[I was interviewed by Farspress on the crisis in Pakistan. Here are my answers to their questions.]
Q- What do you see as the main reasons for spreading of Taliban influence in Pakistan, despite the U.S presence in Afghanistan (and Iraq) on the excuse that it was to suppress terrorists?
A. The U.S. presence is one of the main reasons for the spread of the Taliban influence. One must remember that the Taliban’s original dramatic rise in Afghanistan was due to the fact that it was perceived as the one group that could bring peace to people who had had their fill of endless war. Their popularity only began to decline after they had succeeded in establishing themselves and their harshness and divisiveness alienated the people that had welcomed them in the first place. They have gone into the sympathetic Northwestern provinces of Pakistan where they find cultural and ethnic affinity among the locals for whom their excesses are not yet as manifest as the violence of their American pursuers.Â The Pakistani government never had a complete hold on these provinces and their efforts at consolidating power have only eroded the influence of the traditional religious establishment, leaving the people exposed to the allure of the newly arrived extremists. The U.S. had just cause to make hot pursuit after terrorists, but not all Taliban are terrorists and not all the peoples of the provinces are Taliban, but drone bombersÂ are incapable of making such distinctions.
Q.- What would you offer to solve the Pakistan crisis?
A. I make no claim to expertise in quick solutions, nor am I convinced a quick one is even possible. However, it is clear that the Pakistan army needs to learn how to fight counter-insurgency, while itÂ has only prepared itself for battle with India. I suspect that their best tactic to buy time until they can develop an effective strategy for counter-insurgency is to grant the Northwest provinces a maximum of autonomy while using full force of arms against any and every attempt by the Taliban to impose themselves on neighboring provinces, such as their recent violation of the agreement regarding Swat. Pakistan has the power to slap down such incursions, as they have demonstrated, but they need more troops to secure the areas in order to let the civilian refugees return safely to their homes as quickly as possible. Otherwise they only prepare a wider area for Taliban intrusion. They should be willing to work with their own civil society institutions as well as with foreign NGOs to provide for the needs of the adversely affected populace during the crisis to prevent wider alienation. They must developÂ the discriminationÂ toÂ stand firm against terrorists and oppressive extremists, while tolerating or cooperating with those Taliban or other Islamists who have no connection to terrorism and do not wish to overturn local standards with any particular foreign sectarianism.
Q.- What do you think about Iran’s role and it’s affect on the crisis?
A. Because of its rivalry with Pakistan, I don’t think Iran can easily play a constructive role inside PakistanÂ in the short term. However, I think Iran must be included in the councils of any foreign powers in order that its unique perspective on the rights of the Shi`a inhabitants of Pakistan and the nuances of regional relationships may be fully appreciated. In the long-term Iran could play an important indirect role by doing everything it can now to improve its economic ties with Pakistan. I think the gas pipeline to India is an excellent opportunity in this regard. If Iran, Pakistan and India become better trading partners, the suspicions that they hold against one another may be reduced enough that other opportunities for engagement, both cultural and relating to peacekeeping could arise.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute