Nepali Times
"The real issue is about security vs terrorism"

Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram served two terms in Washington DC before being sent to Nepal and doesn't agree that Kathmandu is R&R posting.

Nepal is an important country for Pakistan, the SAARC Secretariat is located in Kathmandu and the two countries share similar challenges like having large and powerful neighbours, he says.

Still, it hasn't been all work for Akram since he arrived here in early 2002. He is an outdoor person and has done the Chomolungma Base Camp as well as the Lo Manthang treks. The scenery in Mustang is similar to Skardu in northern Pakistan but Akram is impressed with the facilities for organised trekking in Nepal. His wife, Sadia, has been involved in fundraising for army widows and charities like Maiti Nepal.

Workwise, it has never been a dull moment. He feels there is no way out but for the monarchy and the political parties to cooperate to address the larger problem of the insurgency. But he has misgivings about the strong rhetoric coming from the international community. "This level of comment has taken place in other countries but they should be unacceptable for any sovereign country," he says, "Pakistan's own view is that this is Nepal's internal affair."

Akram adds this doesn't mean Pakistan is indifferent to Nepal's problems: "The real issue is not so much democracy as one of security versus terrorism and His Majesty has himself reiterated his commitment to democracy." This debate has a familiar ring to Pakistani ears, especially since the justification used for King Gyanendra's February First move is similar to those used by General Musharaff when he seized power in 1999: that the political parties had made a mess of things and someone had to step in to set things right.

But Akram doesn't think that comparison can be taken too far because in Nepal's case, there is a lot of "wriggle room" within the constitution for the king to act even though some political leaders don't agree with that role.
"What helped us in Pakistan was that people were fed up with corruption and mismanagement and lack of governance and when President Musharaff took over the reigns of power there was an expectation that things would improve which fortunately they have," he says.

Akram has pushed hard to foster bilateral trade, culture and tourism with frequent exchanges of delegations. PIA restarted its flights to Karachi during his tenure and the airline wants to begin a third flight to Islamabad.

Asked about the thaw in India-Pakistan relations, Akram admits there has been an improvement in atmospherics but there is still a long way to go on issues like Kashmir. On SAARC, he says: "Everyone must give up something for the common good but if the attitude is going to remain that of a big brother then the chances of regional cooperation are non-existent."

Post 9/11 there is a new strategic dimension to US-Pakistan relations which is reminiscent of the 1980s when the Americans saw Pakistan as an ally against the Soviets in Afghanistan. But Akram would like to see US-Pakistan relations moving beyond being just a "fair-weather friend".

"The Americans now accept that there has to be more investment in bilateral relations and not cooperating only when Washington needs it," adds Akram, who will be heading the foreign policy desk at the prime minister's office in Islamabad.

We asked Akram what he regrets the most about his stay in Nepal. "Not being able to trek to Langtang," he says, "but that always gives me an excuse to come back."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)