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Home > India > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Pakistan analyst Dr Shirin M Mazari

'Pakistan will have a coalition government'

February 15, 2008

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Dr Shirin M Mazari, an Islamabad-based analyst, is also director general of Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

She has an impressive academic background. She got her first degree from the London [Images] School of Economics and her masters from Columbia University. She did her PhD on Concepts of hegemony and international regimes: A case study of international trade and non-proliferation regimes.

Her column in The News is widely read and circulated. She has been fierce critic of Pakistan's policy vis-�-vis India and US.

She has written a book The Kargil Conflict 1999: Separating Fact From Fiction which was criticised as the Pakistan army's version of the event. Although, she is soft towards President Pervez Musharraf's [Images] rule she remains outspoken on issues of security and defence.

She spoke to's Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt.

What is your take on the coming election in Pakistan.

I think the election is very important. It will create a government that will have legitimacy. After the series of crises like the chief justice issue, the emergency to Benazir Bhutto's [Images] assassination the government does not enjoy legitimacy. I don't think elections in themselves will solve the critical issues like; how the judicial crisis will be resolved? We also need a consensual national policy to renew the push in the fight against terrorism. Which ever way we look at it, this election comes at a very critical time.

What kind of results do you expect?

I think nobody will get a clear majority. Benazir's Pakistan People's Party will get a lots of sympathy votes in rural Sindh but MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement) will retain its position in urban Sindh. In southern Punjab, the PPP will get some votes but Punjab will not go to the PPP.  The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is becoming quite strong over there because a lot of PML-Q people are defecting to PML-N. In Baluchistan, the PPP never had votes at all. In the North West Frontier Province, the Awami National Party will gain. The religious parties are broken and Fazloor Rehman is not going to do very well this time. We will have to wait and see who fills the vacuum -- whether it will be the ANP or the PML-N.

At the end of the day it will be a coalition government. It will be interesting to see who the coalition partners are going to be.

Are you hopeful of a free and fair election?

I think in the post-Benazir scenario it will be difficult to rig the election.

Are people yearning for democracy in Pakistan?

Everybody wants democracy. Before Benazir's assassination there were two views. There was a civil society movement to restore the independence of judiciary and the electronic media. The civil society in cities felt very strongly that first the government should restore the judiciary, then political parties should commit to fight the election. There was a big difference of opinion between civil society and political parties. Politicians said let the election be held then we will restore the judiciary. People want election, people want democratic freedom. But, now there is a growing realisation that elections are necessary but there has to be some pressure on political parties on issues like independence of the judiciary. It's unfortunate that, even when Benazir was alive, she never made commitment to restore the independence of the judiciary. The PML-N has promised that but the PPP is not saying that even today.

When you read in the American press that Pakistan is the most dangerous place one knows that it is a view from the West. Nevertheless, you are near to reality. What is your opinion of the suicide bombers in your country? What kind of social background do they come from?

If you want to understand Pakistan's society, you can't ask questions. You have to come and see it. Look, the Americans are sensationalising but my view has always been that the Americans have an agenda in Pakistan. They are uncomfortable with a militarily strong nuclear Pakistan. They are trying to use any pretext to either Balkanise Pakistan or undermine the Pakistani state. But, frankly, I don't see Pakistan as dangerous, per se. There are certain tribal areas where the war on terror is going on. Yes, obviously there is a problem there. This is happening in many parts of the world where terrorists are present. But, in the mainstream people are not hiding. Life is going on as normal. There are terrorists attacks on different cities but you learn to live with it. In many US cities, you have law and order problems but people continue living with it.

Who are these young suicide bombers?

Apparently, they are young people. They are not educated. They come from very poor tribal backgrounds. They are highly religious people. Frankly, I don't know how they convert to be suicide bombers. This psychology of suicide bombers is not well understood whether it's in a case of Muslims or in the case of Tamils. Although, the Tamils have been indulging in suicide bombing since long but nobody has analysed it.

I think in case of Tamils everybody knows that they want a separate country in the northern parts of Sri Lanka [Images]. A Pakistan bomber's political demands are not clear.  

I am not saying that we don't understand what the Tamils want but what drives them to kill themselves we don't know.

The Tamil focus on their political demand is not blurred. Would a Pakistani mother know why her son is turning a bomber?

It is not explicable to us. Except to the extent, that suicide bombing is a kind of absolute despair that you are pushed to. Even in the Palestine context, we could understand it. But, in context of Pakistan we don't know. The bombers don't seem to have a rational political agenda. Except the fact that they think that the Pakistani state is collaborating with the US in their war on terror. What do they want in Pakistan is not explicable. We really haven't been able to understand their motivation. Sometimes we feel they are misguided. Some data has come that they belong to very poor tribal families who get money to give up their male members to commit suicide acts. But, frankly, the profile of the suicide bomber has not been well established in Pakistan. It's a new phenomenon.  

Does Pakistan society have checks and balances to stop young people turning into suicide bombers or jihadis?

They come from tribal areas. It's difficult to stop them. Even in cities if someone decides to become a jihadi who can stop them? It's difficult. In tribal areas, it's a very different environment from the Pakistani mainstream. When boys grow up they spend more time with males and don't interact with mothers and other females in family. Sometime mothers don't even know what their sons are doing.

Does Islam play any role in it?

I don't think so. In Islam suicide is haram. As other ideologies are distorted there are groups who happen to be Muslims and saying that they are fighting for jihad. But, jihad doesn't mean killing people. The Quran suggests jihad against illiteracy and social evils. I don't think Islam, per se, advocates terrorism. It's unfortunate that people who are carrying out terrorism happen to be Muslims, so they are automatically referred to as Islamic terrorists. Clerics of Islam haven't approved jihad or any sort of terrorism. The only place they have said that jihad is correct is in case of Palestine. It is occupied by Israel and Israelis are inflicting lots of pain and repression on the Palestinians. At the end of the day if the Irish Republican Army is not Catholic terrorism why should Al Qaeda [Images] be seen as Islamic terrorism?

Pakistanis outside are being branded as...

(interrupts) Outside of Pakistan, our people are not carrying out terror. In  9/11 all Arabs were involved. There is a big debate if these terrorists around the world are Pakistanis or not. Terrorists do not carry their national identity papers.

But, at same time you can't say that in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, Pakistanis have not been involved.

We don't regard Kashmir as a part of India. Let's be very clear. We see it as the disputed territory. But the general assumption in Pakistan is that it is not Pakistanis committing acts of terror in India. When after any terror act, the Indian government says Pakistanis are responsible, we feel that they are saying it without proof but this is a debate. Who died on the Samjauta Express? It was Pakistanis. Who committed that crime?

In Part II of the interview to be published next week, Dr Shirin Mazari speaks of how Musharraf's presidency has shaped Pakistan in the last seven years and what the future holds for him.

The Rediff Interviews