Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari Wednesday said that Pakistan is facing a “perfect storm” of crises as the country battles with worsening political, economic and security issues.
Speaking during an interview with The Daily Show, Bilawal said: “Unfortunately, Pakistan is facing a perfect storm. Not only do we have heightened partisanship and political polarisation, to the extent that political parties or political stakeholders aren’t even in a position to sit in a room and discuss issues amongst themselves, we’re also facing an economic crisis.”
As the country faces a security threat and crisis following the Afghan government’s fall, he said, it is also suffering from the increasing frequency of terrorist attacks and reeling from the aftermath of the biggest climate catastrophe in history.
The minister, when responding to a question about the ongoing unrest in Pakistan — owing to the imminent arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan — said that while the country deals with the chaos and simultaneous crises, the PTI chief believes the country’s law doesn’t apply to him.
Heavy police force reached Zaman Park — Khan’s residence in Lahore — in the early hours of Wednesday after Islamabad police failed to arrest him amid fierce clashes between the PTI workers and the anti-riot force in and around the party chief’s residence that left dozens of activists and police personnel injured since Tuesday.
“He’s resigned from parliament and run away from the system. In this particular instance, it’s not a question of me wanting to arrest Mr Khan […] I would never want any politician in my country or any country to go to jail for political reasons. In Mr Khan’s case, he’s under the threat of arrest because of his ego,” the minister said, adding that the former prime minister thinks he’s “too important and won’t turn up to the court”.
Foreign Minister Bilawal deemed Khan’s decisions a “complete mockery of the judicial system in Pakistan, of rule of law, of the Constitution in Pakistan”.
“We’re caught in a situation where there’s this political chaos playing out on the streets and distracting from the real issues that are affecting everyday Pakistanis,” the foreign minister said.
When asked if the state of democracy in Pakistan is fragile, the politician said “Absolutely. Pakistan has been, for most of our history, under direct military dictatorship.”
Bilawal said forces that benefit from “undemocratic rule in Pakistan” didn’t like when political parties came together after the death of his mother and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. “So they supported Mr Khan and brought him into power. And that’s now blown up not only in those individuals’ faces, but has had severe consequences for our country,” he said.
Responding to a question on how the political instability affects Pakistan’s economy, the minister said: “The deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is made by the previous government, [which] violated that deal with the IMF.
“They put Pakistan in an extremely precarious economic situation. […] Our negotiations are still ongoing and have not been concluded with the IMF. I think that when Pakistan is facing such a perfect storm, some problems of our own creation, but some, like the flood and others, that are of our own, the conversation with the IMF really should take that into account, and I don’t think it is at the moment.”
He added that whether it is Pakistan’s deals with the IMF or the country’s own internal economic policy, there’s an outsized burden on the poorest of the poor.
“There’s an outsized burden on the bottom of the pyramid. […] but we do need a fundamental reform about how we talk about our economy and what decisions we take domestically in order to achieve that,” FM Bilawal said.
When the host questioned the minister regarding the relations between Pakistan and the United States, particularly in the context of terrorism, he said that whatever happened during the war on terror and the entire period that followed, there’s a “fog of war that colours everyone’s decision-making, everyone’s perception”.
He insisted that Afghanistan is a reality and that the world must get serious about engaging on the topic.
“I believe that based on the facts on the ground, the position and perspective of Pakistan and the United States, we meet eye to eye. […] And whatever has happened in the past, we should be able to have honest conversations about that,” the foreign minister maintained, adding that it is crucial for the two countries to be working together and strategise the future.
“That’s what I’ve been working on with my counterpart, Secretary Blinken,” he said.
Bilawal, while talking about the Taliban being back in power, said that even though Pakistan being Afghanistan’s neighbour hasn’t recognised them diplomatically, but still it is forced to engage with the reality on its border.
“We are advocating, not only for ourselves, but for the international community, to also engage with them,” he said.
Talking about the Taliban’s ban on women’s education, the foreign minister said: ” I believe that we were off to a positive start, initially, but given what’s happened with women’s education and their right to access education, it’s becoming incredibly difficult for me or others like me who do want to engage with them, who do want to find solutions to the problems the people of Afghanistan are facing.”
He said that the decisions being taken by the Afghanistan’s interim government is “not helping us help them”, adding that the government’s major concern is that whatever happens in Afghanistan, Pakistan is going to be the first people to feel the consequences.
Talking about the security situation, Bilawal said that the more the economic situation deteriorates in Afghanistan, the more cannon fodder the terrorist groups over there are going to have, and the more people they’re going to be able to recruit to their cause.
Reiterating to engage with the Taliban, the foreign minister requested the Taliban to “let girls learn”.
Speaking about the climate issue being faced by Pakistan, Bilawal said that the country is still battling with the consequences, however, the domestic attention and political conversation have moved on from this issue.
Referring to the current political situation in the country, the foreign minister said that Pakistan is being distracted from the climate issue that affected over 33 million lives, displaced over eight million people and dented the economy.
Bilawal called for the international community to come together to resolve the issue as it is not the problem of only one country.
He said that the world needs to work together to come up with the money to address loss and damage as a result of climate change.
“I believe that this is a problem too big for just America to deal with on their own or just China to deal with on their own. This is something that the world has to come together and decide, are we going to be distracted by war and conflict and politics as usual, or are we going to find a solution to this problem?” he questioned.
Thanking the international community for standing with Pakistan during these hard times — one at the COP27 and the second during the Climate Resilient Pakistan Conference in Geneva.
Bilawal further said that Pakistan will face far greater flooding from the rivers due to the melting of the glaciers. “We won’t be able to provide drinking water to the people that live in my country,” he said.