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Home > India > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/Pakistan analyst Dr Shirin Mazari

'Musharraf's legacy will not be negative'

February 19, 2008

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In the first part of her interview to Managing editor Sheela Bhatt, Dr Shirin M Mazari, an Islamabad-based analyst, spoke on what to expect from the elections in Pakistan.

Part I: 'Pakistan will have a coalition government'

In the second and final part she speaks of terrorism and violence in Pakistan and what Pervez Musharraf's [Images] presidency has done for the country.

In Pakistan, if, as you say that violence is not about religion then what is the political issue on the minds of terrorists?

There is a war on terror going on. There are people in the Pashtun belt who have a strong problem with the US war that inflicted collateral damage killing civilians. They see certain people as supportive of the US. Unfortunately, their action to target certain people is motivated by political ends.

If this assessment is right then how do you address the problem?

We need a realistic approach. We can't go and kill everybody in the tribal areas. We will have to do what Americans haven't been able to do. We need to isolate terrorists from innocent tribals. We need to enforce law and order and bring in economic development. These areas are very underdeveloped. When people have stake in the system they will isolate themselves from violence. Today, people feel they have no stake. The government has to show its presence in the tribal belt.

There is a perception in the Western media that the outcome in the war on terror is not satisfactory. That Musharraf has not done enough to make the global war on terror successful.

Excuse me! The government of Pakistan is the only government which has managed to catch terrorists and hand them over to the Americans. What has America been able to do in Iraq or in Afghanistan? But for Pakistan's help, the Americans would not have been able to achieve anything. It is absolutely nonsensical, the rhetoric of the West that Pakistan needs to do more. We have done what we should have done. We got the leaders of Al Qaeda [Images].

There is a debate on Pakistan's role because people with guns are hurting Pakistan itself as they are now entering your cities.

Yes, it is hurting us and this is the problem. We have a problem of internal terrorism. That is the sectarian problem, the problem of militancy. Also, we have the left-over of the so-called first 'Afghan Jihad'. In addition to this, we have to deal with America's war on terror. Did anyone ask the Americans that when they started bombing north Afghanistan why didn't they seal the south? The Americans allowed terrorists to escape from the south.

There are too many complications and we will have to fight the terrorists because they are problem for us. Our policy to fight terrorism is not going to be military-centric like the Americans. We can't bomb our villages because we can't afford collateral damage. They are our people, we can't go on killing them.

Looking back, do you think post-9/11 President Musharraf has played his cards well?

There were not many cards to play post 9/11. In that sense he tried to get the best from the situation. Over time there is a feeling that we could have re-negotiated with US for better quid pro quos. We have given too much access and too many privileges and not got a good bargain. The US continues to remain an unreliable ally.

My contention is that we can't take on US but we have a very different strategic goal from US. We do not see the world in a similar fashion. The Americans want to contain China, why would we want to contain China? The Americans want to cut down the power of most Muslim countries, we do not want that. They want to isolate Iran, we want to bring Iran into the mainstream. That is better for the security of the region.

On domestic front Musharraf has a lot of problems. He has not been as effective here as he has been in the foreign policy arena. I think, it is difficult for military men to comprehend the nuances of civil society and democracy. But Musharraf has done a lot for women. He has increased their representation in Parliament. He has given a wider public space to women.

Many believe that Musharraf has outsmarted the US State Department.

I don't think it's a question of outsmarting. The fact of the matter is that Americans need you. Physically they need you because you happen to be a neighbour of Afghanistan which is the land-locked country. Americans have no relations with Iran. They need to send supplies across. Every country tries to get a good deal. Haven't you tried to get a deal as good as possible from the Americans? We believe that your government has totally outsmarted and has run rings around the Americans on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

In a sense, do you think Musharraf has overtaken even General Zia-ul Haq's legacy?

Zia's legacy was all-negative. We are still suffering from it. Partly, the problem of militancy in Pakistan is a result of Zia's legacy. I don't think Musharraf is leaving behind that kind of legacy. He will not leave behind the negative legacy that Zia left. He is still in power so let us see what happens.

Looking at last eight years, what do you think is the essence of American geo-politics in the region?

I think Americans see their geo-political strategy in having a partnership with India.

In the long run they see the partnership to contain China and also Muslim countries who threaten to become too powerful. It is not good for India to put all eggs in the American basket. India is more and more accommodating US's views. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is one such issue. Under US pressure India changed its stance. At the end of the day, America is bad news for the region and its people.

I think China wants good relations with both Pakistan and India. Interestingly, in Pakistan I haven't come across anybody who criticises the growing relations between China and India. We don't see it as a threat. We see it as a good thing. We think if China and India come close it will lead to a benevolent environment for the region.

Do you think the US State Department has changed its policy towards President Musharraf?

The Americans never trusted Pakistan but they had no choice but to deal with us. America made the mistake of relying on individuals. But Musharraf can only deliver what the state of Pakistan can deliver. It is not his fiefdom, you know. The Americans never institutionalised the relationship with Pakistan. They think they can rely on individuals. Obviously, the individual has to be loyal to Pakistan first and not to the State Department. If that means that the State Department does not trust Musharraf now, then it is their problem. 

Many analysts are writing off Pakistan as a chronically ill state and a troubled child of Asia.

No, I don't think so. Despite all these problems Pakistan has progressed tremendously. Some of the problems are not of our making. We happen to be in a geographical location where we had to be frontline state in two wars that Americans have involved us in. First they wanted to drive out Russians. Now, it is against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

I think it shows the resilience and strength of Pakistan civil society and the state that despite this we have economic, social progress.

I don't think we see ourselves as the troubled child of Asia. We see ourselves as the strategically important country. At the moment we are facing certain problems but we will deal with it.

Many people consider you quite 'anti-India'.

I am not anti-India, I am a nationalist. When I feel Indian interest does not coincide with ours I will be critical. I think we must accept differences between us and work with those differences.

Oh, both of us forgot to debate Indo-Pakistan peace process!

I think the peace process is not reversible. It will continue with hiccups.

For too long, it has sustained on atmospherics. We have to do some substantive things to move forward. The conflict will not be resolved immediately. I consider the strategic dialogue on the nuclear issue as the major confidence-building measure. I think some intermediate solution to the Kashmir issue should be there in coming decade if not in year or two. The LoC can't be the solution.

How do you see Musharraf's future?

I don't know. It depends on how he adjusts to the new political regime. As a person he means well. With his military background sometime he speaks off the cuff and without thinking that causes a lot of problems. I hope he has a peaceful future. I would like that. We have seen too much violence in Pakistan.

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