Debt restructuring not being considered at moment, but there have been talks regarding debt deferments, he says
WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that he is not talking about debt restructuring with any lender at the moment, not even China.
The minister's comments came in response to a question in an interview toNikkei Asia during his visit to Washington last month.
He said that China is called Pakistan's "all-weather friend" for a reason; however, debt restructuring is not being considered at the moment, but there have been talks regarding debt deferments.
"Maybe we've talked about debt deferments. But we haven't asked the US or anybody about restructuring. We're still waiting on our [flood] damage needs assessment to be fully done before we have a comprehensive figure," he said, adding that he will not comment on the matter before the assessment is done.
He spoke about the investment China has done in Pakistan and that debt is inevitable with a massive scale of development in the country by its northern neighbours. The minister termed it "the way of the world".
When asked about Beijing observing FM Bilawal's attempted reset in Washington and whether it will worry the friends up north, the minister said that he is confident with Pakistan's relations with China and vice versa.
He added that Pakistan has played the role of a bridge between Beijing and Washington in the past and would do so again if need be.
"The Foreign Office played an incredible role [in establishing Chinese-American ties]. Even today, if I see Pakistan or myself playing any role between the two powers, I would hope it would be that of a bridge," he said.
Commenting on dealing with the country's recent flood catastrophe as a foreign minister, Bilawal said that Pakistan has amped conversations with its partners and international institutions for them to ensure reparations.
He said that the country's biggest challenge before the floods was the economy. So while the Foreign Office was earlier working rigorously on that, it was now playing the role in ensuring trade relations and addressing the climate matter at hand.
The minister also spoke about establishing cooperation with the US in areas including tech,energy, agriculture, health and other fields including work on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) and getting Pakistan off the Financial Action Task Force's list, while the economic team is working on dealing with the International Monetary Fund.
In his interview, the minister listed the top three things on his agenda which include dealing with economic difficulties, prioritising economic engagement in the backdrop of COVID-19, and the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war which has caused economic complications across the world.
"Economics have become front and centre of everyone's foreign policy," he said.
The minister also spoke about mending ties with countries with which Pakistan's relations went strained during PTI Chairman Imran Khan's tenure.
"It's taken not only phone calls, but visits and engagements and delivering on the ground to allow for a sort of confidence to rebuild many of our bilateral relations," he said.
He also spoke about Pakistan's relations with India emphasising the eastern neighbour's lack of rational conversation.
"It's very difficult to have a rational conversation with irrational players and people. We've developed the impression that [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi's India doesn't like the Muslims of their own country. They don't treat them particularly well. They're not treating the Muslims of Kashmir particularly well, either," FM Bilawal said, adding that the situation leaves Pakistan in a difficult position when dealing with India.
When the foreign minister was asked whether he would have to deal with India eventually with the country being the world's fifth largest economy owning a $3.3 trillion empire, he said: "You can be rich and evil at the same time. That doesn't change reality... they're something that is objectionable from a human rights angle and I hope we get to the point where we can address the concerns of Kashmir," he said, adding that better relations with the country, sans the Hindu supremacist regime, would unlock enormous economic potential.
The minister shared his strong views on the Taliban reiterating that they cannot conduct terror activities in the country on the same scale as before.
He also commented on the peace attempt before the coalition government was formed this year; however, he shared that the attempt took place "without parliament being taken on board".
"No such dialogue could have legitimacy or the staying power necessary to actually truly achieve peace," he said.
The minister said that following the recent negotiations with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — which are being reported before the parliament — he hopes for a peaceful future.
"I'm not that optimistic that this necessarily will be the outcome. But ... the process is there," he remarked.
The foreign minister added that terrorism has to be a red line when it comes to dealing with such entities and urged the Afghan Taliban to take action against terror groups on their own soil.
"People who conduct violence against Pakistan, against Pakistani citizens, against Pakistan's armed forces, will have to answer for it... a red line is crossed so many times that it forces the reaction," he said.