Exclusive Interview: Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi (Pakistan’s Foremost Political & Defence Analyst)

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

Pakistan should not become a party to any conflict among the Middle Eastern countries because their alliances are always temporary

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi is widely regarded as an accomplished political scientist and a defence analyst par excellence. With his insightful thoughts on Pakistan’s political structure and a keen eye on country’s foreign and defence policies, Dr Rizvi is among the voices that are heeded to by the country’s policymaking circles. He has authored a number of books on diverse subjects like civil-military relations, foreign policy, external relations along with country’s internal political, social and economic issues. His thought-provoking articles regularly appear in national dailies and make a source of great knowledge for the readers.

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): What, in your opinion, are major geostrategic challenges Pakistan faces at present?

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi (HAR): At present, Pakistan faces three to four major geostrategic challenges. First is related to our neighbouring states; India, Afghanistan and Iran. China falls in a separate category. The second is that Pakistan’s geographic location has turned into a liability rather than being an asset. Although, projects like China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) pipeline, Iran–Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline can be instrumental in making it an asset again, it is difficult to say whether these efforts would actually succeed.

Other significant challenges faced by Pakistan include the deteriorating law and order situation which includes terrorism and extremism, and a dwindling economy.

JWT: How Pakistan should realign its geostrategic objectives of foreign policy in the wake of emerging geo-economic realities of the region?

HAR: In today’s world, the real strength of a country comes from within; and we must recognize this fact. We have to put our political and economic house in order because unless we manage country’s internal situation, our capacity to deal with external factors will remain limited. In the contemporary international setup, Pakistan doesn’t really have much of positive relevance. The world knows Pakistan with reference to terrorism; not with its economy or its textile industry. It is also important to remember that in today’s world, economy, trade and investment matter the most, and these are the very areas where Pakistan needs a lot of improvement.

In Pakistan, the government takes pride that country’s foreign exchange reserves have crossed $20 billion. But, this all has come in the form of loans from IMF, World Bank, Saudi donation or ‘gift’ — as the finance minister termed it — and remittances from Pakistani expatriates. Thus, whatever prosperity you witness here is more because of external sources rather than the domestic ones.

For boosting your country’s economy, you have to, besides eliminating terrorism and extremism, resolve the energy crisis which the government has ambitiously promised to do by the end of 2017.

JWT: You have mentioned terrorism as one of the major factors which hamper the growth of Pakistan’s economy. Do you foresee a change in military establishment’s policy toward militant organizations which actually enjoy huge public support as well?

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi 1HAR: Actually military has ambiguity about 2-3 organizations including Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Kashmir-oriented outfits; as for all others, it has become absolutely clear that they are adversaries. I feel that ambiguity will continue and even if it does not, we won’t be able to fight all these organizations because civilian institutions have neither the capacity nor the will to fight them. The military does have this capacity but it is already tangled in the web of other challenges.

Combatting militant organizations actually requires social transformation which is not, in any case, the job of the army. You give them a task and they will go and do it because this is how this organization functions. But when it comes to transformation of society, the solution cannot, and does not, lie with the army. The transformation of the society is a political and social process and unless the political leadership takes the initiative, you can’t transform the society. But, the leadership crisis has also haunted Pakistan since decades. Unfortunately, there is an acute lack of visionary leadership.

JWT: Why is there a general perception that the US and the West are out to destroy Pakistan?

HAR: This country is not going to collapse; that is not going to happen. However, it will stay as a troubled state. Pakistan’s geographic location endows it with the capacity to pull on. International system is not in favour of disintegrating or undermining Pakistan. Although some people say that the United States and the West are out to destroy Pakistan, I think it’s not the case. Why America or other bigger countries would either support or undermine Pakistan? Obviously, it depends on their interests. If their interests are served by breaking up or undermining Pakistan, they will try to do it and vice versa. At present, I believe, they do want to keep Pakistan under pressure but disintegration won’t serve their purpose because it would increase management problems for the United States.

JWT: At a time when economic giants and technological hubs, even in our neighbourhood, are emerging, we are still grappling with issues, you have called, ‘ideological disputes’ like whether we should have a secular constitution or an Islamic one. Would these disputes ever get resolved?

HAR: These disputes won’t resolve anytime soon because you have promoted extremism and religious militancy for many years. The Muslim states I talked about earlier are Indonesia and Malaysia. You see, Indonesia has many islands where religious militancy, orthodoxy and Islamic Sharia law exist, but the state doesn’t support them. And, it’s the basic difference between them and us. In these countries, the state does not promote religious militancy or orthodoxy as a policy. They treat these as a provincial matter which means if you want to do it, you can do it; the state won’t sponsor you. Unfortunately, due to short-sightedness on the part of our civilian as well as military leadership, we have made it a state policy. Resultantly, these issues have become so deep-rooted that eliminating them would be no less than a formidable task.

JWT: How do you see the extraterritorial involvement of our military and what impacts it has on our country’s internal dynamics?

HAR: First point of extraterritorial involvement is that a part of the country’s foreign policy and security was privatized through these militant groups. The second role is in Afghanistan while the third one is the legitimate role played within the framework of UN in peacekeeping operations. The role with India and Afghanistan is because of the security concerns.

In Pakistan, we will have to redefine the security framework and in the present paradigm, army will stay very important. In this are involved both internal and external factors. Chottu gang, for example, is not army’s responsibility, flood management, earthquake victims’ rehabilitation etc. are not army’s duties yet it is called in to perform all such tasks. It is because of Pakistan’s internal and external security that army’s role has remained prominent. But, the army always thinks in a limited context. That is why Pakistan needs to redefine its security framework.

JWT: Why Pakistan’s stance on Yemen, Syria and Palestine has remained undefined? And, how can we strike a balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

HAR: I think that’s Pakistan’s typical problem. Whenever arises a conflict in the Middle East between different states, Pakistan has a tendency to lean more toward the conservative Islamic states. This is what happened in the mid-80s during Zia ul Haq’s era and now again exactly the same thing is happening. The basic reason, I think, is financial in nature because since the 1970s, these states have helped Pakistan a lot. Iran too helped Pakistan during the rule of the Shah, but now Iran is not in a position to do so.

In case of Saudi Arabia and Iran, there are basically two considerations behind our ambiguities: professional and political. Professional considerations include taking gas from Iran. If we get Iranian gas, even in addition to TAPI, it will not be sufficient to fulfil our needs in the long run. Iran is willing to give us electricity as well. Currently, we are importing 74 MW electricity from Iran to supply to some areas of Turbat and Gwadar. Iran has also offered 1000 MW from Zahedan that may be increased to 3000MW. In all energy projects we have signed in recent years, IP pipeline is nowhere on the scene. No work has been done on it while we have signed an agreement with Qatar for gas and we want to take gas through TAPI. Pakistan should overcome its energy problems no matter from where we get it — Turkmenistan, Iran, Qatar, anywhere. Without resolving energy issues, you cannot boost your economy. However, that’s not going to happen soon because of political considerations — we get money from Saudi Arabia. So, I think, Pakistan should not become a party to any conflict among the Middle Eastern countries because their alliances are always temporary. Pakistan should deal with them professionally and should declare its willingness to help on technical grounds.

JWT: In recent years, we have seen highly-qualified individuals being arrested on terrorism charges. Why do educated people get attracted to terrorism?

HAR: Over time, we have radicalized these people through education and through media. And, because of that a lot of issues have become a part of our discourse. I have made an assessment that the probability of people having a tilt toward terrorism and extremism varies in different cases. This probability is greater among students of business, IT and hard sciences while only 5-10% belong to social sciences — political science, sociology and even economics to some extent. They have a lower probability of tilting toward terrorism and extremism because social sciences train you to deal with societal problems properly. Students of natural sciences are trained to come up with simple solutions to complex problems and that is what they do in the case of societal issues as well. You have seen that in Safoora Goth attack that those involved were engineers.

JWT: At a time when India has gained a strong foothold in Afghanistan, what is the way forward for Pakistan? What about our defence strategy regarding India that has moved from credible minimum deterrence to full spectrum deterrence? Do you think such deterrence is feasible for Pakistan?

HAR: No matter what you do, Indian influence in Afghanistan will not decline. Traditionally, Indian influence has always been greater to that of Pakistan but now it hurts us more. If you read about the 1965 India-Pakistan War, and even the 1971 War, Pakistan’s security paradigm focuses on India waging a two-front war. Pakistan should treat Afghanistan as a simple neighbouring state; no matter who rules the country. The leverage you can use is an economic one. Since it is a landlocked country, most of its trade is routed through Pakistan.

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi 2Secondly, we should use ethnic linkages rather than military ones. We need to knock out the Afghan Taliban from Pakistan. Admittedly, it is not going to happen in a short time, but it should be our policy that they will not be allowed free movement inside Pakistan.

Thirdly, Pakistan should invest more in Afghanistan. India has spent a lot of money in Afghanistan. We, too, have made one hospital and our FWO has constructed the Tourkham road. Pakistan should be more willing to fund their welfare and other projects beneficial to the population.

As far as full spectrum deterrence is concerned, the rationale behind is that India has experimented new concepts of conventional warfare after Mumbai incident. These include limited warfare, surgical airstrike, Cold Start, etc. Pakistan has given an answer to the Cold Start doctrine. The idea is that if there is very swift movement of small groups of army which would occupy certain Pakistani territory; let’s say 50 miles into Sindh, and use it to bargain, Pakistan will answer it by deciding to use nuclear weapon in the theatre of war s. So a factor of instability will always be there.

JWT: Since our leadership has failed to come up with an appropriate counter-narrative, therefore, we need a new narrative. What should be its ideological and philosophical underpinnings?

HAR: The primacy of the Pakistani state must be supreme to us. We are a nation-state, not an Islamic movement, and to ensure that in its true sense, we need to inculcate this thought and philosophy in our youth by teaching them the concepts of citizenship, rights and obligations. We need to make Pakistan’s cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity as well as the fact that non-Muslims too live in Pakistan, a part of our curricula. Only then can we combat extremism which is not just the name of bomb blasts or attacks but is reflected in our relationship with others and in our personal attitudes as well.

We have to enlighten our people that don’t mistake the word “Shariah” for a maulvi’s definition. Look only to those who have used the term – Liaquat Ali Khan and Quaid-e-Azam – and understand what Shariah actually meant to them. This should be the ideological and philosophical underpinnings of the new narrative we direly need at present.

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