Editor’s Note: On behalf of the LUBP team, I would like to thank Carlotta Gall for taking out the time to speak with us. Pakistanis need to face up to differing viewpoints and in that regard, Ms. Gall’s latest book (The Wrong Enemy) and articles offer a mirror that is not complimentary to our constructed nationalist psyche but a reflection that is much required. The Pakistani State’s policy of fostering radicalized Deobandi non-State actors for gaining influence in other countries and for enforcing a totalitarian society within has clearly failed. The policy needs to be scrapped along with the actors, such as the Taliban and their urban face Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ aka Lashkar-e-Jhangvi LeJ), in this destructive plot. In today’s Pakistan, everyone who is on the wrong side of the radical Deobandi outfits like ASWJ/LeJ, TTP, JUI, JI etc is suffering – be it the majority Sunni Barelvis or women or the Shias who are facing a pre-genocide situation. Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs and the Balochs are all suffering due to the backlash of the failed policy of “strategic depth”. We are providing a shortened transcript of our conversation with Ms. Gall along with the audio clips of the full conversation.
Ali Taj (AAT): Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) is an independent political website that blogs about Pakistan’s political and socio-cultural issues, and particularly we’re very concerned about Taliban and extremism. The kind of narrative you are putting forward is very true and very difficult and you have done a lot of hard work and you can pursue it further.
AAT: Deobandi Islamic seminaries and clerics have a key role in providing the ideology and the human resource support to terrorist outfits like the TTP, the Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP aka ASWJ) and they use different avatars like Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ), which is known to be Al Qaeda’s most effective affiliate in Pakistan. To what extent do you agree with this impression that it’s the Deobandi madrassas that are doing this?
Carlotta Gall (CG): I think they most definitely are. I think there is no question, that they are the first port of call to recruit people. From what I understand is that when they are running these Madrassas, then the religious parties and others, including Al Qaeda; who then are looking out for possible people to join them, draw these Madrassa students into that organization. I understand they offer extra training courses or periods when they can go to extra study events, from the Madrassas, during break or during the holidays, which is when they almost lure them off to the camps or to other areas where they then study, and student tell their parents then “I am going with my fellow students on a study course”, and that’s when they start going off and becoming further radicalized, further indoctrinated in other places or in other Madrassas, that’s how they get live the way. Usually the religious parties or organizations are doing that recruiting.
AAT: In March 2014, there was a nationwide gathering of Deobandi seminaries in Multan, and a senior Saudi Minister was their special guest, the speakers, the senior Deobandi clerics warned Pakistan against crack down of Deobandi seminaries or Madrassas. How would you analyze this linkage and this kind of threat that they made?
CG: Well I don’t know about that and first time I heard about that so I am not sure but obviously we all do know the connection with Saudi and lot of gulf countries have supplied money for these Madrasas, I even can quote a very interesting snippet you might have seen also, when shortly after Bin Laden was killed, there was General Pasha the head of the ISI had to appear before parliament for questioning. In fact General Kiyani was also there but he didn’t take questions, but pasha did take questions, and there was a moment when he was challenged by a member of Fazal ul Rehman’s party. And Pasha shot back, this is an account that was in the media, Pasha shot back that you should keep quiet, because we all know that you received money from Libya from Gaddafi to your party. This was the thing I saw fascinating that Colonel Gaddafi was also one of these people who were sending funds for these Madrassas, it doesn’t surprise me that they have high level guests and that the Saudi Official might be brought in, and I think I have heard that they have been resisting efforts to crackdown to curtail the activities of the Deobandi Madrassas, and inevitably the clerics running them would push back because they would always resist having any control put on them or any reduction in numbers or their strength, I don’t know if it’s true, but that doesn’t surprise me.
I think there are lots of reasons and about Saudis we do know that they are interested in supporting Sunni radicals because of their rivalry with Shia sect and Iran and so on. So that’s much very much part of colonial habit of Saudis to spread and expand their form of Wahhabi or Deobandi Sunni Islam in the Muslim world and I think we have seen that in a lot of countries. It doesn’t surprise me that even after 9/11 they still continue that.
AAT: The only thing that I would say is in my opinion, if there was no Iran and if we go back before the Iranian revolution of 1979, this is exactly what they were doing ever earlier, before the revolution in Iran. Their goal to spread Wahabi -Deobandi Islam has been ongoing since they have the resources to spend on it, they reinforce their caliphate if you will: since they are the custodians of holy mosques, they want to spread that follow, yes there is an element of rivalry, that rivalry if it wasn’t there, it would still be going on.
CG: You know they are doing just what the west is doing, we sent missionaries from Christian west for centuries and we still do especially in America always believed in spreading our form of civilization around the world.
AAT: That’s very true but what they are spreading is and what the west is spreading or even Iran for that matter or anyone else maybe spreading , there is no comparison , because what they are spreading is a belief that if you don’t believe in what I believe then I will kill you. That is the bottom line of it, I will email you the excerpts of the interpretations of Quran that they teach and the very first chapter as you may well know is recited at least 17 times a day by good Muslims. The Saudi interpretation, where they actually add their own bias into translations/commentaries and which is not present in the original Quranic text, basically calls for the annihilation of Christians and Jews in the very first chapter. This is not something that is taught by mainstream Sunni or Shia Muslims.
AAT: The Pakistan government is currently holding peace talks with the Taliban, the peace talks are supported by the right wing parties, PMLN of prime minister Nawaz Sharif who is known for his close links with Saudi Arabia, and the secular progressive parties are opposed to the talks, what would you comment on this? (Postscript: The secular parties like the PPP are actually quite confused with Bilawal saying one thing and the PPP leaders in parliament saying the complete opposite. The PPP leaders in parliament, like Khursheed Shah, the Leader of the Opposition and Raza Rabbani actually support the talks too.)
CG: I find the peace talks with the Taliban almost meaningless in both countries whether it is in Afghanistan or Pakistan I know when ANP did peace talks, I understand when you want to try and resolve the insurgency, you have to tell are the communities with you want peace its evident that you have to say that you exist and all peaceful means of resolving the differences before you go to resort to military means so I understand the need to make over turns and say you are doing peace, I don’t really believe that any of peace talks are real peace talks. I think a lot of the deals Pakistani military did with the Pakistani Taliban were just fake deals, they were just convenient ceasefires or pretend peace talks so I am not sure what to believe about this latest round. I’m sure Sami ul Haq and Rustam Shah Mohmand are trying to reach out people but I just don’t believe that anything would come of this because I don’t think either party is really sincere in trying to resolve things I also think that the Taliban are at the stage where they are absolutely not interested in negotiations with this state in any way they have their behind the scene dealings with the ISI and that’s how things would continue and I think this is a bit of show all of these peace talks.
I haven’t talked enough to the PMLN people but I think at first yes, that is what they were trying to do I think they were threatening an operation in north Waziristan they did do some bombing in one area so what I understand in that their talks with America they were very serious, they were finally goanna get tough and then something happened.
They didn’t do an operation but the peace talks didn’t go anywhere, I think someone intervened and it sort of collapsed so it’s not going anywhere so I am rather skeptical about these peace talks because I haven’t seen from watching the years I haven’t seen any real peace talks.
AAT: We agree on that part but what you are also saying that they are doing something but it’s really not explainable where they are going and what direction it will take that there is something else stirring the pot if you will.
CG: ….they (the Pakistani elected government) did want something but they have a great deal of trouble because they are not really in control of the dialogue or the scene on the military and ISI who have much stronger leverage with the Taliban.
AAT: What about the whole Syrian situation? Does that come into place because recently we saw that Saudi Arabia gave 1.5 billion dollars to Pakistan as ‘’ gift ‘’ and in return they wanted some shoulder fire missile to protect themselves which read send to Syria?
CG: I don’t know if it is connected, Saudis have given money to Pakistan before sometimes it is cheap fuel or budgetary supports, which is helping out someone as you say who is an old ally which has good relations with Saudis so it’s totally possible that 1.5 billion is just a general financial support but I think there have been deeper agreements on all this training of militant forces that we know since the Afghan war against the Soviets, there’s been a relationship, and I believe that Saudis had an interests for example seeing the Arabs having a sanctuary in Pakistan after the fled Afghanistan in 2001, I am sure the Saudis have been requesting that of Musharraf, I have no proof but it just all makes sense, they didn’t want to see them floated or they didn’t want to see them sent back to Saudi Arabia, they just asked Pakistan to give them the sanctuary.
AAT: So they kind of want them around but they don’t want them in their own country?
CG: Yes and I think they didn’t want Bin Laden killed as well or handed over so better to have him just go to ground in Pakistan.
Also, there are people I am well aware could not return to their home countries because of repression, I know the Chechen case very well, I am very sensitive for Chechens who couldn’t return to their homes, such an awful regime. I think Egypt under Mubarak was similar, I do see the repression from some of these regimes because of them Muslim fighters gone elsewhere to wage Jihad, they driven from their home by repression. So I have sympathy with them but I do think it’s been very foolish of Pakistan to tolerate active militancy among these guys, because you can’t keep them without damaging yourself and your neighbors.
AAT: I agree this is completely foolish and we want this out but what is the motivation, why do they keep doing it?
CG: …….this is where Pakistan …….the military is in charge and they are not really thinking about the value of this policy. I think this is where the politicians and political leaders have to come to the fore and take control, take over charge of the policy of the country, the foreign policy and the security policy because the military don’t seem to be capable of stopping themselves and they are just pursuing a course of action they have always done, in fact she got more and more extreme and more and more blood thirsty, and they seems to be after pull themselves up and stop.
AAT: So you are saying because of whatever factors let’s say it was Kashmir or whatever, they started this thing and it became sort of an institutionalized industry and they just keep running it.
CG: Yes I think so.
AAT: And unique positing is Pakistan is country unlike other countries which is controlled by the army more or less, that’s kind of the problem and sometimes we joke that every other country has an army and in Pakistan the army has a country.
CG: (Laughs) Yes, I mean well documented how much they control and I say the institution is become too big and too stuck in its way.
AAT: You wrote in your New York times article that they were harboring OBL. The military establishment is also harboring hordes of these Deobandi militants (ASWJ/LeJ) to fight the Balochs or try and bring demographic change in Gilgit Baltistan so they are not only harboring Al-Qaida, they are harboring Lashkar e Jhangvi , Sipah-e-Sahaba , all these avatars of the same kind of Wahabized Deobandi thinking, how do you analyze this?
CG: Well I think I don’t know so much about Gilgit Baltistan but I have been to Baluchistan a few times and its very distressing what’s happening there it’s a terrible crime what’s happening there the amount of people assassinated, the waging a war against your own people it really appalls me and I come back to thing that I think it’s a civilian actually could control things, they would long ago and an end to it and an amnesty to for the Baluch who are fighting and resolve it because you can’t have a constant war against your own people and not damage your country and even possibly the integrity of Pakistan and the Baluch are just becoming more and more angry and dis-affected to the point that the struggle changed from wanting a greater share of the natural resources found in Baluchistan to now open calls for separation and independence. I think that’s very distrusting and very wrong of the military to be pursuing such a very repressive campaign and I think they’re misguided there and I think they argue the thing where they blame it on India supporting that struggle and I think that’s just willful and wrong and if India is supporting it’s minor compared to the internal disaffection of the Baluch. So there should be a political solution to that and I don’t see the military capable of that and I think Pakistanis needs to get hold of the military and to get hold of some of their actions.
AAT: Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has written that the Pakistani military establishment manages the media discourse through its proxies in English and Urdu press in both right wing and liberal sections of media. To what extent do you agree with this allegation given that some of the English speaking liberal sections of the Pakistani media were protesting your research?
CG: Yeah She knows it, better than me, but I do touch on this in the prologue of my book, I tried and show in brief what I understand this being a very sophisticated way of controlling the media the basic intimidation…roughing up the journalists…even killing of the few to scare the rest. This is also this very insidious way of placing the editors and sympathetic reporters and working with them to the point that you actually then dominate the discourse in the media and that I think has been a long time project. So that now you can see the sympathetic figures in important positions in the media who run the discourse and they also get the special briefings from the ISPR on how to tackle subjects. As we saw after the killing of bin laden the senior editors were given guidelines on how and what to discuss so they were warned of discussing the issue that ISI knew bin laden was there, they were encouraged to hammer away this issue of this is an abuse of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. America doing unilateral raid like that coming in under the radar so basically all the media didn’t discuss the key point, they were bashing away on a point that was okay, obvious but wasn’t very edifying, because it didn’t reveal anything more so that was very sophisticated way of managing the message but most people tell me that the most insidious way is as you have mentioned having sympathetic voices in important positions in the media so what appears to be free media is actually dominated by like minded people
And that resulted in this discourse in support of the military, in fact when the media should be really questioning the performance and the intentions of the military.
AAT: Not Just the military but we found that even so called ‘’liberal part‘’ of the media which talks about human rights and women rights but at the same time is promoting the chief figures of the Taliban or the ASWJ or LEJ leaders are being promoted on that same media as ambassadors of peace, so this is furthering the agenda of Talibanization.
CG: Yeah, you know they are not very good journalists because they are not really asking the good questions, I just hope the journalism in Pakistan will improve because those figures who are so well known and apparently liberals, you see they are not asking the right questions or talking in the right way.
AAT: They give them softball questions and give them promotional base to legitimize them, that very unfortunate.
CG: Yeah we have the sort of similar tribe in fox news and so on, it means you can’t really say.