Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World
A Two-Tier Muslim World? Although the Western paradigm separating religious and secular authority may still be less compelling to Muslim publics, a greater emphasis on economics and, most importantly, greater participation of women in the work force may spur new forms of progressive Islam. This does not mean that extremist strands will disappear; in the short term they might benefit from unease over the changing role of women and alternative family models.
But over time, lower fertility promotes religious and political stability and, if secularization in southern Europe is a guide, modernized versions of Islam could take root by 2025. The channeling of political dissent into Islamic discourse—a variant of the global revival of religious identity in the aftermath of the Cold War—and states’ efforts to manipulate Islamic
currents will reinforce the dominance of Islam in Middle Eastern politics and society in 2025.
As a result, pressures for greater political pluralism are likely to produce a bigger role for Islamic political parties and a re-thinking of how Islam and politics should interact and influence each other, with considerable political and social turmoil generated in the process.
Even as some states may liberalize, others may fail: youth bulges, deeply rooted conflicts, and limited economic prospects are likely to keep Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and others in the high-risk category. Spill over from turmoil in these states and potentially others increases the chance that moves elsewhere in the region toward greater prosperity and political stability will be rocky. The success of efforts to manage and resolve regional conflicts and to develop security architectures that help stabilize the region will be a major determinant of the ability of states to grow their economies and pursue political reform.
Resolution of the Syrian and Palestinian conflicts with Israel, in particular, would broaden the
ideological and political discourse within secular and Islamic circles, undermine a traditional
pretext for maintaining large militaries and curtailing freedoms, and help defuse sectarian and
ethnic tensions in the region.
Iran’s trajectory is also likely to have lasting regional impacts—for good or ill. Iran’s fractious regime, nationalist identity, and ambivalence toward the United States will make any transition from regional dissenter toward stakeholder perilous and uneven. Although Iran’s aims for regional leadership—including its nuclear ambitions—are unlikely to abate, its regional orientation will have difficulty discounting external and internal pressures for reform.
An Iranian perception of greater shared interests with the West in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, and sustained progress on Arab-Israeli peace that weakens Iranian-Syrian ties and accommodates or sidelines Iran’s sub-state allies would provide security incentives and pressures on Iran to adjust its regional role. A political consensus within Iran to develop further its significant economic potential—fueled potentially by a sustained popular backlash against corruption and economic mismanagement and a fall in energy rents—could provide an additional push to shift Iran’s factional politics to the left and an incentive for Iran to adjust its policies with a view toward easing US and international sanctions.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq will critically affect regional stability, if
not the global order. By 2025, the trajectories of these three states probably will have
diverged sharply. In 2025, Afghanistan may still evince significant patterns of tribal interaction and conflict. With the exception of the Taliban interlude, Afghanistan has not experienced strong central authority; centrifugal forces are likely to remain strong even if Kabul increases its sway. Western-driven infrastructure, economic assistance, and construction are likely to provide new stakes for local rivalries rather than the basis for a cohesive Western-style economic and social unity.
Globalization has made opium Afghanistan’s major cash crop; the country will have difficulty developing alternatives, particularly as long as economic links for trade with Central Asia, Pakistan, and India are not further developed. Tribal and sectarian disputes probably will continue to arise, be fought out, and shift constantly in Afghanistan as the various players realign themselves. Outsiders will choose between making temporary alliances to destroy terrorist enemies, gain access to local resources, and advance other immediate interests or more ambitious—and costly—goals.
The future of Pakistan is a wildcard in considering the trajectory of neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and tribal areas probably will continue to be poorly governed and the source or supporter of cross-border instability. If Pakistan is unable to hold together until 2025, a broader coalescence of Pashtun tribes is likely to emerge and act together to erase the Durand Line, maximizing Pashtun space at the expense of Punjabis in Pakistan and Tajiks and others in Afghanistan. Alternatively, the Taliban and other Islamist activists might prove able to overawe at least some tribal politics.