Empirical mindset returns!


Khalid Saleem

THE problem with living in a part of the world in turmoil is that it is difficult to unravel what goes on in the minds of the powers that be. The problem becomes more compounded when one comes face to face with a ‘nascent’ imperial power with special interest in the region one lives in. ‘Empires’, incidentally, are neither born nor are they hatched out of eggs. They rather evolve over time, not pop out of the bottle like a genie. Given the money and fire power of modern technology, it is possible to squeeze the evolution stage to an alarming extent, as has been witnessed over the past several years. The first lesson to learn is never to generalize this issue. The emergence of an ‘Empire’ is one thing; maintaining the monstrosity quite another! Looking at the past of our very own region, one finds that, as an erstwhile empire, Britain did manage rather well for itself. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the British imperial tactics was that of “divide and rule”. The name of the game was to size up the opposition and then to engineer fissures in its ranks to weaken it. While the fragmented opposition was up to its neck in internecine quarrels, the imperial power went about its dirty business with comparative ease, unchallenged and uninterrupted. The secret of success was the colonial master’s strategy of fostering inter-faction rivalry. With the opposition thus at sixes and sevens, Imperialists could devote all their energies to whatever it is that the imperialists set themselves to do.
As part of the political games that they played in abandon, the British colonialists had specialized in exploiting religious and ethnic divides among the locals to further their own ends. When they felt threatened by a part of the populace belonging to a certain religious denomination, they used all tactics to widen schisms within the latter’s ranks. They, at times, even went to the extent of engineering brand new sects to further sub-divide the already fissured society. There is a lesson to be learnt from all this. The perspicacious reader might well question the relevance of this subject at this epoch. In defence, one might point to the ominous specter of the brand new ‘Virtual Empires’ evidently in an advanced stage of evolution. As an awe-struck world looks on in dismay, the world’s sole superpower (aided and abetted by its minions) appears to exhibit empirical overtones. There is precious little the small fries at the receiving end can do except to grin and bear it. The powers that be – and their think-tanks no doubt – have worked hard at developing a brand new imperial concept to adapt to the demands of the twenty-first century. Seeing this in the light of the ‘Trump vision’ should help decipher the whole story.
Any novice at the game knows that nothing can be more calamitous than plunging into a project and then discovering that the several loose ends, that should have been tied up betimes, are dangling in the air or have suddenly turned into festering sores. Despite having experienced British ‘advisers’ at their beck and call, the godfathers and ultimate planners of ‘virtual empires’ aforementioned could not avoid encountering teething problems of a certain magnitude. From all appearance, it would appear that they stepped into a mire of sorts, extricating themselves out of which appears to be presenting un-anticipated difficulties. A dispassionate look at the whole jolly circus would indicate that the new Empire-builders did take British advice to heart at least in so far as the tactic of “divide and rule” is concerned. This tactic was applied, for instance, with varying success in Iraq. The strategy was to play off the Iraqi Muslims belonging to one sect against those of the other. In the past, the not inconsiderable Iraqi nationalism had proved strong enough to bridge this sectarian schism within their ranks. This was apparently successfully overcome thanks to the new imperial concept.
Similar tactics were used in Afghanistan where the ethnic card was played to devastating effect. It may be recalled that the ethnic cleavage between the majority Pakhtuns and the minority Tajiks, Uzbecks and Hazaras had initially been exploited ruthlessly by the Soviet occupiers. Post nine/eleven, the Americans appear to have opted for the strategy of extenuating the ethnic divide by siding with the essentially anti-Pakhtun Northern Alliance against the mainly Pakhtun Taliban. It remains to be seen as to how long will this precarious perch sustain them and what role is played by its allies in the region. As history is witness, Afghanistan has never been an easy country to govern from a central authority in Kabul. Real power has always been with the warlords around the countryside. This situation was transformed for a short period during the rule of the Taliban, when Afghanistan briefly exhibited semblance of a unitary state entity. Now the situation appears to have reverted to the proverbial ‘square one’.
The world is in for very turbulent and somewhat uncertain times. Here, in the Land of the Pure, our once much-vaunted strategic geopolitical situation is fast becoming a millstone around the nation’s collective neck. Meanwhile, all right-thinking people are hoping and praying that the mother ship does not drift into choppy and uncharted waters! The time has apparently come to brace ourselves and at the same time to separate the grain from the chaff. Those that make hay while the (nascent imperial) sun shines had better take a second look at the World Order around them which is liable to collapse any minute. And it would be hazardous to lose sight of the truism that when ‘empires’ – even virtual ones – collapse, they invariably take their quislings down with them.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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