Former Pakistani Prime Minister and Financial Minister Shukat Aziz remains optimistic that his country will transition to a democracy and believes the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan will aid in Pakistan’s stabilization.
Speaking to Newsmax TV, Aziz said the presence of foreign troops, regardless of the country involved, typically creates uncertainty and a platform for those with dissenting views. To prevent the spread of radicalism, Aziz believes it’s crucial for the United States to have a solid exit strategy.
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“The key challenge to leadership in the world and in the region is to see how this phenomenon will play out. That’s why you need a healing strategy, rather than just going and then suddenly cutting and run, which leaves a vacuum. When a vacuum is left, forces that are negative or disruptive can take over and have a big influence,” Aziz said.
Aziz believes economic development will be the most crucial issue in Afghanistan, as a strong economy is necessary to maintaining a perception of health that will not only benefit Afghanistan, but Pakistan and its other neighbors.
“What happens on our side affects them. So you need an economic program where investment will come in, you need peace and you need to unleash the private sector,” Aziz said. “So they have to come out with a plan and I’ve often said that you need a Marshall Plan approach, which would give a framework for Afghanistan to develop and unleash the forces of investment and job creation.”
Asked whether a military presence is necessary for this type of evolution, Aziz said while there will be a debate on the issue, whatever the decision, the execution of the actual plan must be choreographed in a way that ensures all goals are met.
“The domestic forces have to come together to think of Afghanistan as one nation, rather than a division or amalgamation of various different groups running different cultures pulling in different directions,” Aziz said. “That takes leadership and that leadership won’t come from overseas.”
Aziz is unconcerned about a recent survey mentioned in Time magazine that quoted 96 percent of those surveyed, which were mostly young Pakistanis, as saying their nation was heading in the wrong direction. In addition, the survey said only 29 percent favor a democracy, while 40 percent favor Sharia law.
“The fact is that Pakistan is a country that has a very healthy, free environment at the moment for people to express their views. Also, religion is something very personal in every society. In the United States or anywhere else, people have a view, but that doesn’t mean that if they are devout they don’t believe in the type of government they have,” he said.
Aziz believes Islam is often misunderstood by countries outside the region. He said Islam actually gives countries a great deal of freedom to decide how it will be interpreted.
“Sometimes, in certain societies it may be interpreted very narrowly for various reasons, such as historic, political, etc., but the fact is that Islam is a very rational faith,” he said.
“Everybody wants to have a better future and people look for a different way of doing things, but the fact is that faith is always there. Whether you’re a developed country or a developing country, everybody needs effective structural reforms and very rarely do leaders mention it. That is really how things will change.”
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