The establishment of a political project is a serious exertion and requires thinking, diligence, planning, calculating risks, and taking into consideration strategic dilemmas. These points emphasize the fact that bringing into being a political project is not a light or simple matter but requires political actors to be politicians and strategists. Belief in a political project entails that it is executed in the best way possible and that it is perpetual, meaning that it exists, survives and is able to overcome any shocks that may arise.

The reverse to this is a quick abortion, with the political project coming into being but disappearing suddenly or being emerged in multiple crises that prevent it from realizing its potential. This is akin to a tent being put up poorly in harsh weather conditions only for it to be blown over after a short time or not being able to withstand the extreme weathers that face it.

If we were to consider Islamic political projects that have sprung up over the last 20 years, one will notice how they have lacked the thinking and risk management that has been mentioned. For example, the Taliban political project putting aside emotions or affiliations, if it was to be evaluated on the mentioned criteria, did it live up to expectations? Did the Taliban show the diligence, planning, awareness and strategic calculations when establishing their political project? Did they understand the geopolitical realties of their times? Did they understand how to avert political risk? Did they understand the existential challenges they would face or have the ability to forecast such challenges? These are important questions that should have been asked by the Taliban in the 1990s before taking Kabul in 1996, as once power is taken, finding answers to such questions becomes problematic.

Just to answer one of the questions asked, any political project has to think of external security, as global actors who have strategic interests are likely to intervene if strategic interests are threatened or challenged. If one was to look to the Taliban army, it was minimal to say the least. It would have no resistance power for preventing Afghanistan’s borders from being penetrated. A clear case in point was post 9/11 when Afghanistan was overrun without much capacity to avert this by the Taliban. Now, if we were to consider North Korea, is it possible for it to be penetrated as easily as one saw in Afghanistan; would it be overrun without any substantial resistance? Does it have strong political relations with external actors that could give it a strategic leg up? Finding answers to such questions will make one realize quickly that North Korea has some staying power and despite an outcome over a period of time, it would show some resistance and challenge militarily and politically whosoever dares to threaten its existence.

Likewise, if we were to look at the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) then the same questions need to be asked. How is it possible to establish a political project with a foreign force in control over the land? How would one plan to securitize the political project from existential threats? What would one do if water and gas supplies were cut? What would be the course of action if the Iraqi government sent its forces or some other regional actor? To drive this point home, the US with a coalition of 60 countries has been striking Iraq and Syria, and what has been the reaction from ISIS? Has it been able to provide any counter military action? Has it been able to use political leverage in the Muslim world to pressure Gulf monarchies not to be an integral part of this bombing campaign? To date, it has not been able to do much, which raises questions over the nature of the so called ‘Caliphate’ they have established.

If one looks to the Caliphate history, it was a state which had an existence, was expansive, had an ideology and was a key geopolitical actor which could not be overrun and ignored at the international level. For example, it fought multiple wars with the Russians, in some it was successful, but was never penetrated or overrun. For the Ottoman Caliphate to be brought down in the 1850s the British and the French had to begin multiple attacks from different angles, use proxies to initiate rebellions and drag into play their colonies. This was at the weakest ebb of the Ottoman period, as mentioned by Ottoman historians such as the US scholar Jonathan Grant; but it still needed Britain and France to go beyond conventional war to bring the Ottomans down. And after WW1 it was the young Turks who signed away the Ottoman Caliphate (Armistice of Mudros 1918), not the Caliph himself who had become a symbolic figure after the overthrow of the last real Caliph Abdul Hameed the second. If one were to compare (which is an injustice), the Ottoman Caliphate to the ISIS Caliphate, one will realize the huge difference between the two political projects, with one having real existence and the other having no reality on the ground, other than being an armed militia taking over and losing ground over a matter of hours and days.

A political project requires this high level of seriousness, which Islamic political movements need to take into consideration. Otherwise, we will continue to hear new political projects being sprung up in Chechnya, Nigeria, Somalia, Waziristan that will only cause more confusion as we see with the ISIS phenomena. What the Muslim world needs is geopolitical projection and recognition and this will only come around with a serious political project that will change existing political barometers and add to the strategic landscape, rather than what we see today: multiple political projects emerging with no political or geopolitical weight.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS. Follow him on Twitter