This June, Ahmed will have a book coming out from Penguin (tentative title -- "Failing States") about the failure of the United States (though not only the U.S.) to design or implement a coherent policy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia since 9/11. I'll announce his appearances here when his calendar is available.
Earlier this week, Ahmed gave an interview to The News on Sunday (Lahore) on extremism and representative government in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Highlights:
The News on Sunday: The Americans are saying they want to deploy ground troops in Pakistan. What kind of consequences will it have?Read it all here.
Ahmed Rashid: I think it will be a disaster if American troops en masse were to come inside Pakistan. It would trigger off a general uprising in the NWFP by Pashtun militants which may possibly swamp the Pakistan army or divide it and lead to coups within the army. Such a trigger is not needed at all.
On the other hand I think there must be greater cooperation at the covert level between Pakistan and America; with intelligence and special forces, because clearly Pakistan has failed to capture top al-Qaeda leaders nor has it made any effort over the last two and a half years to do so. What could be beneficial is a discreet, covert, improved relationship, not just with the Americans but with NATO itself, in order to better coordinate the forces on both sides of the border.
TNS: Do you see some sort of a merger between Taliban and al-Qaeda and to what extent?
AR: For the last two years there has been a very effective alliance between al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani groups fighting in Kashmir, urban militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkatul Mujahideen, foreign groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Movement in Muslim China. So I think there is a very broad-based alliance, of which Pakistani Taliban is playing a leading role because they have been the hosts of all these forces. All these forces are based in Pakistan, their leaders are living in Pakistan, their logistics and supply lines are here. So obviously, in order to run this, the Pakistani Taliban are playing a very critical role.
TNS: What do you think is the way to contain extremism and militancy which has now spread to Dara Adamkhel and Swat? And do you think the Pakistani army, in its present shape and with its present level of training, can tackle it?
AR: The thing is that under the political dispensation of President Musharraf, there is no support in the country for a concerted campaign against extremists because there is no support for him and his government. Until there is a legitimate government, which is representative and can mobilise people to stand up and resist the extremists, we're going to go down on this score.
This is the biggest failure of the Americans -- not to understand that the real problem in Pakistan is the lack of legitimate government. It's not a question of better guns or money etc. It is a matter of legitimacy and having the people's support. The second thing is that this is also affecting the morale of the Pakistan army. We've seen how the morale has plummeted in the army, in the Frontier Corps, in the Police; the security services are extremely scared of the militants. The tactic of suicide bombing has created enormous fear amongst them.
TNS: With the Americans now ready to give financial assistance for the tribal areas to the tune of 750 million dollars and some part of it reserved for Frontier Corps, there are reservations about how this money is going to be spent. Can you think of some mechanism to spend it honestly and in what order of priority?
AR: I think this entire plan is wrong and warped. What is needed first is immediate action by the Pakistani government to bring FATA into the mainstream of Pakistani politics. Now this cannot be done in one go, I accept that. FATA has to be brought under the constitution. The people of FATA should be asked through a referendum what kind of a status they want, whether they want a separate province or want to be a part of NWFP and the laws should be gradually changed. An immediate law that could be changed, even before this election, is that political parties should be allowed to operate in FATA.
Unless this happens, and unfortunately there is no American pressure for the army to do this, the situation will stay the same. This should have been done back in 2002, when the first rigged elections were held by Musharraf. Then he had a big chance to so this but he lost that opportunity. Now we've seen this virtual collapse of FATA. To provide money now would mean you are bolstering the present setup which is a fake setup, very unpopular among the people.
TNS: Looking back what do you think were the mistakes committed in Afghanistan?
AR: The real failure in Afghanistan stems from a lack of US seriousness in addressing the problems of nation building and reconstruction. We now know that within months of American victory in Afghanistan, they were already preparing for Iraq and there was no intention of rebuilding Afghanistan. Rumsfeld and Cheney had no intention to spend money, time or troops. This situation persisted till around 2005 when only after Iraq started going wrong did they realise that they better do something about Afghanistan. And then we saw a much greater commitment towards building the Afghan army, police, more money etc. But by then the Taliban insurgency had caught on. And you can argue today that perhaps it was too little, too late.