Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Interview with India New England journal

India New England - Arts & Entertainment
Issue: 11/15/04

Author shares insider's view of drifting Pakistan
By Poornima Apte

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. - Hassan Abbas is disappointed that the "season of hope" that heralded President Pervez Musharraf's arrival in Pakistani politics is now long gone.

In his book, "Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror," the doctoral candidate at Tufts Fletcher School of Diplomacy, writes: "Without doubt, Musharraf has shown ample courage in fighting religious extremism and terrorism, but has failed to institutionalize his policies."

Abbas' observations about Pakistan's politics come from an insider's view that he has enjoyed over the years - he has served in Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's administration and has been a deputy director in Musharraf's Chief Executive Secretariat.

He told INDIA New England that the idea for the book had been simmering for many years, but the final motivation came about when he saw how Musharraf had dashed the hopes of many in Pakistan.

In the book, the chapter dedicated to Musharraf's administration is called "season of hope." Abbas says he wondered if he should have placed a question mark at the end of that phrase and later dropped the idea when he acknowledged that Musharraf had done a fair amount of good for the country.

When asked if Musharraf had a tough line to walk between keeping religious extremists at bay and helping with the American "war on terror," Abbas admits it is a challenge.

He partly blames the United States for its short-term solutions to pressing problems in many volatile regions in the world.

"Why are they not spending money on strengthening universities?" he asks, questioning the United States' single-minded devotion to Musharraf and the military. "Why not assign more money for law enforcement?"

Abbas adds that short-sighted American foreign policies are partly to blame for the rapid growth of religious madrassas in Pakistan. During the '80's, the American government supported the anti-Soviet mujahideen movements as an answer to Soviet aggression.

Now the movement has mushroomed out of proportion; Abbas says there are at least 30,000 madrassas in Pakistan, and the mujahideen are always on the lookout for the next political and religious hot spot to focus their attentions on.

Abbas adds that many in the Arab and Muslim worlds harbor resentment against American administrations that adopt a higher moral ground, while at the same time supporting brutal dictatorial regimes in Arab countries.

He points to the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, which is a loyal friend of the United States but is notorious for its repressive policies against its people.

Back in Pakistan, Abbas worries that an effective answer to Musharraf's absence has not shaped up.

"Failing to make a real difference lately, Musharraf has fallen in the esteem of the people of Pakistan, and there is many a hope that lies crushed in the rubble of this fall, and yet no popular movement has been able to generate steam against him," Abbas writes in the book.

"That, however, is only a matter of time, and unfortunately the ones who will lead the public opinion in such a crisis will be the religious leaders, because Musharraf has sidelined the liberal forces and moderate political parties."

The book outlines Pakistan's political history and evaluates the policies of various administrations including those of Bhutto and President Zia-ul-Haq. The country has vacillated between democracy and military dictatorship ever since it became independent.

When asked about the Kashmir situation, Abbas is hopeful that India and Pakistan will reach a working compromise soon.

He blames both countries equally for complicating matters and not doing enough to arrive at a meaningful solution.

Still, Abbas believes that the movement of artists back and forth between the two countries and the playing of competitive cricket in each other's countries are signs of an encouraging start.

"Some of my best friends are Indians," Abbas says. "It is true that outside of the countries' propaganda about each other, there is real friendship and dialogue."

Abbas is working on another book about the 10 leading terrorist organizations around the world. He says the Pakistani and American media have received his current book very well, but his statements about the Pakistani military have been controversial.

"My friends in Pakistan called up and told me not to come back in the immediate future," Abbas laughs.

Despite the discouraging and sometimes ominous scenarios Abbas paints in the book, he is hopeful that the moderate forces in Pakistan will prevail in the end.

"Musharraf still has a chance," Abbas says, "if he decided to collaborate or work with more moderate forces in society."


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