Event ReportsPublished on Jan 03, 2008
Dr. Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, spoke to Rahul Mukand, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, in New Delhi recently. This interview was conducted before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007.
Stable democracy in Pak will take long: Ashley Tellis

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, spoke to Rahul Mukand, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, in New Delhi recently. This interview was conducted before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007.

What are your views on democracy being established in Pakistan?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis: A stable democracy could come to Pakistan, but only after a long period of transition. There are certain positive and negative elements in this regard. Current developments have made it clear that the rule of law needs to be established in Pakistan. The judicial crisis represents an attempt to establish the rule of law. The media’s role has been commendable in this process, and Musharraf’s own actions historically have to be appreciated as he gave the media the space to operate freely. Earlier, the media was exploited by Nawaz Sharif and Benazair Bhutto to advance their own ends.  Another positive element for Pakistan would be that if the political process were allowed to function without interference from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, the results would be definitely positive.

The negative elements in contrast remain the deterioration of the political culture of Pakistan. The rising Islamization has become a cause of concern worldwide. The moderate political parties are either too weak or driven mainly by individual charisma. Finally, the continuing structural weakness in Pakistani society which arises from the influence of the powerful feudal class on the institutions of state is also reason for worry.

A major point of divergence between India and Pakistan is the existence of a rising middle class in India. A significant middle class has not emerged in Pakistan nor is there today a labour movement.

Finally, society has become militarised at multiple levels. Clearly, Pakistan’s military presence in all power structures has weakened its socio-political institutions. Thus, even if civilian regimes came to power in Pakistan after an election, they would likely have authority but not power. The army would continue to remain the driving force behind civilian government. The best scenario that can be imagined is a civilian government exercising authority only in some areas of policymaking.

Do you see prospects of Hung National Assembly in coming elections?

The situation is impossible to predict at the moment.  It is difficult to judge who would be the likely winner in the coming elections in Pakistan. Dawn has recently asserted that the ISID (article on Pakistan Elections by Mohd. Ziauddin (12/12/2007)) has assessed the following outcome as likely:

  1. PML-Q: 115 Seats
  2. PPP: 90 Seats
  3.  MMA: 45 Seats
  4. PML-N: 40 Seats
  5. MQM: 20 Seats
  6. ANP: 12 Seats

If these outcome actually ensue, the elections in Pakistan would be judged as rigged and fraudulent. Elections held in free and fair environment would certainly not produce the results mentioned above.

What is level of threat to Nuclear Assets of Pakistan from within and outside?

Dr. Ashley Tellis: Firstly, the threat from outside of Pakistan is minimal. Ever since 1998, Pakistan has made important investments in physical protection of its nuclear assets. Secondly, the real threat is from inside of Pakistan. This is the more complicated one and harder to comprehend. In order to protect its nuclear assets, Pakistan has created a Directorate under the Strategic Forces Command which oversees the security of its nuclear weapons. The robustness of the system is, however, uncertain. I judge that the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands are minimal, unless there is a compromise regarding the forces guarding the assets.

Is Pakistan seen by as a short term strategic US ally in the war against terrorism?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis:  The United States sees itself as a long term partner of Pakistan and will stay engaged with Islamabad even after the clean up of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban terrorists. If this outcome materializes, however, the nature of the engagement would change from being military driven to one that is more civilian based.

What are your insights on the role of Pakistan Army in future? Would the army disassociate it from political functions?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis: Pakistan’s military, ideally, should disengage itself from political functions. But the army is unlikely to make a quick exit, though it would likely leave day to day governance functions to a civilian regime in the future. Despite this fact, the Army will remain a key player in the political order in Pakistan.

Has extremism taken an upward curve in Pakistan ever since Lal Masjid episode?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis:   Yes, extremism has moved along an upward curve in Pakistan but not recently. The beginning can be traced back to Zia- ul- Haq.  In order to legitimize his coup d’etat, Gen. Zia- ul- Haq  gave the Islamic extremists a new lease of life. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the policy of propping up Islamists only grew further. This led especially to the growth of the Islamic parties in NWFP and the Tribal areas.

Musharraf also could not attack the extremists resolutely because they were helpful to his own survival.  The suppression of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), in the last elections gave the Islamist alliance Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) space to grow. The void provided by military dictators and unfortunately the civilian leadership as well has led to increasing expansion of Islamic influence in Pakistan. For instance, the Bhutto government had a deal with JUI-F chief, Fazlur Rehman, to help form her government. Nawaz Sharif had open links with Islamists parties. The void was caused due to the larger political failures in Pakistan. The moderate voice in Pakistan has became increasingly marginalized. We can say that rising extremism was not produced in Pakistan after 9/11, but goes back much further.

What are your views on Pakistan’s counter terrorism performance?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis:  Pakistan’s role on Counter Terrorism can be broadly categorized in two ways:

  1. Pakistan’s Strategy
  2. Pakistan’s Performance

Firstly, Pakistan’s Strategy has been different for different terrorist groups. For example, anti national sectarian groups have been treated differently in comparison to those who are not a threat to the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s strategy for dealing with the Kashmiri militants and the Taliban has been more relaxed as they are not seen to be anti-national. Pakistan has been more stern in dealing with Al-Qaeda militants and anti-national sectarian terrorists.
The Pakistan Army’s performance levels are mixed, as they have genuine difficulty in dealing with terrorists. The military has not mastered the techniques of counter terrorism operations; they do not know how to operate effectively in the ungovernable areas of NWFP and the FATA. The terrain in these areas is not conducive to fighting militants conventionally. The local tribes have turned against the Pakistan state and  this has made the task of the military very difficult.

What are your views on the socio-economic disparities prevalent in Pakistan? Has Pakistan state been successful in dealing with socio-economic contradictions?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis: Firstly, Pakistan has not made the appropriate investments in human capital largely because it has pursued policies associated with garrison states that are under siege. Its national strategy has never emphasized human development. Secondly, intra-provincial inequalities exist even in prosperous provinces like Punjab. Inter-provincial inequalities are even worse. This implies that peripheral provinces like Balochistan have suffered considerably. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been as successful as one would have hoped in dealing with internal disparities.

Do you feel that Cold War policies led to radicalisation of tribal areas?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis: Yes, the anti-Soviet Jihad fought in Afghanistan during the Cold War lead to the radicalization and militarization of the FATA areas. It shifted the primacy of the tribe to the mosque. The religious zealots who entered the arena in 1980’s unfortunately never left.  Zia’s policies, which lead to the radicalization of the tribal areas continues unabated until today.

What are your views on India- Pakistan peace process after elections?

Dr. Ashley J. Tellis: The peace process between India and Pakistan is best thing to have happened between the two countries. The intensity of peace process is certainly slow.  The results are contingent on the strength of the leadership in both countries. On the Indian side, the weakness of the Prime Minister’s coalition have pushed the peace process to rely largely on confidence building measures, since a resolution could likely not be sold politically. On the Pakistani side, Musharraf has done yeoman’s service in changing the definition of the problem--shifting the focus from being a territorial issue to something else and moving forward in the peace process. When the peace process nears its resolution, strong leadership would be required on both sides to iron out what will be difficult concrete differences and to move forward to finalization. We cannot expect major breakthroughs in the coming months—we still have a long way to go.


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