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Aijaz Ahmad: US policy will lead to thousands of new recruits for al- Qaeda

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. We’re now joined by Aijaz Ahmad. He’s normally based in Delhi; right now he’s coming to us from New York City. I’m in our studio in Washington. Aijaz has written extensively on India, Pakistan, and global affairs; has appeared many times on The Real News Network; and is a consulting editor with Frontline Magazine and many other publications. Thanks for joining us, Aijaz.

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Thank you very much, Paul. Glad to be on The Real News again.

JAY: Thank you. So President Karzai has just been in Washington. President Zardari had been in Washington, meeting with President Obama. What effect are the policies of the three presidents having in Pakistan?

AHMAD: Well, we know that the pressure from the United States that has been mounted over the last two weeks has led to the Pakistanis abandoning their policies of negotiations and working on various fronts, as regards the situation with the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province, and instead the military is now conducting a huge, big military offensive. This is directly to please President Obama.

JAY: And what do you think will be the consequences of this offensive? Zardari and the army have held off on this for a long time. Some people have said it’s a reflection of ambivalence in wanting to wage this fight. Others have said it’s because it’s just not the right thing to do, given Pakistani domestic politics. What’s your take on this?

AHMAD: Well, luck seems to be smiling on Mr. Zardari. Now there are more than a million refugees, which means that there will be hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly billions, coming into Pakistan, much of which will go into the pockets of various politicians, particularly Mr. Zardari, who’s known in Pakistan generally as Mr. Ten Percent for having taken a lot of cuts on contracts during the time when his wife was the prime minister. So there is a bit of a—you know, this is a good time for Pakistani politicians. They’ll be getting a lot of money.

JAY: To what extent is this a bit of a strategy of the Pakistan army? In other words, you need a good external threat to justify American support. But also, in terms of domestic Pakistan politics, the opposition movement that came mostly from the big urban centers that brought down Musharraf; can the Pakistani army now say to them, “Oh, you need us to keep—we’re the only thing standing between you and sharia law.”

AHMAD: Look, Pakistan army is not an independent agent. They depend entirely on US funds. They eventually will do what the Americans tell them to do. If the Americans do not give them a very strong message, as for a period of time they were not, the army would not act so decisively. But now [that] the Americans have told them that they have no choice, they’re acting very decisively. And now over a million refugees are there. If this thing goes on, refugees will be into several million, and we are back to where we were with the Afghanistan War in the early 1980s. But this is quite different. This is a country of 170 million people. This is going to hand over to the al-Qaeda precisely the kind of situation they’ve been looking for. They’ll get, probably, tens of thousands of new recruits, taking on this kind of American offensive.

JAY: Does urban, relatively more secular, and secular society within Pakistan—what do they want out of the Pakistani army? Do they consider this talk that Islamist extremists could take over the Pakistan state, that sharia law could become the overall of Pakistan [sic]? Is that taken as a serious possibility within Pakistan?

AHMAD: No one in his right mind ever wants their army to bomb their own people and generate millions of refugees in their own country. So it’s not about, you know, secularism and Taliban and so on; it’s about what you are willing to do or not willing to do to your own people. So this is going to blow things apart in Pakistan.

JAY: What are the implications now for Afghanistan?

AHMAD: For Afghanistan I don’t know, but the basic fact is that the Taliban are about 70 miles out of Kabul. Karzai is barely a mayor of Kabul. He has made new alliances, and he’ll probably be reelected as president. Americans will go deeper and deeper into a morass. That’s how I see it. There’s no way out for the Americans. There was a time some months ago when we used to hear that there were some serious negotiations going on with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi or Dubai or wherever all of that was happening. But that seems to have been abandoned. And with this kind of escalation, I don’t see any way out for the Americans. I don’t think they have a policy.

JAY: McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan, was just fired and replaced. They’re announcing that today. So, clearly, they seem to not think their strategy is working in Afghanistan. If you go back to Pakistan, was there a sense within Pakistan that the negotiations were working with the tribes in the territories? The US, obviously, didn’t accept those negotiations, but what did Pakistani society think of them?

AHMAD: Paul, nothing is going to work if you are going to have these drone attacks; if you have committed yourself to a military solution, you know, nothing at all is going to work. The United States simply does not have a policy for the region; they’re floundering around. I don’t understand what their strategy is. Do they think they’re going to have a military victory in northwest Pakistan? They must be out of their minds.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about what you think a more rational strategy might be. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad.


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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.