Paul Jay: So, President Karzai has just been in Washington, President Zardari has been in Washington, meeting President Obama. What effect are the policies of the three presidents having in Pakistan?
Aijaz Ahmad: We know that the pressure from the United States that has been mounted over the last two weeks has led to the Pakistanis abandoning their policies of negotiations and working on various fronts as regards the situation with the Taliban in the North Western Frontier Province, and instead the military is now conducting a huge, big military offensive that is directly to please President Obama.
PJ: What do you think would be the consequences of this offensive? Zardari and the army have held off on this for a long time. Some people said it’s a reflection of ambivalence in wanting to wage this fight. Others said because it’s just not the right thing to do given Pakistani domestic politics. What’s your take on this?
AA: Well, luck seems to be smiling on Mr. Zardari. Now there are more than a million refugees, which means there will be hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions, coming into Pakistan, much of which will go into the pockets of various politicians, particularly Mr. Zardari, who is known in Pakistan generally as Mr. Ten Percent for having taken a lot of cuts on contracts during the time when his wife was the prime minister. This is a good time for Pakistani politicians, who will be getting a lot of money.
PJ: To what extent is this a bit of a strategy of the Pakistan Army? In other words, you need a good external threat to justify American support, but also in terms of domestic Pakistani politics. The opposition movement that came mostly from big urban centers and brought down Musharraf. The Pakistan Army can now say to them: you need us, we are the only thing standing between you and sharia law.
AA: The Pakistan Army isn’t an independent agent. It depends entirely on US funds. They eventually do what the Americans tell them to do. If the Americans do not give them a very strong message, and for a period of time they were not, the army would not act so decisively, but now the Americans have told them that they have no choice, they are acting very decisively, now over a million refugees are there. If this thing goes on, refugees will be into several million, and we are back to where we were with Afghanistan during the 1980s. But this is quite different. This is a country of 170 million people. This is going to hand over to Al Qaeda precisely the kind of situation they’ve been looking for. They’ll get probably tens of thousands of new recruits, taking on this kind of American offensive.
PJ: Does urban, relatively more secular and secular society within Pakistan . . . what do they want out of the Pakistani Army? Do they consider this talk that Islamist extremists could take over the Pakistani state, that sharia law could become the overall Pakistani law. . . is that taken as a serious possibility within Pakistan?
AA: Nobody in their right mind ever wants their army to bomb their own people and generate millions of refugees in their own country. So, it’s not about, you know, secularism and the Taliban and so on. It’s about what you are wiling to do or not willing to do to your own people. So, this is going to blow things apart in Pakistan.
PJ: What are the implications now for Afghanistan?
AA: For Afghanistan, I don’t know, but the basic fact is that the Taliban are about 70 miles out of Kabul, Karzai is barely the mayor of Kabul, he has made new alliances, he probably will be reelected as president. The Americans will go deeper and deeper into a morass. That’s how I see it. There’s no way out for the Americans. There was a time, some months ago, when we used to hear that there was some serious negotiation going on with the Taliban, in Abu Dhabi or Dubai or whatever. All of that was happening, but that seems to have been abandoned, and with this kind of escalation, I don’t see any way out for the Americans. I don’t think they have a policy.
PJ: McKiernan, the current commander in Afghanistan, was just fired and replaced, they were just announcing that today, so clearly they seem not to think that their strategy is working in Afghanistan. If you go back to Pakistan, was there a sense within Pakistan that the negotiations were working, with tribes in the territories? The US obviously didn’t accept those negotiations, but what did Pakistani society think of them?
AA: Nothing is going to work if you are going to have these drone attacks, if you have committed yourself to a military solution. You know, nothing at all is going to work. The United States simply does not have a policy for the region. They’re floundering around. I don’t understand what their strategy is. Do they think they are going to have a military victory in northwestern Pakistan? They must be out of their minds.