DATE January 23, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid talks about the
increase in suicide attacks within Pakistan and the aftermath of
Benazir Bhutto's assassination
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Pakistan is on the front line in the fight against terrorism, which is why we
often check in with Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's the author of the
books "Taliban" and "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia." His
forthcoming book will be about nation building in Pakistan and Afghanistan,
and US policy after 9/11.
Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December, Islamic militants have
escalated their attempts to destabilize the Pakistani government and have
increased the frequency of suicide attacks within the country. Meanwhile, the
Bush administration is considering expanding CIA and military activities in
Pakistan. The parliamentary election in which Benazir Bhutto hoped to emerge
as prime minister has been rescheduled for February 18th. But there are
doubts whether the election will be fair, and even doubts about whether
President Musharraf will allow it to proceed. Musharraf has embarked on a
European speaking tour that will take him to Davos, Switzerland, tomorrow,
where the World Economic Forum is under way. Ahmed Rashid is attending the
forum. This morning he went to his studio there.
Ahmed Rashid, welcome back to FRESH AIR. The suicide attacks in Pakistan have
increased since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Can you describe the
scope of the attacks?
Mr. AHMED RASHID: Well, they've become much worse and much more varied. For
example, we had the first major suicide attack in my hometown of Lahore where
22 policemen were killed on the main road outside the high court. And a
suicide bomber got off a motorbike and just waded into these policemen who
were waiting for a lawyer's demonstration. And he killed 22 policemen. It's
been absolutely devastating. And as a result of that--you know, Lahore is the
center of political activity, it's the center for the elections that are
forthcoming. And literally the politicians, the people, have just gone kind
And there have been other suicide attacks, of course, in the northern areas in
the frontier regions with Afghanistan where the extremists have targeted,
again, the army, paramilitary forces. And they've gained quite a lot of
ground up there, also. We've had major attacks on army forts in the tribal
areas, very close to the border of Afghanistan. One fort was attacked by 600
militants, and it was being guarded by some 50 soldiers. And about half the
soldiers were killed and the rest were either captured or fled, and the fort
fell to the militants. And the militants, you know, looted it for a bit and
then they abandoned it. And they've attacked two or three other forts in a
Now, it's been quite extraordinary because, I mean, to gather four to 600 men
in one location, even in very obscure mountains means that obviously there's a
huge organizational capability that these people now have.
GROSS: Who's behind the attacks, and what are their goals?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, the overall leader of the militants is a man
called Baitullah Masood, who's a Pashtun tribesman from the Masood tribal
area. He was a former fighter for the Taliban. He helped al-Qaeda in 2001
escape from Afghanistan. And he's only 34. He's very, very young. But he's
built himself up, as it were, and he's now being acknowledged by all the
various militias. It's not a unified command. I mean, every tribe has got
its own militia, and even within these militias there are several factions.
But he has been acknowledged as the overall commander of what is now being
called the movement of the Pakistani Taliban, which is a group of militias who
acknowledge him as the leader. And clearly the fact that he's managed to get
all these tribesmen together to take on these major military targets means
that he has clout and authority.
Now, he is the same person who has been accused by the government of killing
Benazir Bhutto, which he has denied, of course. But it seems very, very
likely now that either directly or indirectly--because he also has links in
the urban areas, he's got terrorist groups who owe him allegiance in major
cities--either him, you know, his own group directly or other groups that are
linked to him probably did try and assassinate Bhutto.
GROSS: What does he want? What's his goal?
Mr. RASHID: Well, again, you know, it's very, very difficult to say. He
says he wants to topple President Musharraf. He wants sharia--that is,
Islamic law. It's not quite clear if he wants it just in the northern part of
Pakistan where the Pashtun tribes live or whether he wants it for the whole of
Pakistan. So it's not a clear-cut agenda, but it's an agenda basically to
destabilize the government as much as possible, to target the security forces,
to make the public lose faith in the security forces and make the public lose
faith in the government.
GROSS: So is the Pakistani Taliban that he is a leader of connected to the
Afghanistan Taliban and to al-Qaeda?
Mr. RASHID: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, these Pakistani Taliban have grown
up, if you like, since 9/11 under the shadow of al-Qaeda. They've been
ideoligized, they've been funded, they've been armed, they've had Arab
trainers coming across from Iraq and from the Middle East to train them. So
there's a very, very close linkage with what we would call now the Arab
al-Qaeda, if you like--that is, Osama Bin Laden and his number two Ayman
al-Zawahiri, who are both hiding out in this tribal area. And secondly, of
course, is a very close connection to the Afghan Taliban because it was these
Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen who, in 2002, gave refuge to those Afghan Taliban
who escaped from Afghanistan and then came across the border into Pakistan and
And for two or three years they were not touched by the army. They were free
to live in the tribal areas. They were free to socialize, to trade, to meet,
etc. And it wasn't until 2004, 2005 that the army actually went into these
GROSS: The New York Times recently ran a story based on anonymous sources
within the Pakistani intelligence services. This is a very secretive
intelligence service. And what the Times reported was that the Pakistani
intelligence service had lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani
militants that it had nurtured since the 1980s and was now suffering blow back
of that policy and the militants had turned against the intelligence services.
Could you explain what's going on there?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, the Pakistani intelligence services, that is the
Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI, which is a branch of the army, trained
tens of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans since the 1980s--along with the
CIA, of course--to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. And once the Soviets
left and the Americans left also, the ISI continued training young Pakistanis
to fight with the Taliban because, of course, Pakistan was one of the very few
countries in the world that supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Now parallel to that, the ISI was also involved in training tens of thousands
of Pakistanis to fight in Kashmir. In the '90s there was this very bloody
insurgency in Indian Kashmir, and Pakistani and Kashmiris were being
infiltrated from the Pakistan side of the border into Indian Kashmir, where
they were carrying out guerrilla attacks and then coming back. So there was
this kind of tit for tat proxy war going on between India and Pakistan.
Now, I think, you know, I mean, what has been happening for not just now but
for the last two or three years is the blow back to that in the sense that
Musharraf has improved relations with India. We don't really need now this
proxy extremists force of militants to fight the Indian army in Kashmir. But
these young kids haven't been properly disbanded. They haven't been
re-educated. They haven't been given any jobs. So what do they do? They go
and they join up with al-Qaeda or they join up with the Taliban. Some of them
may go home and do nothing. But there, too, they become fed up and then, you
know, their comrades recruit them again. So you've got this huge kind of
lumpen elements of unemployed, very poorly educated, thousands of young men
whose only training has been military training. That's all they're fit for.
And the temptation now, of course, with the kind of clarion calls for arms by
al-Qaeda, by the Taliban, by Pakistani extremist leaders, many of these young
guys have joined up with these groups. So, I mean, that's what the real
And, of course, the ISI really lost control of these groups. Now, some of
these groups have wanted to keep on as a kind of reserve force in case
relations soured with India or relations--which have soured--with Afghanistan.
But the bulk of these kids were really let go by the ISI several years ago,
and they've rebanded in a devastating way. And now, of course, some of them
have taken on this new tactic of suicide bombing, which wasn't there five
years ago or even three years ago.
GROSS: Now, the United States is debating how to help Musharraf stop the
insurgents who have been attacking inside Pakistan. What kind of help is the
US considering providing?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, Terry, I mean, you know, my first comment on
this is that this is something the US should have been doing two or three
years ago. I mean, it's a bit late to wake up in the day after 600 militants
seize a fort that you suddenly wake up and say, `well, what should we be
doing?' But nevertheless I think the debate is--now it's very fraught and it's
very strained because there are elements in the US administration, hawkish
elements, which actually want to send American troops into the tribal areas,
or at least large numbers of special forces, etc., along, you know, to help
the Pakistani forces fight there. Now, I think most experts are saying that
this would be a disaster because this would increase the anti-Americanism
within the tribes, within the people of Pakistan and it would make the
Pakistan government look totally weak and ineffective, even more so than it
The other course of action is for the Americans to come in and train these
paramilitary forces who are guarding the border, who are doing most of the
fighting, provide them new weapons, raise their salaries, etc. Now, the
problem there is that a lot of these paramilitary forces are also Pashtun
tribesmen. They are the brothers, cousins, fathers of the militants. Now,
you're asking basically these paramilitary forces, many of them who have had
very close links to the extremists--because either they've been part of this
Pakistan's policy in the '90s of fighting in Afghanistan, helping the
Taliban--now you're telling these para military forces that, `look, actually
these Taliban who you've been helping for the last 15, 20 years are now the
bad guys and you have to go and kill them.' I think it's very, very difficult
for them to do this. So the Americans want to throw a lot of money and
weapons and ammunition at these paramilitary forces to train them and to kind
of bring them up to speed and hope that this will make them better fighters
against the extremists. But that is not going to motivate them.
And that is the problem. The problem is, in the Pakistan army, whether you're
looking at the intelligence or the army or the paramilitary, there's a lack of
motivation. Morale is really shot through. These defeats that they've
suffered, even minor defeats of losing a fort or an outpost, have really
affected morale. Desertion rates have increased. Helicopter pilots are not
willing to go and bomb, you know, locations. And some of these paramilitary
forces and soldiers are just surrendering rather than fight.
GROSS: Why is what's happening in Pakistan with these militants and the
Pakistani Taliban important to the United States?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think it's just hugely important. Because what is
absolutely clear is that now it is the Pakistan side of the border--that is,
the Afghan/Pakistan border--it's the Pakistan side of the border which is
being used by al-Qaeda to train militants from right around the world. Just
this last week we had these 14 people arrested in Barcelona, in Spain. Twelve
of them were Pakistanis. They had links to al-Qaeda and groups in the tribal
areas. They were raising money for them from Barcelona. But they had also
been for training and they also were caught with explosives and detonators.
So, you know, you have this potential attack taking place in Spain.
And Spain, by the way, is about to have a general election in March. And, of
course, it was during the last general election in 2004 in Spain that there
was this devastating attack on the railway station where maybe 200 Spaniards
were killed by Islamic extremist groups.
And, you know, two weeks before that you have this round-up of militants in
Germany. You've had threats in Denmark and Holland. And clearly, you know,
what has been happening is that because now so much territory is being
controlled or run by al-Qaeda and its allies, that is the Pakistani Taliban,
the Afghan Taliban, that European militants and very possibly militants from
the United States are finding it relatively easy to arrive in Pakistan and to
travel up there and to end up in a training camp, spend six or eight weeks
there and probably meet up with some leaders from al-Qaeda or somewhere and
get tasked to do something back home. And this is where the threat is.
And frankly, everyone I've spoken to--government officials in Europe and other
people--they're all dreading the fact that, yes, you know, half a dozen plots
have been uncovered in Europe. But one plot, God forbid, is going to get
through. And then you might have a huge toll of casualties in a European
capital or a city. And, of course, I mean, the aim would be also to carry out
a similar attack in the United States.
GROSS: Now, these training camps that you're talking about in the frontier
regions of Pakistan, do you think that they're training suicide bombers for
Mr. RASHID: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think, you know, there's a
separate network which provides European, Muslims and Arabs to enter Iraq and
to get training there on the job, as it were. I mean, you know, before they
blow themselves up they get training there. And there's a huge sort of
pipeline that stretches across France and Spain and Italy and comes into Syria
and Jordan. And it's through there that suicide attackers have been coming
The traffic that has existed between Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan is even
more deadly. And that is a traffic of trainers--that is, Arab trainers coming
across from Iraq to teach the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban the
latest tactics that they've been learning or that they've been practicing
there. And, of course, the tactics that al-Qaeda has been using in Iraq
against the Americans has been far more deadly than what the Afghans have been
using in Afghanistan. And there's another--there's a two-way traffic because
you've also had reports of Afghan Taliban traveling to Iraq and spending up to
three months there getting training and then coming back.
GROSS: Oh, so instead of fighters in Iraq getting trained by the Taliban it's
Mr. RASHID: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, Iraq is still very much the
kind of, you know, the academy of guerrilla war in the sense that given that
the Americans have developed all these very sophisticated devices to prevent
mines blowing up and explosive devices by the roadside to blow up, etc. And
the al-Qaeda extremists have developed countermeasures and counterexplosives
to make sure they can penetrate all this new technology. Now, all that
technology is also being slowly shifted to Afghanistan to help the Taliban
counter NATO and American forces there.
GROSS: So, you know, you've been describing for us the attacks by the
Pakistani Taliban within Pakistan. And you've said that this is affecting the
elections--the parliamentary elections have been rescheduled for February 18,
candidates are afraid to campaign, they're afraid that they'll be attacked.
Would people be afraid to show up even if the candidates were more comfortable
campaigning? I mean, is there a climate of fear now in Pakistan?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I mean, there is. And there's a huge question mark over
these elections. I mean, a lot of people think that President Musharraf will
not hold them. He'll find some excuse not to hold them. There will be, God
forbid, another major assassination of some leading political figure and that
will convince him, you know, to postpone the elections indefinitely.
The other thinking is that if he does hold the elections he loses on both
counts in the sense that, if free and fair elections are held it's more than
likely that the opposition parties who Musharraf has been deadly opposed
to--that includes Bhutto's People's Party, which includes various other
smaller parties, will win the majority of seats.
Now, if he rigs the elections in favor of his own party, the ruling Muslim
League party, if he rigs the elections in their favor there's going to be a
huge...(unintelligible)...after the elections because people are going to
protest and they're not going to put up with a kind of--the results of a
rigged election. So I mean, what people are really speculating is that a free
and fair election he is faced with an opposition who he won't be able to live
with. And this opposition, once it comes into parliament and forms a
government, could impeach him in a process very similar to the American
process. On the other hand, if he doesn't and he rigs the elections, he could
face a major protest movement in the streets.
GROSS: The New York Times reported based on anonymous sources within
Pakistan's intelligence agency that the ISI, the intelligence agency,
manipulated Pakistan's previous election. What do you know about that?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, this is forming quite a part of my book. I
mean, they certainly did manipulate the elections in 2002. I mean, we should
remember that all the leading politicians--I mean, the three leading
politicians in Pakistan were all in exile at the time. And two of these
parties, Bhutto's party and the Muslim League faction led by the former Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif, were really not allowed to take part. And they were
harassed and jailed and not allowed to take part.
And all the rigging was done in favor of this conglomerate party that was put
together by the intelligence services basically to give support to the
military regime of President Musharraf. So there was a lot of rigging,
pre-rigging--that is rigging done before the elections--new laws that were
passed which made it almost impossible for the opposition parties to run, and
then rigging on the day, which was done not in the old traditional way of
stuffing ballot boxes but done through computers because,you know, all the
results have to go out by computer. There were not announced at each polling
station as they are anywhere else in the world. They go up by computer to the
so-called election commission.
And the suspicion was that in between there was the ISI, that the results were
first going up to the ISI, who were then doctoring the results and then
sending them on to the election commission. So all this is now--you know,
will this be repeated all over again? I mean, this is what people are really
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Ahmed Rashid. He's a
Pakistani journalist who has written extensively about Islamic extremism. His
books include "Taliban" and "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central
We're talking about the increase in suicide attacks within Pakistan and the
aftermath of the Benazir Bhutto assassination. The parliamentary election in
which she hoped to emerge as prime minister has been rescheduled for February
Now, you say that evidence is emerging that President Musharraf fooled both
the Americans and Benazir Bhutto about the power-sharing deal that he said he
wanted to participate in with Bhutto. What is the evidence?
Mr. RASHID: Well, the major evidence, you know, simply has been that, you
know, there was a list, I think, of actions that were agreed between Bhutto
and Musharraf and the Americans before Bhutto returned home. Now, when she
did come home, she was battling with Musharraf to get him to implement his
part of the deal. And that included a new election commission, which would be
a neutral body, not a body of, you know, under the control of the military.
It was the closing down of the local government officials because all these
local government officials were helping the army and helping the ruling party,
and they were very much against the people's party.
There were several of these points, and all concluded with the Americans in
the chair, if you like, in order to have a free and fair election. And
Musharraf had promised this and they were never implemented. And Benazir's
frustration grew more and more as the weeks passed because he just wasn't
implementing them. And he kept saying, `Well, we'll discuss everything after
the elections,' which at that time were scheduled for January the 8th.
And she made it very clear that she thought that she'd been made a fool of and
that the Americans had been made a fool of. And just before her death, she
had spoken to the American ambassador. She sent off an envoy to Washington to
meet with Condoleezza Rice to make all these points again that this deal is
breaking down, and there's no point now in having an election which Musharraf
has not fulfilled his side of the bargain.
Now, what happened after her death has been this incredibly callous way that
Musharraf has dealt with the death. I mean, first of all, he's shown
absolutely no remorse. His main argument is that literally she deserved it
because she stood up. If you remember, she was killed by standing up in her
jeep, which was a bulletproof jeep, and she stood up through a window in the
roof and was waving to the people and was then shot and then blown up. And
Musharraf said she had no business standing up, it was all her own fault. She
was asking for it virtually. And that just--and he said that not once, but
several times. He said it to the foreign press. He said it to the local
press. He said it to the foreign diplomats. And I spoke to a couple of
ambassadors who were just horrified.
I mean, one thing is that, you know, she was your enemy, but, you know,
somebody of that stature dies and the whole nation is in mourning, the nation
wants some words of solace from the head of state. I mean, it doesn't want
this completely cold hearted lack of remorse.
And then, subsequently, apart from that, he said it frequently that she was
not liked nor trusted by the army, implying that, you know, even if she'd won
the election, you know, we in the army, or the army would not necessarily have
allowed her to rule. And that has also obviously shocked people who are still
in a state of mourning.
GROSS: You spoke to Benazir Bhutto about three weeks before she died. I
mean, you've spoken to her many times, but that was the latest before her
death. And in that conversation, she told you that the United States
pressured her to stay in the alliance with Musharraf even though he didn't
like her and she didn't trust him. What kind of pressure was the United
States putting on her?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think there was a lot of personal pressure, you know,
from Vice President Cheney, his office, and from Condoleezza Rice, and from
the assistant secretary of state for South Asia Richard Boucher. Now, the
Americans could, at that point in time, with this deal breaking down as it
were, they couldn't contemplate anything else; and they were just urging her
to stay in there, they'd work on Musharraf. But it seems that, you know,
Musharraf was basically snubbing the Americans at that point. And the way he
was doing it was that he was offering more cooperation in the tribal areas
against the extremists. We now know that, you know, there are more special
forces. American special forces have arrived in the tribal areas. They are
Now, presumably, he was trading off greater cooperation with the Americans
against the Taliban and al-Qaeda but demanding his pound of flesh, which was
that, `Don't pressure me on giving any more concessions to Benazir before the
election. And I will do the elections as I please.' And I think the Americans
basically bought it, I mean, which is why they didn't change policy before.
And that is why she was so frustrated because there was this trade-off that
Musharraf had kind of done with the Americans which was really frustrating
GROSS: Now Benazir Bhutto's son is the official head of the party that she
headed, the Pakistan People's Party, but he's 19. He's still in college; and
the college he's going to, Oxford, is in England. So he won't actively head
the party until he graduates, which will take a minimum of three years. And
in the meantime his father is going to chair the party. And his father has
asked reporters not to question his son because his son is at a tender age. I
mean, it really sounds more like a royal family. It sounds more like a crown
prince who's not mature enough to sit on the throne yet. I think it's really
hard for Americans to understand why the son is the head of the party at the
age of 19.
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, I can appreciate that. But, you know, Terry, I
was down, you know, at her grave side for three days a couple of weeks ago,
and, I mean, you know, millions of people are still arriving, and
grief-stricken people, but also people who are very, very angry at the
government, at the army, etc. And these are not just supporters, but, you
know, middle class women, people from all walks of life, from all ethnic
groups across the country--Afghans, Indians, Nepalese--I saw all sorts of
people from, you know, from the region, people who had a lot of respect for
Now, I mean, I agree. I mean, it's a difficult thing to swallow, but it's
something that, at least, I think her party for the time being has swallowed.
I think there's such a state of shock, they definitely needed the continuation
of a Bhutto, and it has been accepted. There's very little question in the
party or in Pakistan as to what has happened.
Now, outside and even, you know, for many educated Pakistanis, it is absurd.
Clearly, you know, there is a dynastic succession, which is not democratic at
all. And how can you have a dynastic succession in a party, which claims to
be the most democratic party in Pakistan and also has the largest standing and
is a national party? It's right across the country.
But I think, you know, the horror and the shock and, you know, everything that
has gone after this assassination, it's been an incredibly traumatic time.
You just can't imagine the way Pakistanis have felt. I mean, as a journalist,
as a person very concerned with human rights and all the rest of it, I mean,
you know, people have grown up their whole lives with Benazir there. Even
though she was in exile for nine years, I mean, you know, her statements are
always front page news in Pakistan. People have grown up with her commenting
on everything under the sun, etc. And whether you liked her or not, she was
very much part of the political makeup in the country--part of the furniture,
if you like. And to suddenly have this huge vacuum being created, I think
that's why a lot of the people have accepted this appointment of the son and
the father as regent.
GROSS: But the father has been accused of corruption. He spent several years
in prison on corruption convictions. So how much faith is there in him?
Mr. RASHID: Well, again, huge doubts, of course. The father spent eight
years in jail, on charges that were never proved. So he was never proven
guilty. And there are also corruption cases abroad in Spain and in
Switzerland. But, yes, I mean, he has gone out of his way--I met him, and
he's really trying to go out of his way to say, `Look, the past is the past.
I spent eight years in jail. I paid my dues.' Of course, he denies that he is
corrupt. `And I'm not the leader of the party. My son will eventually take
over, and I'm going to try and initiate a kind of collective leadership.'
Now, there is a central committee which is made up of 54 people in the party.
And there is no doubt that he has initiated a kind of collective decision
making. He hasn't gone out on a limb, you know, trying to do things. He's
always calling meetings, meeting with the rest of the party people and trying
to take a collective decision. And, of course, that's terribly important
because if he doesn't do that the party could well split. I mean, there are
people in the party who don't like him at all; and there are people who are
willing to put up with him perhaps for six months to a year, but no longer
than that. So he has to win all these kind of "doubting Thomas"es, he's got
to win them all over in order to fight the elections and, you know, in order
to confront the military.
I think one very conciliatory move that he has made is that he has said that
he will not be prime minister and he will appoint the number two in the party,
Amin Fahim, to be the prime minister if the party wins the elections.
GROSS: There have been some suspicions that the Musharraf government was
somehow complicit in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and that the
government is now trying to cover up what happened or not do as thorough an
investigation as possible. Can you give us an update on how much is known
about how the assassination happened and what, if any, involvement there was
on the part of the Musharraf government?
Mr. RASHID: Well, you know, after a lot of international pressure, Musharraf
agreed to call in Scotland Yard, and they sent five or six detectives. But
they were mandated only to make a report on how she was killed, not who killed
her. Now, of course, she was buried without a postmortem, so there's a huge
debate going on on whether she was shot first or whether she hit her head on
the car window or whether she was blown up first. And, you know, presumably
the Scotland Yard report, even without exhuming the body, is going to be
issuing some kind of report on how she was killed.
We then get to the tricky part of who killed her. Now there is, of course,
enormous depth of feeling amongst many people--especially the People's
Party--that the government killed her. I mean, I really don't accept that. I
mean, I don't think, you know, Musharraf ordered her killing or anyone near at
that level did that. But, having said that, there are certainly elements in
the intelligence agencies, in the military who loathed her, who were very
sympathetic to the extremists. I think she was killed as part of an extremist
plot, possibly those extremists had internal information, etc., from these
people in intelligence, from people in police, people who were supposed to be
guarding her from the government side. And we've seen a lot of that in the
last few months, because we've seen these devastating suicide attacks and bomb
attacks on army and security personnel, which clearly are a result of inside
jobs in the sense that that information must have come from inside as to, you
know, where these soldiers were moving, etc.
So I think, you know, at the top of my head, without any evidence, I mean, I
think the more logical explanation would be that this was a plot by
extremists. They feared her winning the elections because she may have
allowed the Americans a much greater presence in Pakistan, a military
presence. She would have urged the army to double the efforts against the
extremists, to go up hard against them. She would have done, perhaps, a lot
of the things that, you know, really would have hurt the extremists very much.
So I think it was part of an extremist plot, but I think we have every reason
to believe that there were elements, perhaps lower down in the security
services, people who were helping these extremists.
GROSS: President Musharraf has decided to go on a speaking tour of Europe,
and he's making a stop tomorrow at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland, which is where you are now attending that forum. What's the
reaction there to the fact that he's going to be visiting tomorrow?
Mr. RASHID: Well, people quite amazed as to, you know--I mean, I've been
speaking to a lot of people this morning, and they're really quite shocked.
And they've been asking me, I mean, `Why is he coming?' You know, you've got
two and a half thousand people here, business leaders, politicians and heads
of state, you know, movers and shakers of the world, and they're quite
surprised as to why he's coming knowing his very, very weak position, and
knowing the kind of very aggressive position of the media and of the political
parties in Europe. He was at the European parliament two days earlier. He
addressed them and really he was blasted by the members of the European
parliament for imprisoning judges and censoring the media and, you know, doing
all that he's done in the last few months. And then he went onto Paris
yesterday. He was given a very tough time by the French press.
He's appearing on three different occasions in the space of 48 hours. And, I
mean, I have no doubt he's going to get roasted by the audience and by the
press, which is here in hundreds and hundreds. He really believes, I think,
that he can make a comeback, that he can regain international credibility,
that he can make a comeback, that he can hold these elections and then remain
as president. But I think a lot of people are very, very doubtful.
I mean, today, you know, in Pakistan, you've had a huge list of retired
generals who signed a letter demanding his resignation. Now, that is hugely
significant in a country where the military, you know, never criticizes its
own. A retired general will never criticize a serving general. And here you
have a situation where you have some very prominent generals who are very well
known to the public, retired generals, signing on to this letter. So, I mean,
you know, that is the kind of atmosphere that exists around him at the moment.
GROSS: You know, you told us at the beginning of the interview that Lahore,
which is where you live, recently had its first suicide bomber attack. And so
I'm wondering, are you any less comfortable? Do you feel less safe than you
did just a few weeks ago in your home city?
Mr. RASHID: Well, yes. I mean, I think everyone is feeling very unsafe, and
I think people--the fact that, at the one level, they've gone after, you know,
army and police, but at another level they've gone after politicians and
liberals really means that the next level of attack is going to be on human
rights workers, on journalists, on women's activists, people who are prominent
in liberal causes in Pakistan. And I think the extremists don't just want to
destabilize the country, they don't just want to wipe out liberal politicians
or pro-Western politician, pro-democracy politicians, they also wanted to wipe
out the backup for that. And the backup for that is this very fledgling civil
society that we have in Pakistan, which is just--in fact, it's really only
emerged in the last one year, you know, protesting against Musharraf and
against military rule. But it's very vibrant, it's very active, and it
comprises all sorts of people: lawyers, doctors, journalists, women
activists, NGOs, teachers, a lot of school teachers.
So that is really, I mean--God forbid--but if the next bomb blast is going to
be, for example, against a very prominent girls' school or prominent teachers
or prominent journalists or prominent women's activists, you know, people who
are not necessarily known outside the country but are very well known inside
the country, I think this is going to lead to an absolutely terrifying
repercussions. Because, you know, I think a lot of your liberal elite will
then seriously think about moving out.
GROSS: Are you thinking about leaving?
Mr. RASHID: No, not at all. I mean, not at all. No. I would like to
leave, I mean, you know, certainly not. And, I mean, there's no way I would
be happy living for any length of time anywhere else apart from Pakistan.
And, you know, that's where my life is, and that's where my job is; and, you
know, that's what I write about. But, you know, I mean, there has been--it's
depressing because, you know, just before 9/11, you know, I was writing and I
wrote the book "Taliban," which said that, you know, you have to rescue
Afghanistan. The world has to rescue Afghanistan from the Taliban and
al-Qaeda. And the world did rescue Afghanistan from al-Qaeda but only,
unfortunately, after 3,000 Americans were killed in the Twin Towers.
But now, you know, you're not back to square one now. You're back to minus
one. That is what is so depressing. In the whole region, I mean, Afghanistan
is also suffering enormously right now and things are going backwards there,
too. So, you know, unfortunately, what I'm seeing is really there was a short
blip in 2002 and it seemed like the US and Europe and, you know, the West
would understand their responsibilities in this part of the world and fulfill
them and do reconstruction and do nation building and, you know, all the rest
of it that was expected. And then, you know, the Americans went off and
fought a war in Iraq which, of course, was just the major distraction for this
part of the world. And now I consider this part, my part of the world, much
more dangerous than Iraq potentially, because this is where extremism is, this
is where the training for global terrorism is taking place, this is where, you
know, from where the whole world can be effected.
Now, you know, Iraq is bad enough, but, you know, Iraq will affect--the ripple
effects of Iraq will affect Iran. They'll effect the Middle East to some
extent, but they won't effect necessarily the whole world. God forbid another
major terrorist attack, you know, hitting America or hitting London or Paris,
which is then traced back to Waziristan or one of the tribal areas in
Pakistan, would be absolutely devastating for Pakistan and leave the world
wondering what on earth we're going to do.
GROSS: Well, Ahmed Rashid, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. RASHID: Thank you. I hope I didn't scare you too much.
GROSS: Well, I'm not going to say it's not alarming what you have to report,
but I appreciate your reporting it to us. So thank you very much.
Mr. RASHID: Yes. Pleasure.
GROSS: Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist. His next book will be about
nation building in Pakistan and Afghanistan and US policy after 9/11. He
spoke to us from Davos, Switzerland, where he's attending the World Economic
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Book critic Maureen Corrigan on Sue Miller's "The
TERRY GROSS, host:
It's January. The stock market is shaky and the writers' strike is still
dragging on, but book critic Maureen Corrigan says there's at least one piece
of good news this month: Sue Miller has a new novel. It's called "The
Senator's Wife." And Maureen says that fans of Miller's previous novels, like
"The Good Mother," "While I Was Gone" and "Inventing the Abbots," should give
themselves a midwinter treat and read it.
Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Acting out of a Calvinistic attitude toward book
reviewing, I tend to refrain from reading Sue Miller's novels. I'm always
sure I'm going to be completely engrossed by whatever new book of hers has
just come out, therefore I try to stay away because reviewing her just doesn't
feel like enough work.
So it was with this latest novel, "The Senator's Wife." I read three-quarters
of another book--a nonfiction meditation on old age and death, no less--trying
trying to stand firm against Miller's literary attractions. It was no good.
The edgy meditation on oblivion turned out to be labored and unenlightening,
and I began slipping away from it to sneak read chapters of "The Senator's
Ultimately, Miller's novel, too, is about old age, as well as the complexities
of marriage and the projections and betrayals that people inflict upon one
another. Miller is such a crisp writer, so lucid and precise and emotionally
astute it's never work to read her novels. Instead, it takes senseless effort
to resist them.
The provocative and timely title of Miller's latest book conjures up those
smiling, knit-suited, wifely help meets who are once again materializing
behind the candidate's shoulders at campaign events. Bill Clinton is now the
exception, of course, but Miller sets her book mostly in the early 1990s, when
Bill and Hillary were fixed in their traditional gender roles. The Clintons
and their troubled marriage are presiding if distant presences in this novel.
When the story begins, a newly married couple in their 30s, Meri and Nathan,
have just bought an attached late Victorian house in the New England college
town of Williston. Nathan is a hot shot, pleased with himself and his new
position as professor of political science and history at the college. Like
many of Miller's male characters, he's there because the plot needs him to be,
but he's not a chief object of interest.
Meri is, well, trailing alongside Nathan, a woman who happily embraces an old
lover's description of her as an attractive version of Pete Rose. Meri has
led a scratched together life. She falls into things, like the community
college education which eventually led her away from her tough, working class
roots, like this marriage to Nathan. But the psychic price she pays for these
passive dislocations is that she's eternally uncomfortable in her own skin.
The house that shares a wall with Meri and Nathan's new home belongs to Delia
Naughton, wife of former senator Tom Naughton, who was a progressive mover and
shaker in Washington during the 1960s and '70s. Decades ago, Senator Naughton
mysterious dropped out of political wife. And, even more mysteriously,
doesn't live with Delia, although he appears occasionally for what she airily
describes as ceremonial visits.
It's no surprise that infidelity is to blame for the senator's political fall
and marital distance. Part of Miller's project in this novel is to explore
what keeps a couple together after such a wound. In the particular case of
the Naughtons, Miller also wants to trace the odd alternative shape that a
marriage can subsequently grow into.
But just as compelling and even suspenseful as the story of the Naughtons'
marriage is the evolution of the relationship between Meri and Delia as Meri
recognizes the emotional stinginess of her own mother has made her a sucker
for the attentions of an older woman; and Delia, charming, at ease, still
beautiful in her 70s, becomes Meri's longed-for maternal idol. Her career as
a Washington political spouse, however, has Delia both warm and elusive. As
Miller's roaming, omniscient narrator puts it, "Delia was good. She felt she
was good, anyway, at the honest answer that still didn't reveal much."
Deprived of something she wants from Delia that she can't even name, Meri
begins to snoop into the private recesses of Delia's life and ultimately
commits an act of infidelity to her that defies available labels.
Sue Miller may be an easy writer to read in the sense that she's a master of
realistic fiction, but she never settles for the easy emotional answers, the
facile plot twist, the pre-fab moral of the story. Like the classic, wifely
suits Delia Naughton wore on the campaign trail, Miller's traditional way of
presenting a story never goes out of style.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Senator's Wife" by Sue Miller.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.