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Well, thank you very much for inviting me. It's interesting what has happenned to Pakistan Not just to Pakistan as a country but to the image of Pakistan in the West Now, there are two ways of looking at the country. One way of looking at the country is purely from the so-called security needs of the West. Which is "What is Pakistan in the western interest?" "What interests people among the political elites in the European Union and the United States of America in Pakistan?" "To what extent is this justified?" and "what is the impact of this interest in Pakistan itself?" That, for me, is a useful way of looking at Pakistan. If you look at the coverage of Pakistan in the western media by and large the mainstream media the coverage of Pakistan takes the following form: this is a country where lunatic fanatics are running wild and unless they are brought under control they will capture the pakistani nuclear weapons and then who knows who they'll use them against. This is a very dominant theme. The fear created by the fact that this country has nuclear weapons. Let's start with that, actually because it's a useful way into the country. Is it fair fo a country to have nuclear weapons? Yes. Without any doubt. Every country. The only country so far that has used nuclear weapons we don't even have to name it. Because it never happenned twice. We have, at the moment a massive and hysterical campaign against Iran on this issue. The North Koreans are under heavy fire. The countries whose nuclear weapons have been accepted by and large are India and Israel within that region. And the Israelis put massive pressure on the United States both directly and indirectly through the lobby system to try and prevent any state they regard as potentially hostile from aquiring these weapons. That is why Pakistan's nuclear weapons have come to the forefront and of course the war in Afghanistan. Now: Pakistan aquired these nuclear weapons at the time of a previous war on Afghanistan-- that war was opposed by the whole of Europe. Because the Russians had then occupied Afghanistan. Some of you are too young to remember it, the older ones amongst us do. From 1979 to 1989 the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan to help a government which was friendly to them and which they had helped to put into power. And that war against the Afghans created the mess which carries on to this day. I was one of those who --those of you who know my work will know i was very strongly opposed to the soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. I was quite isolated even within the left on this question. Because people who believe they need outside states to come and do things for them suffer from a weakness and so it's not purely accidental that many of those who supported in Pakistan the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan have a very similar attitude to the United States and the NATO forces there. But the russian invasion was wrong because it was a total breach of afghan sovereignty and because--I wrote at the time that if the Soviet Union enters Afghanistan this will create a brutal and corrupting civil war which will leave that region in a mess for the next thirty to forty years. I wrote in '79 when the Russian troops entered Unfortunately I've been proved right. I wish it wasn't the case. And it was during that period that the West backed the jihadis backed one of the most brutal and brutalizing military dictatorships that Pakistan has ever had and that is saying quite a lot because we've had many but general Zia ul-Haq's rule in the country was one of the worst ever because he succeeded in brutalizing the country's political culture and he made the army the ideological offensive inside the Pakistan army by general Zia ul-Haq was to characterize it as an islamist army --a muslim army --- something that had never been done before, either by previous dictators or by any civilian government. And the reason this was done: because the fight against the russians was launched in the name of Islam. and the national security advisor of the United States Brzezinski actually went to the frontier in Peshawar and told the large number of beareded folk who were photographed with him, "Go and wage the jihad --- we are with you." So, i say all this --- hopefully many of you are aware of it -- to show that nothing happens without a cause. And that many of the groups active on the extreme fringes of religion muslim extremist groups in Pakistan today are directly linked to the groups that were set up from the top during the first afghan war against the Russians. They were set up, trained, given money and they fought. And then when the west left after the Russians decided to withdraw in 1989 (december) these groups were left orphaned. So they developped a life of their own they had got used to operating in certain ways and they carried on operating in those ways. And then some of them who actually believe that they had defeated the Russians on their own ignoring all the help given by the West to them especially the United States of America which poured in money and weaponery and many of the catachisms for the religious schools were printed by the University of Arizona -- actually printed there, with their mark on them. So... this has left a terrible legacy now. And when these groups fall out with the west, then they behave in the same way that they were taught to behave against the Russians. And that is what we have been witnessing. The leadership of Al-Qaida was politicized in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. And believing, like many other jihadi groups created by the pakistani military intelligence in the '80s that you have defeated the big Red Army, they felt they could repeat the exercice. First with India, by infiltrating Kashmir with the help of the Pakistan government and secondly why not take on America as well; we've defeated one superpower, we can defeat another. But given they had never defeated one superpower it was just crazy to think they could defeat another but you can --- that was their imagination. They imagined that they had defeated the Soviet Union on their own and now, some of them, weak though they are, imagine that they will defeat the United States. So, these are the origins of the clashes that we are seeing in Pakistan today and which excites so much attention in the West. Why do they excite so much attention? Because the West in is Afghanistan. And what always puzzles me is the way in which the populations, I mean, of North America and Western Europe have become so acclimatized to war and occupation. It has happenned quite easily. And the reason I think it has happened is two-fold: if we take the official reason, that it's a response to 9/11 and the war on terror then let us follow that argument through. If you want to look at what happenned on 9/11 they were dramatic, sensational spectacular acts of terrorism against the only dominant power in the world today --- the only super power --- which targeted two big buildings: one in Washington, DC and the other in New York and following those attacks, that group has not been able to do anything as spectacular again. And there were previews of them in the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and the attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen. And then the hits of 9/11. What was the function of these attacks? In Osama Bin Laden's own words, the function of these attacks was to strike the superpower where it hurt. But you know, that is what all terrorist groups think: that its spectacular acts, when it carries them out, hurt. Well they may hurt temporarily, but they leave very little long-term impact. After all, there's a history of terrorism in Europe which has nothing to do with Islam. The Irish war of the IRA against the British, they almost carried off an incredibly spectacular attack and wiping out the entire British cabinet in the Brighton Hotel --- including Margaret Thatcher. Had they blown up Margaret Thatcher and her entire cabinet, it would have been totally spectacular, which no one else could have competed with, neither Al Qaida or any other group, because you wouldn't have seen anything like it. The Spanish carried out the execution --- Basque terrorists carried out the execution of Luis Carrero-Blanco, Franco's late prime minister just blown up into the sky. During the 60s, you had terrorist groups operating in Italy, in Germany and Japan, three former Axis powers. So it's not that terrorism is totally new. And how were they dealt with? They were essentially dealt with, in the case of Ireland, through political negociation. And in the case of the smaller terrorist groups, by police action, essentially. Systematic police work: capture, arrest, charge, bring to trial, and lock up. And that was that. This act was elevated to such an extent that they said, we don't need to attack them like we would deal any other group but you occupy the country from which they are based, and of course what these people do when they know the country where they are based is going to be occupied is they shift. They have no loyalty to any country-- terrorist groups rarely do. They move, they're extremely mobile so they shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan or God knows where, no one is 100% sure where they are. So that led to a war and occupation in Afghanistan, where the Afghan basically allowed the West to come in, no one fought them. They took Kabul without a fight in alliance with the Northern Alliance leaders from the North and put in a regime in power. I mean, Karzai and his chumps... The only credibility of this regime and its legitimacy derives from the NATO occupation of the country. Everyone now admits this quite openly, it's not even a secret. And it's old-fashioned colonialism. You occupy a country, you think you can run it, you put people in power. And the reason it's been accepted is because it is linked to a (?) perception in the West that Islam itself is the ennemy. This is all related to Pakistan, by the way, and the interest in Pakistan. More books have been published on Islam since 9/11 than in the previous 500 years. So islam has become a very privileged religion, suddenly. And even there, i would say that one reason Islam is under fire is not because anyone serious who knows about these things, as many in the United States do, believe that islamic culture, or islam as a religion poses any threat. It just so happens, also, that the bulk of the world's cheap oil lies underneath lands which for accidental reasons happen to be occupied by muslism. So you have the world's largest energy source underneath muslim lands. So in a situation where the world is changing and in transition it becomes quite useful to built this great bogey. So first, we have the occupation of Iraq and the figures now coming out are that over a million Iraqis have died since the country was occupied. Over a million. And in a Europe supposedly obsessed with human rights, this doesn't matter all that much. It doesn't matter. Then you have in Afghanistan growing civilian casualties now. And then you have Blackwater officers in Blackwater contingents being set up in major pakistani cities: in Karachi, Lahore, and I'm told even Rawalpindi to carry out special black ops missions within Pakistan, and have access to the utilisation of drones within Pakistan. And the war in Afghanistan in spilling over into Pakistan, into the frontier province essentially, but not just there. And this is all the west can think about. "How can we win this war?" And why is the Pakistani military not helping us as much as they should, given we are paying them billions of dollars. The problem is that --why the war is spilling over is because, as everyone acknowledges, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has always been a soft border. You have the same people living on either side, speaking the same language, often villages looking at eachother with the same tribes on both sides and intermarriages taking place. And nobody, neither the British when they ruled that area tried even to police the border, it was accepted that the Pashtun people would cross it whenever they wished to. And the pakistani government carried that on and now to-- it's impossible. NATO can try policing it; you try building a wall over a thousand miles long you'd had to rival the great wall of China. If you can do it. I don't think it can be done. So what is required in that region is a political solution, not a military one. As the Russians discovered, those of you who are interested: in yesterday's Financial Times, they'd interviewed three Russian generals who fought in the afghan war and who give incredibly warm and useful advice to their american successors. "This is what we did. This is why we got it totally wrong. And we don't say this to you out of any joy, but you're not going to win this war. So the sooner you get out the better for you, and the better for those guys who are living there because it can only get worse the more troops you send." These are russian generals who now follow the war very closely. As some russian helicopter pilots who were killing Afghans during the eighties have been hired, the younger ones have been hired by the United States because they said, you know, "You know the region very well". So this is now spilling over into Pakistan. And then the question becomes: Oh my god!, Pakistan is being destabilised, is unstable--it is! But destabilising it further doesn't help. Because it's not that Pakistan's nuclear weapons could ever be captured by any group outside the pakistani military just can't happen any more than israeli nuclear weapons could be captured by a bunch of crazed settlers from Brooklyn or american nuclear weapons captured by born-again christian groups egged on by Rush Limbaugh --- it doesn't happen like that! Or India, or anyone. You know, these are the most heavily guarded facilities in each country. And for good reason. But the danger is not that any of the jihadi groups can take them; the danger, the real danger, is that if the West carries on like this, and if the war continues to spill into Pakistan, there is a danger (and it's only a danger, or a threat) that the pakistani military could split. And were the pakistani military to split, then all bets are off, really. We don't know what will happen. We will have a very unpleasant civil war in the country. It's never happened before, the military high command is very confident it won't happen...I'm not so confident. And the reason I'm not so confident is precisely for two reasons. One: what the army became, the way i started this talk today in the eighties and nineties the ideology of the army was an islamic army. People were sent into the army, secular practices inside the military were stopped, mullahs --- mainly belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami were sent to educate soldiers teach them, preach the sermons after compulsory friday prayers and the ideology of the army was, "you're a muslim army, you have only two ennemies: one are the hindus in India and the second are the godless: communists, atheists who are occupying Afghanistan. and these are the ones we are fighting today. Now this has been the ideology fed into the military since 79. No one has had any counter to it. And then you suddenly turn this army on its own people. Whatever you might think of them. That is how the military sees it. The younger officers who are now being asked to go and kill other muslims. Because if that's the education you've given them, then unless a counter-education is provided within the military and instore "no, you're not what we said you were, you are essentially an army to protect Pakistan from whoever attacks it", but no one's ever done that. So within the army --- this is not talked about much but I know this for a fact --- that many junior officers send into the border regions to fight don't fight. Many soldiers don't fight, they surrender. Many inform the militant groups in Waziristan they are coming for you on such and such a day so they are not there so they avoid clashes. This is what is going on and of course, if someone like me is aware of this, simply by talking to people, including some people who've left the army, then of course pakistani military intelligence and the United States are aware of it even better than I am. And the question then is, "Why carry on in this way, carry on provocatively in this way?" And the double-standards which exist on the part of the West do drive people crazy you have to know that. I give you one example of these double-standards just one. The same day that an Iranian woman demonstrator was shot in the street in Teheran during the recent rubble after people protested that Ahmadinejad had rigged the elections which seems very likely and this innocent woman caught in cross-fire shot dead and suddenly this became the big story on every single news channel in the West. Every single news channel. And the United States president, with moist eyes, referred to it at a press conference. But there were no moist eyes either by him or by the media network or by the European Union Politicians when on that very same day a U.S. drone struck a village and killed 50 innocent women and children in Pakistan. 50. Not one. These are double-standards. That one life is worth more than other lives. And that is the way in which the war in Iraq has been covered that the people who invaded Iraq, the United States and its allies, refused to count Iraqi dead. They said we're not going to do it. They didn't do it in Vietnam. They didn't do it in Iraq. They are not doing it in Afghanistan and they don't care about what happens in Pakistan. And I say this to you very sharply, because unless you understand these things you cannot understand the anger against the United States and increasingly against its european subcontractors in that region. But it exists. When you look at the countries involved in Afghanistan apart from your own, new East-European satellite states of Washington: the Ukraine, Polland, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania --- they have troops in Afghanistan. I wonder what they must be thinking as they find a president elected without an opponent. Does it make them think "Oh, this is similar." But this is why it's a joke, what is going on in that part of the world. Now what are the real problems confronting Pakistan, apart --- the war is a big problem, I don't deny that, because it's destabilising the country. Okay, let's accept that, whatever people may feel about the war. That is the effect in Pakistan. The real problem, as I point out in the book which Ravinder held up, is that the real dual in Pakistan, the real dual is not between people, the United States, except indirectly, or between the Pakistan army and the United States, the real struggle that goes on is a struggle between the elites that have governed the country militarily and civilian and a large majority of ordinary people. That is the real struggle. It's a country of nearly 200 million people, Pakistan. It's not like Afghanistan, which they can't subjugate, even though it's a country of 24 or 25 million people. Pakistan is approaching --- its population is approaching 200 million. You know. You have large, huge cities. And it is not the case that all what these millions or hundreds of millions of people think about all the time is religion. I promise you that. And anyone who's lived in Pakistan or knows it or travels to it will know. They don't think about religion all the time at all, it's...they follow the rituals in many cases, no one is obsessed with it. Nor is it the case that women can't walk the streets of Karachi or Lahore, or Islamabad, or Rawalpindi --- they do. All the time. I mean they are very lively cities. So this image of Pakistan which has crept in of this country which has totally been fundamentalized is wrong. It's not the case. The religious --- the moderate religious parties themselves get a very tiny percentage of the votes when elections take place. And the jihadi groups --- all of them put together --- I would be very suprised (the intelligence figures vary inside and outside Pakistan) if there were more than between 80 to 100 thousand people involved. With the spillage of the war into Pakistan, it it going beyond these groups and lots of the tribal groups in the frontier region are getting involved, especially the Pashtun tribes who see this as an attack on them and their integrity. But for the rest of Pakistan, the real problems are what? The real problems are that 60% of the country's children are born moderately or severely stunted because of malnutrition. Now 60% is a UN statistic. It's a horrific figure if you think about it. The real problem --- when I was working on this book, I used to go into people's homes to speak in our language and just ask people if you had a wishlist of three things, what would you like the most? I promise you, nobody mentionned "we want more religion". No one. What people did say, invariably, to me was: one meal a day, a proper meal a day for us and our children, education, somewhere to live with running water and electricity. In different ways. They didn't all reply in the same way, but in different ways, when I was looking at my notes, everyone had virtually said that. So education: you know, people sometimes say: why do kids go to the religious schools? I'll tell you why. If you're a poor guy in a poor family, you've got six kids and a mullah comes to you and says give me your son --- they never say girls --- give me your son and I'll educated him, I'll clothe him I'll feed him for eight years, you say okay, maybe he'll get some education. They don't asked too closely what the education will be, they're pleased someone is offering to do it. Now the question is: why has the pakistani state, which has been in existence for over sixty years failed to provide a basic educational system for its people. And the reason for that is that it has been governed by venal, corrupt elites which have been more interested in looting the country's ressources and lining their own pockets than doing anything for the people. And that remains a problem today and it makes no difference whether it's the military --- on this level --- whether it's the military or civilian supposedly elected governments in power. General Musharraf, the last military dictator who's written about in the western media as being very enlightened and all this, well I don't know about that, what I do know is he was totally corrupt. Because on the general salary you cannot afford buying large appartments in Manhattan or overlooking Hyde park in London, where is this money coming from? And everyone knows where it's come from. And here the contrast with neighboring countries is interesting. A lot of people in India will tell you --- experts and critical experts --- that most indian generals who retire retire into two or three bedrooms appartments which have been made available to them. Not in Pakistan. Where the current commander in chief of the army general Kiani who came to power a few years ago already has a huge house in Islamabad he used preparing to become chief of the army. So it's not just the civilian politicians who are corrupt, this corruption eats the top level of the army too. The civilian politicians, of course, are a disgrace to the country. You have three different gangs and they exchange power regularly, you have the PPP gang which is currently led by Asif Zardari who --- the only reason he's president is because his wife was assassinated and she took democracy to new levels by bequeathing the party to her family in a written will. At the very moment she was being praised as the princess of democracy on western television channels, the will was being read out before the leaders of her party who assembled like second-grade retainers and heard the will being read out, in which she said "My son becomes leader of the party. Until he comes of age, my husband will be the caretaker, president and so the husband is elected president, one of the most corrupt politicians Pakistan has produced in its entire history. There were three cases registered against him in european courts. One in Spain, in Barcelona, one in Geneva, and one in London. All of them mysteriously dissapeared. So it's not just Karzai who's corrupt in Afghanistan, we know that. His twin in Islamabad is just as corrupt, if not worse. All they think about is making money. Politics is a means to make money. Nothing else. And the people waiting to take over are not as skilled in it, but they're not bad, you know. Nawaz Sharif and his brother. And then there's a third gang based is Gujrat who serves any government that wants their help provided they can make a bit on the side. These three groupings have dominated civilian politics in Pakistan while the military dominates the military politics and deals with all these groups, often they work with the military. So you can actually name and shame this elite, which I do in my book. Say who they are, where their wealth came from and how it continues to grow. So the United States Ambassador Anne W. Patterson recently --- or not recently but about a year ago was visited by european intelligence chief who told me this himself, I can't name him or his country, because he made me promise not to name him, so I said okay I won't, but he said I was astonished. I went to call on the United States Ambassador as every visiting intelligence chief does because that's where we get a view of what the big power thinks, and he said "she said to me bluntly 'we are very happy with Zardari, because when we had Musharraf he would promise us one thing in Washington and come back and do a different thing here --- Zardari does whatever we ask him to do.' " And this guy was totally shocked by the cynicism --- I wasn't, actually. I said, well, look. Why are you shocked? The U.S. embassy is, you know, the viceregal lodge, I mean they run the country. And so the fact that she's saying it is very significant and so I said you shouldn't be critical of her for her candor, you should be critical of her for her lack of judgement. And thinking this is the guy who is going to do the business for them in Pakistan when he is absolutely despised and loathed by swades of the population including half his own party. And half the country believes he organized the assasination of his own wife. I don't believe that, by the way, but I pass it on that this perception is very strong in Pakistan. Ordinary people will tell you, if you say do you know who killed Benazir? --- of course there's a layer who thinks everything bad is always done by the americans, but on this occasion they are completely outnumbered by those who think that Zardari had his wife killed. So if you ask with a straight face why, why do you think he would do that?, they say "Why? How can you ask? Look where he is!" People believe it. They have no proof, I mean there is circumstantial evidence but no real proof, but people believe it, which gives you an idea of the extent to which the people have become cynical of their politicians. And this cynicism is dangerous. What surprises me whenever I return to the country is how few people still are attracted to the religious groups. Given this big vacuum, you'd think more would go over, but they don't. They don't trust them. So the question in Pakistan, reimagining Pakistan for me is quite simple, actually. I think that one honnest government which used the money it's getting from the West not to line its own pockets and to shore up its banks accounts abroad but which used the money to create a social infrastructure for the country, that is by the state, not by private companies, by the state, and education, educational, health, subsidized food, all this could be done, it's not a utopian dream at all. It could be done, the money is there. The money is given by the west, a lot goes on to supplying the army. But still, there's enough left over. I mean, how much does it cost to build and create six teachers training universities in the country? Six I think would do the trick. Just to train teachers. Because you have to train people how to teach, that arthas been lost in Pakistan. It doesn't cost that much. And people are desperate for it. And you know, numbers of people told me they said --- and you know, do you think it's bad --- these were poor people, virtually barely literate themselves --- do you think it's wrong of us to also think that if we get an education system, that our children should be allowed to learn english? I said no, it's very good idea. And they said but do you think it's anti-islamic? And I said why, Malaysia has done it, it's a large muslim country. And english was made compulsory by Dr. Mahathir thirty years ago he said whatever you learn, malaysian or chinese, you have to speak english, because without knowing english you can't read all the research which is going on in the West and you can't develop. And people were amazed when I said that to them in Pakistan, I said Malaysia can do it and we can't do it? Why shouldn't you learn english, why should english be a monopoly just of the elite? But the elite preserves and clings to this monopoly like anything. I want to tell you one story because it's very indicative. An acquaintance of mine who's a very wealthy furniture dealer his family has been trading in furniture hundreds of years he's a single guy, and he told me that once, you know, I would look and my chauffeur would come to drive me somewhere and this little girl would come out with him and hug him and not want him to go and I said to him how old is this child? And he said five or six. So he said --- I did feel bad --- I said where are you sending her to school? And he said, the chauffeur laughed in my face and said sending her to school, where? we are poor people. so he said, look, I'm prepared to pay for her to be educated, do you mind? He said no, please. So this guy took the girl with her parents --- her father was driving --- to a shop, found clothes for her, good clothes, went to the top school in the country, privatized, run just for the kids of the rich, but because they all knew him they were waiting for him. He rang and said I'm coming with this little girl. They said fine, so he introduced. So he said how much? I'd like to pay, how long will her education take? eight to ten years. So they were a bit surprised, they said fine. How much will it be? So he wrote out a massive check. Gave it to the --- he said here, she will be calm, the car will bring her to the just educator. Then the headmistress of the school said What is the child's name? So he gave her name. And he said oh but, that's not your name. And he said no, she's not my child. But I'm paying for her to be educated. And they said do you mind telling me who's child she is? He said she's my chauffeur's child. She said we're very sorry, we can't take her. Because you know, other parents would object. That we are taking a chauffeur's daughter. He just freaked, tore up his check and left. So I said well what did you do? He said I went to a Jesus and Mary convent. A catholic school, told them what the story was, they took her on, said no problem at all, and I built them a new building to teach the kids science. So, I just give you that story to show you how depraved that elite is. And debased it is, that it can't even permit the poor to be educated. I mean it lives in a different time and this has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. This has to do with the way that country is run. These are very real problems which are not being sorted out. And one reason there is no pressure from the West to do this is because we have a culture in the West since the eighties which is as you know, it's now collapsing, a neo-liberal culture. Which denies the state to do too much anyway. And when everything is being privatized in the Western world, it becomes difficult for them to suggest to countries elsewhere that they should do what the west, what the european countries were doing after the second world war, which is building up social welfare, social democratic systems. That was not permitted by the Washington Consensus. Or frowned upon. And we've seen the results now, as the crisis hits deeper and deeper. Yesterday Dubai and tomorrow God knows what. So these are the problems that confront Pakistan, which are solvable, and added to that is the problem of the war. And if these are not seen together, then you only get a very one-sided and partial view of the country. So it is seen only from the point of view of so-called security needs of the West, most of which are fake anyway. I land there.

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Duration: 44 minutes and 48 seconds
Country: Denmark
Language: English
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Posted by: sgentile on May 8, 2010

Tariq Ali speaks about Pakistan and Afghanistan at the University of Copenhagen's Asian Dynamics Initiative on 2 December 2009.

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