The crisis in Pakistan -- what can we do?

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

As part of a series of interviews with women from war-torn countries (see interviews from Afghan and Afghan-American women here), CODEPINK interviews Fawzia Afzal-Khan, a Pakistani-American and English professor at Montclair State University in N.J. about the escalating crisis in Pakistan and how American women can help.

Many have criticized the Obama administration for its efforts in Pakistan from the perspective of shifting attention from Afghanistan, or for being too supportive of the Pakistan government or not enough. How would you describe the relationship between U.S. efforts in Afghanistan versus those in Pakistan? Do you feel the situation in both countries are unreasonably or faultily linked?

Faultily linked -- the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and to broaden it with its drone attacks on the Pakistani side of the Durand line border is to inflame passions against U.S. involvement further amongst the Pakhtoons in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to further strengthen Pakistani citizens anger against U.S. interference and killings of ordinary people and thus also strengthen impression of Pakistani Taliban as freedom fighters standing up against U.S. imperialism.

Based on your understanding, do many Pakistanis believe U.S. efforts are helping or hindering to stabilize Pakistan? Do they believe the U.S. is responsible for the massive refugee crisis, and does the U.S. bear any responsibility to help those 2 million people return to their homes and reform their lives?

You betcha. Most Pakistanis believe the U.S. is destabilizing Pakistan and this may be because it has some long-term plans to control that whole region, including gaining access to the Arabian sea, the whole "Pipelanistan" scenario, and building U.S. military bases to keep U.S. imperial interests and control alive. The U.S. absolutely bears some responsibility for the internally displaced Swati refugee crisis -- three million are reputed to have been ousted from their homes as a result of the Pak army operation against the Taliban in Swat, an action urged upon the Pak government by the U.S. Most Pakistanis think that the Pak Taliban do need to be confronted but the fall-out from these actions such as the refugee crisis is further destabilizing the country and creating more problems than it is solving. People are confused and angry and while they do not want Taliban ruling the country they also do not want to see their own citizens being displaced and killed due to American interference and to further American interests in the region. It's a mess..

Many argue drone attacks are the only way to kill Taliban or Al Qaeda members, others argue they must be abolished as they are not worth the number of civilians that may be killed. Based on your understanding, do you believe most Pakistani people support the use of drones?

I do not think most Pakistanis support the use of drones--but many do. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, an eminent Pakistani physicist and social activist, has written extensively on this issue and he actually believes drone attacks may be the lesser of the two evils (the other being Taliban insurgency). However, he too in recent writings says that the drone attacks create bad publicity for the us which is already regarded unfavorably by the majority of the population. And if you think about it, how many Taliban have really been gotten rid of as a result of these attacks? I think the solution has to be political and economic, not military--or certainly not only or even predominantly a military one.

According to a poll released this week, more than 80 percent of Pakistanis view the Taliban and Al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country, and U.S. officials believe this will help efforts to fight both groups. Do you have a sense of what efforts Pakistanis feel the government should undertake to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda, and what the U.S. role in this should be?

Yes, Pakistani have finally woken up to the serious threat posed to the nation state by these Islamist extremist groups and want them to be eliminated--but not at the cost of their sovereignty. So I think most Pakistanis want to see real change in government policies which address the root causes of inequities in the country which have led to the rise and support for extremism and madrassa culture. What the U.S. and Pak govt must do is build educational and economic infrastructure of the country and help the people help themselves in their own ways...not impose solutions from the outside. The U.S. should also stop supporting corrupt regimes and leaders like Asif Ali Zardari and look to local, organic leaders and grassroots movements and support them.

Do you believe women have different views of what will make Pakistan safer?

Yes. I think most women believe in non-violent measures, in education, in economic empowerment, in promoting peace through dialogue and the strengthening of cultural activism.

If American women want to help, what could they do?

Seek out the indigenous women's groups that are doing good work in building grassroots activism, setting their own agendas for change, and speaking out against Talibanization but also against U.S. militarism and hegemony as well as corrupt Pakistani elites, etc.  The Women's Action Forum (WAF), Shirkat Gah, Behbood, The Aurat Foundation, the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) are some organizations i would recommend making contact with to see what they would like help with.

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