The recent leadership shifts in Pakistan coupled with wave of terrorist attacks, and the ongoing US Army drone missile from bases inside Pakistan are all wreaking havoc on the Pakistani people. “Pakistan is in complete chaos,” says Aijaz Ahmad, Senior News Analyst for The Real News Network.
SHARMINI PERIES, JOURNALIST, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. This is Segment 2 with Aijaz Ahmad. Aijaz is a senior news analyst for The Real News Network. He’s also senior editorial consultant to Frontline, India. He has written extensively on South Asia and the Middle East. And he joins us today from New Delhi. Thanks for joining us, Aijaz.
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST, TRNN: Thank you.
PERIES: Aijaz, let’s start by exploring how Pakistan finds itself in the middle of US’ strategic interest in the region. Give us some context.
AHMAD: The United States at one point decided that Musharraf was going to be their man. Five, seven years later, they decided that they wanted to get rid of Musharraf. So they got rid of Musharraf and they brought in the most corrupt and cynical politician that that country has produced in its entire history, since it was created in 1947. So Pakistan is in complete chaos. It has, actually, no government. Zardari’s already the most hated politician in Pakistan. Things in Pakistan are completely in flux in a very dangerous sort of way, so we don’t know where all of this is going and what eventually will be the sort of relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan once all of this settles. Since this Zardari outfit came to power in February last year, assisted by the United States, it has had one and one objective only, which is to enhance its own power and really move towards absolute power in the country. There had been an agreement in 2007, which had been hammered out by the United States, Britain, and Saudi Arabia, to remove Musharraf and put in place an elected government, of which Nawaz Sharif, who was the leader of the other political party in Pakistan, was a very major component. Mr. Zardari has singlehandedly abrogated all of that. The agreement was that the judiciary would be reinstated; the chief justice would be reinstated. The United States does not want the chief justice reinstated, because if he comes back, he’s going to ask about all those thousands of disappeared Pakistanis who have sort of disappeared into various gulags that the United States has set up in various places. On the other hand, the Pakistani civil society is up in arms about the treatment of their judiciary; that it wants judiciary restored. The Sharifs have been disqualified from political participation by this kangaroo court that Mr. Zardari has stabilized in Pakistan, which is called the Supreme Court of Pakistan—the PCO judges, as they are called. Meanwhile, the Pakistan government, but also the government of the province, the North-Western Frontier Province, has signed not only the big agreement for Malakand Agency with the Taliban that’s very much in the news, but in fact six or seven other agreements which led up to this big agreement, and in fact handed over something like 11 million people in the two Waziristans and about one-third of the province of NWFP for domination by these various Islamicist, extremist groups.
PERIES: So, Aijaz, even going to a cricket game is no longer safe. That has always been a sort of outlet for the people to enjoy some sports activity. But as we know from recent attacks in Lahore, even that is no longer safe ground for the people.
AHMAD: Most recently you have seen a spectacular act of terrorism in the city of Lahore, which is very far from the North-Western Frontier Province, an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, in which the terrorists are demonstrating that they can hit anywhere in Pakistan, right at the nerve center of the country, after these agreements. So Pakistan is in complete chaos. The things are worst for people in North-Western Frontier Province, but all of Pakistan lives under this fear of Islamic extremists taking over. And there is no coherent policy either on the part of the United States or on the part of the Pakistani government just leading to more and more barbarity. Meanwhile, Americans are going from various bases, the command in Pakistan, bombing wherever they wish to bomb, killing civilians, which is again turning virtually the whole of the population against the United States, as it has been, but now more passionately so.
PERIES: What is the actual local response of the people to these drone attacks?
AHMAD: Until two weeks ago, the Pakistan government was pretending that these Predators and missiles were coming from Afghan territory. And then in the US Congress it was said that they were actually coming from bases inside Pakistan. So the Pakistan government had to confess that they were. You know, you have that kind of situation in which people in Pakistan are just terrified. And there is an enormous sense of desperation and pessimism that this is a kind of an unstoppable thing that is going on while Mr. Zardari fiddles. The drone attacks are in both the so-called tribal agencies, that is to say, North and South Waziristan, but also in selected areas in the more settled districts of northwestern Pakistan. So, yes, it’s, largely speaking, northwestern Pakistan; that’s where the attacks have been. And there have been very large number of civilian deaths—even this language of civilian deaths, as if there was some army that was the target and civilians just happened to die. Where the bases are one doesn’t quite know, but one knows that there are three or four of them in Balochistan, and wherever else they are we don’t know.
PERIES: In the meantime, Aijaz, what is happening to the economy in Pakistan? I know it was doing very well under Musharraf, given the circumstances, and it’s taken a great nosedive along with the rest of the global economy.
AHMAD: Pakistan economy was actually doing perfectly well under Musharraf. It was growing by six, seven percent a year, which doesn’t match Indian rates of growth or Chinese rates of growth, but was one of the more steady rates of growth in the world. That began getting into trouble as the global recession set in and as the oil prices rose. Between these two things, the situation became wobbly. But then the Zardari establishment came in, and as I have said, there has been no coherent government in Pakistan since then. The situation is that growth rates have dropped to zero or negative; there is a 20 percent inflation rate; prime interest rates stay at 15 percent; there are power cuts of four, five hours a day in major cities like Karachi and all that. For people in general, even for the middle classes, the economic situation in Pakistan is in enormous hardship.
PERIES: Aijaz, the US has recently announced a new military budget under the Obama administration which includes an allocation to Pakistan, obviously. This has been done in spite of the fact that there has been several political congressional and Senate committees that have actually asked for some accountability for the money that had been given to them previously by the Bush administration. What are your thoughts on that?
AHMAD: So far as the military aid is concerned, Pakistani military is really interested in state-of-the-art hardware, which is not what is to be used against Islamic insurgency, but in their competition against India. Let me simply say that the Senate subcommittees have been asking for the Pakistani government to account for the $10 billion that Pakistan has received since 2001 as a reward for fighting terrorism and so on and so forth. And the Pakistani government simply will not give that accounting, because no honest accounts really exist.
PERIES: So, Aijaz, while all this is happening, China and Russia are not innocent bystanders. They have strategic presence in the region, China in Balochistan, Russia in Kyrgyzstan, interfering with supply routes into Afghanistan. So let’s explore these issues in our next segment.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.