Tariq Ali interviewed by Bharat Bhushan for Outlook India, April 23, 2012
When you look at your original homeland, Pakistan, what thoughts come to your mind?
A congregation of pain – to quote from Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s great poem Aaj ke naam – in Urdu, “dard ki anjuman”. The country has gone from bad to worse. You feel sometimes that things can’t get worse and they do. We first had the effect of military dictatorships on social political life in the country and now we have got a civilian government which is probably the most corrupt government in the entire history of the country. What staggers me is that Zardari is so shameless. On his face you do not read any regret for what he has done and he will carry on doing it till the United States keep him in power. That is the situation in the country today.
You have often said that Pakistan has mostly been ruled by governments which have been US puppets. How and when will Pakistan be government by and for Pakistanis?
The young people want to get a government elected by the people and for the people. Whether Imran Khan will pull it off or not – I do not know. The planks of his programme are friendly, but independent, relations with the United States and moving away from puppet status. He actually says that in his campaigns – about 70 per cent of the population sees the US as its enemy. It used to be India, but now it is the United States.
Your support for Imran Khan has baffled many in Pakistan and elsewhere. What did you mean by writing in the London Review of Books — almost lamenting that there was only one Imran Khan in Pakistan?
Well, what I meant was there is nothing else at the moment as far as politics is concerned. That this guy after working 15 years for building his party, when everyone was laughing at him, is beginning to draw huge support mostly from people who are alienated from politics. So I think one has to react positively. It is not as if he will give Pakistan what I want – fully fledged socialism – but at least he is fighting on the right issues and people are fed up of being ruled by two competing sets of criminals — corporate criminals. Whether it is the Sharif brothers or Zardari – they are both in politics to make money. They do very little else.
But what do you think of Imran Khan’s support for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and obscurantism of all kinds?
Well, he has denied all that sharply in interviews that I have seen with him. He has said that he is not a supporter of the Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban. He feels that the American war in Afghanistan and the drone attacks in Pakistan are increasing support for these people. And he wants to end it. Essentially, he is an enlightened Muslim – probably much more liberal minded than the people who are in power in Egypt and Tunisia today.
What do you say about the Punjabi hegemony in politics and in the military in Pakistan? What does it do to the dream of a federal Pakistan?
That dream died with the formation of Bangladesh after the breakup of Pakistan in 1970-71. That was the end of federal Pakistan. What was left was a country heavily dominated by Punjab by virtue of its population, if nothing else. It is a fact of life. There is nothing we can do about it. The country is now very mixed. Karachi is a city which has Punjabis, Sindhis, the Pushtuns, and descendents of the refugees who went from India. The social composition of the big cities is changing. You see the same thing in Sindh and Balochistan – you have lots of people who are not ethnically from that region. And this happens all over the world. You cannot keep to the ethnic purity which some nationalists seem to demand.
Do you see the stranglehold of the army on Pakistan politics and foreign policy diminishing in the near future?
I think there is very little doubt that most people in Pakistan don’t want the army to intervene in politics. They are fed up of it. They know perfectly well what happens at the top; that the process which was started off decades ago of corruption among the top layers of the armed services (has continued) and when they come to power they become even more corrupt. They get rake offs from deals to buy arms and the top military officials get huge amounts of money officially and legally from the State. They have become the part of the elite. But people don’t like them being in power. I think most people would prefer elected governments though there are times when there is an elected government like the current one, when some people again start saying that perhaps the army was better. But the majority wants elected governments.
You say the people are fed up of the army, but is the army fed up of politics?
The army is not fed up of politics – this is absolutely true because of the role it has played. It sees itself like the Turkish army used to do for a long long time—not just “in the last analysis”, saviour of the country if it was attacked, but as the only force in the country which was organised and disciplined enough to run the country. That is how the many top brass see it and they have run the country. But every time they have done it, it has been a mess. Ayub’s dictatorship led to the breakup of Pakistan. General Zia’s dictatorship saw the country become obscurantist; saw the emergence of jihadi groups funded and supported from the top and we are still trying to deal with the mess that was created. And then we had Musharraf who started off with promises but then picked up a huge fight with the judiciary and had to go out ignominiously having lost the fight to destroy a Chief justice.read more