Lodhi: Though a weak state, Pakistan has a strong society

Maleeha Lodhi, a two-time Pakistani ambassador to the United States, speaks Tuesday morning in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eric Shea.

Laurence Léveillé | Staff Writer

Though Pakistan has faced several crises, people underestimate the resilience of the country’s people.

“We are a resilient society, a resilient nation, but we have a weak state,” said Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. “We are a strong society but a fragile state.”

Lodhi spoke at Tuesday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater about why Pakistan is pivotal, why the country is challenged today and its strategic dilemmas as part of Week Five, themed “Pakistan: Straddling the Boundary Between Asia and the Middle East.”

Lodhi named six reasons why the country is pivotal. Pakistan is located at the intersection between the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia, three critical regions in the world, she said.

The country has a population of 180 million people, which makes it the sixth most populated nation in the world. Lodhi said she finds advice about isolating Pakistan for disagreeing with the U.S. to be insensible.

The country is also important because it is a nuclear state, it has a Muslim identity, it plays an active, diplomatic role in the world and it has an economic vision for itself, Lodhi said. Pakistan has the ability to link the three regions and provide economic prosperity for both itself and the countries around it.

But although the country is in a strategic location that can provide opportunity, it also has challenges.

The British drew the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan when they colonized the area, which was contested by Afghan governments and challenged Pakistan. On the eastern side, there are unresolved issues between Pakistan and India.

“Pakistan, therefore, has been really at the center of many regional storms,” Lodhi said. “There were wars in our region that we did not initiate.”

Despite the crises Pakistan faces and the doubt people have about it, Pakistanis have shown resilience, she said. The issues it faces needs to be put into perspective.

Lodhi gave the audience several reasons why she believes Pakistan is challenged today. One is the country lacks political stability.

“We have not managed to run our political system in a manner that offers continuity to our country,” she said, “and this adds greatly to our problems.”

The country has faced what Lodhi calls a “triple blowback.” The first blowback was from the war against the Soviet Union occupation in Afghanistan. The second was post-Sept. 11, from the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and how that war proceeds. The third was Pakistan’s ability to handle the consequences of those wars.

Location also challenges Pakistan. The country has spent time, effort and resources to deter aggression. Insecurity led it to make a choice between the amount of money put into defense and the amount spent on issues such as health care.

“We built up our forces, we acquired nuclear capability,” Lodhi said, “but that also meant we were not able to meet our people’s need in education, in health and in public services.”

Another challenge is democracy. The Pakistani government has alternated between democracy and military rule, because its politicians failed to meet their people’s expectations. Political class has become a barrier for needed reform, Lodhi said.

Pakistan faces several security dilemmas. As a result, it developed a strategy of external balancing, which let it begin alliances with Western powers, including the U.S.

India was aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which increased tensions between Pakistan and India, Lodhi said. In response to India’s first nuclear test in 1974, Pakistan also became a nuclear state.

“It did give Pakistan a sense that it had now the means at least to deter all-out war,” she said.

But despite Indo-Pakistani tensions, which continue today, the two countries have tried to create peace. The reason it has not been established, Lodhi said, is because the two countries have different visions of how to improve their relationship.

Whereas Pakistan views resolution of disputes as the foundation of peace, India sees opening of people-to-people contact and trade as a step toward peace, she said.

“In order to make peace with your adversaries or enemies, you have to see where you accommodate the other,” Lodhi said.

Pakistan and the U.S. are currently dealing with elements similar to what they faced in 1990 as the Afghanistan War comes to an end. In the past, Pakistan has felt that when the U.S. fulfills its objective, it just walks away, Lodhi said.

To move ahead, she said, it is important that we acknowledge the mistakes made in the early ’90s and not to repeat them. It is a moment in which people should step back and reflect.

“Let’s see what we can do to cooperate, and let’s see if the words of President Obama really are meant,” Lodhi said.

During his inaugural speech, Obama said he wanted to establish relationships with other countries on the basis of mutual trust and respect.

Respect is important to everyone and should be shown regardless of disagreements, Lodhi said. Disagreements should not lead to the demonization of a country, she said.

“At the end of the day, the relationship has to be predicated on mutual respect,” Lodhi said. “We will respect your objectives — we may not agree with some of them — as we expect you to respect our views in the region.”

Photo by Eric Shea.


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

Q: I believe earlier in your lecture, Doctor, you used the words ‘weak and fragile,’ a weak and fragile state in past years that hasn’t done well at managing itself. Do you see changes in that occurring now with the current government?

A: I think the important thing is to look at the election and see if that offers a break from the past. What we have in this election is, for the first time in our history, a third political option being presented to the people of Pakistan other than the two major parties that have alternated in power for the last 30 years, except for when the military intervened. We have a third political force that’s emerged in Pakistan, which in a way represents hope, a bit like what you went through with President Obama. A relatively new politician, he is a former cricketer. You can’t get better than that in Pakistan. And he won the World Cup for Pakistan, to boot. That’s a big deal. And I think his party today is capturing the imagination of young people — I mean, I’m not partisan, so I don’t speak for that political party — but I think it’s exciting for Pakistanis to see that there is another political choice at the ballot box that they can vote for, because this political party is also trying to mobilize Pakistan’s larger, emerging, more assertive middle class. And it’s the only political party in the country — only political party in the country — that says Pakistan must tax the rich to raise the resources. We don’t need resources from outside. We have plenty. And we need to do this ourselves. So the message is one where young people are being attracted, because they feel as a politician who’s standing up and telling us like it is, and who’s also saying we’re not going to look over the shoulder to see which Western or other power is going to give us the next charge. We’re going to do this on our own, because we can do this on our own. A country of 180 million people cannot generate enough resources to govern itself well? Of course it can. So I think we have a can-do candidate, who’s holding up a really inspirational message, and regardless of whether he wins or he doesn’t, I think if we get through the next election, in a way, everybody wins in Pakistan.

Q: How secure are your nuclear facilities and your nuclear scientists?

A: Well, for a start, we don’t let them travel. No frequent flyer miles for our scientists. They don’t go anywhere. No, but seriously, I think there has been a great deal of alarm in the West about the safety of nuclear weapons. Obviously, Pakistan is in the middle of so much turmoil, and its own security challenges are so severe. There have been several violations of heavy security places in Pakistan, no question about it. But I think Pakistan — I don’t think, I’m confident — that Pakistan’s command and control mechanisms and its safety and security steps that it’s taken to secure its nukes are — I mean nobody can be 100 percent, you can’t sort of say we’re 100 percent on this, nobody’s 100 percent — but we’re as sure as we can be. And I think the joke in Pakistan is, because we hear so much negative sentiment from the U.S. government about Pakistan’s nukes — the joke in Pakistan is if we can keep them secure from the United States, we can save them from the terrorists, too. It’s a joke.

Q: Please speak about the perception that Pakistan was hiding and protecting Osama bin Laden.

A: Well, I think it’s a fair question, a fair question to ask. It’s obviously — it was a huge security failure on the part of Pakistan. But I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that a man who waged war on Pakistan, a man who brought so much grief to our country, and a man whose organization took the lives of so many of our people — I was just giving you the statistic, 37,000 civilians, 5,000 security personnel — that country will protect this man? We may be a lot of things, but we’re not crazy. We’re not crazy. So, I think it’s legitimate to ask, “How is it that he was hiding there?” And I think this is a question we are asking, too, of our government and our military. A commission has been set up, which has been investigating this for the last one year. It’s investigating other issues, but it’s also investigating how is it that this man escaped the attention of the authorities. So we want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do. But to suggest complicity, I think, is a judgment too far. It makes light of Pakistan’s own role in counter-terrorism, and as I said, the kind of sacrifices that the people of Pakistan have made to this effort, because we think this is a threat to us. It’s a threat to you, it’s a threat to us.

Q: Could you speak to the impact of the drone strikes in Pakistan and the politics of Secretary of State’s recent apology for the killing of civilians?

A: OK, so that’s several questions in one. Let me do the drones first. The drones are immensely unpopular in Pakistan for obvious reasons. You know, it’s no good arguing that the drones are so effective. This is war by assassination. This is using an instrument that’s above the law, it’s shorn of morality and there’s no oversight on it. I think the people of America should be asking this question, as indeed many human rights organizations are asking.
I have a friend — I mean, I can’t name the person, but a friend in the U.S. government — who asked the other day, “You know if your country — if there are terrorists operating in your country, and they’re violating your sovereignty, and if we violate your sovereignty — so, you know, what are you complaining about?” I mean, this was a genuine question that this person asked, and I said, you know, why are you equating yourself with the terrorists? Why are you doing what the terrorists do? Don’t do this. I mean the morality, the credibility of your position is completely undermined by the use of this weapon, which, as I said before, is unaccountable: There’s no oversight. Nobody knows who dies. It’s anybody’s word against anybody else. Now, I think it is legitimate to say, “Well, what other way can we find to make sure that these terrorist networks are eliminated?” And absolutely, I think we should be able to look for ways in which we can make sure that these are eliminated and these are destroyed. But I think the use of drones in the manner in which they have been used, have — I think the single most important reason for the rise in anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is the use of drones. I mean, make no mistake. And when I say anti-American, the people of Pakistan have no issue with the people of America, it’s U.S. policies. And I think that’s something that the speaker yesterday made no distinction between. And all you have to do is go to Pakistan, go in the streets and say, “What do you think about the American people?” and you won’t get that answer, but if you say, “What do you think about American policy?” they’ll say, “Sorry, we don’t like it, we don’t agree with it. We don’t want them to be doing this.” So I think the important point here, which is kind of lost in the media coverage, also, is that the sentiment is against certain kinds of policies that the U.S. follows. It’s the same thing you face in the Middle East or have faced for such a long time. It was always your policies. America is a country, is a land of opportunity, is a country which made such strides in so many fields, is admired across the world. What is not admired are the policies your administrations follow. Because if they come at the price of the country’s sovereignty, or they come at the price of that country’s suffering a certain blowback, what do you expect that country to do — love you? Then, you know, they won’t. It’s human. It’s natural. But don’t mistake that for, and I think this is where some of these opinion polls, etc., you know, they don’t go asking that question. Their question is a very general question: American policy. So they say, “We don’t like it.” And then that’s construed to mean, “Well, they don’t like anything American.” Not true. But, you know, sometimes the two can become interchangeable over a period of time. But I don’t think that’s the case at the moment.

Q: I’m going to follow that question up. Do you not think that the American approach with the drones is a direct response to their concern about how else to fight the fact that these terrorists exist within Pakistan, and is there another remedy to getting rid of these folks?

A: You know, every policy has to be seen in both its short-term and long-term consequences. This is a decision that you make, and if you think, “Fine, let’s just go kill 10 people, because those 10 people are high-value targets.” But that leads to the regeneration of 50 more recruits. The question that I have to put to the United States is this, that you’re using a weapon that you’re saying is tactically very smart, but what strategic cost are you incurring? And we’ve been there before. You’ve been there before, too. I mean, my memory goes back to the — jihad — against the Soviet Union. I mean, we all did what we did, but look at the consequences. Now, surely we should be wiser to the strategic costs of a certain weapon that is used in a certain way, and that is for you to make a decision. And so, you know, I think it’s very instructive that the latest poll by the Pew Research Organization sort of talks about how President Obama, the expectations in Muslim countries of President Obama had soared after his speech in Cairo, and then expectations came crashing down. I can’t answer the question, but I think it’d be useful, and instructive and valuable for the U.S. to ask itself, “Well, what did you do that didn’t meet the expectations of people in the Muslim world?” If you think that’s important. If you think it’s not important, fine, it’s OK. But I think drones become one of the issues, and that does figure in that Pew research poll, if you have a look at it. So because you are powerful, you are strong, and you’ll say, “We’ll do whatever we can” — if your security comes at the expense, first of all, of somebody else’s security, remember there will be consequences. They won’t be happy. And they’re long-term consequences. And second, as I said, you eliminate one terrorist, how many do you create in that person’s place? It’s a question you have to ask yourself. So, you want to use that weapon? Use it. But the people of Pakistan will never approve of it. The Parliament of Pakistan has three times urged the United States to work with the Pakistani government to find alternate ways to deal with these terrorist networks, but not the use of drones, which violates Pakistan’s sovereignty and are used without Pakistan’s consent.

Q: Let’s talk about Kashmir for a minute or two. There are several questions. Let me try this one and see if that gets us into it. Looking ahead a decade or more, perhaps dreaming a bit, what would Pakistan concede with respect to Kashmir in order to achieve peace with India?

A: I think Pakistan has already made very flexible — it’s taken a flexible position, because it’s basically said, “If you can satisfy the people of Kashmir, so be it. It is not for us to determine what they want. It is for the Kashmiri people to determine, but give them an opportunity.” You can’t say, “We will decide, and we’ve already done whatever we needed to, and the dispute is over.” Not true. It’ll keep flaring up, it’ll keep reviving itself and it’ll mar whatever prospects we have of getting on with the rest of our relationship if we don’t address it. Because this is not a dispute over a piece of real estate, it’s not a piece of territory, it’s about the people of Kashmir. And we’ve seen in Kashmir, for the last several years — the last four years at least, with last year being an exception — three summers of Kashmiri discontent where young Kashmiri boys and girls using — you know, people talk about the Arab Spring? Well, the Kashmir Spring preceded the Arab Spring. Young people using nothing but mobile phones, the Internet, social media, basically saying, “Will somebody please hear our voice? Will somebody please listen to what we want?” So, as far as Pakistan is concerned, I think we have learned also from the past that this is not an issue that can be resolved militarily. We’ve learned that. And therefore, we have to find a peaceful settlement. But that settlement, if it can satisfy the people of Kashmir, then we are satisfied.

Q: Please differentiate between Pakistani democracy and military control of the government.

A: You know, I always give the example of a great country in our neighborhood. I failed to mention that country. But what a great example it sets, really, for many of us in the Muslim world. And that country is called Turkey. If you look at Turkey and how it managed to really consolidate its democracy, it was based and predicated on civilian governments delivering to the people of that country. There’s no other way to do it. There’s no clever, smart way of getting the military to step back and stick to its professional role unless civilian governments step up to the plate and also deliver what the people of any country — Turkey achieved that. It didn’t achieve it through external intervention. It certainly did not achieve it through editorials in The Washington Post and The New York Times. I mean I read an editorial in The Washington Post last week and really I thought, “My god, what a thing to say.” Essentially it said, last sentence — again I’m paraphrasing, don’t hold me to those words — it said, “You know what we should do with Pakistan? We should just buy off their civilians and contain the military.” And I thought to myself, “Good luck.” Because missing in this is the people of Pakistan. It’s amazing that The Washington Post didn’t even think about 180 million people. And how they think and what they want. Amazing. So, the civil military dynamic, the only way to take it in the direction in which there is civilian supremacy and military subordination to civilian control, is to ensure that the civilians, one: don’t take the money and run. Corruption is a big issue in Pakistan. Big issue. It’s probably going to be one of the biggest issues in this election. The people of Pakistan have zero tolerance now for those public officials with their hands in the tin. It’s unacceptable, unacceptable to the people of Pakistan. And I think you will see in this election some of the things that I’m talking about that’s sort of asserting itself, where people will hold their rulers to account in a manner that they’ve not been able to do in the past. And you know why? The reason is that we today have a much more transparent Pakistan, in the sense that we have a very agile and very vibrant broadcast media, we have many civil society organizations, we have lots of NGOs, all of these are working very hard to ensure that democracy is not just something that happens at election time, that democracy is something that also happens between elections. So democracy is not just a license to do what you like and, as I said, put your hand in the tin. But democracy is to be accountable to the people of Pakistan and also to respond to their aspirations. Democracy shouldn’t just be for the super rich in Pakistan. Democracy has to be for the people. Then you get the outcome that that question, or the questioner, is suggesting, that you get the civil military dynamic moving in the right direction. I think that’s a way of telling us we’ve gone over our time.

Q: Just about. I’m going to ask one more question. You referred several times to the people of Pakistan. Would those in Waziristan or Balochistan, Sind, consider themselves people of Pakistan, and what roles does your tribal history play today?

A: Well look, of course many in those areas — I wouldn’t say Sind, I think that would be completely wrong — but yes, we’ve had problems of disaffection in the province of Balochistan, no question about it. In the tribal areas, we have not treated them the way we should have over the last 50, 60 years. Sometimes it’s their own leaders who have wanted to keep their people in the kind of abject condition that they have, sadly. Tribal societies become like that sometimes. Tribal leaders, you know, in a way, develop their own objectives, which are not quite the objectives of their people. So, sure. I don’t want to stand here and minimize the challenges that my country faces. We’ve got lots of things right, and we’ve got lots of things wrong. We’re like anybody else. But here is a country whose people are trying very hard now to steer their way past these crises and sort of see what kind of future they want for their country. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be able to solve these problems overnight, but we’re sure as hell going to try. And when we’re trying, what we want from you is, as I said, just understanding. Nothing else. Just understand that this is a country that’s struggling, that like us, as I’ve said before, also has got some things wrong. But we want to rectify them. And part of what we want to rectify is the way that we have treated some of the people in this province. So give us a chance.

Transcribed by Kelsey Burritt