''Pakistan is Certainly Not a Terrorist State''

Since the targeted raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, a growing number of people in the US have been calling for a freeze on all financial aid for Pakistan. In this interview, Christian Wagner, an expert on South Asian affairs, speaks of the dangers of taking such a step

There is no doubt that the US gives more money to Pakistan than any other country in the world. What would happen to Pakistan if the flow of billions of US dollars were to dry up?

Christian Wagner: The country would quite simply go bankrupt. This would have a disastrous effect on domestic stability. It cannot be in the interests of the US to contribute to Pakistan's economic downfall and bankruptcy. As a result of a number of factors including the flood and years of domestic political instability, the country is now in the middle of a major economic crisis. Pakistan urgently relies on international cooperation, and most particularly on its cooperation with the US.

From 11 September 2001 to the present day, Pakistan has received approximately US$13 billion in military aid and over US$6 billion in economic aid; several billion more are expected to follow. Who actually controls the flow of money in Pakistan?

Pakistani military (photo: AP)
Where my money at?</em> The Pakistani military is sponsored by large sums of US money, but receipts are not always available and there is little transparency

​​Wagner: It is exactly this question that is repeatedly the source of major friction in the bilateral relationship. Naturally, the lion's share goes directly to the military. However, even there, receipts are not always available for the money that has been spent, which is a source of irritation. So ultimately we don't always know for certain how the money is being distributed and on what it is being spent in Pakistan.

Is Pakistan a terrorist state?

Wagner: No, Pakistan is certainly not a terrorist state, but there are massive problems in the fight against terrorism. Pakistan quite rightly points to the fact that it is taking action against terrorism itself. For years, Pakistan has been fighting al-Qaeda groups and the Pakistani Taliban along the Pakistani-Afghan border. On the other hand, we know that the Pakistani armed forces tolerate the activities of Afghan Taliban groups and allow them freedom to operate because they hope that it will give them influence in Afghanistan. Moreover, there are a number of terrorist groups such as Lashkar e-Toiba in Pakistan that are being supported in the struggle against India.

Since the first war in Kashmir in 1947, the Pakistani army has always relied on the activities of such militant groups. However, this strategy failed because starting in 2003/2004, some Taliban broke away from the Afghan Taliban and are now fighting the Pakistani army as the Pakistani Taliban. Several groups and individuals have also split from the Lashkar e-Toiba movement and are now fighting against the Pakistani state. What's more, al-Qaeda declared war on Pakistan in 2007. These decades of support for militant groups have, therefore, become completely counterproductive.

Taliban (photo: AP)
Dangerous tactics: The Pakistani armed forces tolerate the activities of Afghan Taliban groups because they hope that it will give them influence in Afghanistan

​​On the other hand, there are probably still enough sympathisers within the security forces who maintain links to individual groups because there is, of course, still the hope that they can be used as strategic groups in the fight against India or to gain a voice in Afghanistan.

How likely is it that Pakistan's military secret service, the ISI, or at least parts of it, distanced themselves so much from the military that it was possible for a man like Osama Bin Laden to live unchallenged in Abbottabad?

Wagner: The ISI is not independent. It is a secret service that belongs to the military. The officers in the ISI are army officers for whom a stint in the secret service is part of their military career. However, the Pakistanis have repeatedly admitted that former members of the ISI and former army officers have changed sides. For example, it is obvious that members of the military were involved in a series of attacks on the former president, General Pervez Musharraf.

Presumably, these former officers still have sympathisers and networks within the armed forces, and this makes for a huge grey area. When a grey area like this exists, it is difficult to say whether it was the armed forces directly themselves or whether it was only parts of the armed forces and the secret service. It could also have been just former members of the security forces who made use of their good contacts within the armed forces.

Are there any indications that Islamist tendencies within the Pakistani military are increasing?

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (photo: AP)
Little room to manoeuvre: "In Pakistan we are not dealing with political primacy as we know it," Wagner says

​​Wagner: If we presume that the military is a mirror of society, then Islamists will account for about 10 to 15 percent of the armed forces. But ultimately, that is speculation. However, one must not forget that the two most important flashpoints of the 1990s – namely the struggle for Kashmir and the struggle for Afghanistan – were specifically advanced under Islamist auspices on the Pakistani side. So we may be dealing with a generation of officers who sympathise much more strongly with Islamist ideas than was the case in Pakistan's early years.

Pakistan's powerful military is considered to be a state within a state. What role do President Asif Ali Zardari and his government play?

Wagner: The government is in a very difficult situation. In Pakistan we are not dealing with political primacy as we know it. Foreign and security policy issues are shaped to a very large degree by the army leadership. This is particularly true when it comes to key issues such as the fight against terrorism and the relationship to India and Afghanistan. In these areas, the civil government has comparatively little room to manoeuvre.

There is a permanent dispute between the army leadership, the government and the country's conservative circles regarding the extent to which there can be a rapprochement with India and the extent to which a flashpoint like Kashmir could be pacified in the long run by developing political and economic ties.

Christian Wagner (photo: SWP)
Christian Wagner is head of the Asia research group at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin

​​How close is Pakistan to being a failed state?

Wagner: I would not assume that Pakistan is a failed state. Pakistan is not the Gaza Strip; nor is it Somalia. It is not the Gaza Strip in that Islamists could not get a majority there in democratic elections. Nor is it like Somalia, where state structures imploded completely. That being said, Pakistan does have massive problems in terms of governability.

However, at the same time, we must realise that this system is very beneficial for Pakistan's elite. In the two most important provinces of Punjab and Sindh, big landowners are still very dominant indeed. These landowners even assume some judicial functions and have their own monopoly of power over their peasants. This form of rule is hugely beneficial for the elite. So I assume that there will be neither an improvement nor an implosion. Pakistan will remain a country that is poorly ruled according to our standards for quite some time.

Why does the West need Pakistan?

Wagner: Pakistan is a really important country for us. With a population of approximately 180 million, it is already one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and population growth is set to continue. Moreover, Pakistan practically controls all supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan. And, last but not least, Pakistan is a nuclear power. The Pakistani military controls the nuclear weapons. The security of these weapons is probably the most important strategic element for the US and the West.

Interview by Sandra Petersmann

© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

Deutsche Welle editor: Marko Langer, Qantara.de editor: Lewis Gropp