Obama’s vision for Pakistan
When Obama was declared the winner of the 2008 US presidential election last week, people around the world rejoiced, another sign of a clear global rejection of the Bush presidency and of a belief that Obama would be a better inheritor of US global influence than McCain. Pakistan faces a devastating economic crisis, a president lacking credibility with much of the population, a growing Taliban presence, and numerous civilian deaths resulting from US predator drone strikes inside the Pakistani border. Obama’s top adviser on Pakistan, ex-CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, believes that the US should broker a deal between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir territory, thus allowing Pakistan to dedicate its 600,000+ standing army to its border region with Afghanistan instead of its longtime focus on India. Tariq believes that this plan is impossible because it denies realities of the situation, namely that the Pakistani military, the true seat of power in the country, would never allow such a shift in policy to occur as the opposition to India is their raison d’etre and any deal over Kashmir would necessarily be on India’s terms and thus be an admission of Indian hegemony in the region. On another point, the goal of the plan is to free-up more military resources in order to eliminate the Taliban. This is a strategy which Tariq believes is not workable. Tariq emphasized, as he has previously on the Real News, that any successful solution to confronting the Taliban requires a policy based around economic development, not military operations. During the interview, Tariq also explains some of the factors that make the Kashmir situation more complex than the Obama camp seems to believe.
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: As Barack Obama plans to take over the White House, two wars face his decisions. He said Afghanistan is the war the US should be fighting, and he’s also said to fight the Afghan war you have to get the Pakistani government more on board, you have to deal with the Pakistan situation to deal with the Afghan situation. And in that regard he just made an appointment that might tell us something about the direction his administration is going to take. He appointed Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, his adviser on Pakistan. Joining us to discuss this appointment and Obama and Pakistan and Afghanistan is Tariq Amin-Khan, a professor of political science at Ryerson University in Toronto and an expert on Pakistani politics. Welcome, Tariq. So Bruce Riedel has essentially said to Obama—and this is why he was appointed, according to the newspaper reports—that what Obama should do is broker a peace agreement between Pakistan and India that allows the Pakistani government to pull troops back from Kashmir and move them up into the North-West Frontier Provinces [sic] and Waziristan, and take on the Taliban, I assume with hundreds of thousands of Pakistani troops. So what do you make of this proposal, and what do you make of this appointment?
TARIQ AMIN-KHAN, PROF. POLITICAL SCIENCE, RYERSON UNIV.: You know, on the face of it it looks like a very good proposal, but if you look into the details, what it is also suggesting is that Indian hegemony should be recognized in that area. It’s also not including the Kashmiri people themselves into any kind of a settlement. It’s basically talking about a negotiation between India and Pakistan brokered by the US, and that, I think, is a huge problem.
JAY: I mean, are they getting themselves into the middle of another Middle East crisis? Talk a bit about the importance of Kashmir and what it means symbolically to Pakistan, and also particularly to the Pakistan military.
AMIN-KHAN: Well, Kashmir is the reason why India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads ever since the partition of India in 1947. And the Kashmiri people are divided, you know, between Pakistan and India. Part of it is in Pakistan, and a greater part is in India. Within Kashmir there are at least three distinct religions. There are the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Buddhists. And now the Hindus are trying to reassert themselves. As you probably know, there have been a number of demonstrations. In fact, there have been a spontaneous uprising within the Muslim section of Kashmir. So it looks like there is a problem that India needs to deal with within its own borders in the first place. And not to include the Kashmiri people in any kind of a settlement, I think, is a big injustice to them.
JAY: Now, we’re not sure that’s the case. It may be, whatever this settlement of Kashmir is, is that there’s a role for the Kashmiri people. We don’t actually know what they’re talking about here in terms of what settlement is; all we’ve heard is some kind of vague rhetoric from Riedel, and also from some other advisers, that there should be a brokered Kashmir settlement.
AMIN-KHAN: But I think this is what analysts have been saying about Riedel, that he has in the past talked about an arrangement that I just described, and he’s also the one who’s talked about Indian hegemony, both of which won’t be acceptable to Pakistan.
JAY: So is it a question that this is a long, long process in negotiations, it won’t have any immediate consequences on Pakistan’s military ability? Or is there some temporary solution, like, I mean, if the Americans were to try to broker a deal for every Pakistani soldier that heads to the North-West Frontier Provinces, India has to pull the soldier out?
AMIN-KHAN: Well, if they have something like that, I’m sure the Pakistanis will probably be acceptable to some arrangement like that. But I really don’t think either India nor Pakistan will be willing to do that, because, you know, this is really the problem between the two states, and I don’t think, you know, the US basically coming in and saying "Okay, move your troops to the Afghan border" will resolve that, and I don’t think the military in Pakistan will be [inaudible]
JAY: Well, talk a little bit about the history of that, because as I understand it, Kashmir is practically the raison d’être for the Pakistani military, that the defense of Islamic Kashmir and as a part of Pakistan, more or less, is one of the whole fundamental principles of why there is a Pakistani state and a Pakistani military. It’d be like telling the American military to give up the idea of fighting for freedom and democracy or something.
AMIN-KHAN: Right. I mean, this is the basis of the division of India. Kashmir was the place where it all began, as far as Pakistan was concerned—its first war with India way back in the ’50s. And then there have been a number of UN resolutions talking about a plebiscite in Kashmir; talking about, you know, a kind of settlement. In fact, there are still UN observers in Kashmir. So there are two really different perspectives about this conflict between India and Pakistan. They do feel that they are both integral part of their states, whereas neither of them have consulted the Kashmiri people, and I think that is really the problem.
JAY: So even if this was a kind of doable proposition between Pakistan and India, which from what you’re saying, I think, as I understand the situation, is far more complex than some easy settlement between the two states about Kashmir. But it does tell us something about Obama’s mindset, because Bruce Riedel, in proposing this strategy, is that it’s fundamentally [sic] a strategy for an increased militarization of the how-to-deal-with-the-Taliban question. So at a time when you hear more and more voices from Europe, and even within Afghanistan, about negotiations with the Taliban, this is a plan to try to get Pakistan to send hundreds of thousands, perhaps, more troops and throw them at the Taliban, which means it’s completely dedicated towards a military outcome. So, first of all, how doable is this? And what do you make of the policy?
AMIN-KHAN: I think this is the philosophical difference, as I read it, between Obama and even the Pentagon, because, for instance, General Petraeus, who was moved from Iraq to now looking after Afghanistan, he has recognized that there isn’t a military solution, and he sees, for instance—. But, of course, the US wants to negotiate with people who will surrender their arms and all, which, again, itself is a self-limiting proposition. But what I’m trying to say is that that recognition is there. But in the case of Obama, he feels that if you, you know, throw more troops, you know, at Afghanistan, it’ll eventually resolve itself and that Taliban will be defeated. But I think that the whole issue of Taliban is really a social and political problem, and it has to be dealt with at that level, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. For instance, in Pakistan, the Pakistani military has been pounding the areas where the Talibans are strong, and they haven’t really been able to make a dent, as far as the Taliban are concerned. Yes, they have moved from those areas that they’re being attacked to other areas, and this kind of shifting will go on, but what is happening in the process is that people are saying, "Enough," you know, "We don’t want our homes and children and women," you know, "killed in this process." And this really is—.
JAY: And just in the last week or two we’ve had a continuation of deaths in villages on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, where innocent people are getting killed in either Predator or other kinds of bombing missions.
AMIN-KHAN: Yes. And I think that the whole Predator-drone attacks, you know, within Pakistan territory is another big issue that needs to be addressed. You know, whatever successes the military may have, that the Pakistani military may have had, in terms of, you know, moving Taliban from a particular area, you know, they get negated when the drone attacks continue, and they are almost on a daily basis.
JAY: So in the next segment of our interview, let’s just discuss a little bit more of what are possible policies Obama could follow, in your opinion, rather than just more militarization. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Tariq Khan [sic].
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.