The Intricacies of Political Life in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Is Islam Prominent?

Riffing off of Dr Delacroix’s piece on Afghanistan, and reading through the comments, I thought it’d be a good idea to “go with the flow” (as they say in Santa Cruz). Anatol Lieven has a must-read piece in the National Interest on the US government’s failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among the gems:

I have been struck, both in the United States and in Britain, by the tendency of officers and officials to speak and write as if protecting the lives of troops from Taliban attack is the first duty of the U.S. and British states. In fact, it is the duty of soldiers to risk their lives to protect the civilian populations of their countries, and the only valid reason why the U.S. and British militaries are in Afghanistan at all is to protect their fellow citizens from terrorism. If that equation is reversed, and the needs of the war in Afghanistan are actually worsening the terrorist threat to the U.S. and British homelands, then our campaign there becomes not just strategically but morally ludicrous.

Indeed, one of the most common leaps of logic that neoconservatives and Leftists make in regards to foreign policy and the rule of law is the role of militaries in society. If there is to be a role for the state, it should be limited to maintaining a domestic court system, providing for the defense of the state, and signing trading pacts with other polities. Anything more than this results in things like exploitative generational gaps, trouble paying the bills, and terrorist attacks.

Lieven continues, explaining the geopolitical situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Equally important, the industrialists […] are by their very nature an antirevolutionary force, fearful of the threat to their wealth and power from Islamist revolution. Both classes are also attached to Pakistan as a state by strong motives of collective interest. The industrialists depend on the existence of Pakistan for their very well-being. If the country were to fall apart, their industries would be ruined.

Indeed, an Islamist revolution and the collapse of Pakistan are synonymous. This is a crucially important point, both because it is true and because enough Pakistanis know that it is true. This means an Islamist revolt that overthrows the existing state is not impossible, but it is highly unlikely—and only feasible if accompanied by a mutiny within the military. And it is simply impossible that such an uprising could lead to the establishment of an effective and united Islamist radical government, whether of the Iranian or the Taliban variety. Pakistan is too weak for the first and too strong for the second.

In Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement was able to seize control of a relatively powerful state apparatus and, equally important, to fuse religious ideology with extremely strong and popular traditions of Iranian nationalism. Pakistan as a whole possesses no such nationalism, and while Punjab and the military have held the country together, they have never been remotely powerful enough to impose Pakistani nationalism on the very different traditions of the other provinces. On the other hand, Pakistan is a much more developed and complicated country than Afghanistan, which the Taliban were able to conquer in the years after 1994, albeit in the teeth of strong resistance from the non-Pashtun ethnicities.

If the Pakistani state collapsed, the result would be not successful national revolution but a whole set of horrible local ethnic wars, in which much of the country would quickly be reduced from its present just-about-bearable level of existence to that of Somalia or the Congo. Once the current regime fell, it would be impossible to put it back together again because India would almost certainly make it its business to prevent Pakistan’s reconstitution by supporting local ethnic groups in their struggle for continued independence.

Read the whole thing, but grab a cup of coffee first. I have taken pains on this blog to explain to readers the difference between Islam and Islamism (“Islam versus Islamism“, “Religion or Institutions“, “Islamism versus Islam“) but I fear, especially after reading the comments section of Dr. Delacroix’s most recent piece, that I may be screaming at a brick wall. Too many people seem to know, like the Pakistanis, that they are right about a culture that they know next to nothing about. That is a sign of barbarism, not enlightenment.

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