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Saleem Shahzad was the fearless Pakistani reporter who was kidnapped last night and found dead today.  As usual, the Interior Minister promised an inquiry and visited his home, and all the foreign news agencies for whom he worked expressed their condolences.

In addition to the sorrow over a reporter I admired, his death tells us a lot about the changing game within Pakistan.  Saleem was as close as you could get to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda while not being overtly sympathetic to them.  A gifted reporter, he found his natural voice when reporting about the intricacies of the relationship between the various warring factions in Pakistan.  He had written Part 1 of what went on behind the attack on the Pakistani Navy but did not live long enough to write Part 2.  He had also written a well-received book on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The background of this goes to the court-martial of Al-Qaeda infiltrators into the Navy,which resulted in this attack.

The Pakistan military has two problems:

  • Like all militaries around the world, nationalism and religion are used as motivators for the fighting armed forces.  Pakistan was created with a Muslim identity, and thus the same terminology used by the non-state actor al-Qaeda is the same one used to inspire the state’s armed forces — jihad in the way of God.  This requires a philosophical clarity that is lacking and that will be published on this site as ‘Dominion, Sedition and Struggle’.
  • While the Pakistan Army does wish Al-Qaeda and Taliban success in forcing the Americans and Indians out of Afghanistan, it does not look kindly on this isolationist and anti-state rhetoric infiltrating its ranks.  It has now drawn the line.

The reason why jihadi forces have failed throughout modern history is because the virulent fanaticism that makes them so effective in the battlefield is the same virulent fanaticism that does not allow them to rule without creating perceived enemies out of everyone.  Infighting, lack of compromise and respect for others, and disobedience to all authority sets them on a path where they can never run a state.

The food supplies, hospitals, markets, telephone networks, trains, petrol supply chain, roads and arms that al-Qaeda relies on to further its own goals are provided by the states of the host countries.  This is very similar to a parasitic existence — but it is not in the interest of the parasite to destroy the host.  Nowhere has Al-Qaeda or other militant groups succeeded in providing the basics of a functioning society for any length of time.  It is only a myth propagated by illiterate ‘scholars’ who are intent on augmenting their power base.

Al-Qaeda may be near the peak of its soft power — it needs to get political very fast, very soon, like the IRA — or it will lose its sympathisers and will be militarily crushed in South Asia.  Or, we hope, some politician can harness the soft power while distancing the al-Qaeda version of *jihad *from the Pakistani military’s version.