[Talk given at American Friends Service Committee Conference, 'Paths to a Just and Secure Future: Resisting Washington's Endless War' October 12, 2002]
It’s always really cheering to come and be with AFSC. You wake up in the morning and you read the newspaper or watch the TV, and there really is a sense that it’s all going to hell. And you need to feel that you’re not alone watching this. And so you come here and there are people who care, people who want to do something. You feel that there’s possibility, as Manning Marable was saying, that if the arch of history is bending, it’s only because we’ve grabbed the other end of it together.
The last question that Manning Marable was asked was about the elections in Pakistan, which recently made the news. Let me give you the alternative version from what you read in The Globe or The Times or watched on CNN and Fox.
Three years ago, in October of 1999, General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan had just finished dealing with the consequences of a military operation, which he had organized and put into play. He had sent thousands of Pakistani soldiers and Islamic militant fighters, also from Pakistan, in disguise, across the border into Indian-held Kashmir. And they fought for months. And for the first time since the last major war between Pakistan and India in 1971, the Indian Air Force was called into combat. And everybody worried about the possibility of nuclear war between Pakistan and India.
The reason that General Musharraf had mounted this military operation was, as everybody knows, 18 months earlier India and then Pakistan had tested their nuclear weapons. With those tests, the Pakistani military under General Musharraf felt very emboldened. Pakistan believed ‘We have what super powers have. We can do what we like.’
So he mounted this military operation, and it came very close to nuclear war. We now know how close it came. A couple of months ago, a man named Bruce Reidel (who was in the National Security Council under President Clinton at the time of the crisis) described what happened when Pakistan’s Prime Minister at the time became so concerned about the military crisis that he went to Washington to ask the United States to help him find a way out.
At this meeting, where there were only three people, President Clinton, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and Bruce Reidel, President Clinton asked the Prime Minister of Pakistan, ‘do you know that your army has prepared to deploy nuclear weapons?’
And he did not know.
The man who took that decision to deploy those nuclear weapons was General Musharraf. He did this without consulting his head of government, who was a democratically-elected Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, for all his many failings, agreed with President Clinton to withdraw the Pakistani troops and also the Islamic militant fighters that had been sent across the border. The consequence of this was that, only a few months later, Pervez Musharraf staged his coup and overthrew the Prime Minister.
The United States was very angry, not only with Pakistan, but also with Musharraf. But as we’ve all learned in the last couple of years, everything pales, democracy pales, the prospect of nuclear war pales, everything pales when measured against the balance of what Washington thinks is its interests. September 11th came and General Musharraf did what any smart military or political leader would have done. When the United States threatened Pakistan ‘either you join us in the war against the Taliban or we will bomb you,’ of course, he joined.
General Musharraf had a meeting with Pakistani newspaper editors to explain this huge shift in Pakistani policy. He told them that the Americans threatened to ‘make an Iraq’ out of us. In short, he was forced into supporting the U.S. So, if anybody thinks that General Musharraf is an ally, forget it! He did it because he had no choice. He did not surrender his relationship with the Taliban willingly. He did not allow U.S. troops into Afghanistan and into Pakistan willingly, but because he had no choice and also very importantly, he saw benefit in it.
That benefit has been harvested in abundance, because the United States, after more than 10 years, is resuming military aid and the supply of weapons to Pakistan. That is what we’ve seen in the last weeks and months. After having staged his coup, after having exiled two prime ministers, after having introduced numerous amendments to the Pakistani Constitution (more than the total of all amendments that had been made before) the United States is still willing to supply military aid and weapons to Musharraf under the auspices of its ‘war on terror.’
I’d like to give you a better idea of what kind of president the US is supporting in Pakistan. Musharraf was asked earlier this year, ‘will the new Parliament that’s been elected have to ratify your Constitutional amendments?’ He looked at the hall full of press people and said, ‘I’ve made the changes. It’s done.’
The last thing Musharraf did, since he had to have these elections, was to send his boys from Inter-Services Intelligence to go around the country and pick candidates who would win and to scare off those candidates who may be opposed to General Musharraf. So they didn’t need bother to stuff ballot boxes. They picked the candidates. It’s a crude way of doing what happens here. Here, money talks. There, it is the military that talks.
What happened in Pakistan over the last few days is profoundly important for two reasons. One is that you can fool all the people only some of the time, and the people of Pakistan had had enough of General Musharraf. And so, even though they had all the resources of the state, and candidates were brow-beaten, bribed, and intimidated, they could not produce an overwhelming majority in support of General Musharraf in the new Parliament.
Second, what we have seen is that radical Islamic political parties – who are opposed to General Musharraf - have won a sizable proportion of seats in the National Parliament. This is a political earthquake. And the reason for this can be laid absolutely, squarely at the doorstep of the White House.
At the same time, when you think of politics at national levels, it’s easy to miss what is also very important, which is the politics taking place at the local level. What has happened at the local level is that in key areas of the country, especially those bordering Afghanistan, in the Northwest Frontier Province and in Baluchistan, the radical Islamic parties are in position to control state legislatures. These are the places where the U.S. has its bases and operates out of, chasing Al Qaeda through the mountains.
The implications of this are two-fold. One is that the radical Islamists now feel emboldened, not only to challenge General Musharraf, but to challenge the entire possibility of some kind of democratic future for Pakistan. These people are not interested in democracy. They want power. And they will try to destabilize Parliament and destabilize General Musharraf at the national level and in these state legislatures. The second implication is that it’s quite likely, (because this is the Pakistani habit) that the central government will just abolish the Parliament and these state legislatures and rule directly.
Then what happens? The radical Islamists will be able to tie together for the first time a very problematical set of issues in people’s minds. Radical Islamists will be able to tell the people of Pakistan, ‘you voted for us and we tried to represent you. And now the government in Islamabad has taken away your democratic rights.’ And for the first time they will claim that radical Islam represents democracy. They already claim that they are the only patriots – arguing that Musharraf and previous elected Prime Ministers sold out to the United States.
As that happens, the leaders of the radical Islamic parties will have two choices. One would be to mount some kind of campaign, to demand fresh elections in an attempt to again represent the people in parliament. Another possibility is much more likely. With the military now clearly being shown to have been frustrated in its efforts to rule the country, with the democratic process being shown to have been eroded, there will be no legitimacy left for any political authority in the country.
Ask yourself what happens in any country where there is no legitimacy for the exercise of political authority. This is the basis for violent movements against all kinds of authority, against all kinds of institutions.
We are beginning to lay the basis in Pakistan for an armed Islamic underground revolutionary movement, because the fact of the matter is, that the policies that Musharraf will follow will be tied much more closely to what Washington wants than what the people of Pakistan want. And so the gap will just grow until it becomes unbearable, and then something will break.
I think that there’s a larger moral to this, though, than just what happens in Pakistan, because what happens in Pakistan has crucial importance to what happens in India. The Indian government is already worried about the implications of these election results. The Indian government has also started to follow very closely the Bush reasoning over the war in Iraq. Senior Indian ministers have started to talk about why preemptive war is the right of any state, not just the United States.
A dangerous tension is developing. As Pakistan becomes more fragile, the U.S. becomes ever more dependent on General Musharraf to hold it together and stop it from falling apart. If it falls apart, then not only is Afghanistan lost, but the Bush Administration and the oil companies’ ambitions for Central Asia are lost also, because in all of these countries of Central Asia, the U.S. is basically propping up ex-Soviet tyrants, who, for a good sized Swiss bank account, will sell-out their country and their people. These leaders will not survive the tidal wave that will arise if Pakistan goes under. And the spill-over will be felt by India also. To prevent that, well, the Indians and the U.S. may well feel they have no option but to take preemptive action.
There is an even larger context. If the United States goes to war against Iraq, it will win (whatever it means to win war in our time... and we’ve seen enough of that to know). What it also means is that (as people have no doubt been reading) now no longer is this just about going to war. We are talking about invasion, conquest and occupation. It is old-fashioned imperialism, where Iraq’s oil will pay for the U.S. to have fought and won and to rule, and to profit.
This is the something that American policy-makers have forgotten, because if they thought about it, it would make them feel very bad. What they do remember is the Cold War. One of the insights that everybody should have about the Bush’s and the Cheneys and the Powells and the Rumsfelds is that they are playing in their own minds the politics of victors. They think we won the war. This is ours now. And this means the whole world.
It is an attempt to remake the world the way they want it, as opposed to the way they inherited it from the collapse of the European empires, when Britain and France pieced together Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East. And it’s all very untidy. It doesn’t appeal to people trained in management. They think everybody should know where everything is and who it belongs to and none of this other business.
But the point is that, as Bush and Powell and Rice and others think about this and rewind history back to 1945 (before the rise of the Soviet Union as a superpower) where the U.S. was master of all it surveyed, they have forgotten one thing: In the last 50 years there were two wars that took place, not just the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, but also the wars for the freedom of countries across the Third World.
People now will not tolerate the United States behaving like the British and the French conquering countries and creating new colonies. The people of the Third World did not fight for independence for 200 years against the British and the French and the Dutch and the Belgians and every other little European country that thought it had the military and economic power to push brown and black and yellow people around because they had something that they wanted. Well, that period of history is past! The Vietnamese should have taught everybody this. You do not go and take over somebody else’s country.
There are two ways for George Bush and Washington to learn this lesson. One will be a slaughter in Iraq and then decades of violence, where there will be people who will step off the sidewalk when they see an American, because they are so afraid. Or Americans will realize this is not the world that they want. It is a choice between wars of conquest, wars of colonization, things of the past, or the future based on a common, shared respect for everyone. Thank you.
Dr.Zia Mian, is on the faculty of the Program on Science and Global Security (PS&GS) at Princeton University and lecturer of public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School.