Editor’s Note: The following is an interview conducted by Indian Express with Stephen Cohen
1. Given the political situation in Pakistan since 9/11, and after the referendum, what do you think is the future of Pakistan?
A: I wish I knew—my book’s working title was originally “Pakistan: Misdirected State,” which I thought captured the way in which Pakistan has drifted from Jinnah’s goal to establish a democratic, liberal, Islamic republic that could live in peace, albeit separately, from India. However, after Musharraf’s speech of January 12, 2002, the working title was changed to “Pakistan: Redirected State,” because I thought that he had laid out an agenda which would have put Pakistan back on the rails. Now, I am not so sure. He’s had five months to do something, and while I would not challenge his personal intentions, he is limited by his own training, his recent history (as the man who plotted the hugely miscalculated Kargil operation) and by the army’s institutional and ideological constraints. I once suggested that Musharraf might be Pakistan’s Lal Bahadur Shastri—a mild man who rose to the occasion; there’s still hope, of course, but might he not turn out to be a Yahya Khan—the man who lost half of his country?
2. There is a view that with Zubeida being caught in Faisalabad and other Al Qaeda militants being suspected of hiding in other parts of Pakistan, General Musharraf’s promise of helping the global coalition seems to be coming a cropper. Do you agree or disagree with that view and why?
A: This is an exaggeration. Pakistan’s strategy has been, for years, to turn over just enough terrorists and “wanted” individuals to please the United States and other countries. They seem to have a very large supply of these characters. Of course, they will not oblige India, which New Delhi must have realized when it made its demands for the list of twenty. Pakistan will continue to cooperate with the coalition, especially when the militants have embarrassed it or operated against the army’s interests, but these groups are very deeply embedded in Pakistani society, a number of them were supported by the government—including civilian governments—and Pakistan will require a powerful incentive before it decides to purge itself of militants who operate beyond the law.
3. On India-Pakistan, how do you think India should respond after the spate of attacks by Pak-sponsored militants? There was October 1, December 13 and mostly recently the killings in Jammu that included several women and children. This comes at a time when the summer has just begun in Jammu and Kashmir and there are reports that infiltration from across the border has increased by almost 30 percent.
A: India’s strategy has been to practice “compellence”: it threatens to use force unless Pakistan obliges it by turning over people on the list of twenty and/or stopping infiltration along the LOC. Having made the threat, India must carry it out if it is not satisfied. I fully expect some Indian military action in the near future—unless Washington can persuade the Pakistanis to comply with India’s demands. But must Pakistan comply with all of them? Would it be satisfied with 15, or 10? How do we know when Pakistan’s support for the militants is declining? What if it turns out that Pakistan cannot completely control these groups? It is likely that these groups are trying to embarrass Musharraf himself, and even provoke a war between India and Pakistan, or at least further anti-Muslim riots in India, thus (as the Marxists used to say), demonstrating the “contradictions” in the situation. I think this is the time for Indian statesmanship, not hatred, it has nothing to gain by an inconclusive military strike that will only alienate the international community, make it look foolish, and make it harder to come to an eventual dialogue with Pakistan. The problem is that India has gone out so far on the limb of moral indignation (albeit with some good reason) that it has lost its sense of strategic purpose—which should be to detach Pakistan from china by offering proposals that meet vital Pakistani concerns but do not compromise vital Indian ones. This is what Indians should be talking about, not bluff and bluster about retaliation and nuclear war.
4. What in your assessment is the best case scenario and the worst case scenario that could be played out in the current Indo-Pakistan standoff?
A: The best case would be American-led international intervention that would deal with the basic concerns of both India and Pakistan (and the Kashmiris). This would be the initiation of a process that would 1) get the two sides back to the negotiating table, 2) end infiltration and terrorism, and 3) begin the political process in Kashmir itself—on both sides of the LOC. I have said, since 1992, that India and Pakistan are incapable of normalizing their relationship by themselves, and that they will be locked in permanent crisis (verging on, or going over the edge to war) for years. Personally, I am sorry that this prediction has turned out to be correct, as I have many friends in both countries, and find it appalling that they cannot manage to share the subcontinent in relative peace. Their conflict and hatred is slowly destroying both countries.
5. Do you think Musharraf is doing a Yasser Arafat on India in terms of allowing terrorists from Lashkar and Jaish to operate even while they are ostensibly under arrest in Pakistan? There has been little impact of the January 12 speech on the ground situation, so how does India approach Musharraf now?
A: Yes, I think this is Pakistan’s strategy, is motivated in part by hatred of India (revenge for 1971), but also—among Pakistani moderates—frustration with India. New Delhi has not wanted to negotiate Kashmir issues when there has been no crisis, arguing that things are peaceful, and it won’t negotiate them when there is a crisis, arguing that it won’t negotiate under duress. The Israelis were willing to negotiate, and did, but Arafat backed down from an agreement he should have accepted; if India were to make an offer to Pakistan that protected vital Pakistani interests, and enhanced the security and livelihood of the Kashmiris, then the international community would join with India in putting pressure on Islamabad to accept it.
6. Do you think it is possible to do limited action strike against Pakistan without it blowing up into a nuclear conflagration between the two states? Say, a reverse Kargil operation.
A: Anything is “possible,” the issue is what is the probability that such an attack will not lead to a Pakistani counter-attack, then a further Indian strike, and another Pakistani response, and so forth. Each time this happens the opportunity for misjudgment increases greatly. Given the past behavior of Indian and Pakistani governments in a crisis, I would not want to be living in either Islamabad or Delhi, or any other city that would be a likely target for a nuclear strike. Answering your question another way, I would now say that after the phony referendum, the additional slaughter in Gujarat and the terrorist attacks in Jammu (and Karachi), I would double or triple whatever probability I might have assigned to the likelihood of a war four months ago.
7. Given that the US campaign against the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is floundering because of their escape to neighbouring Pakistan and India seems to have problems of its own in controlling cross-border terrorism, what do you think the US should do now? Do you think President Bush will be able to persuade General Musharraf to deliver on the ground?
A: The campaign is not “floundering,” it has succeeded in that Afghanistan is no longer a base for international terrorist outfits; having moved to Pakistan—and perhaps other locations—these groups cannot operate with the freedom they enjoyed in Afghanistan. The real task now is Phase 2, eliminating the sources of terrorism, and here Pakistan is no less important as Phase 1. For this to succeed, the international community must work with the Pakistan government, whoever heads it; the best-case scenario would be the return of a civilian government in October, fresh resources for the reconstruction or Pakistan’s civil society, especially education and administration, and some peace and quiet that allows the army to return to its barracks and contemplate their withdrawal from politics. This is not a process that will happen quickly, but I am disappointed that Musharraf does not seem to have a long-term strategy for the gradual civilianization of Pakistani politics and a coherent strategy to deal with the terrorists and militants that have been allowed to emerge over the last decade or more.
8. Finally, is India’s new found strategic place in the world that you talked about in your book last year being threatened by its internal dynamics of the Indo-Pak tensions and the events in Gujarat?
A: Sadly, if there was to be a “decade of India,” it has only lasted four or five years. The book argued that India was an emerging major state, but it also pointed out the obstacles to India’s emergence, and noted that India was undergoing several simultaneous domestic revolutions, including a struggle for the very idea of India. I would still stick to my major conclusions but were I writing the book today I would not be quite so upbeat. Gujarat has set India back morally, politically, and economically. The only bright light is that the terror has not spread to other states. Both the state and the Union governments are derelict in their duty but the press, including television, has demonstrated that Indians remain secular and moderate. Additionally, India’s economic performance has been very disappointing, and the second wave of reforms is yet to occur. If India was planning to outspend Pakistan and catch up to China it had better junk its economic policies. The world sees India as a bad place to invest in, and soon they will see India as a bad place to travel to. I would not be surprised, especially if there is an inconclusive war, that some American strategists come to see India as a bad country to ally with.