“The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power”
AMY GOODMAN: Pakistani border troops allegedly foiled a
Earlier this month, US commandos landed helicopter gunships in another Pakistani village and opened fire on a compound, killing twenty people. The commando attack followed weeks of strikes by American Predator drone aircrafts and prompted an outcry inside
Monday’s incident comes days after revelations President Bush had signed an order in July authorizing unilateral US strikes and ground operations inside
PRESIDENT-ELECT ASIF ALI ZARDARI: I reiterate, parliament is sovereign. This president shall be subservient to the parliament. And I would like history to remember that the weak democracy has managed to take a two-third majority and make a president with a two-third majority, whereas a dictator in uniform could not perform. So, democracy talks, and everybody hears. And to those who would say the Peoples Party or the presidency would be controversial under our guardianship, under our stewardship, I would say, “Listen to democracy. 99 percent of the people have spoken.”
PRESIDENT-ELECT ASIF ALI ZARDARI: The government of
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has intensified its offensive against communities near the border, killing at least thirty-two people, including three women, in an attack on Bajaur on Sunday.
My guest today is veteran journalist, commentator, activist, author, Tariq Ali, born in
Welcome to Democracy Now!
TARIQ ALI: Very good to be with you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: This latest incident, your comments?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think it’s a disastrous situation. For the last year, there’s been a big debate within the
AMY GOODMAN: How?
TARIQ ALI: In the sense that the Pashtun population of the
AMY GOODMAN: And Senator Obama has made clear that he does believe that the
TARIQ ALI: I think this was a big mistake that Senator Obama made. He will regret it, because I don’t think he was briefed on what the situation in
After all, it’s many years, Amy, seven years since 9/11. They have had that country for seven years, and with each passing year, the situation gets worse. They antagonize more and more people who live in that country, and they are incapable of winning the war. So in order to justify their failure to win the hearts and minds of most Afghan people, they are escalating the war into Pakistan, which is going to make conditions inside the Pakistani military very serious indeed, because there will be real anger.
And this report yesterday that there was a clash between Pakistani military and US helicopters trying to land Marines close to the
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on the new president, Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?
TARIQ ALI: Well, it is slightly entertaining to hear him talking about the enhancement of democracy, when the only reason he’s president is (a) that his wife handed over the political party she left to him in her will. I mean, that’s how he’s become leader of the Peoples Party, that Benazir’s will—
AMY GOODMAN: Him and his son.
TARIQ ALI: Him and his son. The son is the real heir, but he is going to be the prince regent and run the country ’til the son comes of age. What has this got to do with democracy?
Secondly, it’s well known that he is one of the most corrupt politicians in the country. He grew very rich when Benazir was in power on the first two occasions and amassed enormous wealth. There are corruption charges for money laundering against him in a court in
And the picture I wish you’d shown is at his inauguration ceremony, the only other foreign leader he invited was Hamid Karzai of
AMY GOODMAN: How?
TARIQ ALI: —who put him in power, because they know what he is. They know what he is in terms of his corruption. And he’s an obvious creature for them. The notion that he represents Pakistani democracy—if there were direct elections to the presidency, there’s no way he would have won. His standing now is on 14 percent.
AMY GOODMAN: He and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif split over the freeing of the—or not returning the barristers and the judges to their positions. Why didn’t Zardari support that?
TARIQ ALI: Because Zardari is hostile to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, because this is a very independent-minded chief justice and because the West, which backs Zardari at the moment, is also hostile to that chief justice being put back into power. I mean, Amy, do you know what happened? That this chief justice, when a woman said, “My—
AMY GOODMAN: Iftikhar Chaudhry.
TARIQ ALI: —Iftikhar Chaudhry said, when he was chief justice, a woman approached him, a poor woman, and she said, “My son was disappeared. I don’t know where he is. No one tells me.” This chief justice of the Supreme Court summoned the head of the Federal Intelligence Agency before the court and said, “Where is this guy?” The Federal Intelligence Agency chief said, “We have no idea what you’re talking about.” And the chief justice said, “Either you produce this prisoner before me within forty-eight hours, or you go to prison.” Language like this has never been heard in the Pakistan Supreme Court or any other. Within forty-eight hours, the guy was produced. He said, “What’s the evidence against him?” No evidence; it’s just that the
AMY GOODMAN: How did Zardari become president, if he only had something like 14 percent support?
TARIQ ALI: Because elections to the presidency are indirect. It’s the sitting parliament and the provincial assemblies which elect the president. His party had won those elections on the heels of Benazir’s assassination. But the minute it became clear that Zardari was up to his old tricks, not restoring the judiciary, all the opinion polls showed a very rapid decline.
AMY GOODMAN: Who would win if there were direct elections?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think that if there were direct elections and Zardari were challenged by the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, there is no doubt in my mind that Iftikhar Chaudhry would sweep to power. Or Nawaz Sharif.
AMY GOODMAN: You write—your book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power. Why The Duel?
TARIQ ALI: The duel is a long struggle which has been waged by the people of this country, nearly 200 million of them, against a corrupt political elite backed by the military and the United States now for over fifty years. They have been struggling for basic sort of necessities of life: health, education, food to eat. And every time they have been frustrated, either by military coups backed by the
This is the most callous, uncaring elite you have in
AMY GOODMAN: Where is Musharraf now?
TARIQ ALI: I think Musharraf is—you know, lives in the house provided, heavily guarded by the military. And my own feeling is that soon he’ll start traveling abroad. His family lives in
AMY GOODMAN: Billions lost, US billions, in
TARIQ ALI: Well, this is always—you know, exactly how they launder this money is not known to me, but the money always disappears. And this has been the case with the money provided by the West to this elite for a long, long time. I don’t think it will be too different with Zardari.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve also written extensively about
TARIQ ALI: Look, the situation in
But what is also more interesting, Amy, that we were constantly being told by the upmarket press, The Economist, New York Times, etc., that what you have in Latin America is a situation where we have moderates, like Lula and Bachelet in Chile, and hardliners, like Chavez and Morales. Well, the
AMY GOODMAN: And the coup? Could there be a coup that removes Morales?
TARIQ ALI: Well, if there is a coup in
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but I hope we have part two this week. The Duel:
Tariq Ali is a veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in