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Thinking the unthinkable


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James Howard Kunstler is an American writer who enjoys a large following for his prediction of a looming future in which our technological civilisation based on oil dependence will have failed us, and for his almost uniquely courageous and insightful (as far as I’m concerned) articulation of the ways in which American society, in particular is going to have to dismantle and reconstruct itself, and soon, if we want to avoid a very hard landing indeed.

His tone and style are not to everyone’s taste; he can be abrasive, profane, and sometimes insulting. But sometimes it’s important for somebody to be impolite, for the sake of saying things that otherwise might not be said, and Kunstler usually handles that role with aplomb and panache. He also affects a gentler and more compassionate vision in his World Made By Hand series of novels set in the aftermath. I’ve been reading his weekly blog faithfully ever since a friend gave me a copy of his book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century, about five years ago.

Kunstler’s concern with oil means, of course, that he can’t avoid addressing issues of geopolitics, and more specifically of the West’s relations with Muslim countries. Iran’s threat this week to close the Strait of Hormuz is an example of something he would, and probably will, write about. But his main theme is how American society has lost its way with its obsessive grasping after the suburbanised “American dream” and its related dependence on automobiles. When he is writing about this, Kunstler is at his prophetic best.

But, like any ambitious writer with a universal vision, Kunstler occasionally strides all too confidently beyond his own authority. He also – again, like any of us – is animated partly by personal and visceral sentiments and resentments. Thus this week, in his long look ahead at trends for 2012, he wrote:

“It is hard to think about the bizarre case of India, a nation with one foot in the modern age and the other in a colorful hallucinatory dreamtime. Their climate-change-related problems are doing heavy damage to the food supply. Their groundwater is almost gone. The troubles of the wobbling global economy will take a lot of pep out of their burgeoning tech and manufacturing sectors. It wouldn’t be surprising if these travails prompted distracting hostilities with its failed-state neighbor, Pakistan.

Pakistan, with its inexhaustible supply of Islamic maniacs, could easily start a rumble with some crazy caper like the Mumbai hotel assault of two [sic] years ago, but this time India would answer with a heavy cudgel, perhaps even a nuclear sortie designed to neutralise Pakistan’s dangerous toys at a stroke. And that would be that. Like cleaning out an annoying neighborhood crack house. It’s not a very appetising scenario, but what else can you do about failed states with nuclear bombs?”

I quote this passage, even though I consider it flawed or just plain wrong on several points as well as dangerous, to show Pakistanis what your country is up against, in terms of American perception. For what it’s worth, Kunstler doesn’t think America is in very good shape either. Part of Kunstler’s problem, though, is that while, legitimately given the kind of writer he is, he takes the whole world for his bailiwick, he consistently treats Muslim countries as if they were all about Islam and nothing else (and he doesn’t mean that in a good way), and he gives a pass to any country, such as India, that’s positioned against a Muslim country or countries. This doesn’t invalidate his credibility overall, but it does reveal a large blind spot.

It’s unavoidably true that India is the dominant power on the subcontinent, but part of what’s missing from Kunstler’s drive-by geopolitical analysis is a recognition that several of the problems he identifies as India’s, from climate change to water to “dangerous toys,” are also Pakistan’s. Speaking of which, as every Pakistani knows, it was India’s then-BJP government that raised the stakes in 1998 by testing a nuclear bomb first. It’s maddening, and telling, how Westerners tend to forget that awkward fact, or don’t even know it in the first place.

In any case, if India were to hit Pakistan with a preemptive nuclear sortie that would not be that, to put it mildly. Would Pakistan retaliate? Probably tens of millions of people would die on both sides of the border. We think – and hope – that such a scenario is unthinkable. But if, as this ominous new year begins, we cast our minds back over the past decade, we should all be chastened by an awareness of how many previously unthinkable scenarios have already come to pass.

Kunstler’s provocative prognostications do raise hard questions: Does Pakistan have an “inexhaustible supply of Islamic maniacs”? Is it – or, less provocatively, could it become – a “failed state”? Could, or would, Pakistan “start a rumble” with India? Above all, who’s in charge? Pakistan needs nothing more than it needs mature, responsible, patriotic (as distinct from nationalist) leadership. Then again, that’s also more than anything what my own country needs.


Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (72) Closed

Mahmud Jan 06, 2012 03:16pm
What Kunstler thinks or says is irrelevant in Pakistan. How many people even take him seriously. Yes, it shows the quality of people who are influencing public opinion in U.S against Muslims. One can also argue that U.S has also become irrelevant to Pakistan after aid cuts.
Riaz Khan CHICAGO US Jan 06, 2012 03:44pm
Pakistan and USa are not natural allies. They are destined to go different ways. Pakistan is sleep walking towards self destruction.
Pranav Sharma Jan 06, 2012 04:09pm
The situation for Pakistan is not very alarming - it is doing decently well. Both the suicide attacks and audacious militant attacks have come down drastically during the last year. BUT Pakistan does have an inexhaustible supply of Islamic maniacs ! The Salmaan Taseer Vs. Mumtaz Qadri has more than proved it.
Atan Jan 06, 2012 04:23pm
I don't think a superpower ever becomes 'irrelevant'' to any country. Its like having a big bad bear in your vicinity, it would be foolish to take the bear as 'irrelevant'. Like it, fear it but one thing you can't to is ignore it.
deepu, New Delhi Jan 06, 2012 04:41pm
I doubt pakistan can sideline USA so easily until they live under the shadow of 'Indian threat' (Sic)
L.Manohar Jan 06, 2012 04:59pm
Islamic societies are experts at proving the worst prognostications about them to be true. This religion with its finalist "perfection" claim makes them incapable of self-criticism and honesty. Many humans with muslim names in muslim countries are also sick of this ideology, but dare not speak out. They take the first chance to emigrate. Unfortunately after getting into non-muslim countries they start their islam-glorification all over again.
raika45 Jan 06, 2012 04:58pm
It is time the Indian sub continent,especially India and Pakistan ignore the doomsday predictions of the so called western experts.These countries have a culture spanning centuries.Fair enough there have been problems,like their wars, the Bombay and Delhi exploits.Times are changing and hopefully peace will prevail.The only problem Pakistan has is the group of so called"Islamic maniacs".Do not under estimate the resilience of the majority of it's people.The only stopping these countries from making a world mark is their corrupt and ineffective governments.
Truth Jan 06, 2012 04:57pm
The comments of Ethan Casey are very silly at least from India perspective. The shortage of food supply is a global problem. India's food grain production is directly linked to Rainfall. However this has been the case all the time. Ground water too was never really used in India to the extent its used in western countries. E.x. Nobody uses ground water in india for Drinking. Global Economic crisis will take more toll on US and European economies as compared to Indian economy. The financial crisis of 2008 was the proof of the above statement. I find it strange that Dawn is actually publishing Ethan Casey's comments.
ZXY Jan 06, 2012 05:03pm
Sleep Walking ? No Way ! Happily, Willfully, Enthusiastically, voluntarily, excitedly....
Noor Kamal Jan 06, 2012 05:28pm
- pakistan is a country that never should have been. its end is in sight. just a matter of time. the universe is unfolding as it should.
Shankar Jan 06, 2012 05:33pm
Given the economics of it, whether USA has become irrelevant to Pakistan is a moot point. The converse of it is not! One "immediate" question for Pakistan is what is it going to do to arrest the free fall of its economy. The disappearing of the aid from US does not help. And, to make it worse, this is only one of the "immediate questions" that Pakistan faces.
Bashir Jan 06, 2012 05:44pm
A travelogue writer writing about a fiction writer! Neither of them has "no formal training in the fields in which he prognosticates".
Sundararajan Jan 06, 2012 05:48pm
Even during the coldwar period of over 5 decades, neither USA or USSR used atomic weapons. Out of mutual fear both India and Pakistan have these weapons and they will never be used against their neighbours.
Raghvendra Jan 06, 2012 05:59pm
Only Pakistan can kill Pakistan. Pakistan is no different than India. In fact it is India with different name.
L. Manohar Jan 06, 2012 07:10pm
That you cut out my comment shows you are a manipulator who does not dare face truth about Pakistan and is interested in flattering pakistanis. Getting a visa for Pakistan necessitates such flattery. A flatterer is never the true friend.
R Dar Jan 06, 2012 09:16pm
Pakistan also has inexhaustable supply of mute moderate citizens , give them courage to speak.
Nadeem Ayub Jan 06, 2012 10:42pm
Best is shoot the bear DEAD! Make the world safe again...
Mahmud Jan 07, 2012 03:36am
Yes, you can't ignore it but you don't have to like it or fear it. US has very little leverage left on Pakistan and that's why it is becoming irrelevant in terms of influence. Pakistan's image is already very bad in U.S. Kunstler's propaganda is not going to degrade the image by any significant amount.
Shafi Jan 07, 2012 04:10am
Has Pakistan got freedom of expression? Answer is no as Dawn keeps censoring anything against its own way of thinking.
KBK Jan 07, 2012 07:13am
"Pakistan is sleep-walking towards self-destruction" Well said, Bro!
concerned Jan 07, 2012 08:22am
The sub-continent should seriously try to mend bridges without outside opinions ,advice and counsel.Remember the story of the two cats and the monkey.We will be left with nothing but crumbs if we meekly hand over our future to smooth talking nations with vested interests. Let good sense prevail.
Babar Jan 07, 2012 09:59am
Pakistan has its fair share of religious fanatics. But than who doesn't? I guess, we should accept this problem and move on.
ali Jan 07, 2012 10:01am
The whole article can be summarized in the sentence 'Pakistan, with its inexhaustible supply of Islamic maniacs'. Thanks.
Alan Zoeb Jan 07, 2012 11:04am
On the other hand Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China, and Sri Lanka make natural allies.
Shoeb Jan 07, 2012 11:10am
The only maniac here is this anti-Pakistan Hindu moderator in control of Dawn Blog inputs. Only Hindus/Indians are allowed ro post here.
Yousuf Bukhari Jan 07, 2012 12:31pm
I agree with Mr.Babar when he says "than who doesn't" and would like to add that terms like Islamic maniacs should be replaced with religious fanatics to avoid targeting directly Islam
NS Jan 07, 2012 12:49pm
i agree with riaz khan's statement. i think pakistan is a failed state. and it needs more than a patriotic leadership; humanism, faith, honesty and unity among its people.there is a war going on among pakistanis themselves so it doesnt matter what india does or doesnt.
Sohail Jan 07, 2012 02:39pm
Well you don't know Pakistanis at all. For most of the moderates and educated young ones as well, the term relevant is relative. And when it comes to our religion, all things considered, everything else becomes irrelevant. Haven't you learned a lesson yet from Iraq and now Afghanistan?
MNK Jan 07, 2012 06:29pm
These both countries could not come to any agreement mutually in over 60 yesrs. I think these stubborn neighbors need another 600 yesrs to mend these bridges with or without any third party.
MNK Jan 07, 2012 06:34pm
I agree as nothing stays forever. We all have to return.
Eddied Jan 07, 2012 07:15pm
What makes you think Pakistan has freedom of expression? Try speaking out against blasphemy laws..
vinny Jan 07, 2012 07:47pm
what is wrong with you?
AHA Jan 07, 2012 08:10pm
@Baber – In all fairness, we have more than our fair share of maniacs.
Chethan prabhu Jan 07, 2012 08:48pm
Every country has it's share of religious fanatics. Just watch the election debates in the US! What has made Islamic countries worse is the despots and dictators who have used fanatics to further their greed and thirst for power!
Raju Jan 07, 2012 08:51pm
Was India EVER ruled by military dictators?
Mohammed Ramzan Jan 07, 2012 09:33pm
I agree with you 100% well said.
preetam Jan 07, 2012 11:37pm
Pakistan could have become great country if they would have followed the path of Jinnah. He was a decent guy with a vision for Pakistan. Just like India is not what Gandhi envisioned same goes for Pakistan. I think downhill started during Zia's regime. Pakistan has become more Islamist state with radical majority.
Faiza Ghulam Rasool Jan 07, 2012 11:45pm
awesome article! Pakistan will progress by leaps and bounds if and when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf comes into power. that party aligns the aspirations of Pakistani youth with the national aspirations for making Pakistan a modern and progressive state. on the contrary, Pakistan is as much a failed state as India. you just have to determine if India is a reflection of its founding father - Mahatama Gandhi, who actually wanted to travel to Pakistan to show unity with Muslims. on his assassination, Quaid-e-Azam announced a Day of Mourning in Pakistan. just think of those two great people.
Shazzam Jan 07, 2012 11:51pm
Then how come u r posting here.. ?
genda kaka Jan 08, 2012 04:16am
pakistan will start a path towards moderation after usa starts withdrawing . pakistan will be forced to stand on its own feet. the military will have to deal without scroungeing on foreign aid. the big question- are civilians capable of running pakistan. there is no one around who is capable of doing so. maybe the sitauation will result in a great leader comeing from nowhere.
ashok Jan 08, 2012 06:15am
Pakistanis should learn to listen the constuctive would they illiminate the problems their country is faceing right now?Most of the Indians who critisise Pakistan actually love pakistan like I do.I wish dawn stop blocking my writings and let my brothers in pakistan see the other side of the picture.You will never move your country forward if you are motivated by hatred. Come on freinds,the problem of terrorism is universal every country has it.So don't feel bad by this artical and face your financial problems.
ashish Jan 08, 2012 06:46am
i agree.
johar Jan 08, 2012 08:01am
Pakistan and its residence are very complicated and is very hard for some one to even come close to make a future prediction. Pakistan was considered to go bankrupt in the 90's but remain better than some Europeon nations.
VINOD Jan 08, 2012 09:51am
Most of the comments seem to make little of this article. Not fair. The truth is that Pakistan is not only having an inexhaustible supply of Islamic maniacs it also in over mode of supply of generals who protect and promote these maniacs as strategic assets. A dangerous cocktail that uniquely distinguishes Pakistan.
nt Jan 08, 2012 12:12pm
you are right ,when they emigrate to west,they force to their women and daughters to wear burka or hijab and send there children to islamic schools if they could afford. I think the reason ,they cant fit in western society due to their belives and look for their own identity and some pride, surprisingly second generation is getting more angry and rigid in religion,as I have seen in some family conflicts where parents are more modrates then there children.some even dont borrow money from bank to buy house and always live in rental property untill they save enough money which most of times not possible
Azhar Jan 08, 2012 12:23pm
"Islamic maniac" - this phrase is an oxymoron. How could someone be 'truly' Islamic i.e. Islamic in its true sense (and not a "crazy caper") and be a maniac at the same time? People come up with all sorts of phrases and terms nowadays, often adding 'ism' to various words, at will... The term "Islamist" too took me the longest time to understand (still don't get it completely).
Swami Pranab Roy Jan 08, 2012 12:29pm
Agree 100%. Introspection needed.
Swami Pranab Roy Jan 08, 2012 12:39pm
We must listen comments of Hassan Nissar ji. I an an Indian. Both the countries have Religious Fanatics. Yes our so called Hindu Fanatics only targets against Indian/Pakistani Muslims but Muslim Fanatics are targeting the whole world including India. Both the Governments should take severe steps to eradicate them once for ever. Peace will prevail. No compromise of whatsoever.
Shaer Khan Jan 08, 2012 12:43pm
If Pakistan is a failed state then how come in your own country you have 7 different states fighting for independence....hmmmmmmmmmm I wonder which one of the TWO is a failed state
Sameer Jan 08, 2012 03:45pm
Dear Faiza, Your remarks that "India is also failed state like Pakistan" is highly unacceptable. In which angle do you see India as failed state? In economy, science, eduction in every respect India is far ahead than that of Pakistan an that also in the same period after independence from Birtish. India still sticking to pricipales of Gandhi. Can you say that with Pakistan? It's far more away than what Quaid thought. India which isheaded by Dr. Sing (PhD in economics) is struggling to achieve grouth rate of 7 to 9 %. How can you dream about a cricket star to take your country forward by leaps and bounds? Thik about it. Pakistan is not cricket ground it's much more complicated than that.
Mahmud Jan 08, 2012 04:22pm
What did Pakistan do in 1990s when there were U.S sanctions against Pakistan? Pakistan is a survivor no matter how you put it. Pakistan is a very tough country, probably one of the toughest in the world if you look at how it has survived all these challenges throughout it's history. It is the same country no one thought would survive a year after it's independence. It has survived four wars with an enemy five times it's size. It survived when it was split into two pieces. It picked up the pieces and went on to become a nuclear power of the world. It survived brutal dictatorships during half of it's existence. It has also survived 4th generation warfare waged on it's people by the leading powers of the world. Above all it has survived one of the most incompetent and corrupt political leadership of modern times. Pakistan now seems to be making wise choices. It should hang in there for a little while longer. Political scene in Pakistan is changing for the better. There are enormous natural resources waiting to be utilized. Not to mention, all energy and trade routes go through Pakistan. It is the town square of South Asia. I have no doubts in my mind that Pakistan will emerge as a world power in 21st century.
Mahesh Jan 08, 2012 04:48pm
That is hardly true. Under Jinnah, a non-muslim could not occupy the president/prime minister of Pakistan (correct me if I am wrong). Although he said, non-muslims will be given full freedom and protection, such words loose the significance over time because future generations do not take minorities seriously as they do not have same political rights. India on other hand is secular as Gandhi wanted and we have progressed. Although we have great constitution, as people we are still do not have secular values. We would have progressed far more if we would have followed vision of our founding fathers,
Ali Jan 08, 2012 05:19pm
Totally agree
padmanabhangg(USA) Jan 08, 2012 05:27pm
Bhatt Saheb: India is a failed state similar to Pakistan ?I do not think you have any takers on that doubtful proposition, outside Pakistan. But a state that has failed to provide for the least of them, yes and a state consisting of corrupt culprits and corrupt bureaucrats, definitely yes.
johar Jan 08, 2012 06:29pm
@Sameer. You need history 101 lesson. Ronald Reagan was not an economist. Also you are blinded by growth number which you have no way of verifying but check Luther Perdesh of India alone and you will soon realize that world most homeless and Hungary do reside in India. Don't be proud if a few collecting the wealth. Corruption in India is a the same as Pakistan. The best side of Pakistan is that they realize and accept their weakness and you (India) don't. All the best to both.
saythetruth Jan 08, 2012 06:58pm
Pakistan is not sleeping actually Pakistan is awake and people are very concerned. InshaAllah change is coming to Pakistan. If you can not put kind comments for Pakistan make Duah for Pakistan. It survived the cold war and it will survive the current setback and will emerge as stronger country. No country has suffered the way Pakistan has suffered from ill plans of so called friends USA, UK and foes like India, Russia and Israel.
mnk Jan 08, 2012 07:53pm
There must be reasons why one group of people in the world are being persecuted by the whole world. It was communism before and now it is Islam's turn. It could be hindus or ..... later
MNK Jan 08, 2012 08:06pm
Pakistan should be it's own ally. We should help our own people and not steal from them. If we could just become sincere and honest to ourselves, I think we will not need any allies.
saythetruth Jan 08, 2012 08:28pm
Well said Mahmud. It is hard for the west to understand Islam is way of life for us and we are here to stay. The turn Pakistan is taking will show to the world that countries like Pakistan and Turkey can make it on their own. God bless Pakistan
Sahil Jan 09, 2012 03:19am
Truth, Indian farmers heavily rely on wells to farm their lands as there are not enough dams/check dams built by Government to provide adequate water for farming. Over the period of time, the water level of ground water has significantly declined as several research indicates. Farmers run a heavy risk of running out of water completely to farm their lands. If this becomes reality, India will have to import agricultural products from other countries, which will be disastrous for Indian economy. While India is not a failed state by any means, it faces serious problems in near future and if people ignore these challenges, the future of India could get dull and gloomy.
Shafi Jan 09, 2012 03:43am
Quaid-e-Azam and people like me had the same 'dream' you have mentioned but alas after over 60 years we may have survived, we are not seeing the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Question Mr Casey poses is whether we have Islamist maniacs or not . All the signs are that unfortunately we have that element among us which has been creating havoc during the last few years. The second question Mr Casey poses is whether Pakistan is a 'failed state or going to be failed state'. And the answer is again unfortunately the way things are at present, it would lead Pakistan to become a failed state. A country where law and order does not exist, where citizens live their lives in fear, where the economy is going down hill year after year, where the government is unable to govern, where there are extreme ethnic divisions, where unemployment is rife, where over 70 percent of the population is living in dire poverty, where illiteracy rate reaches 70 percent and where armed gangs roam the streets would not survive unless there are immediate drastic changes. True Pakistan has great potential which is not new , they had been there for over 60 years. Pakistan needs a change of course in order to continue to survive. That change seems to be no where near in sight. Even people like Dawn's Mr Cowasji have given up.
Waqar Ahmed Jan 09, 2012 04:26am
Let us analyze this thinking When water leaves the boundaries of a river or sea what we do. We put bags of sands to stop or slow down its flow or destruction. Similar scenario exists in here. When USA and Pakistan Army recklessly attacked and killed people in tribal area, thousands of innocent people got killed. When bread breeder of a family gets killed, they can go any extent to take revenge of that. The innocent people, affected in the tribal area and in Afghanistan, were exploited by wrong minded people. When USA attacked Afghanistan, people asked them to learn a lesson from the British but they proudly said that we are American not British. They should adopt a tactics different from British but they didn’t. Now Pakistan is a buffer zone between such elements and rest of the world. If they succeeded in damaging Pakistan, India and rest of the world will be exposed to them. They will ruin the peace of the world. World should 1) Help Pakistan morally and financially 2) Increase the aid of Pakistan in terms of education because education is the only weapon which can weaken these elements. 3) Increase trade with Pakistan because if poverty drops, the activities of wrong minded people to recruit innocent people will be dropped. 4) World should continue to support democratic process in Pakisatn.
Moin Jan 09, 2012 04:45am
This is the most sensible thought of all.The destiny of the humanity in the subcontinent is as flesh to bone.its welfare lies in peace and common affords for the good of billions living in the sub continent.If this generation fails to understand the next or the next would.The one that would not try shall be blamed by history.
Akku Jan 09, 2012 10:37am
But don't forget, none of the wars with India were started by India. Just read the pages of DAWN for the truth!
Akku Jan 09, 2012 10:36am
Well, good luck!
Ravi Inder Singh Jan 09, 2012 01:02pm
The problem with Pakistan is that it has never been truly independent, even after "Independence" in ,47. First it was a follower of America, now it will perforce become a follower of China. It is only when Pakistan becomes truly independent, will things really improve
Mudassar Jan 10, 2012 02:01am
Well said brother!
Guest Jan 10, 2012 02:38am
Truly, this is the height of imagination.
Chris Jan 10, 2012 06:50am
20 billion in aid from the US over ten years.... ....where did that all go? Pakistan really needs to become self sufficient. Stop buying nukes and make electricity, water facilities, and schools.
Chris Jan 10, 2012 06:54am
sane Jan 10, 2012 11:28am
"but remain better than some Europeon nations", this is not manic but purely delusional my friend. In order to improve you should learn to recognize and accept your weaknesses first. Peace and love to all.
Yawar Shah Jan 10, 2012 11:52pm
Chris you are not fully aware of the facts. It was 18 billion over ten years, but 12 billion was reimbursement of expenses incurred for deployment of 100,000 Pakistani troops along Afghan border. That left mere 6 billion for economic and military assistance. Transporting hundreds of thousands of NATO containers from Karachi port to Afghanistan damaged our highways. Pakistan's economy suffered over 70 billion, not to speak of 30,000 Pakistanis killed in this global war. No country has sacrificed more than Pakistan. Compare this to US spending 2 billion in Afghanistan every week, and a trillion dollars wasted in Iraq war, all for getting rid of one evil man. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Enough of these wars thrust on other countries, let's give peace a chance.