Guest Host: Steve Roberts

It’s been more than sixty years since Pakistan was founded as an experiment in Muslim democracy. Despite a history of free elections and democratic institutions, the South Asian country has largely failed to live up to its potential. Most ordinary Pakistanis live in slums or primitive villages, working for low wages making bricks or planting crops. Faced with political corruption, lack of social mobility and joblessness, many Pakistanis have turned to radical Islam. Washington Post foreign correspondent Pamela Constable writes about the people of Pakistan, their country of contradictions, and why it remains critical to U.S. interests.


  • Pamela Constable Foreign correspondent at the Washington Post, author of "Fragments of Grace" and co-author of "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet."

Author Extra: Pamela Constable Answers Questions

Ms. Constable stayed after the show to answer a few more questions.####

Q: Is there a case for just walking away from Pakistan and essentiallly telling India and China to deal with them?
– From Paige via email in Ft. Lauderdale

A: I would not advocate “walking away” from Pakistan, given the long relationship between the two countries, the large numbers of Pakistanis living in or immigrated to the US, and the common interests we share. I think rather than leaving it to India or China to deal with Pakistan, it would be more useful for the West to keep pressing Pakistan to develop stronger democratic institutions, spend more money on social needs and less on defense, and turn away from its traditional view of India as a dangerous enemy.

Q: Can you expand on the role of tribal customs in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, particularly the Pashtun connection?
– From Randal via email in Michigan

A: Tribal customs in Pakistan are not limited to the Pashtun tribal areas. They are more broadly a parallel system of justice and community rule that exists in many rural areas. They compete with the state, perpetuate oppressive practices against women, and hold back the rural poor from developing in terms of its education and living standards. Some civic and legal groups are working to modernize rural justice and practices, but progress has been slow and the tribal system still wields enormous power over people’s lives.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from “Playing With Fire” by Pamela Constable. Copyright 2011 by Pamela Constable. Excerpted with kind permission of Random House.


  • 11:06:55

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us, I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm. After the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in May, Americans struggled to comprehend how the world's most wanted terrorist could've been hiding in plain sight.

  • 11:07:09

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSIn a new book, veteran foreign correspondent, Pamela Constable, explains why Pakistan's role in the bin Laden hideout and it's struggle against insurgents is rooted in the plight of its people. Her book is titled "Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself." Pamela Constable joins me in the studio. Welcome, nice to have you here.

  • 11:07:29

    MS. PAMELA CONSTABLEGood morning. I'm delighted to be here.

  • 11:07:30

    ROBERTSFor many of you, a familiar byline in The Washington Post over many years, reporting from that part of the world. Pamela has also written a memoir "Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning and the Strife of South Asia." And is the co-author of "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet." You can join our conversation with Pamela Constable, please do, is our email address. We're on Twitter, Facebook, as always, and of course our phone number, old fashion way of communicating, 1-800-433-8850.

  • 11:08:04

    ROBERTSA question I guess is on the minds of so many people who think about Pakistan. How was it possible that Osama bin Laden could exist in this hideout in Abbottabad, a few miles (laugh) from a military compound? What can you tell us? What have you learned? Did people know or not know? What's your best assessment there?

  • 11:08:36

    CONSTABLEMy best assessment, and based on nothing other than, you know, what I've read and heard, I have no inside information into this case, is that probably people suspected, probably there were moles somewhere in the intelligence apparatus who knew. I don't think that the military higher ups knew.

  • 11:09:04

    ROBERTSYou don't?

  • 11:09:05

    CONSTABLEIt's possible that they did. And of course, the fact that he was found and killed there leaves them with an impossible choice of being considered utter fools. Or, you know, co-conspirators...

  • 11:09:19


  • 11:09:19 terrorism. I guess (laugh)...

  • 11:09:20

    ROBERTSThere's no third option (laugh).

  • 11:09:21

    CONSTABLEThere's no third option for them. The reason I think that they weren't involved at the highest levels is because, I think, they, at the very highest levels, knew that it would be very destructive to their relationship with the world. I mean, they knew what a high value target this was. And I think even they would not of gone that far.

  • 11:09:48

    CONSTABLEOn the other hand, it's not at all clear whether, at the senior levels of national security state, they have total control over the situation, including their own people, they're many, many individuals who are described as retired, you know, from the intelligence service who may in fact not be, maybe working on their own, may have, sort of, a quiet imprimatur to have relationships with militant groups. There's a whole cast of characters in there that is not necessarily a part of the institutional chain of command, which is why I say it's very possible that some people knew which may or may not have anything to do with people at the highest levels of the institutions of state.

  • 11:10:25

    ROBERTSAnd the murkiness of these chains of command and relationships, is that part of the reason why the United States took such care not to take Pakistan officials into their confidence? In fact, there was a big protest by Pakistani ambassador here to the United States and others saying, you know, they didn't tell us. Does that reflect a lack of trust in the situation in the Pakistani government?

  • 11:10:49

    CONSTABLEAbsolutely. In fact, there have been, you know, many indications of this before. This was only the starkest and most dramatic example. I think the great concern was that the information would leak. And there have been a number of cases over the past several years, the American government has been launching these drone attacks, these unmanned flights over the border lands, where they drop missiles on suspected militant targets. And at the beginning, they were sharing a lot of that information with the Pakistanis.

  • 11:11:17

    CONSTABLEBut then they sort of pulled back on sharing some of that real time information because things were leaking. People were finding out, people were not where they thought they were going to be, even within hours' time. So we can't really say exactly who's to blame, but it's clear that there have been leaks. There've been a number of cases where even officers have been arrested and interrogated and cashiered for getting involved in militancy and all the branches of government.

  • 11:11:42

    CONSTABLEThere is a great deal of -- this is not a tight ship and it's a ship that's been sort of deliberately allowed to leak for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with Pakistan's real security needs and have a great deal to do with India.

  • 11:11:55

    ROBERTSWell, I was just about to ask you that question, that at the root of some of this tension between the United States and Pakistan, there's a difference in priorities. I mean, the United States, particularly after 9/11, focused on rooting out terrorism, focused on making sure that there was not the safe havens to launch another attack. But historically, and this is something you write about in your book, you have to understand origins of Pakistan and the fact that inevitably and relentlessly, their focus is not on Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida, it's on India.

  • 11:12:30

    CONSTABLEYes. And that really has been, in many ways, I think, one of the major reasons that Pakistan has failed to progress as it rightly should have all these years, as a large, you know, industrialized nation with many, many advantages. And what has happened is that over these years, because of the very dramatic and sort of bloody split from India back in 1948, the establishment in Pakistan, particularly the military establishment, continues to see India as the enemy.

  • 11:13:03

    CONSTABLEAs a permanent hegemonically motivated bear next door that's poised to take them over. And of course, this has spawned this nuclear rivalry between the two countries. And so it's very much, sort of, been their priority for a long time. It's hurt them in so many ways, not the least of which is financially, because all the money or much of the money that could've been going to health and education and really trying to elevate a populous that is very, very large and very, very poor, much of that has gone into defense. And the defense has not been aimed at anything but India.

  • 11:13:40

    ROBERTSAnd the other way, is which it showed itself, is the either direct or indirect support by Pakistan, either on official level or as you point out, this gray area, former, part-time intelligence agent who pretty well documented have been at least tolerated, if not instigated, a number of terrorist groups who at least in part, are there in order to provide a hedge against India.

  • 11:14:08

    ROBERTSBut just last week there was, you know, the killing in Mumbai and the previous attacks in Mumbai, there was a lot of evidence that these rogue Pakistani groups perhaps were involved. What is the best that you know and what does that tell us about this ongoing issue of the support, either tacitly or directly for terrorist organizations of this kind?

  • 11:14:31

    CONSTABLEThe reason that I call the book "Playing With Fire" is because for a very long time, Pakistani officials have believed that they could sort of manage or contain or control what were essentially proxy forces. Fighting against India, fighting in Kashmir, you know, involved in things that they thought were being directed elsewhere. They never imagined, in their wildest dreams, that they would turn against the state. And so now what's happened, of course, particularly since 9/11, so much happening in Afghanistan, is that many of these groups, not all, but many of them have in fact turned against the state.

  • 11:15:11

    CONSTABLESo now you have an untenable situation. And in fact, there's a journalist, a Pakistani journalist, I thought, entitled it perfectly in the phrase monster versus creator. You have these groups that were spawned and launched and coddled unofficially, in most cases, to play a different role, have now turned back against the hand that fed them and armed them. And both in the Afghan jihad and in the proxy war in Kashmir.

  • 11:15:40

    CONSTABLEAnd so Pakistan doesn't really know what to do with these people. You know, it's being asked by the West and by the United States to go after them aggressively. And yet, they're compatriots, they're fellow Muslims, the soldiers don't want to fight them, they're elusive, they moved around, they're hard to find. There's a whole host of reasons. A lot of debts owed to them from the past, a lot of things people don't want to have come out.

  • 11:16:05

    ROBERTSThere -- as you talked, there's echoes of the creation of the Taliban as a proxy force (laugh) fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. And then, what do you do with it after the war is over?

  • 11:16:16

    CONSTABLEWell, that's true. Although in the case of the Taliban, it's a different can of worms because there were half a dozen militant groups, you know, in the Pakistan-Afghan area that were supported by the United States and others. And they pretty much all turned out to be very nasty, so I wouldn't only fault the Taliban for that.

  • 11:16:34

    ROBERTSThere was also a front page story in The Washington Post today about an outbreak of ethnic battles within Pakistan and it's not just these proxy forces. There are also -- and this is a main theme of your book, that the nature of Pakistani society, you're trying to say, you got to understand it and it -- and these ethnic clashes, which I think have killed, according to The Post, 100 people in the last four days. What do we learn from that? What's the significance of that outbreak?

  • 11:17:04

    CONSTABLEYou're talking about what's been -- the violence that's been going on in Karachi. And in some ways, Karachi is unique. I mean, it's not really like any other part of Pakistan. It's this huge metropolis that has had these ongoing and very complex street wars between ethnic groups, between, you know, mafias, between political groups. All the political groups there have these shock troops that go out in the streets. But essentially, it is an ethnic clash between the Muhajir, who were immigrants from India who settled Karachi, basically, and ethnic Pashtuns who are all from the Northwest, from Afghanistan and the northwest of Pakistan.

  • 11:17:44

    CONSTABLEAnd they have really been fighting for control of Karachi for a long time in a very violent way. But it's emblematic of a larger problem for Pakistan, which is that it's not really a nation, in a sense. I mean, it really -- it's very much dominated by Punjabis, who are the ethnic group that is based in the Punjab. And then you have the Pashtuns, you have other ethnic groups that -- the Baloch, who don’t have as much power or as much wealth, but many of whom are pretty fierce fighters.

  • 11:18:17

    CONSTABLESo you've got a sort of permanent ongoing conflict between or among ethnic groups there that has periodically, in different places, erupted very violently as it is right now in Karachi.

  • 11:18:30

    ROBERTSIt sounds like you could also be talking about Iraq (laugh) when you talk about that. Pamela Constable is my guest, her new book, "Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself." Pamela is also a long time foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. You can join our conversation, 1-800-433-8850, send us as an email. Pamela Constable and I will be right back, so stay with us.

  • 11:20:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back, I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane and my guest this hour is Pamela Constable, longtime foreign correspondent for The Washington Post and author of a new book on Pakistan, "Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself."

  • 11:20:15

    ROBERTSAnd Pamela, before we went to the break, we were talking about the power of tribal loyalties and how it's showing itself in the street fighting in Karachi. But as your book points out, there are many other ways in which the power of tribalism exerts itself on Pakistani society, including attitudes toward women and marriage. And talk about all the ways in which tribalism -- we have to -- we understand the power of tribalism to understand Pakistan.

  • 11:20:44

    CONSTABLEYeah, I would say that the most important aspect of it, not so much as in Afghanistan where you really do have, you know, permanent feuds among tribes. I think here in Pakistan, the greater problem with tribalism is that it spawns what we call these parallel systems of justice in which it's patriarchal, it's very male dominated, it's very primitive.

  • 11:21:15

    CONSTABLEAnd what you have in many rural areas, particularly Sindh, southern Punjab and other places is, you know -- the justice system essentially doesn't exist in many of these places. The state doesn't really have an arm that successfully dispenses justice, certainly not swiftly and certainly not fairly.

  • 11:21:35

    CONSTABLEAnd so these parallel systems exist in many places. They're usually called jirgas. They're these tribal councils of elders that'll get together to dispense what they consider justice. Now, these are not issues that most people in this part of the world would even consider to be worthy of -- they're not crimes. I mean, things like, you know, an unmarried couple eloping is a major, major source of the time and energy consumed by these groups.

  • 11:22:08

    CONSTABLEIf a young couple run away and they're unmarried and even if they're from the same tribe, much worse if they're from two different tribes, they will be pursued relentlessly by these tribal committees, often including their own male relatives, including their fathers, their brothers, their cousins, you know, the males who are sort of dominating that tribe, pursued relentlessly, caught, brought back and sentenced to things like being stoned to death. That happens today in Pakistan in villages in many parts of the country.

  • 11:22:41

    CONSTABLEAnd there's a story that I have in the book about a couple who were involved in a very complicated case in which another aspect of tribal justice came into play. This young woman had been pledged in marriage when she was a very, very young girl to a much older man as part of another form of tribal justice, which is compensation in a feud.

  • 11:23:06

    CONSTABLEWhen there's a property dispute or a murder case or some sort of family feud, often the solution will be that the family of the accused will give a girl, or sometimes more than one, to the other family and that solves the case. Now, that means that as soon as she's old enough to be married, she literally gets taken to the other family forever.

  • 11:23:26

    ROBERTS'Cause she's just considered property.

  • 11:23:28

    CONSTABLECorrect. And this young woman was promised -- I've forgotten, I think she was seven or six at the time -- was promised in this family feud, but she grew up and was able to go to school. And when the time came, I think she was 21 or 22, the family said, okay, now it's time for you to go marry this guy. She said, no, which was unheard of and this is rocking the universe when she did this, the known universe. And eventually, she ran away with a man who was her cousin who offered to help her and they ended up hiding in a shelter in the capitol and it became a long complicated story.

  • 11:24:05

    CONSTABLEBut basically -- I mean, the sad -- the really sad thing about it was that I interviewed them several times when they were in hiding and the last time I saw them, they were actually thinking of going home, even though they knew they would both probably be killed by the villagers, because the pain and suffering of their families was so great because of the pressure.

  • 11:24:29

    ROBERTSThe families left behind.

  • 11:24:31

    CONSTABLEFamilies left behind in their villages. Their crops had been burned, religious edicts had been put out against them. You know, they'd become pariahs in their little known world because this couple had dared to run away.

  • 11:24:44

    ROBERTSBut the other -- sometimes the other reaction to the overwhelming pressure of tribalism is to leave. I've noticed in my own teaching at George Washington University, a steady trickle of Pakistani students either coming directly or their parents have immigrated, often they're the most educated of Pakistanis, they're the doctors and the engineers and the scientists. And is there a -- is this part of the result of the power of tribalism, to drive some of the more educated people out of the country?

  • 11:25:21

    CONSTABLENot necessarily. I would attribute that to a different issue, actually, because tribalism really predominates only in the remote rural areas where people mostly do not have a chance to get educated or aware of the world. I would say that the reason that so many professional Pakistanis leave is because there are ceilings in Pakistan, even though the rich live very well. There are limits to things like academic research, professional opportunities.

  • 11:25:53

    CONSTABLEIt's a country that really has been stymied and stifled in terms of its professional educational development. And so while you can become wealthy in Pakistan being, you know, a lawyer or a doctor, the opportunities simply aren't there. So people immigrate because they want to go to graduate school or because they want to become, you know, the best in their field. It's a very sad commentary that it's only very recently that the state of Pakistani universities has begun to improve.

  • 11:26:23

    CONSTABLEAnd I've met so many young Pakistanis who have graduated either from high school or from college with no prospects at all. There simply isn't enough of a job market there, even at the lower level, let alone at the upper level, to satisfy the people's ambitions.

  • 11:26:39

    ROBERTSAnd you add, as you point out in the book, the issue of corruption so that in addition to the job market, if you don't have the connections, if you don't have the money to bribe people, if you don't have the access to the elite, this is another ceiling that drives the most talented young people out of the country.

  • 11:27:00

    CONSTABLEIt's a very, very, stratified society and it's a society that's never had any sort of land reform or any sort of social revolution, so it's still essentially dominated by the feudal elite. Now, by that, I don't necessarily mean that they're all people that own zillions of acres. I mean, people that have a certain attitude that is sort of, you know, we are the elite and, you know, we get to enjoy life.

  • 11:27:23

    CONSTABLEPeople who don't necessarily appreciate or accept the idea that things really do need to trickle down. The society does need to progress. You can't still have millions of people essentially in bondage and servitude and expect a country to rise up in the world. So you have this sort of feudal elite that's sort of clinging to its little perquisites of power.

  • 11:27:48

    CONSTABLEAnd you have a state, that as you just rightly mentioned, there's so much corruption that people don't feel they have access to justice. And so what happens is there's this whole other parallel system that's created of personal favoritism so that if you get in trouble with the police or whatever happens, you don't call -- you don't call the state. You call some sort of local politician or landowner to fix things for you.

  • 11:28:11


  • 11:28:12

    CONSTABLESo this makes, as I say in the book, everyone complicit in corruption, especially its victims.

  • 11:28:19

    ROBERTSYeah, I lived in Greece for four years and the phrase in Greece is (speaks foreign language) and it's a -- or (speaks foreign language), it's all the same thing. It's, you know, paying people off in order to settle a claim. But let me ask you one other thing, we'll get to the callers.

  • 11:28:36

    ROBERTSYou talk a lot about the drift in Pakistan toward a more fundamentalist form of Islam and you say that this has complicated roots. And obviously, something that Americans are aware of and alarmed by. This president has tried in a number of his trips and a number of speeches to reach out to young Muslims around the world, telling his own story in Indonesia and speak in Cairo and Istanbul. He's done this repeatedly. Give us your take on what's causing this turn in Pakistan and at least in some quarters, toward a more fundamentalist view of Islam.

  • 11:29:15

    CONSTABLEAs you said, it's complicated, but I think 9/11 is -- it's very important, I think, for people in the West to understand the impact of 9/11 on a place like Pakistan. It was almost the opposite of the impact here. You know, there are many, many people in Pakistan to this day -- and I say this in the book, who still think that 9/11 was a plot to discredit Islam. A plot by, you know, various nefarious groups like the CIA and others, that this was all sort of something made out of thin air.

  • 11:29:49

    CONSTABLEYou know, I would -- I think it's important to say that, you know, the great majority of Pakistani's don't like the Taliban, don't want some sort of Draconian, you know, Iran-style or Saudi-style religious regime, but I would say that particularly since 9/11, but certainly well over the last decade, there has been this increasing sense among all kinds of Pakistanis and all kinds of Muslims elsewhere in the world that their religion is under siege from the West. Now, I don't necessarily think that's true, but people there really feel it strongly. And everywhere you go, from, you know, the lowest to the highest, people are feeling incredibly defensive and emotional about their attachment to their religion.

  • 11:30:35

    CONSTABLESo you also have this tradition that's been going on for the last, you know, 20 years of governments that have deliberately combined and conflated patriotism with Islam. So you're getting -- people get very confused signals from their own leaders about their own religion and they don't quite know which way to go.

  • 11:31:00

    CONSTABLEBut when people feel poor, excluded, alienated, lack of justice, it's logical for them to want to turn to their religion. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. The problem is that the moment in history is such that what's out there is being radicalized. And so what their alternative becomes is more radical. As you know, historically, Pakistan is a moderate Muslim country.

  • 11:31:23

    ROBERTSRight, right.

  • 11:31:23

    CONSTABLEIt has a long history of moderation in its religious leaders, in its views. Sufism, which is a very sort of mystical personal nonhierarchical, non-punitive form of Islam, has been very popular in Pakistan for many, many years. That has increasingly become supplanted by these more radical strains of Sunni Islam, partly through the Afghan wars, partly since 9/11. There've been a number of reasons why this has been becoming very competitive with the more traditional moderate views of Islam in Pakistan.

  • 11:31:57

    CONSTABLEAnd so what's been happening is not, I would say, a turn towards violent extremes, but certainly a very noticeable turn towards a deeply emotional attachment to Islam and a very perplexing and I think terribly sad strong, strong rejection of the West.

  • 11:32:19

    ROBERTSAnd the attempts by the president, you don't think have had any real affect?

  • 11:32:25


  • 11:32:26


  • 11:32:26

    CONSTABLEI don't.

  • 11:32:28

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let me turn to some of our emails and our callers, Pam Constable. I want to remind you that her book is "Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself." And here's an email from Will who says, "Is Pakistan critical to the American people's interests or is it critical to the interests of arms manufacturers? Please discuss."

  • 11:32:51

    CONSTABLEThat's an interesting question. I wouldn't quite put it as a dichotomy but, you know, many experts believe Pakistan is critical to Western interests and American interests for a number of reasons, one of which is at its nuclear power. It's poised in a very strategic area bordered by China, Afghanistan, Iran, India, Bangladesh. It's the location.

  • 11:33:17

    ROBERTSIt's a keystone of the...

  • 11:33:18

    CONSTABLEIt's a keystone of a very volatile area. It's also been an American ally for a very long time. I mean, it's not that long ago that India was a socialist, you know, bugaboo. Now, of course, it's, you know, the rising high-tech tiger of the world, but it wasn't that long ago that American policy makers turned toward Pakistan, for example, in the Afghan wars because they couldn't trust India.

  • 11:33:42

    CONSTABLESo this is an old, old relationship. It's not something that just cropped up. And it's very hard to persuade both sides that they should break up the marriage, as David Ignatius wrote the other day, but that does seem to be cracking up at the moment.

  • 11:33:59

    ROBERTSWell, you mentioned something I think bears more emphasis and I'd like you to discuss it, which is its nuclear capability. I remember in the last -- you know, in -- I think when President Bush was running for election and there was a debate in which he and John Kerry agreed that the single most tangible threat to American national interest was the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of bad guys. So if you think about direct American interest as opposed to secondary American interest, what could really threaten America's vital concerns directly? That's got to be at the top of everybody's list.

  • 11:34:40

    CONSTABLEYeah, I mean, obviously, we're very far away. It's not like the Cuban missile crisis. I mean, you know, I don't think Pakistan sort of can directly, you know, harm America, but it...

  • 11:34:50

    ROBERTSIt's more the materials and the expertise that could fall into wrong hands.

  • 11:34:55

    CONSTABLEWell, of course, that's already happened.

  • 11:34:57


  • 11:34:57

    CONSTABLEI mean, Pakistan's, you know, most famous -- or I should say infamous nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan was found to have been peddling, you know, nuclear know-how to a number of rogue actors and states and that's very well-known and he was disgraced as a result of that. Now, I have to say that successive Pakistani governments of all stripes, including the military, have, you know, repeatedly professed over and over and over again that they're in full command of their nuclear assets. That, you know, they would never let them get in the wrong hands and I think they're serious about it.

  • 11:35:29

    CONSTABLEOn the other hand, you know, it's a fluid situation and I'm not even sure the army, at this point, has full control over, you know, certainly not the views of its rank and file. Certainly it can control their actions at this point, but it's no longer as dead certain as it once was that the state of Pakistan can guarantee total control over its nuclear arsenal.

  • 11:35:57

    ROBERTSLet's turn to our callers. Paul in Wendell, N.C. Welcome, you're on the air.

  • 11:36:04

    PAULGood morning. This may seem really harebrained, but I'm wondering if there's any possibility that both sides knew about bin Laden, where he was, and that they needed to give him time to make him feel secure so they could track him, figure him out and keep him under -- you know, not necessarily lock and key, but, you know, until the time was right to get rid of him. And whether there was some kind of plausible deniability with the Pakistanis to say, oh, we never saw him.

  • 11:36:33

    ROBERTSOkay, Paul. Thanks a lot.

  • 11:36:35

    CONSTABLEIt's a great theory, and of course, it's one of those situations, as there've been many in Pakistan, that spawns a million great theories because we don't really know. Almost anything is possible. My guess is that that's probably not the case and I'm guessing it only because the capture -- the finding and killing of bin Laden was such a huge humiliation for the Pakistani security establishment that I don't think they would have countenanced keeping him there, even in collusion.

  • 11:37:09

    CONSTABLEAnd the fact that the Americans, as Steve mentioned, hid the covert operation from them, I just think that this has been such a watershed -- a negative watershed for the military establishment there that I just can't believe they would have been complicit.

  • 11:37:26

    ROBERTSThat's Pamela Constable, foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, been reporting from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India since 1998. Her memoir, "Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia." And now her new book, "Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself." We'll be right back with Pam Constable and your questions.

  • 11:40:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour is Pamela Constable, foreign correspondent and author of a new book, "Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself." And let me read you a couple of emails.

  • 11:40:16

    ROBERTSThis comes from S. R. who writes, "As an Indian-American, I am puzzled as to why and how Indian-Pakistan developed so differently after Partition in 1947. The people, culture and history of these two nations are identical prior to '47. The futile system prevalent in Pakistan and the democracy that exists in India, which is thriving, is such a stark difference." Is that a fair description or not?

  • 11:40:40

    CONSTABLEIt's a very, very good question and it's a question many people have raised, including many Pakistanis. On the other hand, of course, Pakistanis, you know, resent comparisons with India and I often think that a better comparison, really, is Bangladesh because unlike India, which obviously is Hindu dominated, Bangladesh is also Muslim dominated, actually grew out of, or broke off from, Pakistan. So they're actually -- they have more in common in that sense.

  • 11:41:05


  • 11:41:08

    CONSTABLEBangladesh has taken off like a rocket economically, is doing much, much better than Pakistan, so I think that's also an apt comparison. I guess I would say several things. I do think it's important not to blame to religion, per say. I don't think that there's anything endemically about Islam that makes it less, you know, inclined to have people progress successfully than Hinduism, for example, or Christianity for that matter. I mean, you can point to a number of countries that have done very, very well with large and dominant Muslim population. So I don't think that's the issue.

  • 11:41:43

    CONSTABLEIf I had to pick a reason that Pakistan has fallen behind while India has forged ahead, I would have to say poor leadership. Pakistan has been cursed with a terribly unfortunate history of leadership. Some of its best leaders have been assassinated or died too soon. Many times, the military has stepped in to do what it considered to be the need to correct civilian incompetence and corruption, so it has not allowed the system to mature.

  • 11:42:21

    CONSTABLEPakistan's democratic system really has never had the chance to develop the way it should, whereas in India, you've had many, many more peaceful successions of democratic power, which builds and accumulates as a weight to support democracy. Pakistan's democracy, after 63 years, is still very fledgling and still very fragile and I would -- I would sort of put the blame there.

  • 11:42:45

    ROBERTSNow, you've been not critical, but pessimistic to some extent in a lot of your comments, but you do in the book have a story that you like to tell. You describe Abdul Sattar Edhi as your favorite character in this book and so tell that story for our listeners.

  • 11:43:04

    CONSTABLEYes. And he was somebody that I'd known about for a long time, but didn't meet until sort of the tail end of researching the book. He's in his 80's, he has a long white beard, he's an elderly gentleman. He sort of looks like, you know, one of these Mullahs, but he's definitely not. He's really closer to a revolutionary. He's an amazing guy. He came from a well to do family, in fact, in Karachi as a young man, but he had in his soul, this burning desire to not only help the poor, in the sense of charity, but to represent and empower the poor.

  • 11:43:42

    CONSTABLEAnd he set out, and for the last four decades, he's most famous for running the country's only free ambulance service and that's what most people know about him. But he's done much, much more than that. He has set up a number of different programs and initiatives that are all geared towards, I would say, bringing dignity to the poor, the ostracized. You know, Pakistan is a society in which, you know, if you are one of a number of things.

  • 11:44:17

    CONSTABLEIf you are sort of rejected by your family, if you are a certain minority, it's very, very easy to be ostracized in a society like Pakistan. And Abdul Sattar Edhi has specialized, if you will, in taking ostracized people and trying to lift them up and give them dignity and self-worth. And the example that I use in the book is that he and his wife, Bilquis, established a school for girls who have been abandoned by their families, often abandoned because the mother remarried and the new father wanted nothing to do with the original girl child or girl children and some cases because of abuse.

  • 11:44:54

    CONSTABLEBut in any case, they've set up these schools, basically sort of a cross between an orphanage and a boarding school, for these young women and I met a number of them. They get very good education, they're very well taken care of, but more than that, they are brought up as if they were normal kids. You know, that have all the rights and all the chance of anyone else. And one of the things that they do, which I was very impressed by, is that they find them husbands. Now, if you're an orphan girl in a society like that, it's very difficult to find a husband and they're...

  • 11:45:28

    ROBERTSWithout a dowry.

  • 11:45:29

    CONSTABLEWithout a dowry, without the family connections, without this sort of interlocking sort of social circles, so the fact that they're able to find them husbands, they give them small dowries, they sort of arrange it in a way that's suitable for them, that gives them a sense of purpose and hope in life. I mean, it's an amazing thing. And of course, he's been called, you know, the Father Theresa of Pakistan, he's also been called a communist and a devil and all sorts of other things.

  • 11:45:56

    CONSTABLEHe's just completely iconoclastic, completely doesn't care about status, you know, dresses very simply. I have a phrase I like in the book in which I say, he's always preached against the rich from his unassailable perch on the lowest rung of society.

  • 11:46:20

    ROBERTS(laugh) Nice line. Let's join to some of our callers. Chip in Houston, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Chip.

  • 11:46:24

    CHIPGood morning. Thank you so much for taking my call, I really enjoy this show.

  • 11:46:27


  • 11:46:29

    CHIPWe give just buckets of money and aid to Palestine -- Pakistan. When they were having all the floods that they were having, we sent insane amounts of money over there to try to help them out, we give them, you know, just -- is there not any way that we can -- we can say that, you know what, we've got no problem giving you this money, but these are some of the things that we would like to see you guys grow towards or open up about or be more forward about and we'd like to see, you know, dismantling the futile system that Pamela was talking about or maybe revamping it and giving more quality to all of the people of Pakistan.

  • 11:47:06

    CHIPI think the idea that bin Laden was able to hold up in a bunker for five or six years right down the street from a military academy and nobody really seemed to really -- nobody of any power or authority would actually, you know, talk to the fact that they knew he was there. I mean, I don't know about Pakistan, but in my neighborhood, if somebody gets a different car or somebody doesn't put their trash out, everybody knows about it, so they knew where bin Laden was at.

  • 11:47:35

    CHIPYou know, they take all this money, but they don't really want to have to -- it seems like they take the money, but they don't want to have to have any accountability. They just want to take it and not try to...

  • 11:47:45


  • 11:47:46 with us at all.

  • 11:47:46

    ROBERTSOkay. Chip, thanks for your call. Pam Constable.

  • 11:47:49

    CONSTABLEYeah, he's right on the money. I'm not talking about the bin Laden thing, but the aid thing. You know, the United States has been giving Pakistan, you know, zillions of dollars for a long time, much of it military, but also a lot of economic aid as well. And just for a second to talk about the floods, what amazed me, when I went all over Pakistan visiting flooded areas last year, was that nobody there knew that the Americans had done anything at all. They just -- it's not on the radar screen. They just had no clue.

  • 11:48:19

    CONSTABLEAnd I know for a fact that huge amounts of aid were rushed in there, as they were obviously during the earthquake previously. But for reasons I don't quite understand, Pakistanis don't seem to know about this. So that's just one point. But the much more important point is yes, the idea of a quid pro quo. Pakistan has always resisted this notion that okay, you give us the money, we ought to be accountable for it, particularly the military.

  • 11:48:46

    CONSTABLEIn fact, the military got very, very upset when the Kerry Lugar Bill was introduced and that's a huge package of aid that was approved by the Congress a couple of years ago for Pakistan. And the military bristled at the notion that there would be accountants coming in to monitor the aid, to see where it went. You know, they had never really provided good records of where this stuff went. And in the past, nobody sort of cared that much, but now, there's a much greater concern about where it's going.

  • 11:49:15

    CONSTABLEAnd instead of saying, thank you, essentially, the military said, who do you think you are trying to track your money once it gets to us? So that was quite an eye opener, I think.

  • 11:49:25

    ROBERTSLet's turn to Mustafa in Rochester, N.Y. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:49:29

    MUSTAFAHi, there. Hi to everybody. So I was born and bred in Pakistan and I just recently started work as a physician in the U.S. So first comment, Bangladesh does not border Pakistan and secondly, there's one thing that needs to be made public is that what our primary use interests and what are the interests of the U.S. and its allies? I believe U.S. has predominant interest as the whole of the world, Western world, that and I agree to that, that there should not be any terrorist safe havens.

  • 11:50:05

    MUSTAFABut I do not think that any nuclear missile threat is evident to U.S. as somebody did allude to that in their previous conversation. So I personally believe the Jews have the right to have a separate state. I am friends with many Jews, I got to all the Jewish Community Center in Rochester. I think that destabilizing Pakistan economically and kind of offending the army, which is the main hubbub at the (word?), would probably not help U.S. or the rest or any other stakeholder to achieve that goal. My comments basically are trying to say that if we want Pakistan to not be a hazard or threat to the Western world and the Jewish people, which it has typically not been, in terms of any anti-Jewish (word?) in Pakistan.

  • 11:51:05


  • 11:51:06

    MUSTAFAWe should help Pakistan stabilize itself rather than at this time in point back off all the help that we're giving the -- have been giving to Pakistan or...

  • 11:51:20

    ROBERTSThank you very much, Mustafa. Please, Pam Constable.

  • 11:51:21

    CONSTABLEYes, that's a very interesting point he raises and I do apologize for mis-peaking. I realize Bangladesh doesn't border Pakistan. Bangladesh used to be part of Pakistan, but they were two separate geographical locations...

  • 11:51:32


  • 11:51:33

    CONSTABLE...which it's hard to explain.

  • 11:51:34

    ROBERTS...separated by part of (unintelligible).

  • 11:51:35

    CONSTABLEThat's right. But in terms of aid, I have no reason to think that America or the West has any desire at all to de-stabilize Pakistan. I would say the opposite. And I would say that generally speaking, what the West and the U.S. would like to do is strengthen its civilian government, to strengthen -- to help strengthen its democracy and its democratic institutions because in the long run, those are the right foundation for a strong and prosperous state.

  • 11:52:08

    CONSTABLEI think that by threatening now to cut off aid, what you're seeing is anger and probably proper anger against some of the things that have been going on there with the militancy, with the army. You know, I don't think there's any lack of desire to help on the part of the West or the United States. I do think that there is an increasing skepticism about the motives of some elements of the Pakistani state, particularly on the non-civilian side, and I think some of this really needs to be patched up before you're going to see, you know, the flood of aid opening again.

  • 11:52:43

    ROBERTSAnd also, just to clarify, I don't think either of us were discussing the nuclear issue, in terms of Pakistani missiles that might threaten the United States. It's really a question of the materials and the expertise that could fall into the wrong hands and be used by terrorists. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:53:03

    ROBERTSLet's turn to Altoff (sp?) in Allen, Texas. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:53:07

    ALTOFFHello, how are you, sir?

  • 11:53:09


  • 11:53:10

    ALTOFFQuick -- I have a quick question or a comment, really. The history of Pakistan is that we have never had a great leadership. All institutions have been destroyed by all of them, including people like Mr. Bhutto, his daughter and all the fallen leaders. The last good leader we had was (word?) and he died six months after Pakistan was created. And because of the lack of institutions that have been developed, we have turned to foreign aid and Middle Eastern aid has been also very corroding to Pakistan.

  • 11:53:39

    ALTOFFThe religious culture has changed and now we have a very different society. I was born there, but when I go back, I don't recognize it. And the U.S. also has played a role in that. We seem to feel that we have not done anything to Pakistan that's at worse because we give them aid, but we involve them in (unintelligible) war, which has destroyed the whole Pakistani culture. It has bought enough guns, which is a way different mentality. And gun culture, which didn't exist in Karachi, now we can get guns everywhere. And...

  • 11:54:08

    ROBERTSCan I ask you what -- can I ask you just briefly why you left?

  • 11:54:13

    ALTOFFI came here as a student and I settled here about, oh, 40 years ago, but I still have family, I go back and when I go there, they themselves are very frustrated because most Pakistanis are not extremists, they're not Taliban, but unfortunately, the people who make the most noise get the media coverage here. So the perception is that we all are radicalized, which is not true. I would say only maybe 10, 20 percent of them are and Northwest Frontier is where most of the radicalization is.

  • 11:54:38

    ROBERTSWe very much appreciate your call. Thanks very much.

  • 11:54:41

    ALTOFFYou bet. Thank you.

  • 11:54:42

    ROBERTSPam Constable, you're reply to Altoff?

  • 11:54:45

    CONSTABLEA great deal of what he said I agree with very much about the problems of leadership, of institutions, about the change in the culture that has happened as a result of these involvements in foreign wars and religion. I don't think, though, that it's an insoluble problem. I do think that Pakistan has a great deal going for it. I certainly don't think it's going to turn into another, you know, Iran or Saudi Arabia and I agree with him that it's really only a small minority that support Taliban-type government.

  • 11:55:21

    CONSTABLEBut on the other hand, when you see things like the incidents that took place early this year with the assassinations of first a governor, a Punjab Province governor, and then a cabinet member who was a Christian leader. And not only were they assassinated, but their assassinations were applauded by many, many people in Pakistan. Some poor, but not all. Some uneducated, but not all. There was extraordinary emotional and visceral backlash to these assassinations because of the issue of the religious questions that were raised.

  • 11:56:02

    CONSTABLEWe don't really have time to go into it here, but it was a real wake up call, a real eye opener to see ordinary Pakistanis coming out in support of the assassination of a sitting governor because he was accused particularly of being sympathetic to a woman who was accused of blasphemy against Islam because she had a fight with her co-workers in a berry field.

  • 11:56:26

    ROBERTSSo final quick question here. If the American officials who worry about Pakistani policy came to you and said, what should be changed, what would you tell them?

  • 11:56:38

    CONSTABLEWell, in a way, it's the wrong question because, of course, they don't want us to change anything and it's really, we shouldn't -- we shouldn't be changing anything 'cause it always backfires. If we should strive for something in Pakistan, I would say to continue to push for strengthening of democratic institutions at the expense of military institutions, strengthening of social spending at the expense of military spending and strengthening of leaders and those who espouse a moderate view of Islam, as opposed to a radical one and that may include groups like the Barelvis who are less moderate than we'd like, (laugh) but more so than the Taliban (laugh).

  • 11:57:21

    ROBERTSThat's Pamela Constable, her book, "Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane. Thanks for being with us this morning.

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