Pakistanis, can live with a moderate settlement in Afghanistan which gives the Taliban a share of power, but not all power. They don’t want the Taliban to control Afghanistan completely, because then the Pakistanis do think that the Taliban might turn on them; they’d actually rather like to have Taliban power in Afghanistan balanced by other forces. Equally they don’t want those other forces to dominate Afghanistan because those other forces tend to be bitterly anti-Pakistani.
- To reduce radicalisation in Pakistan the best things the United States can do is get out of Afghanistan.
- My thesis is, you know, all the evidence to the contrary, Pakistan is actually somewhat more stable than it looks, which perhaps isn’t saying very much, but anyway.
- It’s also true that majority of ordinary Pakistanis do not support the extremists program in their country.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The fatal shooting of a teenager by paramilitary police is the latest in a string of controversies to dog Pakistan.
It’s just a month since the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, 2 kilometres from a military academy in Abbottabad. Some observers say Pakistan is bordering on becoming a failed state.
Anatol Lieven has been watching Pakistan for decades, and is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book is called “Pakistan: A Hard Country”. He’s been in Sydney as a guest of the United States Studies Centre.
Anatol Lieven has been watching Pakistan for decades.
I asked him what he thought about the suggestion that Pakistan may have been harbouring Osama bin Laden.
ANATOL LIEVEN: In Abbottabad itself, in January, Pakistani secret service arrested an Indonesian terrorist linked to Al Qaeda, who was allegedly one of the planners of the Bali bombings, his name was Umar Patek, and handed him over to the Indonesian Authorities.
So, it’s quite true that there has been major Pakistani help, in this area, as well as being very unhelpful in other areas. So that’s one side of things, you know, that Pakistan is an essential ally, still, when it comes to preventing terrorist attacks against the West. But the other thing, of course, is that America does depend on Pakistani routes to supply its forces and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) forces in Afghanistan.
Now, America could do without those supply routes, but that would mean cosying up to almost, well even nastier and equally problematic regimes in Central Asia, and also making major concessions to the Russians. So, you know, the problem is, at least as long as America remains in Afghanistan, America is tied to Pakistan in many ways.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Well how does the United States deal more effectively with Pakistan?
ANATOL LIEVEN: (Laughs) God if I knew that I’d be secretary of state today! (laughs). It has to be some mixture of carrots and sticks, but as far as, you know, reducing radicalisation in Pakistan the best things the United States can do is get out of Afghanistan.
I heard today, at this conference in Sydney, an American ex-official saying ‘we have to stay in Afghanistan’, you know, ‘in order to stabilise Pakistan’. That is 180 degrees the opposite of the truth. It is above all the American presence which is driving people to sympathise with the Taliban.
By that I’m not advocating a sort of a rapid and humiliating scuttle, but I do think that if America can put together, either a regime that works in Afghanistan, which doesn’t look too hopeful, or a peace settlement with the Taliban, the sooner that America can get out of there the better for Pakistan.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: It’s got to the point where the United States is starting to talk to the Taliban; for Pakistan what does that mean?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well the Pakistanis are very nervous when the Americans talk to the Taliban without them, because they obviously feel they ought to be there at the table, they have a vital stake in this. They don’t trust the Taliban an inch, by the way, and the Taliban don’t trust them; but on the other hand the Pakistanis have been sheltering the Taliban leadership all this time. But in the end what will really count for Pakistan is obviously what settlement, if any, emerges from this.
My own sense is that Pakistanis, you know, could live with a moderate settlement in Afghanistan which gives the Taliban a share of power, but not all power. They don’t want the Taliban to control Afghanistan completely, because then the Pakistanis do think that the Taliban might turn on them; they’d actually rather like to have Taliban power in Afghanistan balanced by other forces. Equally they don’t want those other forces to dominate Afghanistan because those other forces tend to be bitterly anti-Pakistani.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: On the subject of instability, what about Pakistan itself? Based on your travels recently and your time in Pakistan over time, how stable internally is Pakistan?
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well my thesis is, you know, all the evidence to the contrary, Pakistan is actually somewhat more stable than it looks, which perhaps isn’t saying very much, but anyway.
I was up, actually in March in the area of Swat, which the Pakistani extremists controlled until 2009, and the military has been able, really very effectively, to drive them out and to, you know, restore government authority in that area. It’s also true that the extremist program is simply not supported by a majority of ordinary Pakistanis.
So I think the chance of an actual revolution to overthrow the Pakistani state is a good deal less than many people have thought. However, there are two huge qualifications to that: the first is that, if God forbid another major terrorist attack on America, based in Pakistan, then the America response could be such that it would actually contribute to revolution in Pakistan and a split in the Pakistani army, a mutiny in order to fight America, basically.
The other thing is that, you know, this relative strength of the system, I think, only holds for the short to medium term, whereas in the longer term the economic, demographic, and perhaps above all, ecological problems of the country are such that to combat those you do need a much more efficient an honest Pakistani state, and it’s not easy to see how Pakistani society and the Pakistani elites, in their present form, can generate such a state.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Anatol Lieven, and you can hear an extended interview, in which we talk about the legacy of the British and why Pakistan’s complex legal system is driving rural Pakistanis towards Sharia law.
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