Pakistan: Ally Or Enigma?

With a general leading the country yet again, will Pakistan find its way?

April 30, 2002

With a general leading the country yet again, will Pakistan find its way?

Pakistan is a paradox. Carved out of India to become a homeland for that country’s Muslim minority in 1947, it is a nation founded on religion. At the same time, with a population of 145 million, it has struggled to be a secular Muslim country. Democratic governments have regularly traded places with military dictators. The latest regime is led by Pervez Musharraf, who continues to impress world leaders. Our new Read My Lips feature examines his position — and that of the country which he has led since 1999.

What was President Musharraf’s message to the U.S. government following the September 11 terrorist attacks?

“I wish to assure President Bush and the U.S. government of our unstinted cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”

(President Musharraf, September 2001)

Why was he so quick to offer his support?

“Either Pakistan cooperates — or Pakistan becomes a target.”

(Barnett Rubin, Afghanistan expert at New York University, September 2001)

Did Musharraf’s policy meet with general international approval?

“As a good Jewish boy, I would have never dreamed that I would pray for the safety of General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan.”

(Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister, October 2001)

What do most Pakistanis think of religious extremism?

“Sectarian terrorism has been going on for years. Everyone of us is fed up with it.”

(President Musharraf, January 2002)

Why then is the relationship to India so difficult?

“India, after the United States, is a leading force in IT [Information Technology]. But for Afghanistan and Pakistan, their IT is international terrorism.”

(Lalit Mansingh, India’s Ambassador to the United States, March 2001)

What does Pakistan think about its powerful neighbor?

“Pakistanis are a responsible and peace-loving nation — but let there be no illusion that in case of any aggression we will respond with complete national will and resolve.”

(President Musharraf, January 2002)

What is the Indian point of view on that?

“Pakistan cannot be on one border saying ‘We are against terrorism’ and on the other border saying that ‘We support terrorism.'”

(Senior Indian diplomat, November 2001)

Why do some feel obliged to fight?

“If Allah had chosen me to die, I would have been in paradise eating honey and watermelons and grapes and resting with beautiful virgins, just as it is promised in the Koran.”

(Pakistani pharmacist, January 2002)

What was the reaction in Pakistan to the cancellation of U.S. aid at the end of the Cold War?

“We were left high and dry — and it started to settle in on the people that we were ditched.”

(President Musharraf, January 2002)

Is there a lack of government authority on taxation?

“In Pakistan, taxes have yet to join death as one of life’s inevitabilities.”

(Barry Bearak, New York Times correspondent, May 2000)

But how did domestic politics worsen the economic problem?

“The bureaucracy doesn’t want our taxes; they want our bribes.”

(Umer Sailya, restaurant owner in Pakistan, May 2000)

What is Musharraf’s government doing about it?

“We are trying to inculcate a culture of tax-paying. It is a defining moment for our nation.”

(Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s Finance Minister, May 2000)

How is Pakistan planning to achieve this revolution?

“All taxpayers are warned that a comprehensive tax survey is being launched soon in which your concealed income and assets will be unearthed.”

(Ad in Pakistani newspaper, May 2000)

Will the war in Afghanistan change the country’s economic plight?

“Pakistan stands in a better position than before the American strikes began because Pakistan is no longer isolated from the world community. Long-term, Pakistan will be a winner.”

(Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, November 2001)

What is the main challenge for President Musharraf?

“Musharraf is trapped. He must do a difficult job without damaging the army’s image. He has to balance the perception of the army as being pro-people with the need to use military authority for a change.”

(Pakistani political analyst, June 2000)

Has Musharraf realistically calculated the risks of extremism?

“I thought ten times about putting my hand into the beehive of religious extremism.”

(President Musharraf, January 2002)

And finally, what is Musharraf’s view of his democratically-elected predecessors?

“What kind of people are they? They have plundered this nation and they want to come back and plunder it again.”

(President Musharraf, April 2002)