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Interview with Shireen Mazari

The PakistanCIA The World Factbook
Interview with
Shireen Mazari,
Yuli Ismartono [time 29:19]

13th February, 2007

Welcome to another edition of THE LEADERS. I am Yuli Ismartono from AsiaViews in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan.
     Pakistan is the world's second largest Muslim country--in terms of population--after Indonesia.
     Yet contrary to popular but misguided perception, Islam in Pakistan is one of 'enlightened moderation.'
     One particular myth is the status of women in Muslim societies - inferior and subjugated. Pakistan was once led by a woman, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Another woman who shatters this myth is Dr. Shireen Mazari, Director-General of the Institute of Strategice Studies in Islamabad.
     Dr. Mazari will speak with us on issues of defence and security, a subject she has written extensively about.
     She is also a regular columnist for The News and she hosts a weekly current affairs program at one of Pakistan's television stations. Dr. Mazari is author of the book, The 1999 Kargil Conflict: Separating Fact from Fiction.
     She received her Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University in New York, USA and honor from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Yuli Ismartono: Dr. Mazari, I'd like to begin by asking you general question about Pakistan's security situation, vis a vis the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the growing potential for conflict in Iran, although there seems to be encouraging signs regarding relations with India.

Shireen Mazari: Well, actually there would be encouraging signs even in Afghanistan and Iran, if the external powers that are now present would be following better policies. The major source for instability in Afghanistan is post-Taliban policy that was operated by the United States. Initially, they began arming the warlords, giving them money, as a means of stability in Afghanistan despite the historical experience that this is not helping work, that this will not stabilize. And that's exactly what's happened. You have the resurgence of the poppy culture, you have the warlords creating little fiefdoms of their own. The result was that the central government in Kabul had no authority and still has no authority outside of central Kabul effectively. That is why there's this growing instability.

     Then, of course, you have the resurgence of the Taliban which now has become enmeshed with the resurgence of the Pashtoon type of nationalism against the occupying powers, at least, what the Pashtoons see as an occupation forces. So, it's not just the Taliban. It's the different diverse groups of Pashtoons getting together. Unfortunately, the effort by the US to fight this global war on terror purely by military means has proven to be totally ineffective, in fact, counterproductive because what has happened in Afghanistan and in Iraq also, is that more and more political and military space has been created for the terrorists, because of the lack of the success of the military. You have to have a more holistic effort in fighting terrorism. You have to distinguish between the terrorists and the conservative, or what you may call fundamentalist Islamic groups of people. Because by nature, Pashtoon society is still a very conservative Sunni society. So, it's very difficult to say who is a Taliban and who is not a Taliban among the Pashtoons. Just as it's very difficult to distinguish for the Americans, it seems, between Al-Qaeda and ordinary Pashtoon Taliban who may or may not want to have a military war with the occupying forces. This is the other problem.

     The third problem for the instability in Afghanistan is that NATO troops are insufficient. We now have 80,000 troops along our borders with Afghanistan, in Baluchistan and the WFP. The NATO troops are barely 42-43,000. That's not enough. And then of course, you do not help matters when you start accusing Pakistan of not doing enough, despite the fact we feel we have done more than anybody else, of deliberately harboring the Taliban, which is also nonsensical, because more than in anyone's interest, it's in our interest to have stability in Afghanistan. One of the problems has been that Pakistan till now has a totally open border with Afghanistan, which is not what the other neighbors of Afghanistan have. So, now we've taken the decision to fence the border, and that should have brought about appreciation from NATO and the Kabul government. But they don't want fencing, which to me this is inexplicable. If you are accusing us of allowing people to cross the border for conducting acts of terror, then you must allow us to stop that by fencing the border. So in Afghanistan, this is the problem.

     Vis a vis Iran, the Iran-US standoff is a source of major instability in the region. We feel that yes Iran should subscribe to its commitments under the non-proliferation treaty. But having said that, they have a right to develop peaceful nuclear energy as other countries do. Japan has a very extensive peaceful nuclear program, including reprocessing, enrichment and so on. If Iran is prepared to do that, and it has said it doesn't want to leave the NTTS, which North Korea did when it wanted to become 'weaponized.' Then we must give them the benefit of the doubt. They're prepared to have the IAEA come in. They're prepared to cooperate. The problem is that the Americans don't want to have a dialogue. They don't want to negotiate with Iran. They want to find a pretext for attacking Iran to bring about regime change. And that unfortunately, is the main and prime cause of instability vis a vis Iran. And I think that if the Americans are foolish enough to conduct a military operation and it seems they may just do that, because they moved in a third aircraft carrier - the new head of CENTCOM is now a naval officer for the first time, not an army officer - so maybe they're thinking of some form of naval attack or whatever. If that is the case, this whole area is going to erupt. For Pakistan, it will be very problematic because then any Pakistani government will find it almost impossible to cooperate on the US war on terrorism, because obviously we are a diverse Muslim society. We have a strong Shia population which is in the minority but it is part of the mainstream. Even the Sunnis here would not accept an American attack against Iran. So for us that's a problem and of course, for us we have a very different approach to Iran. We see Iran as a brother Muslim state, with which we have cultural links, we have a whole lot of historical linkages. We want Iran to become more active in the mainstream of the region, not to be isolated. So, there is a different pull for us from that of the US. So that's a source of instability also, not only in the region but also in US-Pakistan relations.

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Personal Plofile
Shireen Mazari Shireen Mazari,
Dr. Shireen M. Mazari is a noted scholar of strategic studies and political science. She is currently Director-General of a research think tank called the Institute of Strategic Studies, in Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad.
     Dr. Mazari was Associate Professor and then Chairperson of the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University. She is a well-known writer and a regular columnist for The News and she hosts a weekly current affairs program at a Pakistan television station.
     She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University, New York and Honors from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Yuli Ismartono Yuli Ismartono, [Interviewer]
Yuli Ismartono is an executive editor at Tempo, Indonesia's foremost weekly news magazine. Ms. Ismartono, who holds degrees in political science and journalism, has been with Tempo for 15 years, mostly assigned to covering events around the Asia region and interviewing national leaders - such as former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung,Cambodia's King Sihanouk and prime minister Hun Sen, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other newsmakers. She is currently in charge of Tempo's English language edition and managing editor of AsiaViews, an online and hardcopy magazine featuring news and commentaries from the Asia region, of which Tempo is a member and coordinator of the media group that publishes it.
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