Pakistan paying heavily for mixing religion with politics: Blair


New Delhi: Pakistan is “paying heavily” for its mistakes in the 1970s of mixing religion with politics and developing religious schools that promoted extremism, former British prime minister Tony Blair said.

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“I think Pakistan is paying a heavy price for the mistakes of 1970s by linking religion with politics and developing religious schools which are, in some cases, dangerous sources of extremism,” Blair told Karan Thapar in an interview on CNBC-TV 18 channel.

Blair was responding to questions about the role of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in fomenting terrorism and its links with the Haqqani group in Afghanistan.

Blair is on a visit to India in connection with work related to his charity, Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

On if the ISI is supporting militant activities in Afghanistan, Blair said if it was true, it will poison the atmosphere in Pakistan.

“The trouble with these groups is that there is no way to use them wisely. On these issues like Pakistan might have to say about its influence in Afghanistan vis-a-vis India’s influence there, there will be nothing good out of supporting these groups,” he said.

“If ISI is engaged in such activities, in the end it will not merely affect US, UK, Afghanistan or India, it poisons the atmosphere in Pakistan also,” Blair said.

Asked if the US, after eliminating Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, should target the Haqqani faction, Blair said the Americans will have to decide on this issue.

Blair stressed that if there was any linkage between the ISI and terror groups such as the Haqqani group and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, “it is a mistake”.

The former British prime minister underlined the need to engage “modern and open-minded” Pakistanis who are involved in a struggle against the extremists.

“We have to see how we can engage elements in Pakistan who believe that this was a mistake. The best way is to allow Pakistan to change and evolve and there are a lot of decent people in Pakistan,” he said.

There was a “struggle going on in the country between those with modern and open-minded attitude towards future against those who are in the power struggle and will play dangerously,” he said.

He rubbished allegations as “absurd” about his using high-profile contacts in the Middle East for gaining personal benefits.

Reflecting on the recent riots in London, Blair said they were caused by a very small section of the people “which is small in number and are from dysfunctional background”.

“The other reason was criminality, where people saw opportunity and started looting,” he said.