Socialist Worker

A tangled web of loyalties and distrust

Pakistani socialist Riaz Ahmed looks at the relationships between the militant Islamic groups, General Musharraf and the West’s rulers.

Issue No. 1961

The US has been a close ally of Pakistan, although there have been periods when the US has imposed sanctions on Pakistan or distanced itself from its ally.

The US supported the so called jihad in Afghanistan against the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s. It used the Pakistani military dictator, General Zia, to train and supply fighters.

It was the US and its allies that introduced the term “mujahideen” (fighter for religious cause) to the Western media.

The Pakistani military remains strongly dependent on the US and its allies for support.

Inside Pakistan the military is supported by industrialists, rural traders and land owners. The roots of militant Islam in Pakistan are also in the countryside.

When the Taliban took control of 70 percent of Afghanistan the US said it was an “internal matter”. General Musharraf, who took power in Pakistan in a military coup in 1999, used to call the Taliban a stabilising force.

It was only when the US launched its attack on Afghanistan that the Pakistani military was forced to change sides.

In many rural areas of Pakistan the ground is fertile for the growth of militant Islam. The Islamists blame Western domination and the multinationals for poverty, rising prices, unemployment and privatisation.

The madrassas (religious schools), criticised as factories for suicide bombers in the Western media, have grown up as the state education sector has collapsed.

But even these schools vary widely in their curriculum and their aims, and only educate a tiny minority of children.

The militant Islamists use popular slogans, but they do not target the military or the capitalists for the misery of the masses. Both radical and moderate Islamists want a Taliban-style government in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But they also want peace with the West, because they know from the Taliban experience the problems faced by a backward country fighting against an imperialist army.

From this point of view, Musharraf—who has excellent ties with the US establishment—is the ideal negotiator on behalf of the jihadis.

Musharraf is not in a position to launch a crackdown on his Islamist allies, as the US would like. Nor are the Islamists in a position to launch a civil war.

But there is a possibility that the situation might change. There is great unease in the cities over poverty and rising food prices. The moderate political Islamists, who distance themselves from the more radical jihadis, are the largest power on the streets.

They govern two of the four provinces after fighting elections on a platform of opposition to the US attack on Afghanistan.

For now they are content with fighting further elections and are confident that they can win control of the federal parliament.

Musharraf has launched a crackdown on some of the more extreme jihadi elements, but he knows that if he pushes the moderate political Islamists too hard they will be forced to join hands with the jihadis—and then his government will be under threat.

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Sat 30 Jul 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1961
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