Pakistan is an important ally for the US in this region but the relationship is periodically fractured and mired in distrust. How has this changed for the worse? This downturn in relations needs to be arrested. Here basically the government has asked parliament to review relations because this has become an emotive issue and Pakistan is close to an election. After the Salala incident last year, the government said that all stakeholders should share responsibility for whatever policy is chalked out.
Any sensible ruling government would want normal relations with the US. It is not about receiving aid but we need American goodwill, especially when it comes to trade and economic matters. There are specific issues precipitated by events in 2011, the Raymond Davis case, Osama bin Laden and Salala. Some of these should have been anticipated and prevented like in the Davis case when CIA contractors were given visas and allowed to enter the country in large numbers. There was already the experience of Blackwater in Iraq in 2006. If CIA contractors were given visas by the foreign office, then this kind of incident was bound to happen because the Americans don’t always understand local culture. Where the OBL issue is concerned, the Americans also overreached in many ways and there was need for better sensitivity on their part. Then if you look at the history of drone attacks, these strikes escalated in 2010 compared to 2007-08. There was pressure from Pakistan that these strikes should be coordinated.
Drone attacks escalated with the Obama government despite Pakistan’s objections. Also intelligence sharing between both governments also continues.
The first drone attack targeted Nek Mohammad in 2004 in South Waziristan and he was more of a nuisance for us than the Americans. In 2010 these strikes escalated. There is controversy that a large number of people have been killed and very few were targets and so the net result was anger that feeds militancy rather than helping the situation.
After the recent parliamentary review on relations between the US and Pakistan, will drone attacks increase? There has been a considerable reduction and I don’t think there will be another escalation. We have every right to ask the US not to fly drones over Pakistani territory and that they respect our sovereignty. However, that also calls for certain responsibility on our part. That Pakistani territory must not be used for militant activities and if Pakistan fails to exercise that responsibility then we should expect an escalation of drone strikes or other forms of retaliation.
How vital will Pakistan remain to US interests in the region after the drawdown begins in Afghanistan? In the future, how will cross-border militancy be reduced at a time when Nato and Afghan forces end joint-operations? There is talk of a counterterrorism force based in Afghanistan on special bases but there’s a question mark about the Status of Force Agreement that will not be negotiated this year. These kinds of issues will be negotiated in 2013 because there is an election next year. So far there is no final agreement on how many US forces will stay back after 2014. There have been negotiations about night raids and Afghan prisons to be handed over to the government. What we expect next month at the Nato summit is firm commitment on funding Afghan security. So far there is indication that the US will certainly continue with substantial aid assistance. And we know the Afghan economy today is sustained by a war economy. There is broad thinking that the US cannot afford to walk away like they’ve done twice. The consequence of the first was 9/11 and of the second, the revival of the Taliban insurgency after the US was distracted with Iraq.
What scenario do you see for a post-Karzai term? Let’s not talk about the politics of the region because there are surprises. We are not talking about settled democratic institutions but conflict situations, fluid situations. So for anyone to give an answer to what could happen during the post-Karzai transition is difficult. Even if Karzai remained, my guess would be that economic assistance will continue.
In, Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity, you explain that backing the Afghan Taliban is not a viable option because it would threaten Pakistan’s internal security. How can we counter growing extremism and an overtly religious narrative in Pakistan?
If we talk about the local extremists, obscurantists, we have to deal with it as a society, as a country, as a people. And my thesis says there is an intellectual crisis. Today you will find educated people sympathising with the Taliban’s worldview and praising them.
Is this a new phenomenon? This kind of religious extremism has grown over a period of years. This crisis of thought and confusion is not just restricted to the Taliban and their sympathizers. Take the example of how madrassas have gained support. I have seen educated and progressive people who believe these are the best charitable institutions. Now the confusion in this kind of thinking, as I see it, is that you leave two and a half million of the country’s young people and children to these institutions and have no concept of what they study, how useful they will become as citizens after their studies and what they will adopt as professions if at all. Are they getting vocational training, studying the sciences and can they get into colleges after? Can they opt to become doctors, engineers after a madrassah education? Those who say that these are the best institutions are confused about contemporary challenges to a modern society. This pattern of thought has become more pronounced in society today permeating into public discourse on policy and politics.