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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Is Pakistan an Islamist State?

[Right: Pervez Musharraf. Is he for real?]

(Addition: I’ve had various responses to this post from people telling me that 'Pakistan has always been an Islamic state'. In a sense, that’s true. However, it’s worth making a couple of distinctions.

First, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, affectively founded a state for Muslims rather than an Islamic state. (Just as, at roughly the same time, Israel was created for Jews and not as a Jewish state.) They are not the same thing. Jinnah was a secularist who believed that all religions should get on, etc (or so the publicity has it).

Later, Pakistan did indeed become an Islamic state in that it came to abide by Sharia law (at least to some extent) and was actively Islamic in character.

But even here there is a distinction to be made between Islamic and Islamist. The Islamic state of Pakistan was Islamic in a strictly Sharia-law sense. It did not have a strict commitment to any specific kind of Islamist politics as such. Islamism, on the other, is political to the core.

More relevantly, this meant and means that Islamic states can more or less live in cooperation with other non-Islamic regimes (at least on the surface or diplomatically). Whereas Islamists, or Islamist states, because they are unequivocally political and political in a specific manner, cannot do so. Islamists are against the West. They support terrorism (e.g., Hamas, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc.). They demand the annihilation of Israel. They hate America. Etc.

That is why I asked the question: Is Pakistan an Islamist state?)



Much is made by Muslims and Islamists - in the UK - about the distinction we non-Muslims must make between those Muslim states which are ‘corrupt’ and in hock to the West (even to Israel!) and genuine Islamic states and genuine Islamists.

For example, clearly many Muslims, and all Islamists, were completely disgusted with Egypt(before the 'revolution’) for its ‘corruption’- but more so for its alliances with the West and, terror upon terror, with Israel.

Yet things aren’t quite that simple.

Take Syria. That too is corrupt and ‘an enemy of Islam’ (though, unlike Egypt, it’s no friend of Israel!) - according to UK Muslims and Islamists. However, it also supports and funds Islamist Hezbollah and has very good relations with that thoroughly Islamist state, Iran.

But it is Pakistan which truly mixes all the eggs in the basket. It feigns friendship with the West and even carries out some of its suggestions. It is also hated by European Islamists for its friendship with the U.S.. And, of course, it is ‘corrupt’. Yet this regime supported the Taliban and even supported al-Qaeda. Not only that. Large parts of the Pakistani state, not just the ISI (its intelligence service), are Islamist in nature.

Perhaps even Pervez Musharraf and the ‘moderates’, those (false?) friends of Europe and especially of the US, are themselves Islamists who are simply playing a game. That is, playing the game of using Islamic taqiyya on a monumental geo-political and diplomatic scale. Why not? Pakistan’s former President, General Zia, managed to fuse his own pure Islamism with a very healthy relationship with, amongst others, the United States.

So UK Islamists may differentiate themselves from ‘corrupt’ Arabic governments and even from Muslim (‘not Islamic’?) Pakistan. That doesn’t stop the Pakistani state from actually being Islamist - even if that Islamism is very well disguised.

Perhaps it also means that many of these UK Islamists are not as much against the Pakistani state as they pretend. However, there is no doubt at all that they would like Pakistan to be more Islamic as well as to completely cease any friendly relations with the US and the West generally. After all, nothing will ever be quite Islamist enough for European Islamists. (Just as no state is quite socialist enough for Trots.)

But we are missing out that other super-hypocritical state, Saudi Arabia, in this equation. This country is also well hated by Islamists. It was well hated by Osama bin Laden. Yet this state too had strong relations with the Islamist Taliban as well as with al-Qaeda. Also, although Osama bin Laden did hate Saudi Arabia (primarily because it allowed the US army on its territory), even he offered his services to the ‘Saudi dynasty’ when there was a danger of Saddam Hussein invading its territory.

And bin Laden’s ‘revolutionary’ Islamism wasn’t as revolutionary as many European Islamists make out. He hardly ever talked about the (economically or politically) 'oppressed' of Saudi Arabia or of anywhere else. His prime concern was not the Muslim Oppressed as such, but ‘the occupation of Muslim lands’ by the infidel. Primarily, by the US ‘occupation’ of (parts of) Saudi Arabia. Before that, by the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Then there were places like Chechnya and even Spain! But just about at the bottom of his list, and at the bottom of the list for many years of bin Laden’s life, was Palestine. Indeed he only appeared to up the ante about Palestine when he realised that this would serve his global cause. That is, after the Taliban and other Afghans had kicked the Soviets out of Afghanistan, a new Jihad was needed. Enter Palestine (or Gazza and the West Bank).

Thus bin Laden realised that Palestine, especially after Bosnia, etc., was the new fashion-point for Islamic rage and a new ground for an Islamic Jihad.

I mentioned bin Laden’s lack of the-rhetoric-of -the-Muslim-Oppressed earlier. In fact, he associated himself not with the (economically) oppressed of Saudi Arabia, or the oppressed of anywhere else for that matter, but with the trader class of that country. More specifically, he actually championed the upper social classes of Saudi Arabia. He called them ‘the great merchants’ and said that he was ‘indebted’ to them. He even went all petit-bourgeois and started feeling sorry for them because they had suffered from the ‘devaluation of the rial’.

So, not that unlike Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, bin Laden primarily addressed himself to the religious or Islamist middle class and even to the Islamically-correct princes. (In fact bin Laden borrowed a lot less Leftist rhetoric than did the Ayatollah.) In the Ayatollah’s case, he wanted them to rise up against the Shah and his ‘court’. Bin Laden wanted the Saudi middle class, the merchants, and even a few princes, to rise up against the ‘ruling dynasty’. There was nothing in the slightest bit Leftist or Marxist about any of this. (It certainly didn’t tune in well with our own Respect Party or even with Hamas.)

After all, this man was a multi-millionaire son of a billionaire father. His loyalties were indeed with Muslims of all kinds (rich or poor, oppressors or oppressed), but especially with Muslims traders and merchants. (Basically, the proto- or small-time capitalists of Saudi Arabia and - perhaps - beyond.)

Islamist Pakistan?

The song and dance about US soldiers in Pakistani territory (in order to kill Osama bin Laden) should be no surprise to anyone. Neither is it anything new. For example, as long ago as 2003, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the US thought about initiating a campaign in Pakistan to destroy the leftovers of Al Qaeda there. In fact, most people know that the US moved its Special Forces across the border of Afghanistan, into Pakistan in order to hunt down the now-dead Osama bin Laden.

In the early days of the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Pakistani ISI (as well as Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Department) was strongly involved in creating the mujahideen movement which eventually destroyed the Soviet forces. And well after the the Soviets were defeated, the ISI remained strongly connected to the Afghan fighters.

The ISI also helped both create and support both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In fact, over and above the ISI, the Pakistani government was the only state to formally recognise the Taliban (although the Saudis also had close ties and funded them).

So what about some specifics for the claim that Pakistan’s ISI is deeply Islamist in nature and thus an obvious supporter of the now-dead Osama bin Laden and the still-alive al-Qaeda?

Let’s take the single case of the former Director of the ISI, General Hameed Gul (he led the ISI in the late 1980s).

Gul, unlike (perhaps) Musharraf and many Pakistani members of his government, was an out-an-out Islamist. He had close political ties with various Islamists parties in Pakistan and made his Islamism explicit (even when head of the ISI).

This man made frequent visits to Afghanistan - even after he had left the ISI. In fact, just before 9/11, he had been on a two-week visit there. And because of 9/11, he began to make his Islamism, therefore his anti-Americanism, etc., clearer. For example, he said:

‘The Taliban will always remain in Afghanistan, and Pakistan will always support them.’

So we can safely say, in retrospect, that the Pakistani government’s promises to hand bin Laden over to third parties were either simply examples of Realpolitik; or, alternatively, and speaking in Islamist or Islamic terms, examples of Islamic taqiyya.

What about Musharraf? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and take him as a non-Islamist and also as being against al-Qaeda and, formerly, against Osama bin Laden. We can now say, as no doubt US and UK diplomats and politicians have done, that his major problem with being hard on the al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was that it would have meant that he would have had to go to war with the ISI - his own intelligence services!

Following on from this, US and UK politicians/diplomats will also tell us, and have told us, that if we put too much pressure on Musharraf, then that could destroy him and indeed Pakistan. It would result in chaos. (That’s if there isn’t already chaos in that country!)

However, all this begs the question about Musharraf. Is he really against al-Qaeda?
Was he really against Osama bin Laden? And is he an Islamist or is he just a Muslim who happens to run a Muslim country?

Put this another way. Is Musharraf really committed to the fight against al-Qaeda? Or is he trapped into supporting us in order to save his own skin from those who would be more Islamist, or more obviously Islamist, than he is himself and thus would openly support al-Qaeda (whcih could bring on a military conflict with the US)?

To sum up. We can note that that Pakistan has always had the closest connections/relations to al-Qaeda of any (Muslim) state. And thus it has also had the least cooperative intelligence service (from a US and perhaps UK perspective, of course). That should tell us most of what we need to know about the Pakistani state and its relations to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, etc.

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