Pakistan: High command dictate terms
Paul Jay talks with Aijaz Ahmad
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: What is the military high command’s relationship with the Jihadist political parties?
AIJAZ AHMAD ,SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The very top generals don’t themselves have any particular relationship with them. They have come out of a very rigorous professional background and so on, and they’re also vetted at every level, and I’m quite sure that no one can become a lieutenant general in Pakistan, let alone head of the armed forces, before passing the test given by the Pentagon. But throughout all those years, these secular people kept saying that a reverse indoctrination is happening, in which you are sending secular Pakistani officers to lead the Jihadis and talk to them in the language of religious extremism, and they are getting indoctrinated in the process themselves.
JAY: This is during the fight against the Russian occupation in Afghanistan.
AHMAD: That’s right. That’s right. That’s during the 80s, during the 80s and the early 90s. And all of it up to the point where the Pakistani army pretty much led the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.
JAY: The sense of having their own agenda amongst the military high command in Pakistan is quite strong. I mean, you wouldn’t describe that as a puppet relationship, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Pakistan military command have their own interests.
AHMAD: You see, first of all, you have to understand there’s a highly professional army. They’re not a ragtag force. They understand the balance of force. They understand that the Americans depend on them, that the Americans cannot carry out their war in Afghanistan without them. Eighty percent of all the deliveries that the Americans require in Afghanistan are coming through Pakistan. Eighty percent of the fuel that they require comes from Pakistani refineries, and they come through the northwest of Pakistan. And it is the Pakistani military which ensures that all that fuel, all those truck tankers, go through this area. And the United States has isolated itself so much in the region—they can’t expect support from Iran, they cannot expect this kind of support, increasingly, from countries of the Caspian Sea basin, the neighboring countries around Afghanistan. And also terrain is such that this kind of supply cannot come from those places. So the Pakistan army understands that the United States actually needs them so desperately.
JAY: What do the secular forces want from the United States? ‘Cause the secular forces don’t want a policy that would strengthen the hand of the extremists. What do they want? What do they want the Americans to push for?
AHMAD: Well, depending what you mean by the secular forces. The thing is that the elite politics in Pakistan is completely tied up with the United States. Benazir thought the United States was going to bring her into Pakistan and make her prime minister. Nawaz Sharif is cooling his heels in Saudi Arabia, waiting for the Americans to do something for him. All of these people, including the newspapers, you know, ‘Dawn’ and so on, they’re all very disappointed that Negroponte didn’t take a stronger line. What you have got is a military high command which is actually negotiating with the United States in a much more tough fashion, looking after the interests of the country as they see those interests, whereas the civilian elite, the secular elite, so to speak, is looking entirely to the United States to bring them to power. So there is a vacuum there. There is no great popular movement that is independent of elite politics, nor is there a popular movement backing this elite politics.
JAY: In the middle-level ranks of the officer corps in the Pakistan army, in the lower levels, it’s said that there’s quite a bit of sympathy for the Islamist forces, especially in terms of even family and travel allegiances. The growing strength of the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces and other Islamist militant forces—what would block that growing strength? ‘Cause the way the current situation seems, they’re going to continue to get stronger.
AHMAD: This is all very difficult to judge. My own sense is that Musharraf has actually carried out considerable amount of purging in the armed forces, as such, through various means. Over a period of time this, I think, has been his mission, to promote the more secular officers and to get rid of as many of the jihadi sympathizers as possible. ISI, that is, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is the notorious secret service, that is much harder to really analyze in that way, because the ISI is not entirely under the control of the army headquarters.
JAY: If in fact the insurgency were to become extremely weak, America’s need for the Pakistani military would lessen. It may not be in the Pakistan military’s interest to too much weaken the insurgency.
AHMAD: Well, what has happened in Pakistan is that it’s a seesaw relationship. There are years when Americans need them less, and then you see the aid going down, and then another crisis comes up and Americans again wake up. What the generals are very angry about—and this I think is true of the generals in the Pakistani army for almost twenty years now—is that the United States uses Pakistan as a cheap fling when it’s in heat, as my friend [Bhadra Kumar] puts it. My sense is that the way the U.S. is losing control over Iran and the Caspian Sea basin, Pakistan will remain extremely important for them, because it’s the only friend in town that they’ve got.
JAY: Which means continued support for dictatorship in one form or the other.
AHMAD: Yes. I think what Musharraf and the army high command has successfully argued with the Pentagon is that army rule is extremely important in Pakistan because these civilians are so chaotic in their own politics that if they take charge of the state, the cohesion and sense of purpose of the state will suffer, and Pakistan itself cannot afford it, let alone the United States; that we have reached a point of crisis in which an authoritative regime is absolutely necessary. And Americans have no problem with that. You see, for example, I think Americans have never made a strong case for restoring the supreme court, or Mr. Negroponte could have gone and visited the great chief justice, who was so unceremoniously set aside. Now, why? What the chief justice was doing was that in Pakistan hundreds, perhaps couple of thousands of people have disappeared, and many of them have been handed over to the United States. And the chief justice was demanding, getting more and more impatient, demanding that these people be produced in court. And if the Pakistani officials failed to produce them, he’s going to hold them under contempt of court, and he was going to haul up the high military officials, intelligence officials, in the supreme court to testify. Now, this is Guantanamo Bay of Pakistan; this is, you know, extraordinary rendition of Pakistan. In other words, the Pakistani supreme court was going to play a very strong role in investigating things that the U.S. courts do not. And that became a threat both to the Pakistani military structure which had done these things, and to the United States, on whose orders it had done so. So they’re playing very cool on the question of restoring those judges. Not a squeak comes out. Hold the elections, but not restore the judiciary.