The Qatari way of finessing political Islam is legion by now. In a nutshell, it boils down to this: If you can’t fight those incorrigible fellows, bribe them and make them so corrupt by enticing them to the ways of the flesh that they don’t have any urge left to fight anymore. So, you can eventually get them to see the logic of compromise and thereupon negotiate with them the terms of co-habitation.
Qatar lent its ‘expertise’ in a big way to corrupt the Islamists of Libya, and it is on the ball with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Egypt and Syria. It now transpires that the Qatari way of finessing Islamism is making dramatic headway in Afghanistan, too. The Afghan character was supposed to be fiercely independent and immune to entrapment by foreigners. But apparently it isn’t so. The Afghan grit is withering away at the soft, plump hands of the Qatari sheikhs.
If the latest reports are any indication, the United States (whose Central Command is located in Qatar, by the way) and the Afghan intelligence have faithfully copied the Qatari style of combating militant Islam and applied the technique to the Taliban with devastating effect. What emerges is that the intelligence penetration of the Taliban is creating havoc within the leadership hierarchy of the so-called Quetta Shura.
Pakistan’s security agency, Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] would be at its wit’s end trying to contain the outside penetration of the Quetta Shura, but it is ultimately going to be a losing battle. From the US point of view, this is a marvelous way of fighting the Afghan war with the cost-benefit ratio working in its favor all the way. It’s actually a duel – a battle of wits – between the US Central Intelligence Agency head, David Petraeus and the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Zahir-ul-Islam.
But what are the long term implications for regional security? Evidently, ISI’s ‘monopoly’ over the Taliban is being severely contested. It means that Pakistan’s capacity to influence the peace talks also incrementally diminishes. Of course, ISI can continue to play the role of the ‘spoiler’. But then, what could happen over time is that Pakistan will be left with the extremist, hardline factions within the Taliban, while the ‘softies’ (relatively speaking) scoot to the fleshpots for good life.
The catch is, if these hardliners are not susceptible to the worldly temptations that the Qatari sheikh offers them, they must be real good Islamists, who are hard nuts to crack. You can call them ‘maniacal’ fellows, fired up by the call of the ‘jihad’. The issue is, they can as well create headaches for Pakistan in the long run, especially with the Durand Line all but disappeared.
However, an even more frightening scenario is how those Islamists who have come under the spell of Qatar and its US ally are going to behave in the fullness of time. The possibility cannot be ruled out that they might become the instruments of regional policy at the hands of Qatar and the US masters.
From Afghanistan, it is easy to let these Islamist cats-paw loose on the Central Asian steppes. Actually, the Islamist warriors from Libya, who were corrupted by Qatar and the US, are today flocking to Syria to work for regime change in Damascus. The same pattern can repeat in Afghanistan. The US would have factored in by now that if at all there is to be any ‘regime change’ in the Central Asian states in order to wean them away from Russian and Chinese influence, it has to be through the instrumentality of ‘political Islam’.
Can Qatar and Saudi Arabia pull it off in Central Asia? No wonder, at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO] in Beijing on Friday, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi said that at the forthcoming summit of the regional body in June in the Chinese capital, the member countries will pay special attention to the situation in Afghanistan, West Asia and North Africa. Unsurprisingly, the locus of the SCO meeting on Friday fell on security issues rather than economic cooperation.
However, isn’t the SCO a bit too late in bestirring itself? The US-Afghan strategic pact is a done thing already. The US has brilliantly exploited the contradictions in the intra-regional relations to establish its military bases in Central Asia. The US is working overtime to complicate Russia’s relations with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The US pressure on Pakistan is building up to a crescendo. In retrospect, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was right in expressing regret that the SCO has been a bit too late in admitting Pakistan and India as full members.
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