May 30, 2010

"There is no war against Islam"

By Ammara Ahmed

The News on Sunday: What brings you to

Dr. Daniel N. Nelson: I am in Pakistan this time because the US State Department invited me here to speak on civil-military relations. I have already spoken to audiences in Islamabad and Karachi — to university audiences, think-tanks and NGOs. I have met people from other walks of life, businesses, diplomats, retired diplomats and journalists.

TNS: There is a sense that in the US, more than at any other place, it is easy for academics to shift to policy-making. They are either inducted in think tanks or become part of the government. Do you think it’s useful and must be imitated by other countries?

DNN: I think it is very useful. It is good to have a mix, certainly better than the alternative which is to pursue one career your entire life. It can get quite boring. The sharing of experiences is useful. In my own life, it both made me a better professor at the university by having policy experience and also it gave me a perspective when I was involved in policy on the research perspective that academics have.

TNS: Does it not compromise academic independence?

DNN: No. In many countries there is less of this inter-weaving than there is in the US. I have never felt it compromised my independence. As a matter of fact, it made me a better professor (as I am still teaching) and now I am in business. So, I have done business, government and academics.

TNS: What do you think is the biggest foreign policy achievement of Obama? And what would you count as its failures?

DNN: Of course, he has been the president for a little over a year so his achievements are yet to be seen. In the broadest respect, I think he has improved the image of the US. In the period of George W. Bush, a lot of people were concerned about the American behaviour. I think Obama has reached out to not only major countries but also to many other countries that the American presidents have paid no attention to.

I don’t think there is any failure yet. I think there are many, many goals he has set that will have to be achieved in the future. For example, I don’t know if it is a foreign policy point or a domestic policy one, but nevertheless the closing of Guantanamo is yet to be achieved. I certainly think that given the nature of the American war on terrorism, it is an extremely difficult battle to fight. On the other hand I think his goal is to end, and end completely the combat in Iraq — that has not yet taken place.

TNS: How do you view the phenomenon of terrorism? Do you think the US needs some serious revision in terms of its foreign policy to remove the causes of terrorism?

DNN: I understand your words. But I am not quite sure of the underlying meaning. You know, first, the American foreign policy didn’t cause terrorism. So I begin with that fundamental point. The president and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made significant changes in the conduct of the American foreign policy. Here in this Consulate and in Islamabad as well, there is a lot more money for public diplomacy, for example. May be still not enough, but it has improved the situation. And I think this is a different face to the American foreign policy. Even those people who dislike or hate the United States are dealing with people who better understand [their position]. I think these changes are leaving a significant effect not only on the image of United States but also on the efficacy of its foreign policy.

TNS: What do you think is the biggest security threat to the US?

DNN: Clearly, terrorists of various kinds. I can tell you that the Russians are no longer a threat. We are not confronting an enemy of that kind. We have just signed an agreement with Russia to further reduce nuclear stockpiles. I suppose you can say we have certainly a strong competition with China in terms of, for example, the never-ending search for more energy. But this is a competition not a conflict.

TNS: When do you think US will safely exit from Afghanistan? Is a total exit realistically possible in the next five years?

DNN: Probably not. It is quite clear that President Obama, and you heard this, has increased the number of troops in Afghanistan while we are drawing down troops from Iraq. And that increase now, is approximately 100,000 in Afghanistan. And probably that number will remain and the president has said it himself. It is in 2011 that the so-called surge in Afghanistan will begin to end and some of the additional troops we sent there will be withdrawn, even as early as next summer. So that withdrawal will take place but the presence of American troops to some sizeable number will have to continue for sometime.

TNS: The failed Times Square bombing has also brought to the fore the dangers of home-grown terrorists in US. Is the US government aware of it and is it ready to do something about it?

DNN: Well, we have had home-grown terrorists before who were born and raised in US. Remember the attack on the Federal State Building Oklahoma killed 186 people. I know that was a while ago, but nevertheless we have had home-grown terrorism in that sense — people who had no other background from any other country, not naturalised citizens but were born and bred in US. So, I don’t think that it is a new phenomenon. Same for Britain. And, of course, France has had terrorist incidents involving either French citizens or Algerians many years ago. So the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism is not new.

As to what the US is trying to do about it, a lot of this has to do with law-enforcement. You might call it intelligence or FBI. There are techniques used by those organisations — if there is suspicion about certain people they monitor their behaviour very closely by intercepting communications, for example. I think tightening all this up is part of the process. Yet the US does not want to make an insecure society in order to somehow become more secure. So there is a balance there.

TNS: Is US willing to involve itself in a sustainable long-term peace process in South Asia? What exactly is the American interest in improving Pakistan’s ties with India? What exactly is the threat? Is it that of a nuclear war?

DNN: Well, of course the US has been active for years, decades. The United States has always been keenly interested that the India-Pakistan conflict be avoided. That wasn’t always the case but nevertheless that’s the goal. If you mean South Asia to include Afghanistan, well, the US is trying to get the country to a point where Taliban are no longer the imminent threat. Still, to get rid of them all is almost impossible.

So, the American commitment to peace broadly construed in South Asia certainly depends on defeating the insurgency and the militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now the case is of ensuring state-to-state peace.

One critical point: ultimately it is the people of the region or the area who have to move in that direction — Indians and Pakistanis have to get along; they have to insist that the insurgents and militants be eliminated. It’s the citizenry not just the US.

What is the American interest? Well, peace is better than war. And Pakistan has been an ally and friend of US for years; going back to the Cold War. India wasn’t always but it’s a far closer relationship now. Two countries, neighbouring, both powerfully nuclear armed, so the US interest in this remains a peaceful relationship forever.

Now, by the way, people of South Asia will be a lot more prosperous if they didn’t have to either combat these insurgencies or they could be reduced. Pakistan has a very large military and India even larger. Wouldn’t it be great to not spend so much money [on defense]?

For India and Pakistan, the threat now is very much from the same sources of militancy and insurgency. In India there are certain other insurgencies also; there are still Maoist Guerrillas operating (in India). Obviously in Pakistan there are cleavages and divisions that have existed long before a Taliban-like insurgency.

Those domestic, you used the word earlier, are I think home-bred or home-grown [terrorists] — and yes I think that’s really the principal threat.

TNS: You think that the Obama administration has successfully dealt with the problem of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and elsewhere or do you think more needs to be done?

DNN: It will take a long time, probably a lot longer than Obama will be the president even if he is re-elected, to repair those kind of feelings, as you say anti-Americanism. There is also misunderstanding and poor information that I think leads to anti-Americanism. Yes, there are some actions of US that make people angry. I was not in favour of the Iraq War and criticised how President Bush, Dick Cheney and others brought us into that war but those actions, particularly the Iraq War, added to the negative sentiments within the Islamic World. But there is no "War against Islam". There is war against certain terrorists and organised insurgencies that of course initiated an attack on the US. So, I think that a lot of public diplomacy is part of this — to add to the understanding and lessen the ignorance about the United States and simultaneously do a better job of explaining why the United States is taking certain actions, which I think President Obama has done.

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