Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, Independent political scientist and writer, Islamabad, about gender struggles in the Pakistani elite, her 2007 book “Military Inc.” and why there will be greater conflict in the Pakistani society. This is an interview with her on the occasion of our conference.
By Anna Achleitner
Can you tell us about the work as an independent female political analyst in Pakistan?
The challenges in the society and the state are tremendous, which makes it exciting and interesting to work in Pakistan. In one way or another you always have to find out about the gender biases of your male colleges. There are many Think Tanks where men dominate, but I am kind of used to it. I worked as director of Labor Research as well and in that position it was very interesting, because in many occasions I was the only woman sitting in a room full of men. As a woman you have to work harder, you have to struggle. There are female analysts mostly in the media and academia. As you might have noticed, we have an increasing number of female parliamentarians as well, there are women in bureaucracy and we even had a woman as prime minister twice. But these figures indicate quantity; they do not necessarily indicate quality. Yet there are those biases, which are reflected in laws, which are reflected in how women are treated generally.
How did you gather the required information to write the Military Inc.?
Of course the data was hard to get, but what I tried to do is to use mostly public data. People just don’t look carefully enough to find this kind of data. Secondly, I had a benefit because I had worked as the director of Labour Research, I had worked as an auditor for the defense services and I had worked with the military. So I had some access to the data and I knew where to search. It took me about five years to collect the information and put it all together. In Germany, at the Bonn International Centre, I have already written a paper prior to the book, which was on soldiers and business. A German college Michael Broschka inspired my work.
Did the government perform more efficiently than the military, providing help to people affected by the flood and vice versa?
You know, military is part of the government. It is a tool which any government would use to address problems caused by natural disasters anywhere in the world. The government provided funding to the military, nothing was done for free. So at one level the two cannot be separated. Anyway, the political government could have performed more efficiently. In some cases its behavior was less efficient due to corruption.
Do you think the military could gain influence? Did the people actually recognize the presence of the military than the support of the government?
There is a need to do an assessment about what is people’s perception, what we know about people’s perception from the media is generally negative. On the one hand, there is a natural feeling of negativity towards the government. If people are struck by a disaster of the scale like the floods, they are generally bitter. They have lost everything and they expect the government to do more, nothing any government could do in this situation would be enough for the people. On the other side, people are told especially by the media, that it is the military which has delivered help and that it is the government which is less efficient. There are a lot of different opinions, which depend e.g. on how the area people live in is being treated. To summarize, I think there is a lot of tension in the society at the moment. People want relief and I think rehabilitation is a major challenge for the government in the near future. Furthermore, the world doesn’t know how to invest money in Pakistan, whether to help the Pakistani government or the NGO-Sector. The civil society seems to be telling the world that the government should not be trusted, so right now it’s all very confusing.
Are the religious militant groups able to use the insecure situation in Pakistan now for their own benefits?
The militants will naturally benefit, which is not just because of the flood, but more because of the pre-flood and the post-flood situation. The liberal society was a new entrant to the affected areas, what hurt the liberal/urban based middle class in Pakistan was that they finally saw this poverty, which in fact always existed. Their role in relief operations is naturally limited. The reality is that the two forces that have the capacity to reach out to people in the areas destroyed by the floods are the military and the militant groups. They had the motivation and the possibilities to go to the areas and to rescue people. And that, I’m sure, will be for their advantage. There is no evidence, no study done yet, which can actually say something about the linkage between the militant groups’ action during the floods and their popularity, but surely it’s going to help them. The floods have increased poverty, political and social instability and that’s all factors which can only support a more authoritarian social system. Militants will definitely benefit.
Did the international community react slowly on the flood disaster because of Pakistan’s image in western countries?
We have been told that it is because of the image, but which image are we talking about? Is the image related to corruption or to terrorism? I think we are at a point where the global community expects certain results from Pakistan and feels desperate that it is not getting those results. There is no evidence at the moment that there are major shifts in the policy, major shifts in the situation of militancy war. Given the background of the war on terror, I think what the global community wants to do, is to make the whole aid process reward based, which means if you perform good, you’ll get the money. So there was a combination of factors why the world didn’t respond so much, but Pakistan is not the only case where the international community has not really responded. Look at the cases of Ruanda, Somalia or Ethiopia: the international community was extremely slow. There are other ideological problems globally. I think new liberalism is a major problem which stops the international community from helping nations in need as soon as they need that help.
To what extent will the flood affect the political future of the country?
My worst suspicion is that it will continue at the same base as we are operating today. All of this happens despite the fact that we have a lot of potential, we have one of the better trained bureaucracies in the third world, we have a group of educated and scholar people, yet I don’t see a major shift, I don’t see a revolution in Pakistan and I don’t see any major changes in the attitude of a very myopic political elite in the country. There will be some minor adjustments, but no major adjustments.
There will be a shift in the nature of the ruling elite, but that is medium to long term, as a natural process happening in ever country. The current elite in Pakistan know how to reinvent themselves, but to what extend will they do it is a big question. And by the way, as I speak about the elite, I am part of the elite as well. But you know it’s a very myopic elite but right now, they don’t show any capacity to rethink, which gives better opportunities to other forces. There will be greater conflict in the society, but will it go in a particular direction ... I don’t know it.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Report and interviews
- Report: Pakistan after the Flood: Needs and Challenges for a Sustainable Reconstruction
- Interview Abid Suleri: "There is a relationship between food insecurity and militancy in Pakistan"
- Interview Ayesha Siddiqa: "The militants in Pakistan will definitely benefit from the Flood"
- Interview Shagufta Malik: "Don‘t just criticize the Pakistani government, also highlight its achievements"
- Interview Muhammad Idrees Kamal: "Helping the poor at any cost"