Eqbal Ahmad: Political Predictor

Throughout the final years of Eqbal Ahmad’s life, he made accurate political predictions that would later shock and amaze his readers in the twenty-first century.

  • International Flags
    Some perceive Eqbal Ahmad as an uncanny analyst, others perceive him as a political guru.
    Photo by Fotolia/ksenona
  • Eqbal Ahmad
    A longtime friend and intellectual collaborator of Eqbal Ahmad, Stuart Schaar, takes a look at Ahmad’s impact on international relations and politics in “Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age.”
    Cover courtesy Columbia University Press

  • International Flags
  • Eqbal Ahmad

Political analyst Eqbal Ahmad was the first to recognize that former ally Osama Bin Laden would turn against the United States. In Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, former colleague and friend Stuart Schaar, analyzes the way Ahmad’s existence has flown through the current of modern history, and how his vision is still evident today. This excerpt, which is from the introduction, presents six predictions Ahmad made in his lifetime that later transpired at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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Eqbal Ahmad (1930?–1999), a brilliant professor and political analyst on the global left, saw trends developing in international relations that few others recognized. In the syndicated newspaper columns he wrote in the last decades of his life and some four million people read weekly, he offered his views on myriad subjects. He amazed his readers with predictions of future events that later transpired, making him into a guru for some and an uncanny analyst for others. Six examples suffice to illustrate his perspicacity, astuteness, and originality.

1.Years before it happened, he predicted the chaos that would follow if and when the U.S. military invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. An extract from a December 20, 1998, essay that he wrote for the Karachi newspaper Dawn demonstrates his special skill. In a prescient analysis, he wrote:

Dictators rarely leave behind them an alternative leadership or a viable mechanism for succession. Saddam Hussein is not an exception. Disarray and confusion shall certainly ensue if he is eliminated. Iraq is a greatly divided country, with the rebellious Kurds dominant in the north and Shias in the south. With the one linked to the Kurds in Turkey and the other to Shiite Iran, their ambitions in post-Sad-dam Iraq can cause upheavals in the entire region. It is not clear that the United States has either the will or the resources to undertake the remaking of Iraq. If it does not, the scramble over Iraq may ignite protracted warfare involving Turkey, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kurd, Arab, Shia, Sunni, and, in one form or another, the United States. The fundamentalist brand of Islamism may thrive in such an environment. Islamism will find at least two major sponsors in the struggle for Iraq: Iran borders on southern Iraq, which is home to the most sacred shrines of Shia Islam and is populated largely by Shia Muslims. Iran’s influence may easily fill the post-Saddam vacuum, a development Saudi Arabia, the sheikhdoms of the Gulf, and the US shall find intolerable. Since none of America’s conservative Arab allies like Arab nationalism . . . they may counter Iran by promoting Sunni fundamentalism. Sectarian groups thrive in this brand of Islamism. Like Afghanistan today, Iraq may turn into a battleground of war parties backed by several states.

Eqbal wrote this essay a year before his death and five years before the United States, joined by a handful of other states, attacked and conquered Iraq. An insurgency then ensued, which intensified and continued after Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2006. As Eqbal predicted, Iraq faced civil war that its neighbors became involved in either directly or through internal proxies.

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