Ahmed Rashid Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Rise of Militant Islam: Conversation with Ahmed Rashid, author and journalist: 3/26/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 7 of 9

Pakistan's Future

What about your native country, Pakistan. Can it change itself, given the road it's gone down during this period of your reporting? It seems to have gone down a road which led to a dead end.

Pakistan has come a long way since September the 11th, but it has not come far enough, I think. The fact is that there is a military regime in Pakistan -- they did a U-turn after September the 11th. They were supporting the Taliban; they then dumped the Taliban. But there was a certain logic that followed that. You dump the Taliban under this huge American pressure. The military really had no choice in the matter. But once it had taken that decision, any Pakistani saw that the military now had to also curb domestic extremism inside Pakistan. And the third part of that logic was that you had to deal with Kashmir and India, and the end of support for extremism outside your borders, in Kashmir.

Now, the problem has been in Pakistan. I don't think the military has carried out stage 2 and stage 3 of this -- they have, to some extent, carried out stage 2: curbing domestic extremism -- but they're doing it reluctantly, they're doing it half-heartedly, because there hasn't been a strategic decision yet on what to do with India. Is Pakistan going to go genuinely for a settlement of Kashmir and a settlement of problems with India, and is India going to do the same, or not? So in that sense, the military perhaps has some idea of trying to keep some of these extremist groups in reserve, because they were always, if you like, the front line against India. To curb all the extremists immediately and without any conditions would, as far as the military mindset is concerned, perhaps expose Pakistan and the military to repercussions from India.

Is the killing of the Wall Street Journal reporter [Daniel Pearl], and then handling of that after the arrest, important in pointing which direction Pakistan will go, or is it just a minor case?

No, I think it was a very important watershed case, because the fact is that Daniel Pearl was killed by groups who have very close links with the military and the intelligence services over a long number of years. This should galvanize the military to realize now that these groups, who have been in their service for many years, fighting in Afghanistan, fighting in Kashmir, fighting in many places, are now a threat to Pakistan itself. And here you get this contradiction, because there's always a problem with military regimes. Are these military regimes carrying out policies and decisions in their own interests, in the interest of the army, or in the interest of the nation? What I think Pakistanis are expecting and hoping President Musharraf will do is to think of the nation first, and not to think just purely in that kind of military mindset, with that tunnel vision that the military leaders tend to have.

You called Pakistan a failed state. What would be a measure of it moving beyond that condition?

No, I don't call Pakistan a failed state, I call it a potentially failing state. I think Afghanistan was a failed state. I think the most essential part now is that Musharraf has to have elections by October. I think the most important part is, how is the military going to share power with civil society? We've had periods of democratically elected governments which have failed; all the military regimes have also failed. Is the military now realizing for the first time that you cannot set up either a puppet government through a rigged election, which I fear Musharraf may be trying to do -- which would be a disaster, because the repercussions of this would come six months down the road -- nor can he possibly allow a complete kind of reversion, to allow some of these corrupt politicians to come back.

So what many people are envisaging is a sharing of power, for a certain period of time, perhaps, while this crisis persists, between the military and civil society and the politicians. Will the military actually carry out a genuine sharing of power and not a fake sharing of power, whereby it retains all power for itself, but has a civilian puppet? That's the primary issue, because the problems in Pakistan are immense. The educational system has collapsed, you've got extremism, you've got a huge economic recession, you have ethnic divisions, you have a foreign policy that has been a total disaster for the last ten years. You have to rectify all these things, but it cannot be done by military fiat. It cannot be done by a command and order. It has to be done by involving people in decision-making, through some kind of representation. The military has to go in for a free and fair election, which will set up a civilian government. I think, by and large, most Pakistanis accept that there will have to be limits on that civilian government, and there will have to be a sharing of power with the military.

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