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Aijaz Ahmad Pt.2: US must work with regional states and pull out of Afghanistan to find Pakistan solutio

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, joined again by Aijaz Ahmad, who’s usually based in Delhi. He joins us today from New York City. I’m in Washington. Aijaz is a noted scholar. He’s also a journalist and author. He writes about Asia and geopolitics around the world. Thanks again for joining us, Aijaz.

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Thank you very much, Paul.

JAY: So we left off the first segment of the interview with you suggesting that there really doesn’t seem to be any kind of sensible strategy of the US in Pakistan, and Afghanistan. What would a sensible strategy be right now? Obama seems to have—. It’s very strange. They assessed the whole situation, they took time, in theory, to come up with a new plan, but the plan seems more or less an extension of the plan that was being carried on under Bush. What should a plan be?

AHMAD: Well, I don’t think that the question of Afghanistan and Pakistan can be separated from the region as a whole and, indeed, the various regions around Afghanistan. I think one place to start for Mr. Obama is to firmly announce that the United States is committed to a two-state solution in Palestine and to the withdrawal of Israel from all the territories it occupied in 1967. That will set the stage for a serious dialog across the region. The second thing that Mr. Obama has to do is to set a firm date for withdrawal from Afghanistan, which most Afghans want him to do. Thirdly, I think the United States should seriously, seriously look for a strategy to get out. And that can only be done rationally, I believe, if you bring in all the major powers of the region into the game, in which essentially the only thing going for the United States is that every country around Afghanistan, that is to say, Iran, India, Pakistani state (to the extent that one exists,) China, Russia, Caspian Sea basin countries, one thing they don’t want is a Taliban government. In order to find a solution in Afghanistan, the United States has to rely on these people within the region. But in order to bring them into a serious dialog, the United States will also have to recognize the basic strategic interests and accommodate itself to the basic strategic interests of these various countries. It’ll have to normalize its relations with Iran, it will have to have a strategic dialog with Russia, with China, with India, and also take into consideration some basic strategic interests that Pakistan has in Afghanistan. It is only the powers in the region which can help the US to get out. And the only thing rational that the US can do at this point is to get out.

JAY: The threat that the US talks about all the time is the issue of who’s going to have Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, what’s going to happen with Pakistan state. I think the Pakistan army and Zardari have made it clear that they don’t think there’s really any threat to that. But if the US follows the strategy you’re talking about—and so far that doesn’t seem to even be part of the conversation at the official levels—but if they do, how does Pakistani society respond to what’s happening in the tribal areas?

AHMAD: Well, I mean, the Pakistani society doesn’t separate things that are going on in the tribal areas from other things that are going on in the country and in the region as a whole. Moreover, what’s going on now in Swat, in Dir, in Shangla, and so on is much more important than what’s going on in the tribal areas. Probably Americans don’t know the difference between tribal areas and the settled areas. Pakistanis don’t separate things out and think about North Waziristan; Pakistanis actually think about everything that is impacting this situation, the sort of things that I was talking about.

JAY: What I’m asking is that the way it’s portrayed in the West is that there is a concern or fear in Pakistan that the Talibanization or Islamicization of Pakistani society is possible because of what’s going on now. Is there any validity to that?

AHMAD: Americans think as if everything is sui generis. Islamization in Pakistan has been going on since 1980, ever since Pakistan got to be used as a staging ground for the American jihad in Afghanistan. Islamization has been going on in Pakistan ever since 2001, when the Americans invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban came and established sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan. It’s a long-term process, and it is going on and on, and everything that the Americans do only increase and escalate that process. You mentioned earlier about the nuclear weapons. There has never been a problem. This is a bogey. But Americans are creating a situation now where the state is becoming so brittle that there might in fact be in the future such a problem. But that is a result of what the American strategy has been. Pakistani government, Pakistani army has in fact been extraordinarily sober about its nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan consult on these issues all the time. We all know that these nuclear weapons are spread into various places, that there are all kinds of precautions that have been taken about those nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons will fall into someone else’s hands if the Pakistan army collapses.

JAY: Right. You once said in an earlier interview I did with you that this fight against extremism in these areas has to be taken up by Pakistanis on behalf of Pakistan, not to be seen as an agency of US policy. Is what happened in Washington in the last couple of days—Zardari comes to Washington and an offensive begins. I guess that means they’ve done exactly the opposite of what you were suggesting.

AHMAD: What I was suggesting is an ideal thing. There has never been any pause in the Americans pushing the Pakistanis into a posture of war, throughout, since 2001. If not Zardari’s arrival here—Zardari’s arrival here has only—you know, this has been the moment when they finally put the pressure. And we saw it happening over the last two weeks, well before Zardari came to Washington. The secretary of state, everybody, suddenly started talking about these nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons. Everyone knows that nuclear weapons, as of now, are perfectly safe. This is for feeding the media.

JAY: In Washington, Zardari said he wanted the Americans to stop the Predator attacks. Karzai said he wanted Americans to stop aerial bombing of villages. Gates’ reaction on both counts seems to be “We aren’t going to tie our hands.” But, the Americans seem not to be listening to either of them.

AHMAD: All I can say is that I have utterly no clue as to what Americans are thinking. My sense is that if Americans dropped everything and just left Afghanistan and Pakistan, things won’t be worse than they are.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Aijaz.

AHMAD: Okay. Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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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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.