US Pakistan Policy Is Floundering

Paul Jay:  So, we left off the first segment of the interview with you suggesting that there really doesn’t seem to be any kind of sensible strategy of the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  What would the sensible strategy be right now?  Obama seems to have . . . it’s very strange, they assessed the whole situation, they took time, in theory, to come up with a new plan, but the plan seems more or less the extension of the plan that was being carried out under Bush.  What should the plan be?

Aijaz Ahmad: Well, I don’t think that the question of Pakistan and Afghanistan can be separated from the region as a whole and indeed various regions around Afghanistan.  I think one place to start for Mr. Obama is to firmly announce that the United States is committed to a two-state solution in Palestine and to the withdrawal of Israel from all the territories that it occupied in 1967.  That would set the stage for serious dialogue across the region.  The second thing that Mr. Obama has to do is to set a firm date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, which most Afghans want him to do.  Thirdly, I think the United States should seriously, seriously look for a strategy to get out.  And that can only be done rationally, I believe, if you bring in all the major powers of the region into the game, in which essentially the only thing going for the United States is that every country around Afghanistan, that is to say Iran, India, the Pakistani state to the extent that one exists, China, Russia, the Caspian Sea basin countries, one thing they don’t want is a Taliban government.  In order to find a solution in Afghanistan, the United States has to rely on these people within the region.  But, in order to bring them into a serious dialogue, the United States will also have to recognize their basic strategic interests and accommodate itself to the basic strategic interests of these various countries.  It will have to normalize its relation with Iran.  It will have to have a strategic dialogue with Russia, with China, with India, and also take into consideration the basic strategic interests that Pakistan has in Afghanistan.  It is only the powers in the region which can help the US to get out.  And the only thing rational that the US can do at this point is to get out.

PJ: The threat that the US talks about all the time is the issue of who’s going to have Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, what’s gonna happen with the Pakistani state.  I think that the Pakistan Army and Zardari have made it clear that they don’t think there’s really any threat to that.  But if the US follows the strategy you’re talking about, and so far that doesn’t seem to even be part of the conversation at the official level, but if they do, how does Pakistani society respond to what’s happening in the tribal areas?

AA: Well, Pakistani society doesn’t separate things that are going on in the tribal areas from other things that are going on in the country and the region as a whole.  Moreover, what’s going on now in Swat and Dir and Shangla and so on is much more important than what’s going on in the tribal areas.  Probably the Americans don’t know the difference between the tribal areas and the settled areas.  The Pakistanis don’t separate things out and think about northwest Pakistan.  The Pakistanis actually think about everything that is impacting the situation, the sort of things that I was talking about.

PJ: What I’m asking is that the way it’s portrayed in the West is that there is a concern, fear, in Pakistan that Talibanization or Islamization of Pakistani society is possible because of what’s going on now.  Is there any validity to that?

AA: The Americans think as if everything is sui generis.  Islamization in Pakistan has been going on since 1980, ever since Pakistan got to be used as a staging ground for the American jihad in Afghanistan.  Islamization has been going on in Pakistan ever since 2001 when the Americans invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban came and established sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan.  It’s a long-term process.  And it is going on and on, and everything that the Americans do only increases and escalates that process.  You mentioned earlier the nuclear weapons.  There has never been a problem.  This is a bogey.  But the Americans are creating a situation now where the state is becoming so brittle that there might in fact be in the future such a problem.  But that is a result of what the American strategy has been.  The Pakistani government, the Pakistani Army, has in fact been extraordinarily sober about its nuclear weapons.  India and Pakistan consult on these issues all the time.  We all know that these nuclear weapons are spread into various places, that there are all kinds of precautions that have been taken about those nuclear weapons if the nuclear weapons fall into somebody else’s hands, if the Pakistani army collapses.

PJ: You once said earlier in the interview I did with you that this fight against extremism in these areas has to be taken up by Pakistanis on behalf of Pakistan, not to be seen as an agency of US policy.  What happened in Washington in the last couple of days is that Zardari comes to Washington and the offensive begins.  I guess that means they’ve done exactly the opposite of what you were suggesting.

AA: What I was suggesting is an ideal thing.  There’s never been any pause in the Americans pushing the Pakistanis into a posture of war throughout since 2001. . . .  We saw it happening over the last two weeks, well before Zardari came to Washington.  The Secretary of State, everybody, suddenly started talking about nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons.  Everyone knows that the nuclear weapons, as of now, are perfectly safe.  This is for feeding the media.

PJ: In Washington, Zardari said he wanted the Americans to stop the predator attacks.  Karzai said he wanted the Americans to stop aerial bombing of villages.  Gates‘ reaction on both counts seems to be: we aren’t gonna tie our hands.  The Americans seem not to be listening to either of them.

AA: All I can say is that there’s really no clue as to what the Americans are thinking. . . .  My sense is that if the Americans dropped everything and just left Afghanistan and Pakistan, things won’t be worse than they are.

Aijaz Ahmad is Senior Editorial Consultant for Frontline.  This interview was broadcast by the Real News Network on 13 May 2009.  The above is a partial transcript of the interview.