Thursday, January 3, 2008

Destabilizing the Islamic World

The following is an excerpt from Kolko's 2002 Book Another Century of War, published by New Press.

by Gabriel Kolko

"Communism's virtual disappearance caused the geopolitical and strategic factors that produced alliances and coalitions after 1947 to decline and lose their justifications everywhere, but new ones have been more difficult to make. The situation in the entire Islamic world is too unstable, the outcome of the changes that are occurring within it unknowable. But America's war in Afghanistan further destabilized Pakistan and weakened the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, making the longer term consequences of the conflict there pale in importance. Any upheavals in either of these two crucial nations are likely to bring to power men essentially sympathetic to one or another brand of Islamic fundamentalism. To win the war militarily but lose it politically would be a disaster for the United States, one it is very likely going to have to confront soon.

There are a number of ways Pakistan could be shaken to its core, and Washington was aware of these dangers but it decided to play a very dangerous game with high risks, and now there is a strong chance it will see the worst case realized. Some of these issues are very old, involving Pakistan's fundamental interests in seeing a friendly regime rule its northern neighbor, and will continue in the future regardless of whether or not General Pervez Musharraf continues to rule. Until the fighting was resolved Pakistan had a great deal more leverage in dealing with the US, but the moment it ended it lost most of it. Pakistani public sentiment was from the inception hostile to Musharraf's alliance with America. In mid-October 2001, public opinion was 87 percent opposed to the US attacks and nearly two-thirds were pro-Taliban. Thousands of Pakistani men – Pashtuns – have gone to Afghanistan in recent years to fight for the Taliban. Pakistan is and was a politically fragile partner of whatever the US chooses to label its relationship, and to base its strategy in the region on it was folly, for the worst of all worlds is to destabilize it, leading to Islamic fundamentalists taking power – for the nation to be "Talibanized," as one former Pakistani senior official put it......

It is a fact that the war in Afghanistan has weakened the regimes in both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, perhaps fatally, and the longer the war and its politically unstable aftermath takes then the greater the risks – especially to Pakistan. These potential dangers far exceed in strategic and economic importance the issues that were involved in finding bin Laden or removing the Taliban from power. "

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