There is independent data that says violence has come down in Pakistan since 2009 in terms of the numbers of incidents and casualties. How do we reconcile this with your analysis that the security establishment’s misguided strategies are making Pakistan less secure?
The whole theme of the book is that reform and change were the need of the hour after the end of the cold war, and that the military and the civilians have not carried it out. We’ve been obsessed with foreign policy and fighting wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan rather than concentrating on the internal situation. Countries in Central Asia and in the Baltics have carried out more economic reform than Pakistan. We were the model for it in the 1950s and 1960s, yet now we’re incapable of it. The positive effects of the end of the cold war, like globalisation and high-tech industries, all passed us by. Also, we persisted in wanting to use Islamic fundamentalists as an arm of our foreign policy. That became redundant after 1992, and especially after 2001. And we still haven’t woken up to this. Hafiz Saeed is still a hero.
Our foreign ministry says it wants an “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process next door. You argue in your book that we still want to be involved in shaping the future of that country.
At the moment I think what we’re saying on Afghanistan is totally meaningless, because we don’t deliver on anything. The Taliban are living in Pakistan. Their leadership is entirely there. We need to acknowledge that and stop being in a state of denial.
And then we need to help Karzai meet with the Taliban. We keep saying that we’ll help him meet and that it must be Afghan-led, but we don’t allow the Taliban to meet with Karzai or his people. So how can you have an Afghan-led process when you are holding one card which you refuse to let go of?
The process of devising civilian recommendations for the reshaping of Pak-US ties was a politicised one plagued by delays and back-and-forth, with politicians participating in it and at the same time renouncing it. What does the way in which it was carried out say about prospects for the relationship?
The real danger for Pakistan at the moment is that nobody wants to take responsibility for governance. Neither the civilian government, nor the political parties, nor the military. We’re in free-fall. And what this represents is extremely dangerous, because if we are going to dither for weeks and months on a decision like this, which affects Pakistan’s relationship not just with the United States but with the whole international community, what kind of decisions can we take about such domestic concerns as our massive sectarian killings and insurgencies in two provinces when nobody wants to take responsibility for anything?
For Pakistani readers one of the most interesting aspects of the book will be the portraits you paint of Karzai and Obama, especially the former’s paranoia and the latter’s inability to connect with the Afghans. Do you think the combination of these two personalities is making the job more difficult in Afghanistan?
My book is saying that it’s not just Pakistan that is making all the mistakes. The Afghans are making huge mistakes and the Americans are making huge mistakes. And the promises that Obama made when he came in have not been fulfilled. We are in a worse mess today than we were four years ago. The region is in a worse mess, Afghanistan is in a worse mess, the talks between the Americans and the Taliban are as distant as ever…
Are they really completely off at the moment? They’re not currently taking place. And they’re suspended not because of the fault of the Taliban, but because of the divisions among the American establishment.
Deadly attacks took place on April 15 on a number of sites in Kabul and three other towns. One argument is that casualties were limited, and Nato has argued that the Afghan security forces managed primarily on their own…
That is the spin given by Nato. The fact is that these attacks were extremely demoralising for the Afghan people and the Afghan government. People are leaving the country and there is huge capital flight, and these incidents only exacerbate the situation further.
A lot has happened in Afghanistan just before, and since, the book has come out — the Quran burnings, the civilian massacre in Panjwai, the April 15 attacks. You say in the book that you are still optimistic despite the events you’ve been covering in the region for the last three decades. Is that still true?
The military situation is very bad. But I’m still hopeful that there will be talks between the Americans and the Taliban and between Karzai and the Taliban. That is the only hope. We still have time before the withdrawal takes place, and until there is a complete breakdown in talks, I will remain optimistic.
— Madiha Sattar The reviewer and interviewer is a Dawn staffer