14 April 2016

Pakistan: Imperial Blowback and the Shapur Effect

In 1757 the British defeated a joint Mughal-French army at the Battle of Plassey. This set them on a course to dominate the whole of the Indian Subcontinent forever changing its history.

The British Empire like all empires was ultimately rooted in racism and led to the massive social upheaval of an already fragile cultural arrangement. Famines and wars ensued as well as the famous 1857 uprising/mutiny which was remembered for many years after. In addition there were incidents like the 1919 Amritsar Massacre in which the British mercilessly killed over 1000 innocent civilians, many of them women and children, a mass-murder far greater than any the Taliban or any other regional group has ever perpetrated. Ironically Colonel Dyer who commanded the massacre in good imperial fashion used mostly foreign troops to do the dirty work, Asian versus Asian in service of the empire. Little did the Gurkha, Balochi and Pashtun soldiers know the British were just as likely to massacre their families in the same fashion.

Even the racist Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill condemned it. The man who said he hated Indians, called them beastly and insisted they were not fit to rule themselves felt this act went too far. Of course during World War II Churchill himself would play an administrative role in furthering a famine that led to some 3 million deaths. He viewed it as an almost necessary reduction in the population and would not interrupt the war effort to put together famine relief. The sad part is that while India always wrestled with famines the British economic and administrative system exacerbated them leading to deaths on a massive scale. It can be fairly easily demonstrated that many of the famines were not just due to bureaucratic shortsightedness or honest error, but a deliberate policy and a murderous one.

While we would never dare to excuse the actions of the Taliban or any other terrorist group which targets civilians and while cultural conservatives groan when the point is raised, it must be said...

Imperialism and Colonialism helped create the conditions that have led to the current murderous anarchy at work in the Middle East, Africa and certainly in the Asian Subcontinent.

The British played the Muslims and Hindus against each other. Divide and conquer. And when they left after World War II the result was partition. To be sure, the British alone cannot be blamed for this disaster but they played their part.

Since then the West has continued to interfere in the affairs of the Subcontinent. It has worked with and against both India and Pakistan and has at times destabilised their societies. When East Pakistan broke away in 1971, the US continued to support Pakistan against the newly formed Bangladesh and its Indian ally. This support came even while Pakistan was all but committing genocide against the people of Bangladesh. Tragically Bangladesh/East Pakistan was itself an artificial division of Old Bengal, another result and antagonism bred of empire.

Pakistan in particular has been the subject of manipulation. As the British faded into the background, the US stepped to the fore and has constantly interfered in Pakistani politics. With ally Zia-ul-Haq the United States worked to destabilise Afghanistan, draw the Soviets into invading and foment a massive war that resulted in a million Afghan dead and some five million refugees.

Pakistan's society was greatly destabilised by the refugee crisis and the fact that the Pashtun people are split by the Durand Line (another legacy of Empire) has led to an unstable border and agitation among the Pashtun people.

During the latter part of the Cold War the Pakistanis were backed by the United States and India was often opposed. The countries of the Subcontinent were caught in a tug-of-war between the power politics and tensions of the US-USSR and China. The Sino-Soviet Split and the US rapprochement with China greatly affected the position of the Subcontinent.

Of course the Soviet-Afghan War flooded the region with militants and jihadists, it helped to import Wahhabism and empower the Deobandi sect, its regional close cousin, a movement born as a reaction to British imperial rule. With the departure of the Soviets and the collapse of the Najibullah regime in Kabul, Afghanistan erupted into a vicious civil war between the Mujahideen warlords.

Some of these same figures once backed and supported by the United States would morph into al Qaeda.

And then there are the drugs. We could write many things about the opium trade. In many ways the secret Afghan War was a repeat of what took place in Indochina. Drugs were a means of funding the clandestine war and not a few of the mujahideen leaders doubled as drug lords. This was known by the CIA and even in many cases supported. While this is shocking and even incredible to many it is well documented and in fact nothing new. It's an old story and a repeating pattern that lives on to today. From Laos, to Afghanistan to the Contras, Panama and now Mexico the US government and in particular its intelligence apparatus has been involved in facilitating the drug trade to fund black operations.

When Blair proclaimed that they would bomb the Taliban's poppy fields many just laughed. Ironically once the Taliban seized control they worked to eradicate opium production but once ousted they fell back into the old pattern for funding war.

Of course Pakistan itself supported the rise of the Taliban. The US had left them with a catastrophe and it was greatly resented. Many in the Pakistani establishment know the US is not a true ally and is just using them. This has only become all too clear over time and many Pakistanis today feel absolutely betrayed. This fact is never conveyed in the Western media where Pakistan is always painted as treacherous and perhaps even... the real enemy. Not a few in the US would willingly go to war with Pakistan.

The instability, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expanding power of India meant Pakistan had to do something to bring stability to Afghan society. The Taliban, a movement which largely grew out of the refugee camps in Pakistan brought a harsh and brutal stability to the bulk of Afghan society and for this reason was initially welcomed by many.

A strong Pashtun regime meant peace on Pakistan's border which is what they wanted more than anything.

But the US wanted access to Central Asia. There were wells to be drilled, pipelines to run, mineral resources to exploit and a Great Game to be played. It couldn't wait, Russia was down and China was on the rise. The US even courted the Taliban at one point and tried to cut a deal. But then with September 11th, a new chapter was opened and the means would not be in terms of wooing but of war.

The ongoing and seemingly endless US-Afghan War has also destabilised Pakistan and has spilled over into their borders. The original Taliban has morphed into several versions, some of which are led by former US allies such as Hekmatyar and Haqqani. This blog has reported in the past that Haqqani shook Reagan's hand in the White House. Apparently this claim is disputed, some arguing it wasn't Haqqani but Yunus Khalis in the White House, but without a doubt Hekmatyar visited Thatcher in London. He too was invited to Washington but apparently didn't want to meet with Reagan.

Whether Haqqani shook Reagan's hand or not, the US heartily supported Haqqani during the 1980s even while he was aiding bin Laden in the formation of what would become al Qaeda. Mohammad Yunus Khalis who is supposedly the mujahideen commander in the pictures with Reagan nevertheless later became an ardent supporter of and collaborator with the Taliban.

Either way Reagan and Thatcher shook hands with militants who later would become elements of the wider umbrella that is known as the Taliban and were certainly allies of al Qaeda. The West supported these elements, armed and in some cases helped to train them.

While the US public was largely ignorant of these ironies and hypocrisies the Pakistanis were not. Under threat they were forced once more (in September 2001) to collaborate with a US project that in the end would lead to their own instability and place their nation into a precarious position.

Then the US began to make overtures to India. Was this done to deliberately offend and counter Pakistan? Probably not, though the US certainly has no regard for whatever regime sits in Islamabad. India however is part of a grander US strategy against China and for that reason the US under George W. Bush began to cultivate a close friendship which included a nuclear deal.

This has outraged both the Pakistani Establishment and the Pakistani Street.

Not only does it anger them in terms of geopolitics but it makes the Pakistani government look foolish and corrupt. It plays right into the narratives of the militants about the whorish nature of the West and the complicity of the secular regimes in the Muslim world. Remember India is Pakistan's mortal enemy and Afghanistan is not the only flash point. There are issues in Central Asia as well. India's cultural and economic influence is wide ranging and both nations play a part in the Central Asian Great Game.

But of course the real flashpoint is in Kashmir. The Islamic militants involved in fighting India have to no one's great surprise found common cause with elements of the Taliban. Pakistan has become a dark and confusing world of government and military factions warring and scheming against one another, elements of the ISI supporting the Kashmiri and Taliban fighters while other elements of the government opposing them. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the Deep State in Turkey, except I think the Pakistani situation is even more confusing as there are elements in the military that are opposed to Pakistan's secular heritage.

These events over the past 30-40 years have led a massive upsurge in conservative and militant Islam. They see the US and its Muslim collaborators as bringers of poison and death. The impact on these societies has been staggering. Afghanistan was once a relatively liberal society. The countryside was conservative to be sure, but the cities were modern and (for good or ill) had largely embrace modernism. The same was true with Iran. But there has been a massive anti-Western pendulum swing and in Pakistan the people have taken it personally and some have grown very hostile to the West.

In the middle of all this are the many Christians who were converted under British rule. Sadly the Church came with the Empire and the two are forever associated. In much of the Muslim world the West (whether true or not) is perceived as Christian. Of course many Westerners would have it so. But for many in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, Western Christianity is identified with the culture. They are Sacralists and assume the model when they view the West.

Thus Christianity (to them) is represented by the likes of Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Ellen DeGeneres and Bruce Jenner. But then we must also include the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, figures like John Hagee, Donald Trump and all the cultural filth and violence these groups represent. Christianity to them is imperialism, war, drones and bombs.

It is a tragedy, a shame and an outrage.

For both theological and practical reasons Christians should decry such identifications of the United States being a Christian nation. It's not true in any sense of the word.

Pakistani Christians whether they like it or not are associated with the West, the house of oppression, the house of cultural evil and economic manipulation, the regimes of Britain and the USA and certainly the drones.

The US can talk all day about killing civilians and terrorism but they have waged a terror war from the air for many years and have killed thousands, and at the very least hundreds of civilians along the border region. This has both traumatised and enraged these populations. The Pashtuns in many ways and with some justification believe the US war in both nations is squarely and specifically aimed at them and their culture.

Christians are viewed as traitors, a potential fifth column. Their movement undermines society and brings in western ideas. If their daughters convert to Christianity they will become loud assertive women, prancing around in a miniskirt and end up denying Allah. Their sons will work with the West and enrich themselves on the exploitation of Muslim peoples.

Whether true or not, this is the perception. Western involvement has greatly endangered all Christians in Muslim lands.

Militant Islam's retaliations in Europe are likewise expressions of rage against oppressive empires but include another layer of frustration over socio-economic and religious conditions. They are a conquered people, now imported as a type of second-class citizens. Christianity teaches we as God's people are to endure such sufferings. Islam being Satanic in origin promotes honour, power and revenge and its adherents pushed by economic and social failure embrace these aspects of the religion with fervour, finding meaning in holy war and martyrdom... not Christian idea of martyrdom, suffering to the glory of God and in emulation of Christ, but martyrdom in killing and being killed by the infidel in the midst of holy struggle.

Many young men living in Islamic communities are affected by economic woes in another very painful manner. If they cannot get themselves established they have little hope of marrying. The European exile and migrant communities have become very conservative as a means of cohesion. They are under economic distress and are in a culture that is very seductive. The strict confines of their culture mean that many men are left with no hope and are not a little frustrated by it. In Europe this has led to a lot of bitterness manifesting itself in rather poor social conduct toward Western women who are viewed as temptresses. In Afghanistan it has led to revival of other perversities.

Islamic militarism is a radical form of salvation by works, not all that different from the various false forms of Dominionist Christianity which teach godliness is wealth and power, thus domination over others. This too is evil. War is just politics by other means, an extension of political power that takes place when the talking stops, or sometimes to stop the other side from talking. Sacralism sanctifies the nation and its wars and under such a paradigm a civilisational clash is inevitable. Christians will suffer in Islamic lands and vice-versa.

Due to the violence stirred and generated by the Pseudo-Christian Anglo-American empires, these believers now suffer a terrible backlash and many have been forced to flee and now live as refugees in Thailand among other places. Thailand is easy to get to but has proved to be no haven.

They are suffering from the Shapur Effect. Like the Christians of Persia who lived peacefully under the Parthian and Achaemenid rulers the conversion of Constantine and the subsequent politicisation of Christianity suddenly made the Christians in Persia look like potential enemies. Due to Constantine's actions they were almost overnight likely to sympathise with Rome and its anti-Persian policies. Even though this wasn't the case, the Persian Shah, Shapur II began to persecute Christians.

It's a heartbreaking and ever-repeating cycle further aggravated by the tensions of migrants in Europe itself.

Woefully misguided are the many American Christian commentators who believe the Europe's problem is secularisation and this has weakened society and made them unable to cope with evil and generate a sufficient nationalism that will rally to deal with the threat. Whether they openly endorse the European Right or not, their analysis certainly does and it is no accident they all but echo the sentiments and mentality of European Neo-Fascism.

They decry Europe's inability to reckon with or even register the reality of evil, in this case represented by radical Islam. While it is true on a philosophical level that many aspects of modern intellectual thought struggle with such concepts, the real reasons for European policy are pragmatic. They are in a race to try and get these people to integrate. The assimilation demanded by the Right takes generations to happen and in many cases I don't believe the Right really wants it to happen anyway.

On a practical level they need these people to integrate in order to function within the society. Worry about the hijabs and their treatment of women later. That's the mentality of the European politician and technocrat. Without integration there will soon be civil war, persecution, and horrible bloody deeds. Europe's trap is its economic system which needs workers to maintain its lifestyle but in bringing in the immigrants will ultimately destroy its culture and thus its lifestyle. It's a type of Faustian pact made by a few post-World War II generations and is now being put to the test. I mean this in the sense of it being a dangerous bargain. Their evil greed has now unleashed a latent evil they helped to foster.

The reasons for Europe's less than hyper-aggressive stance is not due to their failure to grasp evil but a host of other considerations. I guess some of the Christian commentators have also missed that many of these nations are using these attacks as pretext to implement a wide range of new surveillance and police state measures. I notice these same commentators are not denouncing these evils because they approve of them.

Are the Jihadists evil? Yes, they are and that can be said without equivocation. Even if we take into account the host of considerations that has led to this phenomenon they are still accountable for their deeds.

But how much more are the Imperialist powers that have all but destroyed their native societies and created these terrible political and social disparities? Are they not also evil? Do they not also share some of the blame for creating the conditions? The moral failure here is on the part of the Christian commentators who cannot properly identify the fact that one evil has helped to generate other. While they celebrate the so-called Christian values that helped to produce the British and American empires, they are blind to the fact that these empires were and are evil, just as evil as the terrorists who strike at innocent civilians. The Western Empires do the same, they just often do it from a position of power and thus the blow is softened, sanitized and often brought about through less than extravagant means and over a greater period of time. And yet in the end they are responsible for a far greater number of deaths and in the end, the destruction of whole societies.

Western greed and lust destroys the souls of its own Christians who then feed off the suffering and bloodshed of their brethren. It's a sick cycle and I am reminded of it every time I watch the financial news, listen to Christian financial advisors talk about investing in the markets, or hear Christian leaders advocate Dominionism.

The Christian commentators who dominate the evangelical scene are not only blind in their assessments and flawed in their judgments but they are actually helping to lead Christ's people astray, teaching vengeance, violence and power instead of wisdom.

I am brought back once more to the Pakistani Christians suffering a less than pleasant exile in Thailand. They even in their despair have a far better grasp of Christian ethics than the fat, rich scholastics of Christendom who belch forth an endless stream of rationalisations and justifications for the murders of empire. They are enduring and forgiving, forbearing and being patient. They put us to shame.

But at the very least we can speak out against and denounce the worldly Christianity that has helped to build the empires that bring about these conditions, these empires that exploit the poor, steal and murder. In many cases these crimes are perpetrated against their own (non-white) brethren in other lands.