on certain aspects of the war on terror – like the manner of sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban, the post-Zarbe Azb position of the Haqqani Network, etc – all through the Obama years. What’s Trump’s approach, in your opinion, going to be like?

MHS: I think the issue here is very clear: Obama’s Asia policy has collapsed. In 2011, America did two things — in July 2011, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Chennai, India, that America will launch a New Silk Route. Then in November 2011, Barack Obama announced America’s Pivot to Asia. Both these policies have collapsed. China’s President Xi Jinping launched One Belt and One Road. You see Silk Route basically starts in China and goes to the Middle East, Europe, etc. There can’t be a new silk route anymore. You don’t invent a new silk route. America’s policy of Pivot to Asia has also collapsed. Obama announced TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership of countries of Pacific Ocean) very specifically excluding China and now Congress has shot down that TPP too.

President Trump has said that he has no interest in it anymore. So, there is no Obama legacy in Asia. Now, the countries they were trying to cultivate against China have almost changed their minds.

Philippines has already announced and so has Malaysia. That leaves India, Japan and perhaps Vietnam. I think India would be making a historic mistake if it goes against the tide in Asia. Since the 21st century is the Asian Century and it’s about connecting, it’s about cooperation, it is about corridors. Given his relationship, Trump would support good relations with Russia. Pakistan, Turkey and other countries want to have good relationship with Russia too. What’s wrong with that? Now the balance of power has shifted from the west to the east. The US is not the sole superpower as it claimed to be once. It’s a multi-polar world now and there are multiple power centres. And with Brexit, Europe’s role is also going to change. You know four or five key countries in Europe are going to have elections this year including France, Germany, Netherlands and Italy. So a change is taking place.

Q: Top Chinese and Indian scholars have been talking about regional connectivity in South Asia. Prof Li Xiguang proposed having soft borders while Prof Mahendra Lama of India talked about building an energy corridor. Do you believe the nodes of CPEC could be turned towards India, Afghanistan or Iran for a win-win partnership?

MHS: I think we should be very clear about our goals and strategy to reach our objectives. We need to present Pakistan’s case better too. We are the freest Muslim democracy; we have fought the most successful inland war against terrorism; we’ve hosted the largest number of refugees for the longest period in history. Now we are talking about connection and connectivity.

On the other hand, what has India talked about? They are only talking of interference, of intervention, of destabilising the region. We are a factor for advancing Asia; while India is a factor for cleavage, for confrontation, for division under Modi. Obama wanted to have a lasting legacy by having India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He lobbied hard but he failed. So, that was his biggest failure. We played our cards well.

I would say CPEC is a historic opportunity. India has to shun its negativism, its pessimism, and its divisive policies. All they want is to demonise and destabilise Pakistan. Why doesn’t India come back to the IPI (Iran-India-Pakistan) pipeline? They left it in 2016 under US pressure when America offered them a civil nuclear deal. We were also pressurised but we didn’t budge. A very significant thing has happened. Two days ago, CM of IoK, Mehbooba Mufti, issued a statement saying IoK wants a CPEC-like project. Historically, Kashmir has been part of this region, which links up to China.

I think by talking of soft borders, Prof Li Xiguang makes a lot of sense, and already the slogan in Occupied Kashmir was, “Kashmir kei mandiRawalpindi”. That was about trade. Recently, I was listening to Yushwant Sinha sahib, the leader of BJP. He said people of Jammu and Kashmir have lost their fear of India. But more importantly, the people of Occupied Kashmir want to join CPEC.

CPEC is the way forward. It provides a win-win opportunity to all. Each side benefits from it as it’s not either/or, it’s not a zero-sum game.

So, I think the ball is in Indian court. How do they react? The main problem with India is that it’s a large country with a very small vision and a small heart. So, they need to have a larger vision. They talk of size, but that size is not reflecting in their mindset. They need to stop being petty and small minded. Instead of blockading Nepal or bullying smaller countries or interfering in Pakistan, they should join this new regionalism, which is economy- and energy-driven, which includes trade and pipelines; which includes roads and railways. That’s the future for South Asia, the Asian century.

Q: How do you see President Xi Jinping’s speeches in Davos and Geneva recently? How do you see China’s role in sharing fruits of development with its neighbours and the countries of the region?   

MHS: President Xi’s speech at World Economic Forum in Davos was quite outstanding and amazing. I read the whole speech. It’s very ironic. Here is a leader of the People’s Republic of China defending globalisation, supporting globalisation, supporting free-trade. While some people in America are saying that they should be more protectionist.

It was a very well-written speech. Xi talked of European history; he talked of Charles Dickens; he talked of China’s contribution in world economic growth. He said China is a beneficiary of globalisation and also a contributor to globalisation.

He mentioned in his speech that while China has attracted $1.7 trillion worth of foreign investment, it has also made $1.2 trillion direct outbound investment since opening up. And China has contributed to overall 30pc global growth every year.

We are very lucky that the pivot of one belt, one road is CPEC. The world’s second largest economy, our neighbour, our best friend, has invested in Pakistan. It’s a vote of confidence for Pakistan and its future. It is China’s sharing of prosperity with its neighbour Pakistan with whom it has had a strategic relationship for over last 50 years. God has provided an opportunity to Pakistan where less-developed parts of the country can develop.

We’ve been hearing for the last 30 years about two names: One was Gwadar. Now Gwadar is a functional Port with a bright future. Second was Thar Coal. Now the coal is mined and transformed into electricity as well. If 2016 was the year of consolidation of CPEC, 2017 will be the year of takeoff of CPEC.