Shuja Nawaz, head of our new South Asia center, was interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty yesterday on the Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus. The entire feature appears below as a courtesy to our readers.
In a speech in Washington on January 8, General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said any progress in Afghanistan will be incomplete without a strategy that includes assisting Pakistan. Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born political analyst and author of the book “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within,” agrees.
In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, Nawaz, who heads the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States, said that despite challenges, extremism can be defeated in Pakistan but this will require a comprehensive regional strategy.
RFE/RL: What does the recent sudden sacking of Pakistani national security adviser and former military General Mahmud Ali Durrani tell you?
Shuja Nawaz: Well, it seems that there is some confusion within the government between the Prime Minister [Yousaf Raza Gilani] and the President [Asif Ali Zardari] regarding who is making decisions — particularly on foreign-policy issues. We have to recall that President Zardari inherited the presidency from General [Pervez] Musharraf. And the presidency came with a lot of extra powers that General Musharraf had gained for himself through amendment of the constitution of Pakistan. And as a result the prime minister was reduced in power. And there appears to be now an attempt to try and correct that balance.
RFE/RL: Some analysts in Islamabad are speculating that the incident highlights renewed tensions between the civilian and military leaders in Pakistan — as has almost always been the case during most of Pakistan’s six-decade history. Do you agree?
Nawaz: Yes, there is always some tension between what I have called in my own book — the coercive power of the military — and the authority of the state as represented by the government. [But] this is essentially a political tussle that is going on between the prime minister and the president.
RFE/RL: Given the fact that both Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari come from the Pakistan People’s Party, why do you think they are clashing with each other now?
Nawaz: I think it is simply a question of politics. Within the original constitutional structure of Pakistan, the prime minister is the head of government and the president is the head of state. And the president has relatively limited powers. But, as I explained earlier, the presidency has gained extra powers, which means that the prime minister lost those powers. So this is really an attempt now by parliament and the prime minister to try and reassert their power.
RFE/RL: Moving away from domestic Pakistani politics, now that Islamabad has admitted that the lone surviving gunmen of the Mumbai attacks, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, is a Pakistani citizen, what options do you think the country’s civilian and military leadership has in dealing with this crisis?
Nawaz: In the first instance, this has to be a decision of the civilian government on what steps it can and should take. For any government in Pakistan to be seen as doing something only because India asks for it would be seen as a sign of weakness. And government would lose popular support. However, it is critical for Pakistan to address the causes of the militancy that produce people that are likely to create problems between Pakistan and its neighboring states. And those causes of militancy exist on both borders — the Afghanistan border and the Indian border.
And so [the] big question now will be whether Pakistan really has the ability to be fighting on two fronts. Would it have the military capacity to clean up the [ethnic] Punjabi Sunni militants from central and southern Punjab [Province] at the same time as the army is deeply involved in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Swat and Malakand? [districts of neighboring Northwest Frontier Province].
RFE/RL: Having written a best-selling book on the Pakistani military, you have a unique insight into that institution. How are Pakistani military leaders looking at their role in the war on terror now, given that despite intense military operations over the past five years, they have failed to contain or defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency in Pakistan’s northwestern Afghan border regions?
Nawaz: Based on conversations I have had with the senior military leadership, they fully understand the very critical element in any counterinsurgency — that is that there isn’t a purely a military solution. They are prepared to support whatever measures the civilian government takes. They are prepared to provide a modicum of security to the economic and social development efforts that are needed.
But without those efforts, military action alone will not solve the problem. It only address the symptoms. So this is really a very long and protracted struggle. It is not just the war on terror. It’s really the militancy inside Pakistan for which the government needs to focus its attention [and] work with the provincial government — in the case of the Northwest Frontier Province — much more closely than has been the case till now.
RFE/RL: You have just written a new report (in conjunction with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies) about Pakistan’s western tribal areas. What are your recommendations to Pakistani and international policy makers to improve what you call the “most dangerous” situation there?
Nawaz: We wanted to see this as a kind of a regional issue. You cannot divide it as an Afghan problem and a Pakistan problem. The basic point that we wanted to make in the report was that you have to provide security to the people. [And] that can only be provided by embedding the security forces in the communities…. Once you provide that security within the community, you can isolate the militants….
After that you have to go in very rapidly with cash because it is a cash economy and not with grandiose schemes that are cooked up in Washington or in Western capitals. Find out what they want. And we discovered that their needs are very simple: they want help with irrigation for agriculture, they want healthcare and they want education…. It’s not an insoluble problem. The total annual development budget of FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is barely a hundred million dollars, which is a fraction of what it costs to conduct the war in Afghanistan for a month or a week.
RFE/RL: During the recent visit of President Zardari to Kabul, the Afghan and Pakistani leaders pledged a joint fight against terrorism. Do you think they will be able to achieve something substantial?
Nawaz: I believe, yes they can and they should. Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot exist under a cloud of suspicion about each other’s motives. They are neighbors, they are linked historically, culturally, and economically.
Pakistan should stop looking at Afghanistan as some kind of a client state. After all Afghanistan was in existence much before Pakistan came into being. Afghanistan has to recognize that Pakistan is concerned about the fact that its archrival India is making inroads into Afghanistan. It goes back, in the end, to a regional solution to these security problems.