The launching of airstrikes by the coalition that the US assembled on ISIS in both Syria and Iraq indicates many things, but the immediate contrast it forms is with the reaction of those who have launched the attack, towards the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip.

It is interesting that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have both sent in their planes, though the main effort is still coming in from the US and the NATO powers taking part. That Arab countries are taking part shows that they regard ISIS’s claim to have established a Caliphate as more worthy of fighting than the Israeli massacre of Palestinians. This makes a kind of sense, as the Caliphate claim represents a challenge to the existence of their ruling dynasties, which became rulers in the aftermath of the abolition of the Caliphate after the Ottomans ended up on the losing side after World War I.

The shenanigans of the new Caliphate have not helped. The brush with which it is being painted, that of an evil machine busy killing all opponents, might well chime with the needs of the US and other participating governments, which needed to convince their publics of the need to intervene. The search is now on for ground forces that are needed to complement the air campaign. The US has explored the limits of the power that can be exerted from the air. What is needed is ‘boots on the ground.’ Those ‘boots’ were previously of American soldiers, but that is now no longer a viable option, and the US has turned to the Iraqi Army, as well as the Kurdish peshmarga. The peshmerga has proved only marginally better, which means that PM’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz’s offer of Pakistani assistance is worrisome, because it might be accepted. Pakistan cannot afford to have its troops involved when it is involved in Operation Zarb-i-Azb, which has not prevented it from meeting its UN peacekeeping commitments, or the defence of the country’s borders. The latter has gained in importance after the ascent of an extremist BJP government has coincided with heightened Indian aggression on the LoC.

However, Pakistan’s troubles aside, the US, along with NATO and its Arab allies, see ISIS as a threat. To what extent it sees it as a genuine threat, to what extent as an excuse to prolong the War on Terror, is not clear. However, it is perhaps too much of a coincidence that at the very moment it is engaged in drawing down forces from the original theatre of operations, it is re-engaging in the second (from which it had originally withdrawn). It cannot be ignored that the US is once again exerting its command of the air in a theatre which the Royal Air Force had offered to take responsibility for just after World War I. It is also worth noting that the other area which the RAF claimed for itself were the Tribal Areas of what was then the Indian Empire, the same area where Zarb-i-Azb is being carried out.

The US has employed its command of the air in which its superiority is not even contested, in both theatres, and clearly intends to use it in its post-occupation strategy, to ensure that it keeps on achieving the targets it set itself at the time of both invasions. These goals may have changed, as both countries have not even managed to establish the working democracies that the occupations were supposed to have produced. If Afghanistan’s election farce has ended with the top two candidates entering a power-sharing agreement, Iraq has had an elected Prime Minister leave office. He may have alienated the Sunnis by being pro-Shia, but that is the logic of fighting elections. At the same time, the US itself is being blamed for the rise of ISIS. In particular, its pro-Israeli policies are blamed not just for alienating the Arab masses, but also the rest of the vast Islamic world, not just in South Asia, but also the Pacific and Africa.

The West put in too much effort for the abolition of the Caliphate for it to contemplate a revival with favour. Some even suspect that the ISIS Caliphate has been set up only so that it can be knocked down. Though the US insists that it does not acknowledge the ISIS Caliphate, the fact remains that if its air campaign succeeds, it will not have taken out a terrorist group so much as defeated a caliphate. Still, its coming into being indicates that the West would like to release the pressure for change that is building up all over the Muslim world. That desire is not just in Iraq and Syria, but also among Palestinians and Pakistanis, among whom the Azadi and Inqilab marches are manifestations of this desire. The monarchies, particularly of Salafi provenance, might have funded the ISIS because it fought Shias, but now that it was declared a Caliphate, which they founded to replace the Caliphate they rebelled against, they feel threatened.

One major problem for the West is that democracy is not seen as the solution. Indeed, the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan are not likely to win over new adherents for the cause of democracy, and the alternative to oppressive regimes may not be democracy, but Islam. As Islam’s default mode is the Caliphate, any orthodox solution is bound to have it as a model. Any Islamic government would not only work to solve the ordinary man’s problems by implementing the rules of Islam, but would use the Caliphate model. It would be helpful to any forces which wish to prevent this, to knock down a caliphate, even if it is one like that of the IS, which misses too many of the orthodox conditions to qualify as a genuine replacement for the Caliphate jettisoned in 1924.

The need for change reflects the failure of the systems tried so far to provide a solution to the problems the ordinary man faces. It is not so much a failure in the Muslim world, as in the post-colonial world. Former colonies will not achieve for the entire population, the benefits of independence by blindly imitating the colonisers. Crushing ISIS will solve nothing, just as much as ISIS itself cannot solve anyone’s issues.

 The writer is a veteran journalist  and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

maniazi@nation.com.pk