In part two of our conversation with Tariq Amin-Khan about Obama’s vision for Pakistan, Senior Editor Paul Jay asks the question, what do the people who live in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region want? Tariq believes that the Taliban were at a very low level of popularity in the region, and Pakistan at large, until the recent increases in military activity in the region. As a result the Taliban, and those advocating for Sharia Law, have become an undeniable social and political force in the area, and should be dealt with democratically instead of militarily. Tariq points out that parties advocating for Sharia Law were never a strong political force in Pakistan prior to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, having never garnered more than 8% in previous elections. Meanwhile, Tariq advocates for the use of resources to reconstruct and deliver basic education to the region, not more military operations. Meanwhile on Pakistan’s eastern border, Tariq agrees with the Obama position that the United States can play a role in a solution to the Kashmir conflict, but the solution must give a level of autonomy to the Kashmiri people and thus avoid awarding power to either Pakistan or India. Tariq also explains that Pakistan was deeply divided on the news of Obama’s election victory between those who believe in Obama’s message of hope and change, and those who blame him for US military activity inside the country, remembering that it was Obama in 2007 that was the first major US politician to advocate for US attacks inside Pakistan.
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Make peace deal with Taliban now
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Tariq Amin-Khan. He’s a professor of political science at Ryerson University in Toronto, an expert on Pakistani politics. Thanks, Tariq. So in the first segment we talked about Obama’s appointment of Bruce Riedel as his advisor on Pakistan, and Riedel is proposing a solution which has to do with trying to broker a deal with India in Pakistan in Kashmir to free up Pakistani troops [inaudible] march up to the North-West Frontier Provinces [sic] and, I guess, have some mass action against the Taliban. So, as an alternative to this kind of mass-military approach, which certainly could end up in just a much bigger quagmire—not only that, as we discussed in the last segment, it’s highly unlikely the Pakistani military and soldiers would even want to do it. What can they do? Pakistan, as you say, it’s a social-political question that has a lot to do with money and reconstruction and education and investment in infrastructure. Right now the Pakistani economy is in meltdown, and the Americans are not far behind. What do you do in this situation? I must add, of course, the cost of a big military operation ain’t going to be cheap either, so it’s not like there isn’t going to be money thrown at this.
TARIQ AMIN-KHAN, PROF. POLITICAL SCIENCE, RYERSON UNIVERSITY: Right. I’ve been a firm believer that there isn’t a military solution to this given the terrain, given the history, given the natural resistance that the Pashtuns have had against occupiers and invaders. I would say it would be very, very difficult, no matter how much military might you put against them.
JAY: This whole discussion usually starts from the point of view of American national interests, or sometimes it gets posited from the point of view of Western national interests. But what about the interests of the Afghans, and particularly the Pakistanis, who live in the border areas? Why is there the growing influence of the Taliban? And how do local people, as you know, think of al-Qaeda? In theory, the real problem here is more al-Qaeda, from an American point of view, than the Taliban.
AMIN-KHAN: Right. For instance, you know, when the suicide attacks which were largely linked to the Taliban started, there was a lot of resentment amongst the Pakistanis. They were very, very upset with what was happening. The support for Taliban was decreasing. And this was a good opportunity for the government to do something in terms of trying to settle this. Of course, they used the military option. And what it did was then, you know, get the Talibans again to fight the Pakistani military as they are doing the NATO forces in Afghanistan. And what that has done is again removed the option of negotiations from the table. So the Pakistani government now says that, yes, they also recognize that there isn’t a military solution and they want to actually negotiate. But there’s really nothing being done. What can be done is, for instance, there has been a process historically there, in the tribal areas, where the elders actually come together with the jirga and try to settle these issues. But now the jirga is also getting—it’s legitimacy is also eroding, given that, you know, whatever grievance the jirga has made, there have been—.
JAY: But break this down a bit. In the most broadest terms, if the way I understand it, at any rate, the majority of people in the area want to live their lives according to their customs and culture.
JAY: There is a segment of more radical Islamists who not only want sharia law in that region—and I think there’s still a fight even in that region—but they want a Pakistani state that rules by sharia law, and certainly they want to return to an Afghan state that rules by sharia law. So if you take these two segments, where do you think the local people come down? And where—who has what kind of support?
AMIN-KHAN: I see. I don’t see a short-term solution. I think there will be a long-term solution. But in the short term, certain things can be put in place: an immediate reconstruction of that area has to begin; education has to really deepen; and genuine, you know, public education has to increase. Alongside, there has to be debates, open debates, within those communities, within the rest of Pakistan, about this whole issue of sharia. As I said, they are a social and a political force, and they need to be dealt with in that context. When there was a left in Pakistan, you didn’t see the rise of the Taliban or people like them; the radical Islamists were just not present. If they were, they were very, very small and [inaudible]
JAY: I think [inaudible] before the Afghan War, before 2001, I don’t think they ever got more than 3, 3.5 percent in Pakistani elections.
AMIN-KHAN: Yeah, about 8 percent was the maximum they ever got. So yes. And so people in Pakistan are not at all friendly to that kind of restrictive, you know, edicts that the Taliban [inaudible]
JAY: Talk about the reaction to the election of Barack Obama. Generally speaking, around the world, it was received with a lot of optimism, and there was a lot of celebrating, from Kenya to Europe and other places. But Pakistan—how did they react? Because Obama has been talking about unilateral attacks in Pakistani territory.
AMIN-KHAN: There was a lot of coverage in the Pakistani media about the elections and there was a lot of discussion. And I would say the country is divided. On the one hand, there are those who are supporters of the US, feel that this will be a change and hope, and all that rhetoric is there. On the other hand, there are people who do see that Obama is the first one who actually talked about attacking Pakistan, and, in fact, they link the drone attacks to what Obama said, because they didn’t begin until he started to speak about it. So they see Obama as a bigger threat or a bigger problem. But let me also say something to your earlier question, and this has to do with Kashmir, which is really the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. And I would say that there is a fairly simple solution about Kashmir which can be fairly quickly done, and that can be a roadway or that can be the path to actually then look at Afghanistan and the northern areas of Pakistan. And what can be done in Kashmir is that both India and Pakistan need to give autonomy, general autonomy, to both those regions and open the borders between the Indian-held Kashmir and the Pakistani-held Kashmir. And I think if that happens—and that’ll demilitarize the area on its own; there doesn’t need to be any force done on it. But this means that there has to be some resolve on both sides. I’m not sure whether that is there, but the US can help; the US can help in that.
JAY: So whether the militarization or increased military projection is a solution for the Afghan problem, you’d think there is some potential solution on the Kashmir side and there could be some progress there.
AMIN-KHAN: Absolutely. This really one way to go and, I think, a very important way to proceed. But the Taliban can also be dealt with. They are being hammered from all sides—you know, the US, the Pakistani forces. And I think they also want some kind of a negotiated settlement and a face-saving. And I think if that can be organized, they are willing. They are willing to come on the table now that, you know, so much force has been used.
JAY: From the point of view of the Pakistani press analysis, as best as one can make out, what is left of al-Qaeda in the region? They’re described as anywhere from remnants of al-Qaeda to a reorganized al-Qaeda. What do you get a sense of?
AMIN-KHAN: It’s difficult to say. I mean, I have very little information about that, so I won’t be able to comment. But I can say that the Taliban are very well organized, and I don’t know whether Taliban can be necessarily equated with al-Qaeda. They may support it, but I think they’re more regional and they’re more interested in implementing sharia in their part of that world. But I think they are now also willing to talk, which I think is a big, big shift. And I really think Obama should take advantage of something like that.
JAY: Well, after inauguration we’ll see if he does. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.