The reality of radical Islam

…is that it doesn’t accept compromises

It is one thing for the United States to attempt to recycle a strategy that worked in Iraq and consider applying it in Afghanistan. As Joshua Foust argued in the July 2008 issue of Pragati, that model is unlikely to yield comparable results in Afghanistan because of differences in socio-economic structure, historical paths and geo-political neighbourhoods. While we hope that it listens to good sense, you can’t deny the Obama administration a chance to learn by making big mistakes.

But it is entirely another thing to provide a kind of intellectual cover for what is essentially an exercise in wishful pragmatism by advancing an argument—as Fareed Zakaria has done—that the world should learn to live with radical Islam, because “not all (radical Islamists) advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world—in fact, most do not.” Actually, this argument is invalidated by his very next sentence—when Mr Zakaria argues that “no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the past 10 years—including 9/11.” It is breathtaking to see a person of Mr Zakaria’s intelligence engage in such poor sophistry: by his logic, even Osama bin Laden has not participated in any significant terrorist attack over the last decade either.

The fundamental mistake Mr Zakaria makes is to conflate Islam and radical Islam. He is right when he argues that emphasising “the variety of groups, movements and motives within (the Muslim) world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West.” But the sentence is illogical—for if there are a variety of groups, movements and motives then there can be a battle between the West and some of them. And there is. It exists regardless of whether the West wants it or not—because radical Islam defines itself by that battle. How then can the rest—and this includes moderate Muslim societies—learn to live with it?

Mr Zakaria points to the fact that radical Islamic parties are currently on the wane in Nigeria—one solitary example that is an exception to the norm—to build a case that this will invariably be the case elsewhere in the world. It’s hard to believe that radical Islamic parties (as opposed to moderate Islamic parties operating in institutional democracies) will relinquish power once they are voted out of office. To believe this would be to ignore the observed fact that radical Islamists define political success in being able to set-up a revolutionary state like Iran, the Mullah Omar-led Afghanistan or Pakistan’s Swat. It’s almost always a one-way street. What about Nigeria? Well, it isn’t over and time will tell.

That’s not all. Mr Zakaria suggests that the world can live with most radical Islamists as the latter do not pose an external threat to their neighbours and to the West. Well a case can be made that what radical Islamists do within their borders—in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan (a word missing from Mr Zakaria’s essay)—is itself a threat to international security. But it is hard to find a radical Islamist state that does not have an external agenda. So what caused Mullah Omar’s Taliban to host al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups? Why does Iran support Hizbollah? Why did Pashtuns and Pakistani Punjabis fight the jihad in India, Iraq and elsewhere?

Pick a radical Islamist organisation. It is likely to have one or both goals—territorial and religious-ideological. It is the mixing of the two that makes compromise impossible.

Mr Zakaria’s arguments are dangerous because they undermine the very internal opposition to radical Islam within the Muslim world that he claims the West should work with. Once the United States begins to negotiate with the ‘good’ Taliban, the moderate Afghans will be done for. So why is it that the surviving moderate Awami National Party (ANP) leaders can’t venture out of their homes in Swat? Because the Pakistani government struck a deal with the Taliban. Those who are opposed to the radical Islamist agenda should do the opposite. It is understandable why the Pakistani government won’t do the correct thing, but why should the United States bolster its strategic adversary?

The truth is that you can’t stop worrying and learn to live with radical Islam. It has to be countered and contained, and ultimately defeated. The tactical exigencies of the war in Af-Pak, important as they are, should not be allowed to cloud our understanding of the big picture. While it is important to prove Mr bin Laden wrong when he “constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement”, it is important to do so without doing Mr bin Laden’s job for him.

Related Post: Why India must export its Islam

37 thoughts on “The reality of radical Islam”

  1. Nitin

    Good analysis of Fareed Zakaria’s pathetic, apologetic piece.
    Good dhimmi form from Newsweek

    In particular, I like the following:
    > The truth is that you can’t stop worrying and learn to live with radical Islam. It has to be countered and contained, and ultimately defeated.

    Agree completely. As a direct corollary, Pakistan, the reigning supermodel of radical islam, has to be contained, quartered and decimated.

    Not ‘reformed’ or ‘rejuvenated’ with instruments such as cash and McArthur plans.

    Doing that, will ,like the famous sanskrit saying warns us, will only give the cobra nourishment to make more venom with which to bite you.

    Shift in position? If so, a welcome one!

  2. AG,

    There’s a difference between an ideology and a state. There can be no compromises with some ideologies.

    In the Pakistan case, the supporting the state with a MacArthur plan is a way to contain the radical Islamist ideology, and prevent the state from falling to that ideology, in whole or in parts.

  3. Nitin

    Evrey state is built on an ideological foundation.
    Pakistan’s foundation is radical islam.

    Let’s remember the US first totally decimated Japan *before* it attempted any McArthur plan.

    You have to shut down the system before you install a new OS!

  4. @nitin,

    I agree this is the most atrocious article from Zakaria. Especially because of all people, *he* should know.

    Guess he is a product and manifestation of the Washington set. He has to sell the flavour of the month.

    Meanwhile Obama has announced that he will negotiate with the good Taliban. Wonder why he doesn’t negotiate with the good Irani first.

  5. This is all a bit hilarious. You are substituting a variant of Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations” theory for actual realism in international relations. States and great powers couldn’t give a fig about “radical Islam” or any other radical religion. They will use them when they need to, fight them when necessary and ignore them when they can. The US has happily allied itself with the Saudi regime which is ideologically far worse than any of the ones you have cited and this is a relationship which both sides are comfortable with and enjoy profitably – why should this change from their point of view.

    Zakaria’s point (I refuse to read anything by that ridiculous hack) has been made by much more serious academics, if in less ideological terms. Oliver Roy pointed out in his book “The Failure of Political Islam” that Islamic regimes when voted into power tend to become unpopular very rapdily and are unable to implement their ideological agenda decisively without a massive use of coercive force which is not sustainable outside the short-run. Zakaria’s examples are faulty; he should have used Iran where already for the last 15 years any legitimacy endowed by the Revolution (itself a revolt of leftist parties, workers, secular intellectuals and students rather than Mullahs – they came much later to hijack the revolution) is fading rapidly. The Islamists can’t even win elections without first removing all the reformists from the slate and then skewing resources in favour of conservative candidates. All indications are that the next reformist candidate that runs will win.

    The Taliban regime is a farcical example; we all know that it was propped by my sheer force and would not have succeeded without Pakistani backing. It was not a democratic regime, it was not a legitmate regime, I don’t even think it was a particularly popular regime. Which is one of the reasons the Americans will love to reach a deal with them – if you don’t realise this, then you are no “realist” in IR terms.

    “Radical Islam” has only been successful when it has been able to tap into causes which are more broadly popular than itself. These are mainly nationalist causes such as the Afghan resistance to the Soviets, Chechen resistance to Russia, Kashmiri separatism, Moro separatism and of course Palestine. I recommend you read the work of intelligence analysts like Michael Scheuer who in “Imperial Hubris” outline very clearly what the aims of Islamist militants are and how they can be defeated. These can be seen entirely within a realist framework. Bin Laden for example has very clear realist aims, he wants the US out of Saudi Arabia where he regards their presence as sacrilege and he wants the Palestine conflict to be resolved in the favour of the Palestinians. I don’t think he could give a shit about anything else outside what he would see as the Muslim world. He certainly had no problem taking US money, training and backing to go and fight the proxy war in Afghanistan; and he certainly didn’t do anything to challenge the US until the Saudis invited US troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Gulf war.

    As for “Radical Islamist states” Iran is a poor example imo. It has never invaded anyone for decades, indeed it was invaded by a SECULAR Iraqi state with US backing leading to over a 1 million killed in the bloodiest conflict involving Muslim countries. The proxies of Hizbollah wouldn’t have any popularity if it wasn’t for the fact that the Lebanese non-Christians know that they are the only force that can resist an Israeli invasion (the lebanese army tends to run away, while the Phalangists join the Israelis). As for Afghanistan, under the Taliban it was basically a dependency of Pakistan and Pakistan’s agenda is also understandable in realist terms. It can’t reconcile itself to the loss of 2/3 of Kashmir and its military elite has done everything since Partition to reverse this state of affairs. The soldiers and policymakers who have devised this mistaken approach of “strategic depth” are not radical Islamists, though like the Americans in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan in the 80s, they have utilised Islamist militants to do their dirty work for them. Even if Pakistan converts to some brand of spiritual Sufism and abandons miltant Islam, this inability to reconcile itself to what it regards as its right will not disappear and neither will its antipathy to India. For this to change there has to be a fundamental re-thinking of the basis of Pakistani nationalism and its willingness to compromise.

  6. Conrad

    States and great powers couldn’t give a fig about “radical Islam” or any other radical religion. They will use them when they need to, fight them when necessary and ignore them when they can.

    Indeed. But if they read the situation wrong they’ll use them when they ought to fight them, fight them when they ought to ignore them, and ignore them when they ought to use them.

    Realism is a prescription for a course of treatment. My critique of Mr Zakaria’s essay is a discussion on the diagnosis.

  7. Conrad,
    Actually from a realist perspective there would be many good reasons for the US to stop backing the Saudi regime, right? Considering how much time and money the US is spending fighting Saudi-backed Sunni Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

  8. Conrad Barwa,

    That was a brilliant comment.

    However, I understand a bit about Nitin’s reservations on dealing with radical Islamists. I prefer to use the term “political Islamists” to refer to these group of people.

    For political Islamists, their views on nationalism or politics are defined in terms of the prism of Islam. Their target is to conquer the world for the sake of Islam. These breed of people refuse to acknowledge any other nationalism, and murder people who owe their allegiance to something else (for example linguistic nationalism).

    South Asia especially has seen a lot of these types of political murders : in Kashmir, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc. The state of Pakistan is formed on the basis of political Islam, and hence is engaged in a continuous tussle with India.. The aims of political Islam extend beyond the scope of current conflict zones. For example, even if Kashmir is resolved, the conflict will move towards Lucknow or Hyderabad.

    Pakistan’s bone of contention is not just about the 2/3rds of Kashmir that is under Indian control. It is something deeper : it wants to lay claim to the heritage of Mughal rule and Islamic heritage of India, which means it wants to occupy proper Indian territory (landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort etc). These objectives are seen in the manifestos of Islamic terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, nutty television programs such as that of Zaid Hamid, or sometimes even in Pak military and intelligence brochures.

    The only solution to political Islam is to make Islam non-political, that is to encourage secularism in Islamic countries. Specifically for Pakistan, this solution means it has to be turned into a secular state. Nothing short of that will offer peace for India.

    Iran is a counter-example for my theory. This has probably to do with the Shia version of Islam that is followed in Iran, which has less political objectives than the Wahhabi / Hanafi version of Sunni political Islam.

  9. South Africa never invaded another country. From Malaan to Verwoerd to Botha, none really cared about what happened outside the borders of their Apartheid world. Should the rest of the world have learnt to live with Apartheid? Should the world have learnt to live with the Nazis and the Holocaust, if Hitler’s Germany had not invaded its neighbors?

    Who cares whether the “State” did or did not give a fig about religion? How about asking the women who live everyday in fear of being buried alive up to their necks in a soccer field, and then beheaded or stoned to death by the “State”? How about asking the blogger facing death penalty from the for blasphemy? Or the apostate who decides to renounce Islam to marry the Bahai girl next door?

    Is it me or is Realism the latest word of god in international relations?

  10. Nitin
    “It is understandable why the Pakistani government won’t do the correct thing, but why should the United States bolster its strategic adversary?”

    — I find it rather amazing that thinking people like your goodself, in possession of great reasoning power & intelligence, struggling to unravel the seemingly clandestine-yet obvious motives of the United States…

    “While it is important to prove Mr bin Laden wrong when he “constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement”, it is important to do so without doing Mr bin Laden’s job for him.”

    — The very act of trying to prove Mr. Laden wrong is counter-productive & self-defeating , cause he’s spot-on – that what you term as radical Islam is in fact the ‘factual Islam’ as it is!
    Moderation in Islam is a tactical tool. Sufism is a 4000yr old religion – persecution made it run off from in it’s land of origin, whatever residue of it is struggling to survive in India / Bangladesh is also breathing it’s last, courtesy the heavy Saudi funding for wahhabism & in Pakistan as you stated-“It is understandable….”

  11. Nitin,

    Indeed. But if they read the situation wrong they’ll use them when they ought to fight them, fight them when they ought to ignore them, and ignore them when they ought to use them.

    Perhaps, but we must decide what their aims are. What we, as individuals want states and great powers to do, will be very different from how these actors see their own interests and what they do. The major problem in international relations has been that the interests of these actors has been defined in a very restricted way that revolves around a tussle for power and a desire to preserve national territorial boundaries. IMO these forces have not been beneficial for the international community or for many of the individuals living in conflict zones. But if we want to change this, we are not just asking for some limited intervention but a rethinking of the very basis of inter-state relations as they have existed over the last 2-3 centuries.

    Realism is a prescription for a course of treatment. My critique of Mr Zakaria’s essay is a discussion on the diagnosis.

    No, Realism is much more. It is actually a theory of how to understand and model international relations. It rests on highly specific assumptions about how nation-states act and what the uses of power in IR should be. It is also a rational-choice doctrine which implies certain conditions and limitations but this is another discussion.

    @Vakib

    For political Islamists, their views on nationalism or politics are defined in terms of the prism of Islam. Their target is to conquer the world for the sake of Islam. These breed of people refuse to acknowledge any other nationalism, and murder people who owe their allegiance to something else (for example linguistic nationalism).

    IMO, vakib this is an oversimplification. Islamists have a wide variety of motivations and there are several streams involved here. Certain strands of Islamism have reached and maintained an alliance with Western countries for decades (Saudi Wahabism and the Gulf states) there are also moderate political Islamists in places like Algeria and Turkey whose main concern is really their own domestic issues. Where political Islam has been successful has been where there has been an element of nationalist conflict, mainly with non-Muslim countries, hence why Huntington made his famous comment about the “bloody borders of Islam” or when state rule is seen to be imposed from above by a regime backed by a foreign power as in Iran. Violent extremism tends to get acceptance when there is either wholescale repression and the denial of other outlets of dissent. I am not talking about a narrow band of extremists, who exist everywhere in every environment, but rather the broader social and political support they can draw upon.

    The state of Pakistan is formed on the basis of political Islam, and hence is engaged in a continuous tussle with India.

    This is wrong, Pakistan was created largely by secular nationalists like Jinnah. The South Asian ulema by large were against partition and favoured a unitary successor state to British India. The elites that created Pakistan were the middle classes of northern India; in the actual provinces that consisted of Pakistan there was very little support for it. You can see it by the political parties that dominated regions like the Punjab and Bengal; the Punjab Unionist Party and the Krishak Praja Party in Punjab and Bengal respectively.

    Pakistan’s bone of contention is not just about the 2/3rds of Kashmir that is under Indian control. It is something deeper : it wants to lay claim to the heritage of Mughal rule and Islamic heritage of India, which means it wants to occupy proper Indian territory (landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort etc). These objectives are seen in the manifestos of Islamic terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, nutty television programs such as that of Zaid Hamid, or sometimes even in Pak military and intelligence brochures.

    I am talking about actual motivations and intentions of groups like the military and policymakers as well as popular sentiment. Some hardcore extremists no doubt want to see what you say; but it isn’t a burning concern for most people and it certainly doesn’t motivate the policy elite in Pakistan who aren’t stupid enough to think they can recapture large parts of northern India. With the populations involved and now that we have entered an era of mass nationalism, if a subject population doesn’t accept foreign rule it cannot be imposed from above – the one clear lesson of the 20th century has been that a broad based popular nationalist movement cannot be defeated through military terms. Colonial powers failed in Algeria and Vietnam when they tried this, the Soviets failed in Afghanistan and other regions which were subject to the same pressures like East Timor, despite having genocidal levels of violence inflicted on them refused to be subdued by the much larger and more powerful Indonesian military. Given the numbers of non-Muslims in northern India any attempt to impose this kind of rule on them would backfire massively. The loss of East Pakistan and the troubles in Baluchistan and the Mohajir movement have already indicated the limits to which religion can form the basis of nationalism. Pakistan can barely control its own territory and many of the revolts here are not religious in nature – hence a radical Islamist regime in Islamambad would face the same problems. And if the Pakistani state can’t control its own territory by use of force – how can it hope to control larger swathes of territory were the citizenry would be even more hostile.

    The Mughals et al could wonder in and establish empires, just like the Mongols, Romans and Turks could because at that point in history the mass of the population was not mobilised and the concept of modern nationalism did not exist. Most people lived very brief and limited lives confined to their own village or town and rarely concerned themselves with anything outside it. After the ‘invention’ of nationalism and more importantly democratic citizenship which gave everybody a stake in the political system in the 18th century, the rules of the game changed and this is why we can’t go back to the days of vast multi-ethnic empires.

    @Rational Fool

    South Africa never invaded another country. From Malaan to Verwoerd to Botha, none really cared about what happened outside the borders of their Apartheid world. Should the rest of the world have learnt to live with Apartheid?

    You need to go and learn your history. South Africa invaded Namibia and Angola and sponsored proxy wars with all the border states like Mozambique. The guerrilla movements it patronised and its own troops carved a path of death and destruction that killed hundreds of thousands. Indeed during the early successes of the war in Namibia and Angola, the South African PM Botha famously said that after Angola falls, nothing could stop Afrikaner forces going all the way to Lagos. Of course a lot of this was rhetoric but given the supremacy of Afrikanier military forces few African countries could resist them on the battlefield. BOSS agents indulged in frequent terrorist activity in regional states like Zambia and Zimbabwe killing civilians and anti-apartheid activists. It should be pointed out that at this time in the 1980s the Reagan administration torpedoed attempts to impose effective sanctions on South Africa and routed military aid and weapons in its wars against its neighbours.

    So the “world” didn’t just look on innocently. In the case of South Africa, other nations and popular movements, parties and NGOs only took what action the ANC the most representative body that could be said to represent the majority of South Africans, requested. Even then many white countries like Britain were extremely reluctant to make moves such as sport boycotts, sporting links with South Africa were maintained till the early 1980s – a mere 10 years before the collapse of apartheid.

    Is it me or is Realism the latest word of god in international relations?

    Also I just want to add that I am not a “realist” in IR but Nitin is and that is the whole basis of the Pragati journal; which is why I have chosen to address the post in a realist framework. If we want to talk about it in other interpretations that is fine but this just struck me as at odds with the ethos of Pragati and the site which is why I raised it.

  12. Conrad Barwa:

    We can quibble until the cows come home about whether every covert intervention and proxy war in other countries – the Operation Savannah by SA in Angola via Namibia, for example – constitutes an invasion. Just about every country in the world will then qualify as an imperialistic state. Iran, too, would be guilty of invasion of Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq through its proxies, Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army. That is not my point, though. Nor it is about whether the U.S., the U.K., etc. helped or harmed the cause of freedom and equality.

    To argue for the appeasement of radical Islamists, moderate Taliban, or whatever they are called, merely because they were not bombing and terrorizing people outside the so-called Muslim world is disingenuous to put it mildly. Ahmadinijad’s Iran or the erstwhile(?) Taliban’s Afghanistan, which terrorizes its own people, is as loathsome as Hitler’s Germany or Botha’s South Africa.

  13. This is wrong, Pakistan was created largely by secular nationalists like Jinnah. The South Asian ulema by large were against partition and favoured a unitary successor state to British India. The elites that created Pakistan were the middle classes of northern India; in the actual provinces that consisted of Pakistan there was very little support for it. You can see it by the political parties that dominated regions like the Punjab and Bengal; the Punjab Unionist Party and the Krishak Praja Party in Punjab and Bengal respectively.

    This is an oft-repeated but ill-conceived argument. What Jinnah beleived in matters very little, the question what is what his propaganda was. The fact is, on the ground, political islam was used as a tool to achieve their objectives. A state which was formed on the basis of Islam being in danger” – and you claim it has nothing to do with political islam. The most charitable comment that i can think of is that you have a quirky sense of humor! Secondly, it is not true that Muslim League had very little support in Punjab and Bengal – that was true onkly during the pre-1940s period. The results of the elections in 1946 would prove otherwise . Not just these two provinces, even Sindh (which one would have thought to be relatively moderate) had been swept away by the communal frenzy unleashed by the “secular nationalists”.

  14. We can quibble until the cows come home about whether every covert intervention and proxy war in other countries – the Operation Savannah by SA in Angola via Namibia, for example – constitutes an invasion.

    Actually this is not a quibble. The SADF was deployed in Namibia and Angola with heavy armour, full combat brigrades and the use of the SA airforce. It was a major war which the Angolan and SWAPO forces could not have won without the assistance of the Cuban forces. By the end of the war battlefield casualties were becoming onerous and the Afrikaner society was suffering a severe loss of morale owing to the burden of conscription of young men of a military age. I find your claims here to be laughable; rather like the American admin’s claim in the 1960s that Vietnam constituted a “police action”. Yeah, right; if you want to beleive this kind of propaganda that is fine but you will cannot expect others to beleive it. I have lived in East and southern Africa for quite a few years; I can tell you that the actions of the SA apartheid regime caused much death and is viewed with great bitterness even today by the inhabitants of the frontline states. the scale of the loss of life was very high to a degree that is not appreciated by many outside the region.

    There also seems to be some other confusion about the points I made; my point isn’t to do with imperialism at all – in fact I am not sure it is relevant to this discussion. My point was simply that within a realist framework states and great powers act according to their own interests, whether we like them to or not. Moral discussions are absolutely irrelevant since morality does not form a part of the calculus of state actions in the international arena when it comes to war. Your comparisons of Nazi Germany and apartheid SA do not support your arguement at all. Hitler’s only mistake was to seek to upset the balance of power in interwar Europe, the Allies only declared war on him when he invaded Poland and activated the defence treaties France and the UK had with that country. It was Germany’s territorial expansionary aims that sought to eliminate the sovreignty of other states and redistribute the balance of power amongst the major power of the West that led to war. His treatment of Jews had little to do with it as the Allies minimal effort to assist European jewry during the war attests. Had Hitler confined his depredations to German citizens he would have been unmolested. An examination of Allied behaviour at the time such as Chamberlain’s capitulation in Munich 1936 shows just how far they were willing to go to avoid war with Germany. It was realpolitik that caused the war, not any moral outrage. As for apartheid SA, no state took any action apart from economic sanctions and social boycotts and that too late in the day; the only states who did any actual fighting were the frontline southern african states. So to use these two as an example doesn’t work for your arguement since the world was all too willing to tolerate them until they started to jeopardise the security of other states (in the SA case even this wasn’t enough to really bring any action against them). It will be the same today.

    I haven’t argued for an “appeasement” of anybody, much less the Taliban. This is a statement that can only exist in your imagination; I have said that the current US admin will be very happy to deal with a ‘moderate’ Taliban faction in Afghanistan because doing so will fulfill US strategic claims. This is a prediction made off an assessment of realpolitik and US strategy, it is not a personal condoning of the Taliban or any other Islamist regime. I would be happy if democratic states across the world suddenly turned into human rights advocates willing to militarily intervene in other countries to protect human rights. However, since unlike some on this thread I don’t live in cloud-cuckoo land, I realise this is unlikely to be the case. We have a regime much worse than Iran in Saudi Arabia and one of the last few totalitarian states in the world in China which routinely detains and tortures its own citizens. the vast majority of democratic countries have allied themselves with the former and have fallen over themselves to ingratiate their economies with the latter. No one is adovocating an invasion of these countries despite their egregious HR abuses – why? Because of realpolitik that is why.

    It is quite legitimate to aske for and criticise lack of intervention for repressive regimes but this cannot form the basis of a sensible analysis of international relations.

  15. I suspect this is the central theme of your argument:

    I have said that the current US admin will be very happy to deal with a ‘moderate’ Taliban faction in Afghanistan because doing so will fulfill US strategic claims.

    I find it a bit perplexing that in your long posts, you talk at length about almost every other issue but somehow fail to provide and strong and direct reasons as to why the above is true. i.e., how does accomodating taliban fulfil US’ strategic objectives.

  16. Conrad Bawra wrote:


    It is quite legitimate to ask for and criticise lack of intervention for repressive regimes but this cannot form the basis of a sensible analysis of international relations.

    I rest my case. Thanks for helping me understand why Taliban in Afghanistan, Apartheid in South Africa, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Nazism in Germany prevailed as long as they did.

  17. @ sai aravindh/Sai (I am not sure whether you are the same person or not, so apologies if you are)

    This is an oft-repeated but ill-conceived argument.

    Actually it isn’t that common an arguement. It is put forward mainly by academic historians who tend to as a result become unpopular in their own countries. Ayesha Jalal advanced one of the earliest versions of this. Joya Chatterji, Krishna Kumar and Patrick French have put forward one variant or another as well. Whatever one thinks of these arguements they are not “ill-conceieved” but based on very detailed and painstaking research. That doesn’t make them right, of course, but it does them a disservice to dismiss them so cavalierly.

    What Jinnah beleived in matters very little, the question what is what his propaganda was. The fact is, on the ground, political islam was used as a tool to achieve their objectives./i>

    I think this is a simplisitic understanding of events. Our colonial societies were quite under-developed where the great mass of people had very little direct participation in formal politics and governance. The dispositions and character of the post-colonial elites that ran the successor states therefore had a very huge impact on the way these states were set up and the early forms of nationalism. The very fact that “political Islam” was a tool of Muslim elites rather than a guiding ideology has important consequences. I have to say even the point of whether it was simply an elitist manipulation from above or whether there was a popular demand for it from below is a matter of intense debate but one which I will set aside for now. My point is actually reinforced by your claim here; the fact is that it was a tool, not the end in itself. I place more importance on the actual aims and programme of the elites concerned; in Pakistan the military and bureaucratic elites who still effectively dominate the state do not have a “radical Islamist” agenda imo.

    A state which was formed on the basis of Islam being in danger” – and you claim it has nothing to do with political islam. The most charitable comment that i can think of is that you have a quirky sense of humor!

    I am not known for my sense of humour when it comes to discussing serious matter and unfortunately I cannot be as charitable as you, when considering your comments which I regard to be deficient. I should also like to point out that nowhere in my earlier comments have I ever made the statement that the formation of Pakistan had “nothing to do with political islam” (emphasis added mine). This statement which you attribute to me seems to be one you have concocted yourself rather than being a quote of anything I have actually said.

    Secondly, it is not true that Muslim League had very little support in Punjab and Bengal – that was true onkly during the pre-1940s period. The results of the elections in 1946 would prove otherwise .

    The claim that the ML had little support in Punjab and Bengal had little support is a factual claim that will be supported by all major historical interpretations, most textbook understandings of the period in India will even conform to this. The only stream that would disagree are the Pakistani nationalist textbooks (the irony is not lost on me here). The core of ML support and its leadership was from the United Provinces not Punjab or Bengal; the Punjab Unionist party ruled Punjab in coalition with the Akalis and Congress right up to Partition and the dominant figure was Sikhander Khan who led this alliance of landlords. Despite the links with the ML with Punjab Unionist party formed majority govts with the decidedly non-Muslim Akali and Congress parties in the state to govern Punjab in defiance of Jinnah’s wishes. This policy only collapsed after Khan’s death and the consequences of Direct Action Day. As for Bengal, the supposed success of the ML can only be accounted for the fact that Fazlul Haq moved to represent it, despite the fact that he later rejected the two-nation theory and campaigned against the creation of Pakistan

    The supposed attraction of and the strength of this hold of “political islam” attributed to Pakistan never ceases to amuse me. It is usually propounded by hardline Islamist ideologues and their Hindutva counterparts who mirror each other in their belief of the two-nation theory. After the genocidal violence visited on East Pakistan during the 1971 secession by a military commander who earned the epithet the “Butcher of Baluchistan” it is amazing that such sentiments can still be seriously taken. One commentator made the pithy remark that the “two-nation theory was born in the drawing rooms of the United Provinces and had the final nail in its coffin driven in it in the fields of Bangladesh”. The very inability of the Pakistani state to hold onto East Pakistan, integrate Baluchistan, pacify the NWFP and peacefully absorb the Mohajirs is a powerful testament to how weak “political Islam” is as the basis of Pakistani nationalism.

    I suspect this is the central theme of your argument:

    I have said that the current US admin will be very happy to deal with a ‘moderate’ Taliban faction in Afghanistan because doing so will fulfill US strategic claims.

    Actually it is not. It doesn’t even consititute a particularly important part; it is merely an illustration. My main point is simply that within a realist paradigm of IR, which I find useful to as a starting point of analysis; there is no reason why the acual ideological content of a regime should influence the actions of other states and powers towards it. Secondly, it points towards the fact that many of the “radical Islamist” movements are much more complex and contradictory than assumed in the original post and so cannot be reduced to a single model. My third point is that such regimes and movements can even be useful to great powers and states in achieving their ends, so the behaviour of the latter towards them will be guided by very different motives than what we may as individuals hold. The reaction of the current US admin to dealing with ‘moderate’ Taliban merely serves as an illustration of this broader approach but it is hardly the central point, in fact it is relatively speaking a minor point in demonstrating the theory at work. Even if the US admin violently refuses to negotiate or deal with the Taliban it has little impact on the wider theory discussed.

    Nitin understood my arguement clearly and made an effective response; while he and I have our disagreements we understand each others’ positions. This is because we share a similar interest in thinking about issues strategically and basic IR concepts; I somewhat surprised despite being accused of writing “lengthy” posts you seem not to have grasped the basic thrust of my arguement. It is probably of little interest apart from those interested in the technicalities of IR.

    I find it a bit perplexing that in your long posts, you talk at length about almost every other issue but somehow fail to provide and strong and direct reasons as to why the above is true. i.e., how does accomodating taliban fulfil US’ strategic objectives.

    I have not made ‘posts’ as such but comments on the original post and response to other comments raising specific points in my reply. I am not here to provide a grand ideology of what I understand to be IR or to fulfil whatever you think I should be saying for whatever reason. If my comments are lengthy it is because I found a lot in Nitin’s original post to be worthy of commenting on and subsequently because I wanted to reply to those who had raised genuine points of difference with my comment. This is the reason why as you put it I “talk about every other issue”.

    To turn to the actual question you raise; I have made that assertion as my own interpretation of what will happen. Since we are talking about the future and since IR isn’t really a social science, such claims are difficult if not impossible to prove in advance but rest rather on the existing interpretation of facts and operative assumptions one has. In my view, the Obama administration has certain long-term objectives, the primary of which is to reach a sustainable settlement in Afghanistan that will allow it to preserve its influence there without the need to extensive pronlonged military action. American finances and the army is already creaking under the strains put on it by the Iraq misadventure, extensive deployment in Afghanistan indefinitely cannot be sustained. Both the US and UK chiefs of Staff (in fact the UK Army Chief last week went further and actually called all UK military operations in the country “useless”) and regional commanders have repeatedly asserted that a pure military solution will not bring about peace or stability in the country. A political settlement is also required. Given that the northern Alliance has too narrow a social base to govern Afghanistan effectively without the use of massive force; some sort of accomadation with the Pashtun community who form the largest single ethnic group is necessary. Within this group the Taliban are the most organised, disciplined and dominant force singly. There are other groups but they consist mostly of individual warlords and small cliques, combined they could displace the Taliban but they are too divided and unable to work together. Therefore, unless the US admin wants to be bogged down in an unwinnable war for the next few decades they will seek to reach some accomadation with the Taliban. The main problem until now has been that the Taliban has not been so willing to co-operate – understandably after the 2003 invasion decimated it and removed it from power, hence the continual fighting. Which is why until there is the emergence of a ‘moderate’ element the current conflict will continue and also why from the viewpoint of the US it is desirable for one to emerge which can then be dealt with.
    There are several other alternatives but they involve either unstable political formations or the US being committed financially and militarily to Afghanistan for many years at high cost – for which there is little appetite in the US currently.

    This is of course just my view and derived entirely second-hand, since I have not been able to collect first-hand information directly in southern Afghanistan and am not present at cabinet meetings in the White House. For obvious reasons.

  18. Rational Fool,

    Kindly spell my name correctly in future, I am a “Barwa” not a “Bawra”, since I have taken the trouble to use my real name rather than hide behind a webonym, I think I am due this courtesy at least.

    I rest my case. Thanks for helping me understand why Taliban in Afghanistan, Apartheid in South Africa, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Nazism in Germany prevailed as long as they did.

    You would need obviously to add their domestic situations to the explanation but from an IR point of view you have grasped the main point. I could go further and say this is also why despite genocide prevention being enshrined in the UN charter when genocides actually occur and are noted as occurring, states actually go to great lengths to avoid involvement and deny that there is actually a genocide taking place. The best evidence for this is the interview between a reuters correspondent and a state department official who insisted that what was taking place in Rwanda (at the time a genocide was happening) was “acts of genocide” not actually a genocide! The semantics involved demonstrate the extent to what lengths states will go to avoid being involved where major national interests are not at stake.

    Still, it is touching to see just how naive some people still are in day and age about how states really behave.

  19. zakaria’s newsweek article was probably written at the behest of obama’s national security honcho/s, who are laying the groundwork for a possible deal with the “good taliban”.

  20. conrad barwa

    This is wrong, Pakistan was created largely by secular nationalists like Jinnah. The South Asian ulema by large were against partition and favoured a unitary successor state to British India. The elites that created Pakistan were the middle classes of northern India; in the actual provinces that consisted of Pakistan there was very little support for it. You can see it by the political parties that dominated regions like …

    I highly doubt if you are from India. If not, it explains some of your misconceptions.

    1) Pakistan was not created by Jinnah. It was created by Iqbal, who is currently the national poet of Pakistan. He was the philosophical fount from which the Pakistani movement drew its inspiration. And Iqbal’s philosophy was a weird mixture of modernism and fundamentalism – the dichotomy of which is visible today in Pakistan. Iqbal himself drew inspiration from earlier Islamist thinkers who formulated political Islam, particularly a 15th century super-cleric known as Ahmed Sirhindi of Delhi. By the way, Al Wahhab of Arabia was a follower of Sirhindi’s ideas. In modern times, there is another cleric who continued these ideas : Maulana Maudidi, who formulated the Jamat-e-Islami party. He emigrated to Pakistan after its creation.

    Jinnah was a secular politician who was very high in the ranks of the Indian National Congress. He was repeatedly requested by Iqbal to join the Pakistan movement. He refused steadfastly, and only agreed in the final minute, when he realized how strong the movement has grown and how impossible it is to placate the demands of these people within the structure of the Indian Union. Jinnah wanted to be the frontman of India’s Muslims, and he had no choice but to join the Pakistan movement.

    2) What the Pakistani people think cares for a pittance. The political parties have not much say in the politics of Pakistan. It is run by troika : the military, the feudal landlords and the mullahs. Standing at the centre of these 3 units is the party of Jamat-e-Islami. Military coups happen, or political leaders get assassinated, if the ulterior writ of these people is not served.

    China, the country which needs Pakistan the most as its ally, knows this. It has arranged for a private visit of the leaders of Jamat-e-Islami the last month.

    3) The politics of Pakistan cannot be compared with broader Islamic movements around the world. The Islamic brotherhood movement and the Pakistan movement came into contact only during the Afghan war, with the alliance of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. More importantly, the Islamic theocracy of Iran should not be clubbed with either the Pakistan movement or the Islamic brotherhood movement. These two movements are arch-enemies of the Shia regime in Iran. This enmity can be seen in the way the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Janghwi, Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan or Al-Qaeda has treated (murdered, if you didn’t guess) Iranian soldiers and diplomats.

    Today, the Islamic brotherhood movement has become a subsidiary of the Pakistan movement (run by certain key persons in ISI, Army and Jamat-e-Islami).

  21. Rational Fool, may I ask you how you view the acts of omission or commission of successive US and allied administrations that ravaged entire societies? Or is it that internal repression (the right kind of repression) is the only thing one should be outraged about?

  22. Given that the stated aim of the US and its allies in Afghanistan (if you believe it) is to eliminate Islamist sanctuaries:

    Will the survival of radical Islam as it exists today likely to hurt Western interests in the medium term?
    If so:
    (a) How?
    (b) What is the likely impact of an eventual troop withdrawal followed by a resurrected Taliban and a weak central government on the Islamist movement? 9/11 happened in very similar circumstances…
    Else:
    (a) What has changed after 9/11?

    This is not clear to me. If radical Islam remains a serious medium-term threat the West, then either the West is being dumb or “playing dumb” as a tactical ploy. I am more inclined to believe the latter.

  23. Nanda Kishore:

    I am glad you asked, but you probably won’t be after reading my tortuous reply 🙂

    My view is that analysis and action in social conflicts ought to be grounded in the aspirations of people struggling for their natural rights, and equality before law, wherever in the world. It does not matter whether the repression or discrimination occurs within or outside the national (read constitutional) boundaries, and who the perpetrator is – religion, state, or tribe.

    If an action by the United State were designed to constitute a regime that is more restrictive or discriminatory than the one it replaced — Augusto Pinochet in Chile, for example — such an action would be undoubtedly reprehensible. I am as dismayed by the U.S.’ inaction on Tibet, as its alliance with Saudi Arabia. Even if Hiroshima were necessary — I doubt it was — Nagasaki was an unpardonable crime against humanity. The Allies bombed Dresden into oblivion, but if any war were unambiguously justifiable, it was the war against the Nazis.

    My vote for President Obama was a single issue vote — the Iraq War. If Rep. Ron Paul had been the GOP nominee, and had a different stance on abortion, I would have voted for him.

    I am not comfortable discussing international relations. I consider it the domain of politicians, political scientists, and more recently, Islamists, and frankly, all of them disgust me. As a libertarian, I favor a minimal government; self over society. My friends call me an anarchist, and they have a point.

    I apologize for the long and winding response. It’d be far more painful for you to read my blog, though 🙂

  24. The search for the “good taliban” is akin to a search for a “good nazi”. Zakaria seems to have great influence on the American establishment. But he is a snake oil salesman.

  25. Zakaria increasingly seems to be becoming the A.G.Noorani of Western media–channeling Islamist agenda to its rivals. Notice whenever he mentions “Hindu fundamentalists” vs Islamic ones. The latter always appears somewhat insincere.

  26. Vakib

    “Pakistan was not created by Jinnah. It was created by Iqbal, who is currently the national poet of Pakistan.”

    —Pakistan is a poet’s fantasy cashed in by an opportunistic Lawyer, but your contention that –
    “…and only agreed in the final minute, when he realized how strong the movement has grown and how impossible it is to placate the demands of these people within the structure of the Indian Union. Jinnah wanted to be the frontman of India’s Muslims, and he had no choice but to join the Pakistan movement.” Is erroneous.
    _ There was no steam in the movement before Jinnah took it over, which was exclusively an UP-centric (United Provinces) movement, not in Punjab province & the least in Bengal. Jinnah was designated by Churchill as an agent of the Americans for carving out a base for them, actions speak louder than words, & the result is for all to see, he was the frontman of the west, not of the Indian Muslims, if being secular is lack of moral & human values, then yes Jinnah was a secularist, but historically, the formation of Pakistan & the subsequent genocide & mayhem shall stand testimony of him being a religious zealot.

  27. @vakib

    I highly doubt if you are from India. If not, it explains some of your misconceptions.

    Based on what exactly? My name, my arguements? Am I expected provide a facsimile of my passport here something?!?! What a stupid comment this is.

    To address your other rather ill-argued points:

    1) I am not talking about who came up with the idea of Pakistan, I am talking about who was able to take the idea and turn it into a reality. Jinnah for a number of reasons very effectively was able to assert himself as the “sole spokesman” for the Muslims As Ayesha Jalal put it. This was an amazing accomplishment. He was not a popular leader, disliked campaigning and democratic politics. He overtook regionally popular leaders like Sikhander Khan and Fazlul Haq, superseded Congress nationalist Muslims like Azad and was able to present himself as the voice of Muslims in a way Gandhi wasn’t even able to project himself as the sole voice of the Hindus. His negotiations and tactics like Direct Action Day, though reprehensible in my eyes, were tactically brilliant; the ML was a nothing organisation in the 1930s and the Congress looked unchallengeable in its dominance of the Indian Nationalist movement. To overcome this and be able to taken seriously as an equal partner in the de-colonisation talks was no mean feat. Jinnah took Gandhi’s method of mass mobilisation and turned it against the Congress in a short time very well. This was impressive given that he wasn’t taken seriously as a Muslim and other Muslim leaders were nowhere near as deferential to him as Congress leaders were to Gandhi. Without Jinnah, it would have been difficult to see how Pakistan could have been established – there was no other interlocutor at the national stage to speak for Muslim separatism with a credible level of political backing.

    2) This is a simplistic point imo. I have already said that the bureactatic-military complex runs Pakistan – this is a cliché which anybody who knows Pakistan will accept. The mullahs are not part of the ruling elite but used by them. The problem is that people can’t be ignored. The military-bureacratic elite tried this in East Pakistan. Great success wasn’t it. The military can’t govern with any stability, if faces numerous revolts and needs massive injections of external assistance to keep it viable since the Pakistani economy can’t support its lavish demands. In our modern period without a mass political organisation, it is not possible to repress popular dissent indefinitely – which is why the army periodically hands over the reins of govt to civilian control. Regional separatist movements if combined with popular unrest always pose a serious threat to a rule by a narrow elite. What the Pakistani people think, believe and do matters, it matters a great deal. Anybody who says otherwise is not serious about analysing state behaviour and simply wants to indulge in fencing with caricatures.

    3) I am not too sure how this point is even relevant to anything I have said. I haven’t “clubbed together” the Pakistani Islamists with the Iranian theocracy, I am merely attempted to make a broader point about radical Islamists needing to be understood differently and consisting of different streams and different contextual situations. If you actually read what I wrote, I don’t know who you are disagreeing with but it is not me. Your point here actually supports my argument.

  28. Just to respond briefly to some of the actual sensible questions raised:

    @Rabia

    Actually from a realist perspective there would be many good reasons for the US to stop backing the Saudi regime, right? Considering how much time and money the US is spending fighting Saudi-backed Sunni Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    I would say this is correct and it points to the problems in Realism as a school of IR doctrine. It can tell you what the broad aims are and how states behave in pursuing their ‘national interest’ but the main problem is how exactly is this ‘national interest’ to be defined and how best can it be achieved? There is no consensus on this issue.

    Generally, speaking though you make a good point. However, if current US policy is motivated by a desire to maintain Great Power status; then control over ME, especially Saudi oil reserves are essential; since the other major economic regions of the world the EU and SE tiger economies don’t have any energy reserves and import their needs from here. This is what allows the US to exert a strong strategic global influence; the role of petrodollars in sustaining a dollar economy is also significant as it allows the US to run large balance of trade deficits and budget deficits without the kind of pressures any other country would face to cut govt expenditure and deflate the economy.

    I would agree though that the support for Saudi Arabia imo has not been a successful policy even from a realist point of view.

    @kaffir

    Conrad Barwa, could you cite some credible source(s) for the above? From what I’ve read, this above statement has been accepted as truth without any proof to support it. Wasn’t Osama already a rich dude?

    There isn’t a lot of direct evidence for this for obvious reasons. I should make clear that I don’t think Bin Laden was directly trained or financed by the CIA (he might have been but there has never been any proof and I think it unlikely). However, the arms purchased by his unit of muhajedin were supplied by the US via ISI and the equipment used to build the training camp at Khost was also funded/supplied through the pipeline of arms and equipment routed through in this manner with the US as the provider and ISI as the medium. The sources I have drawn on this are Ahmed Rashid’s “Taliban: Story of the Afghan Warlonds” Jason Burke’s Al-Quaeda, Chalmers Johnston “The Sorrows of Empire” and Michael Scheur’s book “Imperial Hubris” where they cover this.

    The broader point though is that the US requested along with Pakistan the Saudis to set up an alternative channel to funnel funds to the Muhajedin; one of the requests involved asking a prince from the royal family to go and supervise this – Prince Turki the head of Saudi intelligence received this request but couldn’t persuade any of the pampered and luxury loving princelings to go the Afghanistan so Bin laden was asked and sent as the next best thing. Saudi co-operation financially was probably even greater than the US contribution and runs to about $4billion over the decade till 1992 and this is discounting private money routed through Islamic charities and foundations. This kind of action could not have happened without US approval and enabling.

    But I want to stress that this doesn’t mean that I think Bin Laden was personally trained or financed by the CIA or was a CIA agent.

  29. Conrad,

    I think you have an academic view of India, nourished by books. Nothing wrong with this, but it provides you with less intuition about where the troubles originate from.

    1) Jinnah was a politician who knew how to capture popular imagination and obtain leadership. He was not a statesman. The difference is fine : a statesman moulds the opinion of the people, a politician becomes a mouthpiece of popular opinion. In Pakistan’s case, Iqbal was the statesman and Jinnah was the politician.

    Pakistan would have happened even without Jinnah, may be it could have taken longer, but its birth will definitely happen. The political aspect of the origins of the Pakistani movement are in the pamphlet of “now or never” by Chauadhuri Rehmat Ali. It was signed by Punjabis and Pashtuns. You are implicating the people of the United Provinces in the Pakistan movement, but they were only a minor current to the real movement in the north-west of India.

    More importantly, the political movement of Pakistan had support from two other groups which galvanized its strength (a) the rich feudal land lords who feared socialist land reform after Indian independence (b) the British who did not want India to share borders with Afghanistan, and wanted a small buffer state in between. The history of the last 60 years is a testimony for these two groups. Land reform was never implemented in Pakistan, and Pakistan has become a strategic assistant in American / British geopolitics, at least till today.

    2) Democracy and electoral voting is not the only way to manage popular dissent. A stronger and more effective way is through media. Musharaf has taken a very strategic decision to allow a certain liberty in the media, to provide the illusion to the people that they are in control. There will not be any direct uprising or civil war, as long as this illusion is well-maintained. Agreed, the electoral voting process sustains this illusion better than any freedom in the media. But as long as the constitutional machinery (the indepdence of the judiciary, the supremacy of the parliament over the armed forces etc.) is not perfect, political control can be maneouvered by the bureaucratic elite.

    3) I wanted you to not use Iran as an example when talking about political Islam. Iran (and Turkey) are two countries with very strong nationalistic ideas which do not encourage pan-Islamist politics beyond a point. But this is not true in other countries. Arab countries, for example, have great difficulty in separating Arab nationalism from Islam, because the political history of Arabia is inextricably linked with the spread of Islam. Similarly, the politics of Pakistan will be very difficult to separate from political Islam because the very birth of the Pakistan idea is grounded in the spread of Islam (the historical moorings go to 8th century AD with the advent of Islam). Until very recently, the history textbooks of Pakistan did not even talk about the Buddhist / Hindu past and culture of these areas.

  30. I think you have an academic view of India, nourished by books. Nothing wrong with this, but it provides you with less intuition about where the troubles originate from.

    Not too sure where you get this idea from; but glad to see you have moved on from accusing me of not being an Indian to merely being ensconced in some sort of ivory tower. I have lived outside Indian for a long time but have never given up my connection as India is where most of my family still live. The most concrete part of my experience comes from having spent 2 years in rural UP living in villages for my doctoral fieldwork. This gives a person a view of India that is very different from one presented in textbooks or the media. I am quite satisified that my understanding of India while not perfect or very good, is better than many members of our self-styled middle class who rarely have much idea of the reality for the rest of the population outside their own cocooned lifestyles.

    Just a note on this ‘academic’ view that you take issue with. The best academics and writes on most social sciences, except perhaps economics, these days cannot earn their position by twiddling their thumbs and meditating on problems in their university offices. Their work is based on years and sometimes decades of research, usually applied either in the field, in libraries and archives or interviewing respondents directly involved in events. This gives them a breadth of knowledge that can form the basis of theories that individuals who sit and think their own specific life experience explains everything they need to know about India cannot match. You don’t have to agree with them but to denigrate this view indicates an ignorance of what modern academic research actually involves.
    To address your specific points:

    1) Iqbal couldn’t have done jack. Jinnah was the prime mover since he knew how to manoeuvre the Congress and the British. To think otherwise is just plain stupid; there is a reason why Jinnah is called “the Father of Pakistan” and not Iqbal. Iqbal like Tagore was a great intellectual who had a huge impact on Pakistani nationalism but to say he was more important is like saying Tagore was more central to Indian Nationalism than Gandhi. Pure rubbish I am not “implicating” the people of the United Provinces in anything; it was the Muslim elite of the UP that moved for Pakistan not Punjabis or PAshtun – who by the way were predominantly influenced by Abdul Gaffar Khan not your version of political Islam. There is a famous debate about this called the “Brass thesis” about whether the demand for Pakistan was merely an elite ploy by the UP Muslim elites or had some real democratic backing. All Indian historians have taken one or another position on this; however, none of them would claim that the main impetus for Pakistan came from Punjab or Pashtuns. Rarely, rarely, have I heard something so stupid.

    What a load of crap about feudal landlords and Pakistan. In Bengal this arguement doesn’t hold water since the landlords were predominantly Hindu but still the province went to the ML. In Punjab the Unionist party was a pan-communal party of landlords; and did not merge with the ML but preferred to govern in coalition with the Akalis and the Congress. Hardly the sign of resistance. Congress land reforms at that time were far from a certainty, outside the CSP in the Congress which were a minority, it was not a favoured policy of much of the party and only Nehru really supported definitive and comprehenseive land reform. Patel and the right wing of the Congress along with Gandhi were not favourably inclined towards such redistributive measures. In anycase you have now shifted your arguement to saying that Pakistan’s creation was due to the demand of ‘political Islam’ to the arguement that it grew out of the fear of feudal landlords of land reform – which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

    As for the British arguement, I find little evidence for this. Britain along with the US expected a unitary state which would join the NATO western alliance against the Soviet bloc and Chinese.

    2) Management of the media is important I agree but it is an imperfect ideological form of control that relies on consent. Once this consent is withdrawn it doesn’t do you much good. Mush for all his supposed ‘management of the media’ couldn’t control popular discontent with his policies by the end of his regime and when the split with the judges came, the mass of people supported the protest movements not his government. Remember the old saying you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

    3) Political Islam IS a part of Iranian politics and current regime behaviour – just because it is inconvenient for your own bizarre theories of political Islam and therefore you choose to exclude it doesn’t make it correct. Any serious scholar of the subject would never consider excluding Iran from such consideration. Also the desire of the Iranian regime after Khomeini’s takeover was very much to expand the revolution by exhorting other such revolutions in Islamic states. The whole basis of his appeal to the Saudi population and Gulf states with Shia minorities rests on this. They were able to see their own rulers who were corrupt, anything but Islamic in their personal lifestyles and allied heavily with the US and the West and contrast this with the actual Islamic nature and policies of the Iranian regime. Everybody knew which set of regimes could really lay claim to being Islamic – hence the heavy support for Iraq by the Saudis and the Gulf states during the Iran-Iraq war – the former were paranoid that Iranian success could encourage similar such revolutions at home.

    Your comments about Arab countries is also woefully misplaced. Arab countries have shown how nationalism trumps other bonds of solidarity, the failed attempts of the unity of Egypt and Syria in a single republic show this as does the attempts to recreate this with Syria and Iraq. Arab countries have host to a wide range of ideologies; until the 1967 war socialism and Nasserism were the predominant ones. Even now many Arab regimes which are repressive are secular ones such as Syria and Algeria where Islamists have been frozen out of power and are killed in large numbers periodically. This is a complex issue but your simplistic twinning of Arab nationalism with Islamism does not do it justice.

    Re Pakistan and Islam as a national ideology. I think I have already covered this point with the creation of Bangladesh and the existence of numerous revolts against the Pakistani state since then. The problem is that Islam cannot act as a sufficient centrifugal force to give the Pakistani state legitimacy in the eyes of enough of its population. They have expressed by direct armed resistance and sabotage of the state. You, however, for reasons best known to yourself are more loyal to the notion of Islam as the basis of Pakistani nationalism than many Pakistanis!

  31. Conrad,

    I haven’t accused you any issue. I guessed that your knowledge of India was indirect, whether that be via second-hand discussions or from reading books. Of course, you have more experience with India than I imagined.

    Viewing Iqbal and Tagore with the same lens is not justified. Tagore’s message was very political, but it hardly was the mainstream of the Indian politics. He was an intellectual and writer and of the positive kind. Iqbal was the same, but with views diametrically opposite to Tagore. Also unlike Tagore, Iqbal’s philosophy is tied to nationalism (political Islamic nationalism to be specific). The subject of Tagore was man, it was much wider than any nationalistic ideology.

    The contributions of Tagore towards framing and formulating Indian nationalism were minimal : such contributions have come from Thilak, Gandhi, Nehru, Savarkar and even Azad and Ghaffar Khan (whose contributions to the broader Indian nationalism are less well-known than those to Pashtun nationalism).

    In comparison to Tagore, the contributions of Iqbal towards formulating Pakistani nationalism are enormous. He should rightly be called the father of Pakistan, and he was accorded a very similar status (Muffakir-e-Pakistan “The Thinker of Pakistan”),

    I also find your dismissal of the idea that an independent Pakistan was favorable to the British strategists. The British have engaged in divide-and-rule and have almost perfected this art. A united and independent India offered absolutely no guarantees that it would turn to the side of US/UK. That was very unlikely, especially after the colonial experience.

    I think you were also missing my point about Iran. The question is this : can you formulate an Iranian nationalism without resorting to Islam. You can very much can. Iran has a long, proud and ancient history. Iranian kings were ruling mighty kingdoms before Islam ever came in. Ditto for the Turks. So these countries have great scope for the development of secular nationalism. Of course, I am not saying that the current Islamic theocracy of Iran doesn’t have an Islamic element in its concept of Iranian nationlism. But that will be secondary to the secular element.

    Similar development of secular (linguistic) nationalism is harder in Arab countries, precisely because the rise of Arab power is synchronized with the spread of Islam. I am not saying it’s impossible, but more difficult than the Iranian experience.

    With Pakistan, it is even more difficult. Because in order to develop a secular nationalism drawn from ancient past, the Pakistani identity has to be abrogated for the sake of a broader Indian identity. That will be contrary to the very purpose. So the Pakistani identity and nationalism had no choice but to be grounded on that of political Islam.

  32. I highly doubt if you are from India. If not, it explains some of your misconceptions.

    This seems to me to be an accusatory insinuation. Nobody else has raised this issue of personal background and I am at a loss to see why you have felt it necessary to do so.

    In comparison to Tagore, the contributions of Iqbal towards formulating Pakistani nationalism are enormous. He should rightly be called the father of Pakistan, and he was accorded a very similar status (Muffakir-e-Pakistan “The Thinker of Pakistan”),

    I would say culturally Tagore’s contribution was huge and it is a shame that it has been overlooked by modern Indians. Given that our nationalism is mainly cultural and political rather than religious or ethnically based; this makes Tagore very important. Also Tagore influenced Gandhi a lot in terms of thinking about the relationship between religion and nationalism at a very deep level. The influence of Tagore on rationalist thinkers who disliked Gandhi’s emphasis on certain religious and spiritual iconography is immense; if you read the exchanges between Tagore and Gandhi on the issue of the charkha and the spinning wheel you can see where the modernists Like Nehru got their inspiration from. Tagore’s rationalist humanism had a deep impact on the less conservative members of Congress party is underestimated imo. He was quite prescient on a number of issues, nobody who reads Gora could miss the problems that communalism was going to raise for Bengal and India more generally. There are many other contributions such as the national anthem, poetry and other aspects of political symbolism that Tagore raised which were very important. Iqbal had the political idea of Pakistan but he was very much a secondary player in Muslim majority states like the Punjab, NWFP or Kashmir where he had no political base and other leaders were dominant. Without their assistance and co-operation Pakistan would have been still born.

    I think you are right in that the analogies are not very strong but I think you see my broader point.

    I also find your dismissal of the idea that an independent Pakistan was favorable to the British strategists. The British have engaged in divide-and-rule and have almost perfected this art. A united and independent India offered absolutely no guarantees that it would turn to the side of US/UK. That was very unlikely, especially after the colonial experience.

    I think this is debatable; people fail to understand just how relatively peaceful vis-a-vis the British our decolonisation was. Everyone remarked how little rancour and bitterness there was by most Indians to the British; I remember talking to the husband of a Vice-Chancellor of a British university and he described walking down the streets on independence day in 1947 and how throngs of cheering Indians were celebrating and he and his English colleagues were lifted on their shoulders and expected to join in the celebrations. Most of the elite, from Nehru downwards were basically Anglo-centric in so far as they had any vision of the outside world and apart from the CSP minority most were fervently anti-Communist. Relations between the US and India were initially quite good Nehru was well received in the US and FDR had made it clear to the UK that the US expected decolonisation to proceed in order to respect the Atlantic charter. Till the 60s we received much more aid from the US than the Soviets. Had Sardar Patel lived, I doubt our foreign policy would have been so pro-Soviet.

    British divide and rule is oft mentioned but I doubt it made much difference by 1947 when their departure was imminent. It is used very much as an excuse to cover the failings of Congress and ML politicians who for various reasons chose the path of partition over that of unity.

    Re your points about Iran and Turkey you have wandered off the main point. My concern isn’t whether one can form a secular nationalism divorced from Islam or not; my point concerned how we dealt with Islamist movements that were part of nationalism in these countries. This relates to a broader point which Nitin was criticising about Zakaria’s arguement: that sometimes Islamists can be dealt with using different methods and don’t need to always be simplistically seen as universal threats etc. The nature of Turkish and Iranian nationalism; itself a very complex issue, is peripheral to this specific point. My comment is confined simply to the Islamist streams in these countries.

    As for Arab nationalism that is highly debatable; certain countries like Algeria and Tunisia have constructed a nationalism based factors other than Islam. For most of its history Iraq was ruled by secular parties that were not Islamist, Syria the same. The problem with using the Islam arguement is that, Islamist groups only tend to be effective and popular in opposition; where Islamist regimes actually are in power they don’t last very long or like the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia can’t allow democracy because their rule is unpopular being seen as a cover for feudal satrapism in the guise of religion. Certainly secularism was the main basis of nationalism along with Nasserism until the 1960s when military reverses eroded its prestige. Since then Islamist movements have made a stronger comeback; but the states that have been the most consistently Islamic such as those on the Arabian peninsula have not been at the epicentre of the Arab world, and only derive their influence from the fact that they sit on top of large energy reserves.

    With Pakistan, it is even more difficult. Because in order to develop a secular nationalism drawn from ancient past, the Pakistani identity has to be abrogated for the sake of a broader Indian identity. That will be contrary to the very purpose. So the Pakistani identity and nationalism had no choice but to be grounded on that of political Islam.

    Political Islam, as I have pointed out wasn’t enough of a cementing force to keep Pakistan unified with its two wings. The main problem as I have reiterated is that it wasn’t entrenched deep enough in those parts of undivided India that became Pakistan. While the initial impulse was based on a religious division it clearly is not sufficient to form the basis of a stable nationalism without some concession to other factors. Indeed the ascendency of ethnic identity has meant that in the absence of greater power-sharing with other ethnic groups in Pakistan and greater regional autonomy, appeals to religion will not be powerful enough to stave off challenges to the state nationalism in its current form.

  33. Well Conrad

    I think we both agree that creating a nationalistic identity based on political Islam will be a very weak glue to hold the country together. But my question is how capable are different nations in the world to develop a secular nationalistic identity without any recourse to Islam ? Clearly they are not equal in that regard. Some countries find it easier to do so than others.

    I am curious if Pakistan, in its current geographic borders, can have a secular nationalistic identity. That is the great question. It will be great if it can achieve that. But many people think the answer is negative. For example, MJ Akbar has recently opined in the Times of India that Pakistan is a flawed ideology. Let’s wait and see how things play out.

    BTW, I also share a deep admiration towards Tagore, and consider him to be amongst the greatest Indians of modern times.

  34. Let’s not forget the elephant in the room- religion. When it comes to practice, “moderate” Islam may not approve of “radical” Islam, but when it comes to philosophy, in fact the radicals can assert that they are actually following the good book more accurately, thus silencing the moderates into tacit support.

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