Zakaria: Choice to modernize Pakistan must be Pakistanis’

Fareed Zakaria, host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN and editor-at-large for Time, introduces Chautauqua’s week of lectures on Pakistan Monday morning in the Amphitheater. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Laurence Léveillé | Staff Writer

Violence caused by jihads is a relatively new problem, but many people associate it with Islam as a whole.

People first thought the cause of the Sept. 11 attacks had to do with Islam, a religion that has been around since the seventh century.

Despite beliefs that the religion is the cause of some violence, countries such as Indonesia and India are peaceful and democratic societies, said Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of Time magazine and CNN host, during Monday’s morning lecture.

Zakaria was the first speaker of Week Five, themed “Pakistan: Straddling the Boundary Between Asia and the Middle East.” He informed the audience about the history of Westernization in the Arab world and Pakistan’s deeply rooted religious nationalism.

“It is easy to understand why people kill,” he said. “The whole history of humanity is full of that, unfortunately. What is more difficult to understand is why somebody would be willing to die in killing people.”

The problems behind the practice of jihad in the Arab world are of recent origin, Zakaria said. When the Arab world was decolonized in the early 1950s, there was promise and hope for it, he said. Leaders spoke of renewing the Arab world and used Western economic ideas to take steps toward modernization.

But by 1965, that same area was a political desert and an economic wasteland because the Western style of modernization had failed. Stagnation, corruption and dictatorship followed.

“It fails because the political model, which promised republics and democracy, turned into military dictatorship,” Zakaria said.

As the rest of the world faced changes in the early 1990s, the Arab world went backward in time. In Egypt, people had more freedom of the press in 1950 than they did in 1995, he said.  The failure of the political model led to the rise of dissent.

Dissent could not develop in cafes, newspapers or parliaments of the Arab world. As a result, it became prominent in the only place it could not be banned: the mosque.

“Islam became the language of political opposition to these regimes, because it was the only language that was permissible,” Zakaria said.

The rise of violent political Islam was linked to those repressive, Westernized dictatorships, he said.

With his analysis of the Arab world in mind, Zakaria said the country the United States should worry about most is Pakistan, as it has 80 nuclear weapons and is run by a military regime rather than a civilian government.

Zakaria said the reason he believes the U.S. will not win its war in Afghanistan is because the jihadi have safe havens in Pakistan, which Pakistan lets exist.

When Americans go into conflict, he said, they simplify the issue into a “good guy versus bad guy” scenario. But asking Pakistan for support cannot be simplified due to its roots.

Pakistan was founded when the British decolonized India. When they left, some Indians worried they would not be secure in a secular democracy and created their own state.

In 1956, Pakistan became an Islamic state, because its president believed it would provide a source of legitimacy for his dictatorship against democratic forces in the country, Zakaria said.

“He could ally himself with the mosques, the clerics, the preachers, against the Westernized liberals who are trying to do silly do-good things like the rule of law and democracy,” he said.

Pakistan’s strategy is to fight India, to keep Afghanistan on edge and to lead an invincible Islamic resistance against the U.S., Zakaria said.

“We confront this very complex reality of what do we do with a country not whose policies are ones that we oppose, but in whose national DNA or political DNA is hardwired a certain kind of religious nationalism, a certain violent opposition to the forces of secular democracy and an intrinsic anti-Americanism,” he said.

To understand Pakistan’s rooted anti-Americanism, the forces of its existence and nationalism must be understood. It was not necessarily an intended decision, Zakaria said, but rather a consequence of creating a nation with religious nationalism.

When Americans ask Pakistan to stop supporting terrorists in North Waziristan, he said, they are asking the country to unravel a policy that has been around for decades.

“You’re asking them to act in a way that really is beginning to question the very idea of Pakistan,” he said.

Pakistan is currently ranked in Foreign Policy magazine’s list of 60 failed states. There are high levels of poverty and inequality, and the practice of fundamentalist Islam has been implemented into the educational system in the past 20 to 30 years.

“The result is that Pakistan is in a kind of slow-motion freefall,” Zakaria said, “and as a result, something is going to have to change.”

Through modernization, Pakistan can rescue itself, he said. The country currently has a military conception of national interest rather than a civilian conception.

India’s economy is growing 7 percent per year. By opening trade and waters, Zakaria said, Pakistan can use that as an opportunity to raise Pakistanis’ standard of living and to create prosperity. That can help lessen tensions in the region.

The conception of national development as national security allowed Indonesia to shift from one of the poorest countries in the world into an emerging market, Zakaria said.

“If we can achieve that kind of transformation in Pakistan,” he said, “there is nothing that prevents them from being an extraordinarily productive place.”

But the decision to modernize the country is ultimately the Pakistanis’ choice, he said. When the U.S. provides military aid to move the process forward, he said, it does not work out well. If Pakistanis decide they want their country to become modern, there is no barrier.

“It’s going to be a very slow, very arduous process, but it is fundamentally a Pakistani choice,” Zakaria said. “The Pakistanis have to decide what kind of country they want. We can be their well wishers.”

Photo by Adam Birkan.


Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Can we talk for a minute about your point at the beginning of your talk about Pakistan being dangerous as a holder of nuclear weapons? It’s interesting to me that you didn’t really come back to that apart from the remarkable names of the weapons themselves. Can you take apart what is going on with the nuclear weapons there, and what you think are the risks?

A: What worries me about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is, to begin with, they were created as a product of illegal proliferation. The Pakistanis got these weapon through a combination of Chinese know-how, a little bit of North Korean, and all under the radar screen illegally bought. Very different from the Indian program or the Israeli program, which were essentially homegrown. These counties had a highly advanced scientific technological basis of nuclear technology which is 70 years old. If you are doing as well as India or Israel in economics in general, you’re going to have the ability to do this kind of thing. Pakistan is different. It was essentially a process of illegally gotten materials and subterfuge. Secondly, they then proceeded to proliferate. For all that people have talked about, the only example that we know of of rampant nuclear proliferation came out of Pakistan, out of the A.Q. Khan network, which is the one that was really selling to any bidder, which is the scariest part of it. It wasn’t any state-to-state relationship, which could be documented. There was a sense that he was in it partly for the money and partly for ideology, and as a result, anyone could get it. I have to emphasize — the thing about these things is that they are low-probability, high-impact events. Somebody once explained this with a metaphor of a black swan. You think of swans as white, so you don’t notice the black swan, but they do exist — in Australia, by the way. This is one of those. The Pakistani military is by and large a very efficient, well-run military. They do have control of the nuclear weapons. It is unlikely to let them slip into jihadi hands. Even though there have been a few attacks on Pakistani naval bases by jihadis in the last three years, my fear is not that there is a high probability, but that there is a low probability, but very high-impact event — because if it were to happen, these are small, tactical nuclear weapons that were designed to be able to be quickly deployed for use against the Indians on the Indian border. It’s precisely the kind of stuff you do not want falling into the wrong hands. If somebody gets a hold of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, more power to them. They’re not going to be able to launch it. Those are very, very complicated technologies; you need enormous thrust capacity with rockets to be able to do. But a lot of what Pakistan has is stuff that could be put into the back of a bus, and that’s why it worries me.

Q: How did the secession of Bangladesh in 1971 shape Pakistan since then?

A: That’s a wonderful question, because when India was divided, it was divided into India and then East Pakistan and West Pakistan. East Pakistan is closer to the Pacific Ocean, and West Pakistan, which is what is now called Pakistan. It’s a perfect illustration of how Islam was not a national ideology and could not be a national ideology. The people in the East Pakistan simply could not get on with the people in the West Pakistan, because they spoke an entirely different language. They spoke Bengali — they did not speak any of the languages in the west — and they were also discriminated against and treated like second-class citizens, which is a difficult trick to manage anyway to have two countries separated by this mass body of land in the middle which is — by the way — occupied by a country with which you are officially at war. It was an inevitable disillusion. But it’s interesting to note that Bangladesh has been a much more successful country economically and in human development terms, because it has a national identity. Its national identity is largely bound up with its language and its linguistic identity, not with Islam. So it doesn’t have to search for a new national identity. The great shift that took place after that war was that Pakistan redoubled its efforts to now, since it didn’t have to pretend to be a multi-lingual society anymore, it doubled down on the idea of Islam as the animating force of Pakistan. It also regarded the defeat — the Indian army defeated Pakistan in 13 days — it regarded that defeat as a humiliation from which it had to recover, and thus the army got a larger and larger role in its society. A particularly odd development when you consider it was the army that lost in 13 days.

Q: Can you imagine the creation of an Indo-continental union along the lines of the European Union that might include Pakistan and India?

A: You know, I grew up in India. My father was a very passionate opponent of the partition of India, because he believed very deeply in the idea of secular democracy and not religious nationalism. He was a young student at the time and fought it bitterly. So I think it was a great, great sadness of his life that it happened, because he believed it would have strengthened both the Muslims and the Hindus. The result of the partition of course was the many Muslims of India — remember, there are 150 million Muslims in India — were everywhere a minority, and thus politically unrepresented and politically powerless. Everywhere that they were a majority, by the principle of partition, became Pakistan. And so there are only four constituencies in India where Muslims make up more than 30 percent of the electorate. You would have had in his view a more genuinely pluralistic, a more genuinely democratic system — one that would have been able to navigate these diversities better. He also believed that there would be more experimentation among the states, because the states would have had more power. It would have been more of an American model. There were many states in India, many of them Muslim-dominated. They were more market-oriented, so India would not have gone down its 40-year failed experiment in socialism, perhaps. There are all kinds of benefits. It’s not going to happen the way he thought it was going to, but I do think that the goal should be for all the politicians in the region to not quibble over the borders, but to make the borders less and less important. So that if you allow trade, if you allow tourism, if you allow cross-border investment, if you open up the system — so that fine, you have these different countries, and they have their different identities, they are proud of them, but they begin to exist and co-inhabit one space — what you will find, in my opinion, is an explosion of commerce, of trade, but also of cultural ties. Remember, these are one people in many very fundamental senses. When Pervez Musharraf was used to negotiate with the Indian prime minister, I always pointed out to people that it was one of the great ironies of history and a perfect illustration of the essentially united subcontinent. Musharraf was born in Delhi, and his family had to move to Pakistan because of the partition. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, was born in Lahore and had to move to New Delhi because of the partition. You all must wish that they could actually have had one summit at each of their ancestral homes to underlie the reality that there is an enormous amount that unites these people. And by the way, you see this most obviously in the diaspora community. The diasporas of Indians and Pakistanis, wherever they might live, make essentially no distinctions among Indians and Pakistanis. They see themselves as the same people, and maybe they know something.

Q: There are several questions about how Israel figures into this. How much of a role do you think there is in the shaping of opinions toward America that has to do with America’s alliance with Israel? What is the perception of the Arab-Israeli dispute within Pakistan?

A: Let me make two points. I think at a fundamental level, Israel has very little to do with this. There’s a reason Israel isn’t part of my narrative, because it is not fundamentally what animated what happened in Pakistan — it’s not the reason the Pakistani military did what it did, it is not the reason Pakistan took on this religious DNA. When Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, began whipping up Muslim sentiment to try to create a divided India, Israel didn’t even exist. But it is certainly true that the plight of the Palestinians has become a kind of symbolic cause that Muslims around the world identify with. You can ask yourself why, and you can have deep discussions about who’s to blame and whether the Israelis have been forthcoming enough or not, but let me just state this as a fact that most Muslim countries in the world see the Palestinians as a disenfranchised Muslim population. That is, a group of people who live on land where they can neither vote, nor can they have their own homeland. That condition does animate an enormous amount of passion. So, I don’t believe we should buy into the kind of narrative that says that Israel is the root of the problems. On the other hand, it is clear to me that if we can do something to solve that problem, to lesson the tensions, to create some kind of viable two-state solution, it would take the air out of a lot of terrorists’ sails. It would lessen the kind of principal recruiting tool that they have. It is clearly something that would be in our interest to do, even if you don’t accept the grand narrative.

Q: Sixty-two years of aid to Pakistan is a stunning fact to think about. Where do the non-military billions go?

A: Oh, you know. You could ask that question of so many countries in the world. I don’t think Pakistan is unique in that respect. Look, some of it has gone in good ways. A lot of the agriculture programs in Pakistan are much more productive because of American technology and efforts. Educational systems in Pakistan such as they exist now, particularly the ones that are more secular, have been funded consistently by the United States. The problem, basically, is if you have a broken political organization, it’s almost like having a broken vessel. You can pour a lot of water into it, and the cracks can be small, but if they are there and they are real, the water will all seep out over time. That’s really what happens in these places. In order to use aid effectively, you need a very powerful, capable, responsive state. There are people who argue those kinds of powerful, responsive states don’t need much aid. I don’t entirely agree with that, because I think that they still are very large investments that are difficult for poor countries to make. Investments in infrastructure, investments in education — and they can be a road, but the crucial thing is that the state needs to be responsive, and the Pakistani state has not been able to do that. Just look at the simple developmental statistics, and Pakistan has been in a kind of free-fall for the last three decades.

Q: Can the Kashmir problem between Pakistan and India be settled? What was the reaction in Pakistan to President Obama’s suggestion that India get more involved with Afghanistan?

A: Well, you can imagine what the Pakistani reaction to President Obama’s suggestion. It is striking to me that the United States — again, because we are just not Machiavellian in our nature — we try to pretend we are realpolitik, but we’re really idealists at heart. We think there’s an obvious win-win for everybody and wonder why can’t we all get along. So we have not done what would be the obvious realpolitik move here, which would be to tell the Indians go at it — you create the kind of government you want in Afghanistan, and if Pakistan gets in your way, we give you license, we’ll encourage you. You balance Pakistan, rather than our trying to play this game from 8,000 miles away. We don’t do it, because we know that it would be irresponsible; the Pakistanis would go berserk. To put it simply, if this were the Soviet Union, or even China or even Imperial Britain, that is precisely what they would do. They would say, look, if the Pakistanis want to support the Taliban, let the Indians support the Northern Alliance — and by the way, I don’t know if you noticed: India is a lot bigger. So we know how this is going to end up. That’s the reality there. So Kashmir is the northern state in India that the Pakistanis and Indians have fought two wars over. Here’s the reality: Kashmir is divided into three parts. Nobody points out the first one, which a third of it was taken by China in the war in 1962. No one talks about it because “ain’t no one gonna contest that one, right?” That one happened, and the Chinese have it, and it’s mostly glaciers and mountains. Another third is called Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, and the other third is Indian Kashmir. I think the reality is this: What you see is what you get. I think this is going to be the final solution. The Indians aren’t going to give anymore, the Pakistanis don’t have the military capacity to get any more. So you will achieve some kind of settlement when the Indians are generous enough to make some kind of other overtures and the Pakistanis are realistic enough to accept the third of the loaf that they have and be done with it. In other words, there is already on the ground a reality. It’s in some ways like the Palestinian-Israeli situation. There is a Palestinian state. It’s the West Bank in Gaza, and at some point, when the Israelis are generous enough to create a context in which that can exist and the Palestinians are wise enough to realize this is what you’re going to get. The challenge is the same on this front. You need a Palestinian statesman wise enough to say to his people, “Look, I can’t get you everything, but what I can get you is pretty good.” And you need a Pakistani leader who can say the same thing. The problem is the Pakistanis then say, “What have we been fighting for for 65 years?” It’s a good question.

Q: In the contest for the presidency in this country, what do you perceive as the differences between the candidates as it relates to Pakistan and that part of the world?

A: I regard that as a loaded question. Look, I’ll tell you this, and I think it is fairly uncontroversial, unless you are employed by a campaign. Whatever you may think about President Obama’s economic policies — the things he’s done, the things Romney said he’s going to do — on foreign policy, I think it’s pretty indisputable that President Obama has done a pretty good job. I think you see this in two things. You see conservative columnists like David Brooks have written columns pointing this out, other conservatives like David Frum have pointed this out, and most importantly, you see this as the one issue that Mitt Romney is not raising in the presidential campaign. It’s an unusual situation for a Democrat to have an advantage in foreign policy. You would have to go back to John Kennedy to find the time when a Democrat could credibly claim that he was tough enough and smart enough to have an advantage in foreign policy over his opponent. Obviously Johnson did not have that opportunity during the Vietnam War, and since then, the Democrats have always been seen as weak. But Obama has done two or three things very effectively, I think. First is, he has drawn down the United States to a more manageable position in this broader campaign that we’ve been talking about in the greater Middle East. He got troops out of Iraq. Everyone said all hell would break loose. You notice hell did not break loose. That is a very good model for how to approach Afghanistan. Everyone is going to be kicking, and screaming and telling you terrible things are going to happen. Well, some things are going to happen, but they were going to happen anyway. A lot fewer terrible things are going to happen than people say. We should continue to rebalance ourselves in precisely this way, so that we have the flexibility, the resources to deal with all kinds of other challenges. Principally, nation-building at home. But also dealing with the other real foreign policy challenges we face in Asia, which is going to be the center of the world and the world economy. President Obama has pivoted to Asia very wisely and strategically. I think that in his policy toward China, you have the right balance of toughness and cooperation. In the policy toward Russia, you have the right balance where you try to get them to work with you on things like Libya and Syria, but you stand up to them when you need to. On the whole, it’s a very practical approach. I think a bunch of Democrats or liberals aren’t happy that he maintained some of the elements of the war on terror that the Bush administration did. Some wish that he were more expansive in his interventions on the basis of human rights, but I think he has been successful precisely because it has been a balanced, centrist, pragmatic approach, which is actually very much in the American tradition of successful diplomacy.

—Transcribed by Rabab Al-Sharif

There are 2 comments

  1. Mark Durie (@markdurie)

    By what criteria are Indonesia and India peaceful and democratic? In the late 1990’s, half a million Christians in Eastern Indonesia became internally displaced due to attacks by the Laskar Jihad militia. In the 1960’s hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were massacred by their fellow citizens. There have been a number of Indonesian pogroms against Chinese people and there is also a history of appalling military abuses against civilians, for example in East Timor and Aceh. India has its own long history of religious violence.
    It is true that dictators can play the Islam card to garner support, but the radicalization of Pakistan had far more to do with grassroots religious activism – and the influence of preachers such as Maududi – than the cynical manipulations of political rulers.
    As for it being a mystery why people are reading to die in killing other – the would be martyrs and the Koran tell us why: they speak of paradise and hold it out as a reward to fighters who are killed in jihad. Understanding such beliefs is not rocket science.

  2. texaslib

    I think the comment above is the auto-pilot response of the unquestioning—and I believe the bit about the rewards of dying for jihad points out the exploitation of “dictators” and is not evidence of the basic violence of Islam. A close scrutiny would reveal that most societies glorify the giving of one’s life on “behalf” of one’s country.

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