Talk to Al Jazeera

Ahsan Iqbal: Pakistan not friends with ‘terror’ groups

Al Jazeera talks to Pakistan’s interior minister about Donald Trump’s claim that the country harbours ‘terrorists’.

Pakistan is traditionally seen as an important partner of the United States, but President Donald Trump recently adopted a different tone.

“Pakistan often gives safe havens to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,” Trump said on August 21, 2017, when he presented his strategy for the war in Afghanistan at Fort Myer, Virginia.

Right now inside Afghanistan, almost 40 percent of the country is outside the control of the official government ... If 40 percent of the country is under the control of the Taliban or their sympathisers, why would they need safe havens inside Pakistan?

by Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's interior minister

But in an interview with Al Jazeera, Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s interior minister, says “there are no more safe havens in Pakistan.”

“We have paid a heavy price. More than 6,000 security personnel have laid down their lives. Over 70,000 people have become victim, either they died or were injured in terrorism-related incidents. A country that has paid such a heavy price can never be friends with any terror groups. We want to make Pakistan a peaceful country,” Iqbal says.

Three months have passed since Pakistan’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, stepped down after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office as leader of the country’s government.

The ruling came after alleged corruption during his previous two terms in office had come to light in the “Panama Papers“.

Iqbal admits the sudden resignation of Sharif was a “setback for the democratic process and for the country”.

“Mr Nawaz Sharif enjoys big stature. He has experience. Pakistan needs very experienced leadership to face some of the complex security challenges that confront us domestically and in the region,” he says.

Still, he thinks Pakistan moved on from the crisis swiftly.

“I think the democratic process is well-entrenched. As a result, what the people saw [is that] within three days a new prime minister was elected, a new cabinet was sworn in and the country is moving forward.”

Part of the country’s plan to move forward is a new economic relationship with China that could change the power dynamics in the volatile region. Iqbal has been at the forefront of implementing the $56bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is one of the most important parts of China’s One Belt, One Road vision.

According to him, China and Pakistan enjoy a very close relationship based on mutual trust. So he is not concerned about China’s growing influence in Pakistan.

“If you look at history, in the last 3,000 or 4,000 years, I’ve not come across a single instance of Chinese imperialism … China has never made colonies, so it’s not part of their DNA,” he says.

“All these projects have a win-win approach. We get much-needed foreign investment that Pakistan very desperately needs. We get much-needed energy that we desperately need to revive our economy. We get much-needed modern infrastructure that we need to have a competitive economy for efficient movement of goods through road and rail networks. And China gets access. So it’s a win-win [situation].”