Where does jihad live?

Newsweek’s cover story this month on Pakistan says it all: “Where Jihad Lives Now”. Pakistan is now the main haven for the enemy, an unstable state with nuclear capacity that is, in the manner of the Ebola virus, being rapidly infiltrated by al-Qaeda and fellow travelers.

The United States has completely lost control of its crusade against the ‘terrorists’, and Pakistan is rapidly becoming the next scapegoat. This failure is because of several strategic blunders made by the Administration in 2001. I will concentrate on one, though: the territorializing of conflict against al-Qaeda.

Remember ‘we make no distinction between the terrorists and the states that harbour them’? Bush’s words just a couple of days after September 11th transformed what could have been a campaign of discreet cooperation and infiltration of a network that is, almost by definition, against any and all states into a series of old-fashioned territorial wars against nation-states: Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and now serious threats of air-strikes against Iran. The first two are still continuing, in no small part because the collapse or surrender of the enemy government is, these cases, beside the point. Remember the ‘mission accomplished’ statement on the deck of an aircraft carrier? How long ago was that?

I don’t know how much cold war thinking, the neoconservative agenda, the plutocratic ‘Iraq war at all costs’ faction, or a combination of the above is to blame for this territorialisation, but this thinking certainly continues. Pakistan, implicitly, is now at fault for the terrorist menace.

Never mind that the Pakistani army, at the urging of the Americans, has been waging a low-scale civil war against its own citizens in NWFP, thus angering the population and collapsing any popular support that Gen. Musharraf might have had. Never mind that Pakistani voters are given no democratic options at this moment, as the United States brokers a deeply un-democratic alliance between the General and Benazir Bhutto. Never mind that the militants are using many of the guns that were given by the US to fellow travelers in the 1980s to fight the Soviets across the border.

The Pakistani government’s facing intense political pressures, from within and without, but that does not mean that you can make no distinction between the terrorists and the country that is supposedly harbouring them at present.

Are there members of al-Qaeda within Pakistan’s borders? Undoubtedly. Does ‘Pakistan’ harbour those individuals? I seriously doubt it. Those who need to put the blame on states, as institutions, seriously misunderstand what the world looks like at present.

Just to close, here are a few stylized facts of Pakistan that excitable commentators tend to forget. They tend to muddy the waters of a clean IR narrative, which is what areas studies are supposed to do.

1) Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is thoroughly in the hands of the most stable institution in the country: the military. There have been military coups, including one against a sitting general in the early 1970s, but cracks in the institution are not evident, especially given frequent purges. And the Pakistani army, and its privilege, is most threatened by groups like al-Qaeda. What soldier wants to let in those who would smash such a beautiful cash-cow?

2) Internal politics in Pakistan, as in India, are violent, especially in urban areas. When Iftikhar Chaudhry somewhat ill-advisedly came to Karachi in the early summer, the resultant violence between the MQM, backing Musharraf, and the PPP went on for days and left scores dead and injured. Karachi is especially prone to violence – sectarian, factionalist, gang-related – that stems from the 1970s and 1980s, and have little to do with al-Qaeda. The anti-Bhutto elements in positions of power aren’t necessarily part of transnational networks of jihadists.

3) ‘Islamist’ political movements with any support like the MMA are focused on winning power through democratic means and aim to implement a socially and economically conservative agenda, very much statist. The tribal areas of the NWFP have had their autonomy threatened by the centre, and they are lashing out at Islamabad. Targets are almost always Pakistani government institutions.

4) Most of Sindh and the Punjab is still ruled by a zamindar-state alliance that is responsible for much suffering, but these actors are the opposite of radical. Can one imagine the feudal landlord or the high-ranking police officer or civil servant allying with those who would destroy their privilege, their SUVs, their compounds, their kickbacks and agri-rents?

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Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in

Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and now serious threats of air-strikes against Iran

and proxy wars in Palestine and Lebanon.

[...] here, kawaa’s excellent

[...] here, kawaa’s excellent series of posts from the time of Bhutto’s assassination and on media coverage on “the jihad” based in Pakistan, and at Chapati Mystery, various [...]

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