By Ghalib Sultan
Dr Stephen Cohen’s interview with the Council on Foreign Relations has been published in Pakistan Today dated January 10, 2011. Dr Cohen is a respected scholar but he has strong views-especially on Pakistan though he is very critical of the Obama administrations’ policies too. Like many others he has a soft corner for India and, understandably for Israel that tends to color his perception of Pakistan.
Dr Cohen reads too much into the events unfolding in Pakistan after Governor Taseer’s assassination and while one can agree with him on the seriousness of Pakistan’s problems it would be folly to read too much into the power of the ‘extremists’ and ‘militants’ or the far right in Pakistan’s politics. There is no doubt that there has been degradation in Pakistan’s internal and external security environment but to say that ‘Pakistan is moving towards comprehensive failure’ is unfair, far too judgmental and only someone not quite friendly with Pakistan could say that. Suggesting that ‘we should prepare for Pakistan’s failure’ over five to six years is an opinion that is not based on any real data. It is surprising that Dr Cohen formed this opinion after a recent visit to Pakistan-perhaps he met the wrong people or only met his ‘friends’ or he ignored the views of some whom he met. Pakistan remains a functional state with its institutions intact.
Contrary to what Cohen says Pakistan’s importance is not just because of its ‘nukes and terrorist networks’ but because Pakistan is inching towards sustainable democracy, because it wants to be a moderate Muslim state, because it has put in place excellent custodial controls and because it actually wants to rid itself of all terrorists from its soil. The average Pakistani, and that means the majority, wants peace, security and an environment in which he can work and look after his family-not much different from what the average American wants and this applies to all areas of Pakistan including FATA. That is why the militants and extremists have never figured in elections. Election year is 2012 and political parties are preparing—this should explain the shenanigans of the religious right. They need an issue and think that they have found one.
Dr Cohen says that the military ‘cannot govern’. This is true. It does not want to govern. It does not even want to try. Dr Cohen should have got this message during his travels in Pakistan. No one wants military intervention and everyone wants a continuation of the present political system-warts and all. Pakistan’s current foreign policy obsession is not with Israel, Palestine or China-it is with a threat reduction strategy that allows it to shift focus to the economy and society. This is where the US can help Pakistan and if it does this sincerely then anti US sentiment will start changing. Dr Cohen says the military will never side with the ‘liberals’-the military will not side with the militants either and it is fully on board with the government on the road to democracy, economic uplift and threat reduction. The military is however not going to roll over and play dead anytime soon–nor is Pakistan. The relationship with China is strong and stable and multi-faceted. The Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship has to become stable-it is in the interest of both. The same applies to the relationship with India and Iran. Pakistan and indeed the region is looking at economic interaction, energy flows and infrastructure development-not at the doomsday scenario that Steve Cohen is predicting.