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17 November 2009


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FB Ali

Thanks. I really enjoy reading your missives.

It seems that this one is more dire than your last one which had some rays of hope.

I am not as astute as you and many others who congregate here at Pat's place when it comes to military and geopolitical affairs. From my naive perspective it seems that we are all on auto-pilot. And there is no political will to make the hard choices or for that matter any choice that attempts to solve real problems. It seems that we are moving slowly but inexorably towards a dark place. I am concerned that if the "political Islamists" as you called them gain strength within the Pakistani military and they force a governmental takeover that they may feel the necessity to strike out against Indian and US interests to vent their frustrations for their real and perceived injustices. I worry this could lead to enormous violence and destruction and more importantly destabilize our highly unstable global economic and geopolitical system.

As someone more in tune with the financial world I see increasing instability in the economic sphere despite a significant runup in risk assets as financial institutions have been backstopped by taxpayers. There are many pressure points building since none of the underlying financial problems have been solved. All we have done is temporarily papered them over. So we have this unusual situation where even a slight tremor - either economically or geopolitically could lead to cascading breakdowns that would be hard to contain.

In this context I have two questions. How far have the "political Islamists" progressed in their takeover of the leadership of the Pakistani military? Second, if they succeed in gaining power what would they want to accomplish - what changes would they make with respect to the governance of Pakistan and their relationship with India and the West?

William R. Cumming

Great post and again indicates how the ignorance, hubris, and ego of US policymakers is leading down the wrong road. Use of largely Christian forces in a largely Islamic country is part of the problem and it is not the west so much as that that aggravates the situation. Islam is a WESTERN religion.
Also India covers it up nicely but with over 100 million Muslims and a Praxelite "rebellion" impacting almost 1.2 of the country India is not very stable either. WELL does look like peace and prosperty will skip most of the 21st Century in S.Asia as well as many other parts of the world.

Clifford Kiracofe

FB Ali, All

"As the situation in the country deteriorates, a direct Islamist takeover (most likely through the military) will become a real possibility."

Yes, indeed.

And perhaps in Egypt also at some point whether following a Pak example/model or not? In both cases stronger ties with China and distancing from the US?

Excellent and helpful analysis. It is logical to calculate that deteriorating conditions, and local perceptions of US imperialism and neocolonialism, would increase the appeal of Islamist ideology and political action.

When I was in India this past Christmas, a retired general told me that he assessed the trend in Pakistan as moving from a traditional (conservative) Islam towards fundamentalism-Islamism. My friend is Muslim and was deeply concerned about the trend and its implications not only for Pakistan but also for India and the general region.

Unfortunately, glancing at the press, it seems the US foreign policy elite whether "Democrat" or "Republican" is too delusional [hubris, exceptionalism] at this juncture to develop a serious policy that responds to ground reality there.

Congress has been informed over the past several years on the esssentials of the FATA situation and the lack of an effective US policy, but...

Here is a significant GAO assessment on US government policy prepared for Congress in 2008. This report follows up earlier reports to Congress on FATA and US policy.

For those interested in Islamist ideology in South Asia (and elsewhere), as a start:


Why didn't they conjure up a Domino Theory for Moslem states back in yore? Beginnin' to seem much more rational in contrast to the one 'bout 'em Communists.


I love trolling through the data in these polls there is always something either surprising, funny or surreal – I leave you to decide in to which category these fall.
My picks this time.
Given the choice of a secular coalition led by the PPP or a religious coalition led by the PML-N – PML-N won 64% to 20%

Given a list of political figures and asked who they liked/disliked the run away victors were the Sharif brothers but towards the other end of the table the current prime minister was beaten by one O bin Laden

On the Mumbai bombings they were first told that the Pakistan group Lashkar-e-Taiba were being fingered in the media. Do you believe this - 75% No, 7% Yes. The follow up was Who then? A third did not know 42% India, 20% US no one else exceeded 1%

On the main article I broadly agree apart from this bit
“It is possible to engineer a political resolution in Afghanistan that would give the Taliban their space in the country but exclude al-Qaeda. It is possible to shore up Pakistan, and those institutions and elements in it that would be a bulwark against the Islamists.”
It is all this engineering that worries me. I recall from another poll that when asked what was the greatest threat facing Pakistan the very clear winner was – The USA.
Any person or party in Pakistan or Afghanistan that could be accused of getting into the running by dint of US support is going to do as well as an Israeli candidate supported by Iran or an Iranian candidate endorsed by Israel. They need to pick their own leaders and system of government after which offers of support may or may not be welcomed. Our ‘help’ to date has just made everything that much harder and less likely to be to our liking.

William R. Cumming

Correction! My understanding is the Praxelites control almost 1/2 of central India politically running from North to South. Would welcome more accurate information correcting or supplementing my info.

FB Ali


Thank you for your appreciation. You ask: How far have the "political Islamists" progressed in their takeover of the leadership of the Pakistani military?

Most of the army, like the bulk of the population, already are political Islamists, ie, Islamic nationalists with a distinct anti-Indian attitude. As in the case of nationalists in other countries there are variations in the degree to which they feel this and are influenced by it: there are ultra-nationalists, nationalists, and many who have more pressing issues to concern them. But when these troubles mount and there is no solution in sight, it is easy to blame them on outside forces threatening the country, and everyone starts becoming an ultra-nationalist. That is when things get dangerous.

An Islamist government is likely to follow policies that it considers to be in the interests of Pakistan and of Muslim peoples everywhere. These would inevitably estrange them from the US and the West, and instead bring them much closer to China, and to other unaligned Muslim countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Malaysia. Relations with India are likely to be strained. It is unlikely that such a government would impose any fundamentalist form of Islam within the country; political Islamists are seldom also religious Islamists.


I agree with a lot of what you say, but totally disagree with your idea that "stopping the war in afghanistan" is the way everything else will fall into place. Stopping the war in Afghanistan would be an option if that war was entirely a western creation, for the West to start and stop. That is absolutely NOT the case. There was a war going on BEFORE 9-11 and there will be a much bigger war AFTER NATO withdraws. I posted the following comment elsewhere and it might be relevant:
Of course, we can still go back and debate why the US invaded Afghanistan in the first place? IF it was to "deny alqaeda a safe haven" then they did not do a great job, since the salafists just moved to Pakistan, where they have continued to plot and gather recruits and so on. If they are not a huge threat now, why were they a huge threat then? IF it was to show the salafists what happens when you mess with the big chief, then that lesson is not going to be learned when they actually defeat the great satan. If it was to send a message to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (both of whom had more to do with the salafist network than poor Afghanistan) then again the issue seems to have grown muddled over time. IF it was to blow some steam and make the rubble bounce so that New York firemen would feel better, then does the feelgood feeling last after the choppers take off from the roof with Karzai hanging from a rope ladder?

But I agree, maybe time to admit mistakes and leave. As mildly leftist American liberal, I would be totally OK with that, except that I am from Pakistan and have a not-so-secret vested interest in avoiding the mayhem that I think will follow a US defeat. I dont even have a high opinion of the US ability to meddle in that area ("our man musharraf") but I am thinking "lesser of two evils" and I am not even sure of that anymore.

Anyway, what do you think will happen if the US admits a mistake and leaves? How will the withdrawal be handled? who will be left behind? What will happen to them? Will Pakistan and India start a proxy war in Afghanistan? Will the Saudis get bogged down in Yemen or will they double down by paying the ISI to blow up stuff in Iran and get into deeper trouble all around? Does the region need a supervisor? and who might that be?


FB Ali,

After observing pacification up close and personnel 40 years ago, I am totally skeptical of any scheme to force Western ideology on natives by force of arms. If peace was the real goal in Afghanistan, local police and good governance are hundred times more effective than armed American boys and girls.

The trouble with occupations is that anyone who collaborates with the invader is a puppet of the foreigners. The trouble with war is that it is hard to control and like cancer inevitably metastasizes into neighboring countries.

I agree with your excellent post. The one sure way to assure that fundamental Islamists take over the Pakistan government is to continue the war of occupation in Afghanistan.


FB Ali,

Re: "These would inevitably estrange them from the US and the West, and instead bring them much closer to China"

I don't know about this. Though Pakistan is on close ties with the chinese, I thought many moslems across the world are angered by what happened in the uighur (sinkiang) areas? Then again they're turks aren't they?

Clifford Kiracofe


You are referring to the so-called "Naxalites" who espouse some sort of a Maoist ideology.

See Wiki here and note map.

Security folks in India refer to a "Red Belt" or swath across India which the Naxalites have created. The Red Belt is extending its way westward. When I was in Punjab in December, it appeared local authorities had broken up a few cells in recent month so it is spreading.

FB Ali


You may have a vested interest in Pakistan, but you do not see things from the Pakistani perspective. Certainly, the previous post you reproduce is totally from an American point of view.

It is the US war in Afghanistan, and the resulting US demands on Pakistan, that are creating these critical pressures and fissures in Pakistan, which are pushing the country towards an Islamist 'solution'.

The US (and NATO) can end this war now through a political arrangement, involving regional powers, that would meet their minimum security needs (which they can later also enforce, if necessary). Or, they can let it go on for a year or two until its unpopularity causes Congress to pull the plug on it; then it’ll surely end in a defeat. However, by then Pakistan could have become a much bigger security problem for them.

No, Omar, the region does NOT need a “supervisor”. You’ve lived too long in the USA!

FB Ali


You raise an interesting issue about Egypt. The potential for those same basic dynamics to operate there is certainly present, but there are also modifying and dampening factors. I don’t have much direct knowledge, but it seems to me that Arab nationalism would be a strong impulse reinforcing a possibly weaker (compared to Pakistan) Islamic nationalism.

A certain portion of the billions in US aid pouring in must trickle down to the masses, alleviating economic pressures to some degree. Also, even though the Palestine situation next door is a source of unhappiness, there are no direct pressures on the populace (as the Afghan war blowback is exerting in Pakistan) to aggravate the situation.

Nevertheless, the passing of Mubarak will end the state of inertia that now prevails. Many currently quiescent forces and interests will come into play. The potential for radical change may become more real.

The Islamist tide is rising not only in Pakistan and Egypt, but also throughout the Muslim world. As external pressures on these countries (and on Muslims everywhere) increase, as their internal problems and contradictions become more acute, more and more people will look with hope to a possible Islamist solution.


@FB Ali,

Again sir. Thanks for a very cogent, realistic and thoughtful analytical piece.

I can only hope and pray someone in a high position of leadership (Jim Jones?) gets the opportunity to read the kind of posts and commentary associated with this Committee of Correspondence. Unfortunately, at my level and from my observation, the decision authorities and policymakers are completely oblivious the the obvious, fully enthralled in their own theories and the latest spin, hopelessly captured by the inertia of continuing the same failed programs and the personal rewards that thereby accrue to them as a result.

I think they need to spend many, many hours in Section 60. Perhaps they will take a cue from their boss?



"Making things worse, underlying all this are the ticking time bombs of rapid population growth."

"a critical disconnect between the government and the vast majority of the people, especially as regards the United States."

I think Pakistan is at the cross-road. A true national leader is needed to undo Zia Ul-haq's policy. It was good for pakistan before, but now time has changed and continuing down this path will lead to dissolution of Pakistan as a state. A giant FATA, Somalia or Afghanistan if you will. A failed state where legal connection between arm force, legitimate government and the people cease to exist. It will be nothing but giant arena for warlords and political militias to run around inside.

I posted the 'too big to fail' argument last year to point out the near collapse of Rupee. Had the pakistan currency fall, current series of country wide bombing campaign inside Pakistan would have destroyed it, nevermind being able to contain and roll back armed militias inside FATA. But that argument is not general and has shelf life.

Pakistan is in real tangled mess, few items:

1. Current trajectory of Israel/US-arab world Palestine conflict will destroy Saudi-Pakistan-US funding triangle. (With it stability of Pakistan budget, oil supply, and its ability to sustain and pay for its gigantic arms force. Eg.if Palestinian is granted independence by the UN, US refuses, Israel launches war by nuking Iran. Then what? You think all those rebel rousers with car bomb will let Pakistan sit in peace? Forget oil price and energy security for a moment.)

2. India is in neocon mode. Israel is using India as the new leverage against islamic world. With that comes Iran and Palestine conflicts into the picture. Currently it's only weapon market and political backing, but soon it will spill over to trade tension, military backing and manipulating regional politics to create diplomatic advantage. think Yemen. Pakistan is not in position to handle such complexity.

3. US-China, Russia-India-China. This dance is complex. (IPI, gawdar, rupee exchange rate, China's budget support, submarine politics are all only beginning.) When US-China finally break into real arm skirmish, Pakistan will be one of those place like Tibet, Kashmir or Nepal. Observe what recently happens in tawang, Nepal, jammu-kashmir. Pakistan will be just another arena where big power joust. (remember what afghanistan-soviet war was about!)

4. US economy and dollar stability are in question. If dollar goes, rupee and pakistan economic foundation goes as well. Pakistan is utterly unprepared in the event of major global currency change. (Major banks trying to close swap arbitrage nearly destroyed pakistan currency, imagine central banks in asia goes to financial war mode trying to stabilise the global market while ditching dollar. Didn't China refuse injecting cash during Bush era?)

5. There is a brewing revolution in the Islamic world right now. Pakistan will be one of its flashing point.


with that one can only guess how Pakistan domestic and internal politics will unfold.

1. massive inconsistency in pakistan legal structure, specially when it comes to stance in religious laws, public rethoric, actual foreign policy, how the major institutions conducted itself. All these are not sustainable.

2. What will ISI/Pakistan arms force do in the event of rupee collapsing. (who is going to sustain their pay and programs?)

3. when unemployment hit 20-30% in Pakistan and inflation hit 2-300% (Think Brazil in the 80's) How will Islamic populist parties behave.

4. Can Pakistan afford operating and maintaining its weapons? (Hey Soviet submarines were roaming the globe in the 80s. a decade later it was rusting)

5. Pakistan is prime target for revolution/regime change. It is infinitely ready for a big blow up. some minor taliban gang suddenly experience real leap in capability, designing an insurrection in pakistan is not unimaginable.

At any rate, Pakistan cannot keep using conflict, too big to fail, the enemy of your enemy is us-your friend, etc. The tangled web has wound itself so tight it is about to strangle Pakistan as a state.

If thing doesn't change pronto, Pakistan will become a "real" failed state. It won't happens slowly over decades, but when the storm finally hapens, it will takes weeks to make current arrangement forever changed. Zia ul-haq policy is not sustainable. It was for the 70's geopolitical climate.

and btw, Pakistan illiteracy rate is ~40%, 2 million afghan refugees and ranked 141 in human development index. All big index is pointing down.



As far as most of the world except the US is concerned, Islamists took over Pakistan with Zia-ul-Haq.


FYI, Omar. http://www.newsyemen.net/en/view_news.asp?sub_no=3_2009_11_15_7965>http://www.newsyemen.net/en/view_news.asp?sub_no=3_2009_11_15_7965

NewsYemen: "Pakistani fighters are helping the Houthi rebels with their conflict against Saudi Arabia, Al Arabiya TV reported, quoting Yemen's Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi as saying: "The way the Houthi militias operate and the amount of money they spend on the conflict make the involvement of foreign powers almost a certainty."

“The Yemeni intelligence is investigating the involvement of external parties in supporting the Houthi insurgency,” al-Qirbi said. “This is a conspiracy to destroy Yemen and the Houthis will pay dearly for that.” "



William R. Cumming

Thanks, Clifford for the correction!

Clifford Kiracofe

FB Ali,

Thanks for your response.

It seems to me that there is a residual discredited social science element underlying recent and present US policy formulation. During the 1950s and 1960s, some influential social scientists (political scientists and sociologists), such as Daniel Lerner, advanced the notion that "modernization" would inevitably and properly lead to the decline of religion (mainly Islam) in societies and to the rise of secularism.

"...American modernization buffs, both in government and academia, had for years argued that religion, and especially Islam, was a barrier to socioeconomic progress. In recognition of this, they persuaded themselves that most modernizing Muslim governments and peoples saw Islam as a vestigial, nonregulatory force, applicable at most to personal status matters. Many reputable scholars, including some from the Middle East, who should have known better, derided Islam as irrelevant to nation building and chose to ignore it in modeling development plans for the Middle East states....We would be well advised to recognize more than we have in the past, that Islam, whether militarily assertive or seemingly passive, is omnipresent and represents a force with which we will have to come to terms".....
[US Ambassador Herman Eilts, 1984, in foreward to John Esposito's Islam and Politics, 4th ed. 1998. Eilts was our Ambassador to Egypt.]

Seems to me that present US counterinsurgency strategy not to mention our general Afghanistan "nation building" policy drinks heavily from the discredited well of 1950s and 60s political science and sociology. IMO, the underlying ethos of Holbrooke's team and present US South Asia policy, for example, reflects this discredited "modernization"theory.

It does not surprise that the "pro-Israel" lobby has an interest in keeping this discredited modernization theory in circulation "inside the Beltway."

Brett J

Thanks for the analysis, FB Ali. The complexities and potential flashpoints of Pakistan are clearly, woefully underacknowledged.

As noted by others, your mentioning of the Pakistani Army as a risk point is notable - the (uncommon) times that the news' analysis goes deep enough, the armed forces are often shown as a rare point of stability in an unstable Pakistan.



Being educated in Washington State Public Schools in the 50’s and early 60’s, I am firmly in the “modernization” camp. The main pillars of modernization are good governance and a better life for its citizens.

However, what is happening to Pakistan also reflects what is happening in the United States. Pakistan is adjacent and involved in Afghanistan where the US Government decided to kick some Muslim Ass after 9/11. Also, thanks to the rise of “Greed is Good. Government is Evil” ideology, the US Federal Government has ceased to consider what is best for its citizens but is only intent in satisfying the demands of its Corporate and NGO Stakeholders (Whoever pays for the politicians reelection campaigns).

Examples; the NY Federal Reserve Bank’s shenanigans with AIG counterparty payments or fighting two unwinnable wars of occupation in the heartland of Islam.

FB Ali


"Islamists took over Pakistan with Zia-ul-Haq".

That makes a good propaganda slogan but is poor history. In the 21 years after Zia, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Parvez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari have ruled Pakistan. Hardly Islamists! Except for Musharraf all the others came into power through fair elections.


FB Ali

Thanks for your response to my questions.

As you pointed out in your note Pakistan's birth was with an anti-India experience and that sentiment has continued to date. So on that score there is no change.

Do you believe as Islamic nationalism increases in Pakistan there will be a propensity to increase cross-border activities in Kashmir and other border regions as well as more spectacular events like the recent landing of gunmen in Mumbai?

How would you think India would respond if that happens? It seems to me that India has more to lose in any military conflict since there would be a flight of investment capital jeopardizing their economic growth story. Consequently they may be forced to be more restrained. Would that not then just embolden the anti-India Islamists to increase their attacks to get the Pakistani people to focus away from their domestic problems? Where do you think the breaking point is for a much wider conflagration?

Clifford Kiracofe


Good government and better life are certainly worthy goals. These goals can be met in Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, diverse multi-confessional, etc. societies.

My reference and Ambassador Eilts' reference was to those social scientists, like Daniel Lerner, who saw/see Islam, the religion, as something retrogressive per se and standing against "modernization."

Put another way, their emphasis was/is on a materialist development model and did not take proper account of the religious factor in the Islamic world. In effect, they viewed/view material progress as necessarily eliminating (anachronistic) religion on the way to the "workers paradise."

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