THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL OF THE UNITED STATES
PAKISTAN’S SURPRISING STABILITY
WELCOME AND MODERATOR:
DIRECTOR, SOUTH ASIA CENTER,
PROFESSOR AND CHAIRMAN, DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND TERRORISM STUDIES, KING’S COLLEGE LONDON
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2010
Federal News Service
SHUJA NAWAZ: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Shuja Nawaz. It’s good to see a lot of familiar faces. Thank you all for coming and thank you, in particular, to our speaker, Anatol Lieven, who has come all the way from London to share his thoughts with us on a rather interesting title: “Pakistan’s Surprising Stability.” I did warn him beforehand that in Washington, there would probably be some questions about just the title alone, but I’m sure that he has the answers.
As many of you who’ve followed Pakistan know, he’s been one of the, in my mind, better commentators on the situation on the ground, who has earned the respect of people even within Pakistan, which is often very difficult, because they see him actually spending time on the ground, which a lot of other hit-and-run commentators often don’t. And he is a chair of the international relations and terrorism studies at King’s College, London. He’s also a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
And importantly for us, as we await his new book – he has a new book coming out called “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” published by Penguin, that should be out this fall. Of course, he has an interesting background as a journalist working in South Asia and the former Soviet Union, has produced a number of books on the topic, as well as a great knowledge and understanding of the United States and U.S. policy and its role in the world.
He’s published at least two books that are worth mentioning “Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World,” which was coauthored with John Hulsman and published in 2006, and “America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism.” So without any further wastage of time, if I could as Anatol to speak for about 20 minutes, and then we’ll have a conversation after that.
ANATOL LIEVEN: Thank you so much, Shuja. Thank you for inviting me. It’s a great pleasure to be back in Washington again. I can’t resist this because I just saw it now. I thought I might show you – and this isn’t directed against the Nixon Center, a place I’m much attached to, with which I’ve done much work – and I don’t know who was actually responsible for the title, but there is something very revealing, a bit, about this title. And I wonder if anyone can tell me what’s wrong with it. It is entitled “Asia’s role in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.” What is wrong with this title?
Q: (Off mike.)
MR. LIEVEN: They are actually in Asia. The implication of this is that the Middle East and the Indian Ocean are situated in, shall we say, Central America, perhaps, or Canada, and that Asia is an outside force trying to play a role. Now, you’ll forgive me for pointing out, but this is a kind of mindset that I encountered rather often, no doubt in every imperial capital. It was probably exactly the same in London in the 19th century.
In fact, I know it was because a friend of mine was at a meeting of the British Conservative Party during the initial years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and this British MP trumpeted, the Russians have always been imperialists! Look at all the trouble they gave us in India – (laughter) – India being, you understand, a county of the United Kingdom, you know.
Anyway, this leads me to, perhaps, an obvious point, which I feel is often forgotten and shouldn’t be, which is that we are visitors in this region. We may have good reasons for being there; we may have bad reasons for being there, but we do not live there. We’re not going to stay there forever.
Sooner or later, we are going to get out, hopefully, obviously, leaving some measure of stability behind, hopefully having achieved some measure of success in our objectives. But we are going to get out. The countries of the region will, by definition, have to remain. We have to remember that. What happens in Afghanistan is a vital interest of Pakistan in a way that, even given 9/11 and so forth, it is not for the United States.
That leads to the second point, which is that it is not the duty of Pakistani officers or officials to serve the interests of the United States. We may advise them that it would be in the interest of their country to do so, but it is their duty to serve the interests of Pakistan, just as it is the duty of an Indian officer or a British officer to serve the interests of their country. And leaving side questions of personal advantage, they will make up their mind on policy according to what they think is in the interest of Pakistan, not the United States. It is their duty to do so.
A third point – well, I should say in passing, by the way, that although I bear the dreadful title of “chair of terrorism studies,” I actually try not to use it whenever I can possibly escape it because I find this way of thinking about the world – it can be extremely dangerous because it tends to reduce one’s view of other countries to one prism alone – that of the threat from terrorism. That in turn, I’m sorry to say, licenses a whole set of people to think and talk about parts of the world, which they have no actual qualifications for doing.
They do not know these parts of the world. They don’t understand them. They haven’t lived in them. Clearly, any understanding of that part of the world has to originate not from an outside view centered on terrorism – I mean, not, of course, that the terrorist threat is not real and that we must not structure policy around that – but in the end, the great majority of what happens inside Pakistan or, indeed, in other countries throughout the Muslim world, is not centered on terrorism and the extremist threat. It’s centered on a whole number of other things, which I shall touch on today.
Finally, by way of an introduction, but in the context of the war on terror, I think it is crucially important to remember that in terms of the terrorist and extremist threat to the region, to the United States and to the world, even if one is to regard this as a battlefield against terrorism, Afghanistan is, in itself, a relatively minor feature of that battlefield. It has only been elevated to what appears to be a center feature by the horrible, malignant, but one-off touch-word event of 9/11.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is a central feature of that battlefield. And the reasons for this have nothing to do with sentiment. I would to say they have to do with mathematics – population. Pakistan is six times as big, huge army, nuclear weapons. And in terms of the direct terrorist threat to the West, of course, most importantly of all – a very large diaspora, particularly in Britain, but also to a considerable extent in this country.
In other words, while very understandable, in terms of the fact that we are fighting a war in Afghanistan and we are under attack from forces partly – though only partly – based on Pakistani territory, the fact remains that to sacrifice Pakistan, essentially – Pakistani stability, or even to risk sacrificing Pakistan’s existence – for the sake of victory in Afghanistan, is to make a fundamentally false strategic calculation. It is to make a mistake analogous to, I don’t know, Napoleon deciding to throw his force obsessively at the castle of Hougoumont at Waterloo, and forget about Blucher on the other side coming up behind him.
Pakistan is the important issue – the really important issue – in that part of the world. It is also a permanent issue, which will remain of critical importance because of its size, because of its position, because of its relations with India, among other things, because of the Pakistani diaspora long after, in fact, we have withdrawn from Afghanistan.
And if Pakistan were to succumb – were either to collapse – well, to collapse as a state, to break up or to suffer an Islamist revolution, that would be a catastrophe for Western policy and for the region and for humanity, I would say, which would dwarf anything that could possibly happen – anything, any outcome that could possibly occur – in Afghanistan.
Now, fortunately – and as Shuja alluded to, this may be a controversial point – I am much less – I’m worried – but I’m much less pessimistic on the subject of Pakistan’s survival in the short-to-medium term, at least, by which I mean some decades, than a large part of the commentators and opinion and so forth in the West. That’s why I’ve called this talk “Pakistan’s Surprising Stability.”
And the central thesis of my book, which is, in many ways, of course, a rather depressing on – it even depresses me, to an extent – you know, if you want to sell newspapers or books or whoever, and I’m not going to tell you who I’m speaking about here, the best tactic is to write something which says – or books, newspapers, circus tickets, I don’t know, margaritas, perhaps – the best approach is to say, catastrophe is looming! We are on the verge of an abyss. And I have the magic solution, here in the bottle or glass or book, which will not just prevent a catastrophe, but which will lead to tremendous improvement and flowering.
Or to put it another way, Pakistan is on the verge of collapse, but if only one had a limited number of, you know, changes in policy, which I will now set out, Pakistan will become a successful democracy. The notion that there might be something a little contradictory between these two positions seriously does not occur to some of the people who put this line across, partly because, as I say, it sells books and things.
My own view is that the present overall state, political and economic setup in Pakistan is guaranteed, by immensely deeply embedded, innate – stemming from the depths of society and tradition itself – powerful and interlinked forces of kinship, property owning and political power, which operate, to a very considerable extent, under both civilian and military governments, and which operate whichever of the main political parties are in power, either at the national or the provincial level.
And one should not, in my view, be misled, therefore, by the picture of the apparent volatility of Pakistani politics and changes of government. If you actually look at the way the country is governed and conducts itself and carries on, the changes at ground level are often surprisingly slight – in fact, usually surprisingly slight. The problem is that these same forces of embedded kinship, property and patronage, which they extract from the state and then redistribute to themselves, are also, to a very great extent, the forces responsible for impeding progress and development in Pakistan.
In my book, I used the phrase “Janus-faced” so often that my editor tells me that he actually went through it with the “find” button looking for the word “Janus” and cutting it out. But you see what I mean. On the one hand, this holds Pakistan together. It holds the Taliban in check. It holds Islamist revolution in check. These forces have a deep stake in preventing the overthrow of the system by Islamist revolution. But on the other hand, clearly this is not a political setup. And once again, it’s something that operates under both civilian and military governments, which is going to transform the country economically and develop it.
That leads to the inability to do much, it would seem, about what, in my view – and I wrote this in the book before this summer – is by far the greatest long-term existential threat to the existence of Pakistan, which is not extremism or terrorism. It’s water. If people are really interested in Pakistan, they should read the World Bank report of 2004 and the updated version, which came out in 2008 – very prophetic, in many ways, it looks predicting, as the Himalayan glaciers melt, catastrophic floods in the short-to-medium term, followed by even more disastrous droughts in the long run.
And I hasten to add, this is not predicated on the absurd line that the glacier’s going to melt completely by 2035 or whatever; you’re looking at a much longer process, but one which still, unless something very radical can be done to improve the country’s water infrastructure and water conservation and water management, threatens absolute disaster in the long run. And although I won’t go into that in great detail here, that is, in my view, what Western aid to Pakistan should be concentrated on above all.
So I mean, as far as the threat of Islamist revolution within Pakistan is concerned, this, in my view, has been greatly exaggerated. It’s very important, from this point of view, to distinguish between terrorism and insurgency, something to which I have to say, you know, as somebody who is often asked by the media to comment, the media often misses. There is a tendency, every time there is another major terrorist attack in Pakistan, to regard this as, in some way, aversion of what had happened in FATA in the tribal areas, in Swat and so forth, which is that it is a sign of the Taliban taking over. It isn’t.
To the best of my knowledge, terrorism alone, or even chiefly, has never succeeded in overthrowing a state. It can even, actually, strengthen a state because of course, it gives the state – it can turn public opinion against the opposition or the terrorists or the revolutionaries, and it can also give the state a moral license to become very much more savage and ruthless in response.
If you want to overthrow a state, you need some combination of three things – one or two or even three: either an insurgency which overruns more and more of the countryside and smaller towns, which the Taliban did succeed in doing in much of FATA, and then extending outside, briefly, to Swat, a mass movement on the streets of the cities, as is Iran in the late ’70s, or a mutiny of the army – a revolutionary movement within the army. This is a point to which I’ll return. Now so far, the first has only occurred in the tribal areas and some of the other Pashtun areas of Pakistan.
It is worth remembering – and this isn’t – I mean, it sounds radical, but the prime minister of India and the interior minister have acknowledged this themselves – that a far greater portion of India is controlled by the Naxalite-Maoist rebels than the Pakistani Taliban controlled of Pakistan at their height. We haven’t noticed, of course, because the Naxalites haven’t directly attacked Western targets and also, in pursuit of what seems to be a very formal, classic Maoist strategy, they’re building up their bases in the countryside before actually moving on the cities.
Nonetheless, I mean, nobody thinks that the Indian state is close to collapse about this, but nonetheless, there is a very extensive insurgency there. In Pakistan, the insurgency has been confined to areas where my British ancestors on my mother’s side fought rebellion after rebellion for 100 years, from the 1840s to the 1940s, without, except on very rare occasions, thinking that this was going to lead to the overthrow of British rule in the plains of Punjab, let alone Delhi or Calcutta. So this is still fairly restricted.
The terrorism, of course, is now occurring across much of the country, and will doubtless continue to do so. As far as mass movements on the streets of the cities are concerned – sort of overthrow of the state from within – one must remember, again – I mean, this is becoming a cliché, but it’s nonetheless true – that there is something absolutely astonishing about political Islamism in Pakistan, which is this: Pakistan has the oldest – I mean, deeply troubled and intermittent, of course – but I think I’m right in saying pretty much the oldest tradition of democratic democracy and elections which have taken place even under military rule in much of the Muslim world, with rare exceptions.
Pakistan has among the oldest and most intellectually powerful tradition of political Islam in the Muslim world – Maududi and the Jamaat – and Pakistan is very, very poor. Many people are obviously deeply impoverished and permanently discontented with their government. Indeed, I must – many people have said that, you know, given the quality of government in Pakistan, you would have to be insane not to be permanently discontented with it. And yet, Pakistan has one of the weakest Islamist political movements, in terms of mass support, in the Muslim world, at least anywhere where there is any opportunity for mass mobilization.
Weaker than in Turkey, obviously; weaker than in Algeria, where they actually won an election until we backed the army to get rid of them again; almost certainly weaker than in Egypt, if truly free elections were allowed; Iran, of course, well, that’s a somewhat separate issue, being Shia. But isn’t that remarkable, how weak they are, really? Rather surprising. And in my view – and I won’t go into great detail about this – but this is largely, once again, to do with the fact that the Pakistani political system is structured around patronage.
The political system, but much of the actual wealth of the country, consists of extracting money from the state and recycling it to your political followers or, of course, extracting money from the state and spending it on the military and recycling it within the military. And I mean, that’s one set of things.
The other set of things, which is critically important, is that the Islamists are, to a considerable extent, culturally alien to much of Pakistan. Their brand of modernist Islam is not the Islam followed by the mass of the Pakistani population. That, in turn, reflects a – now, that could change, over time, but it seems to be changing very, very slowly
The rather – how shall I describe it? How would you – sorry, that’s a very unfair question. I was going to ask how one would describe Nawaz Sharif’s attitude to Islam – certainly highly respectful, and they do many things in the name of Islam. But without wishing to be offensive, I think it would be fair to say that their attitude to certain of the precepts of Islam, into which I will not go too deeply, is, shall we say, fairly relaxed and genial.
Now, why hasn’t this cost them, you know, politically and so? Well, one is, they are embedded in the patronage structures. But the second is, hey, this is how the bulk of Punjabi males regard their religion, you know? They are not rigorous, severe Islamists. And finally, on the subject of revolution in Pakistan, there’s something that a friend of mine who works for a Norwegian company in Lahore said to me a couple of years ago.
He said, look, if I could come up with or were given by god the most obviously brilliant program for saving Pakistan that could possibly be imagined – something which nobody could conceivably argue intellectually – obviously brilliant and acceptable – and I jumped up on a box and I started preaching this, what would happen? Well, first, all the other provinces would say, we’re not going to follow this; he’s a Punjabi. Then all the other Punjabis would say, we’re not going to follow this because he’s a Jat.
Then most of the Jats would say, first, we’re not going to follow him because he follows this particular shrine and we don’t; we follow another shrine. And then they’d say, well, we can’t follow him, because he comes from this baradari – this sub-thing of the Jat. Then in his own baradari, they’d say, we can’t follow him because he comes from this village. So we get down to village level. Then most of the village would say we can’t follow him because his grandfather and my uncle had a fight over land 100 years go or 50 years or 10 years ago or whatever.
So he said in the end, this wonderful revolutionary program would be followed by my extended family. And he said, if you know my extended family, you couldn’t be sure even of that. So you see what I mean. The country is actually too divided to accept a united revolutionary program. If, god forbid, Pakistan were to fall to pieces, the result would not be a successful, united Islamist revolution, as in the Iranian style. It would, in fact, be the fragmentation of the country amidst appalling ethnic and ethno-religious civil war. Now, is it going to fragment? Well, I think the answer there comes down, in the end, first, to all the things that I’ve said.
And when I say that Pakistan is so divided, these very divisions also cause an element of balance. Take Karachi and Sindh. You know, there is a lot of hatred there – ethnic hatred – between the various ethnic groups, and the most important being, of course, between the Muhajirs – the Urdu speakers of Karachi – and the Sindhis. Equally, you do not have to be a great genius to see, if you’re a Sindhi or a Muhajir, that if either of them goes for broke, the result will be a catastrophe that destroys them both.
Now, if you are an impoverished laborer, you may not care. But if you’re a big landowner or a businessman or anyone with a stake in that society, you know, as this Muhajir politician said to me one time, I could never, ever, ever say this publicly, but I’m tempted, from time to time, to kiss the rangers – the Pakistani rangers who prevent things in that city from getting out of hand.
So there is a Hapsburg aspect to this. You know, you keep the Hungarians and the Slovaks in line because they hate each other more than they hate you, if you see what I mean. The second thing that this quote about kissing the ranger – something which, by the way, I don’t advise as a strategy; I think that it might bewilder them – brings out is that the army is critical to ultimately maintaining the survival of the country and cracking down.
And I think what the past couple of years have shown is that if the army comes to see a real threat to the country, to the government, to the state, and therefore, to itself, it will, in the end, react and react successfully – perhaps belatedly. One could well say that they took a hell of a lot of time to react to the Taliban’s increasing takeover of Swat and so forth, but when they did react, they reacted very toughly indeed. I was up there in Swat last summer. And they did indeed drive them back, and they’ve driven them out of other areas, as well. I think that they will continue to do so.
Will the army split and collapse from within? Will there be this nightmare scenario that is so often raised about Islamist revolt within the army? In my view, no, except in one scenario, with which I will end. Why no? For three reasons. The first is that the army is a profoundly shaping cultural force. I’m sitting next to the man who has written one of the very best books on the Pakistani military. The notion of loyalty and discipline is very deeply ingrained. It is held in place by, by Pakistani standards, enormous amounts of money extracted by the state and spent on the military – and on the soldiers; you know, not stolen by the generals.
There is an acute awareness in the military, that if there were a mutiny from within the military, which would split the military, it would destroy all that. It would destroy the country and the army along with it. And that brings me to this third point, which is that if that happened, who, in the view of the Pakistani military, would walk in? Well, it would be the Indians. The Indians would benefit from that. And in any case, it would destroy Pakistan.
What are the circumstances in which a large part of the army might mutiny? In my view, and from what I’ve heard in Pakistan, there is really only one. And that is if the United States were to move into Pakistan on the ground – were to invade and try to occupy, for some considerable passage of time, FATA, for example, or Northern Baluchistan, or even, god forbid, go further.
Because what I’ve been told by everybody from privates to a lieutenant general is that there is a very strong likelihood, at that point, of the Frontier Corps, at least, mutinying – or, rather, two things happening: One is, the army decides to fight – to actually order the army to fight against the Americans. Well, then we are in rather apocalyptic territory, to put it mildly. Or, of course, the army high command says don’t fight, and then part of the army mutiny in order to fight.
And one of the ways in which it was phrased to me was this: The rank and file don’t like the drone attacks. The mass of the population in Pakistan don’t like the drone attacks. ¬The army goes along with them partly because it has no choice, partly because, actually, these drone attacks also quite often get people who we want to get, you know, who are fighting against us.
But there is also the point that the javan (ph) – the ordinary soldier – can’t do anything about the drone attacks but fire his gun in the air if he sees a drone. If you want to stop the drone attacks, you have to – you know, that has to be a decision of the high command to loose the air force on them, and that’s not going to happen.
You have American soldiers on the ground, there is something the ordinary Pakistani soldier can do – fight. And he is expected to fight by his wife, his mother, his sister back in the village. If he doesn’t, when he goes back to his village, they will call him a coward and a traitor to Islam. And he couldn’t bear that. It would hit him in his deepest feelings.
So I would end by making this point very strongly – and it’s not a hypothetical point because of course, there is, god forbid, always the enduring possibility of another terrorist attack on America, which can be traced back to Pakistan. And I’ve heard many disquieting suggestions that, at that point, an American administration might be jockeyed into something like this. It would be an appalling paradox if, after all this, in my view, very hysterical talk, very often, in the U.S. media and politics about the fragility of Pakistan, Pakistan as a failing state, Pakistan as going to collapse if, in the end, what caused Pakistan to collapse would be an American action.
Because you know, I’ve talked about the stability of Pakistan, the surprising stability, resilience, endurance and so forth, but believe me, if there were ever a serious, open mutiny in the army, then the country would very, very likely begin to go downhill towards disintegration with extreme speed because then you would get every malcontent in the country, which would tend to rally to the mutineers. And that, once again, would be a catastrophe for the United States and the world, which would dwarf anything that can happen in Afghanistan. Thank you.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Anatol. I think there’s – (applause) – there’s a tremendous amount of information and knowledge captured in the very brief introductory comments. Obviously, we’re going to have to read the book to get all the details.
MR. LIEVEN: And unlike my students, you can all afford to buy it. (Laughter.)
MR. NAWAZ: Yes. Obviously, I would have a lot of questions myself, but given the audience, I’m only going to ask one question and then open it up to the floor. So when I do, I would request you please wait for the microphone, identify yourself and then speak, so that we can capture this and maybe have a transcript for those that couldn’t make it, as well as for all our own use. My one question, Anatol, is, you talked about water, and that’s obviously a very serious threat. It’s no longer over the horizon; it’s on the horizon.
A very related issue is demography because Pakistan’s population profile is such, you know, with a median age of 18, a fertility rate that is still among the highest in the developing countries and in the region, in particular, in South Asia, and because of the fact, as you’ve mentioned, that you can’t take Pakistan out of its geography. So where do you see the demographic shift within Pakistan affecting domestic politics, as well as its external relationships in the region?
MR. LIEVEN: Yeah, well, I mean, clearly, it’s the combination of these two things. It is, you know to put it at its harshest, the possibility that by the last years of this century, we’ll have a situation in which 250 million people live in a place much of which is as dry as the Sahara Desert. And that is not a hypothetical possibility, given what’s happening to the water table in various areas.
What you do on the demographic side, I mean – and you know, in turn, of course, exacerbating every internal tension – ethnic tension between the different provinces and different areas. You can already see this happening. The problem is what you do on the demographic front. I mean, I just don’t know. I mean, we all know the theoretical answers in principle, in terms of spreading women’s education and so forth. And the consequences of that, in terms of reducing the birthrate, do seem to be very well-established around the world.
But I mean, that – and everybody knows this – but how, in practice, to do this on the ground in Pakistan – I mean, that’s summed up – I’m sorry, this is terribly cynical of me, but somebody was saying to me the other day that 9,000 schools have been washed away as a result of the floods in Pakistan.
And I have to say that, to judge by my observations and anecdotal evidence around the country, a good third of those might have been built as schools, or maybe the money had been taken to build them as schools, but they were, in fact, being used by local landowning politicians, you know, to keep their cows in, or something of the sort. Or they’d been built and the teacher had never been appointed or the teacher was drawing the salary, you know, because he was the cousin of the politician and, you know, et cetera, et cetera.
I mean, once again, you’re dealing here with the deeply ingrained factors obstructing aspects of development. But on the water side, of course, I’m slightly more opti – well, no, I mean, put it this way: I could see how it could be done, all the obstacles notwithstanding. And what gives me some optimism there if, you know, the funds can be provided and structures can be put in place, is two things from Pakistani history. The first is the fact that in the years after independence, the Pakistani state had a really remarkable and striking success in extending the water infrastructure that it had inherited from the British.
Now, of course, Pakistan today is a different state. The idealism of the initial years has run out. The civil service, unfortunately, has deteriorated. But nonetheless, I mean, it does show that there isn’t some, you know, innate obstacle to a state-led program radically to improve the water infrastructure. When it comes to water use, I mean, this will be very, very difficult. And my god, I saw, when traveling around the country, enough dreadful examples of the waste of water.
But they certainly didn’t just sit there saying, ooh, this is new. What? Fertilizer in a bag? No, no, no, we’re not going to have anything to do with this. Let’s throw it into the river. No, you know, they saw an opportunity; they took it. It does seem, to me, possible, therefore – only possible, in principle – that one might be able to put in place, especially, of course, as the water visibly runs out in front of their eyes, to put in place a set of incentives and so on which will lead to the better use of water and water conservation – something which, after all, does have deep, ancient cultural roots in much of this society, you know, in terms of – you know, it’s not an alien idea. Very, very difficult, but not, in my view, impossible.
And as I say, this is what I would dump – both because you know, it’s so critical and because it provides visible benefits for large numbers of people and because it employs large numbers of people – it is very labor-intensive, working on water infrastructure – this is where I would be directing much of Western aid.
And incidentally, I do have to also say, and here, we are talking about a long-term issue, as far as Pakistan is concerned, but also India and the region, in terms o the long-term consequences of Pakistani collapse, which, once again, dwarfs what happens in Afghanistan. I would not make aid of this kind to Pakistan dependent on what happens in Afghanistan. I would give the stuff anyway. One reason for that is – now, I’m speaking, here, as a historian, but you know, hell, that’s why we distinguish between statesmen and politicians.
A statesman, in my view, is somebody who can look 100 years into the future and see that Pakistan will be gravely endangered as a society and, unless there is some miracle or Pakistan has collapsed already for other reasons, Pakistan will still have nuclear weapons. And 100 years from now, therefore, what happens to Pakistan will still have some capacity to pose a really radical threat to the United States – 100 years from now, you know. I mean, this goes beyond what happens in Kandahar in the next six months.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. Okay, we’ll open it up. So let’s go here and then right behind – Bob?
Q: Thank you. I’m Robert Bauds (ph). I teach at the National Defense University, which is located here. Thank you for some really provocative comments, but I must confess, I think I’m less optimistic than you are, water notwithstanding. Without going into too much detail, I’ve seen two trends in Pakistan which I think could be very dangerous.
One is that, kind of, the center of gravity, if you will, of the political culture is moving slowly, but maybe inexorably, in a more hard-line, more sort of radical, Islamist direction, number one. And number two, it seems to me that there are certain elements within the political establishment, going from the Jamaat, maybe the PMLN and certain elements within the growing bourgeoisie, who are ideologically sympathetic to and who actually patronize religious militants.
And what I am worried about is that even though the military seems to have mobilized itself against insurgents in the tribal areas, that before they know it, the insurgent elements or radical elements will have, sort of, metastasized through Pakistan. Southern people now talk about southern Punjab and so forth.
And I’m not sure when exactly, but in the not too distant future, you could have a situation like Algeria, that is not a revolution, but it pits the military against well-entrenched militant organizations inside the country, whether they’re in the mountain areas or in the urban areas, and that poor Pakistan would have to go through, kind of, what Algeria did – this horrible bloodletting for years – before they could really stamp it out.
But I see right now – I mean, you mentioned yourself that the military was very slow in responding to a growing problem when it was on the border, but now I think it’s my perception it’s sort of spreading through the heart of the country, as well. I mean, how would you react to that?
MR. LIEVEN: Well, there’s always been – I mean, first, I don’t, I must say, see the center of gravity shifting towards more radical Islamism. I mean, the PMLN has always presented itself as an Islamist party. But equally, I mean, by its very internal nature, it is not a revolutionary party. It is also backed by the industrial classes in Punjab, who are, in turn, extremely well-aware of what would happen to them and their businesses if there were a categorical break with the United States and the West.
In terms of pursuing, shall we say, an extremely ambiguous attitude towards extremist groups, well, here, you can sort of break it down in different ways. First, as far as groups acting against India is concerned, yes, they have enormous sympathy throughout at least Punjabi society, probably other areas, as well. Nobody wants to abolish them or crack down on them. The military wants to keep them on the shelf.
The military is willing to rein them in. We can see that, you know – and prevent them from taking action. But nobody is willing to actually go out and crush or abolish Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jamaat-ud-Dawa (sp), and so forth. Keep them on the shelf. Oh, and incidentally, they’re also not at all willing to prevent their activists going to fight in Afghanistan against us.
However, terrorism against the West – here, I think, it is also worth remember that you know, I’ve said that we won’t be in Afghanistan forever, whereas Pakistan will be around there, as will Russia and China and India and so forth – it’s also worth remembering we won’t be in Afghanistan, but we will be in Washington, London, et cetera, et cetera. In other words, let’s remember that we didn’t get into Afghanistan for any other reason, initially, than that Afghanistan had been the base for an attack on the United States.
From the point of view of the safety of American citizens, what matters first and foremost is that the Pakistani state continue to cooperate against terrorism against us, against this country. That, they have done by no means perfectly, but nonetheless, according to British intelligence, at least, very well and pretty sincerely so far. So that’s the second thing. The third thing is the history of sectarian terrorism within Pakistan. This has been a very, very mixed picture.
The PLMN, as, on occasions, previously, bits of it are now seeking, at the very least, détente and coexistence with Sipah-e-Sahaba, you know, appearing beside them. Equally, some of the most savage crackdowns on Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the past have been conducted by PLMN governments, while the PPP, on occasions while in power, has sought to buy these people off and live with them, and so forth.
You see, well, two things here. One of the working titles of my book, but it sounded much too academic for Penguin, was “Pakistan: The Negotiated State.” And I’ll give you the sort of classic example of this. A general who was in charge of anti-bandit, anti-dacoit operations in Sindh told me a little story about when he was down there some considerable time ago, now. And incidentally, I was actually present, listening to one end of a telephone conversation along very similar lines last year.
And he described to me how one of his major generals had identified the base of a considerable dacoit group on the estate of a major landowner in Sindh, who happened, not coincidentally, to be a member of parliament for the then-ruling party. The major general wanted to go in guns blazing, get these people and so forth, and so on. The lieutenant general said, no, no, wouldn’t do it that way.
I mean, it’s not going to do any good. The government will force you to let them go anyway. Let’s do it my way. Flew in by helicopter, had launch with the sardar in question. Very convivial, a couple of fairly heavy hints were dropped. Anyway, left a note for the sardar saying, sardar sabah (sp), you know, I’d be very, very grateful if you could oblige me in this matter.
A couple of days later, four of the dacoits were handed over by this man with a note in response: General Sabah, it was so nice to see you the other day. As to these boys, you can shoot two of them. The other two, I would be greatly obliged if you would put before the courts. And the implication is, you can go beat the shit out of them – forgive me – along the way, and then they’ll ultimately be released. But you can shoot two of them. And I said, did he say which two? And he said, yes, yes, he said which two. You know, they’d obviously offended him in some way or whatever, whatever. Negotiation, he said.
This is how it works. In other words, you know, the idea that you’re going to get a blanket crackdown on Islamist groups in Pakistan is not going to happen. Equally, just because you don’t have a blanket crackdown doesn’t mean that, you know, action isn’t being taken to restrict them. Now, as for the possibility of a wider insurgency, the danger is there. And I should have said, I don’t discount that altogether.
And also, I must say, we do have to see what legacy the floods leave behind. I’m going back there in the winter. I don’t want to rush in there because – forgive me while I turn this off – but on that score, I must also point out, you know, there’s been a lot of apocalyptic writing about the impact of the floods, as well.
How many times has Bangladesh suffered natural catastrophes on an even large scale over the decades and yet, these have had, it would seem, almost no effect on Bangladesh’s society, political order, political parties, system of government at all? There is an extraordinary level of resilience, I find, often, in these societies. Now, maybe not; you could be right. Perhaps this is going to lead to the spread of really revolutionary and insurgent feeling through the countryside, maybe.
But you know, I don’t actually see, as yet, you know, really clear evidence that this is happening. But you know, god forbid, you may be right. We’ll have to see, you know. But it hasn’t happened yet, remember, and we’re not nine years since 9/11. And you know, Pakistan’s been around, now, for 60 years, 63.
MR. NAWAZ: Well, there was a question, as we move to the next question – but there was the issue of the cyclone in 1970 that certainly began the process of the dismemberment of Pakistan.
MR. LIEVEN: Mm-hmm, but I have to say on that score – please don’t take offense – but looking historically, I cannot see how a country configured like that could have survived in the long run anyway. You know, Pakistan today is a much greater natural ethnic, historical – you know?
MR. NAWAZ: Please introduce yourself, sir. It’s on.
Q: (Inaudible, off mike) – the Eliot School. Just a comment. I mean, I’ve been going back to Pakistan every year, because my family’s still there, for the past 16 years, and there is a sense of victimization of the general population that the West and the army and the politicians. And it has turned into just, sort of, complaining about it to a seething anger. And that anger, in an urbanized country, could lead to, sort of, a cascading effect that nobody, I think, can predict.
And then – that was just a comment and then, you know, the issue of water is very much related to availability of food. It’s related to the quality of the land, energy. Transportation is linked to that because of urban-rural migration patterns. So these things are interlinked. And I think generally, institutions in the West, as well as in Pakistan, are established to deal with single problems. And these are a multitude of problems, and you never know which one could, you know – combination of these could cause the state to fail. So my first question is, do you think that’s a valid argument/discussion, and what could be done about it?
The second question is, with army controlling most of the resources and basically oriented for a physical fight, do you see that they sense this mid-to-long-term threat to Pakistan, and if they’re willing to do something about that? Thank you very much.
MR. LIEVEN: Yeah. Well, on the first point, you know, to some extent, I’m arguing against apocalyptic lines and perhaps I exaggerate a little for effect. Yes, there is the possibility along the lines that you describe. Getting this together to the point where it could actually overthrow the state, you know, as opposed to spontaneous, sporadic local eruptions of anger would, nonetheless, in my view, be very difficult, in terms of organization leadership.
But the possibility is there. And certainly, I mean, once again, that’s another reason for America to be careful in its policy because one could easily see how an American action could spark this kind of eruption of mass anger. On the – sorry?
Q: The issues of water –
MR. LIEVEN: Oh, yes. Well, you’re quite right, of course. It is hideously entangled. But nonetheless, you know, there are a lot of good ideas out there for where to begin, in terms of cutting down on the wastage, relining the canals, relaying the pipes, you know, so that they leak less, spreading drip feed. I mean, it’s a slow process, but least technically, the answers are available.
Getting them through, of course, once again, given the nature of the state, the weakness of the state, will be hard. As far as the army is concerned, well, you know, that brings one to one of the sort of fundamental paradoxes about Pakistan and the army, which is, many people said to me, within Pakistan, the army is either too weak or it’s too strong.
It’s too strong because it keeps intervening and overthrowing governments and preventing the politicians developing a real sense of responsibility and so forth and so on, although, you know, for the moment, I mean, you know, they’re concentrating on the fight against the TTP and the others, and they’re not actually threatening to overthrow the government, for the moment.
And indeed, the other thing is, there has been a certain change of consciousness in the political parties, or at least, in the PLMN, because of course, they don’t want to come to power on the shoulders of the army. They are actually waiting. They also don’t want to take responsibility for this existing disaster, of course. So it’s not the thing of the 1990s, where the party in opposition was, you know, desperately, constantly trying to seize power again, in league with the army.
But on the other hand, you know, you often hear that the army is also too weak. When it takes power, it doesn’t, even under Zia, introduce a really tough dictatorship. It doesn’t make plans for really long-term development. It doesn’t, in fact, function, in other words, as the Turkish army under Ataturk and his successors, and that comes partly down, once again, to the nature of the country. For that, it’s not a question of just men with guns; it’s also a question of an army backed by a nationalist movement, a nationalist consciousness. And that can’t exist in a country like Pakistan because after all, it isn’t a nation. It’s something else, whatever it is. So you know, no, unfortunately, I don’t see that.
Sorry, this is all very politically incorrect, but what the hell. A Pakistani businessman – because I was talking about the Fauji Foundation – you know, the military-industrial thing. And I asked him, you know, one of the arguments that’s been made about the Fauji Foundation is that it distorts the free market and it’s unfair to business. And he said, no, we don’t really worry about that. It’s, you know, them competing with us.
They’re not big enough, really, to distort the market. ON the contrary, he said, what would be really good is if, instead of retired soldiers becoming the head of the Fauji Foundation, it should be absolute qualification – a criterion for every person who’s going to become chief of staff – that he should have served as the head of the Fauji Foundation. Because then, he said, the next time we have a military government, at least we’ll be economically literate. Sorry. (Chuckles.)
MR. NAWAZ: Ambassador Milam.
Q: Bill Milam from the Wilson Center. I want to go back, if I may, to your comparison with Bangladesh. And this, perhaps, follows up a little bit on the questions of the gentleman who sat here a minute ago. I’ve lived in both countries. I was in Bangladesh when it had one of its worst natural disasters, when somewhere between 65,000 and 130,000 people died in a tidal surge of some proportion.
The distinction I would draw to your attention is, these things pull Bangladeshis together, which is unusual, because it’s a very fractious kind of society, though homogenous. And it’s strange that it is so fractious, in one sense. But on the other hand, when something really bad happens, they do pull together.
Now in the floods that have just happened in Pakistan, the stories are not of people pulling together, but of people pulling apart. And I just wonder if – you know, I’ve seen some reporting about some of the – (inaudible, background noise) – opening dikes the wrong way, flooding other people’s property. I don’t know how accurate that is. But I just wonder if these floods don’t increase the odds, not necessarily to really high or even over 50 percent, but are not the odds of some sort of social-political dissolution made more likely by the floods? It’s my black swan theory coming back to haunt.
The other question I want to ask while I’ve got the microphone is that if there was some sort of pulling apart of the country by province, we saw what happened in 1971, when east Pakistan tried to pull away. And by the way, I don’t agree with Shuja. I think the dissolution of what we call united Pakistan started in 1951, not 1969. But whatever. Would the army not react in the same way by trying to crush some sort of separatism in these provinces? And isn’t that an apocalyptic outcome, too?
MR. LIEVEN: On the first point, sir, you’re entirely right, of course, and what I should have said was that if, as is, after all – you know, once again, as the World Bank reports suggests – I mean, they were talking about the medium term, but hell, maybe we’re in the medium term already – if these floods become a regular occurrence, then yes, I think they do have the capacity, you know, before even the terrible droughts set in, to destroy the country, possibly not in terms of a sudden apocalypse, but in terms of what you were referring to – the exacerbation of every kind of local strain and conflict, to the point where, in a way, organized society begins to unravel.
I mean, I’ve just been reading a book about the great Arab conquests, and the striking thing is that before they arrived – and this, indeed, enabled the Arab conquests to take place with such extraordinary speed – local Roman and Byzantine society had, to a considerable extent, unraveled. You know, the countryside was depopulated; the towns were collapsing, you know, because of the collapse of – well, anyway, you see what I mean. A longer process, but yes, I think that’s very true.
In terms of the disintegration of the country along provincial lines, well, you see there, I would see this as probably only being possible if the army itself had already broken up. And then you’re in circumstances, of course, of episodes of savage repression, but also, full-scale civil war. The possibility of a Bangladeshi-style, savage crackdown, as long as the army remains coherent, well, once again, I mean, before you get to that point, say in Sindh, which appears to be the most likely candidate, you know, you have de facto civil war between the Sindhis and the Muhajirs.
At that point, the army appears not as the sort of savage, you know, persecutor of society as a whole, but as the savior, in many ways. You know, and you have moderate Muhajirs and Sindhis saying for god’s sake, please come in and save us, you know. And then they don’t need to massacre large numbers of people, you know. They restore order. Elsewhere, well, I mean, remember, most of Pakistan is Punjab, and that’s why what you said, sir, about the possibility of an insurgency in Punjab is ultimately the death blow, if it happens.
And what one has to be worried about elsewhere, it’s mostly the army retains the capacity, in the end, to defeat local insurgency, as its proved in the Pashtun areas. But also, of course, well, a friend was telling me a story about his uncle, who is an ANP friend, actually. He was saying, you know, we still talk about, you know, the “Pashtunistan” and so on, but actually, nobody in their senses wants to join Afghanistan for god’s sake. And he described this uncle of his who, in private, had been describing the Afghans as savages and, you know, we don’t want anything to do with them.
But uncle, how can you say this? You know, you’re an ANP man all these years; you’ve been saying our Afghan brothers. Oh, forget that. That’s just to frighten the Punjabis so that they don’t beat us up, you know. And it’s a bit the same in Baluchistan, as well. Describing my book, visiting this guy who talked this tremendous Baluch nationalist line, ferocious Baluch nationalist line, he turned out to have just reaccepted a position as one of the directors of Pakistani Petroleum.
You know, the Baluch provincial assembly is, of course, dominated by parties calling themselves nationalists. Sixty-two (62) out of the 65 members are ministers, at least to the last of my count, are ministers without portfolio or advisors without ministerial rank. Why? Well, without wishing to impugn any of their motives, I would suggest that it may not be totally unconnected with the fact that each of them gets a 50 million rupee personal development grant for their districts, you know.
It’s frankly, it’s basically the old British “subsidize the tribes” line, except we handed out bags of gold and Pakistan hands out – but the point is, do these people really want to give up their personal development grants in order to join a full-scale insurgency which would turn Baluchistan into Somalia?
I have to say, as well, that the three who are not, at least the last time I counted, the last time I was there, the three who are not members of the government, it’s not out of principle. It’s the fact that two of them are dead, which is an obstacle to being in government even in Baluchistan. And the third has a blood feud with the chief minister who has threatened personally to shoot him if he sees him, which would enliven the cabinet meetings. So you see, you don’t want to believe everything these –
MR. NAWAZ: I can see that being a real problem. Maybe the working title of your book should have been, “A Pragmatic State.”
MR. LIEVEN: A pragmatic state – eminently pragmatic.
MR. NAWAZ: And Bill, on your point, I think if you’re looking for the cause of the dissolution of Pakistan, one probably needs to go back to 1947, rather than ’51. It’s the proximate cause that we were looking to at the time. Let me just come on this side of the aisle and then I’ll come back there. So Dan?
Q: Great. Dan Markey at the Council on Foreign Relations. What I really like about your argument is this plea to understand sort of the sub-structure of Pakistani society as both repressive and stabilizing at the same time. And I think it points out a reality that I think many people who are working on Pakistan, thinking about Pakistan miss because they’re too busy looking at that thin film of formal structures at the top – institutional structures, and so on, with the exception of the army, which, as you point out, has some deeper roots to it in terms of power and influence.
But I wonder if, maybe, you’ve thought about whether – you’ve just done an outstanding job of describing and explaining the stability of Pakistan’s past, but you may not be describing the Pakistan of the future, not just for some of the reasons that have already been pointed out – demographics, floods, climate – but the youth of Pakistan, who may not be as tied into the same repressive social/political/economic structures as the past, the thing that we generally put under the category of globalization, which includes technology change, communication, opportunities for organizing and mobilizing political dissent that simply weren’t available in Pakistan’s relatively recent past, and which can give rise to social movements that can be either fracturing or uniting, depending.
I just wonder how you think about what is new under the sun. I mean, you referred to yourself, at one point, as a historian, and I think you’ve come up with a really very impressive and important way of thinking about Pakistan’s past. But now if you take off your historian cap and look into the future, what are some of the things you think might unravel that we haven’t talked about yet?
MR. LIEVEN: Yeah. Well, I have to say, on that score, please forgive me if I make a little plea. Does anyone here have a million dollars to spend? Because what I’ve found, in writing this book – and that’s, you know, an excellent question – but what I’ve found is, we are very, very poorly placed to begin to answer these questions. And that is because the basic sociological research that would enable us to begin to draw even serious provisional conclusions has not been done.
If you look at, you know, the sociological/anthropological literature on Pakistan, it’s, of course, very extensive for the Pashtuns, although much of it quite outdated by now. It’s pretty substantial, as far as Karachi is concerned. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, it is, to a great extent, an enormous void. To give one example, I mean, critical, of course, it is the question of whether urbanization and the growing youth of the population is changing religious patterns.
Are these people, as most of the sort of standard models would suggest, some anecdotal evidence suggest, becoming less Barelvi and more Deobandi, and more extreme Deobandi, you know, and so forth and so on, or in fact, are they to a great extent, though they’ve moved to the towns, still preserving the religious patterns of the countryside, in terms of allegiances to shrines and so forth? Well, there’s also anecdotal evidence for that. What’s the truth? We don’t know! Nobody’s done the research. I mean, think about it!
But not just on that; there isn’t a single study – not a single study of a single town in Punjab – not one. There’s not a single academic study of a Pakistani political party – the mainstream parties, though something’s been done on the MQM, and so forth – not one. So I’m very, very sensitive to that question. You’re absolutely right. And I should leave open, quite right, the possibility that this will change fundamentally. But I don’t think that anyone is in a position, actually, to say very much. That’s why I say I need a million pounds so that, you know, I can hire teams of –
MR. NAWAZ: I thought you said dollars?
MR. LIEVEN: Oh yeah, well perhaps I could re-write the check after you’ve signed it. (Laughter.) No, I need a team of researchers – trained researchers, Pakistanis, you know, organized – to go out and actually start asking these questions and producing these deep studies and not, once again – I mean, you know, all the money is going to research in FATA. Now, yes, that’s fair enough, but I mean, A, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the results that come out because, you know, doing the research on the ground there – meanwhile, as you said, if Pakistan is destroyed, it will be destroyed from Punjab, not from – I mean, something that happens in FATA could be the precipitant, but you know.
And we have very, very little clear idea, actually, about what’s happening in Punjab. You might be entirely right, all the patterns that I’ve described are shifting and disappearing. But of course, it’s also true that all these youths need a vehicle. They need something to move into. And the Jamaat, as I’ve said – I had a wonderful experience. I went to Faisalabad – actually, I went to Faisalabad specifically to look into this – big industrial capital, huge youth worker population. And when I was there, in a really angry mood because of power cuts and so forth. And you know, there were some riots and bus burnings and so forth.
Well, I went to see the Jamaat there, because I thought here, if anywhere, you’ll have a Jamaat-led working-class organization that could actually aim at revolution on the streets. And I went to see the naib amir (sp) of the Jamaat and I asked him about working-class mobilization. And I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said, oh, you know, these people, they’re so uneducated and I mean, they drink all the time and there’s no good talking to them because they can’t understand what we say.
They can’t read, you know, Maududi and read the Quran, and so forth. And basically, it would mean getting our hands dirty, dealing with these people, so you know, I mean, we’ll stick to the middle classes, thank you very much. So I thought probably not Lenin in 1917, you know. So the question is, you know, where do they go? Who organizes them? Who mobilizes them? And is there the possibility of the generation of a movement like that, which will place its cadres all over the place and act like the Bolsheviks or the people in the Iranian revolution and lead them to victory?
Well, I would say that if you forced me to put a name on who could do that, it would be Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which gives me, of course, more sympathy with Pakistani soldiers and officials and intelligence officers and policemen who say, crack down on Jamaat-ud-Dawa; you must be mad! You know, we want to keep them as close to us as we possibly can to prevent them from joining the Taliban and, yes, spreading insurgency and revolution across Punjab. Oh and by the way, you know, we’ll stop them most of the time from attacking India and we promise we’ll stop them attacking you at home.
But if you’re trying to persuade us to stop them – anybody from them going to fight in Afghanistan, I’m really sorry, but we can’t do it. And what’s more, we shouldn’t do it. You don’t want a revolution in Punjab, you know? It’s not in your interest, either. So let’s sort of keep them – I mean, I know that’s a very unpopular argument in this town, but if you’ve spent some time there in Punjab, precisely because you’re quite right – I mean, it’s not a wholly absent threat. And well, at the very least, they could vastly intensify, you know, terrorist activity in Punjab.
Q: Stanley Kober with the Cato Institute. Back to the army. One of the things that concerns me is what appears to be infiltration – all these attacks that are occurring inside the army cantonments – and you’re nodding; you know what I’m talking about – one after another, a recent one in Peshawar. Either security has gotten really bad or they’re getting inside help. And it’s so widespread. And that’s – you know, if you could say a few words about that, because if they are that infiltrated, you wonder, you know, about the state of the army.
MR. LIEVEN: Yes, I mean, they are infiltrated. It seems to me that on the record so far, it’s fairly low-level, you know. And after all, when ordered to do so, the army did fight in Swat very hard, and it is fighting in Waziristan. But in terms of yes, I mean, individuals and small groups, it’s a permanent threat.
And I mean, undoubtedly, the – well, you know, I described the nightmare scenario of the U.S. moving into FATA and the army mutiny. And of course, what lies in the background there is simply that the army as a whole shares the basic attitude of the population. And the basic attitude of the population is deeply hostile to the United States, I’m sorry to say, and regards the occupation – I’m sorry, regards as an occupation the Western military presence in Afghanistan.
And that is as general in the army as it is in the great mass of the population. I mean, all of this being summed up in one, I mean, horrifying fact, which I can assure you is a fact, which is that the overwhelming majority of the population, educated and uneducated – and actually, of all ethnic groups – is absolutely genuinely convinced that 9/11 was a plot by the CIA, Mossad or both.
And you know, I mean, to be fair – do understand, I mean, I regard this as poisonous insanity – but equally, if any of us believed this, well, of course, we wouldn’t support the campaign in Afghanistan or the whatever, because clearly, it would be – and that all this was done – I mean, the attack on 9/11 was done in order to justify American invasion of Afghanistan and domination of the Muslim world.
Well, clearly, if you have a whole population which believes this, it’s hardly surprising that there’s so little support for cooperation with the Americans. But I mean, equally, as I say, you are a long step from that to a full-scale mutiny, which would destroy the army, which they can see would destroy the army and the country. It would take something, I think really, really – as they would see it, a blow to their honor to get them to do that on a large scale. At least, I pray that, that’s the case.
The only other thing, though, of course – I mean, sorry, but there is one possibility, yes, which one should talk about. And that is that if there were a mass movement on the streets – a really, really mass movement on the streets in Punjab, especially in northern Punjab, the other moment at which the army would collapse is if the order were given to fire into the crowds. The soldiers will not do it, I think.
But the point is, the army is well aware of that. That’s why whenever the real serious trouble spreads to northern Punjab, you see a change of government coming very, very quickly, including a military government, by the way, because they are really afraid of that Petersburg 1917. You know, the soldiers are ordered to open fire and they see their grandmother on the other side and the rifles begin to waver up and down and then they ground them. But I think the point is that, you know, before you got to that point, the generals would back down in one way or another, precisely because they would not wish to push the soldiers that far.
MR. NAWAZ: That’s what happened in 1977, when three brigadiers refused to follow the orders and it created a crisis in GHQ and the only solution was to go – (inaudible). We have a question at the back there.
Q: Thanks, Moeed Yusuf, USIP. Sorry, I was late, but I’m sure you won’t have talked about this. I still haven’t heard anybody mention it, so I will. I am one who, frankly, clutches at straws to bring some optimism on Pakistan, if there is any. But one thing that troubles me more than any other about looking into the future – and Dan sort of brought this up – I’ve recently written a chapter on youth in Pakistan.
And one of the things that come out of the recent surveys, however credible they are, consistently show, is that about 70 to 75 percent are tired of what is happening and want positive change immediately. About 80 percent are sure that this current, sort of, lot of politicians cannot bring about that change. And 86 percent say, in the latest survey that I saw – and it was quite a good one – that we want nothing to do with politics. Politics is dirty business; we don’t want to be part of this.
So the question, then, is, where is this change going to come from? And to me, this is the single biggest danger, politics having been made a curse word in Pakistan. And if you’re going to get the scum to lead you and then hope they’re going to become angels, you’re in trouble. And that’s what it’s showing. So I just wanted to sort of throw that out and see if you had a reaction.
MR. LIEVEN: Yes. I mean, the thing is, though, that the attitude to politics is very complicated, isn’t it, partly because politics is patronage, to a great extent, and patronage is politics. So you have, very often, this phenomenon of – I always remember a taxi driver I interviewed in Rawalpindi who was cursing the politicians exactly along these lines, but he turned out to be a regular driver for one of the local politicians, who was part of his baradari, and who was circulating just a bit of patronage down from –that he extracted from the state down towards this very junior member of his baradari, so that even he was in politics, you know, in politics.
And you know, he was getting paid to drive people during elections, to ferry people to the polls, to act as a sort of messenger, and so forth and so on. So as I say, I mean, of course, yes, the sentiment there among youth – it’s all there, but I mean, the question is, who is going to mobilize it and lead it in what direction? And maybe that will happen, but maybe it won’t. There are extensive parts of the world where, actually, nothing much happens on that, you know?
Or rather, it happens in terms of this spontaneous bus burning and local protests. But no, I mean, certainly, I mean, the absolute – on one level, the disillusionment with politics – though of course, the funny thing there is that, you know, I mean, so many of the politicians, at least with any scrap of idealism left, are also completely, in a way, cynical about themselves. I mean, everybody is cynical and pissed off, but they don’t know what to do about it. And well, yeah, I mean, the sad thing, of course, is, as I’ve said, that is also the apathy and divisions and so forth and so on are also the basis of whatever stability exists in the country, to a considerable extent. That’s the sad thing.
MR. NAWAZ: The problem, also, is quite clearly that the politicians that are in power are not willing to invest in their own system or in the country. I was showing Anatol, as we came in, this report from The Express Tribune of today, wherein they examined the assets of all the people in government.
And according to this report, it says Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, Awami National Party Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Interior Minister Rehman Malik are some of those who did not pay a single penny in income tax in the period 2004-2007. And then they go into other details as to why these people felt they didn’t. And the presidential spokesman says that under the law, the president is not supposed to share his tax information, so you don’t need to know.
MR. LIEVEN: (Chuckles.) In fact, it’s les magister (sp) even to ask for it.
MR. NAWAZ: Yes, so there is a kind of a lack of – (audio break) – on the part of the political leadership in their own system, which leads me to believe that maybe there’s going to be a steady decline, rather than the apocalyptic that people are fearing for Pakistan. Maybe you could end on that?
MR. LIEVEN: Yes, there is a very interesting twist to this, in terms of reinvesting in the system, which could be due to the fact that Pakistan – I don’t know how many of you know what I mean by the Gini coefficient of measuring social inequality – Pakistan’s is remarkably low, compared to the U.S., but also compared to India and various places. Now, why is that?
Well, I’ve developed a theory, on which I very much value comments, which I’ve set out in the book – and it’s only a theory, you know – very difficult to know how to work this into something more sophisticated – which is that in this world outside the sort of metropolises of America, Western Europe, Japan and increasingly, China, if you want to make a lot of money, you need to have something that the metropolises want to buy, that you can actually sell to the metropolises.
Now, that can be, as in Russia, stuff you take out of the ground, or in the gulf; it can be, as in Colombia and, to an extent, Afghanistan, something that you grow and that the West is prepared to buy; or if you’re really lucky and dynamic, as in China in the past, India to a degree, South Korea, of course, it can be something you make. The point is that the people with lots of – well, bloody obvious, isn’t it – the people with lots of money have to be willing to buy it.
Now, if you don’t have any of these things, how do you get rich or relatively rich, in a system? Well, it seems to me you get rich from the way that you always got rich, to a great extent, which is that you milk the state. It’s tax farming. The state raises the revenue and the elites then extract it, which is, to a great extent, what happens in Pakistan.
I mean, again and again, if you look at the biographies of local politicians, very often, you know, they’re called fuedals, but they turn out, actually, to be relatively new families, but behaving, of course, in a feudal way. But they are relatively new. And almost as a general rule, the real breakthrough has been, you know, they’ve made a certain amount of money locally through business and so forth, but the real breakthrough is when they get into politics, get into government and steal large amounts of money.
But there seems, to me, a very interested aspect of this, which is that in Pakistan, in order to get into politics and government, you do have to have followers. You know, you have to have enough followers to get you elected, to fight for you, occasionally, to defend you. You need a bloc of followers. And that’s true, after all – and every military government has also ended up compromising with the political forces, because the military – you know, the state is weak; the military is weak.
Now, how do you keep your – and this starts, usually, with a kinship group and then it extends into a faction – how do you hold that together? Through patronage. In other words, what you extract from the state, some reasonable proportion of it, I mean, until you get to the really stop – not mentioning any names – and can steal enormous amounts, simply transfer it into estates in England, or whatever – but until then, a lot of what you get from the state, you have to redistribute to your followers because otherwise, they won’t follow you anymore.
This also, of course, is closer, really, to the nature of kinship in Pakistan, as in much of India – not autocratic kinship groups. There’s always a cousin waiting in the wings of the leadership if they feel that you have failed them. And so you hear, again – I mean you ask people, you know, why did you vote for so-and-so? Well, because you know, he’s part of my baradari; he’s – (inaudible) – and respect, and because he’s done things for us and promised to do things for us.
So you know, because he’s of your baradari. If he shows us respect and gives us certain things; if not, there are other chieftains of the – (inaudible) – we could fight for, you see? And that doesn’t get down to anywhere near the huge mass of the population, but it does spread, you know, fairly far. And it is integral to the nature of the system that it should do so, is the interesting thing. It’s not a matter of altruism. It’s a matter of actually continuing to get access to the cow.
So the thing is, you know, that oddly enough, so many of these Pakistani politicians are – I mean, they’re grotesquely rich by the standards of Pakistan, but they are not actually grotesquely rich by international standards. And one of the reasons – well, one of the reasons is the money. And just another of the reasons is you know, it has to be recycled. The other thing is that, you know – I can end on a really correct note – in terms of aid to Pakistan, Pakistan is not the poorest country in the world by any manner or means.
If what you want to do is to relieve poverty, then America should be giving to Africa, not to Pakistan. Is it – (inaudible)? Well, no, I mean, that’s pointless. Is it by limited cooperation? Yes, but then it’s a question of how far you can reasonably expect the cooperation to go and what kind of cooperation is the most important. I would say that in the end, yes, I mean, of course we need to get as much help as we can on Afghanistan as possible, but have to recognize the limits – (audio break).
One thing, which, for me, would be killer, is if the Pakistani state ceased to give serious cooperation against terrorism, against, you know, people coming here to commit – (audio break). I mean, if the state fails to do that, it cannot be regarded, in any way, as an ally or cooperative. But you see, the other point is – this is why I stress, you know, Pakistan is a vital interest – if the point is to hold Pakistan together as a – (audio break) – nice if at least some of this aid was spent on development. I think some of it is, you know.
There are – (audio break) – in place to make sure that more of it is. We should be asking the Chinese about this, by the way. They have some – (audio break) – ways of doing this. But if not, financially supporting the existing, relatively pragmatic elites – I wouldn’t describe it as the second best, but it isn’t an absolutely bad third-best, if you see what I mean. Because we do have to – you know, I worry that we get so tangled up in our own rhetoric and hypocrisy. You know, in the end, we’re giving this money for geopolitical reasons.
We should therefore think seriously about the reasons and what we’re hoping to achieve. And if, as I say, Pakistan does things which just clearly make it clear that we have no serious stake left in this country, then sure, cut it all off. I mean, I’m entirely for that. But otherwise, you know, let’s think seriously about our geopolitical goals and not obsess continuously about whether every cent, or even six out of 10 cents, are going to be spent according to the standards of Chicago.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you very much, Anatol. Obviously, as the author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” you’ve clearly shown that there are no easy answers. But you’ve given us a lot to think about, and so on behalf of my colleagues at the Atlantic Council and on behalf of this group that has taken the time to join us, thank you very much. (Applause.)