24 October 2006

"Ghost wars" by Steve Coll

One of the best books written about the emergence of religion based terrorism directed against several causes and several societies. Steve Coll provides a balanced dispassionate analysis and profound insight into the new menace that is powerful enough to challenge peace everywhere.

United States has two kinds of friendships in world politics:

(a) Friendships founded on shared values
(b) Friendships founded on shared interests

Friendships founded on shared values (such as those with UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan) last forever. These friendships do not leave a trail of destruction behind. Friendships founded on shared interests (such as those with Iran under the Shah, Philippines under Marcos, Pakistan under Zia, Saudi Arabia above oil) last short periods of time but leave a trail of destruction somewhere.

US friendship with two such shared interests (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) has created a monster that is likely to be a greater challenge to peace and security everywhere than anything humanity has seen so far.

Saudi Arabia has been funding radical Islamic groups around the world to appease its domestic constituency of religious right. Saudi donations helped create radical Islamic groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan to attract, train and equip youth who are willing to kill and willing to die.

Pakistan provided an intelligence service that could orchestrate insurgency against a conventional army; provided a limitless supply of youth willing to die for holy causes; and an efficient supply chain of high tech arms.

United States used this friendship to create a "jehad" against Soviet expansionism. The mission was successful. But there were unfortunate side effects.

The Jihadists, assembled against Soviet Union, did not go home to become investment bankers and stock brokers. They stayed and sought new causes. Fight for Palestine. Fight against America. Fight against the House of Saud. Fight for Islamic rule in Afghanistan. Fight for liberation of Kashmir.

Pakistan had a field day. The ISI could use the jihadists for its favourite causes: Hekmatyar, Taliban, Kashmir. State sponsored terrorism was born. Funding was available from Saudi Arabia and from narcotics trade. State sponsored terrorism gave way to a multinational radical Islamic terrorism when Pakistan tainted every political objective with a religious colour (a lesson learnt from the jihad against Soviets). It is now possible for a Mullah in a village in Pakistan to issue a fatwah by fax that could motivate a young British Muslim to enroll in an ISI sponsored terrorism training center in Pakistan and undertake a mission to destroy social fabric in a nation that is probably busy with a super bowl.

A foreign policy shaped by shared interests is probably not that good an idea.

This book provides a well researched insight into the rise of radical Islamic terrorism.

The best on the subject. Easy to read. Disturbing to think about.

Shall look forward to the next book from Steve Coll.

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