Musharraf at Stanford
By Amjad Noorani
Los Altos, California
With security and protocol befitting a head of state, the former President and the last of four military rulers of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf spoke February 16 at Stanford University as the Annual ‘Big Speaker’ guest of the Stanford in Government (SIG) program – a non-partisan, student organization for promoting political awareness.
The packed Memorial Auditorium on the beautiful campus with close to a thousand in audience was testimonial to the keen interest on the subject, "Terrorism and Extremism: The Need for a Holistic Approach." The well-known controversial speaker and vital importance of the topic could combine to easily attract a much larger audience but this event was for the students and faculty of this premier California institution, with guests and others from the community in smaller numbers. In typical California fashion, demonstrators of various ilk gave the hungry media squads plenty to talk about on an otherwise quiet news day.
Whether or not one agrees with the enigmatic Pervez Musharraf, one has to concede that the general commands respect when he speaks with the confidence of a military leader and, true to his army ways, he responded to the welcome greetings with a semi-formal salute and his trade mark charismatic smile. Casually attired in tan corduroy jacket and khaki pants, he delivered a wide-ranging speech with an opening statement that terrorism and extremism are inextricably linked. “Terrorism is visible whereas extremism is a state of mind. The terrorist has to be dealt with force, maybe militarily. Terrorism has afflicted societies for ages but modern technological developments and the new emergence of suicide bombing has added a new dimension to terrorism.”
Emphasizing that it is wrong to think of Pakistan as a perpetrator of terrorism, Musharraf Sahib added that “Pakistan faces terrorism with all of its facets. We have been victims of terrorism. It is important to understand that what is happening in Pakistan is because of the environment [created] in the last 30 years. It is also important to understand the role of Pakistan, because the success of Pakistan [in the war on terror] is absolutely critical, if we are to ultimately win the global war on terror.”
Strongly behind a holistic approach to counteract terrorism and extremism, he listed the root causes of the twin evils in illiteracy, poverty and a sense of political alienation, injustice and powerlessness arising from unresolved political disputes such as the longstanding ones in Palestine, Kashmir, Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq – and adding, “Unfortunately, Muslims are involved in all these areas. The Muslim psyche is terribly hurt. The Muslim youth is extremely angry in all these areas where Muslims are on the receiving end. As an example, the [current] Gaza conflict only contributes to the hopelessness and powerlessness and sense of political deprivation. It encourages more extremism and more terrorism.”
With reference to adverse indoctrination, General Musharraf pointed out that “the emotional turmoil among Muslim youth is exploited by groups and individuals having perverse ideologies of their own, and following a distorted view of Islam. These groups pick on the frustrated youth and take them on the path of indoctrination for terrorism.” Even though the undesirable indoctrination takes place in a religious context, he was quick to point out that identifying terrorism with Islam and the growing ‘Islamophobia’ was harmful and counterproductive in the struggle against terrorism. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – however, random violence is terrorism and must be fought. It cannot be justified, that is clear.”
“Pakistan is dealing with terrorism, the Taliban and Talibanization – the spread of the obscurantist views of the Taliban. We have to stop these elements of extremism in our society, control and remove them. We have to fight Al Qaeda, the militant Taliban, stop Talibanization and check extremism. These are the complexities faced by the leaders in Pakistan. The world must understand this and cooperate – and help us. If we are to succeed, we have to adopt a holistic approach in all its complexity, with a short and long-term plan. The short-term deals with ‘the branches and leaves’ – the terrorist groups and individuals. For the long-term strategy, we have to address the root causes of poverty, illiteracy and political deprivation. The international community must understand this and should not absolve itself from addressing these root causes with sincerity and a lot of vigor.”
Offering some detail to the holistic approach for the solutions he proposes, the general reverted to military strategizing, that the problems need resolution at three levels – international, regional and domestic. Internationally, he proposes a “double pincer” or two-pronged attack, one to be delivered by the West to resolve the political disputes, especially the important and longstanding disputes of Palestine and Kashmir because they affect the internal extremist situation in those regions. The other prong would consist of actions by the Muslim countries themselves, adding, “We, as Muslims, cannot leave everything to the Western powers. We must reject terrorism and extremism as a [united] body, ourselves. Both [prongs] must succeed. One cannot succeed without the other. We, as Muslims, should address the issues of socio-economic development in the Muslim world and also contribute, as a central representative body, to a better and clearer understanding of Islam as a whole, with which we are all confused at the present time.”
For the socio-economic programs, he added, “There are some [UN sponsored] Millennium Development Goals (MDG) or targets for 2015; there again I think we are falling short. These MDG address the issues of poverty, education, health care – the root causes of terrorism. But we are falling short because the developed [donor] countries who are supposed to give 0.7% of their GDP to the developing countries haven’t done so. The playing field must be uneven in favor of developing nations [for them to make progress].” He decried too that Pakistan has received only $10 billion in the last seven years (half of which was for ‘social development’ and the other half for the army), compared to $143 billion spent by the US in Iraq and close to a trillion dollars in Afghanistan.
Asking again for better understanding of what Pakistan has gone through in the last 30 years, the former army chief scorned criticism of the army and the intelligence service (the infamous ISI), and the personal aspersions against him. He could not disguise his irritation when he complained of Pakistan getting nothing but problems in return for its help in training and sending nearly 30,000 mujahideen freedom fighters into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. “We brought the mujahideen [into Pakistan], we armed them, trained and sent them to fight the Soviets for 10 years. The next 12 years, we were used [by the Western powers]. What did we get? Nothing! We got nothing! We were all alone. The mujahideen coalesced into Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden came as a mujahideen [and became the leader]. Al Qaeda [and Taliban] shifted their focus from the Soviets [to the US and the Western powers, and took over Afghanistan]. Four million Afghan refugees came to Pakistan [to flee from the Taliban regime]. All this had to be handled by the intelligence, the poor government and army of Pakistan – without any help! They [Afghan refugees] came into Pakistan’s cities and mountains and they had ethnic linkages with the [Pakhtoon] tribals.” The rest is the unfortunate recent history of Pakistan’s tailspin into becoming a haven for terrorism and extremism.
Musharraf also proposes a two-prong strategy to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “Military [action] only buys time. It cannot give you the final solution, which has to come through political means. We have to do more. Who is doing more than Pakistan and who is suffering more than Pakistan? A leader in Pakistan plays a balancing act between public opinion on the one hand and Western – mostly US – demands on the other hand. We have to go the political channel [and find] a home-grown solution by the people of Afghanistan [and Pakistan]. Don’t dictate [to us] how that has to be done. We understand how it needs to be done better than you do. Lastly, the socio-economic [development] prong is essential to the solution because it provides jobs and weans the people away [from the extremist factions].”
He closed with a straightforward statement. “We’re together in the fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Talibanization. Pakistan is sincere in the war against terrorism and extremism. Let there be no doubt about it – because it is in Pakistan’s own interest. You must understand that. Pakistan’s success in the global war on terrorism is vital to the whole world, so please help us. Please understand our problems and please encourage us.”
In the on-stage conversation with Prof. Sagan of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, Musharraf visibly bristled at the question of security of Pakistan’s nuclear installations and responded that they were just as secure as those in other nuclear countries. Sagan’s next question about nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan and his easy life under ‘mansion arrest’ detention also seemed to annoy the general and he dismissed it on the grounds of sensitivity. He acknowledged that perhaps A.Q. Khan had been greedy in supplying nuclear plans to Korea and Iran but was probably not an ‘Islamist’ or extremist.
The liberal student body came well armed with piercing and pertinent questions but the general seemed ready for the adversarial match and spirited banter in the Q&A. Most questions were fielded comfortably by Musharraf but he also eased out of some tough ones on the grounds of “sensitivity” or that there wasn’t sufficient time at the forum.
True to expectation, the question of Pakistani involvement in the recent Mumbai attacks had to come up and Musharraf responded factually and with ease that terrorists must be brought to justice. “But let us not get hyper about it and whip up more hysteria so that the whole process of peace which was moving forward gets totally disrupted. We are together on terrorism, Pakistan and India. We must have peaceful relations.”
Due to the format of the event and its sponsorship by the student organization, the media (this occasional writer included) were not allowed to ask any questions from the floor. But, given the opportunity, perhaps one would have liked to ask the former President the following:
1) As a former head of state for nine years, what regrets do you have? And what would you do differently, in hindsight? 2) What are the reasons that your administration was not able to establish essential civic institutions and curb the rampant corruption at all levels? (Note: ‘War on terror’ is not an acceptable answer). 3) The all-powerful feudal system holds back development in the country. Sadly, it is in the interest of the feudal powers to keep Pakistan’s masses uneducated and in the grip of economic slavery [poverty]. Question: In the short term, how can the feudal system be weakened and eliminated? (Please be specific and brutally honest). 4) The powers of the mirs and feudal rulers of the ‘Northern Areas’ were summarily eliminated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s administration in the 1970’s, and a federalist system put in place. Why haven’t the same actions been taken in other regions? 5). Punjab and Sindh are the two thriving, progressive provinces. What is the plan for incorporating the Northern Area region as a fifth province? Likewise, what is the plan for the FATA and other autonomous tribal areas to be incorporated into the Frontier province or Balochistan, for equal treatment and rights for their people and with equitable development and social programs in these regions?
In time, history judges the worth and contribution of past national leaders and General Musharraf will get his report card, one way or another. Certainly, he deserves credit for service to the country and our respect for his virtues and ethics. But is it enough that a past national leader was simply “more honest than many previous ones”? What’s the big deal about being honest? Is honesty the benchmark, an exception to the rule in the ethos of Pakistani leaders? With the absolute power that a military ruler has at his disposal, shouldn’t President Musharraf have done much more to leave a legacy of solid civic institutions for the country, or at least laid the foundation for the basic institutions of civil society? Shouldn’t the bar be raised and our expectations much higher of our future leaders, with zero tolerance for poor performance? By default, shouldn’t governance be by elected representatives, and by established law of the land? And, proverbially – doesn’t the army belong in the barracks, its only job being the security of peaceful borders?
Let the civilians make mistakes. Let the country find the right side up, on its own. The people must speak with their votes and good deeds, with respect and tolerance for opposing views. The leaders must listen and accept replacement of ideas and archaic ideologies, for the sake of Pakistan and its future.