To begin with, how do you read the last two attacks on Karachi airport?
The attacks show a tit-for-tat approach. The Pakistani military thought they could bomb Taliban and other militant hideouts in Waziristan. In retaliation, the Taliban and other militant groups are showing they can attack the heart of Pakistan, especially important places like airports. I don’t know how much these approaches by both the military and the Taliban are helping anyone. It’s a small civil war. They want a say in the country’s constitution and the future. An option could be to concede some of the demands of the Taliban, but they would come back with more demands.
You spoke about how Pakistan has a geostrategic curse, and the economy is not doing as well as India’s. You have given the example of how Europe revived its economy based on wars. Pakistan has been perpetually fighting one or another conflict, with billions spent on its war machinery, and yet it failed to strengthen its economy. Why do you think Pakistan has been unable to do this?
That is the puzzle that I am addressing in the book. Pakistan has abandoned the ‘trading state approach’ or ‘developmental state approach’. They have basically benefited from aid received from foreign countries and the services they have provided. They have got enough money from international corporations by being an ally of the United States and then China. But they have no trade relationship with great powers like Korea or Taiwan. That is why I call it a curse. No crisis is turned into an opportunity, to reform their economy, educational system or industry. India would also have faced this curse had they not undergone liberalisation. For example, there are no land reforms in Pakistan. The country will not progress unless other countries stop
handing out money and demand reform.
I’m sure you have been following Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India, and the warming up of the relationship between the two prime ministers. Are you sceptical about this, or do you think Sharif means well by attending Modi’s swearing in? Does he want good relations with India?
I think he means well. It remains to be seen if he can take along the army and the ISI. Whether he has the ability to convince them is crucial. Whenever the two countries agreed on an issue, some state or non-state actors succeeded in spoiling the peace. The big question is whether the Pakistani government has the ability to stop these actors. One thing badly needed is the reduction of tactical weapons build-up on the border. The nuclear issue needs to be addressed. The big issues should be isolated.
Just a day before Modi’s swearing in, the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked. Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused Laskhar-e-Toiba for the incident. Do you think India and Pakistan will be able to keep Herat and other such incidents aside to come together for a peace process?
I think the general impression is that the ISI is aiding the Taliban to carry out these attacks. But it is Pakistan’s strategy to keep India off Afghanistan. There is some level of collaboration. What exactly does Pakistan want in Afghanistan? India has played a reasonably good role in Afghanistan. It is important to convince the Pakistanis of the developmental interests of India in Afghanistan. But everybody is waiting for the elections there to be over. The Americans are also waiting. We need creative strategies for the region, and India and Pakistan are important.
Do you think Pakistan is serious about tackling the Taliban? They make a difference between the Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan considers the Afghan Taliban as freedom fighters, while Pakistan Taliban are terrorists. Are these double standards going to help Pakistan? Even during the attack on the Karachi airport, India was blamed by certain quarters in Pakistan, though the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the incident.
There is a lot of paranoia. Some elements in Pakistan are sympathetic to the Taliban, but the people have realised the danger of Taliban. I do not know how serious Sharif or the army chief is. Is there any synchronisation between their policies? If they follow the old methods, Pakistan will not be able to fight the Taliban. TTP will pretend to listen to Pakistan, but they could unite with the Afghan Taliban. They both have the dream of an Islamic Emirate. If they unite, it will destroy the secular peace process of South Asia. Pakistan is self-destroying by playing this game. The militaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan do not discard their strategies easily. This comes out of their history of Islamic persistence, of fighting on. They have to realise they need a new strategy, a different Afghanistan. Right now, they use a policy of divide and rule. I do not know how long this will go on. This country has great troubles and the elite are talking in different ways. There is a lot of discussion but no consensus.by