Pakistani Foreign Minister On U.S. Talks

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi came to Washington this week for high-level talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top officials. On the agenda: security, economic development, and energy.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The longstanding trust deficit between the U.S. and Pakistan seems to be closing. The two governments held high-level talks in Washington this week, with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi leading the delegation from Pakistan, along with Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

The general has won high praise for Pakistan's efforts in battling militants. And when Foreign Minister Qureshi sat down with us yesterday, he pronounced himself very happy with the outcome of the talks.

Mr. SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI (Foreign Minister, Pakistan): See, the most important thing is this mental shift from having a relationship to building a partnership. That is the key. Once you decide to become partners, the trust level increases immediately.

MONTAGNE: Still, being partners doesnt mean that the countries always have the same national interests. Pakistan asked the Obama administration to help with technology and fuel to run nuclear power plants. Thats unlikely to be offered to Pakistan, a country that developed its nuclear technology in secret and then sold its know-how on the black market.

Are you surprised that they're cool to that request?

Mr. QURESHI: First of all, the most important thing is recognizing that there is a need to fulfill the energy gap. There are indigenous resources that can be exploited and we also have the option of civilian nuclear technology.

Now, today's Pakistan is a lot different from what you are referring to. Today, we have a very strong and well-recognized command and control structure. American senior officials have commented on that. All the restraints are there, and we are in a far better position than anyone else.

MONTAGNE: You know, when we spoke before, we talked about the suspicion that Pakistanis have of America, really an anti-American feeling that runs pretty strong in society there. At this point, is there anything that Pakistan is doing to change that attitude of the Pakistani people?

Mr. QURESHI: I think perceptions have to change on both sides. Often people overlook the positives that have taken place. For example, there was a story in one of your newspapers saying the delegation to the talks is going to be led by the army chief and not the foreign minister. Now, there's another way of looking at it, and that was, for the first time in Pakistan's history there is a delegation where the civil leadership is leading the delegation and the military leadership has agreed to come along, and they are speaking with one voice.

Now, it's how you look at it. Similarly, in Pakistan, we've got to improve American image, and that's not just improved by doling out money. For example, in 2005, when there was an earthquake in Pakistan, the American doctors, the American helicopters were used to help pull out the injured from the affected areas. That created huge good will for the American people and the American government. We are conscious of it and we are making a greater effort to improve on that.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you about the war in Afghanistan. In this week, an insurgent group, an ally of the Taliban, made a formal peace proposal to President Karzai. This militant group is led by a former Mujahideen leader who was famous, in his day, for his brutality against the Soviets. His name is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He was backed at that time, by both the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence. Does this peace offer, by what was a long-time prot�g� of Pakistan, put your country in a better position to influence the next stage in Afghanistan?

Mr. QURESHI: What we have said is, the process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. We are only here to facilitate if desired. And whatever we can do to achieve the objective of a peaceful, stable, friendly Afghanistan, we are willing to do that.

MONTAGNE: But Pakistan does have a history - as does the U.S. - of trying to manipulate the situation for its own needs. So, wouldn't it be in the interest of Pakistan to push forward those who, it too, can talk to?

Mr. QURESHI: Friends can also change. There was a time when there was a Taliban government in Afghanistan and Pakistan felt comfortable with that. But today we do not want the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. Today, what the American people need to understand is people in Pakistan, democracy in Pakistan - they are getting their act together. This partnership can really help create a moderate democratic voice in the Islamic world.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. QURESHI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Shah Mahmood Qureshi is Pakistan's foreign minister.

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