'Fundamentalists in Pakistani polity and state- Deep and engrained' -- Aijaz Ahmad
Newsclick Productions, March 16, 2011
Aijaz Ahmad, senior political analyst, comments on the assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan. He focuses on the collusion between the security establishment, the democratic polity and the fundamentalists in the country. He also comments on the "Davis affair" -- suggesting that it is an outcome of a game played between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
D. Raghunandan - Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Pakistan appears to be in turmoil again, on many fronts. To discuss these, we have Professor Aijaz Ahmed, well known political commentator, who frequently appears on our program. Welcome Aijaz.
Aijaz Ahmed- Thank you.
DR- If its news, Pakistan is in turmoil.
AA- It has been for a while.
DR- What with the attacks on political leaders who have expressed opinions against the anti-blasphemy laws and various other developments. How do you see the developments regarding the assassination of Bhatti and now the threats against various other political leaders?
AA-Well, one thing that strikes me in these two assassinations actually, of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, and Minister Bhatti, is that in both cases it’s very unclear what role the security apparatus played in this. Salman Taseer, we know that the person who assassinated him had been dismissed from the service in the past because of suspicions about his character and affiliations, and was brought back in to it and made a part of the detail for the governor. Who arranged that, and why was he brought back? We don’t know. And the next thing you know, he shot Salman Taseer and became a hero. When he shot Salman Taseer, the other members of that detail did not move to do anything about it.
In Bhatti’s case, what is very important is that it was very clear, for a while, that he would be targeted. He had asked for, and was supposedly given, extra security. But in the capital, when he goes to visit his parents, if he comes out of the house, that extra security is not there. Basically, hardly any security is there. There were people standing there. They opened fire and shot Bhatti. So a very alarming aspect of it is the extent to which the security forces, or at least some wing of it, seem to be implicated in both instances.
The person who assassinated Salman Taseer comes in and out. A number of policemen are known to openly admire him as a hero, and so nothing happens. When People go to the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general, to ask them to take note of all this and do something about this the judiciary doesn’t move. So there seems to be partly complicity, partly inertia, shall we say (to use a polite word for what is going on) on the part of the various institutions of the state. So there really is a breakdown of state institutions, or complicity with this sort of thing within these institutions.
DR- Some commentators would say that this is not too surprising since the penetration of security agencies with these kinds of values is something that has been suspected for some time. So maybe penetration of state institutions or the corruption in state institutions may not come as too much of a surprise but I think what has certainly surprised people has been the reactions, even from what people thought would be liberal sections of civil society. The Lawyers, for example, who were cheering Salman Taseer’s assassin. Is that not a matter of concern that’s now emerging?
AA- Well, the lawyers, as an entity, I don’t know but I do know that a lot of lawyers are Jamaat-e-Islami people and have various sorts of Islamist affiliations. And that is the section that is cheering on. But I wanted to say something else, the great objection against Pervez Musharraf used to be that the military and the security apparatus were in charge and so on, and then the civil, so called democratic, government would come. What you have found, under the PPP, under Zardari’s rule, is that in fact these very forces are acting in a way that they never could under Musharraf. Musharraf actually sent the army against that famous madrassa in Islamabad.
DR- So you would say that the security agencies are less amenable?
AA- Not only that. These are high profile officials of the PPP government and you don’t get any condolence messages from other ministers. Gilani, the Prime Minister, stands out by going to the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti, unlike Mr. Zardari and the rest of the ministers. So it’s not only the security apparatus, the collusion seems to be of a nature that is very difficult to pin point.
DR- Would you say that the liberal intelligentsia and other liberal sections of Pakistani society are today even more isolated and are getting smaller than they were earlier?
AA- Well, they are very much on the defensive, broadly speaking. The secular space in Pakistan is now very much contracted and the few people who speak or publically take positions of this or appear at these funerals seem like heroes as, to this day, they can all be targeted. And who’s targeting them is still unclear.
DR- Moving on to another subject, which has grabbed the headlines recently, is the murky affair of the US diplomat, civil servant, security man, whatever[you want to call him], Davis, who had been arrested. How do you see this whole case unfolding?
AA- Well, it’s bizarre. President Obama himself got up and called him a diplomat, saying he must have immunity. Four days later, the Washington post tells us that he is a CIA agent. If the president of the United States doesn’t know who he is before opening his mouth, then it’s just pure bullying. That he is an undercover agent of some sort appears beyond doubt to me. Major newspapers, The guardian, The Washington post, which is to the right of the New York Times, have confirmed that that is what he is. There appears to be a turf war between ISI and CIA. What his mission was, we don’t know. The ISI, I’m sure knows where he was going. The suggestion is that he was going on some mission to help or assist Pakistani Taliban. That is one suggestion that has been made. The implication being that the Pakistani Taliban are in some way connected to the CIA. This story, I think, has come from the ISI. What the turf war is, we don’t know. We know that a civil court in the United States has subpoenaed the head of the ISI. This may well be a way of saying, “let’s play then. If you want to play, we are ready.” It may be that sort of thing.
DR- What does this tell us about the state of play in the relations between Pakistan and the United States?
AA- The Pakistani state has been very smart in all of this. They may have ruined their country in playing this game, but they have played a double game with the Americans; taking their money, periodically handing over an Al Qaeda person or someone they have fallen out with in order to create an appearance that they are [helping]. They allow, or collaborate with these drone attacks. So it’s a double game, but ISI has always insisted on having as much autonomy from both their own military as well as the CIA. And this is a due to ISI wanting its own autonomy that this has surfaced.
DR- And the Americans are still playing the old card of linking the Davis issue with further aid, but as we know, in the past, the Americans have never gone through with this threat and the Pakistanis have played to that. Can you see this unfolding in a similar manner?
AA- I think, on that level, the Pakistanis have the Americans on the back foot.