Pakistan on the brink Pt. 3
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back for the next segment of our series of interviews with Dr. Tariq Amin-Khan. Dr. Khan teaches politics and public administration at Ryerson University, has written extensively on Pakistan, and is currently working on political Islam. Thanks again, Tariq. The way the situation in Pakistan gets painted in the media, particular corporate TV news, is pretty simplistic. You have a Pakistani government, which is our ally, the Western ally, and you have bad Taliban over here, and somehow we have to get our friends in Pakistan to take care of the Taliban, and all of this. But there’s something that doesn’t get talked about very much in Pakistan, and that’s something called "class struggle" in Pakistan, and that at the heart of this problem, not just with the problem with the Taliban, but the problem inside Pakistani society as a whole, is the tremendous disparity between the wealthy elite, much of whom is the military and the army, and everybody else. So in terms of the economic situation in Pakistan, the struggles that emerge from that, and now this global economic meltdown, how is this going to unfold? And how do you assess it?
TARIQ AMIN-KHAN, PROF. POLITICAL SCIENCE, RYERSON UNIV.: Pakistani society is deeply polarized, as you point out, and that polarization at one level is economic, but at another level it’s also political, and I think that that political polarization is more dangerous in the current context. The reason I say that is because, inasmuch as a class struggle should have taken place in Pakistan given the conditions, but there really isn’t an organization or a group that can really organize the working class or the peasantry in Pakistan. Consequently, they are really fragmented, and therefore they cannot come together.
JAY: But how much does fear of social unrest, rather than actual social unrest, drive the politics?
AMIN-KHAN: I think that they have had—the brutal use of force has been historically undertaken in Pakistan at successive junctures, and I think they feel that they can use force to quell any kind of anger, and they’re still relying on that strategy. So I think that they feel that this would happen. But if there is an organized group which can actually counter that kind of armed attacks on people, then I think there is a possibility.
JAY: Well, is that to some extent what’s happening in North-West Frontier Provinces [sic]?
AMIN-KHAN: Yes, but that’s why I said I think that it’s more political, in the sense that this is really—inasmuch as it has its economic roots, yes. But I think that there is a much more ideological and political project in militant Islam in that part of the region. So I think that that is a greater threat, that’s something that’s much more immediate.
JAY: But to what extent is the economic disparity the soil upon which militant Islam can feed?
AMIN-KHAN: Oh, of course it is. You’re absolutely right. It is very important. It does create all kinds of tensions, and it doesn’t help that the government is completely at sea in terms of addressing those issues. So, for instance, rather than moving away from IMF and World Bank policies, they’re becoming much more closer. They’ve removed all subsidies on, for instance, electricity and gas, you know, and poor people cannot afford, you know, electricity and national gas at the rates that they are being offered to the public. They have been increasing the prices of electricity and national gas, and now commodities. All, you know, daily, you know, goods that people need to live are at such high levels that people cannot live. So that is a huge issue, yes.
JAY: So to what extent are economic reforms part of a solution for the conflict in the tribal areas?
AMIN-KHAN: I think they are a very important ingredient. I think the emphasis should be on the economics. But the government is completely not paying any attention to any of these issues. They think that military muscle is going to resolve everything.
JAY: So let’s get back to, then, the question of can the military muscle resolve everything. Much of the Pakistani army is Pashtun; the tribes are Pashtun. Is a Pakistani, Pashtun army going to fight their Pashtun brothers in the North-West Frontier Provinces?
AMIN-KHAN: I don’t think so, and I think there is a reluctance on the military to actually do that. That’s why the military has really not stepped in in the northwest province. There is, as I said, the paramilitaries that are really undertaking much of the action. The military is there, but it is not really getting deeply involved in all matter of the skirmishes and actions. So I think that is a big issue that needs to be addressed, alongside, as I said, you cannot resolve this issue militarily. So, yes, use the military, but at the same time, you know, keep economics in command, as the Chinese used to say at one time.
JAY: The presidential candidates differ not too much on Afghanistan/Pakistan. Obama’s been more articulating a position of expansion in Afghanistan. McCain’s not against it; I think he was a little—that Obama took the issue away from him, but one wouldn’t expect much different strategy. And what do you make of the American strategy there?
AMIN-KHAN: I think the American strategy is very shortsighted, and I might also add that, you know, there have been scenarios that have been sketched by their different war colleges, and the naval war college in 1999 came up with the scenario that there may not be a Pakistan. I think there are a couple of issues. One is Pakistan’s nuclear capability.
JAY: Let’s just back up a second. "May not be a Pakistan"—I mean, is that a real option that Americans are discussing, the breakup of Pakistan?
AMIN-KHAN: Well, in 1999 they surely did, and now, given that report has recently been recirculated in the media in Pakistan, there’s all kinds of conspiracy theories that are developing. In fact, if you go on the Internet, there’s a big caption: "Pakistan will be wiped off the face of the map." So, you know, there is the fear. So I think that’s also driving people in Pakistan to see these actions, to see the current actions of the US—drone attacks and boots on the ground—as part of this scenario.
JAY: A resurfacing of this report sounds like a way to inflame Pakistani nationalism. It can’t be a very serious American agenda, could it?
AMIN-KHAN: I don’t think Pakistan’s dismemberment will be a reality, because I think there’s too much at stake here. You know, in that report, they basically talk about Pakistan merging with India, Iran also disintegrating; they also talk about Afghanistan also disintegrating. So I think it’s really far-fetched.
JAY: It seems completely far-fetched. One can’t imagine the Pakistani military agreeing to merge with India. That’s the raison d’être is to fight with India.
AMIN-KHAN: Yeah, but I don’t think the report actually sees this being done voluntarily. This actually—.
JAY: But it sounds like one more piece of a plan to kind of have Pakistani nationalism at a fervor, and perhaps isolate Zardari as an American puppet, which he may be.
AMIN-KHAN: I think in the larger geopolitical context, given China’s power, and given China’s closeness with Pakistan, and given that China is heavily involved in the Balochistan area, there is a genuine fear on the part of the Americans that maybe China will also enter these warm waters of the Indian Ocean and will have an outlet from that end. So I think that is a fear that’s also driving Americans to talk about—or maybe some people argue they are tacitly supporting or through India supporting the militants in Balochistan. These are largely Baloch nationalists.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk a little bit more about what the strategy of the Taliban are. It seems to be an attempt to actually drive Pakistan back into martial law, and maybe on the other side the army and Zardari, and they may not mind it so much. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Dr. Amin-Khan.
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