Interview: ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia. Farahnaz Ispahani

 

With Pakistan also celebrating 70 years of its independence Farahnaz Ispahani, Global Fellow at Washington’s Wilson Centre, former member of Pakistan Parliament (from Pakistan People’s Party) and former media advisor to the Pakistan President, spoke to Rohit E David on the political flux in Islamabad after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, its impact on Kashmir and the nefarious role of Pakistan’s deep state:

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Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani

Q. What is your view on the political prospects of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who has been PM of Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif stepped down?

Farahnaz Ispahani. PM Abbasi has been nominated by Nawaz Sharif from his own party and is seen by all as a loyal placeholder until the next elections, in which Sharif’s nominated prime ministerial candidate will run. Sharif remains the head of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and, as is the subcontinent’s tradition, control of the party is more important than who is officially PM. Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia Gandhi.

Q. What is your view on Pakistan Supreme Court barring Nawaz Sharif as PM?

Farahnaz Ispahani. The verdict came as no surprise. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has a long history of political decisions and acts directly instead of waiting for due process through lower courts. Now it has disqualified a three times elected prime minister from holding public office for life, in a corruption inquiry linked to the Panama Papers.

However, Sharif was not named in the Panama leaks, there was no trial, and it has yet to be proved that he abused public office for private gain. The judges disqualified him on what many unbiased observers consider a mere technicality. It is indeed sad that no Pakistani PM is allowed to be voted out by the people and SC judges or generals decide when a PM should be ousted.

Q. Why has no Pakistan PM completed a full five-year term?

Farahnaz Ispahani. It is because of what many call the permanent establishment in Pakistan. This is led by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies; closely emulated by the Supreme Court and, in many instances, the bureaucracy. This is Pakistan’s constant and consistent power base. They do not accept the right of elected leaders to change the nation’s course.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the five high courts have an extremely poor record of defending democracy against authoritarian interventions. The Supreme Court has legalised each one of Pakistan’s three successful military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999.

Q. What impact will this have on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Kashmir policy, all regional policy and non-regional foreign policy has been directed by the establishment since Pakistan’s founding. Several civilian prime ministers – most recently Sharif – have tried to improve ties with India but the powerful ‘Kashmir first’ lobbies in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have destroyed all these efforts by the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. India and Pakistan can normalise relations without resolving all disputes first, as many countries have done, but that is not acceptable to the Pakistani establishment. Kashmir policy, anti-India policy and the policy of strategic depth have caused Pakistan to be increasingly isolated in our neighbourhood and around the world. Proponents of that policy do not want to accept that.

Q. Will this make the civilian government weak forever?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Nothing has to be forever. But Pakistan’s permanent establishment and its stranglehold on Pakistan’s media have made it very difficult to stand up to it even as we see today for a hugely popular and elected leader like Nawaz Sharif. Judiciary has become an instrument of the establishment. It responds to media noise rather than sticking to law and legal process.

Q. How do you assess Imran Khan’s role leading up to this court case? Do you foresee Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan coming out with a third front?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Imran Khan has been in politics for decades but, until now, he has always been a bridesmaid who never made it to being the actual bride. He is thought to be growing more personally unstable and that is making some in the permanent establishment concerned about supporting him in the next elections against Sharif’s powerful PML-N party in the all-important Punjab province. That said, he has some following in urban areas among angry, hyper-nationalist youth and retired military personnel. And he remains a favourite of pro-establishment media.

Q. Do you feel that judicial accountability and judicial independence have become tools of a deep state?

Farahnaz Ispahani. I will only say that judicial accountability must be across the board and not selective to be credible. There is a reason why no general, judge or senior bureaucrat faces the kind of accountability inflicted on politicians. When the process is not transparent, it leads to suspicions about the deep state being at work.

Note; The Interview was published originally by “Time of India” , and can be read;  ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia … Pakistan’s SC has poor record of defending democracy’

Benazir Bhutto — The Muslim Leader Who Saw Jihadis Coming- Farahnaz Ispahani

Two years after being elected, the world’s first female Muslim prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, received intelligence that a man called Osama bin Laden had given orders to kill her. The year was 1990. Al-Qaeda had not yet officially been formed, but the organizers of global jihad had already determined that Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they launched their first modern jihad against the Soviet Union, would be crucial to their plans for restoring the medieval caliphate across the Muslim world.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto narrated the bin Laden threat to her life in the second edition of her book The Daughter of the East. In the first edition, she had spoken of threats to her life at the time of her first return to Pakistan from exile, in 1986, while the jihadist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq still ruled the country. Bhutto conveyed her concerns about Zia to U.S. officials then as she did about bin Laden four years later. But before 9/11, warnings about radical Islamists were not taken seriously.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the jihadis on December 27, 2007 after addressing a rally where she repeated her warnings about the Taliban and other extremist groups. Today, events such as the recent massacre of school children in Peshawar, reflect what Bhutto was warning against. Extremist Islamist ideologues opposed her because as a western-educated Muslim woman leader she symbolized all that the jihadis hate.

Bhutto was physically brave beyond comprehension. She had a commanding personality, was extremely intelligent and well read. Her charisma, combined with her compassion towards the poor of Pakistan, helped her win elections in a conservative Muslim majority country. Zia-ul-Haq, the brutal military dictator, rued that he had not “finished her off” along with her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — a former president and prime minister of Pakistan executed by Zia after a military coup.

The extremists and Pakistan’s conservative establishment that has backed them hated Benazir Bhutto with a passion and tried to thwart her in every way her entire adult life. Pakistan’s reputation as a terrorist incubator owes itself to the hyper-nationalist and Islamist ideology cultivated over the years by the country’s establishment. Bhutto saw this ideology, not as a cement that would bind Pakistan’s disparate ethnic groups, but as a deviation from the ideas of Pakistan’s secular founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto had a vision and clarity about Pakistan, the Muslim world and the West after 9/11 that no Muslim leader today seems to have. In her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, written just before her assassination and published right after it, she argued that Pakistan under military dictatorship had become an epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims: “First, the extremists aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world,” she wrote. The second aim of the militants was “to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity.”

In 2007, before ISIS and its markedly escalated brutality had surfaced, Bhutto cautioned the world about the violent intentions of those hijacking her Islamic faith. “The attacks on September, 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation: the crusades in reverse,” she explained to a global audience that still does not always understand motives of groups like Daesh — or the Islamic State as the extremist murderers prefer to be called.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto explained that within the Muslim world, sectarianism was widespread and the Islamic dogma had been shaped into a propaganda tool justifying jihad against the West. She also took on rising western Islamophobia and argued that Islam and Muslims were not the negative and cartoonish caricatures often painted in the Western press and movies.

Bhutto offered an alternative vision of civic Islam, drawing on the Prophet Muhammad’s acceptance of “women as equal partners in society, in business and even in war. Islam codified the rights of women. It guarantees women, civil, economic and political rights.” She castigated those “who claim to speak for Islam who denigrate democracy and human rights, arguing that these values are western values and thus inconsistent with Islam. These are the same people who would deny basic education to girls, blatantly discriminate against women and minorities, ridicule other cultures and religions, rant against science and technology, and enforce brutal totalitarianism to enforce their medieval views.”

According to her, these people have no more legitimate relationship with Islam than the people who bomb women’s health centers in America have to Christianity or the madmen who massacre innocent Arab children at the tomb of Abraham in Palestine have to Judaism.

Benazir Bhutto will be mourned on the anniversary of her assassination at her burial place in her family shrine in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in Sindh and all over Pakistan. This year, with the turmoil, strife and violence spreading all over Muslim lands by the extremists, it would be worthwhile to pay attention to her words, experience and recommendations for fighting the jihadi extremists.

Benazir-Bhutto

 

(Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. 2013-2014)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-ispahani/benazir-bhutto-jihadis_b_6373568.html

The Wronged Man

Husain Haqqani tells it like it is. Husain Haqqani, Islamabad’s former ambassador to Washington, is making waves with his latest book, Magnificent Delusions, which speaks hard truths about the arrant alliance between Pakistan and the United States. In 2011, Haqqani was forced to resign as envoy under Army pressure, and the Iftikhar Chaudhry-led Supreme Court, champion of the hypernationalist narrative, zealously moved against him and his wife, Farahnaz Ispahani. The court declared open season on Haqqani: it dubbed him a “traitor,” placing his life at risk. And Ispahani, one of the most widely-lauded voices for human rights in Pakistan’s previous National Assembly, was ousted from the legislature. Faced with injustice at home, Haqqani returned to academia abroad. He teaches international relations at Boston University and is a director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. We spoke with Haqqani over email recently about his book and the delusions that continue to impair Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. Excerpts:

You have been a consistent advocate of resetting Pakistan-America relations on the basis of pragmatism. What exactly does this entail?

For 66 years, Pakistan has sought close ties with the U.S. with the sole purpose of offsetting India’s size and military advantage. This has been a security relationship. But no nation can become a regional power while also being dependent on assistance from other countries. A better option for Pakistan would be to normalize relations with India and Afghanistan and then have a broader, nonsecurity relationship with the United States. Pakistanis resent the U.S. partly because we have been dependent on it. The United States had not been constant in its relations with Pakistan, but it was also wrong on Pakistan’s part to expect constancy. I have studied several models of partnership with the United States and wondered why most other U.S. allies since World War II have prospered while Pakistan has not. The answer came down to our unwillingness to have an honest relationship. South Korea and Taiwan aligned their security policies and perceptions with the Americans. Pakistan refused to accept U.S. advice, especially where its regional view was questioned. My vision, encouraged by [former prime minister] Benazir Bhutto, was for a strategic rather than tactical relationship. It would not be based on asking for military aid in return for providing some services to the Americans in their concerns. We need to build a self-confident Pakistan, free of the burdens of past blunders, especially jihadist misadventures. American assistance should be directed toward standing on our own feet. We need a relationship involving education, tourism, investment, and trade—like other countries have—not one that is all about seeking military equipment and aid in private and abusing America in public. But despite the mutual misgivings, Pakistan and the U.S. remain disenchanted allies.

Does the relationship lose relevance after NATO troops pull out from Afghanistan by the end of 2014?

I do not think Pakistan and the U.S. are allies. We just pretend to be allies. Each round of close engagement has been followed by disenchantment on both sides. This time I think the mistrust and disenchantment runs much deeper than before. A long-term relationship post-2014 is possible. But it would require a fundamental reorientation of Pakistani policies. Unlike the 1950s, when Afghanistan and India refused to be U.S. allies leaving Pakistan as the only partner in the region, this time the Americans have alternatives whereas Pakistan might not.

Can Pakistan and the U.S. avoid a bitter, perhaps inevitable, falling-out?

Both countries need to get past their one-sided narratives. Both have made mistakes, and both have raised expectations of the other that have not been fulfilled. Americans must understand that aid does not buy a people’s friendship. Pakistan must get out of the business of jihad and understand that spinning a narrative of victimhood at home is no way to ensure respect abroad. Above all, both countries must evolve a pragmatic relationship based on realistic expectations.

What steps can Pakistan take to right past wrongs?

Pakistan’s foreign policy is based on a psyche of insecurity. After acquiring nuclear weapons we should have felt secure. Instead, we act like the man who keeps buying guns to protect himself and his family and then stays up all night fearing that someone will steal his guns. Just as staying up all night would likely give high blood pressure to our imaginary gun-buying man, Pakistan is suffering internally from its insecurity-driven policies. Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin had suggested just this in his address to Pakistan’s Parliament in December 1996 that Pakistan should shelve issues that cannot be resolved for the time being. We should apply that advice and normalize relations with Afghanistan and India. Just as China did not give up its rights over Taiwan, Pakistan need not give up its claim on Kashmir. But it should start trade with India, which would enhance Pakistan’s economic growth. It would also ensure peace, which is a precondition for development. In the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan should befriend the government in Kabul instead of trying to impose one of its own choosing. Pakistan should put all terrorist groups out of action, come clean on its nuclear program, and develop a comprehensive program of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration for the jihadists. Denial of the terrorists’ presence on Pakistani soil is no longer an option. We must become a trading nation instead of being a “warrior” state.

Is the warrior-state mentality, derived from Pakistan’s creation in the name of Islam, something that can be so easily refashioned?

Pakistan may have needed an Islamo-nationalist raison d’être for its creation; it does not need one for its evolution into a functional state. Most nations and countries have evolved through a process of history, not through propagated ideology. Some 95 percent of Pakistan’s population was born after 1947. We are Pakistanis because we were born Pakistani; we need to stop insisting on being an ideological nation. We just need to figure out how to make the nation we were born into secure and prosperous. We need to debate policies, not ideology. As long as we keep feeling the need to ideologically justify our existence, we will be psychologically insecure. Changing the ideological paradigm is the key to changing things for the better.

What did you discover about Pakistan-America relations while ambassador, and what’s your advice to the ambassador-designate?

Magnificent Delusions, with its 32 pages of endnotes, is my answer to the first part of your question. My advice to the incoming ambassador is to make sure he is seen by his interlocutors as credible. Playing to the gallery back home does not enhance an ambassador’s ability to influence events in his host country, particularly a place like the United States. I may have been burnt at the stake by the [national-security] establishment at home, but I still have my integrity internationally. That enables me to speak for my country even without any office.

What do you say to detractors who allege you have been “unkind” to Pakistan?

Just because I refuse to accept myths circulated for public consumption throughout our history does not mean I am unkind to Pakistan. Vibrant nations encourage self-criticism and adjust policies based on different ideas. Honest debate is not possible without facing facts. Don’t forget, on Dec. 17, 1971, a day after thousands of our troops had surrendered at Dhaka, the headline in Dawn was “Victory on All Fronts.” If that was being kind to Pakistan, it did not change the fact that we had lost half our country’s territory and more than half its population. I would rather be accused of being unkind while marshaling facts than being guilty of deception that results in an irreversible loss to my country.

Link to original piece Newsweek Pakistan December 21st, 2013 edition: http://newsweekpakistan.com/the-wronged-man/