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Zardari’s Pakistan – a new Pakistan?

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Yesterday, Pakistani intelligence officials stated that they fired warning shots at US helicopters found flying inside Pakistan. On the same day, Pakistani President Zardari confirmed that the army will not permit foreign troops inside Pakistani borders. This incident immediately followed Saturday’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which many have labeled as a revenge attack for the numerous civilian deaths resulting from recent American military operations in northwest Pakistan. Now joining us to talk about the situation in Pakistan is Dr. Tariq Amin-Khan, a professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University. Thanks for joining us, Tariq.


JAY: Tariq, we ran a story a couple of days ago. General Mahsud, a retired Pakistani army general who says that Pakistan is on the verge of a civil war and says it may be time for the Pakistani army to move into the North-West Frontier Provinces [sic] and really assert control, where right now it seems the Taliban are in control. There’s a furious debate going on inside Pakistan now about what to do and the role of President Zardari. So tell us about this debate going on in Pakistan.

AMIN-KHAN: Well, what is happening now is that the military is not completely launching the attacks in the northwest; it’s the paramilitaries, like the Frontier Constabulary and others, police, etcetera, who are involved. And eventually, I think, the military will, because given the statements by the interior minister and Zardari more recently, it appears that once the month of Ramadan is over, the military will go into launching large-scale attacks against the Taliban.

JAY: Now, is this coming more from Pakistani public opinion, Pakistani pressure, as a result of, perhaps, some of the terrorist attacks? Or is this more a response to American pressure?

AMIN-KHAN: I think it’s American pressure. I don’t think that the people in Pakistan feel that military attacks on, supposedly, the Taliban are going to help, because, as your lead-in to this interview said that, you know, civilian deaths have been very high, and they have. Enormous amounts of people are being killed in the process. And, in fact, people who are from that area are demanding, “Where are the Talibans that you claim you’ve killed?”

JAY: So now we’re talking about some of the drone attacks—American drones. I mean, there’s a suggestion that there’s even been some straightforward American military boots on the ground in Pakistan that may have led to Pakistani civilian deaths. Yeah, go on.

AMIN-KHAN: Yes, absolutely. I think those have been the issues. As well, the paramilitaries have been fairly ruthless in terms of how they’ve gone about conducting these bomb attacks, and civilians have died in the process. So I wouldn’t say that there is really a civil war in the making or a civil war threat looming large. I would say that, yes, the Taliban are strong in the current context, but there isn’t really a military solution to militant Islam. One needs to look beyond that. I think the military needs to be there, the military presence has to be there, but negotiations also have to begin, and that’s the only way that this can—because at the end of the day, this is really a political question.

JAY: But the American position has been—and we can see it within Pakistani circles as well—that the negotiations simply give the Taliban forces time to reorganize. And then there is this whole question of is there different sections of the tribe—that you have the tribes, the Taliban, you have al-Qaeda, and even within those forces many factions. Like, who would you negotiate with?

AMIN-KHAN: Well, for instance, as the civilian government in the NWFP or for the frontier province actually did, they had agreements with, for instance, the Taliban leadership in the Swat area, which is the area where the attacks are now taking place, and they had come to, you know, fairly good agreements about what to do next, but it was just about the time, just as they started to do that, drone attacks started to increase. And so the Taliban accused the government that, you know, “You are not bargaining in good faith, and that you make a deal with us, but then you ask the Americans to launch their attacks.” So I think that agreement therefore failed, and as a result we are now where we are. So I do think the Americans have a huge role to play in all this.

JAY: President Zardari and some of the other Pakistani leadership have told the American to stay out of Pakistani territory, but how serious are they about this?

AMIN-KHAN: That’s again, you know, a very good question. We don’t know, because on the one hand, you know, there is these, you know, public statements that come out, and for the first time, actually, Zardari said what he said. But at the same time, the Americans say that, “Well, we’ve informed Pakistanis about those attacks” So who do we believe? I think there is a tacit agreement with the US, probably undertaken at the time of the Musharraf era. And what the politicians in Pakistan are demanding, you know, open up all those agreements and bring them to the Parliament, and have a discussion, have a debate in the Parliament, and we’ll know exactly where things stand. But the Peoples Party government is very reluctant to do that.

JAY: Well, there was a lot of speculation, when Benazir Bhutto looked like she would be the next leader of Pakistan, that she’d actually made a deal to allow the Americans into the North-West Frontier Provinces. It was not open, but many commentators had said that was in as part of this negotiations and the transition from Musharraf. If that deal was there with her, it’s probably there with Zardari. Is that what people think?

AMIN-KHAN: But it’s interesting, because there are also speculations in Pakistan that just before the time of her death she was also withdrawing from some of those agreements with the US, and, in fact, there are these conspiracy theories talking about maybe her death has to do with something about, you know, withdrawing from those original agreements with the US. So who knows? But I think the best solution for all this is to really come out in the open, make those agreements public, but if not public, at least make it a debate within the Parliament. But that’s not happening.

JAY: Well, speaking of conspiracy theories, one man at the center of many of those theories is President Zardari, and in the next segment of our interview let’s talk about him. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Dr. Khan.


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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Tariq Amin-Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. In addition to a Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from York University in Toronto, he holds a Master’s degree in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Karachi in Pakistan. The title of his doctoral thesis is Theorizing the Post-Colonial State in the Era of Capitalist Globalism.