Pakistan wants an Afghanistan acceptable to the West – Islam plus democracy

US President Joe Biden and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (file photo) | Bloomberg / ANI

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In 2013, Alfred Stepan and Mirjam Kunkler, two world-renowned American experts on civil-military relations and democracy, spoke of “twin tolerances” in their book Democracy and Islam in Indonesia. They built an argument around creating a socio-political ecosystem for democratic and state forces to accommodate radical Islamic elements willing to resort to democratic values ​​or processes while retaining their Islamism. Based on a detailed case study from Indonesia, the duo concluded that ‘twin tolerances’ was a possibility and to that end they proposed to create a community of public intellectuals who could develop capacity within of a religious society for democratic standards.

The Pakistani state would like to apply this same formula to Afghanistan.

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Pakistan’s plans for Afghanistan

The goal is to make Afghanistan a state where the Taliban agree to apply standards acceptable to Western democracy without fully adapting to the Western model. This argument has long remained in the hearts of the Pakistani military. General Pervez Musharraf had spoken of Western democratic standards adapted to Pakistan or even other societies. Theoretically, there are arguments for “twin tolerances” – if the Taliban marginally abandon violence and collaborate with the West and the rest of the world to fight more radical forces like al-Qaeda and the province of the Islamic State. of Khorasan (ISKP), they could turn into any other right-wing religious group in the region. South Asia, as a region, is increasingly inundated with radical right-wing forces whose violence is confined to home or within the region rather than outside.

It is also Islamabad’s calculation that the world might turn to the idea of ​​accommodating the Taliban for their own reasons.

The UK is in talks with the Taliban via Pakistan at a time when the US is inclined to hold talks more independently. Recently, Washington held the first direct talks with the Taliban after the withdrawal. Granted, London and Washington share notes, but the fact that the British military and government continue to engage with the Taliban gives hope to Pakistan that its own plan for the future of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan can work. European capitals, however, remain confused about forming a clearer policy. Although the European Commission remains firm on not engaging with the Taliban unless they meet the conditions – inclusive government, education for women, a share due to women and minorities in taking the lead. decision – a strong united front based on a clear approach is still lacking. For example, Germany, which is an important state in the region, fears being inundated with Afghan migrants, a problem more imaginary than real. Islamabad sees this lack of consensus in the West as an opportunity to continue to push for countries to accept the Taliban, who they say represent Pashtun culture.

The Islamabad security establishment is certainly not concerned about the rise of conservatism or extremism in Afghanistan as a result of Taliban power. In fact, the popular opinion within the larger security establishment is that while the education of women may be an issue, it is at best secondary to the goal of making this new state work, for the sake of it. which Rawalpindi and Islamabad continue to plead before the international community.

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Where is Pakistan heading

Sociopolitical extremism in Afghanistan is not a matter of concern, mainly because Pakistan itself is taking a similar direction.

Global changes in the education system – the One National Curriculum (SNC) or measures such as requiring master’s degree candidates in Punjab to demonstrate knowledge of the Qur’an to qualify – indicate a gradual shift towards further Pakistani nationalism. closer to religion, which is then reflected in state attitudes towards women and minority groups. While the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISKP represent one end of the spectrum of religious extremists and cause concern, Pakistan faces Barelvi extremism, an ideology that has emerged forcefully and far more dangerously, above all. over the past five years. He instilled greater intolerance of minority groups such as Ahmadiyyas and Shiites, and rapidly disappearing liberals. While it can be argued that religious nationalism is the trend that is now pervasive across South Asia, there is no parallel with the way it connects Afghanistan and Pakistan. Interestingly, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region today is a more fundamental reality that extends beyond geopolitics to include socio-politics and political economy.

In Pakistan, civilian and military leaders subscribe to religious nationalism. It was in the second half of his current term that Prime Minister Imran Khan began to invest more strategically in religious nationalism. The Prime Minister’s recent assurance to the Ulemas not to make laws that can be considered against Islamic values, as defined by the clergy, is not just about his personal conservatism, but a political choice – to strengthen the religious right which he could depend one day. for his fight both against his political opponents and against the army as an institution. He may want to use religious forces to his advantage. Khan understands that the religious extremist, although manufactured by the military, scares the generals. My argument may seem counterintuitive as Imran Khan has shown no desire to fight the army, except perhaps for now. Rumors are rife about the Prime Minister reluctance notify the appointment of the new head of ISI. But the point is that every political actor produced by the military ends up with some level of confrontation whenever they try to get more power, or their own future, in government.

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The right serves the army just right

As for the desire of the military to fight the militants, it may be a tactical but not a strategic confrontation. It is about using military action to influence behavior and not to destroy the forces of the religious right. Contrary to the expectations of the Pakistani liberals, that the military has the power to eliminate extremist militants, Rawalpindi’s capacity has diminished – not combat capacity but intention. The GHQ is also invested in the religious right for its geopolitical ambitions. Despite its difficult experience with terrorist attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is fundamentally part of the Afghan Taliban, military decision-makers remain invested in the Taliban. Khan’s suggestion to engage with the TTP is not a new concept. Even Nawaz Sharif had suggested talks with right-wing religious groups rather than military action. However, the 2015-16 proposal was more of a tactic to co-opt some ready-to-speak activists. Sharif’s openness to peace at the TTP was also different because, unlike Imran Khan, he took all the other parties on board by organizing the all-party conference to develop consensus.

The Pakistani army prefers to convince the militants to surrender so that the state does not have to fight with them. Allowing extremist activists to impose their version of Sharia law in Pakistan’s tribal belt can be seen as a small price to pay. In any case, the popular narrative among Pakistan’s security community is that Pashtunwali or Pashtun culture is akin to Taliban sharia. In addition, some forms of Sharia have already touched the households and personal lives of everyone involved in military and strategic decision-making in Pakistan – from the army chief and many corps commanders to the national security adviser. . They are men with a greater tolerance for religious conservatism, and their only desire at the moment may be for Pakistan to remain a hybrid theocracy. A device with little space for the demonstration of socio-cultural liberalism, something that would make engagement with the world easier rather than a deeply theocratic form of the Taliban. In 74 years, Pakistan and Afghanistan have started to look more alike than before.

Ayesha Siddiqa is a senior researcher at King’s College London and author of Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. She tweets @iamthedrifter. Opinions are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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