She belongs to one of the most elite families of Pakistan but Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has broken stereotypes. She is an acclaimed expert on Pakistan's military capabilities.
An author of two books on defence decision-making and the political-economy of military, Dr Siddiqa has 17 years experience in research and writing, consulting and public sector management. She did her doctorate in War Studies from King's College, London. Her first book Pakistan's Arms Procurement and Military Buildup, 1979-99 In Search of a Policy is the first detailed analysis of defence decision-making in Pakistan.
Her second book Military Inc, Inside Pakistan's Military Economy will be published soon.
She comes up with an absolutely original and riveting outlook on Pakistan's politics from the prism of elite interests and is the first book ever to be written on the subject.
She is also a regular columnist for the Daily Times and in past has contributed to the Friday Times and Dawn. She also contributes to international academic journals and was the correspondent for the prestigious Jane's Defence Weekly.
She was also a visiting fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute from where she went to become the first Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, in 2004-05. She has been a Ford Fellow, and a research fellow at the Cooperative Monitoring Center, Sandia National Laboratories, USA.
Siddiqa is currently based in Islamabad. She is now involved in a research project on the 'political-economy of marginality and extremism in Pakistan'.
Recently, she was on a visit to Delhi to attend the Conference on West Asia where she surprised audiences by her claim that amongst Pakistan's elites the issue of Palestine is a forgotten cause.
In an exclusive interview with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt she gave her pragmatic and unambiguous views on the intricate issues between India and Pakistan.
Ayesha, at the conference on West Asia you were talking about lack of interest amongst Pakistanis about the issue of Palestine. Can you explain it more?
At people to people level Palestine is still fundamental to our imagination. Pakistani people feel sorry for Palestine. However, at the level of establishment and amongst the elites there is a decreased interest for what Palestine stands for and for the entire Palestine issue. There are reasons for that. It started with Pakistan's re-engagement with the United States. These are the days of free market and the new liberal economy and a political system where everybody wants to make money, everybody wants to get rich. Nobody wants to think about what other people are suffering from. Palestine is one of the collateral damages of the spread of new liberal market economy and US interests in South Asia.
But your observation doesn't match with a recent survey which revealed that most Pakistanis are anti-America. President George W Bush is most unpopular there.
That's at the people level. The common man does feel deeply about Palestine. The elites do feel unhappy about the way they are treated at American airports but they still want to go there. They still want their children to study there. They still want to be a part of the larger US project.
What will be the impact of the elites of an Islamic state distancing themselves from the one of the most emotive issues of the Arab world?
At the state and official level they make the right noises. Pakistan does endorse issues, statements and resolutions favouring Palestine. However, these are very superficial things. It doesn't say much about actual policy. Yes, Pakistan is an Islamic State but for the elites religion it is as irrelevant as it would be for other elites in any other part of the world. It doesn't matter. Elites everywhere are similar. They don't have any faith or religion. They like the power of money. President Pervez Musharraf has gone around taking his Middle East initiatives to bring peace but that initiative is written in Washington. There is nothing original or nothing Islamic about it.
How do you see Musharraf's moves towards Israel?
Well, he sees it as a part of his drive to remain relevant to American policy making. He thinks that if Pakistan makes Israel happy it will make Washington happy. There would be a long-lasting relationship. He wants to deliver something to Washington that no Pakistani politician can. That includes starting a relationship with Israel or initiating a Middle East dialogue.
How do you see the latest report in New York Times about deliberations in Washington about dumping Musharraf? Even the names of his replacements have been given.
I think some people have a rich imagination. There is nothing else to say. Yes, I think that the US is slightly unhappy with Musharraf. They want him to deliver on Afghanistan. But the US is not about to dump Musharraf. The reason is simple. They don't see any credible alternative there. The New York Times report etc is probably based on some leaks, some discussion that took place in the State Department. Such reports are meant to put pressure on Musharraf but will not necessarily result in American policy to push him out. Secondly, the US is in no position to push Musharraf out. Thirdly, the Pakistan military is very hierarchical. It's not as if somebody in Washington directs the Vice-Chief of the Pakistan Army to take over the government and he will. No, that is not the way change will take place.
How do you see the episode of sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhary and the reactions in the streets?
I think the government is getting extremely nervous. As you know this is an election year. The government wants to have complete control over the political system. Therefore, some of the comments that Justice Chaudhary made to a visiting team of National Defence College in which he said that Musharraf should not continue to be president in uniform provoked nervousness in government circles. They thought that once they start to manipulate electoral and political processes Justice Chaudhary might become a liability. The missing people's case was also one of the reasons for discomfort in Islamabad and Washington as well, where the judge asked the government to produce missing people. There were multiple interests which would have benefited from his sacking.
This incident also brings back the issue of democracy in Pakistan.
Civil society in Pakistan is robust and we come out on the streets to protest. But the crisis is about the lack of leadership. Right now, there is no political leader who can step in and say that he is going to provide the umbrella, a leadership to these processions and protests against the Chief Justice's sacking and turn it into a political movement. In fact one of the strengths of Pakistan military is the lack of proper leadership. There is no political movement that can bring mass mobilisation. Only thing that scares the military is mass mobilisation. And political parties are not willing to do that.
Even that is not a good enough reason. Democracy is the demand of the day.
Democracy is not like the make up that a woman wears and takes off whenever she wants. Democracy should not be there because it is fashionable and because everybody has it so we should have it too. The issue is that you need to have the environment that nourishes the democracy and we don't have it. We have political leaders who are as authoritarian as the military and they are partners!
How can Musharraf get elected again and still retain his credibility?
Well, he will not get elected with credibility. He won't be a legitimately elected leader. He is trying to have an agreement with Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan's People's Party. His target is to get two-third majority in Parliament for these parties to get his own extension. He may try to get endorsement from the current Parliament and then he may ask for a vote of confidence from the newly-elected Parliament. It is also likely that he may postpone elections and may impose some form of emergency.
How do you see Pakistan's role in the region?
Pakistan will play a role which is convenient to the US. Definitely this military regime will play the American way. I think, Pakistan should not antagonise Iran because we share a border and there are 5 per cent Shias in Pakistan. We have to play a neutral role but at present we are not doing so because of our friendship with America. If the US takes a decision to attack Iran it will have to take Pakistan on board. Of course the entire reason will have trouble times, what to speak of Pakistan? Musharraf may not be willing to exercise his own option because he is dependent on the US. He wants to remain relevant to US. Why will he do anything that doesn't please them?
Within Pakistan do you distinguish what Musharraf does and what Pakistan stands for?
Of course, of course! It all boils down to lack of political leadership and the inability of anyone to mobilise public opinion. Take a spot survey, talk to anybody. People are suspicious of the current political leadership. They say, yeah, Musharraf is bad but do we have an alternative? The politicians are even worse.
There is another way of seeing it also. The Karachi stock exchange is booming, the economic growth rate is good and highways are being built. May be people like it.
Micro-economic indicators are alright. Big highways like Islamabad-Lahore highway which was built by Nawaz Sharief, the Gawadar port were in the pipeline for a long time. Mircro-indicators make the elite happy, it makes the US and similar interests happy. But it does not say about equitable distribution of wealth, it doesn't speak about poverty which seems to have increased.
How do you see Musharraf's future?
Musharraf has no future. His only future, possibly, is as a dead man. When you open so many fronts and when you make so many people unhappy there is bound to be a reaction. He has tied himself in a position where there is no exit for him to be left alone safe. He has got himself into policies that has led to killings of people in Wazirastan and Balochistan. Musharraf has too many enemies.
But after 9/11, Musharraf ensured Pakistan's relevance in geo-political terms. His image is still of a leader who is a nationalist and he has got huge money for the nation.
Nobody is arguing that he is not a nationalist. The problem with you Indians is that you look at nationalism from the Mother India standpoint. Nationalism is about people. He has been trained to be a nationalist. He can't go against the interests of Pakistan. That is really a non-issue. Any political or military leader would have taken the same decision as Musharraf did when he was cornered by US and was threatened that Pakistan would be bombed to the stone age. He had no option. What would have happened if 9/11 happened in 1981 when Zia ul-Haq type of ideologues were there. I think even Zia would have behaved same way as Musharraf. It's foolhardy to think that India or any other country would have delivered more to the US. You still have Pakistan sitting right there next to Afghanistan. The US had to come and talk to Pakistan . And Musharraf capitalised on it. Geographical and territorial boundaries make a lot of difference in a conflict.
Given his experience he played a game, he is no fool. One doesn't like his policies but it doesn't make him a moron.
What has not worked out for him in Pakistan?
See 9/11 is behind us. After 9/11 there were number of policies in which Pakistan should have taken an independent position. If you begin to behave that everything should be done or ought to be done according to dictates of Washington then sorry, we have a problem.
There is an assessment that Pakistan will plunge into chaos after Musharraf, may be Islamic fundamentalist forces may take over and there could be risk of nuclear facilities falling in the wrong hands.
It's a figment of someone's imagination. Granted conservative forces have strengthened in Pakistan but so have they in other parts of the world. Look at India. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) came into power and made policies. To imagine that mad mullahs are going to take over is highly imaginative. I don't see it happening.
They are in power in one of the provinces.
One small province doesn't mean anything.
The BJP in India ruled a full term without creating fears or nuclear tension. Their record was clean on the matter.
That is again how you perceive things. As I say Indians do not know Pakistan, the US doesn't know Pakistan. Mullahs are not going to take over. That is the excuse that is given to increase American engagement with the military government, to strengthen its control in and around Pakistan. In any case those mullahs about whom Americans complain about are partners of the Americans. America has always provided money to Jamat-e-Islami. They have always been friends of Jamat. So what is their complaint?
How can you forget (disgraced nuclear scientist) A Q Khan?
They are two separate issues. Extremism and A Q Khan are not the same. Pakistan's nuclear weapons are as safe and as under control as they are in India. In fact, in the past 10 years there have been leakages in US nuclear facilities. Does it mean that extremists are going to take over? I am sorry, Bush himself is an extremist.
Are you hopeful about the ongoing composite dialogue between India and Pakistan?
After almost 60 years of hostility, I am quite happy with the pace of the peace talks. But certain questions need to be asked. There is no framework on either side. Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen are disputes. Do you know where we want to go with each other? There will be more issues than these disputes. We are sitting next to each other. On both sides internal political dynamics exist as well. India will keep changing and Pakistan too. Both States are in transition. You had the Gujarat riots and riots elsewhere. You have issues between the upcoming middle and upper class and lower classes and you have poverty. We have sectarian issues between ethnic classes, we have poverty. Once you have these issues and it has a bearing on external relations how can you sit silently and negotiate peace without a broader framework? We need a broader framework to discuss bilateral views, perhaps, an agreement to not to go to war, perhaps a friendship treaty. Something that binds us together in a firmer way.
Within India a view is that unless the Inter Services Intelligence and the Pakistan military changes nothing will move forward. There are no signs that the ISI or military has changed their position on Kashmir.
I think that is incorrect. One, insurgency in Kashmir has gone down. People of India believe in the ISI because they want to believe in the ISI. Do not forget there are people here who also benefit from conflict. The ISI is a good bogey. I am not saying that ISI is non- existent. The ISI is not an independent rogue organisation that takes decisions on its own. Once there is an understanding between Indian and Pakistani governments, the ISI does not create problems. The ISI is not independent. RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) is a separate cadre, the ISI doesn't have cadre.
Where is the Kashmir issue leading to?
At the people to people level nobody is interested. The better option would be to give autonomy to people on both sides. The average Pakistani never had a lot of stake in Kashmir. Somebody sitting in Balochistan or South Punjab is not affected by what happens in Kashmir. Jobs, education of children and everyday survival is more important to the average Pakistani than Kashmir. What was important was the perception of Kashmir amongst the elite and establishment and that has undergone for some change.
Is it a correct observation that in Pakistan now the perception is that Kashmir cannot be annexed through war or terrorism. There is a kind of Kashmir fatigue.
Amongst the Pakistani military and establishment this is the view and that's why they are talking. The problem in India is Indians do not understand Pakistan at all and Pakistanis also, do not understand India. A lot of perceptions are actually misperceptions.
Like any political development in Pakistan is seen as a crisis. Pakistan is viewed as a failed state. Yeah, it's a country with problems. Same kind of problems India has as well but it is always seen as the country which is about to disintegrate. As long as that is the perception, Indians will not be able to come up with the imagination of how to deal with its next-door neighbour. Initially in Pakistan there was a perception that India will help Pakistan disintegrate, some of it is still there. People are not even factoring the fact that out of three and half wars, two and half wars were started by Pakistan itself. I think we need to build an understanding that two neighbors of different sizes and different capacities can co-exist peacefully.
How do you see India's position as a regional power?
It is struggling to become a regional power and a global player. However, what India needs to realise is that it has to have a more proactive policy of taking its smaller neighbours along otherwise it will always remained tied down. India is not a benign larger neighbour. In some respects it is an authoritarian hegemony. It's very inward looking when it comes to its external policies. And, some of that needs to be re-looked.
India is acquiring aggressive confidence along with economic growth but when that comes to the Indian establishment it translates in the ability that overrides anything that smaller neighbours do.