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The Rediff Interview/Pakistani academic Hasan-Askari Rizvi

'Pakistan won't revert to the policies of the 90s'

November 19, 2008

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Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an independent political and defense analyst and columnist based in Lahore [Images], has been at various times visiting professor of Pakistan studies at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, the Allama Iqbal professor at Heidelberg University, Germany [Images], professor of political science at Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan and visiting professor with the South Asia Program of the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

The academic and liberal is currently collating a book of his writings on post-9/11 Pakistan, and laments that many in his country are yet to realise the full extent of the threat posed by extremist elements.

'Pakistan used to be a moderate, liberal country,' he told The Christian Science Monitor. 'In major urban areas, the situation is more or less like that. Women wear jeans and drive cars. In other parts of the country, you'll see schools for girls being burned. There are still people in this country who don't realise the Taliban [Images] are a threat to the existence of this state.'

Rizvi recently played a key role in creating the logistics for a survey of opinion on both sides of the Line of Control [Images] that runs through Kashmir, dividing it into Indian- and Pakistani-controlled regions.

The resulting report, which argued that the public mood in both sides of the LoC favours peace, stability, and a softening of the border, was prepared by Rizvi and P R Chari, research professor at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi [Images] and a former member of the Indian Administrative Service, and completed in September.

Rizvi spoke to rediff India Abroad's Arthur J Pais in New York recently.

Your report raises the possibility of 'making borders irrelevant.' How did it come about?

It was commissioned by the Centre for Conflict Meditation and Resolution at the United States Institute of Peace. The Centre supports projects that explore the possibility of cross-border collaboration, specifically economic and business cooperation, to resolve the conflict between India and Pakistan.

The initial idea came from Chari, whom I have known for a very long time. Two of our colleagues were assigned to interview people in both parts of Kashmir. Chari and I then did the main work on how this Line of Control can be made irrelevant.

The idea was that both India and Pakistan have not been able to resolve the Kashmir problem to each others, or their own, satisfaction and there is no question of exchange of territory. If the solution seems too big, we said, let us then explore options whereby good relations can be established and the people of Kashmir could meet each other and find a solution that does not involve any territorial exchange.

In working on this report, we were also encouraged by the fact that both sides have gradually shown more flexibility in their traditional position in Kashmir without officially abandoning them. This development encouraged us to consider a new and creative approach in managing this conflict.

The report also is not clear whether New Delhi and Islamabad [Images] can muster the political will necessary to overcome the resistance of key stakeholders within the bureaucracies and military of both countries.

In both counties, you have political groups and individuals who are in favour of improving bilateral relations. You also have groups, especially the political right and the Islamists in Pakistan and the Hindu fundamentalist groups in India, who are not really in favour of improving relations. Therefore there is an internal opposition to softening the borders. This can be changed if there is a dialogue within India and Pakistan about improving relations between the two countries, and resolving the Kashmir problem in a manner that is acceptable to both sides  

A fear in India is that the softening of borders will make it easier for terrorists to cross over into India.

We did consider this argument given the track record. There has been a movement of militant elements from the Pakistani side to the Indian side of Kashmir for many years, and that kind of fear is understandable. But the underlying idea was that given the changing conditions in the region, Pakistan with the passage of time is not expected to return to the kind of politics it pursued in the 1990s, when it supported militancy. So that fear should not be an obstacle in softening the borders.

At the moment there is still some possibility of militants crossing into the Indian side of Kashmir, but we are not expecting this kind of activity to increase. So we thought some risk can be taken. In the initial stages, the Indian and Pakistani governments can closely monitor the movements across the LOC to take care of this problem.

Why do you say Pakistan will not revert to the politics of the nineties?

When the internal trouble started in Kashmir in the late 1980s and continued in the1990s, the support to the militant movement by Pakistan continued for over a decade. Now the policy has changed, and it is no longer the policy of the Pakistan government to send people to the other side. That does not mean there is no possibility of people crossing over.

What triggered this change? First, after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America, Pakistan got into the war on terrorism. In the initial stages, Pakistan's argument on Kashmir was that developments there are not acts of terrorism, they are a liberation war. The Pakistani leaders were trying to separate Kashmir from the terrorism issue, and but they did not succeed in getting international support. By 2003 and beyond, Pakistan began to pull back from the old policy of sending people to Indian-administered Kashmir.

The effect of this militancy on Pakistan's domestic scene also disillusioned many political elements. By 2007, the relations between the Pakistani state and these militant elements which are now concentrated in the tribal areas have deteriorated to such an extent that Pakistan is not expected to go back to the 1990s situation.

The groups that are involved in Kashmir such as Lashkar-e-Tayiba still exist in Pakistan, but their role is very limited. I don't think they will go back with the old policy because they expect their relationship with the Pakistani government to improve. Another reason is that friendly countries like China have advised Pakistan that the old policy of supporting terrorism will not serve the purpose, and the best thing is to open negotiations with India and find out how you can resolve Kashmir and other issues with India.

This is a very formidable challenge because Pakistan faces insurgency in the tribal areas and there are different Taliban groups that are challenging the writ of the Pakistani state. They want to create a state where they have the freedom to do whatever they want within Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

I am talking about suicide bombings and other such acts that are taking place, which are mainly done by these Taliban groups. These groups have linkages with Pakistani militant groups, and through them they operate within Pakistan and engage in these kinds of attacks which threaten the civic order in the state. If the state cannot protect the citizens, then people start losing confidence in the state -- and that kind of thing can develop in Pakistan. So to me, Pakistan's survival as a coherent political entity is threatened by this insurgency. Therefore I argue that the Pakistani state see such groups as the Taliban as a major threat, and therefore they are not going to use them in Kashmir as they used to do in the 1990s.

You argue that Pakistan is facing the gravest internal threat it has confronted in decades.

Pakistan now faces an unprecedented insurgency whose leaders want to displace the state and government, or at least restrict them. If the government of Pakistan cannot neutralise these challenges through military and political means, it will become increasingly irrelevant in many parts of the country. This is the most serious challenge to post-1971 Pakistan: an armed and well-organised movement that has entrenched itself in the tribal areas and now threatens to displace the Pakistani state from as much area as possible.

This state of affairs did not develop in a year, but gradually since 2001. The [then president Pervez] Musharraf regime and the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government in the North West Frontier Province allowed these elements to entrench themselves and expand their influence.

The Pakistani Taliban is a post-2001 phenomenon. After the capture of Kabul by American and Northern Alliance troops in November 2001, most of the original Taliban and al Qaeda elements initially disappeared in mountainous regions like Tora Bora. Later, they moved into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of Baluchistan. Many of them already had links in Pakistan though the madrassas. Their entry and stay in the area were also facilitated by shared ethnicity, religious outlook and the desire to free Afghanistan from American occupation.

The continued presence of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda mobilised local Pashtuns, some of whom had fought with the Taliban first against the Northern Alliance and then against the Americans. These local Pashtuns began to organise themselves with inspiration and support from the Taliban and al Qaeda, later naming themselves the Pakistan Taliban.

To be concluded

The Rediff Interviews

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