Thursday, July 19, 2007

I have maintained, since 9/11, that the most important countries to watch from the perspective of any sort of "war on terror" are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The most virulent enemies of both the West and East are incubated and harvested in the madrassas and local majids in places like Riyadh and Karachi. Wahabbism and Salafism stand at the frontline of the global jihad, and these jihadis seem real comfortable in Pakistan and Saudi.

The crisis, or series of them, currently facing Pakistan and its tightrope walker of a President, may perhaps prove to be a turning point in the war on terror. Furthermore, the problems that Pakistan currently faces expose the fractures that are emblematic of the countries within what is referred to as the Muslim world. It is a set of complex dynamics that are often oversimplified by Western commentators who would liek to simply explain instability as the result of islamic extremists. The deteriorating situation in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid fiasco is only one side of the assault on a fragile Pakistani establishment. There is still the ongoing crisis of democracy resulting from the firing of the Supreme Court Judge and the subsequent protests. What makes the apparent lack of transparency concerning Musharef's decision about the judge all the more troubling, is the fact that with an election upcoming, the President's posisiton is tenuous, and his mandate withering.

While the specifics of each case will differ, there are certain thematic consistencies to be found when comparing Pakistan to the Arab nations. All are dealing with a resurgent form of radical Islam, specifically a Wahhabi and Salfist based militancy (major exceptions being Lebanon and Iran), all have leaders whose popular legitimacy is questionable at best, and all have grassroots democratic and progresive movements that are challenging both religious fundamentalist and authoritarian leaders and are more often than not completely ignored by Western commentators. The so called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon got plenty of attention but no real critical coverage, and the same seems to be happening with the what I will call the barrister protests in Pakistan. The fact remains that expedience and convenience allow the West to ignore the complexities of these countries, complexities that are the product of histories that generally go ignored, as well as a present that finds nations dealing not only with internal change, but rapid and often jarring global change.

As for prognostication, the Islamists will increase their influence in Pakistan. NATO's handling of the situation in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military's (perhaps justified) heavy hand in dealing with the Lal Masjid will bring even more supporters into the fold. Meanwhile, as Musharaf struggles to put out so many fires, while simultaneously attempting to please his Western masters, the true needs of the Pakistani people will remain unattended to. And if the state cannot solve the problems of fully funded public education and social benefits programs, Pakistans poor will continue to send young men to the few places that can guarantee them a senblance of education, 3 square meals a day, and the sense of belonging: The Salafi madrassas built by Saudi petro-dollars.

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