Q. Salem Turk (Australia) Will the US be allowed by Pakistan to step up its operations in the border area with Afghanistan after this blast? Is not this an obvious violation of Pakistan's sovereignty?
A. Well, the United States and Pakistan already have a tacit arrangement to cooperate with each other on intelligence and limited combat matters in Pakistan's tribal areas. Obviously, the latest attack and the most horrific terrorist attack in Islamabad will bring Pakistan much closer to the United States, as Pakistan alone cannot combat such a threat, which equally threatens Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States and all other countries faced with the terrorist danger.
Given the commonality of this danger, greater cooperation between Pakistan and the United States, even involving more US strikes, would mean they will have due governmental approval. As for the generally anti-American public opinion, the government will have to come up with creative media policy to tackle it, as Pak-US cooperation to tackle terrorism intensifies.
Q. (Burhan) Why Pakistan is fighting a war for the US interests? Will Pakistan pay much cost for its alliance with America? People in Pakistan don't like this alliance it gets the most benefits for the Americans and the least benefit, or may be troubles, to the Pakistanis.
A. The issue is not as simple as you, or so many others around you in the Muslim world, perceive. Let me make it absolutely clear that Pakistan, at least for now, is fighting its own war, and I can bet it can win this war on its own if it emulates what some other countries have done to combat terrorism. Like the Saudis and the Indonesians, the country's new rulers will have to first treat this war as its own.
And I think as far as the new government is concerned, it has already declared it as Pakistan's war. We are waiting as to what tangible steps it takes for the purpose. The lessons we get from Saudi or Indonesia's success against terrorism is that they have followed a zero tolerance policy against extremists and terrorists, employed all possible security measures to hunt down terrorists and preempt their acts, they have turned extremists against extremists, so on and so forth.
As to the emphasis you have given to this war serving US interests, yes it is serving US interests. Realistically speaking, why should it not serve US interests? If we really felt sorry when the US was attacked on September 11, 2001, then the United States has the right to respond. Now one can argue that this response has not been positive, or, more specifically, that US has used force unnecessarily, but this does not mean that if a great power is attacked by terrorists, it should not respond militarily. As the US did respond militarily, strategically important countries like Pakistan either out of fear or seeing an opportunity decided to joint the US-led war effort.
In this partnership, we can realistically expect the interests of the bigger partner being served more that the smaller one. But this is really not the case. The Taliban and al-Qaeda--or now this new entity called Fidayeen of Islam, which has claimed responsibility for the Islamabad Marriott attack, pose a common threat to any people, any nation that wants to live freely, peacefully and democratically. And, therefore, the issue of America's interests being served more than Pakistan's does not arise here at all.
Q. (Mohamed, Kenya) Pakistan regimes has been friendly theto US for sometime and there has been more loose than gains, what’s your opinion for the positive future of this nation?
A. At least three times in the past sixty years of history, Pakistan's three different regimes have had a close strategic partnership with the United States; in the late 50s and early 60s, as a member of SEATO and CENTO Pakistan acted as a hedge against communism in South Asia; then, from 1979, it facilitated the international jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in which US military and financial help played an important role; and, lastly, Pakistan has been a partner in the US-led War on Terror in Afghanistan and the South-Western region.
First of all, realistically speaking, when a small country is an ally of a great power, it is the latter which gets more benefits from this relationship than the former. In the case of Pak-US ties, especially their three strategic phases, the last one going on at present despite all of its stresses and strains, Pakistan's interests were also served. In the 50s, our defense alliance with the US helped us obtained US military help to counter the Indian security threat. In the 80s, we were able to reverse the Soviet dream of having access to war waters of the Indian Ocean. Without US help, it was difficult to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. And, now, Pakistan has obtained billions of US dollars as a price for fighting terrorism. Some or most of this amount may have been siphoned off by the local civil-military elites is our issue, and we cannot blame the United States for that.
Q. (Abdullah) Don't you think that Pakistan is fighting a proxy war for US? How can things change? I mean World Bank and IMF manipulating our policies? Is it a part of the big plan not to let democracy nurture in Pakistan as it is not in the interest of certain forces? I think that the root cause is Hunger and poverty not the religion, when you are hungry and naked and roofless, you are willing to loose anything for the sake of few hundred bucks?
A. My friend, if hunger alone was the cause of terrorism, then we would have seen more of terrorism in impoverished African regions. Terrorism is a politically motivated violent act, and it essentially has political root-causes.
I also smell conspiracy in your question. Well, this is a typical mindset we have in the Muslim world. Even after the Marriott attack, I see people coming up with all sorts of conspiracies. The fact, however, is that for several years a number of local and Afghan Taliban, plus their al-Qaeda and Uzbek allies have been waging insurgency in FATA, and now in Swat. Our security forces are trying to combat them. Sometime NATO or US forces also take action against them. And whenever Taliban and their local and foreign allies get the opportunity, they conduct a terrorist act, mostly a suicide bombing. Its target can be NATO forces, Pakistani security or citizens, Afghan nationals or Indian diplomats. These terrorists make no distinction as to who is who. This is a simple explanation.
As for the US domination of the World Bank, the IMF, or the Jewish control of world financial system, or the ties between Israel, India and US--such and many other things which usually form part of the theory of a grand global conspiracy to destroy Muslims, will continue even in the absence of terrorism or the War against Terrorism. Please read, read and read--a message that the Quran gave us in the beginning--and read scholarly stuff, only then you can be spared of a conspiracy mindset.
Q. (Noor, Pakistan) Why can’t the Pakistan Government stop following US and think on its own? They are fighting a war that is not theirs and killing their own citizens. What is the government getting out of this! CASH?
A. Who says this is not Pakistan's war. Suppose if we finish our ties with the United States, who can promise that then we will be spared of the terrorist threat? Tell me, Noor, would you like to live in a country led by Taliban as was the case in Afghanistan? If yes, then I think it is useless to argue with you. Since as a former journalist, I had covered the rise of Taliban, I know very well as to what this rise eventually meant for the people of Afghanistan, including Pashtun who had a different Islamic creed, and all of the rest.
One is not necessarily arguing here that following US should somehow always be a good national policy. Allies differ on so many issues. And sometime they part ways, as happened few times in Pak-US ties. But, remember, whenever the US left us, it was us, be it the ruling elites, we begged for a close ties with America, whether for money's sake or otherwise.
A rational policy for a civilian democratic government should be to expand the country's ties internationally, and benefit as much as possible from this. Today, we have a security problem which cannot be tackled alone, and needs all sorts of financial and security help from abroad, including the United States.
Q. (Tomasz) Is it true that there were Marines in the hotel readying for deployment?
A. Yes, there were US marines at the Marriott Hotel, two of whom died. This was actually the first Five Star Hotel in the city, and therefore, foreigners mostly preferred it over another one built in recent years, because they knew it. So, you always had foreign dignitaries, military officials, UN or US military officers staying at Marriott Islamabad.
Q. (Tahir) Newspapers are talking about the resurgence of the Taliban and Al-qaeda in Afghanistan, is it the same in Pakistan? And How much is the popular support the Taliban receives from the masses in Pakistan? People of Pakistan like the Taliban-like people because they see them as Mujahedeen, how far is this true?
A. Yes, Taliban have risen in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was decimated in the beginning of the war, but its two top leaders are still at large in the border region. The chaotic Pakistani and regional situation may have helped in the resurgence of al-Qaeda, however.
Well, you can't say the majority of Pakistanis support the Taliban or what they do. Nobody likes terrorism, because its chief targets are people. But, given the influence of Mullahs and the prevalence of regressive ideas in national media, education system and broader society, public sympathies for Taliban have not fully eroded. There is no dearth of people passing the buck on to America or India or pro-Indian Afghanistan for the crime that is being committed by Taliban and their al-Qaeda or other allies.
The perpetrators of terrorism are local, and many of them may have participated in the anti-Soviet jihad. But that jihad finished long time ago. However, there are people, like former ISI chief Hamid Gul, and so many others, who still promote the idea that this jihad is still going on. This heinous process of maligning the public opinion in Pakistan has been going on for years, and only time will tell us how long and what it takes to change it.
Q. (Hanen, Syria) Isn't Musharraf, the previous president, suspected to have hands in the Marriott blasts?
A. No. Is it a joke?
Q. (Jameel Qadi) Do you think the Taliban and Al-Qaida are capable of confronting the Pakistani army and the US attacks? There has been news that they can easily abduct Pakistani soldiers, and they are armed to the teeth, will they succeed?
A. Yes, they are pretty well armed, and are operating in a region that was historically lawless. Just yesterday, they kidnapped the Afghan ambassador designate. They had kidnapped for months Pakistan's envoy to Kabul.
However, as far as your question regarding al-Qaeda or Taliban ability to fight the Pakistan army and the US is concerned, if the two coordinate their effort more effectively and aggressively, I don't think any Taliban or al-Qaeda force can withstand the might of international forces. But I must say that it will be a long drawn battle still.
Let me also give a reference to an obvious tendency. I had observed among Taliban and their Arab 'Mujahideen' allies while I used to report Afghanistan for a Pakistani daily years ago, including an interview with Mulla Umar. The Taliban Shura members would frequently tell me that since they had defeated one superpower they can defeat another one as well. That was, and still is, quite irrational. This is because the jihad against the Soviets was a truly international venture, and the Mujahideen alone could never have defeated the Soviets. Even otherwise, terrorism is never a politically successful strategy, and this is the only weapon that al-Qaeda and Taliban seem to employ now. It will eventually backfire, and more than anything else, it is the democracy in Pakistan that will defeat it once and for all.
Q. Amin (Al-Azhar University, Cairo) Do you think that Zardari is an excellent caliph to Musharraf (i.e another piece on the chessboard) or there will be real change in Pakistan?
A. Well, Amin, Musharraf was a real disaster for Pakistan, as he thrived on instigating extremists behind the scenes to prolong himself in power. With God's blessing, we have this transition in Pakistan this year from him to a democratic civilians-led era. The party Zardari heads is traditionally liberal. Even otherwise, all of other civilian parties, except Jamaat-e-Islami, are either ethnic or nationalistic, or a bit conservative. And all of them are against what the Taliban and their affiliates are doing in Pakistan and to Pakistanis first and foremost.
As a journalist, I had covered the terrorist attack against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in Non 1995, and the Islamabad attack on Marriott I can tell you is a repeat of the same. In 1995, Islamabad sufered the first suicide terrorist attack, and now it is the 10nth one, all of these attacks have claimed more than two hundred innocent lives.
In fact, Noman Galal, who was the Egyptian ambassador in 1995 and a very close friend, visited Pakistan only a month ago. He stayed at Marriott, where we had dinner, and we remembered that horrific episode. Let's pray that Pakistan's new rulers succeed in their fight against this evil. Zardari is not that mature. He talks in abstractions. He is no replacement of Benazir Bhutto, whose assassination I think was our biggest national tragedy.
I am afraid the government has not yet articulated a comprehensive counter-terror plan. But I think over time and given the gravity of the threat, we will have an effective plan in place, with tangible point-by-point agenda.
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