Tariq Ali: Getting used to the idea of double standards

'The underlying maxim is: we will punish the crimes of our enemies and reward the crimes of our friends'

Share

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 US loyally from 1951 onwards felt humiliated by Washington's indifference.

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 US loyally from 1951 onwards 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 Pakistan Army, but Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, will have to be extremely cautious. An over-commitment to Washington could split the armed forces and lead to civil war in Pakistan. A great deal has changed over the last two decades, but the ironies of history continue to multiply.

In Pakistan itself, Islamism derived its strength from state patronage rather than popular support. The ascendancy of religious fundamentalism is the legacy of a previous military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, who received backing from Washington and London during his 11 years as dictator.

During his rule (1977-89), a network of madrassahs (religious boarding schools), funded by the Saudi regime, were created. The children, who were later sent to fight as mujahedeen in Afghanistan, were taught to banish all doubt. The only truth was divine truth. Anyone who rebelled against the imam rebelled against Allah. The madrassahs had only one aim: the production of deracinated fanatics in the name of a bleak Islamic cosmopolitanism. The primers taught that the Urdu letter jeem stood for jihad; tay for tope (cannon), kaaf for Kalashnikov and khay for khoon (blood).

The 2,500 madrassahs produced a crop of 225,000 fanatics ready to kill and die for their faith when asked to do so by their religious leaders. Dispatched across the border by the Pakistan Army, they were hurled into battle against other Muslims they were told were not true Muslims. The Taliban creed is an ultra-sectarian strain, inspired by the Wahhabi sect that rules Saudi Arabia. The severity of the Afghan mullahs has been denounced by Sunni clerics at al-Azhar in Cairo and Shi-ite theologians in Qom as a disgrace to the Prophet.

The Taliban could not, however, have captured Kabul on their own via an excess of religious zeal. They were armed and commanded by "volunteers" from the Pakistan Army. If Islamabad decided to pull the plug, the Taliban could be dislodged, but not without serious problems. The victory in Kabul counts as the Pakistani Army's only triumph.

To this day,the former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brezinski remains unrepentant: "What was more important in the world view of history?" he asks with more than a touch of irritation, "the Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" If Hollywood rules necessitate a short, sharp war against the new enemy, the American Caesar would be best-advised not to insist on Pakistani legions.

The consequences could be dire: a brutal and vicious civil war creating more bitterness and encouraging more acts of terrorism. Islamabad will do everything to prevent a military expedition to Afghanistan.

What is more likely is that Osama bin Laden will be sacrificed in the interests of the greater cause and handed over, dead or alive, to Washington. But will that be enough? The only solution is political. It requires removing the causes that create the discontent. It is despair that feeds fanaticism and it is a result of Washington's policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The orthodox casuistry among factotums, columnists and courtiers of the Washington regime is symbolised by Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal assistant for foreign affairs, ex-diplomat Robert Cooper, who writes openly: "We need to get used to the idea of double standards."

The underlying maxim of this cynicism is: we will punish the crimes of our enemies and reward the crimes of our friends. Isn't that at least preferable to universal impunity? To this the answer is simple: "punishment" along these lines does not reduce but breeds criminality, by those who wield it.

The Gulf and Balkan wars were copy-book examples of the moral blank cheque of a selective vigilantism. Israel can defy UN resolutions with impunity, Turkey can crush its Kurds, India can tyrannise Kashmir, Russia can destroy Groszny, but it is Iraq which has to be punished and it is the Palestinians who continue to suffer.

Cooper continues: "Advice to post-modern states: accept that intervention in the pre-modern is going to be a fact of life. Such interventions may not solve problems, but they may salve the conscience. And they are not necessarily the worse for that." Try explaining that to the survivors in New York and Washington.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

£400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; Blackfriars; £25k

£25000 per annum + training: Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month  

The Fairlife 'Coke Milk' adverts: Do we really need pin-up girls to sell us drinks?

Ylva Johannesson
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?