View from Pakistan: Kingdoms of God

The Gulf kingdoms are arguably Washington’s closest allies in the Muslim world

Islamabad: It is remarkable to think that it has been only a couple of years since the world was raving about the so-called Arab Spring. Commentators all over the world were predicting an end to decades of ignominy and suffering for a proud and historic region while the Arab peoples themselves experienced feelings of euphoria as a post-dictatorship generation came of age.

Even the most chronic pessimists could not have known that spirits would fall so far, so fast. The symbolic nerve centre of the movement, Egypt, is back in the clutches of the generals; Syria and Libya are facing the fallouts of Western-backed “regime change” interventions; and the countries of the Maghreb are at best looking forward to another era of mediocrity and elite privilege.

In truth, the peaceful “civil society” movements that were at the heart of “Arab Spring” folklore were conspicuous by their absence in most of these countries. Which means to say that the whole narrative of an Arab resurrection was greatly overblown to begin with. And then there is Iraq, where there was no spring to speak of. If the spontaneous movements in Egypt, Tunisia and the like have simply fizzled out in the face of resilient structures of power, in Iraq an ostensibly “new” set of structural arrangements masterminded by the world’s most powerful country have imploded spectacularly.

The Iraqi debacle has precipitated a great deal of comment about the utter failure of American policy in that country, and the region at large. Add to recent developments in Iraq the withdrawal of a majority of American troops from Afghanistan after a decade of relative futility and Washington’s claims to be doing the Muslim world a civilising favour stand hopelessly exposed.

All told, the Arab region appears to be much worse off than a decade or so ago, the hopes and dreams of regime-changers and Tahrir Square activists alike up in flames. Except in the Gulf kingdoms, that is. The “bastions of Islam” are in fact doing better than ever.

The Gulf kingdoms are arguably Washington’s closest allies in the Muslim world. How, then, can one take seriously the notion that American policy in the region has “failed”? Yes, a great deal of time and money has been spent to secure in Iraq and other countries a modicum of peace that most commentators consider necessary for corporate America’s further investment in the region. And yes, the “terrorists” are alive and well.

But given that Washington’s best friends in the Gulf are shameless totalitarians, who really believed all the hype about “freedom” and “our way of life” anyway? Washington has been spouting such rhetoric for the best part of two centuries and its actual conduct has never matched its claims. As regards the imperative of establishing peace so as to extract natural resources without risk, making permanent war in faraway places is at least as profitable for American companies and the media industry.

All in all, a case can easily be made that, between military interventions and instrumental support to “civil society”, the evolving balance of power in the Arab region is not nearly as troubling for the US as most analyses suggest. Of course there are potentialities for many of the serious ongoing conflicts in the region to spiral completely out of control. But one gets the sense that Washington will feel like just about any eventuality can be dealt with so long as the “Kingdoms of God” are on their side.

So how much has really changed since the end of the Cold War when the freedom fighters of yesteryear were transformed into the biggest threat facing the so-called free world? At the level of rhetoric the world has been turned upside down, but when the propaganda mist clears it is cynical strategic interests that continue to rule the roost.

Those commentators who continue to call militant Islamists obsolete remnants of a pre-modern era should not forget that the latter are very much modern creations of Empire and Muslim states. Neither the US nor any other state that can be called a protagonist in the wider Muslim region is opposed to Islamists or Islamism in any principled sense.

Meanwhile, we in Pakistan would do well to remember that Washington has been vocally demanding a military offensive in North Waziristan for at least two years now. Pakistani generals bred on the largesse of the Pentagon have acceded, but the Americans are not being fooled into thinking that General Headquarters has once and for all abandoned its prized strategic assets.

And why would they? The Americans continue to support the far-right militants taking on anti-US state elites in much of the Arab world, and prop up the most reactionary regimes in the rest. It would appear that the idea of the ahl-al-kitab propagated by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Ronald Reagan is far from dead.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad

By arrangement with Dawn

( Source : dc )
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