‘A Political Solution Is Required’

‘A Political Solution is Required’ by Tariq Ali for The Nation, September 17, 2001

On a trip to Pakistan a few years ago I was talking to a former general about the militant Islamist groups in the region. I asked him why these people, who had happily accepted funds and weapons from the United States throughout the cold war, had become violently anti-American overnight. He explained that they were not alone. Many Pakistani officers who had served the United States loyally from 1951 onward felt humiliated by Washington’s indifference.

“Pakistan was the condom the Americans needed to enter Afghanistan,” he said. “We’ve served our purpose and they think we can be just flushed down the toilet.”

The old condom is being fished out for use once again, but will it work? The new “coalition against terrorism” needs the services of the Pakistani Army, but Gen. Pervez Musharraf will have to be extremely cautious.

An overcommitment to Washington could lead to a civil war in Pakistan and split the armed forces. A great deal has changed over the past two decades, but the ironies of history continue to multiply. In Pakistan itself, Islamism derived its strength from state patronage rather than popular support. read more