Pakistan and Saudi Arabia: On Whose Side?
MSNBC: Connected Coast to Coast
Translations of this item:
Monica Crowley: Let's bring in two experts to explore the Pakistani connection. Daniel Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum and the author of a book, Militant Islam Reaches America. He joins us now from Philadelphia. Welcome Daniel.
Daniel Pipes: Thank you Monica.
Crowley: And also joining us, Azzam Tamimi. He is the director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought and a senior member of the Muslim Society of Great Britain. He says it is a mischaracterization to single out countries like Pakistan when it comes to terrorist activities. He joins us from London. Nice to see you as well.
Azzam Tamimi: Thank you.
Crowley: Daniel, I begin with you on the question of Pakistan. How reliable are the Pakistanis as an ally to the United States in this war?
Pipes: Well, the government of Parvez Musharraf has said the right thing, makes the right noises, but has not cracked down. And so there is a problem. And the problem is a deep problem, because in fact the forces of radical Islam are popular in Pakistan. The clip you saw with Tom Brokaw suggests, he would be in danger fear he took steps against radical Islam. So, to call the government an ally is to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it is not an ally in the war. It is caught between us and its constituency of Islamists.
Crowley: Azzam, Pakistan has long been known to be a hotbed of terrorist activity, particularly when it regards al Qaeda. How cooperative do you believe Musharraf's government has been in aiding the United States and the West more generally in fighting terrorism?
Tamimi: Well, he is accused in his own country of being a lackey of America. He is actually perceived as doing too much. The problem is that he is only cracking down on people suspected of connections with al Qaeda. This is not the way you deal with this phenomenon. There has to be a lot of other work that nobody is recognizing. For instance, how can you not expect people to sympathize with Bin Laden when Musharraf, who came to power who came to power through a coup d'état, is not a democrat, does not respect human rights does not deal with the core issues that matter to the people in terms of equal distribution of resources in terms of improving the conditions of people, and in terms of making them realize or feel that they are a dignified nation. And the same thing applies to every single other Muslim countries that is considered to be a loyal friend of the United States of America.
Crowley: Daniel, you mentioned earlier that Musharraf is walking a political tight rope here because his country has a huge constituency of radical Islamists who are certainly engaged in terrorist activity, he's got the fundamentalists he has to worry about, and pressure from the United States and from the west to crack down on the groups and individuals. It's amazing to me that Musharraf has been able to survive for so long. How has he been able to manage that? And is that tenable into the future?
Pipes: He has been able to survive in part through luck. There have been significant attacks on him and some people have died in the course but he has survived. I am a little surprised that Mr. Tamimi looks to socio-economic reasons and talks about dignity and the like, when he lives in London and London just some days ago had rounds of explosions killing 55 people. It had nothing to do with dignity and poverty and humiliation or lack of democracy. Britain is a democratic, rich country. The point is that the ideologues in Leeds or the ideologues in Pakistan seek to overthrow whatever government and impose Islamic order, a radical Islamic order. And they are not people who can be bought off through concessions; they are people who have to be defeated. Either Mr. Musharraf is someone who will defeat him or he is not. I think we have to put him to the test. We have not done that yet. We have accepted his good will but have not pushed him hard enough to take the steps to crack down in a way required in Pakistan.
Crowley: Daniel, do you believe the will exists in Pakistan for Musharraf to do that even if he wanted to?
Pipes: I think that if he is a supple and cautious and long-range strategic politician and general he can manage it. It won't be easy, but he needs to do it for his own survival as well as for our interests.
Crowley: Azzam, what about the question of General Musharraf's survival? As I mentioned to Daniel, it seems he is walking this delicate tight rope every single day between balancing the fundamentalists who seek to overthrow if not assassinate him. General Musharraf has been the target of a number of assassination attempts over the last couple of years. And also the interests of the West where is he also drawn. I am curious about the roles of madrasas in this calculation. A lot of the religious schools in Pakistan, we know, are hotbeds for preaching hatred and terrorism and violence and jihad. Should General Musharraf take a more aggressive approach in cracking down on those schools?
Tamimi: Well, you're making the assumption, and on the basis of that assumption, which in my opinion is totally erroneous, you are proposing a solution. Who said that the madrasas are a hotbeds for hatred? These madrassas are very simple institutions that teach the Koran and basic Islamic teachings. There is no evidence --
Crowley: Excuse me Azzam, we do know that madrasas have been hotbeds of this type of activity where the individuals who are in control of the schools are getting funding from Saudi Arabia, from the Wahhabis, to preach this kind of violence and jihad. We know that for a fact.
Tamimi: No, you don't know that for a fact.
Crowley: Yes, we do.
Tamimi: No, we don't know that for a fact. That is not true. And this is not about ideology, this is about people disgruntled with politics. There is a political crisis across the world in the Muslim world. And it is true the people came from Leeds are not impoverished, they do not have socio-economic problems, but they've been enraged by what they perceive by a war on Islam. This war on terrorism launched by George W. Bush and allies in the West is perceived by many of them as a war on Islam itself. So long as you don't see this --
Crowley: Azzam, let me clarify something here. The United States has been under attack from these radical Islamists long before the war in Iraq, long before the war in Afghanistan. They were engaged in a jihad, and there was nothing involved in American foreign policy that would have set them off that pre-9/11. They engaged in that kind of jihadist activity against the United States long before we acted against Saddam Hussein. So Afghanistan and Iraq are essentially pretexts. They are just excuses. This active has been going on long before that.
Tamimi: Well if you think that 9/11 was the beginning of history, you are mistaken. For 10 years the Americans have been imposing sanctions on Iraq. Half a million children died as a result of the sanctions. The Americans bombed Sudan, bombed Afghanistan. The Americans had a policy that is so biased towards Israel which oppresses the Palestinians; you cannot forget all of this.
Crowley: All right, let me bring in Daniel Pipes on this question. It seems outrageous to me that they would be suggesting that American foreign policy or Western foreign policy was somehow to blame for the terrorist activity we are seeing now. These terrorists are engaged in a jihad, are they not?
Pipes: Of course it is jihad, Monica, you are exactly right, and what we are hearing is essentially a two-faced explanation. Within the own councils at the Muslim Association of Britain they know this is a jihad. In fact, my fellow panelist today has just a year ago indicated that he himself would be willing to be a suicide bomber in the right circumstance, he said this much on the BBC on Hardtalk. So, it's not a matter of deprivation, it's a matter of envisioning an Islamic order where Islamic rule prevails, Muslims are in charge and non-Muslims are underneath without power. When he comes on television, Mr. Tamimi denies all of this and says that well, it's just about anger and this and that. It is not about anger it is about wanting to create a new world order. It is like the Nazis wanted, it's like the Communists wanted and now the Islamists want it. It has nothing to do with one's personal circumstances. It's a dream, it is a vision of the future, of how life can be. In short, it would be as life was in Afghanistan under the Taliban. That is the dream.
Crowley: All right gentlemen, please stand by. Lots more to talk about with regard to this issue and our conversation continues in a moment when we are going to take a look at what role Saudi nationals are taking in the war on terror. And remember, we always want you to join in, just go to our website at 'connected.msnbc.com'. Stick around.
Crowley: Bloggers are talking about Pakistan's involvement in the war on terror. The blogger over at Terror for Justice says the radical Pakistanis who have been uncovered as suspects in the recent terror attacks in Egypt and Great Britain are putting Pakistan's moderate majority under massive pressure. And the blogger over at Mental Meandering says Pakistan is clearly a nation through which funding for terrorism flows, from which the terrorists emerge, and given its geographical location, this blogger says, terrorists probably pass through it quite a lot.
Well, Pakistan isn't the only country that some argue could do much more to fight the war on terror. Saudi Arabia is another. Let's bring in MSNBC terrorism and national security expert, Juliette Kayyem. Juliette is the executive director of the national security program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Great to see you Juliette.
Juliette Kayyem: Thank you Monica.
Crowley: So Saudi Arabia we do know now that a large number of the terrorists operating on the ground in Iraq are Saudi nationals. Do you think the United States needs to take a more aggressive approach towards Saudi Arabia?
Kayyem: I think it does. If you look at the websites and at least some tracking that Western journalists have done, anywhere from 40% to 60% of the suicide bombers, that is important, the suicide bombers, are Saudi nationals. What that means, is likely what is happening in Iraq is that the insurgency is split. You have some people who are Iraqis and willing to bomb things but not to commit suicide on themselves. But then you have the foreign nationals willing to come in, probably followers of Zarqawi, and kill themselves in pursuit of getting America out of Iraq and undermining Iraq's process.
The fact the numbers are so high for this one country, Saudi Arabia, means that either Saudi Arabia has no control over its borders, or has no idea what is going on in its own borders, or more likely simply just doesn't know what to do with it. As we know, unlike Pakistan, as we know Saudi Arabia has been the focus of its own terrorist threats since they focused on Saudi nationals and killing Saudi nationals in the last 3½ years. They have cracked down significantly. Certainly looking at the numbers in Iraq it looks like not enough. And here is the irony of the discussion previously, the more we demand of the countries to crack down on the internal terrorist threats, the less likely it is that they are going to be able to reform towards the democracy that the Bush Administration talks about. Because what we are talking about in Pakistan, the rounding up or Saudi Arabia, certainly the beheadings moments after a terrorist attack, is not the democratic process that you and I envision when we think about can democracy in the Arab world. So there is a tension between being tough on the countries and saying the long term goal is democracy.
Crowley: Daniel Pipes, let me turn to you on the question of cooperation that we are getting. Not just Pakistan, but also Saudi Arabia. It seems both countries are cooperating just enough, just enough to placate the United States. But not so much that they get overthrown or the leaders get assassinated. It seems like it is an incredibly difficult balancing act.
Pipes: You are right Monica, it is a tough balancing act. And the Saudis have learned to do it to perfection. They make significant concessions to the even more radical elements at home and keep things on an even keel as best they can with us. The question is how long can they continue this, in effect double game? At what point will it be necessary for them to crack down? And from the American point of view, at what point are we going to start making demands of them? I realize Ms. Kayyem doesn't think we should make demands, but I do think we should. And if it delays the democratic process, so be it. As she pointed out, it is a long-term process, not something to happen in a year or two. Let's get these countries cleaned of their terrorist infrastructure and then we can begin to talk about real steps towards democracy.
Crowley: Daniel there's been a lot of discussion after the London bombings that perhaps the United Kingdom has coddled the extremists and allowed them to flourish and allowed them to preach their kind of hatred and terrorism and violence. Has Pakistan also coddled extremists, and therefore, could Pakistan face the same kind of problem that the U.K. and Saudi Arabia are facing in that the extremists in the whole approach is coming back to bite them?
Pipes: Definitely. As we all noted before there have been attempts on the life president Musharraf. But the big difference between Britain and Pakistan, in Pakistan it is going to be difficult for the government to crack down. There are real sources of power. In Britain it is just lassitude, it's laziness, it's over-confidence, I don't know what verb or adjective to use. It is not that they can't do it they haven't chosen to do it. Now, perhaps in the last few weeks we see a change, but it is not clear to me yet that what we in the trade call "Londonistan" has yet seen its final days. It has been—of all of the Western countries there is nothing like the United Kingdom in terms of allowing a radical Islamic infrastructure to develop and even allowing terrorism. Did you know some eight countries have been attacked by terrorists in Britain, including the United States? Richard Reid was a British-based terrorist who almost blew up an American airline. The United Kingdom has a lot of changes to make and it can at will. Pakistan is a much more difficult question.
Crowley: Azzam, General Musharraf recently said the terrorist acts in London could not have possibly come from al Qaeda, at least not al Qaeda in Pakistan because he believed al Qaeda is not continuing to operate in Pakistan. Do you believe that?
Tamimi: Well, al Qaeda is a phenomenon. Al Qaeda is no longer an organization. There is no central command. This is like something that is mushrooming in response to world politics. You don't want to believe this in America, it's up to you. But I very strongly believe in it. The attitude of governments, whether in the region or the attitude of your own government, or your own attitude. You don't want to enlighten the American people about what actually goes on in the world. And you bring in the likes of Daniel Pipes to continue to keep the American people in the dark. You should listen for a change --
Crowley: You know, excuse me Azzam, I'm sorry I try to be respectful of all of my guests, it seems you are grossly --
Tamimi: You have not respected me from the beginning. You called my statement outrageous --
Crowley: That is because you are blanketing us with untruths and I just, I have to put a stop to it on my program. I'm sorry.
Tamimi: See, you are not even objective.
Crowley: No, in this war actually I'm not objective Azzam.
Tamimi: I am your guest. You invited me on the show. I did not impose myself on you.
Crowley: I have I to go to Juliette.
Tamimi: You are not—
Crowley: I to go to Juliette. What do you believe the extent of the terrorist active is in Pakistan? Are you believing what the General Musharraf has to say, or is al Qaeda still very operative in that country?
Kayyem: I think Musharraf is maybe telling the truth as he believes it. I mean, I am not convinced that Musharraf knows what is going on in his country anymore. He has significant numbers of his secret service or the equivalent of his secret service and certainly military who are probably, if not members, but are sympathetic to terrorism. They probably keep him in the dark. I think there are probably members of his outer circle who likely know where Bin Laden is.
It is not even clear to me that Musharraf, he is holding it together, but whether he is fully in the know is a question mark. I think here is the interesting part. You and Daniel were bringing up Iraq before and you said that they didn't have—that this was happening before Iraq. Before the war in Iraq. Clearly it has been happening for decades. The question now is not so much Iraq, but why is it still happening? What is going on- and so a lot of people look to Iraq and say is that engendering a lot of ill will towards the United States? If the links in Britain and if the links in Egypt bring us back to Pakistan, it does at least give some credence to the argument that the war in Afghanistan and the attempts to control the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were basically abandoned, even the C.I.A. admits it, basically abandoned for the war in Iraq did take a toll on the war on terrorism on September 11. So I think they are related even if you make the argument as you do, that you know, this was here before the war in Iraq, and it will be here after. I think that is clearly true but I think there is something triggering this now that I think we have to understand. And there will be debate about what it is. But I think we have to understand it.
Crowley: All right, we have to leave the conversation there but I appreciate the time of all three of my guests. Daniel Pipes, Azzam Tamimi, Juliette Kayyem. Thank you so much.
Reader comments (29) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes