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Conspiracy theories do not lead to effective policy: Anatol Lieven

Failed policies and poor strategic choices have overstretched the American military and economy, argues Anatol Lieven, Professor at the Department of War Studies, Kings College, London. The professor visited Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on September 5, 2008 and gave a lecture on “American Policy towards South Asia.”

Professor Anatol criticized the United States’ “War on Terror”. In his view, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate the desire of the United States to remain as a global hegemonic power. This is being challenged by the resurgence of Russia and China, and the failure of the Iraq war. The current economic crisis and the upcoming presidential election in the United States may prompt a change in US policy.

Republican party Presidential candidate John McCain would likely not change policy towards Afghanistan or Pakistan, and has in the past shown poor judgement (notably in his support of the Iraq war), a quick temper, and a vindictive personality. Democratic party Candidate Barak Obama’s Presidency can possibly be more positive for Pakistan, in particular because his choice for Vice President, Joseph Biden, has a deeper understanding of the challenges Pakistan is facing.

Professor Anatol argued that the recent intensification of the US operation in FATA is aimed at arresting al-Qaeda leaders. This is likely done in the hope of influencing the American Presidential election, but these attacks are destabilizing the area and will make things much more difficult for the Pakistan army and Frontier Corp.
American governments have consistently used Pakistan as a weapon to serve US interests. Pakistan’s confrontations with India and with the Soviet Union can be understood as supporting US interests.

Despite popular Pakistani beliefs to the contrary, Professor Anatol criticized the belief that the United States controls Pakistani politics. Change of governments has largely been a result of the dynamics of Pakistan’s domestic politics. The Americans have never successfully instigated regime change in Pakistan, nor have they been behind the military seizing power.
Conspiracy theories do not lead to effective policy, particularly those claiming supposed Israeli support of militants in FATA and the NWFP. From a historical perspective, the people of these area (largely Pashtun) need no external incentive to challenge governments they see as ‘outsiders’.

His lecture was followed by a lively question and answer session. Responding to a question on how the Musharraf’s resignation has affected Pakistan’s standing on the world stage, Professor Anatol pointed out the merits and failings of both Musharraf and Zardari. Musharraf was perceived as being liberal and modernizing, although this was diminished by the fact that he was a dictator. Zardari is seen as having more democratic legitimacy, but is well known for partaking in corruption and shady political deals. Zidari’s ‘democratic’ credentials will be helpful because Western powers, at least formally, prefer democratic leaders.