U.S., Taliban and Chapati mystery

by: Omar Ali

I personally think that the people of Pakistan will be better off if U.S. General McChrystal succeeds but I am well aware that in this view I am in a minority. There are several distinct groups of Pakistanis that disagree with me, all for different reasons. For example:

1. Left wing intellectuals are split at this time. Some consider the Taliban-Army nexus such a threat that they have taken a deep breath and pulled away from their traditional anti-Americanism to SOME extent. But most are absolutely convinced that capitalism and the existing world system are inherently evil and are responsible for most/ALL of the world’s ills, including the Taliban (for example, the Taliban are described by the learned scholars on “chapati mystery” as “the talibothra”, an exaggerated, manufactured threat that is being used to propel the interests of “the empire” and so on). Of course, the actual influence of the left is limited in Pakistan.

2. Islamists share the left’s hatred of America, but from a very different perspective. They are not opposed to “empire” as such. They are opposed to THIS empire and would like to see it replaced by “THEIR” empire. I frequently argue that the Islamists are a minority and practical considerations will eventually cause the army to side with America. But every few days, some anecdotal experience will shake this “pragmatic” assumption of mine. Just yesterday, I had a long discussion with a gentleman who has run several Islamic centers in the US, has a PhD in Islamic studies and is probably a US citizen (I did not ask). I asked him how an American withdrawal would help the Afghan people? His reply was interesting: He did not take the Tariq Ali line that once America leaves, the oppressed nations will figure things out, thanks to their superior culture, where poetry is still alive and ordinary people quote poets and write poems (I am not joking, Tariq Ali actually made that argument about Iraq). No, this Islamist was much more realistic in some ways (also much more cold blooded, in that he was willing to see millions killed as long as it hurt America). He side stepped the issue of the common people and argued this way: “Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc have many divergent interests and frequently fight against each other, but they ALL agree on one issue. That America must be cut down to size. To do this, they cooperate just enough to keep the insurgencies going. They DON’T want America to leave Afghanistan OR Iraq. They just don’t want America to win in either country. When Pakistan felt the heat, Iran took in Hikmatyar in spite of the fact that he is a SUNNI fundamentalist and an ISI asset. Saudi Arabia still maintains ties to the Taliban in spite of the Royal family’s issues with Bin Laden. Everyone understands one thing. America must be kept bleeding…. and this strategy is working. America will collapse sooner rather than later.

3. Final anecdote: At least 5 of the 10 other people sitting around that table (all US citizen Pakistani doctors who will presumably suffer some pain if the US were to “go down”) were nodding their heads during this learned discourse. The assumption was that “obviously we all understand that America must go down”. Even if we are ourselves “American”.

4. Based on this kind of anecdotal experience, I find the notion that the ISI and the Pak army want the US to “win” rather unbelievable. They may at some level be scared of the possible outcome if America pulls out too soon. But they don’t want the US to win. A long slow bleed would be the ideal outcome.

5. I think there IS an increasing number of people who would like to see the Taliban taken out and who are even coming around to supporting an American “victory”. but watch Pakistani TV and see how hard it is for even the most anti-Taliban person to bring themselves to say that. I still think that they will come around to this view because the alternative is horrible civil war and endless conflict with India, Iran, etc. etc. But I don’t think we can underestimate the magnitude of the “public diplomacy” challenge.

6. And then there is Eric Prince and Black-water and General Boykin and the people who think this really IS a crusade for Christ.

The worst case scenarios are never too far away from becoming the likelier scenarios.

Though I still optimistic.. .”very gradual change we can believe in”

Comments welcome.

Courtesy: Omar Ali & crdp@yahoogroups.com, Sun Dec 13, 2009

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