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  June 19, 2008

Will Pakistan fight a US war?

Aijaz Ahmad: US bombing disrupted negotiations between Pakistan gov and tribal leaders (2/4)
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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.

Afghan and NATO troops, backed by helicopter gunships launched a massive counter-attack Wednesday against Taliban militants occupying villages near Kandahar. According to The Associated Press, 16 Taliban and two Afghani soldiers have been killed so far. This fighting comes as the US-led forces face the most menacing Spring offensive the Taliban have launched since 2001. NATO's success now hinges on cooperation with neighbouring Pakistan, whose porous borders allow free movement of Taliban fighters between the two countries. The Real News Network's Senior Editor Paul Jay discusses the likelihood of a partnership between NATO and Pakistani security forces with Senior News Analyst Aijaz Ahmad.


REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): Afghan and NATO troops backed by helicopter gunships launched a massive counterattack Wednesday against Taliban militants occupying villages near Kandahar. According to the Associated Press, 16 Taliban and two Afghani soldiers have been killed so far. This fighting comes as the US-led forces face the most menacing spring offensive the Taliban have launched since 2001. NATO's success now hinges on cooperation with neighboring Pakistan, whose porous borders allow free movement of Taliban fighters between the two countries. The Real News Network senior editor Paul Jay discusses the likelihood of a partnership between NATO and Pakistani security forces with senior news analyst Aijaz Ahmad.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Thank you for joining us for Part 2 of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad on Afghanistan and Pakistan and what next. One of the "what nexts" would be an increased military action on the border, NATO-American forces, but it only works if it's done as some kind of collaboration with Pakistan forces. Is that possible?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: That there is some escalation militarily and more is threatened on the part of the United States and NATO directed at Pakistan is an actual fact. But in order, I think, to understand the complexity of the situation, we need to step back just a little bit to the moment when Musharraf was challenged, a democratic movement grew in Pakistan. The Americans at that time had a very neat formula that they had worked out both with the Peoples Party and with Musharraf, in which Musharraf will stay president, the Peoples Party will form the government, General Kayani would come in, and things would be in place.

JAY: It was thought that Benazir Bhutto had made a deal to green-light American-Pakistan action against the tribal forces and al-Qaeda. And then, with Bhutto's assassination, much of this seemed to unravel. So where does it leave us?

AHMAD: The deal has been inherited by her husband. So that part of the deal, in a sense, is still there. What actually happened once the democratic process got going is that another major force on the civilian side, that of Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, entered into the scene and now is very much a part of the coalition government, and in fact forms the government in the largest province, in Punjab, and has taken it upon itself to represent the sentiment, the extremely widespread sentiment in Pakistan, that if a war is to be fought on terror, it is for the United States to fight it. Pakistani military should not be fighting America's war. There's a lot of demagoguery going on there and so on. So that is one thing that they did not obtain, a political arrangement that they had looked for at the center.

JAY: And where is the army? I mean, the final analysis really is going to be what is the army willing to do or not.

AHMAD: In the final analysis, the army does not now have as much power to dictate what needs to be done as it did a year ago before all this democratic process began, that in the Northwestern Frontier Province, where all of this insurgency is in fact located, you have a strong Pashtun government and regional government which is determined to have a negotiated settlement with their Pashtun brethren in the Taliban or whatever and are much more reluctant to go for a full-fledged military option. That is one. The other thing is that the army, there are two different forces working there and different currents working there. There is a very strong current in the army which says that "We have given 1,000 lives, the Pakistan army, 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have died in the military operation. Neither has a military operation brought us peace, nor has it brought us appreciation from the United States. And the only way to go is peace."

JAY: There's been a lot of reports in the last few weeks about ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] tipping off the tribal leaders when an attack might come, sort of under-the-table relations between the sections of the Pakistan military, the ISI, tribal leaders, and perhaps even al-Qaeda. You have Karzai saying, "Pakistan's doing so little. We're going to have to cross the border ourself." Where did all this lead?

AHMAD: I think that is part of the negotiations. Part of the negotiations is that you, the Taliban or whatever you call them, those Islamic extremists, will not undertake any kind of military action inside Pakistan, that you will not break the peace in Pakistan. Over a period of perhaps three months, six months, a year, you will regroup inside Afghanistan. As few of you as possible would remain inside. But in lieu of that, we will give you a sort of a cover.

JAY: We'll regroup in Afghanistan or regroup in Pakistan?

AHMAD: Regroup in Afghanistan.

JAY: Afghanistan.

AHMAD: Right.

JAY: Not use Pakistan as the base.

AHMAD: Yeah.

JAY: In other words, what you're saying is the agreement would have to be they shift their bases mostly into Afghanistan.

AHMAD: That is what the Pakistani side wants. What the Pakistani side is saying is, "You will not destabilize this part; you will not destabilize Pakistan. You will not try to create Islamic emirates on Pakistani territory. And so far as your fight in Afghanistan is concerned, we understand your Pashtun national sentiments, but in order to do that, you have to fight in Afghanistan."

JAY: Where are those negotiations, particularly since the US bombing last week?

AHMAD: In Pakistan, most people are saying that the principal objective of those bombings was to disrupt the negotiations—and of course the negotiations have fallen apart. The other result of those bombings is the strengthening of Musharraf, because now there is a strong sentiment not only among the military elite but also part of the political elite, especially the Peoples Party, the dominant party, saying that only Musharraf really has the experience to negotiate our way out of this great impasse. He has dealt with the Americans, he has dealt with Afghanis, he has dealt with the NATO. We don't have anybody who really has this kind of experience, so let him stay president. Two weeks ago, before those bombings, Musharraf seemed to be on his way out. Today, I think Musharraf has been strengthened by this.

JAY: In the next part of our interview, let's discuss what is the potential or possibilities of a major US military action inside or on the Pakistan border. Please join us for the next part of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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