Foreign Policy Blogs

Islam and the Pakistani and Afghani States

Just as I was discussing on my other blog the Pakistani state’s inability to control or effectively coexist with the Islamic culture and religion within its borders, Islamabad announced a new deal allowing the Swat region to be ruled by Sharia law. This is yet another deal the Pakistani government has made with one of its tribal region’s that it cannot control, yet alone govern. The Taliban are strong in Swat and in return for allowing them to basically ‘govern themselves’ they have promised the Pakistan government to cease violence, at least against the Pakistani government and military.

Islam and the Pakistani and Afghani States

Pakistani Taliban punished a man accused of impersonating one of them to extort money in Swat Valley-European Pressphoto Agency

When I mention that the Pakistani government ‘control’ all segments of Islam within their boundaries, I am not meaning suppress or destroy the religion or culture. Far from it. A state needs to have legitimacy for it to rule effectively, and it is instances like this latest Swat-Sharia deal that undermine Pakistani hopes for this to occur. The situation is very complicated and autonomous regions in countries is not unheard of and can be stable, but this most recent victory for violent Taliban forces is just the latest in a string of loses for the Pakistani government and military. Sectarian forces of Islam carry more weight than the government can and it is creating great violence and instability for the whole region. Of course, Islam is far from the only problem and cause of the recent unrest in Pakistan as ethnic, social, and economic issues are vibrant throughout the country, especially in its northwest border area with Afghanistan.

The United States and the Karzai-led Afghan government will soon be entering into serious negotiations with certain Taliban elements that seem to be willing to do just that, negotiate, and there is much they can learn from Pakistan’s experiences. There will be a fine line between granting autonomy to a region, where Sharia law supercedes all state decisions, and creating enough wiggle room for local tribes to have a legitimate say in the way they are governed. In Pakistan, the Taliban have shown that once they obtain power in a region, and this becomes legitimatized by a deal with the Pakistani government, they have not only begun to rule the area like brutal totalitarians, but that they do not stop there, and their ambitions have led them deeper and deeper into Pakistan’s other regions.

What will Afghanistan’s future be? One where Islam is crucial, but partnered with the state? Or one where sectarian groups representing Islam, including radical Taliban groups, seek to dominate certain regions or the whole state?



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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