International Affairs Forum:
Last week a top Taliban commander in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, ordered a ceasefire, but it has been reported today that he has halted peace talks with the government because it won't withdraw troops from the tribal areas along the Afghan border. What do you make of this?
It is not in Pakistan's interest to alienate a major portion of its population living in the western areas of North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas. Now if there is anything the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military has learned over the past five years, definitely after 9/11, is that we need to fight terrorism. We have a problem, but we cannot afford to alienate this segment of the Pakistani population. So the mandate after the election on February 18th was to find a peaceful solution, and that's what's happening right now.
Some have expressed concern the Taliban might use the talks as a stalling tactic, to allow it to regroup. Do you see any danger of this?
I really don't feel that they can be used like that. Everyone has the benefit of hindsight, and we have seen and assessed previous experiences. I don't think the Pakistani government would want to put itself in a position where it would create an embarrassment for itself, if indeed a situation emerges later on where there is a deliberate stalling tactic on the part of the militants. So, let's wait and see, but I'm sure that the Pakistani government is aware of this possibility, and will not want to put themselves in a position where they get embarrassed later on, with their American allies.
What do you make of the start made by the coalition government in Pakistan?
Since no single party, including Benazir Bhutto's PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party] was able to secure a simple majority, we have a weak coalition, definitely. They are still trying to settle down - they have not properly settled down yet. And they have what I feel is this manufactured crisis over the reinstatement of the deposed judges. One of the junior coalition partners, Mr Nawaz Sharif's party [Pakistan Muslim League (N) (Nawaz group)] has made that an issue of life and death for themselves, and they have staked their credibility on this issue. The coalition seems to have different opinions on this point, so the coalition still does not seem to be stable, and I don't think that Pakistan, even two months after the election, has achieved political stability yet.
Can this government last?
By the look of it, by the turmoil in the coalition over the reinstatement of the deposed judges, things are not looking good. So lets hope they last six months.
Do you think there will be a different relationship with the United States under the new government? Should there be?
If you ask an ordinary Pakistani citizen here, they would tell you yes, there should be a different relationship. Different in the sense there should be more appreciation on the part of the United States for Pakistan's domestic concerns and Pakistan's regional concerns.
Unfortunately, a lot of people think President Musharraf, due to certain compulsions, did not put across Pakistan's case strongly over the past five years. And a lot of Pakistanis feel, and a lot of people in the media feel, that with the changing domestic political scenario, the Pakistan government will, whoever is in power, put Pakistan's case across more strongly.
Yes, we received lots of money in aid from the United States. But at the same time, our concern was not just the money, it was also that the strategic objectives of both countries in this alliance in the war on terror - Pakistan and the United States - should be met. We feel that since 9/11, the United States has been meeting its objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that Pakistan is being left behind. We feel we have not really been achieving much aside from maybe stabilizing the economy and having the relationship with the United States.
Quraishi is an Islamabad-based political commentator and heads the Pakistan Project at FurmaanRealpolitik, an independent Pakistani think tank based in Islamabad.
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