Nepal established diplomatic relations with Pakistan in 1960 and ever since the two countries have enjoyed cordial relations based on goodwill, mutual cooperation and friendship. Meanwhile, revocation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir last week by India has created fresh tensions between Pakistan and India and raised prospects of threat to peace and stability in South Asia. In this context, Republica sat down with Mazhar Javed, Pakistan’s ambassador to Nepal, to discuss Nepal-Pakistan relation, conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and other aspects of bilateral ties. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate Nepal-Pakistan relations?
Pakistan and Nepal have had very cordial and friendly relations ever since the two countries established their diplomatic relations in 1960. These relations have been based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference. The hallmark of Pakistan-Nepal relations is the fact that the two countries do not have any issues or irritants. That creates a huge diplomatic space to build on all areas of cooperation.
Nepal and Pakistan are already cooperating in various areas. The two countries have been closely cooperating at the United Nations and other international fora. They have stood with each other in all the times of adversity like earthquakes and floods. Every year a large number of Nepali students go to Pakistan for higher education, especially in the field of Medicine (including post-graduate) and engineering. This is an old tradition. I recall when I was a student, we had friends from Nepal. Many others go for professional training. There are around 5,000 professionals in Nepal who received their education or training from Pakistan. I consider them a strong bridge that connects the peoples of the two countries. My endeavor all along has been to increase the number of Nepalis who get an education in Pakistan. That said, if you ask me whether we have been able to make use of all the potentials that these relations offer, my answer would be No. We still have a vast untapped potential that can be and must be exploited.
Next year (2020) will mark the 60th anniversary of Pakistan-Nepal diplomatic relations. That provides us a great opportunity for high-level visits, media exchanges, trade-related events and visits, signing new agreements and enhancing people-to-people contacts. Joint initiatives could be taken in the field of tourism in 2020 which will be the “Visit Nepal Year”. It is important to fully activate the existing bilateral mechanisms like the Joint Economic Commission and Bilateral Consultations at the level of Foreign Secretaries. In short, we have done a lot but much more needs to be done.
But despite maintaining cordial relations for the last 72 years, trade between Pakistan and Nepal is still dismal. How can we explore ways to increase bilateral trade?
I agree that the level of trade and investment between the two countries has traditionally been way below the level commensurate with the warmth of political relations. However, the phenomenal jump in bilateral trade to NRs 63 billion in 2017-18 is certainly an encouraging sign. We need to enhance the business-to-business contacts so that the businessmen of the two countries can explore each other’s markets. I would greatly encourage Nepali businessmen to organize single country exhibition in Pakistan on the pattern of “Made in Pakistan Exhibition” organized by Pakistan in Nepal. I can assure you of all cooperation and support for any such initiative. Also Nepali businessmen should showcase their products in trade exhibitions in Pakistan. All these steps can be facilitated by an early convening of meetings of Joint Economic Commission Meeting and Joint Business Council.
The current tensions in Kashmir have the potential to destabilize the whole of South Asia. How do you see the situation?
An understanding of the recent developments in Jammu and Kashmir requires putting them in their correct perspective. Let me give you a very brief overview. At the time of partition of India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was the biggest princely state in India. It had an overwhelming Muslim majority. Several UN Resolutions dating back to 1949 require its future to be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through a free and fair plebiscite. Also there are several public statements of India’s own top leadership committing India to a resolution of the dispute according to the wishes of the people. Unfortunately, that plebiscite has so far not been held due to India’s refusal to do so. That is where the eye of the volcano lies.
Thus Indian occupied Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory whose future dispensation is to be decided through a free and fair plebiscite. As such, any move that would alter the demographic structure there would be against the UN resolutions and illegal. India’s August 5 move, therefore, is in violation of the UN resolutions and is illegal. Pakistan, as a party to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute has rejected and strongly opposed this unilateral move in an internationally recognized disputed-territory.
UN Secretary General, in his statement of August 8 has said that his position on the issue is governed by the UN Charter “and applicable Security Council Resolutions”. He called on all parties “to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir”. This is a brief summary of the seven decades history. Details would need volumes.
But what is the response of Pakistan to what has been seen as a controversial move?
At the moment, Pakistan has decided to downgrade its diplomatic relations with India, suspend bilateral trade and review bilateral arrangements. On August 14, Independence Day will be observed in solidarity with brave Kashmiris and their just struggle for their right of self determination. Pakistan will take the matter to the United Nations including the Security Council.
Current tensions in Jammu and Kashmir are obviously a big threat to regional peace and stability. It involves the dispute that has been the biggest challenge and obstacle to peace and stability in the region. The unresolved status of the dispute has already been the cause of wars and brought the two countries to the brink of war several times. This has led to the worst atrocities against unarmed civilians.
So what needs to be done to stop the present tensions from spiraling out of control? What can provide an impetus for improving Indo-Pakistan relations?
History tells us that durable peace and stability in this region will remain elusive without the resolution of this dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions.
We need to move toward the resolution of this dispute, not away from it. Unfortunately recent developments have taken us further away from the solution. Here, the International Community has an important role and responsibility. It must take cognizance of the situation there: The denial of the right of self determination as promised by UN resolutions, the brutalities to which innocent civilians are being subjected and the potential of the situation to destabilize the whole region or ‘spiral out of control’ as you said.
As I speak to you (on August 11), people in Jammu and Kashmir are already under a week of continuous curfew, with no supplies of medicines, food and fuel. Cellular and internet connections are down. There is complete media blackout. And painfully, it continues. With around a million uniformed personnel stationed there, Jammu and Kashmir is the most heavily militarized place in the world. Immediate and effective steps must be taken to stop these atrocities and holding those responsible for killings.
Since 1989, over 100,000 civilians have been martyred and thousands of women raped! Over 1,000 young people rendered blind by use of pellet guns in the last three years alone. Yet, all these atrocities have failed to suppress the freedom struggle.
I would suggest my Nepali friends to see the recent report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in which OHCHR has asked to form a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate these brutalities. Similarly, in June this year Amnesty International report “Tyranny of a Lawless Law” makes a necessary though tearful read.
Peaceful means lead to peace. Door to dialogue and negotiations is the door to resolution of disputes, stability and prosperity. Regrettably India opted not to use that course. Instead, it opted for high-handedness in Indian occupied Kashmir and an unhelpful blame game and baseless allegations against Pakistan.
Is there a way that Nepal can play an effective role in helping Pakistan and India agree on some common regional issues?
Nepal is an important regional country. It is the current Chair of SAARC. It is a peace loving country of peace loving people who are opposed to violence. They have an amazingly high level of awareness and depth of understanding of political and historical issues. People here do realize the importance of resolving all problems through peaceful means, respecting all rights and without violence. As such, Nepal’s voice and contribution to regional peace and stability matters. We consider Nepal a close traditional friend and always welcome its positive contributions to the cause of regional peace and prosperity. I am sure it will continue to play a constructive role.
Meanwhile, SAARC remains a dormant regional organization. Is SAARC still a viable regional entity? How can this organization move forward?
Unfortunately, SAARC has not been active for some time now. That said the need for regional cooperation and integration in our region remains. South Asia is one of the least integrated regions of the world. This adds to the burden of poverty and backwardness that this region is challenged by. On the other hand, all success stories of regional cooperation in the world testify to the fact that regional integration triggers development and prosperity.
That realization of the key role of regional cooperation in ushering in prosperity is a must. That is the essential fuel for political will. All member countries need to give a political impetus to SAARC for it to be effective. As you know, the 19th SAARC Summit was to be held in November 2016 in Islamabad. That could not be held because of lack of consensus. That is where we need to pick up the threads from. We hope the region would move on the path to peace and stability and muster the political will for regional cooperation which would open new vistas for development. Sooner the better.
Nepal as the current chair and seat of SAARC Secretariat has an important role. We look forward to Nepal’s continued role and contribution to reactivation of SAARC and betterment of the region at large.
You have been here in Nepal for over three-plus years now. What has been your experience so far? You also travelled to a bunch of places across Nepal.
You say I have lived in Nepal for three years. I would say three lovely years. A beautiful land of beautiful people never made me feel that I was in a foreign country. I have been to several places but trust me Nepal has enough to offer, even if a tourist were to stay here for years. It has something for everybody—be it trekkers, those looking for natural beauty, historians or scholars: It does not disappoint anyone. I have been to several places like Lumbini, Chitwan, Butwal, Pokhara, Daman and Parbat. I found my innumerable drives along Trishuli River with Narayan Gopal’s mesmerizing music playing in the car, those lofty green mountains with villages, resorts and cultivation on terraces extending from mountain tops down to the river bank. My friends in Nepal are my real treasure which includes those from all walks of life; politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, artists, writers, professors, doctors, singers, painters and businessmen. And then people whom I don’t know too well, or don’t know at all. Those shepherds talking to me in Awadhi language who were grazing their animals next to Kapilvastu palace on the top of remains of an ancient monastery; that old fragile lady who rushed to me asking if I was alright, when I slipped from the stairs at Swayambu; that Holi party where I was drenched in colors by youngsters; that Daal bhaat at a roadside hotel that I and my wife love to eat every time we cross Mugling. All are unforgettable.
Generally people after retirement wish to settle in the West. Given a choice, I would choose Nepal.
You talked about Takshila (in Pakistan) and Lumbini, two Buddhist pilgrimage sites, in a recent opinion piece in Republica. How can we work to connect the two places of historical significance and increase people-to-people connection?
I wrote that op-ed column with all my interest and passion. I have visited Lumbini twice and plan to visit it again. I find it mesmerizing. Standing beside the Ramagrama Stupa I could feel thousands of years of history. I realized history is better felt than read.
Pakistan-Nepal diplomatic relations are sixty years old. When I read the history of Takshila and Lumbini, I realized these were only the ‘formal diplomatic relations’ that are sixty years old. Our real relations are thousands of years old. These connections are important not only for the historians and archeologists but also for the common man. I am sure awareness and interest in these relations could promote tourism between the two countries. We need more research by archeologists and historians. We recently published a research work that contextualized the histories of Lumbini and Takshila. More work needs to be done. To that end, last year’s MoU between Nepal Academy and Pakistan Academy of Letters could be very helpful. I have already proposed to establish a sister-city relationship between Rupandehi and Takshila.
How do you want to be remembered as Pakistan’s envoy to Nepal?
I would remember Nepali people as my brothers and sisters and I would be lucky if my Nepali friends remembered me the same way. On a lighter note, I would say diplomacy is based on reciprocity.