Pakistan professor provides background

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 18 10:39:08 MDT 2001

[posted to World Systems Network]

Dear WSN,

I'm writing from Pakistan. Below is an account of recent events I have
written off the top of my head, but there is no time to do any research on
it yet. I believe it is the only account so far that tries to look at
things from a world systems perspective. May I please request a few moments
from you to read through it.

In my classes here, I tell my students that Globalization has been dividing
the world between 2 basic logics. They are: Regional Integration and
Regional War.

For the Americas, Europe and East Asia, regional integration is becoming
the dominant logic in response to the competitive challenges of a
globalized economy. For the Americas and Europe the case is not difficult
to make. For East Asia, consult Fred Bergsten's working paper 00-4 March
from the Institute of International Economics, for a review of the various
initiatives to forge a regional cooperation agreement. Contact me if you
wish for a softcopy of this piece.

Regional war is the reality, to varying degrees, for Southern Africa, the
Middle East and South Asia. For the purposes of this event and its meaning,
it is important to understand the dynamics of regional war in South Asia.
That is what this essay tries to do.

Regional war in South Asia is the outcome of a clash between 2 logics of
regional domination being employed by the 2 parties to the conflict here.
One is an economic logic that seeks to turn neighboring countries into
economic tributaries of the dominant power. The means used here include
transit agreements for commercial traffic, free trade agreements between
various sectors of industry and regional investment patterns which crowd
out domestic business. This is the logic commanded by India. The other
logic is militaristic. This one seeks to create cheap and effective
militias which can be used to inflict a military cost on the dominant
power. There are again 2 signal events which placed contradictory pressures
on Pakistan and weaned the country into this logic. One was its involvement
as a frontline state in America's fight against the USSR. The other was the
infiltration of revolutionary ideas from Iran following the revolution. (I
see 1979 as a crucial turning point) The US funded, trained, supplied with
hardware and information the irregular forces that Pakistani military
intellignce then steered towards defeating the Soviet invasion force. What
was born out of this war was an understanding and knowledge of how an
effectively run geurrilla campaign can, through a sustained effort, defeat
a modern army. From Iran came a counter thrust of anti-American
revolutionary ideas as increasing numbers of TJP activists went to Iran for
their training rather than the traditional destination of Lebanon. Pakistan
was, therefore, now deeply involved in one imperialist war while a
vociferous anti-imperialist inspiration was finding its way into civil
society. (for the best discussion on the geo-political roots of sectarian
militancy in Pakistan, see S.V.R. Nasr, "The Rise of Sunni Militancy in
Pakistan...." Modern Asian Studies, 34, 1, 2000)

Out of this effort were born 2 seperate forms of inspired militancy. One
was sectarianism and the other was jihadi (for lack of a better word).
Sectarian militants seek to use militancy as a means of homogenizing the
source of inspiration and believe that the biggest threats to their
doctrine lie in those who profess the same faith but with a different
intepretation. These organizations were created as a means to counter the
Iranian influence in Pakistan. The Sipah-e-Sahaba was the creation of the
ISI during this time to target and kill prominent Iranian trained activists
who were marshalling up support against America's war in Afghanistan. On
the other hand, the ISI was busy training and guiding Afghan mujahedeen
against the Soviet occupation. They relied on domestic Islamist parties
such as the JUI and Jamaat-e-Islami for the purpose, which went on to
preach a message of international war to fulfill the agenda of the
pan-Islamic parties of the 1920's.

In the 1990s, these groups found themselves in a different environment
altogether. The sectarian outfits were deprived of their official support,
but the networks continued to operate. There was now created a
game-theoretic situation of competitive escalation as they jostled for
position in key constituencies and sought to attract recruits. To establish
their credentials, these outfits stepped up their activities and in the
process, gave birth to more splinter groups led by the hardline factions
within them. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, for instance, was created by Riaz Basra
who had been one of the most prominent and ruthless members of the
Sipah-e-Sahaba when he felt that the latter was de-escalating its
activities in order to prepare its entry into the field of mainstream

The jihadi groups found for themselves a place within the new foreign
policy of the state. They were to be used to fuel an escalation of violence
in Kashmir to achieve several purposes simultaneously. Most immediate and
obvious of these was to pin down a significant amount of Indian military
capability in the mountains to relieve the pressure in the plains. The idea
was the same as the one pursued in the Afghan war: to inflict a long term
cost on the Indian army that would prove in the long run to be
unsustainable. Another purpose was to place Kashmir on the agenda
internationally to force India to negotiate on the matter. It is an
understatement to say that the militancy cost Pakistan far less in dollar
terms than the repression cost India. The political costs in the long run
are another matter.

A vicious circle was created. The more the Jihadi groups carried out
successful militancy in Kashmir, the more India beefed up its military
capability. This made it imperative to keep the militancy going, since a
deescalation would relieve all this capability for the plains. This sort of
vicious circle has lain behind the escalation in the violence in Kashmir
during the 1990's, leading ultimately to the nuclear detonations by India
as an attempt to turn the tables on Pakistan by uping the ante, and the
Kargil war of 1999 as a last ditch effort by the Pakistan military to
salvage some tangible gains from their policy before its too late.

Meanwhile, as Afghanistan disintegrated into civil war between rival
Mujahideen factions, and the Central Asian Republics emerged as potential
trading partners in search of land access to the sea, the pressure to bring
order to this region also mounted. The Taliban were recruited in 1994 to
fulfill all these needs. Recruited from the religious seminaries of the JUI
primarily, the Taliban were those Afghans who had been raised in refugee
camps in Pakistan during the Afghan war. The mujahideen groups now found
their support from Pakistan withdrawn and handed over to the Taliban
instead (Hamid Gul was an important player here). The process was carried
out during the second Benazir government when the JUI was an important
coalition partner.

The Taliban (the word means "students," literally) provided a formula to
end the civil war in Afghanistan through by-passing the tribal units into
which the Afghan factions had come to be divided. However they were unable
to supercede the ethnic and sectarian divides in the country, and the war
descended down to one between the Pakhtoon majority in the South and the
Tajik, Uzbek and Shia minority in the North. They did manage to wrest
control of the four major cities (Kabul, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad) and
have not been dislodged from these since.

The Taliban served several purposes in the geopolitical realities facing
Pakistan in the 1990s. They provided a real life training ground for
militants bound for Kashmir, a formula for order in Afghanistan, and a
rallying point for Islamist elements in Pakistan who can find less and less
to agree on amongst themselves otherwise. Basically they provided a model
of statemaking that Islamist groups could point to as a successful
alternative as the state in Pakistan descended further into anarchy under

There is some evidence here with a journalist friend of mine that the
overwhelming number of recruits who provide the rank and file of these
groups are rootless people. The message of sectarian and jihadi militancy
has been in our midst for a very long time, but it is only in some periods,
such as today's, that it finds a large audience. Part of the reason has to
do with the role that this message plays in the geopolitics of the time.
But an equally large part has to do with the economic and demographic
realities that make people vulnerable to its calling.

In Pakistan, the ongoing war in Afghanistan provided a training ground that
replaced boot camps. The millenarian interpretation of the religion
substituted for the brainwashing necessary to wean groups into a military
chain of command. And the life experiences of many of these people prepared
them for the rigors of battle in the same way that drill in modern warfare
would. In short, the kind of society that arose from the collapse of the
developmentalist dream created the kind of mobile, rootless and violent way
of life that was perfectly suited for participation in war.

The Taliban regime became a stomping ground for this inspired militancy.
This is where specialized knowledge in bombing making, remote control
detonations and the various accoutrements of distance warfare were
concentrated and exported to the rest of the militant underground.
Hizbullah and Hamas bombmakers learned their skills in Afghan training
camps. The biggest beneficiaries were the militant outfits operating in
Kashmir. The Taliban regime gave their operations upstream depth and the
nexus deepened until it began to acquire a life of its own. Militancy
spread to Tajikistan and Xinjiang in China. And the influence spread as far
up into Central Asia as Chechnya. This is the nexus that produced Ramzeh
Ahmed Yusuf and many of the other high profile militants who were caught in
the 1990s planning prominent attacks.

What was forged in this bubbling cauldron of inspired militancy was a model
of state making that by-passes the costs of maintaining modern armies. If
we accept the widely known principle that in Europe "states made war and
war made states," then what this militant nexus has produced is a formula
for the maintenance of an armed force at a fraction of the cost associated
with modern armies. The state in Pakistan leaned more and more heavily on
this nexus as a means of countering the emerging regional power of India,
and in the process, the outlines between where the state ended and the
militancy began became more and more blurred.

It is this nexus that the US has now declared war upon. The rise of this
nexus has become a very important story to tell. How it recruits its rank
and file from the swelling ranks of a rootless and desperate population,
one far more suited to be described as the true "gravediggers of
capitalism." This story teaches us many valuable lessons. It teaches us how
deproletarianization is perhaps a far more important and subversive
phenomenon than the reverse. It teaches us that the periphery does not
simply vanish when the mechanisms of its incorporation into a global regime
of accumulation are dismantled. Throughout my years in Binghamton
Sociology, many of us labored uncomfortably under the tacitly reigning
supposition that the story of the late 20th century was the story of the
rise of East Asia. What some of us had been trying to say all along has now
been said in no uncertain terms: the story of the collapse of South Asia is
just as important.

A regional war has now potentially become a global war. How regional war in
South Asia could spread and ignite regional war in the Middle East is no
longer a fantastic scenario. With nuclear weapons present in both regions,
and hardline governments in power in Israel and India, it is not far
fetched to see how the front could widen very quickly, and matters escalate
beyond anyones control. Already rallies are being held across the country
by groups deeply enmeshed in this nexus condemning the government for its
collaboration with the Americans. In Swabi, in Mingora, in Mardan, in
Karachi, in Miranshah, the papers are reporting that thousands have marched
to pledge support to the Taliban and condemn the government. And just
today, over 5000 students were turned away by police and paramilitary
troops as they tried to march to the US embassy in Islamabad. The Council
for the Defense of Afghanistan and Pakistan, an umbrella group that
includes groups such as the JUI, JUP, Jamaat-e-Islami, and
Lashkar-e-Tayyaba have condemned the government only hours after meeting
with Pervez Musharraf where he tried to persuade them of the necessity of
siding with the Americans.

American military hardware is streaming into the country. An aircraft
carrier group has already docked at Ormara naval station in Balochistan,
and at least 2 more carrier groups are on their way. A guided missile
destroyer has been despatched from its port in Japan. The US Navy has
tendered for 2 oil tankers of marine diesel for shipment from Kuwait to
Diego Garcia. The 82nd Airborne has been activated. Military security is
now being deployed around the electrical grid and telecommunications
facilities of the country. Several hundred thousand Afghan refugees are
pressing at the 2 border crossings into Pakistan. Unconfirmed reports are
saying that a force of close to 20,000 fighters is being assembled by the
Taliban at Torkham, with Scud missile batteries. (The Pakistani government
has denied this report) This puts them within 12 hours marching distance
from Islamabad. Police and army troops patrol our streets. Word has just
come in that the Taliban are refusing to extradite OBL unless hard evidence
of his involvement is shown to them first. And today the US embassy ordered
all non-essential staff to evacuate the country, a step that was last taken
a day before the cruise missile strikes on OBL's camps in Khost.

It is no longer important who has carried out this act. What is more
important is who is ultimately going to get blamed. It seems that the US
has its heart set on blaming bin Laden. What is even more important,
however, is whether the perpetrators have fired their bolt. If this is it,
and they have no more capability left, then they have done a very stupid
thing indeed. Stupid in every way. If this is not their last shot, and
there is indeed still some powder left, then God help us all.

In other news 2 weeks ago I was engaged to be married to a girl I had been
seeing since the Kargill war (its crazy life here!). She leaves for Chicago
on the 20th to resume her graduate program in Sociology at Northwestern. We
are hearing stories here about the assaults in America on people of South
Asian and Arab extraction. I fear for her safety there. I fear for mine here.

Khurram Husain
Lahore University of Management Sciences
Lahore, Pakistan

Louis Proyect
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