Canada and its allies must take a united front against Pakistan because it is a state sponsor of terrorism that threatens world security, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
Alexander, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said the fight against the Taliban and groups like al-Qaeda will never be won in Afghanistan alone because it is a “cross-border conflict” supported by the Pakistan government.
Speaking on a special edition of CBC's Power & Politics about Canada’s legacy in Afghanistan, Alexander said the world has only caught up with that reality in recent years, despite long-standing warnings from Afghanistan that Pakistan is a big part of the problem.
“This is state sponsorship of terrorism. It’s covert. It’s been denied. Not even Western analysts agree that it’s happening on the scale we know it to be happening,” he told host Evan Solomon.
Alexander, who authored the book The Long Way Back: Afghanistan’s Quest for Peace, called for continued support for Afghans who are fighting against the Taliban and for security and democracy as Canada and other countries wrap up prolonged military missions. But he also urged allies to confront Pakistan.
“We need to have a united front in dealing with Pakistan. The civilian government there doesn’t control military policy, strategic policy.… the army and the intelligence service do,” he said.” And they have denied the obvious, postponed this reckoning for years with so many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that are doing so much harm around the world, still based in that country, this should be a priority for everyone.”
Alexander said the international community must address the Pakistan situation urgently because it’s “all connected” with other trouble spots — linked to Syria and Iraq because so many militants and jihadis are going there, and also linked to foreign policy on Russia.
'Haven for terrorists'
Pakistan's tribal region along the border of Afghanistan has long been labelled a "haven for terrorists." But Alexander said even people within Pakistan aren’t aware of the degree of official involvement. He cited a recent New York Times article (censored in Pakistan) that focused on Pakistan’s relationship with al-Qaeda and its knowledge of Osama bin Laden hiding within its borders.
“The civilian government will say we don’t control it, it happens behind closed doors in places run by the army, run by the ISI (Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence). The Pakistani population doesn’t know this is happening. But it has to be said. You can not, they have not, trained, financed, equipped the Taliban on this scale without the institutional involvement with these groups. And they are negotiating with the Taliban — trying to lie down with the lion inside Pakistan in spite of all the loss of life inside Pakistan. This has got to change.”
Former Canadian diplomat David Mulroney, who served as deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan Task Force overseeing co-ordination of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, said that if Alexander’s remarks represent the government's official position, they must be followed up with “real measures” and a “much tougher stance” against Pakistan.
“Tomorrow can’t be business as usual for our High Commission in Islamabad. We can’t have the same kind of co-operation with Pakistan,” he said. “And we have to make very certain that players like the Canadian Forces and our security establishment aren’t having one set of conversations with the Pakistanis while our diplomats are having another. We have to get really serious.”
Mulroney, distinguished senior fellow at the Munk School's Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, said Canada should engage in talks with Washington, where the "real levers" are.
Roland Paris, university research chair in International Security and Governance at the University of Ottawa, agreed that Alexander’s statement has significant implications for foreign policy.
“If this is Canadian government policy, that has implications for what we are doing. And if it’s Canadian government policy, the actions need to be brought into line with that policy. If it isn’t Canadian government policy, then minister Alexander should reconsider those words,” he said.
CBC News asked Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's office if this represents Canada's official government position, but the query was referred back to Alexander's office.
His press secretary Alexis Pavlich said Alexander's views are informed by his years working in the region and writing his book. He was repeating his view that there is support for extremism from "elements of the Pakistani state," in response to questions asking his "personal opinion" on Afghan-Pakistan affairs.
"It is not just that these terrorist groups continue to operate from Pakistani territory: they also enjoy official, albeit covert, sanction and support from some within Pakistan's state apparatus," Pavlich said. "Terrorist attacks underscore the need for swift and determined action by the Government of Pakistan against terrorist groups that prey on innocents in Pakistan."
Canada will continue to work with "the people of Pakistan" and allies to help the country address the challenges it faces, Pavlich added.