Ahmed Rashid, called 'Pakistan's best and bravest reporter', is one of the best authorities on Pakistan, Afghanistan (including the Taliban) and Central Asia and has penned several books and articles on the vast and complex region.
His latest book Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West, is riding at Number 3 in India's best selling lists. His earlier booksTaliban and Descent into Chaos were translated into over 30 languages and are still taught as course books at over 200 universities around the world. His two books on Central Asia: The Resurgence of Central Asia, Islam or Nationalism? and Jihad: The Role of Militant Islam in Central Asia are also classics on the region.
He witnessed many historic moments in Afghanistan from close quarters, like the Communists' coming to power or the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s. He has been the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph for over twenty years and a correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review. He writes for several noted newspapers and journals and also appear on TV and radio programmes. The man is considered as somewhat an elderly statesman today and even serve as behind-the-scene adviser to diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul at times.
He received the Nisar Osmani Award for courageous journalism from the Human Rights Society of Pakistan in 2001. Mr Rashid, 64, is based in Lahore and lives with his wife and two children.
The man took out some time to speak to OneIndia News. Here are some of his views on Pakistan, Afghanistan and the USA:
OneIndia: Nothing has basically gone right with the Pakistani state since 1947. A far reality from what Jinnah had envisioned, the country is sinking into more turmoil with each passing day. Is it just the lack of a democratic political system which is the main reason for this situation today?
Rashid: A lot of things have gone right but essentially Pakistan has not found itself on the path of consistent democracy and the peaceful changeover of governments. The elite has sacrificed the need for democracy in exchange for a selfish winner-take-it-all attitude when it comes to governance. Big changes are happening, for instance, there is a growing public revulsion against another military coup and the army is deeply aware of the public sentiment.
OneIndia: Pakistan has kept itself engaged with anti-India rhetoric for a long, long time. It has received support from foreign powers to flex its military muscle against India but yet continued to stress terrorism. But Pakistan's foreign policy today perhaps faces more serious challenges than ever before. Its western front is in chaos, China and Russia are pressuring it to rein in militant groups and its relation with the old ally, the USA, is far from smooth. Is the Pakistani ruling elite, whoever it might be, capable to meet all these challenges by cracking down on the militants?
Rashid: I have been urging for sometime that Pakistan's elite will have to do a U-turn if it wants to benefit from the growing regional cooperation that is taking place. Pakistan's foreign policy has been far too dependent on the US and now that the relationship is in jeopardy, Pakistan needs to broaden its approach, including making peace with India and also leaving the Afghans alone to sort out their own problems.
OneIndia: A positive fact is that an elected government is nearing to complete its 5-year term in Pakistan for the first time. But is this enough for the country?
Rashid: If there is a smooth transition, which means an interim government takes over to hold the elections and there is a peaceful transfer of power from this government to the next elected one, it will be a huge plus for Pakistan. In fact, it the first time that something like this would have happened.
OneIndia: Why do you think was Abu Jundal put on a flight to India by Saudi Arabia, even though the latter is a close ally of Islamabad? Is this India's victory or Pakistan's loss or something else?
Rashid: I think it is the defeat for terrorists everywhere because the Saudis, too, have been responsible in the past for funding groups like the Taliban. But no longer. They have suffered the consequences of that and now take decisions based on their national interest, which is to fight terrorism, no matter where it comes from.
OneIndia: You have said Obama is not much interested in AfPak. The US military exercises in Afghanistan have not achieved much success and also the political leadership has remained fragile. Then what do you think is in store for Afghanistan once the western forces pull out in two years time? Are we waiting for even a worse scenario and particularly will Pakistan, with its weak leadership, suffer a serious blow in case a probable chaos goes out of control?
Rashid: I feat that if the Americans continue on this purely military path in Afghanistan, then we will see much greater chaos in that country once they leave. The US needs to alter its policy from one of mere military transition from the US forces to Afghan forces to speeding up process of talks with the Taliban. That will facilitate a broad inter-ethnic consensus in the country, helping to hold the presidential elections in 2014. It also can do more to develop a sustainable local economy, which will generate more employment. None of these tasks appear to be on the USA's agenda.
OneIndia: How do you think the current Pakistani govt can deal with the latest challenge from the judiciary about opening graft charges against Zardari and stop it from threatening incumbent Prime Ministers?
Rashid: The rift between the army, judiciary, the government and the opposition will continue until elections are held and we see a new government in power. The quicker the elections take place, the better it will be.