You suggested during your talk that women in Pakistan should take credit for "not allowing the situation in Pakistan to become like that in Afghanistan." Could you elaborate on that claim?
The imposition of orthodox Islam in Pakistan that we saw in the 1980s began with almost the same vigor as in Afghanistan. The state not only actively pursued policies that sought to restrict women's basic rights, but also encouraged non-state entities to force conformity through violence or the threat of violence. Women resisted this. Not just individually, but as a movement that was confident and forceful. Women in fact refused to be intimidated and were able to formulate successful strategies to mitigate the effects of Zia's policies.
The interpretation of Islam which currently dominates the political landscape in Pakistan has been influenced in part by the madrassahs that multiplied in the country during Zia's regime and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Could you provide some information about these madrassahs (who supported them, how many there are, who attends them and why)?
I would have to write a long paper in response to this question. But briefly: There has been a proliferation of madrassahs since the early 1980s. They are least transparent about their source of funding. It is reported that their funding comes from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and other states, who are promoting sectarianism through these madrassahs. They have been the breeding ground of religious intolerance, extremism, and sectarian violence. There is enough evidence to link them with "jehad" in different parts of the world, especially in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
As far as the present political dispensation is concerned, it has been pointed out in the Pakistani papers that General Pervez Musharraf capitulated far too quickly to American demands to cooperate with their war in Afghanistan. Do you think that a democratically elected government would have put up more of a fight?
General Musharraf had no other option but to capitulate, not because of American "might", but because the Pakistan military establishment was caught with "its hands in the till". The military has been sponsoring religious extremism in Pakistan and has been supporting the growth of militant groups. Their activities have been protected and/or tolerated by the state because the militant groups are important tools for the military-led foreign policy on Kashmir and Afghanistan.
The fact is that the military's dictation of foreign policy has forced Pakistan to pursue security interests that have proved disastrous for the country. Curbing extremism and terrorism is firstly in the interest of Pakistan. It is obvious now that the military's policies were against the interests of the state, putting its security and integrity in grave jeopardy and completely destroying political and social harmony within the country, not to mention bringing it to economic ruin, all in the name of "jehad" in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
If there was a civil government, the military would not have allowed it to take any decision. Eventually, the same thing would have happened, but only after the military had once again impressed upon the Americans that they are the ones who make the decisions, and the Americans, as usual, would have been more than ready to deal with the military leadership rather than the political one.
You have also suggested that women must play a role in determining the broad-based government that is put in place in Afghanistan after the war. Could you please elaborate on this (who will be involved, in what capacity, etc.)?
I think you already have an answer to this question after the Bonn process. Americans may not generally be aware of this, but Afghanis didn't always live in caves. Women had played a significant role in Afghan politics till the mid-1970s. There are women who are in a position to contribute political leadership in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Many have already become active.
Interview conducted by Nermeen Shaikh of Asia Society