Lahore - A panel of Nawa-i-Waqt and The Nation had a sitting with Interior Minister Brig (r) Ijaz Ahmed Shah and elicited his views on a number of national and regional issues, especially the recent tension with India over Kashmir.

Shah is probably one of the most relevant persons to consult on security issue being a former military officer, who has also served in the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) and the IB (Intelligence Bureau) as its director general.

Besides the author, the interviewing panel included Salim Bokhari, Lt-Col (r) Syed Nadeem Qadri, Javed Siddique, Salman Masood, Dilawar Chaudhry, Maqbool Malik and Nadeem Basra.

Here is what the minister was asked and his response to different questions.

Q: The change of special status of Kashmir by India has brought the long forgotten Kashmir issue into foreground again. Do you think it is strong move by Modi, as India claims? And why has Narendra Modi chosen this time to take this step, considering that he has just started his second tenure?

A: Modi had lost the battle of Kashmir even before it started. By changing the special status of Kashmir, he has indirectly done Pakistan a favour by bringing the Kashmir issue into international focus, contradicting New Delhi’s long held stance of Kashmir being a ‘non-issue’.

The outrage and reaction from within Kashmir and around the globe after removal of article 35A and 370 have underscored the Indian oppression on Kashmiri people, and made it ever more clear to the world that how they are forcefully being deprived of their basic right of self-determination.

As far as the last part of your question is concerned, Pakistan is currently going through a difficult time. The economic and political instability along with other internal challenges pertaining to accountability drive and changing the status quo are too much to deal with. Despite all these implications, the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the United States, his meeting with President Trump and latter’s offer to mediate on Kashmir dispute, can be termed as main reasons for this overnight decision of Modi’s government. Probably, he assumed that we would not be able to defend our stance on Kashmir so strongly. That is where I think he made a mistake. We have a very clear vision on Kashmir issue; their right to self-determination and their integrity is to be respected and supported at all levels. Pakistan will continue to stand in support of Kashmiris.

All Pakistanis, the residents and the overseas ones, raised their voice in support of their Kashmiri brothers. This was for the first time that people came out on roads holding Kashmiri flags along with the Pakistani ones on Independence Day in such large numbers, showing their solidarity and full support.


Q: Where do you see Pakistan in international context as far as Kashmir issue is concerned? Do you think that the recently held meeting of UNSC was a diplomatic win for Pakistan? If yes, then how?


A: First of all, United Nations Security Council coming together to discuss Kashmir after 55 years is a victory in itself. This was the first such gathering to exclusively discuss the disputed area, and this clearly negated the Indian claim that Kashmir issue is an “Internal matter”. After the meeting, it is now all the more evident that it is an international matter which begs a diplomatic solution with entire global community on board.

As far as Pakistan’s relevance in this matter is concerned, it is very important to understand, like I said before, that we have a clear stance on Kashmir and the concern is that Kashmiris are being deprived of their right to self-determination, and the change of their status by force was uncalled for. The inhumane and aggressive approach of Indians is out there for the world to see. World has transformed into a global village, survival in isolation is a forgone concept, therefore, we will continue to voice our stance internationally unless the matter is resolved for the good. The struggle and sacrifices of our Kashmiri brothers cannot be overlooked, I salute them for their bravery and I admire how strongly they have stood against Indian oppression during all these years.


Q: Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has stated that any dialogue with Pakistan will now be about Azad Kashmir (Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, as they call it), further adding that Islamabad needs to stop supporting terrorists. What is your view on this?


A: First of all, there is no such thing as Pakistani Occupied Kashmir. We have given them their due status and they live freely without oppression in the region, which they themselves administer. Exploitation of LOC is the only issue that they face, and that is obviously from the Indian side. Prime Minister Imran Khan recently had telephonic conversation with President Trump and discussed matters pertaining to Indian occupied Kashmir and regional peace, and here, I repeat that UNSC coming together to discuss the matter is a proof that we have raised a genuine and serious concern.

As far as Pakistan’s view in this matter is concerned, it is very important to understand that war or unrest is not just going to affect us in isolation but it’s going to change global dynamics, primarily leaving the Asian region shattered. As UNSC meeting also suggested that both the countries need to adopt bilateral lines instead of unilateral approach, which has the tendency to escalate the situation further into dangerous dimension. By giving such irresponsible statement, the Indian defence minister has only reconfirmed the fascist and racist approach of Modi government as already pointed out by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Furthermore, the dialogue that we want is for Kashmiris, their rights, their land and their protection. Bringing vested interests and personal stakes by India into such matters is like brushing things under the carpet.


Q: Do you think the prevailing international and regional scenario, especially the Afghan peace initiative and the explosive Kashmir situation are going to have an impact on the ongoing accountability drive in the country?


A: There is no connection between the two, the accountability drive will go on, regardless. In governments, there is never one thing going on at a time, we have to deal with multiple scenarios simultaneously and this case is no exception. Also, holding the ones who looted peoples’ money accountable was one of the most significant part of Imran Khan’s vision of Naya Pakistan, if we don’t stand by our promise, we are going to lose the confidence of the masses. Therefore, we will ensure the continuity of ongoing accountability process and try our level best to recover what’s taken away.


Q: What are the key issues faced by the government ever since it came into power? Prices have gone up during PTI rule. Is government considering any plan to give relief to the common man?


A: The major issue that we faced when we took over was the economic instability and an ever increasing debt level. Unfortunately, the previous governments had done so much damage that unwillingly we had to take some hard steps. Rise in dollar rates consequently led to inflation in every sector. Having said that, now that first year of the government is over, I think things will slowly start getting better for the people.

And let me tell you here, Imran Khan is the most worried person when it comes to inflation and economic burden on the common man. It gets discussed in almost every cabinet meeting that how we can facilitate the downtrodden to the maximum. And recently, he has given very strict instructions on price control of roti and wheat flour. It has been a tough time but we are settling things for better, and let me tell you, we are proceeding in the right direction.


Q: After the elections there was an allegation that the PTI government came to power through political engineering. Now that a year has passed some people fear that the democratic system faces a serious threat and there is a strong possibility of a military takeover. Do you agree?


A: Look, I think this is for the very first time in Pakistan’s history that civil and military leadership is on the same page. There cannot be anything better than this, because in the past achieving common grounds between the two has always been a challenge. The Chief of Army Staff has recently gotten an extension of three years in his tenure and I hope to see overall security and stability situation better in the country. And I don’t see any threat to democracy. In my view, in Pakistan’s political context, it may be called democracy at its best. This is the first time that a prime minister is working by taking his whole cabinet on board, I don’t remember cabinet meetings being held so frequently in the previous governments.


Q: Separation of Balochistan from Pakistan is one of the important targets of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He does not conceal his designs. Footprints of terrorist activities carried out off and on in Balochistan- and even elsewhere- lead to India. What is your take on this, and how do you see India exploiting this issue in current situation?


A: I think the abrogation of articles 35-A and 370 have scared the minorities within India itself, they have enough problems of their own on which they should focus. We are trying to improve the situation in Balochistan and I am hopeful things will get better. Indian allegations and wishes cannot separate Balochistan from Pakistan, we are heading forward with more inclusive approach unlike India which is transforming India into a racist Hindu supremacist country, as PM called it.


Q: There is a looming threat from FATF. What is Pakistan doing to protect its interests?


A: I think what is being done right now to evade FATF blacklisting should have been done way back, but better late than never. We have been working to ensure that issues like money laundering and relevant problems are dealt with in time and I think we have made satisfactory progress and policy implementation so far, rest we can hope for the best.


Q: You are doing a lot for Sikh community in Nankana Sahib—the project of a direct road from Railway station to Gurdwara Guru Nanak University is underway and many other facilities regarding Janam Din (birthday) of Guru being provided. More significantly, Kartarpur Corridor is under construction, do you think all this will bring soft corner for Pakistan and can Sikh factor play its role to compel India to have normal relations with Pakistan?


A: Facilitating the citizens of Pakistan regardless of their religion and beliefs is one of the founding principles of this country and I am doing the same. Nankana Sahib holds strong religious and spiritual significance for the Sikh community and I think we all must respect that and facilitate them accordingly. I can call it one place of greatest religious harmony and I feel very proud to say that. We have quite a few developmental projects underway and Prime Minister Imran Khan is invited for inauguration of the projects soon. These include a state of the art university, a judicial complex, a jail, a housing colony and dual road for Sikh Pilgrims.

Coming forward to Kartarpura corridor, it is a major initiative by Pakistan which has put the Indian government politically on the back foot. After the recent Kashmir incident, there are multiple cases being reported on social media and otherwise where Sikh community is protecting Kashmiris and ensuring their safe return to their homes. Even in older times, during the widespread killings of Kashmiri people across India post-Pulwama incident, Sikhs rescued and protected the Kashmiris. Which shows their humane attribute as a community.


Q: How was your relation with Majeed Nizami Sab and how do you think he would have reacted to current scenario if he was alive today?


A: I had known Majeed Nizami as one of the most patriotic persons, an upright and straightforward man. We have had a very good relationship and I must say I have learned a lot from him. And considering his patriotism, I think, if he was alive today, he would have crossed the LOC by now.