Peril in Pakistan – FB Ali

Whatever the outcome of President Obama’s deliberations, two things are certain. One, the war in Afghanistan will continue, in whatever altered shape or form. Two, it will still be the wrong war, against the wrong enemy, and in the wrong place. The danger that the United States and the West face in that region is not from a Taliban victory in Afghanistan but from an Islamist takeover of Pakistan. And every day that the war in Afghanistan continues brings that takeover one day closer.


In Washington and other capitals this danger was seen as coming from the Pakistani Taliban, and there is much relief that they were defeated by the Pakistan army in Swat and are now being taken on in South Waziristan. This is evidence of the ignorance (and, possibly, even deliberate disinformation) that prevails regarding the situation in this area and the players involved. There was never any danger of these Taliban (essentially religious Islamists) taking over Pakistan, but that peril does arise from the political Islamists in that country. However, while everyone seems to have a fairly good idea of who the religious Islamists are, most people are either unaware of the political variety or unable to recognize them.


Political Islamists can be thought of as Islamic nationalists or ultra-nationalists. Instead of a nation-state providing the basis for their feelings, their emotions are focussed on Islam (as an idealized ‘state’, rooted in the glory days of its storied past) and on the ‘nation’ of the worldwide Muslim community, the ummah (which is perceived as under threat and attack). Ancient tales of the Crusades, recent memories of colonialism, current wounds such as Palestine, all these give an anti-West edge to Islamism. In some Muslim countries this ‘Islamic nationalism’ competes with ordinary nationalism, in others they tend to meld. Pakistan is one of those rare cases in which no other nationalism exists to challenge or modify the Islamic one.


Pakistan was created as an embodiment of political Islam ‒ the concept given physical shape as a country. This reality was bloodily driven home in the horrific trauma of its birth, when millions of Muslims were killed or driven from their homes because of their faith (as, conversely, were Sikhs and Hindus). This threat to its nascent existence was repeated (at least in the national consciousness) in the three wars that it has fought with India, in one of which half the country was “lost”. Thus, during Pakistan’s short 60-year existence, what developed in the place of nationalism was ‘anti-Indianism’, which is now linked to the original Islamism of its birth. As is usually the case in most countries, this nationalist fervour is most pronounced within the military and right wing groups (while many in the intelligentsia have outgrown it).


Pakistan (actually, the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”) is a country of about 180 million people, most of whom are Muslims. It has a modern, all-volunteer military of about one million active-duty personnel, the sixth largest in the world. It possesses a stock of nuclear weapons and a range of missiles that can deliver them. Even so, this large and powerful country is one of the most fragile states in the world.


Its economy is in dire straits; outside assistance alone prevents the country from going bankrupt. There is a vast disparity in affluence and standard of living between a small upper class and the rest of the population. Ordinary people face great hardship in their daily lives because of the high costs of basic essentials, rampant inflation, power and water shortages, and a deficit of law and order. Governance is mostly dysfunctional; corruption is massive and all pervasive; the bureaucracy is paralysed due to constant political meddling. The political system is in disarray with state institutions and functionaries at loggerheads, while politicians line their own pockets and undermine each other. In addition to these systemic problems the country has to deal with two insurgencies (in its northern and southern tribal areas) plus terrorist attacks occurring frequently in its cities. Making things worse, underlying all this are the ticking time bombs of rapid population growth, a shrinking food supply base, a high proportion of young men with no prospect of gainful work, and increasing urbanization, mostly in the form of huge slums in and around cities.


The current situation is further aggravated by a critical disconnect between the government and the vast majority of the people, especially as regards the United States. The government of President Zardari depends on the US for financial and other aid and is willing to align its policies fully with the US’s requirements, especially in support of the war in Afghanistan. The military also seeks assistance in funding and equipment from the US, and has gone along with US needs to a certain extent. However, the bulk of the people have a very different attitude towards the US ‒ as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently experienced for herself.


Ordinary Pakistanis blame the US for most of the problems their country is facing. Many of these (the rise of fundamentalism, the flood of weapons and drugs, large numbers of Afghans settling in the country, the corruption in the military) are believed to have started when Pakistan was used by the US in its proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That war won, the US abandoned Pakistan (and also Afghanistan), and later subjected it to punitive sanctions and embargoes, thereby accelerating the country’s economic decline. Then came the Bush-Cheney “war on terror”, and Pakistanis saw their government and military bullied and bribed into joining up. The operations the military was pushed into carrying out in the tribal areas created a serious security problem through the rise of the Pakistani Taliban, who not only fought the army in the border areas but also carried out terrorist bombings and attacks in cities inside the country.


Concerns about its nuclear weapons add to these suspicions. Existing as it does in a dangerous part of the world, Pakistan considers its nuclear capability the lynchpin of its security, and there is great sensitivity about any threat to it, especially within the military. The concern expressed by the US over the last few years regarding the “security” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons has created a great deal of suspicion as to its real motives. Many, including within the military, believe that the US is deliberately trying to destabilize Pakistan so as to take over its nuclear weapons. Such suspicions, and the strained relations for many years prior to 2001, deeply colour Pakistani attitudes towards the USA. It is no surprise that, in a recent poll released by a US polling organization, all of two percent of Pakistanis thought the US had good relations with Pakistan.


Since the commencement of the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been seen by the US mainly through the prism of that war ‒ as a necessary auxiliary whose role was to clean out the Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in its tribal areas. Pakistan’s limited attempts at compliance did not meet US needs but did create an indigenous Taliban insurgency. After some initial hesitation the military cleared out these insurgents from Swat, and is now undertaking an operation to do the same in South Waziristan. The US is hoping that this will be the prelude to similar operations in the rest of the tribal belt. This is just wishful thinking, as discussed below. Similarly, the comfort the US derives from reports and poll numbers regarding public opinion turning decisively against the Taliban insurgents is misplaced. People in Pakistan are opposed to the Taliban who attack them or their country, but they do not support the US “war on terror”: the poll referred to above found that 80% of Pakistanis were against cooperating with the US in this war.


Whatever strategy President Obama approves for the war in Afghanistan, it is likely to include an increased focus on the Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan. The resulting pressure on the Pakistanis to take effective military action to clean out and occupy the tribal areas where they are located is likely to create a crisis in Pakistan. Since its creation, Pakistan’s defence policy has been based on the major threat to its security coming from India, and the military has been positioned accordingly. Cleaning out and occupying all the tribal areas would require the long-term redeployment of such large forces that it would result in the denuding of the defences of the eastern border with India, and would effectively change the defence policy of the country. While President Zardari would be happy to oblige the USA, it is quite unlikely that the military command will agree to this; nor will the people accept it.


Pakistani inaction will compel the US to intensify its own attacks in the tribal areas using drones and, possibly, Special Forces. Such attacks (already resented as a violation of the country’s sovereignty) will trigger further retaliation by the tribes through increased bombings and attacks in Pakistan’s cities (since they hold Pakistan responsible for such US attacks). In addition, the United States will apply pressure on Pakistan by reducing or stopping the aid it gives to the country and the military. The impact of these measures will further inflame anti-American and nationalistic sentiments, and the present government will either be forced to change its pro-American policies or it will itself be changed.

The succeeding set-up, squeezed by the US and the West, will become increasingly responsive to the Islamist (i.e., anti-Indian, Islamic nationalist) sentiment in the country. As the situation in the country deteriorates, a direct Islamist takeover (most likely through the military) will become a real possibility. It would probably happen in stages, with the generals first intervening to forestall action by more radical elements in the military, but ultimately being unable to stop the tide. (Should the generals succumb to US pressure to move large forces to clear and occupy the rest of the tribal belt, the danger of such action by mid-level Islamist officers will become a much earlier possibility).


That is the peril that the United States and the West face in the region: not a nebulous al-Qaeda establishing bases in Taliban areas in Afghanistan but a nuclear-armed Islamist state in Pakistan. And the longer the inconclusive war in Afghanistan drags on, the closer it gets. Considering the hoops the West has been willing to jump through to prevent such a scenario becoming possible in Iran in the future, the very real possibility of this occurring in Pakistan is what President Obama and his advisers should be worrying about.


The pity of it is that it’s all so unnecessary! It is possible to engineer a political resolution in Afghanistan that would give the Taliban their space in the country but exclude al-Qaeda. It is possible to shore up Pakistan, and those institutions and elements in it that would be a bulwark against the Islamists. With the war in Afghanistan ended, it would be possible for Pakistan to re-establish control over its tribal areas, and prevent al-Qaeda from using them as a base. And it would be possible for the United States to spend the billions and billions of dollars saved on its own people instead of on military preparations and wars against other peoples. 

© F B Ali  (2009)

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37 Responses to Peril in Pakistan – FB Ali

  1. zanzibar says:

    FB Ali
    Thanks. I really enjoy reading your missives.
    It seems that this one is more dire than your last one which had some rays of hope.
    I am not as astute as you and many others who congregate here at Pat’s place when it comes to military and geopolitical affairs. From my naive perspective it seems that we are all on auto-pilot. And there is no political will to make the hard choices or for that matter any choice that attempts to solve real problems. It seems that we are moving slowly but inexorably towards a dark place. I am concerned that if the “political Islamists” as you called them gain strength within the Pakistani military and they force a governmental takeover that they may feel the necessity to strike out against Indian and US interests to vent their frustrations for their real and perceived injustices. I worry this could lead to enormous violence and destruction and more importantly destabilize our highly unstable global economic and geopolitical system.
    As someone more in tune with the financial world I see increasing instability in the economic sphere despite a significant runup in risk assets as financial institutions have been backstopped by taxpayers. There are many pressure points building since none of the underlying financial problems have been solved. All we have done is temporarily papered them over. So we have this unusual situation where even a slight tremor – either economically or geopolitically could lead to cascading breakdowns that would be hard to contain.
    In this context I have two questions. How far have the “political Islamists” progressed in their takeover of the leadership of the Pakistani military? Second, if they succeed in gaining power what would they want to accomplish – what changes would they make with respect to the governance of Pakistan and their relationship with India and the West?

  2. Great post and again indicates how the ignorance, hubris, and ego of US policymakers is leading down the wrong road. Use of largely Christian forces in a largely Islamic country is part of the problem and it is not the west so much as that that aggravates the situation. Islam is a WESTERN religion.
    Also India covers it up nicely but with over 100 million Muslims and a Praxelite “rebellion” impacting almost 1.2 of the country India is not very stable either. WELL does look like peace and prosperty will skip most of the 21st Century in S.Asia as well as many other parts of the world.

  3. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    FB Ali, All
    “As the situation in the country deteriorates, a direct Islamist takeover (most likely through the military) will become a real possibility.”
    Yes, indeed.
    And perhaps in Egypt also at some point whether following a Pak example/model or not? In both cases stronger ties with China and distancing from the US?
    Excellent and helpful analysis. It is logical to calculate that deteriorating conditions, and local perceptions of US imperialism and neocolonialism, would increase the appeal of Islamist ideology and political action.
    When I was in India this past Christmas, a retired general told me that he assessed the trend in Pakistan as moving from a traditional (conservative) Islam towards fundamentalism-Islamism. My friend is Muslim and was deeply concerned about the trend and its implications not only for Pakistan but also for India and the general region.
    Unfortunately, glancing at the press, it seems the US foreign policy elite whether “Democrat” or “Republican” is too delusional [hubris, exceptionalism] at this juncture to develop a serious policy that responds to ground reality there.
    Congress has been informed over the past several years on the esssentials of the FATA situation and the lack of an effective US policy, but…
    Here is a significant GAO assessment on US government policy prepared for Congress in 2008. This report follows up earlier reports to Congress on FATA and US policy.
    For those interested in Islamist ideology in South Asia (and elsewhere), as a start:

  4. YT says:

    Why didn’t they conjure up a Domino Theory for Moslem states back in yore? Beginnin’ to seem much more rational in contrast to the one ’bout ’em Communists.

  5. JJackson says:

    I love trolling through the data in these polls there is always something either surprising, funny or surreal – I leave you to decide in to which category these fall.
    My picks this time.
    Given the choice of a secular coalition led by the PPP or a religious coalition led by the PML-N – PML-N won 64% to 20%
    Given a list of political figures and asked who they liked/disliked the run away victors were the Sharif brothers but towards the other end of the table the current prime minister was beaten by one O bin Laden
    On the Mumbai bombings they were first told that the Pakistan group Lashkar-e-Taiba were being fingered in the media. Do you believe this – 75% No, 7% Yes. The follow up was Who then? A third did not know 42% India, 20% US no one else exceeded 1%
    On the main article I broadly agree apart from this bit
    “It is possible to engineer a political resolution in Afghanistan that would give the Taliban their space in the country but exclude al-Qaeda. It is possible to shore up Pakistan, and those institutions and elements in it that would be a bulwark against the Islamists.”
    It is all this engineering that worries me. I recall from another poll that when asked what was the greatest threat facing Pakistan the very clear winner was – The USA.
    Any person or party in Pakistan or Afghanistan that could be accused of getting into the running by dint of US support is going to do as well as an Israeli candidate supported by Iran or an Iranian candidate endorsed by Israel. They need to pick their own leaders and system of government after which offers of support may or may not be welcomed. Our ‘help’ to date has just made everything that much harder and less likely to be to our liking.

  6. Correction! My understanding is the Praxelites control almost 1/2 of central India politically running from North to South. Would welcome more accurate information correcting or supplementing my info.

  7. FB Ali says:

    Thank you for your appreciation. You ask: How far have the “political Islamists” progressed in their takeover of the leadership of the Pakistani military?
    Most of the army, like the bulk of the population, already are political Islamists, ie, Islamic nationalists with a distinct anti-Indian attitude. As in the case of nationalists in other countries there are variations in the degree to which they feel this and are influenced by it: there are ultra-nationalists, nationalists, and many who have more pressing issues to concern them. But when these troubles mount and there is no solution in sight, it is easy to blame them on outside forces threatening the country, and everyone starts becoming an ultra-nationalist. That is when things get dangerous.
    An Islamist government is likely to follow policies that it considers to be in the interests of Pakistan and of Muslim peoples everywhere. These would inevitably estrange them from the US and the West, and instead bring them much closer to China, and to other unaligned Muslim countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Malaysia. Relations with India are likely to be strained. It is unlikely that such a government would impose any fundamentalist form of Islam within the country; political Islamists are seldom also religious Islamists.

  8. omar says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but totally disagree with your idea that “stopping the war in afghanistan” is the way everything else will fall into place. Stopping the war in Afghanistan would be an option if that war was entirely a western creation, for the West to start and stop. That is absolutely NOT the case. There was a war going on BEFORE 9-11 and there will be a much bigger war AFTER NATO withdraws. I posted the following comment elsewhere and it might be relevant:
    Of course, we can still go back and debate why the US invaded Afghanistan in the first place? IF it was to “deny alqaeda a safe haven” then they did not do a great job, since the salafists just moved to Pakistan, where they have continued to plot and gather recruits and so on. If they are not a huge threat now, why were they a huge threat then? IF it was to show the salafists what happens when you mess with the big chief, then that lesson is not going to be learned when they actually defeat the great satan. If it was to send a message to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (both of whom had more to do with the salafist network than poor Afghanistan) then again the issue seems to have grown muddled over time. IF it was to blow some steam and make the rubble bounce so that New York firemen would feel better, then does the feelgood feeling last after the choppers take off from the roof with Karzai hanging from a rope ladder?
    But I agree, maybe time to admit mistakes and leave. As mildly leftist American liberal, I would be totally OK with that, except that I am from Pakistan and have a not-so-secret vested interest in avoiding the mayhem that I think will follow a US defeat. I dont even have a high opinion of the US ability to meddle in that area (“our man musharraf”) but I am thinking “lesser of two evils” and I am not even sure of that anymore.
    Anyway, what do you think will happen if the US admits a mistake and leaves? How will the withdrawal be handled? who will be left behind? What will happen to them? Will Pakistan and India start a proxy war in Afghanistan? Will the Saudis get bogged down in Yemen or will they double down by paying the ISI to blow up stuff in Iran and get into deeper trouble all around? Does the region need a supervisor? and who might that be?

  9. VietnamVet says:

    FB Ali,
    After observing pacification up close and personnel 40 years ago, I am totally skeptical of any scheme to force Western ideology on natives by force of arms. If peace was the real goal in Afghanistan, local police and good governance are hundred times more effective than armed American boys and girls.
    The trouble with occupations is that anyone who collaborates with the invader is a puppet of the foreigners. The trouble with war is that it is hard to control and like cancer inevitably metastasizes into neighboring countries.
    I agree with your excellent post. The one sure way to assure that fundamental Islamists take over the Pakistan government is to continue the war of occupation in Afghanistan.

  10. YT says:

    FB Ali,
    Re: “These would inevitably estrange them from the US and the West, and instead bring them much closer to China”
    I don’t know about this. Though Pakistan is on close ties with the chinese, I thought many moslems across the world are angered by what happened in the uighur (sinkiang) areas? Then again they’re turks aren’t they?

  11. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    You are referring to the so-called “Naxalites” who espouse some sort of a Maoist ideology.
    See Wiki here and note map.
    Security folks in India refer to a “Red Belt” or swath across India which the Naxalites have created. The Red Belt is extending its way westward. When I was in Punjab in December, it appeared local authorities had broken up a few cells in recent month so it is spreading.

  12. FB Ali says:

    You may have a vested interest in Pakistan, but you do not see things from the Pakistani perspective. Certainly, the previous post you reproduce is totally from an American point of view.
    It is the US war in Afghanistan, and the resulting US demands on Pakistan, that are creating these critical pressures and fissures in Pakistan, which are pushing the country towards an Islamist ‘solution’.
    The US (and NATO) can end this war now through a political arrangement, involving regional powers, that would meet their minimum security needs (which they can later also enforce, if necessary). Or, they can let it go on for a year or two until its unpopularity causes Congress to pull the plug on it; then it’ll surely end in a defeat. However, by then Pakistan could have become a much bigger security problem for them.
    No, Omar, the region does NOT need a “supervisor”. You’ve lived too long in the USA!

  13. FB Ali says:

    You raise an interesting issue about Egypt. The potential for those same basic dynamics to operate there is certainly present, but there are also modifying and dampening factors. I don’t have much direct knowledge, but it seems to me that Arab nationalism would be a strong impulse reinforcing a possibly weaker (compared to Pakistan) Islamic nationalism.
    A certain portion of the billions in US aid pouring in must trickle down to the masses, alleviating economic pressures to some degree. Also, even though the Palestine situation next door is a source of unhappiness, there are no direct pressures on the populace (as the Afghan war blowback is exerting in Pakistan) to aggravate the situation.
    Nevertheless, the passing of Mubarak will end the state of inertia that now prevails. Many currently quiescent forces and interests will come into play. The potential for radical change may become more real.
    The Islamist tide is rising not only in Pakistan and Egypt, but also throughout the Muslim world. As external pressures on these countries (and on Muslims everywhere) increase, as their internal problems and contradictions become more acute, more and more people will look with hope to a possible Islamist solution.

  14. @FB Ali,
    Again sir. Thanks for a very cogent, realistic and thoughtful analytical piece.
    I can only hope and pray someone in a high position of leadership (Jim Jones?) gets the opportunity to read the kind of posts and commentary associated with this Committee of Correspondence. Unfortunately, at my level and from my observation, the decision authorities and policymakers are completely oblivious the the obvious, fully enthralled in their own theories and the latest spin, hopelessly captured by the inertia of continuing the same failed programs and the personal rewards that thereby accrue to them as a result.
    I think they need to spend many, many hours in Section 60. Perhaps they will take a cue from their boss?

  15. curious says:

    “Making things worse, underlying all this are the ticking time bombs of rapid population growth.”
    “a critical disconnect between the government and the vast majority of the people, especially as regards the United States.”
    I think Pakistan is at the cross-road. A true national leader is needed to undo Zia Ul-haq’s policy. It was good for pakistan before, but now time has changed and continuing down this path will lead to dissolution of Pakistan as a state. A giant FATA, Somalia or Afghanistan if you will. A failed state where legal connection between arm force, legitimate government and the people cease to exist. It will be nothing but giant arena for warlords and political militias to run around inside.
    I posted the ‘too big to fail’ argument last year to point out the near collapse of Rupee. Had the pakistan currency fall, current series of country wide bombing campaign inside Pakistan would have destroyed it, nevermind being able to contain and roll back armed militias inside FATA. But that argument is not general and has shelf life.
    Pakistan is in real tangled mess, few items:
    1. Current trajectory of Israel/US-arab world Palestine conflict will destroy Saudi-Pakistan-US funding triangle. (With it stability of Pakistan budget, oil supply, and its ability to sustain and pay for its gigantic arms force. Eg.if Palestinian is granted independence by the UN, US refuses, Israel launches war by nuking Iran. Then what? You think all those rebel rousers with car bomb will let Pakistan sit in peace? Forget oil price and energy security for a moment.)
    2. India is in neocon mode. Israel is using India as the new leverage against islamic world. With that comes Iran and Palestine conflicts into the picture. Currently it’s only weapon market and political backing, but soon it will spill over to trade tension, military backing and manipulating regional politics to create diplomatic advantage. think Yemen. Pakistan is not in position to handle such complexity.
    3. US-China, Russia-India-China. This dance is complex. (IPI, gawdar, rupee exchange rate, China’s budget support, submarine politics are all only beginning.) When US-China finally break into real arm skirmish, Pakistan will be one of those place like Tibet, Kashmir or Nepal. Observe what recently happens in tawang, Nepal, jammu-kashmir. Pakistan will be just another arena where big power joust. (remember what afghanistan-soviet war was about!)
    4. US economy and dollar stability are in question. If dollar goes, rupee and pakistan economic foundation goes as well. Pakistan is utterly unprepared in the event of major global currency change. (Major banks trying to close swap arbitrage nearly destroyed pakistan currency, imagine central banks in asia goes to financial war mode trying to stabilise the global market while ditching dollar. Didn’t China refuse injecting cash during Bush era?)
    5. There is a brewing revolution in the Islamic world right now. Pakistan will be one of its flashing point.
    with that one can only guess how Pakistan domestic and internal politics will unfold.
    1. massive inconsistency in pakistan legal structure, specially when it comes to stance in religious laws, public rethoric, actual foreign policy, how the major institutions conducted itself. All these are not sustainable.
    2. What will ISI/Pakistan arms force do in the event of rupee collapsing. (who is going to sustain their pay and programs?)
    3. when unemployment hit 20-30% in Pakistan and inflation hit 2-300% (Think Brazil in the 80’s) How will Islamic populist parties behave.
    4. Can Pakistan afford operating and maintaining its weapons? (Hey Soviet submarines were roaming the globe in the 80s. a decade later it was rusting)
    5. Pakistan is prime target for revolution/regime change. It is infinitely ready for a big blow up. some minor taliban gang suddenly experience real leap in capability, designing an insurrection in pakistan is not unimaginable.
    At any rate, Pakistan cannot keep using conflict, too big to fail, the enemy of your enemy is us-your friend, etc. The tangled web has wound itself so tight it is about to strangle Pakistan as a state.
    If thing doesn’t change pronto, Pakistan will become a “real” failed state. It won’t happens slowly over decades, but when the storm finally hapens, it will takes weeks to make current arrangement forever changed. Zia ul-haq policy is not sustainable. It was for the 70’s geopolitical climate.
    and btw, Pakistan illiteracy rate is ~40%, 2 million afghan refugees and ranked 141 in human development index. All big index is pointing down.

  16. Arun says:

    As far as most of the world except the US is concerned, Islamists took over Pakistan with Zia-ul-Haq.

  17. Arun says:

    FYI, Omar.
    NewsYemen: “Pakistani fighters are helping the Houthi rebels with their conflict against Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya TV reported, quoting Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi as saying: “The way the Houthi militias operate and the amount of money they spend on the conflict make the involvement of foreign powers almost a certainty.”
    “The Yemeni intelligence is investigating the involvement of external parties in supporting the Houthi insurgency,” al-Qirbi said. “This is a conspiracy to destroy Yemen and the Houthis will pay dearly for that.” ”

  18. Thanks, Clifford for the correction!

  19. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    FB Ali,
    Thanks for your response.
    It seems to me that there is a residual discredited social science element underlying recent and present US policy formulation. During the 1950s and 1960s, some influential social scientists (political scientists and sociologists), such as Daniel Lerner, advanced the notion that “modernization” would inevitably and properly lead to the decline of religion (mainly Islam) in societies and to the rise of secularism.
    “…American modernization buffs, both in government and academia, had for years argued that religion, and especially Islam, was a barrier to socioeconomic progress. In recognition of this, they persuaded themselves that most modernizing Muslim governments and peoples saw Islam as a vestigial, nonregulatory force, applicable at most to personal status matters. Many reputable scholars, including some from the Middle East, who should have known better, derided Islam as irrelevant to nation building and chose to ignore it in modeling development plans for the Middle East states….We would be well advised to recognize more than we have in the past, that Islam, whether militarily assertive or seemingly passive, is omnipresent and represents a force with which we will have to come to terms”…..
    [US Ambassador Herman Eilts, 1984, in foreward to John Esposito’s Islam and Politics, 4th ed. 1998. Eilts was our Ambassador to Egypt.]
    Seems to me that present US counterinsurgency strategy not to mention our general Afghanistan “nation building” policy drinks heavily from the discredited well of 1950s and 60s political science and sociology. IMO, the underlying ethos of Holbrooke’s team and present US South Asia policy, for example, reflects this discredited “modernization”theory.
    It does not surprise that the “pro-Israel” lobby has an interest in keeping this discredited modernization theory in circulation “inside the Beltway.”

  20. Brett J says:

    Thanks for the analysis, FB Ali. The complexities and potential flashpoints of Pakistan are clearly, woefully underacknowledged.
    As noted by others, your mentioning of the Pakistani Army as a risk point is notable – the (uncommon) times that the news’ analysis goes deep enough, the armed forces are often shown as a rare point of stability in an unstable Pakistan.

  21. VietnamVet says:

    Being educated in Washington State Public Schools in the 50’s and early 60’s, I am firmly in the “modernization” camp. The main pillars of modernization are good governance and a better life for its citizens.
    However, what is happening to Pakistan also reflects what is happening in the United States. Pakistan is adjacent and involved in Afghanistan where the US Government decided to kick some Muslim Ass after 9/11. Also, thanks to the rise of “Greed is Good. Government is Evil” ideology, the US Federal Government has ceased to consider what is best for its citizens but is only intent in satisfying the demands of its Corporate and NGO Stakeholders (Whoever pays for the politicians reelection campaigns).
    Examples; the NY Federal Reserve Bank’s shenanigans with AIG counterparty payments or fighting two unwinnable wars of occupation in the heartland of Islam.

  22. FB Ali says:

    “Islamists took over Pakistan with Zia-ul-Haq”.
    That makes a good propaganda slogan but is poor history. In the 21 years after Zia, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Parvez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari have ruled Pakistan. Hardly Islamists! Except for Musharraf all the others came into power through fair elections.

  23. zanzibar says:

    FB Ali
    Thanks for your response to my questions.
    As you pointed out in your note Pakistan’s birth was with an anti-India experience and that sentiment has continued to date. So on that score there is no change.
    Do you believe as Islamic nationalism increases in Pakistan there will be a propensity to increase cross-border activities in Kashmir and other border regions as well as more spectacular events like the recent landing of gunmen in Mumbai?
    How would you think India would respond if that happens? It seems to me that India has more to lose in any military conflict since there would be a flight of investment capital jeopardizing their economic growth story. Consequently they may be forced to be more restrained. Would that not then just embolden the anti-India Islamists to increase their attacks to get the Pakistani people to focus away from their domestic problems? Where do you think the breaking point is for a much wider conflagration?

  24. VV,
    Good government and better life are certainly worthy goals. These goals can be met in Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, diverse multi-confessional, etc. societies.
    My reference and Ambassador Eilts’ reference was to those social scientists, like Daniel Lerner, who saw/see Islam, the religion, as something retrogressive per se and standing against “modernization.”
    Put another way, their emphasis was/is on a materialist development model and did not take proper account of the religious factor in the Islamic world. In effect, they viewed/view material progress as necessarily eliminating (anachronistic) religion on the way to the “workers paradise.”

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    Eagle in the Mountains writes –
    “It seems to me that one of the main problems in analysing the situation
    in Af-Pak is to figure out the proper framework within which to do the
    F. B. Ali, for whose writings I have great respect, continues a
    narrative of the US intervening in a regional struggle involving Muslim
    nations whose elites are uncomfortable with the intervention for reasons
    either of religious Islam or of political Islam (a distinction that I
    find a shade difficult concerning Islam, but that is not to disparage
    the analysis). In Pakistan this elite also has an axe to grind with
    India for historical among other reasons.
    However in such analyses,apart from Professor Kiracofe’s passing
    reference to China, there is no reference to possible broader American
    goals in the region nor to the broader interests and interventions of
    other regional actors.
    What I mean is this: While the US may have originally gone into
    Afghanistan by reason of 9/11, the question arises whether the foreign
    policy elite in Washington will leave without having considered broader
    American interests in Central Asia, Iran and China. For example,
    someone has claimed that the reason that the US is now supporting
    India’s nuclear program is to put pressure on China from below. I don’t
    know whether this is true or not. Another example would be the issue of
    the proximity of Afghanistan to China on the one hand and gas-rich
    Central Asia on the other. Certainly remarks of the Chinese ambassador
    to Pakistan indicate that China is uncomfortable with large numbers of
    American troops so close to China.
    Moreover, I understand that China played a direct role in the
    construction of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, and that Chinese technicians
    still play a role in the operation of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment,
    precisely for the reason that a nuclear Pakistan puts pressure on
    nuclear India’s flank. Again, I don’t know whether this is true, but
    for the reader who puts Brigadier Ali’s analysis side by side with
    Seymour Hersh’s recent discussion in the New Yorker of the safety of the
    Pakistani nuclear weapons there is a danger that the discussion will
    take on an air of unreality: if the Chinese are directly involved with
    the Pakistani bomb, then perhaps they are helping the Pakistanis play a
    shell game with the Americans and the Indians. That would suggest that
    any attempts by the US to ‘safeguard’ Pakistani nuclear weapons would be
    fruitless–precisely because it is not in the perceived interests of
    some major players that they be ‘safeguarded’.
    I wonder if some of the more learned members of the Committee of
    Correspondence would comment on these issues.
    As a postscript, I was hoping to pose another question to Brigadier Ali,
    from another thread: Does he have any information on the role of Sufism
    in the Af-Pak conflict? I am confused because the emphasis is usually
    on what the ‘Salafis’ are doing, yet the traditional Sufis seem to have
    played a role in the Afghan wars in the Soviet period and the Deobandi,
    presumably the heart of the Taliban, accept Sufi practice. I was
    wanting to study this matter a little further.
    Eagle in the Mountains”

  26. Charles I says:

    Nice piece FB, sadly Crooks and Fools redux it seems.
    From Counterpunch Tariq Ali gives us this vignette, the Pakistani Army op as seen from inside Shamshatoo refugee camp in Peshawar:
    “On 4 November I received an email from Peshawar:
    Thought I’d let you know that I just got a call from a former Gitmo prisoner who lives in Shamshatoo camp and he told me that this morning at around 10 a.m. some cops and military men came and raided several homes and shops and arrested many people. They also killed three innocent schoolchildren. Their jinaza [funeral] is tonight. Several people took footage of the raid from their cell-phones which I can try to get a hold of. The funeral of the three children is happening as I’m typing.
    How could this end well?”
    Eagle in the Mountains, you may be rewarded by reading Ahmed Rashid’s books, one detailing, inter alia, U.S. deal-making with the pre-9/11 Taliban with a view to gaining the upper hand in strategic oil & gas pipeline routing competition, and the latter on some of the fruits thereof. They are both detailed documented studies of this crucial arena and its protagonists.
    Taliban : militant Islam, oil and fundamentalism in central Asia, Yale university Press, 2000, there’s a 2003 audoibook editon available from Blackstone Audiobooks; and
    Descent into chaos: the U.S. and the failure of nation building in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, Viking 2008.
    These two detailed books can begin to address some of your questions about people, religion and politics in the region.
    Surely somebody’s plan/dream/jihad is for an expanded war on the Afghan/Pak border and/or in the F.A.T.A./tribal reagions leading to the dissolution of the present Pakistani state and the rise of Pashtunistan, all further bloodying the U.S.
    Imagining good governance or security being delivered to Afghanistan, or Paksitan for that matter, via Nato is surely by now possible only by the most deluded among us. Ergo, the mission(s) are now about something else – terror, oil, Nato, the great Game, Pak nukes, Israeli settlements, take your pick, mine’s all the above – or our leaders don’t really have a clue either and are just making it up as we go along.
    The older I get, the more I read, the less irreconcilable all of these occurring at once becomes, many oars pulled in many directions by many seen and unseen hands, some in league and many not. Only certain thing seems to be that current centers will not hold, and are currently held by crooks and fools.

  27. curious says:

    “Since its creation, Pakistan’s defence policy has been based on the major threat to its security coming from India, and the military has been positioned accordingly. Cleaning out and occupying all the tribal areas would require the long-term redeployment of such large forces that it would result in the denuding of the defences of the eastern border with India, and would effectively change the defence policy of the country.”
    What is the point of defending border with India when taliban erode Pakistan from inside out? (attacking government facilities, killing civilian administrators, setting up alternate government and justice system, dealing drugs, launching military attack into other countries tangling pakistan in conflict beyond government control. Taliban is De facto eliminating state of Pakistan. and when they don’t like what state of Pakistan is doing they start blowing up buildings, army base, ISI office, etc.)
    Maybe this is a case of protecting religious kins and advancing cause of Islam. But huge number of people in this area can’t read, has no access to government service such as health or judicial system, and their quality of life go down year after year. I doubt most can even read Quran, let alone know what “Islamic” means.
    What is the point of state of Pakistan then? Clearly it cannot improve its citizen’s life nevermind defending islam. Is it about picking up a fight with India? I realise this is gross simplification of complex history between the two countries, but what has Pakistan gain meaningfully from the 4-5 decades of conflict? National pride?
    On top of that compared to other Islamic countries, Pakistan started off with far more and isn’t exactly the worst victim of external circumstances from all WWII post colonial countries. It doesn’t have the curse of oil (saudi, Iraq, iran, nigeria), never been a target of extremely violent regime change (Iran, indonesia), didn’t get bombed to smitherin (Iraq, afghanistan), never a target of currency attack (malaysia, indonesia), never been in long and severe trade embargoes (Iraq, iran). Invaded (Iraq) Doesn’t have the worst demographic (nigeria, indonesia). All of Pakistan major problems can be said largely result from decission made within its own government. (yes, comparatively speaking even considering coup and constitutional suspension.)
    And Pakistan still has the lowest GDP per capita and growth, with the lowest major indicator number except against some african countries. Nobody can say any colonized country is more fucked than vietnam (similar western colonisation period as pakistan, about 20 years difference . nearly destroyed from war of independence, then massive decade long modern conventional war killing some 5% of population followed by decades of embargo), yet there they are bigger GDP per capita and triple the growth rate with 90% literacy rate.
    So clearly something is wrong with what Pakistan is doing right?

  28. Arun says:

    The peril the West faces is the permanent burden of a Pakistan that threatens to go “Islamist with nukes” unless constant transfusions of cash and arms are not maintained.
    Trying to be of strategic importance to America has been Pakistan’s modus operandi since Independence, if you believe Margaret Bourke-White (remember her?)
    “What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?
    “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah, “is not so very far away.””

  29. Pat Lang,
    As one of the not very learned, but one with with a little time on his hands, it seems to me that Eagle is addressing the (possible) crux of the matter of Afghanistan. I recall making a few remarks on this C of C a few months ago, the tenor of which was: what, if any, are the real reasons that the U.S. is spending money, resources, manpower, and prestige in operations and occupations in Asia? The changing array of reasons, preserve our way of life, protect us, find Osama bin Laden, spread freedom, etc., have never adequately explained the massive effort.
    Geopolitics and the control of energy resources in Central Asia and the Near East are much more plausible as reasons for the whole thing. If not, and in my opinion, the whole thing has been idiotic. By which I mean that the huge effort since 2001 has been expended for a policy grounded in cliches and mistaken views of the national interest.

  30. I would add to my previous, that I wasn’t addressing whether control of Central Asia was a proper aim of U.S. policy. That woud be another discussion. Also, Pepe Escobar, writing in the Asia Times, published a series of articles about, what he called, “Pipelinestan” on the subject of control of those resources and the routing of the pipelines.

  31. Anwar Ahmed says:

    I came accros “These posts” only today. I would not like to add any thing at this late stage of debate except that “West” can stay and fight/occupy for another 100 years.Nothig will be achieved in Afghanistan but Pakistan will disappear.FB Ali”s post is brilliant timely overview. Anwar

  32. FB Ali says:

    While a political Islamist government in Pakistan would be very wary of India, it does not necessarily follow that it will provoke India by fostering terrorist attacks in Kashmir or India. So much depends on the type of people in charge. In India, too, there are religious fundamentalists who are very anti-Pakistan; they are also represented in the Indian military (a colonel is accused of having blown up a train carrying Pakistani visitors).
    Where there is suspicion and hostility, miscalculations can often occur. When the players have nuclear weapons, these can be deadly.

  33. FB Ali says:

    Eagle in the Mountains
    Thank you for your comments.
    The big difference between religious Islamists and political Islamists is that the main aim of the former is to impose their brand of religion on a population; other goals, which are primary for the politicals, are secondary for them and mostly receive lip service. The principal goals for the political Islamists are to strengthen the political, economic and military power of the Muslim world; religious observance is not a big deal in their book. However, both types are strongly against the encroachment of Western (or other foreign) power and influence in the Muslim world, and would be prepared to fight it ‒ as they are currently doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    This difference in goals is what provides the US with the opportunity to end the Afghan war through a political settlement, under which foreign troops would leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban would get an appropriate area in which they could run their own political/religious system. With such an arrangement their objectives would not require them to continue the war against the West, and it is quite unlikely that they would risk their rule by allowing al-Qaeda to operate in their territory for this purpose (knowing what happened last time they allowed this).
    My understanding is that the Chinese gave some assistance earlier on in the development of the Pakistan bomb, but do not play any role in the safeguarding or deployment of these weapons now. The Pakistan military is quite capable of safeguarding its own nuclear assets – from the US or any other outsiders.
    I do not think Deobandi or Sufi beliefs or practices, as such, have much practical bearing on these conflicts, past and present. Pakistanis have always practised a fairly moderate form of Islam, influenced by some Sufi beliefs and, in some areas, old, indigenous practices. They have no affinity for Taliban beliefs and practices, which are based on the strict, fundamentalist type of Wahabi/Deobandi Islam. This does have practical significance, and explains why Pakistani public opinion changed so dramatically against the local Taliban when it became generally known what type of Islam they sought to impose.

  34. FB Ali says:

    I would invite everyone’s attention to an extraordinary essay by Ambassador Richard R. Polk on Juan Cole’s blog today (Nov 22). It examines the choices available to the United States in Afghanistan, and recommends the only option that will not make matters worse (at home, too!).
    I have not come across another study of the issue with this depth of comprehension. I would highly recommend it.
    The essay is at:

  35. Patrick Lang says:

    FB Ali
    The military art is the art of the possible.
    In a perfct world, I, too, would simply leave Afghanistan to its own devices, but this is not a perfect world. Ambassador Polk and Juan Cole should know that it is not politically possible on the world scene for the United States to abandon Afghanistan to the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Indians or whomever.
    Absent the ability to achieve that ideal state, a realistic strategy must be adopted. pl

  36. Mateen M. Mohajir says:

    Dear Brig F B Ali,
    Assalam o Alaekum.
    It was a pleasure to go through this very composed, temperate and cogent write-up.
    Just two points:
    1) The conflict-resolution process that President Obama seems to be preparing, may be a bit disagreeable to our Military. However, in the long run, it ius likely to be acceptable and should bring about a semblance of governance in Afghanistan.
    2) Pakistan has the essential wherewithal to perform as a ‘wunderkind’ – two qualifiers [caveats] being in place: A. Pakistan Army accepts the Obama/McChrystal strategy, provided that attendant benefits of stability accrue and Indians play ball in Pakistan’s court; B. Pakistanis are given guarantees [long shot!!] by US-Russia-China-UK that India and Iran will create conducive conditions for the civil society of Pakistan to successfully get the State/Government/Polity that was broadly spelt out by Jinnah…
    About two years ago, you had written a very open-minded article on the essence of Islam: it was really thought-provoking. In my archives now…
    If you have the time, inclination and patience to go through some writings of mine, it will be an honour.
    If desired, I can email them to you, if you wish to give me your email address.
    Thank you.
    I had the privilege of being in your Command [6 Armd Div Arty] as Adjt/GPO in 1st SP, during the desultory days of 1971 conflict in Sialkot Sector…No flattery intended, but you were an inspiration to us youngsters [I belong to the Nawaita Family – same as Sayeed Qadir (FF)]
    Warmest regards.
    Brig Mateen M. Mohajir [Retd]
    Email: OR
    You can also google my IDs: < MateenMM >
    < Mateen M. Mohajir >
    < Brig Mateen M. Mohajir >

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