Benazir’s assassination may exacerbate unrest in Sindh: Noam Chomsky
ISLAMABAD (February 02 2008): Noam Chomsky, a professor of Linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a well-known writer, thinker and political activist. In this interview that he gave to Business Recorder’s and Aaj TV’s Fahad Faruqui Professor Chomsky analyses Pakistan’s political scenario, its foreign policy and relationships – over the years – with the West.
He also talks about Democracy and its abuse worldwide. He comes up with some solutions with a view to making this world a better place. The following are the excerpts:
Q: One of the characteristics of a failed state that you highlight in your book -Failed States – is America’s increasing failure to protect its own citizens in relation to war-on-terror. Can you draw a parallel with how Pakistan has participated in this global push and has suffered the consequences in the form of increasing numbers of suicide bombings?
A: I’m afraid to say Pakistan is the paradigm example of a failed state and has been for a long time. It has had military rule, violence and oppression, Since the 1980’s, it has undergone an extremely dangerous form of radical Islamisation, which has undermined a good part of the society, under the Zia-ul-Haq tyranny.
Now it is in danger of collapsing, there is a rebellion in Balochistan, the FATA territories are out of control and always have been – and it is getting worse. It is possible that the Bhutto assassination might increase the severe unrest in Sindh, where there has been plenty of oppression, and this may lead to another secessionist movement.
The are recent polls of Pakistan, good polls, which show that the Pakistani population is in favour of Democracy, possibly with an Islamic flavour, but not this one of oppression, but those hopes are not even near being realised in the existing political and social system.
Q: Don’t you feel that democratic regimes can at times be authoritarian?
A: That is when they do not function. If you have formal democratic structure, but they do not function, yes, it can be authoritarian, it can be totalitarian! The old Soviet Union also called itself a democracy.
Q: What solutions do you propose for Pakistan in order for it to become a true Democracy rather than a failed state?
A: By developing political and social arrangements in which the population can actually determine effective policy. That is what democracy is.
Q: How can Pakistan form a democratic regime with an Islamic flavour when its Western allies buck the notion of Clash of Civilisations, which is at odds with everything that belong to the East?
A: The Clash of Civilisations is a concept that was invented actually by Bernard Lewis, a scholar of Islam, who has a bitter hatred for Islam. It was picked up by Samuel Huntington, a well known political scientist and he made it famous. The conception is supposed to be that the United States and its Western allies are civilised, enlightened and liberal, all sorts of wonderful qualities. And, the Islamic world is developing in the opposite direction, what is sometimes called Islamofacism – backward, regressive, violent, which doesn’t understand their elevated ideals and so on and so forth.
Looking at the facts such as Iraq which is the center of concern, the US Military carried out regular intensive studies of public opinion in Iraq because it is a core part of military occupation to try to understand the opinions of people you are trying to control and dominate. They released the study a few week ago, which was reported in the Washington Post, the main national newspaper, on December 19th 2007. The military experts say that they are very encouraged by what they call “good news from Iraq.” The “good news” is that the Iraqi’s have “shared beliefs.” That is supposed to refute the idea that they can’t come together and that they are involved in tribal warfare and so on, so it is very encouraging, until you look at what the “shared beliefs” are. To which they say that the United States is responsible for all of the atrocities and disasters that have taken place, since the invasion and, therefore, the United States should get out. The aggressors should leave. That is the Iraqi position.
Notice that the Iraqis accept the ideals United States professes, for example, the ideals of the Nuremburg Tribunals, the American-run Tribunal, which tried Nazi criminals and hanged them for their crimes. The worst crime was the crime of aggression and which the Tribunal called the supreme international crime, which includes all of the evil that follows. So, in the case of Iraq, which is a textbook example of aggression – US and British aggression – includes all of the evil that followed: including sectarian warfare, the catastrophic affects on the society, the hundreds and thousands of excessive deaths, millions of people who were displaced, all of that is included in the supreme crime of aggression. And, Iraqi’s agree with it. Off-course! Americans don’t agree with that, nor does Europe, they don’t agree with the ideals they profess; in fact, they dismiss them with contempt. Any mention of what I just said would be barely understood in the United States or the West, by intellectual opinion, but the Iraqi’s understand it.
Now let’s compare the United States. There is much debate about what the United States should do about Iraq. On January 20th 2008, The New York Times (newspaper for the record) had a lead story – by its main military correspondent, Michael Gordon – on Iraq and the elections, which reviewed the various opinions open to the United States and reviewed the opinion of the government officials, military experts, the political candidates, commentators, specialists and so on – a very extensive review.
Only one voice was missing, the voice of the people of Iraq. They are not people; they are what are sometimes called un-people, not people, so their voice doesn’t matter. We, should ask ourselves if there is a clash of civilisations, who are the enlightened liberal people.
Q: Pakistan has shifted in and out of democracy without stabilising in any one position, is it possible for Pakistan to yield towards the right direction?
A: For Pakistan, its alliance with the United States, I think, has been quite harmful throughout its history. The United States has tried to convert Pakistan into its highly militarised ally and has supported its military dictatorship. The Reagan administration strongly supported the Zia-ul-Haq tyranny, which had a very harmful affect on Pakistan, and the Reagan administration even pretended they didn’t know that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons.
Off course they knew, but they had to pretend they didn’t, so that Congress would continue to fund their support for Pakistan, for the army, and for the ISI, all part of their support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which was not intended to help the Afghans.
We know that very well, just from what happened afterwards. It was intended to harm the Russians, so the Reagan administration was using Pakistan as a way to kill the Russians. Actually, that was the term that was used by the head of the CIA station in Pakistan that “we have to kill Russians,” not that the poor Afghans would suffer, but who cares.
Q: Can Pakistan ever become a true Democracy when it is continually expected to pander to external pressures, to act in ways which has a negative impact on the people of the country?
A: Yes, it can. I mean there is a lot wrong with India, horrible things in India, but it is more or less a functioning democracy. Pakistan could move to that level, but, I think, it has to disentangle itself from the domination from the United States. Right now the US is supporting Musharraf – is that a way to democracy?
Pakistanis have been polled extensively and we know information about Pakistani opinion. A large number of Pakistanis want Democracy – with an Islamic flavour – but that could be a functioning Democracy. Their problem is to create it, and I think that the US influence has been an impediment to that.
Q: Can a Democracy with an Islamic flavour be acceptable to the world – especially its Western Allies?
A: It doesn’t matter if it’s acceptable to the Western countries, what matters is what is acceptable to Pakistanis. The Western countries would like to rule the world, but they have no authority to do that. I think they have a lot of problems with their own democracies, for example, take Iraq again, I said that the voice of Iraqis is missing in these reviews, but I could add that the voice of Americans is also missing.
What Americans want doesn’t matter, the large number of Americans agree with Iraqis that US forces should withdraw from Iraq. Americans are not as civilised as the Iraqis are in recognising that the US aggression is to blame for the atrocities.
The US citizens don’t accept the professed American ideals to the extent that the Iraqis do, but that is result of propaganda, deception and so on, but their voice matters. This is not the only example in which US policy is radically divorced from the public opinion.
Even with the issue of Iran-US and Iranian public opinion have both been studied extensively by a leading polling agency in the World, and they tend to agree on most issues such as how to resolve the problem, and that Iran has the right to nuclear power, like any signatory of non-proliferation treaty, but it does not have the right to acquire nuclear weapons.
They also agree that there should a nuclear weapons free zone in the whole region that would include Israel, Iran and Pakistan. An overwhelming majority of Americans and Iranians agree with that.
Furthermore, a huge majority of American (over 80 percent), thinks the United States should live up to its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and make good faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. A large majority of Americans are even opposed to any military threats against Iran, which they see as a crime.
If United States and Iran were both functioning democracies in which public opinion mattered, this crisis, which is a serious one, could probably be resolved. Unfortunately they are not, and that’s not due to a clash of civilisations because the problem is right here in the United States. In fact, the opinions of the American population are not only not implemented, but they are not even reported.
Q: You’ve highlighted public opinion. So, my concern is, is it possible for Pakistan to steer towards the right direction, when 65% of its population is illiterate and has no active participation in politics?
A: Yes, it’s very possible; in fact, one of the dramatic and successful achievements of Democracy, in recent years, has been in Bolivia. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. Extremely impoverished population, illiterate and so on, but they carried out what was a real triumph of Democracy – something that cannot be imagined in the West.
In December 2005, the indigenous population, the Indian population, which happens to be in majority in Bolivia, for the first time entered the political arena and were able to take political power through the vote and elected someone from their own ranks, who is committed to cultural rights, letting the population control their own natural resources, and many other moves towards justice and equality.
That is a remarkable exercising Democracy; it doesn’t take place in United States or Western countries. And, it was poor and the level of literacy was quite low. These were the people who were fighting for their rights for years.
The election didn’t come out of nowhere. A few years earlier, the Indian population had driven the World Bank and major corporations, like Bechtel, out of the country because they were trying to privatise water. Privatising water may look good in the study of economics at graduate school, but for the population it means that they can’t purchase water for their children, so they rejected and they struggled in which many killed. The drove the corporations and the world bank out.
Q: As you may know, elections in Pakistan will be held soon and public polls on television depict a lack of confidence in the political system. The poor masses have more immediate concerns such as rising prices of flour and wheat, scarcity of gas and electricity in the country, than bothering with who to vote for – if at all. What are your thoughts on this and how can governments gain the confidence of people and get their active participation in Politics?
A: Governments will gain active participation for the populous, if the issues that concern the population like getting shoes for your children or having water to drink or having cultural rights or controlling your own natural resources, if those issues are open to vote on then they’ll vote, just like in Bolivia. If the vote is a matter of picking one or the other member from the wealthy and oppressive elite then people won’t vote. The voting is very low in the United States for similar reasons.
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