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Kamran Mir Hazar        Letter to Editor

Radical Islamism &Talibanism: Tools of Pakistani Politics

Aimal Khan FAIZI

In light of the Taliban resurgence, the new commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Britain's General David Richards hold, "full and frank" discussions with the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharaff. According to AFP, Richards had videos and satellite pictures of Taliban training camps inside Pakistan, and had compiled the addresses of senior Taliban figures in Pakistan.

The move comes after that of NATO commanders from five countries whose troops have recently faced their bloodiest clashes with Taliban forces in Afghanistan (the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands), demanded their governments to get tough with Pakistan over its support for the Taliban militia. According to CTV NEWS, The city of Quetta in Pakistan has been identified by NATO intelligence as a Taliban hideout supported by the Pakistani Intelligence Service. That city is where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, was arrested in 2003.

CTVs journalist, Paul Workman, has recently interviewed a Talibans ex-deputy commander, Mullah Zakir Akhound, who is recently back from Pakistan and seeking amnesty from the Afghan government.  According to Mullah Zakir Akhound, he had been living in Quetta city under the patronage and protection of the Pakistani intelligence service.

 Now, seeing this new round of the game (Pakistan Vs West), where Musharaff rejects these allegations, a question arises that is what Musharaff wants with his two-faced politics (both friend and foe) and will he survive from it successfully and be the victor of the 2007 presidential elections?

Since the identity of a country is what drives its politics, first we should put some light on the present position of Pakistan as a nation.


How can Pakistan best identify its foreign policy and itself as a nation?

 Since the creation of Pakistan in 1974, Pakistan has always been in search of an identity. Created as a state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, does it have to be an Islamic state, representing and defending all those who are struggling as Muslims (vision of Maududi, Zia-ul Haq & all radical Islamists), or simply a nation-state, for which its national interests take precedence over Islamic solidarity?

According to Olivier Roy, a French philosopher, doctor in political sciences and one of the well-known specialists of Islamic movements in the world, General Musharaff defends this last definition.  It is this second definition which describes the foreign policy of Islamabad. For achieving this goal, Pakistan has always used Islamic clergy as a useful tool in its domestic and foreign politics. In his recent speeches, General Musharaff, has repeatedly said that The Taliban pose a greater danger than Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Many political analysts and specialists believe that the Pakistani President is threatening western powers with radical Islamism and Talibanism, which are both products of the Pakistani army and its intelligence wing, ISI (Inter-Service-Intelligence).

 The why and how of radical Islamism as a tool?  

Today, on the political scene in Pakistan, with the upcoming presidential elections in 2007, there are only two actors. The only two elites which lead the country are the army and radical Islamics. The two major political rivals, PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party Benazir Bhutto) and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Sharif), are out of the game in spite of their alliance, The Charter of Democracy, on May 14th 2006 in London. The marginalization of these main political parties has caused the formation of a wider political space for the radical Islamists, who see a political ideology in Islam. But for Musharaff, no matter how popular the Islamists get, they can not lead Pakistani politics. The only threat is from the non-Islamic parties, like PPP and PNL-N. Hence with this new military-mullahs-alliance, Musharaff is appeasing the Islamics, because today, as in the past, the military needs Islamic radicalism. Musharaff is using Islamics as a serious threat towards the West. It is the only best-tool for negotiation with the West. He wants to show that the only alternative to a military regime in Pakistan is the regime of Mullahs, a fact which the West never accords. Therefore, the Islamics have become an unavoidable and useful force for Islamabad in its domestic politics as well as in its foreign politics against Indian and Iran. 

 Strategic depth against India and Iran:

 Islamabad has always been in the search of strategic-depth in the region. Consequently, for Pakistani strategists, it is important that Afghanistan remains flexible and supportive for their strategic interests. Reasons are numerous, both geo-political and geo-economic and they are firstly against its enemy of birth, India and secondly against Shia Iran.

In the recent past, Afghanistan served as a backyard for Islamabad against India. Terrorists were being trained and sent to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir. The hijack of an Indian airline flight IC-814 from Katmandu to Delhi and its landing in Afghanistan, in December 1999, is one of the good examples. But since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the situation has completely changed for Islamabad. India has spent over five hundred million dollars in aide on Afghanistan. Today, India participates not only in the formation of new Afghan army, police and diplomats, but also the construction of highways, schools, hospitals, electric lines etc. It has also a certain influence on the North Alliance Groups. This year, some high level Pakistani officials openly opposed the opening of Indian consulates in the southern part of Afghanistan. They reacted by rejecting the transit of Indian merchandise intended for Afghanistan and other central Asian countries via Pakistan. It forced India to send its merchandise by sea and then transit through Iran. So the actual influence of India in Afghanistan and the development of new ties between India and Iran are immense threats to Pakistan. Therefore, Islamabad interacts by destabilizing the newly born peace process in Afghanistan.

In short, this new step taken by NATO is the right move in the present situation. It is also time that America, as a main actor in its second involvement in Afghanistan, puts strong pressure on Islamabad to stop financing the proxy wars in Afghanistan. America has to take its past mistake seriously and not forget Afghanistan as it did after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to Thomas H. Lipscomb a veteran journalist who is chairman of the Center for the Digital Future, based in New York City, Almost everything was never right from the very beginning of the American involvement with Afghanistan in 1980. Denying these realities will be not help in planning future policies. But if the American national security establishment has learned nothing more, one may hope it has learned that proxy wars are too important to be left to proxies.

Aimal Khan FAIZI

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