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|November 19, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/Professor Amin Saikal
A close observer of Central Asian and Middle Eastern politics, Professor Amin Saikal is director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. In an interview with Ramesh Menon in New Delhi, he said America could not rely on Pakistan to achieve its goals in Afghanistan. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the situation in Afghanistan?
The situation was brought upon the Afghan people by the Taleban and their Arab and Pakistani supporters. Pakistan has always been a central part of the Afghan problem ever since the rise of the Taleban. Now, it is hard to imagine that Pakistan can also be a central part to the solution of the Afghan problem.
It is such a glaring anachronism...
Yes, there is a major anomaly there. I wish the United States and its allies realise that the freedom of Afghanistan and its reconstruction cannot be achieved by too much reliance on Pakistan. The US and the international community would have to do everything possible to enable the Afghan people to stand on their own feet and determine their own future.
It should be free from outside interference, and more specifically interference from Pakistan.
Don't you think Pakistan is playing a double game? It is supposed to be on the side of United States, but its men were found actively aiding the Taleban.
Pakistan is playing a double game. It is partly for domestic reasons though. And partly for reasons of having deep linkages between its military intelligence and Taleban and their Arab supporters.
If General Pervez Musharraf has an opportunity to put Pakistan on its own feet, independent of the threats of the Talebanisation of Pakistan -- although Pakistan has been Talebanised to a certain extent -- I think he would prefer to do that than save the Taleban or the Taleban administration.
In order to suit the noisy minority, and also to tell the Pakistani public that apart from being a general he is a very humane individual, he keeps emphasising the humanitarian aspect of the crisis. He has called upon the United States and its allies to end the war. To end the suffering of the Afghan people.
What about Pakistan?
I feel more concerned about Pakistan becoming a greater source of instability in the post-Taleban period.
Musharraf candidly supported terrorism in Kashmir. And now terrorism has come home...
The international community knows that Pakistan has supported Kashmiris fighting for separation from India.
September 11 put Musharraf in a difficult position. He either had to oppose the acts of terrorism or become a target himself. It was probably a choice that the United States put forward to him. Any rational decision-maker would declare his opposition to terrorism rather than become a target.
How do you assess the credibility of the American war against terrorism?
Fighting a war against terrorist groups is far more difficult than having a war with a state where you know the targets. When you have to fight small bands of terrorists, who may be hiding in various parts of what is a very difficult terrain, it is not easy. In the process, a number of civilians are also killed.
There was a lot of criticism about the civilian casualties.
Civilian casualties are condemnable. But one should compare this with what happened to the Afghan people under the Taleban. The common people suffered since the rise of the Taleban to power. They imposed theocratic rule. They unleashed a reign of terror that resulted in greater suffering for the people than what the bombing did.
This is not to condone civilian deaths. But there is no other way for the Afghan people than accepting some more suffering in the hope that it may open out an opportunity for the resolution of the Afghan conflict, and a resumption of normal life.
There is an impression that the Afghan conflict has its basis in American policy.
I don't think it has its basis in American policy or behaviour. But the United States policy, particularly towards the Middle East and West Asia, generated both enmity and friendship.
The United States' unwillingness or inability to reign in Israel, to force its withdrawal from occupied Palestine territories, end Israeli occupation and repression has obviously made the US appear [as if] it has always protected Israel and Zionism and not the Arab people.
The United States' sanctions against the people of Iraq have not endeared it to the Arab people. The sanctions were designed to punish Saddam Hussein's regime but, as it turned out, it has ended up punishing the Iraqi people.
The US will somehow have to level out its dominance in the region in one form or the other. There is a general perception across the Arab world that the United States is very much in charge of various regimes in the region. Whether this perception is right or wrong, the fact is that this perception plays an important role in formulating people's views about the United States.
That would mean changing foreign policy?
I won't say that the roots of terrorism are in American policy behaviour. But American policy action has contributed to generations of groups and elements in the region, which have grown to be resentful of the United States. In that sense, the United States may have indirectly contributed towards the growth of terrorism in the region.
How do you see the future of terrorism in the West?
It all depends on how the United States or the international community deal with the present crisis. And also, on how far they really succeed in stamping out the bases and sources of terrorism in this part of the world and then the world at large.
It will depend on how the United States and its allies change their policy towards the Middle East and West Asia.
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