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'Pakistan is still stuck in a Cold War time warp'

By Aziz Haniffa
April 05, 2012 11:25 IST
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Noted journalist, scholar and author Ahmed Rashid has said that Pakistan is still caught up in a Cold War time warp and still wants to be dependent and a surrogate of some big power.

He also argued that Islamabad's continuing sponsorship and support of terrorism into India and Afghanistan in an effort to destabilise those nations had left it with no friends either in the international or regional community, except for China, which was also beginning to find Pakistan irritable.

Rashid, a Pakistani national, who was the lead panelist at a Brookings Institution conference on Pakistan on the Edge: The Future of Pakistan and the US Response, said, "The first thing I'd like to say is that, unfortunately, the end of the Cold War in 1989 passed us by completely. We have maintained and sustained a foreign policy that is still based on that premise."

"We've learned nothing from the end of the Cold War. We still want to be a dependent country, (hoping) some big power will kindly pick us up. You know, we will be dependent," he said. "Just as there was no dependence in the '90s with the United States, the dependence became very strong after 2001, obviously."

Rashid said, "We believe that you can still protect and launch Islamic extremists from your soil as a means of conducting foreign policy. Now that was completely kosher under the Cold War because the fundamentalists were anti-communist. But, obviously, since the Cold War, and after 9/11 especially, that was no longer feasible. But we continue to pursue this foreign policy."

Rashid said the final nail on the coffin was the failure "the whole hope after the end of the Cold War was that it was Pakistan's dual-strategic location, as this land-bridge between West Asia and East Asia, and India and Iran, Central Asia and the Gulf -- this idea that Pakistan is a land bridge could, living in peace with its neighbors, could serve as a conduit for oil and gas and roads and railways and trade and really do what all the other important trade groupings in the world -- the European Union, ASEAN, etc, were doing."

He argued that this envisaged land bridge had not been a bridge but "a broken series of viaducts for the last 65 years. We have never exploited our geo-strategic positions for some kind of use value for the people of Pakistan. Rather, it's been, this war front, where you've either been sending militants into Kashmir, or militants into Afghanistan, to try to destabilise -- which has helped destabilise the region."

"As a consequence, no neighbor trusts Pakistan," Rashid said, and predicted, "Certainly, if there was a speedy withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, every neighbor would gang up against Pakistan again -- just as they did in the '90s -- to prevent any kind of Pakistani over-influence in Afghanistan through the Taliban."

"We have no friends in the international community, and we have no friends in the regional community -- except China. And China has been issuing statements over the last few weeks asking Pakistan what all these militant Chinese Muslims are doing training in Pakistan. And even that relationship has been seriously questioned."

Rashid said, "China has just pulled back from funding a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan."

"So, even traditional allies are not looking the way they were," he added.

Rashid said, "For many Pakistanis, this political instability, coupled with all the terrorism, and the insurgencies, and the issues around the present crisis, the economic crisis, all this is just really adding to the considerable chaos and lack of direction in the country."

In his opening remarks, Rashid who has recently authored his latest book, Pakistan on the Brink, which follows his highly acclaimed first book, Taliban, and then Descent into Chaos, said, "I was prompted to write this book out of a sense of very acute despair about my own country, as to where we were going, and of course, continued preoccupation with Afghanistan, and the fact that Afghanistan was not going well."

He then read a sentence from the last page of his book, which stated, "For too long, the military and civil elite have neglected their one single task, which is to make life better for their own people. Why has the Pakistani elite literally abandoned its own people for the last 65 years?"

Rashid said that this was "really the critical question," as to why Pakistan today was "having 18 hours with no electricity, 18 hours with no gas, an economy that's about to crash, insurgencies in two of the four provinces, people trying to flee the country, money fleeing the country, and no investment."

But later, Rashid said there were also some positive aspects he had mentioned in his book in that "there is a crying need, especially among young people, for change and reform, and living at peace with you're your neighbors."

He said, "That change partly is reflected, for example, by the support that somebody like former cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan is getting, although his own policy style would be considered a bit doubtful yet as to exactly whether he stands for change and reform, or whether he stands for more of the same. But nevertheless, the fact is that, young people are fed up with the two existing parties, and they are galvanising to him."

Rashid also said that another positive factor was that "the military is, without a doubt, in my opinion, much weaker than it ever was," and to reinforce his contention, argued that "in any other situation, by now, the military would have long ago launched a coup and taken over."

He asserted that "the military is far too weak to launch a coup¬ónot in itself, but because public opinion, half of the Pakistani public opinion would no longer accept military intervention. And, this message is very clear to the military itself."

Rashid said compounding all this have been the recent humiliations the military has suffered.

"The Osama thing obviously was a breaking point for the military. There was no accountability for Osama's death. Whether the military was culpable, or whether they were ill-informed, heads should have rolled. And the people of Pakistan expected heads to roll. And no heads rolled at all. There was no accountability whatsoever, and that remains the case even today."

He also predicted that Pakistan's relations with the US was also at a breaking point, and that "the relationship is not going to be what it was before -- the intelligence relationship, the relationship about the border, and containing the border, the relationship about the drones -- Pakistan does not accept the drones, but the US is going to keep sending them across the border despite Pakistani objections."

Rashid also said that the Pakistani military had gone from a maximalist set of demands to a minimalist set of demands. From telling the US, "No India in Afghanistan, we are not going to tolerate the Indians in Afganistan, and you, America, you go tell India, you know, no India," to under pressure from the US, particularly after Osama's death, sending messages to India, saying, 'Well, we will tolerate you, India, in Afghanistan, but you know, we should work out some engagement where, you know, your intelligence is not messing around in Pakistan."

"The military is in a stage of kind of minimalist acceptance. They are very embarrassed by the fact that the Americans have walked around them to talk to the Taliban," he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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