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Aijaz Ahmad: Coalition govt. for negotiations with Islamist militants; military highly corrupt (2 of 2)

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: The US had wanted, before the death of Benazir Bhutto, hopefully to have Bhutto elected and help the US gain access to the Northwest Frontier Provinces, Waziristan, for their special operation forces to directly intervene and fight, especially protecting the supply lines of going to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan. Is this new coalition government likely to assist the US in this strategy? Or are they less likely to?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: These political parties do not believe that a strong military solution for the Islamicist insurgency is either required or is possible. That is not where their energies are focused on. And they also believe that the few things that the Pakistan military has done are very much on instigation of the United States, like that famous, notorious attack on the Lal Masjid, the Red Mosque, in Islamabad. They believe that it was overdone, that there were other kinds of solutions that were possible. So they are already distancing themselves from extreme military action against the Islamicists. At the same time, at the electoral level, they have swept the Islamicists out of the electoral game altogether.

JAY: When Musharraf staged his coup and came to power, he had quite popular support in the early days of his regime, partly because Benazir Bhutto, her now widower [Zardari], Sharif, were all accused of tremendous corruption, and there was a great deal of cynicism towards both parties and both leaderships. What’s the mood of people now? I guess some elation about getting rid of Musharraf. But how do people feel about bringing back people who before had been so condemned as corrupt?

AHMAD: Yes, there is corruption among the civilians, but the corruptions of the military as an institution, and the corruption of the generals as a class of people, is so very much greater by comparison that we just have to live with what we have. What we really need is a civilian government, restoration of an independent judiciary. Corruption charges have been leveled and filed in the various courts in the period of the military dictatorship. And let those cases be filed in the courts of this independent judiciary, and let us really gauge and find out what the level of that corruption truly is. But the general mood is that the military as an institution is so very much more corrupt that they’re hardly the people to lift their fingers against the civilian politicians.

JAY: Most people, I think, in the West think of the Pakistani military more or less as militaries in western countries. But they play quite a different role in Pakistan.

AHMAD: Yes. Because the West relies so much on that military, it never talks about its corruptions. Those corruptions have been very well known in Pakistan. It is well known that Pakistani generals today are probably wealthier than the Latin American generals that arose out of the Latin American dictatorships and so on. The army as an institution is by far the wealthiest institution in Pakistan. And it’s about time that we started documenting these things.

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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.