By FAVOUR NNABUGWU
Major General Asif Duraiz Akhtar (rtd), the Pakistani High Commissioner to Nigeria, in this interview, speaks on the challenges of his country, Pakistan’s relationship with Nigeria, terrorism, among other issues.
How is Pakistan coping with flood problems?
The flood was devastating. It was a calamity of great magnitude, one of the worst floods in the history of Pakistan.
Pakistan has many things in common with Nigeria. We have almost a similar population, similar background. We are both colonies of Britain.
We got our own independence in 1947. Our country is basically an agriculture nation, we are also industrialized. We are a member of G8 along with Nigeria.
About your question on flood, it has damaged our economy. We have our infrastructure severely damaged, highways, bridges and other infrastructure facilities. The crop growing areas are also badly affected which has dealt a serious blow to our economy.
At the same time, we are grateful to God Almighty who has given us the resilience to face the catastrophe. The whole nation joined the government to tackle the tragedy. We are also grateful to the international community that came to our rescue and helped us generously.
Pakistanis, all over the world, also contributed generously towards the recovery of the flood damages, and we are very grateful to all of them. Even Nigerians also supported us. They donated a lot of money towards the flood fund. I must mention particularly Alhaji Aliko Dangote who donated one million dollars to Pakistan.
Obviously, it will take a long time to rebuild the infrastructural facilities destroyed by the floods. However, all the people displaced by the floods have gone back to their places and reconstruction has commenced. All major institutions, the people of Pakistan are helping the displaced people to settle down.
How is government taking care of the displaced people?
The government of Pakistan did its best to see to the comfort of the displaced people. Our military did a lot in rescuing people, using their potentials. The US army and the NATO forces also did wonderful jobs. Helicopters also were sent to the affected areas, as they were completely cut-off from town. The affected people were taken to various established camps and government and people of Pakistan and also the international agencies fed them. We took care of them and all the people have gone back to their various areas.
Organizations, including the military, the NGOs, the UN, everyone is helping to reconstruct the houses and infrastructure.
The good thing is that people have gone back to their places and reconstruction has started. For schools that were destroyed, temporary ones have been established and the children have started going to school.
Normal life has resumed but reconstruction and rehabilitation continues. This process might take many years to complete.
How is the country combating rising terrorism?
You cannot discuss terrorism in isolation. The problem along our borders has a history. We share kilometres of borders with Afghanistan, which was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1979, and millions of people displaced came to Pakistan. The Fijis came in millions.
Again if you know the history of Afghanistan, you will discover that they are great fighters. In their history, they have never been ruled. So they organised their movements to fight back the Soviet Union. Soviet Union later had to withdraw.
The whole world including Pakistan helped to train and equip them. When that was done, everybody withdrew from the region leaving them not minding what would be the consequence. And then the power struggle started and one group occupied the seat of power.
The power struggle continued and then the 9/11 took place. When the fighting against Soviet Union was going on, lots of foreign fighters came and established their camps along the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When the Soviet Union pulled out, these foreign fighters remained there. At that time they were not known as Al-Queada, when 9/11 took place, the Taliban in Kabul were asked to hand over to the Al-Queada, but they refused.
As a result military action was taken against them and now NATO forces are there. Again, we continue to face the brunt. If you look back the problem started in 1979, when fighting began at the border.
When your neighbour’s house is burning, it may affect you. Today we are paying the brunt of what was going on in Afghanistan since 1979, and that is why you see terrorism along the border.
But our government is really pushing them back. So this is the background of what happened. Some people have joined them whether for money, whether for tribal revenge or other interests. However the Pakistani Army is on top of the situation. More than 80 percent of the situation is under control.
What is your advice to Pakistan government on terrorism?
What is going on in Nigeria is unfortunate and I sympathise with the people and government of Nigeria. The fact remains that such elements are in almost all societies, whether developed countries, developing countries and underdeveloped countries. They are always there. I think Nigerian government is working methodologically to handle the situation.
I want to recommend that since we have also been going through the same process over the years and have developed many techniques and methodologies to fight terrorism, if Nigerian government is ready, Pakistani government is ready to offer assistance to curtail the emerging threat.
But I have to say that no country, no matter how strong its security forces are, cannot fight it alone. It is the people of the country that must unite and provide the strength for the security agencies.
I strongly recommend that the media in Nigeria must also play its role to educate people to be security conscious. Nigerians must keep their eyes open and alert the security agencies. Nothing can happen in isolation, so Nigerians must join hands with the security agencies and work together. They must realise that the elements doing the bombings are a threat to them, their social life, the economy and their integrity.