Some pictures from a Karachi newspaper on a rally and procession on Karachi's main street — as part of the Xmas celebrations by the Christian community (in which many local Muslims join). There are more pictures in the paper (at this link).
Some pictures from a Karachi newspaper on a rally and procession on Karachi's main street — as part of the Xmas celebrations by the Christian community (in which many local Muslims join). There are more pictures in the paper (at this link).
The Chinese project of "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR) has drawn remarkably little attention and comment in the West, especially in the USA. This is surprising, considering its tremendous scope, its implications for a large part of the world (with its potential to transform the lives of a sizable part of humanity), and its geostrategic significance.
Typically, the only voice talking about this (and other developments in China) in a sane and prescient manner is that of Amb Chas Freeman. (The neocons were right ‒ from their perspective ‒ in ensuring in 2009 that he would not be able to officially influence US policy; the loss, a grave one, was their country's). He first talked at some length about OBOR in July 2015, and then again in June of this year. This post should be considered an updated summary; for a more detailed view I would recommend Mr Freeman's 2015 talk.
OBOR seeks to convert the Eurasian land mass into a single economy by interconnecting it with a network of roads, railroads, pipelines, ports, airports, and telecommunications links, and, based on these, to create a series of development corridors containing large zones of productive economic activity (and, ultimately, prosperity).
Supplementing this essentially continental development will be a maritime component (the "Road"), aimed at investing and fostering collaboration in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North Africa, through several contiguous bodies of water – the South China Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. This will be achieved by developing suitable (deep water) ports and then building the infrastructure to link them to interior industrial zones and markets, e.g, Piraeus (in Greece), Zarubino (in Russia), Djibouti and Mombasa (in Africa), Kyaukpyu (in Myanmar) and Gwadar (in Pakistan).
Amb Freeman rightly called One belt, One Road "the largest and potentially the most transformative engineering effort in human history".
In an earlier post (highlighted by CP in his latest thread) I had said that Turkey's move of a troop contingent to Iraq, near Mosul, was a part of the West's plan with regard to that country.
On further reflection, I think that is incorrect. While I still think that the West's ultimate aim is to have Iraq end up in three entities ‒ Kurdish, Sunni and Shia ‒ I believe this move was made by Turkey on its own, to serve its own purposes. Turkey's ultimate aim in Iraq is to have its Sunni areas come under its own control, or at least influence. This move is designed to ensure the furtherance of that aim.
It is based on the expectation that, with the further weakening of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, and thus on its control of Mosul, at some stage an attack on the city by the anti-IS forces will become possible. This may well occur along with an uprising in the city. Best placed to carry out such an operation are the Iraqi army plus Shia militias and the Kurds.
Mosul's population is currently almost entirely Sunni, and Turkey will pose as its protector. It will not let the Iraqis attack the city, ostensibly to avoid the inevitable casualties among the Sunni civilian inhabitants. Its preferred course would be to have Mosul taken ostensibly by the Iraqi Sunni militias (which it is organizing under Atheel Nujaifi, former governor of Mosul) aided by Turkish troops (it would rapidly reinforce its present relatively small contingent).
If the situation is fluid, Barzani may take the opportunity to send in the Kurdish Peshmerga to seize Mosul for the Kurds. Turkey is now well-placed to stop such an attack, and (should the Sunni option not be practicable) force the Kurds to conduct a joint operation with the Sunni militia, supported by Turkish troops, to take Mosul. The Kurdish reward would be retention of the formerly Kurdish portions of the city. But the fate of the city and its surrounding region would remain firmly in Turkish hands.
Yesterday, our esteemed FB Ali commented on the US plans for Syria:
„In Syria [the US] plan was to use the non-IS jihadis against IS by promising them a part in the post-Assad Syrian regime. That is the reason why Kerry is promoting a political transition there to get Assad out, hand over Syria to these jihadis with a bunch of old Syrian politicians being the external face of the regime (mainly for pacifying public opinion back home). Saudi Arabia and Qatar have provided the necessary assurances that the US will have nothing to fear from this new Syrian government, and that it will follow the plan.
The US will provide more arms to this 'new Syrian army' (ie, the non-IS jihadis) and hope that, with the Kurds and Western air support, it’ll knock IS out (or at least push it out of Syria).
This plan has been stymied by the Russian intervention, and the rejuvenated Syrian army's successful offensive against the jihadis. Kerry is still pushing the political plan, but Russia will never agree to anything that hands Syria over to these jihadis. The outcome is, therefore, likely to be decided on the battlefield, where it currently seems the R+6 will succeed.
For Iraq the West's plan appears to be to split it into three portions: a Kurdish entity, a Sunni one, and a Shia rump. The first part of the plan has been put into effect. The Kurdish peshmerga, supported by US airpower and SF, captured Sinjar. Additional SF have now been sent to support the Kurdish peshmerga. The Turks have moved troops near Mosul to support the coming Kurdish attack on the city. This expanded Kurdish region will be one entity in the new Iraq.(The Kurds would never attack Mosul or any other non-Kurdish areas unless they had solid assurances that they could keep their gains).
It was because of this plan that the US's air campaign in Iraq was so devoid of results (often because planes weren't cleared to attack targets). Large-scale air attacks with their attendant civilian casualties would have alienated the local Sunni population of Anbar. That is also the reason why IS's oil operations weren't attacked until Putin shamed Obama into it; even then special steps were taken to avoid Sunni casualties. The hope was (is) to revive the old Sahwa (Sons of Iraq) movement (a Sunni force friendly towards the US) and let it take over Anbar and other Sunni areas of Iraq to form the Sunni entity.“
~~ * ~~
FB Ali’s very helpful analysis is an excellent basis for futher inquiry. For instance it sheds light on the reasoning behind the accusation that Assad is allied with IS. Lies and omissions have putpose - misdirection.
Just like Assad is regularly accused of colluding with IS by only going after "moderate rebels", Russia is now regularly accused of not really fighting IS, but bombing "moderate Rebels" instead. Assad is also accused of "buying oil from IS" (formerly his own oil, seized by ISIS, and sold back to him at an inflated price, due to the embargo for lack of a choice - elsewhere one does call that sort of deal not collusion but extortion). Trifles, I know.
The accusation of complicity conflates IS (Assad’s deadly enemy, which have routinely massacred his troops, given the opportunity) - the only Jihadis everybody can agree on opposing - with Assad - the secuarist everybody already agrees on opposing anyway - and marks them as one target, lest the disgust over IS leads to undesired sympathy for Assad and lest enthusiasm for regime change falters. The objective is to nip in the bud the the insight that one would have to choose between Assad or IS, or that Assad is a lesser evil.
Indications of that insight emerging were already visible in Hollande's rather reasonable second thoughts after IS' Paris massacre. These localised outbreaks of common sense forced Kerry into hurried emergency diplomacy, specifically aimed on excluding Iran and Russia from the anti-Syria coalition sometimes also fighting IS, and to prevent France from breaking out of the Washington straightjacket consensus on Syria. For the US and their nominal regional allies preventing that from happening was imperative.
Key to understanding how Syria has become what it is today is that the Obama administration early on decided to "not do stupid shit", like occupying countries such as Iraq. By itself, laudably prudent. Alas, one must not make the mistake of assuming, based on that, a lack for appetite for destruction intervention. Interventions would of course take place, the sly and smart 'soft power' way (neatly branded and twittered), and if force was needed, it would come through deputised local proxies, balanced from offshore 'led from behind' - in the case of Syria, through Turkey, the Gulfies, and to a lesser extent, Israel.
Taking on Syria was probably concocted in DC as an "assurance" to the Israelis and the Gulfie monarchs to help them over their hysteria over the Iran deal. Normalisation with Iran perhaps, but only if it is 'defanged' and it’s greater influence (handed to Iran by the destruction of Iraq by the hapless hands of the Bushmen) curtailed.
Israelis, Gulfies or Turks have made demands for US guarantees, quietly firmly in pursuit of their own goals: Turkish neo-ottoman irredentism or Erdogan's brand of Islamic pan-Turkism. With the Saudis and the Gulfies Wahhabi chauvinism and the goal of Sunni hegemony to the Mediterranean. With the Israelis it's about the Golan, and of course, about getting back at their nemesis Hezbollah. It's hard to not notice the impatience and independence shown by the Turks (especially in their attempts to draw the US into Syria) and the Saudis (their unannounced aggression against Yemen). These also indications that 'leading from behind' didn’t suffice to reassure these "special needs" proxies. It also calls into question the ability of the US to effectively exercise leadership over these trigger happy "allies".
It also suggests that there are, as of yet unrealised, plans for a finish in Lebanon and against Hezbollah (pitting, presumably, the victors of Syria - and/or Israel - against Lebanon's majority group represented by Hezbollah, the Shia).
Many of us here have been pointing out that Saudi Arabia is not very different from the Islamic State (or Daesh). And, that the former appears to be clandestinely supporting the latter. This aspect of reality is studiously ignored in the West, and indeed throughout much of the world. Probably because of the Saudis' financial clout and their oil supplies, and the West's long-standing alliance with them.
It therefore comes as a breath of fresh air when a major media publication in the West, the New York Times no less, publishes a piece that bluntly tells the truth about the Saudi state (even though, perhaps not surprisingly, it had to go as far afield as an Algerian journal to import a column from there!).
The author, Kamel Daoud, starts his piece with this direct statement: Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia.
He concludes his remarkable column with this ominous warning: Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
Having performed the modern equivalent of the ancient practice of predicting the future based on examining the entrails of a sacrificial animal, I'd like to share my findings with this Committee.
The young Saudi Prince Muhammad, having sown his wild oats in Yemen, seems to have now been taken in hand by the elders of the clan. In the process, of course, he perpetrated the most notable war crime of the post-WW2 era. Having drawn in the US as a (probably reluctant) aider and abettor, he has also ruled out any valid grounds for the US media and sundry 'keepers of the world's conscience' to expostulate in horror every time Rami Abdelrahman announces from his London basement that the vile Assad's forces had killed a dozen or two civilians. Not that this will stop them, of course.
The clan elders steered Prince Muhammad (still the face of the regime, being the apple of his father the King's eye) to Cairo, where he was lectured on the facts of life by President el-Sisi (and then signed a pact between Egypt and Saudi Arabia). In the 'world according to Sisi', the villains are Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the various jihadi groups, while anyone fighting them, such as Assad of Syria, are good guys. Turkey is up to no good; it backed the MB and now supports the jihadis; it aims to re-establish its rule over the Arabs. Iran and Hizbullah are undoubtedly suspect as Shia, but have their hearts in the right place as they also fight jihadis. And, of course, all this needs lots of money, so thank you in advance for your generous assistance.
Field Marshal el-Sisi himself is currently on a roll, but his future is anything but certain. Having been let out from the penalty box where he'd been put for a while by the US, he has been compensated by a shower of F-16s, money, high-level visits, etc. With the blood he has already shed, and his continuing tough ways, he may have a suicide bomber get close enough some day. Or, if things start to go downhill in the country, another general or a junta may remove him.
Buzkashi is an ancient Central Asian game in which two teams on horseback seek to drag a goat carcass (often headless) across a field to a marked circle or goal line. A very rough game, it is also played in Afghanistan.
Something like Buzkashi is currently going on in Afghanistan, with not one but several teams pitted against each other. Instead of the carcass of a goat, the teams are fighting over the country, and its future within the broader regional context.
The game started in 1979 with the Soviet invasion, and has continued ever since, with the 'goat' in the possession of one team or the other. After the US-supported Mujahideen forced a Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the regime they left behind lasted for about 3 years, to be followed by a vicious civil war, centred on Kabul, between the various Mujahideen commanders and warlords. This was ended by the Taliban in 1996 when, with clandestine Pakistani support, they established control over most of the country (taking over the rest in the next two years).
The US invasion in 2001 (after the 9/11 attacks) involved a massive aerial assault under which the forces of the Northern Alliance moved on Kabul and the South. This shattered the Taliban's forces and administration, and within a few days they were completely defeated. Their troops and cadres scattered, most of them seeking refuge in their villages and homes, with a few escaping to Pakistan.
That it was signed, finally, was not a big surprise, considering how keen the two Presidents ‒ Obama and Rouhani ‒ were to get it done. But even though the road to this culmination was arduous and lengthy, the real test is still to come ‒ its implementation. This process, as spelled out in the agreement, is spread out over 15 years, in several stages. There are so many opponents of the deal in both camps that there exists a considerable danger of it being sabotaged at some point during this long process. Especially as neither Obama nor Rouhani (and their teams) are going to be around during the bulk of this time.
The WP has published the text of the agreement. The NYT has a scorecard, a piece on who got what as far as the main issues are concerned. In essence, what the deal ensures is that Iran does not pursue the development of a nuclear weapons capability, and, in return, is reintegrated into the international system, especially the financial/economic one.
There will undoubtedly be much discussion of "who won, who lost?". The correct answer probably is: both won and both lost. If Iran was not really trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability, or, as is more likely, never seriously expected to be able to develop one, it doesn't really give up much to have the sanctions lifted. The West can now be sure that such an attempt will not occur in the future without it being discovered. Both Iran and the West suffered considerable loss and damage because of the sanctions.
The issue of Turkey's relationship to the Islamic State was raised on a recent thread. Here is a hypothesis (based mostly on informed speculation) designed to provoke discussion of the issue.
Erdogan's vision for the future of Turkey is a re-created "empire", with Turkey at its centre and himself at its head. He is realist enough to know that the form of the new empire will be quite different from the old Ottoman Empire: it will most likely be a treaty alliance of Muslim countries in the MENA area. And that it will take time to bring it into being.
The eruption of the IS to Turkey's south has speeded things up. They have brought the Sunni areas of Iraq into play, and pose a major threat to Assad of Syria, Erdogan's principal current target. They are also a counter to the Kurds in the area. Their establishment in Iraq and Syria would suit his plans. While treading carefully, he will aid them in achieving this goal. Once established, he may also be able to use them later against the Saudis and the Gulfies.
The resurrection of the Caliphate by al Baghdadi has added a new dimension to his plans and prospects. If he could some day assume this mantle, his authority and influence would extend throughout the Sunni Muslim world. An added reason for him to not only prevent the destruction of the IS, but indeed to help it succeed.
The taking over of the IS after it is established in Syria and Iraq, and possibly beyond, would be a delicate operation - a smooth change-over at the top. He is probably already planning and preparing for it by inserting Turkish agents into its top layers, and establishing clandestine relations with the former Iraqi officials already there. At an appropriate time, the Salafis leading the IS would be quietly removed, and a more cooperative head would take over. Someone who, at the appropriate time, would transfer the title of Caliph of Islam to the most powerful Muslim leader of the time ‒ Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
It is a very difficult path that Erdogan is treading, but the prize at the end is worth the risks and problems. He has to not only fight off and defeat enemies, but has also to deceive, fend off and neutralize friends and allies. It will be interesting to see if he is clever enough to pull it off.
The burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State (IS) was a horrific act, and deserves to be wholeheartedly condemned by everyone. It is, sadly, true that people are incinerated during war, both combatants and non-combatants. But the burning alive of Lt al-Kassasbeh was a brutal crime, since he was a prisoner of war and also because of the 'production' made of the whole miserable episode.
The IS compounded this vicious act by committing a second abomination: claiming that this punishment was administered according to the tenets of 'Islam'.
This 'Islam' that the IS adhere to is a simplistic, medieval code derived from the Wahhabi creed, which is the usual religion of Jihadis. But this creed is not the Islam that was first taught by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE. It is not even the Religion of Islam that began to be formulated some 200 years after the Prophet and, over the centuries, developed into a complex structure with many variations in different parts of the world (the usual trajectory of religions that start from a simple, fundamental ideology).
Unfortunately (for Islam and Muslims), the Wahhabi creed is spreading in the Muslim world and has become the face of Islam for many on the outside. It is important to understand how this has come about.
In the comments to both my post and Walrus's original post on HR 758, Brigadier Ali raised an interesting and important point about another bill that recently passed: House Resolution 5859. Brigadier Ali and several other commenters expressed concern that this bill, which has passed both chambers and is awaiting the President's signature, would require the Administration to provide various forms of defense support to Ukraine. The concern is that this could lead to a further deterioration of relations with Russia. The link to the Congressional information on HR 5859 is here. I've attached the pdf of the bill at the bottom of this post. The first several sections define terms and basically legislative authorize what the Administration has already been doing with sanctions, visa denials, prohibitions on investments, etc.
The pertinent section to Brigadier Ali's concerns is section 6. Section 6, subsection a explicitly states: "The President is authorized (my emphasis) to provide defense articles, defense services, and training to the Government of Ukraine for the purpose of countering offensive weapons and reestablishing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries, fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment, pursuant to the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq.), the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.), and other relevant provisions of law."
The remainder of this section includes a lot of "shalls" and "shoulds". While HR 5859 is not a "sense of the House" bill like 758 is, my reading of its impact on US action vis a vis Ukraine similar to that of 758. It does not require the President to do anything, but it does give him permission to both continue doing what he's been doing and to take additional actions if so desired. All of that said, perhaps it might be good to remember that sanctions are themselves often considered an act of war... That, sobering thought, is, however, a discussion for another day.
William R Polk, a distinguished former US diplomat and academic, has recently written a brilliant paper on the dangerous path that the US (and the West) are currently following in international relations, and analyses what is going wrong by discussing three ‘case studies’. He also focusses on the West's current problems in the Muslim world, and discusses their root cause.
Worse, it is likely to be even self-defeating. The more we intervene, the more intense and long-lasting is likely to be the reaction. The more violent our intervention the more long-term damage we are likely to do. The record of the past few years is compelling. The numbers of displaced, wounded, killed, of stunted children, of widespread misery, of the loss of civic decency and the rise of terror among the survivors, of the set-back to the feeble growth of legal, social, cultural and political institutions, of blasted infrastructure which took decades to develop, of the enormous wastage of financial and human resources desperately needed throughout the world and of the often alarming and dangerous impact on fragile ecosystems – all of these make evident the dangers of intervention in situations in which we lack the knowledge, the tools and the acceptability that we often think we have. As the terrifying “joke” of the Vietnam war put it, “we destroyed the village in order to save it.”
And even when we did so to stop the ugliness and viciousness of “the bad guys,” we often resorted to tools and practices that were hardly more humane: like many Americans I carry in my memory the picture of the little Vietnamese girl running down a street on fire from napalm. We used napalm later also in Iraq. Was it more humane than poison gas or cutting off peoples' heads? Decapitation is surely barbaric. But let us not forget that the French did that publicly until the eve of the Second World War; the Saudis still do it and the Iraqis actually decapitated Saddam Husain with a rope rather than a sword. If I had to choose my form of execution, I believe I would find decapitation preferable to be burned alive. Is carpet bombing which kills the bystanders or chemical defoliation which can induce cancer and birth defects less horrible than suicide bombing? Were Saddam Husain's or Qaddafi's prisons more cruel than Abu Ghuraib or Guantanamo? If any of those comparisons redound to our credit, they surely are very narrow calls".
It appears that the separatist enclave in Ukraine is about to fall. They have been squeezed into the two cities of Donetz and Luhansk, and the link between them has now been cut. The Kiev military is using artillery and other weapons to pound their positions in these cities, causing much destruction and many civilian casualties.
At the same time, the United States has provided an example of armed intervention to aid its friends (the Kurds) and provide humanitarian aid to civilians caught up in the fighting. Why doesn't Putin follow this example and launch some air attacks on Ukrainian artillery and heavy weapons, and open up a 'humanitarian' corridor to the besieged area? (It is doubtful that Samantha Power's belligerent threats at the UN would deter him!). What, then, is holding Putin back?
To understand this issue one needs to realise that the policy makers in the Kremlin are hard-headed realists. For them foreign and military policy is a calculus of relative gain and loss; sentiment does not play any role in their policy decisions. As far as Ukraine is concerned, their calculations probably go along the following lines:
The signs of an end to the resistance are starting to appear: Ukrainians are taking over from Russian functionaries in the separatist administration; the separatists have declared their readiness for a ceasefire.
The Kremlin realises that the ending of the Ukraine fighting will not end the US/NATO campaign against them, just the focus is likely to change from the separatist campaign to the annexation of the Crimea. The Russians are preparing for this; they have realised that this is the start of a long campaign against them, another Cold War.
Even though Russia has made a lot of effort to normalise relations with the West, trying hard to be accepted as a partner, it has not succeeded. The main reason behind this campaign against them appears to be related to the problems, internal and external, facing the US; it needs an external 'enemy' to cope with them.
Evil has many faces.
Once it was a bespectacled jackbooted 'specialist' working assiduously to increase the throughput of the gas chambers.
Today it is a bunch of drunken louts on a hilltop cheering as bombs and shells destroy apartment building after apartment building along with their occupants.
Or, the fanatics steeped in religion who brutally kill people because they hold different beliefs.
Evil arises in the human heart. When it fills it to the brim the heart becomes a blackened, putrid bit of flesh, instead of the repository of the feelings and emotions that make us human.
When Evil fills a heart it makes it easy to commit the greatest of all crimes − kill another human being. When Evil fills the hearts of a whole people it makes it easy for them to annihilate another people. It makes no difference if that is done to seize their land or to purify one's own; the crime remains the same.
Such manifestations of Evil pose a challenge to the rest of humanity. Either we stand up and condemn or oppose them, or we become complicit in the crime − there is no middle, neutral ground.
While few indeed can summon up the shining heroism of a Rachel Corrie, or even the courage of a young Lucas Koerner (who stood up in Jerusalem to say: Not in my name), it is important to disassociate oneself from the abomination being perpetrated by bearing witness to one's opposition, each according to their circumstances. That is how one affirms one's own humanity.
As for those who support, excuse, or even condone this crime, or use mealy-mouthed circumlocutions to avoid showing their true colours, they become a part of the Evil abroad in the land. The Evil descends into their hearts, and they begin to recede from humanity, and join its enemies.
Vladimir Putin (aka Vlad the Chess Player) has played a good game in Ukraine − so far. With the West playing on the other side he started off in an intrinsically weak position, which worsened considerably when the sudden neocon-engineered coup in Kiev swept his main piece off the board. However, he reacted and regrouped quickly, and prevented his opponents from achieving a surprise victory. By massing troops on Ukraine's border he made the other side pause, and this gave his supporters time to mobilise. In this confused situation he saw a valuable piece temporarily unguarded, and in a smooth and swift operation took over Crimea. The contest over Ukraine continues, but he has already won two significant prizes: Crimea and clarity − clarity on where Russia stands vis-a-vis the West
He is now manoeuvring to achieve his goal in Ukraine, and has again displayed his skill by adjusting his tactics as the situation has changed. Western propaganda has sought to depict his aim to be to seize Ukraine or, at least, annex the Russian-speaking East of the country. This is quite wrong. For the simple reason that Ukraine is a basket case economically and financially, and if he took over the country (or even a portion of it) Russia would be saddled with the burden of keeping it afloat, as well as having to deal with the many in the population who don't fancy being annexed, plus the likely backlash from the West.
His main goal has always been to stop the neocon-led War Party's move to bring Ukraine into the West's political camp and, ultimately, NATO. He wants Ukraine to remain a politically and militarily neutral buffer state between Russia and NATO, while letting the West pay for the privilege of establishing other ties with it (by supporting it financially).
But Dr Petro is wrong if he thinks the West is simply mistaken. Of course, there are intellectually challenged persons who do seriously misunderstand what is going on (John Kerry and Catherine Ashton, for example, and many media writers and columnists). Others fall into the same category because, though nominally bright, their ideological mindset causes them to seriously misjudge the situation (Susan Rice and Samantha Power, for instance). But the real reason behind the West's policies in Ukraine and Eastern Europe is that there is a strong faction among its policymakers that fully understands what is going on but has deliberately chosen this course of action. There is also a sane element in the West that seeks to impose a sensible policy, but is currently unable to prevail. The future of Ukraine, of relations between Russia and the West, and, indeed, of the world, depends on the struggle that is going on between these two groups, as well as the wider conflict over Ukraine between the West and Russia. To follow the course of these consequential contests it would help to identify who is in the various camps, and what they are trying to do.
The War Party
This is not too strong a title to give them since they believe the West won the Cold War and are angry that Russia has dared to challenge their consequent right to reorder Europe They would like to put Russia in its place (some of them would not even be too averse to starting a shooting war, if that became necessary). The leading elements of this faction are neocons and right-wingers. In the USA the most prominent are the neocons of the State Department (led by Victoria Nuland) and the CIA. Supporting them are the neocons in Congress, the 'think tanks' and the media, as well as the military industry. In Europe such elements are to be found in several governments, militaries and intelligence agencies.
The recent (April 17) meeting in Geneva on Ukraine was a game-changing event. Yet this significant aspect of it has not been explicitly recognized in any analysis or commentary on the situation; at least none that I've come across. It seems that the prior chest-thumping by Western politicians and their lackeys, and the drumbeat of propaganda in the media has so overawed the commentariat that they are afraid to adopt such a different view. A few have tiptoed around the issue, hinting obliquely at the real outcome, but shied away from anything definitive.
If no one else seems willing to do it, then I am going to stick my neck out and say what others hesitate to articulate: at Geneva the United States folded!
Compare the rhetoric in the period before the meeting to the actual terms of the agreement, not only what it contains but, even more importantly, what it doesn't. There is no mention of Crimea. It says nothing about the Russian troops "massed along the Ukraine border". It equates the armed men in the East with those in the West, requiring both to disarm and withdraw from the locations they have occupied. It commits the Ukraine government to a constitutional process involving negotiations with all "regions and political constituencies" (designed to achieve decentralisation and regional autonomy). It gives Russia a role in Ukraine both through the OSCE and in possible upcoming consultations on economic and financial support.
Compare the rhetoric in the West before the Geneva meeting to that afterwards − or rather its absence. There is now almost a deathly hush among politicians and the media (apart from some half-hearted efforts to spin the terms of the agreement). Where are the daily thunderings of the Kerry's, Rasmussen's, Breedlove's?
What caused the US to fold? We can only speculate, but it seems that it realised that its threat of further sanctions was proving an empty one. Most likely, powerful elements of the European industrial and financial sectors told their governments of the damage they were likely to sustain should broader sanctions be applied. It is quite possible that their US equivalents told the US government the same thing. With wider and deeper sanctions likely to inflict as much damage on the West as on Russia, and with the reluctance of European leaders to impose them, there wasn't anything left in the US's arsenal − except for the 'financial neutron bomb'.
A recent article in the London Telegraph described this 'neutron bomb' (referenced by Zanzibar recently in a comment on another thread). If the US were to use this financial weapon (the "scarlet letter") it could probably fry Russia's financial sector and bring its economy to a standstill, even though this would inflict much collateral damage on US allies, especially Germany. Arguably, this weapon is too powerful to risk using it on a peripheral issue such as Ukraine. There is also the likelihood of a riposte.
While Russia does not have anything comparable in the financial and economic sphere, it does have a marked advantage in another equally deadly sphere − cyber war. Former DNI Mike McConnell said in 2010, "If we were in a cyber war today, the US would lose". Leon Panetta talked in 2012 of a cyber-Pearl Harbour. If Putin considered the US use of the financial neutron bomb to be the equivalent of a nuclear first strike, he could well retaliate with an all-out cyber attack. Obviously the US administration was not prepared to risk this.
So, in this changed environment, what is likely to happen in Ukraine now? It appears that the present Ukraine government is too weak and too hard-pressed from the Right to engage in any meaningful mutual de-escalation and negotiations with the Eastern provinces. It is possible that the OSCE (with the backing of the US and Russia) might be able to impose such a process. In that case there may be the possibility of a loosely federal Ukraine emerging from this turmoil. Otherwise, we can anticipate a low-level civil war breaking out in the East, with increasing infiltration of Russian support to the dissidents there. This will mean that ultimately the East will break away and, perhaps after an autonomous phase, join Russia.
The US and the West will make the usual gestures, including some more token sanctions, but will do nothing that has a realistic chance of stopping Russia from achieving its goal of a neutral, decentralised Ukraine or, failing that, the breakaway of the Russian-speaking East.
© FB Ali (April 2014)
"There is thus a lively debate in Russia itself on the country’s orientation. The question is, where does the leadership stand in this debate? The answer is difficult, because not only has Russia become more autocratic under Putin, but the circle of real decision-makers has become ever smaller. According to some accounts, it may consist of no more than five people. But, reviewing the period since 2000, when Putin assumed power, it is plausible that it began with a continuation of a commitment to democracy and a market economy, associated with a growing resentment at lack of consideration on the part of the West to certain deep Russian concerns – NATO enlargement, treatment as a poor supplicant, disregard for what are seen as legitimate interests in the neighbourhood etc. Angela Stent cites a senior German official complaining of an “empathy deficit disorder” in Washington in dealing with Russia.The pathology that this caused became progressively more virulent in the intervening years, culminating in 2003 in the invasion of Iraq without any Security Council mandate, indeed, in open defiance of the UN".
This is the conclusion of a long article by Padraig Murphy in the Dublin Review of Books (he served as the Irish ambassador in Moscow from 1981 to 1985). In it he discusses the history of Russia's attitudes towards, and interactions with, the West. This took place within the context of the Russian elites' views on the proper orientation of the country. For the rest of this conclusion, see below. (FB Ali).
Non-Fiction Showcase: Prison Journey, A Memoir by Brigadier FB Ali
(includes chapter excerpts selected by the author)
And the Arab Spring, and Paris and Chicago 1968. And Lahore 1946. It is the rising of the young against the old order, a refusal to accept as it is the world being handed down to them. It is a demand for the acceptance of their ideals, the realization of their hopes and dreams. As were all these movements fueled by the young.
They seldom succeed. The established order pulls back a little, then returns − but not entirely unchanged. Things seem to return to normal, but the world has shifted a bit. The young people who take part are also changed, some more than others. Some altered for life, the dream etched into their consciousness so that, even as they live their mundane lives, their allegiance to it remains undiminished. Perhaps a few of them may sometimes even be able to nudge it along a bit.If there is hope for the human race it is in the young, and their potential to rise up and reject what is being bequeathed to them and instead demand a world worth living in. Some day they may even succeed in bringing it into being.
In the last couple of days there has been an interesting discussion here on another thread on the subject of nuclear proliferation and the dangers of 'accidental' nuclear war. Mention was made of the situation respecting Pakistan and India, and Neil Richardson invited me to comment.
There is no doubt that the nuclear situation in South Asia is quite unstable and dangerous. Both India and Pakistan have sizable nuclear arsenals, which are being continuously augmented. The two countries have an ongoing history of animosity and have fought four wars in the last six decades. A recent factor greatly increasing the danger is the appearance of jihadi and other terrorists who are believed by India to be under Pakistani control, even the indigenous ones.
In both countries the arcane doctrines of nuclear command and control, developed in the West (especially in the US), are studied and implemented by industrious staff officers, who have been advised by Western experts. Their commanders are suitably briefed though, like nuclear commanders everywhere, they probably view the elaborate theoretical constructs underlying these procedures with a somewhat cynical eye. As David Habakkuk pointed out in the earlier discussion, US military commanders shaped the nuclear decision process for their civilian masters so as to achieve what they believed was the more realistic solution. In Pakistan and India civilian control is largely nominal; the fingers on the nuclear triggers are those of their generals.
With its estimated 190 million population and its nuclear arsenal, Pakistan is an important country in its own right. However, its location makes it even more significant. Sitting next to Afghanistan, Iran and India, it plays a key role in the geopolitics of the region. It has been a major factor in the United States' two campaigns in Afghanistan, the first time playing a leading role in helping the Afghan mujahideen to expel the Soviet Union's occupying forces from their country, and, more recently, being blamed for the US's lack of success in defeating the Taliban insurgency.
Some recent developments, including some policy moves and changes, make it likely that the role that Pakistan has played in the region will change, as will the internal situation in the country. It is worth looking at these.
Pastor Nazir Alam smiles as he
talks to a journalist at the church
This Christmas, pastor Nazir Alam will stoke up a fire, lay a fresh cloth on the altar and welcome parishioners as they arrive at his church in Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal area known as an al-Qaeda haven.
"The lights are all up, and the choir boys are ready. The church is looking its best," said 60-year-old Alam, a former missionary who has celebrated his last ten Christmases there. "There's not much left to do but to pray and rejoice."
Outsiders might see little cause for joy. Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country in the world for minorities, says London-based watchdog Minority Rights Group International. Christians, Shiite Muslims and Ahmadis are victims of a rising tide of deadly attacks.
But Alam's church, and the homes of most of his 200 parishioners, are nestled inside a Pakistani army base in South Waziristan, a mountainous region that was a hotbed of militancy until a military offensive in 2009.
"When the US went into Kabul, things became bad for everyone. But we are safe here. The army protects us," says Shaan Masih, who helps clean the church and likes to play the drums and sing carols.
The recent protests in the Muslim world against the United States (including many violent ones) on account of an amateur film have once again raised the issue of the causes behind such strong reactions, and what can be done to avoid them. While such deliberations are doubtless occurring behind the closed doors of policy-making chambers, comment has also proliferated in the media and in think-tanks. The actions recommended range all the way from acting tough to being more sensitive to the sensibilities of other cultures. However, the first step in any sensible policy-making or intelligent debate and comment should be to understand the causes underlying the problem.
There are some 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. Their homelands stretch all the way from the Atlantic across Central and North Africa to the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and on to the Indonesian islands in the Pacific. They encompass many different races and nationalities, and speak many languages. But beneath this vast diversity they share certain common features that make them a single community, especially in their own view.
A recent post by Col Lang on the wife of President Mursi led to a spirited discussion on the hijab. Many weighty comments were advanced on its pros and cons (cons mostly, as I recall), and its personal and sociological significance. A recent news item ─ though about a sad event ─ highlights how irrelevant the wearing of the hijab is to the kind of person one is, and what one can do in life.
Lieutenant Commander Wafa Dabbagh, a doctor in Canada’s military, died recently of cancer at the age of 50. A Palestinian, who was born in Egypt and grew up in Kuwait, she came to Canada in 1990, and in 1996 applied to join the Canadian military. Well qualified (she had two degrees), the only problem was that she wore the hijab, the first such woman to apply. Swallowing hard, the military took her on ─ and never looked back.
At her memorial service, which was attended by the Chief of Defence Staff and many other senior officers, people spoke about and remembered her many fine qualities and the impact she had on the people who came to know her. No one mentioned the hijab having anything to do with the kind of person she was or what she achieved.
Wafa was fortunate that she came to Canada, a country and society where, by and large, the way you look or what you wear does not determine your worth, nor limit what you can do. It does not matter much if you wear the hijab or (as famously stated by one of Toronto’s ‘finest’) “dress like a slut”.
Dare one say: perhaps Canada, too, was lucky to have Wafa Dabbagh, hijab and all!
-- FB Ali
Uri Avnery, the former Irgun terrorist who is now Israel’s foremost ‘peacenik’ (founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement), has on his website today (23 June) an article on some basic realities underlying the situation in the region that is worth reading. Of special note are the views he expresses in the piece on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Below are some extracts on this subject:
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, is an old established party which has earned much respect with its steadfastness in the face of recurrent persecution, torture, mass arrests and occasional executions. Its leaders are untainted by the prevalent corruption, and admired for their commitment to social work.
The West is haunted by medieval ideas about the horrible Saracens. The Muslim Brotherhood inspires terror. It is conceived as a fearsome, murderous, secret sect, out to destroy Israel and the West. Of course, practically no one has taken the trouble to study the history of this movement in Egypt and elsewhere. Actually, it could not be further removed from this parody.
The Brotherhood has always been a moderate party, though they almost always had a more extreme wing........The Brotherhood is first and foremost an Arab and Egyptian party, deeply embedded in Egyptian history. Though they would probably deny it, I would say – judging from their history – that they are more Arab and more Egyptian than fundamentalist. They certainly have never been fanatical.
During their 84 years, they have seen many ups and downs. But mostly, their outstanding quality has been pragmatism, coupled with adherence to the principles of their religion. It is this pragmatism that also characterizes their behavior during the last year and a half, which – so its seems – caused quite a number of voters who are not particularly religious to prefer them to the secular candidate who is tainted by his connection with the corrupt and repressive former regime.
This also determines their attitude towards Israel. Palestine is constantly on their mind – but that is true of all Egyptians.........Throughout the heated election campaigns – four in a year – the Brotherhood has not demanded the abrogation of the peace agreement with Israel. Their attitude seems to be as pragmatic as ever.
For some time now attention has been focussed on Israel’s (and its lobbyists’) attempts to involve the US in a war with Iran. With this issue put on the back burner for a while, it is perhaps time to turn back to the war the US is actually fighting ─ its longest ever ─ in Afghanistan. I would suggest that there is no better way of doing that than reading a brilliant article by Ann Jones that has just been published.
Ann Jones is a journalist and author who writes mostly about women’s and children’s issues. In that behalf she has travelled extensively in Afghanistan, and developed a remarkable understanding of the country and its people. From that perspective she has taken a penetrating look at the current state of the US enterprise in that country, and the direction in which it is heading.
What she sees is a looming train wreck. A wreck caused not by the Taliban insurgency, but by the fatal flaw underlying the US plan to conclude the war (Plan A she calls it, highlighting the fact that there is no Plan B!). A plan that betrays a remarkable lack of understanding of the country and people where the US has been fighting for over 10 years.
I would highly recommend Ann Jones’s article. She has got it exactly right!
While not having as rosy a view of Obama as JT Cornpone does, I still think there is a good case to be made that the stance he is now adopting (as expressed in the interview and, presumably, the one he'll put to Netanyahu) is designed to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. What he is saying is: as soon as there is adequate proof that Iran is moving towards building a nuclear weapon the US will militarily intervene to stop it. This cuts out the ground from under Bibi's war rhetoric by implying: show me proof and the US will do what you are threatening to do. From this stance he can also adopt a much tougher line with Israel about not attempting a unilateral attack since this will cause the US many problems. This declaration guards his political flank, and reduces the scope for Republican (and AIPAC) attacks on this score. Obviously, he must be pretty confident that the evidence that the US intelligence community has means that he will not have to follow through on his threat. And that they will be immune to pressure and blandishments from the Ziocon lobby to change their findings. In effect, the issue of war and peace is now firmly in the hands of Clapper and his team. FB Ali
This concisely sums up the position Now we will see what happens on Monday at the White House. pl
Watching the United States stumble from one bad policy into another over the 10 years of the Afghan war, one went through a whole gamut of emotions ─ bemusement, puzzlement, anger, sorrow ─ but ending up with bewilderment overpowering the others. How could this great empire, with all the resources of knowledge, experience, intellect, research and analysis at its command, get it so consistently wrong? How could this “greatest democracy in the world” allow special interests to take over its policy-making to the grave detriment of the true interests of the country and its people?
Part of the answer was provided by Andrew Bacevich in a recent article. He wrote: "Strategy is a quintessential American Century word, ostensibly connoting knowingness and sophistication. Whether working in the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon, strategists promote the notion that they can anticipate the future and manage its course ...... Strategy is actually a fraud perpetrated by those who covet power and are intent on concealing from the plain folk the fact that the people in charge are flying blind”.
Another part of the answer comes from what happened to Bacevich. A former army officer, now a professor of history and international relations, he is one of the sanest people in America writing about current affairs. In recognition of that his writings were always welcome on the OpEd pages of the principal newspapers and in periodicals ─ until he started pointing out the folly in many of the policies being pursued by the US. He was then dropped like a brick. The only ‘experts’ who are now featured in both the MSM and scholarly journals are those who push the reigning narrative. Presumably, they are the only ones now read or heard in the corridors of power.
That is why it was such a pleasant surprise to come across an article that offered a remarkably clear-eyed view of the reality of the situation in Afghanistan today, and proposed a way out for the United States.
All of Pakistan has recently been watching with rapt attention the twists and turns of an unfolding scandal that the country’s febrile media has happily termed ‘Memogate’. The ruling party, in full defensive mode, watches apprehensively even as it bobs and weaves with every disclosure. The opposition parties gleefully plot and maneouvre to gain maximum advantage, while the generals nervously button and unbutton their holsters. The privileged upper class pauses in its living of the good life, and ordinary people forget their problems and miseries for a while, as the breathless TV anchors report each new development. Even the Pakistani Taliban declared a ceasefire, perhaps the better to follow the unfolding story without such distractions as setting off bombs or laying ambushes.
The present regime in Syria has been in power for over 40 years since its founding by Hafez al-Assad in 1970. His son Bashar succeeded him in 2000. However, it seems that the family’s reign is now nearing its end.
Many people and forces have been working to achieve this goal. A sizable portion of the Syrian people, disenchanted with the regime and enthused by the Arab Spring, began protest demonstrations against the government, but these were harshly repressed. This internal unrest encouraged foreign actors to move in seeking to advance their own agendas that, though differing in their ultimate goals, all required the end of the regime and the firm control that it exercised over the country.
On the recent thread about Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing, the question came up as to whether the US really is at war or not. This is an important issue, and its answer carries much wider significance beyond just the legality of killing Awlaki.
The short answer to the question, of course, is: it is war, because the US chooses to treat it as such. But it’s the dawn of a very different kind of war.
When George Bush declared his Great War on a nebulous noun (which most people understood to mean Islamists, though some construed it as Islam), he still waged it in the conventional manner. Pinning the blame for 9/11 on Afghanistan and Iraq, he invaded both countries. This was not much different from Austria-Hungary declaring war on and invading Serbia in 1914 because of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serb nationalist.
The killing of bin Laden in a US Special Forces raid on a house in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad unleashed a torrent of stories about the event. The accounts by various US officials (given in bits and pieces immediately after the raid) gave little information on the details of the operation, and none on the ‘back story’. This left the field open to a lot of speculative accounts about how the raid took place and the events leading up to it. A rash of conspiracy theories also sprang up, many of which flatly denied bin Laden was even present in the house, while others put forward various versions of the Pakistani role in these events.
Recently, two accounts have been published that claim to be based on information from sources ‘in the know’ or ones who actually participated in the planning (though perhaps not the execution) of the raid. The first was a detailed account by Nicholas Schmidle in The New Yorker, based on interviews with and information provided by senior White House staff and some of the planners of the raid. This was obviously the “official” version, what the US administration would like people to believe. The second is a post on her blog by RJ Hillhouse, in which she quotes her intelligence sources on certain aspects of the raid, especially the events leading up to it.
By studying these two accounts, separating the grain from the chaff, and judiciously filling in some of the blanks, it is possible to come up with what is likely to be fairly close to the real story.
The endgame continues to unfold in Afghanistan, as it has now for over a year. Writing in May last year, I had discussed the goals and objectives that the various players in the Afghan conflict (and the factions within each of them) wanted to achieve in this endgame. In this past year these goals haven’t changed, but the methods that the players are adopting of trying to achieve them have changed with the changing situation. This is an appropriate occasion to review how the endgame is being played now.
In May last year President Obama had sided with the war faction (led by Secretary Gates and the generals), and allowed them to pursue their strategy of sufficiently weakening the Taliban to permit the US to safely hand over the country to a friendly Afghan government and its army (backed by US airpower and SF). He had ruled against the ‘minimalist’ faction, led by VP Biden, that wanted an expeditious US pullout on the best terms that could be negotiated with the Taliban. Now, Obama has adopted the Biden goal as the ultimate aim, though, in typical fashion, he has compromised by letting the generals take one last kick at the can. However, he has given them firm deadlines for drawing down US forces in Afghanistan, and has clearly signalled that, for the US, the Afghan war is now finally over.
“The relationship, in truth, has never been about trust. It was and is a strategic alliance founded on complementary interests: Pakistan's desire for military assistance and its fear of becoming a pariah state, and the U.S.'s need for regional support in the Afghanistan war. While Pakistan and the U.S. share similar long-term goals — economic partnership, stability in the region — their short-term needs rarely intersect. That is why the question of whose side Pakistan is on is so galling to most Pakistanis and so infuriating to most Americans. "Pakistan is on Pakistan's side," says Tariq Azim, an opposition Senator and Deputy Information Minister under Musharraf”. ‒ TIME
Since the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, there has been a lot of heated rhetoric, bordering on the hysterical, in the media of both countries (some of that has even seeped into comments on this site). TIME is not known for in-depth analysis, but its May 23 cover story (Why we’re stuck with Pakistan) is a detailed and insightful discussion of the issue. Well worth a read (at the link below) for anyone who wishes to understand the background and recent history of the relationship, and the tensions and strains that currently bedevil it .
The media’s preoccupation with the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, followed by the protracted nuclear crisis, had hardly subsided when the Arab Spring burst into bloom with its tense standoffs, between the old order and the new, erupting into violence, and actual war in Libya, with the West as a participant. All this drove the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan off the news, except for a brief flurry of reporting following Pastor Terry Jones’s incendiary exploits. (Personally, I don’t think there is anything to the story that the Quetta shura has made the reverend an honorary Taliban in recognition of his services to the cause).
However, the war in those distant lands has been grinding on in its usual fashion ‒ IEDs and suicide bombers killing soldiers and civilians (though there was the odd case of two US soldiers being killed by a US drone), coalition air strikes and SF night raids killing insurgents and civilians, the Pakistan army’s operations in its tribal areas continuing unendingly, young Taliban suiciders blowing up Pakistanis. The political and strategic games between the main players in the war have also been continuing, though it appears that they are now starting to take a significant new turn.
It started with a bang (quite a few bangs, actually), but ended with a whimper. On Wednesday afternoon the sessions court convened inside Kot Lakhpat jail, with the accused present, as well as the families of the victims. Their lawyers weren’t there because, when they arrived at the jail earlier that day, they were escorted to another room and placed under armed guard. Also not there was the young widow of one of the victims who, overcome with grief and the futility of hoping for justice, had taken her own life. (Of course, as devotees of le Carré will recognise, Raymond Davis himself was also a victim).
The judge read out the indictment; then a representative of the victims’ families stood up and told him that they had accepted payment of compensation for the killings and, under the diyyat provisions of the law, had pardoned the killer. Having confirmed this, the judge ordered the prisoner released. In the hush that followed, as Davis walked towards the US Consul seated behind him he had tears trickling down his face, but the whimpering sound probably came from some of the womenfolk among the families. Within minutes Davis left in a convoy of diplomatic vehicles; within the hour he was on a plane bound for Bagram airbase in Kabul.
Raymond Davis’s murder trial has begun, while the US continues to press for his repatriation, though now much more circumspectly. Whatever the outcome of these proceedings, this affair has already had a significant impact on the US-Pakistan relationship, and may yet do so also on Pakistan’s internal situation.
I had concluded my previous thread on the subject by advancing the hypothesis (triggered by a couple of useful pointers from TTG and MTJY) that Davis was working for a JSOC Special Mission Unit whose task related to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. This hypothesis has acquired some legs if one considers the effects this event has had, and is having. All of them were set off when it caused the balance of power in the Pakistani establishment to tilt away from the US-friendly faction towards the Pakistan-friendly one (the bulk of this establishment is, of course, just self-friendly).
The saga rolls on, while (as they used to say in the old pulp novels) the plot thickens. Davis remains in prison awaiting trial. Relations between Pakistan and the US continue to be quite strained. And the circle of collateral damage widens.
The facts of the incident that sparked all this are now fairly clear. Davis, in a rental car, was driving around in Lahore in areas where foreigners scarcely ever venture, tailed by two ISI auxiliaries on a motorbike. After an hour or more of trying to shake them off, they both came abreast at a stoplight. He pulled out a gun and, firing through his windscreen, shot them both. Accounts differ as to whether they made any threatening gesture, but one was killed as he was trying to run away.
The backup van that Davis called for came roaring up the wrong way on a one-way street, ran over a cyclist, killing him, then turned around and roared off. Davis was arrested, and weapons, ammo and other paraphernalia were found in the car. On his cell phone were numbers that were later traced to phones in the tribal belt where the Taliban operate, while his camera had pictures of religious schools and military sites.
Barack Obama was elected as the apostle and agent of change. He hasn’t been able to bring about much change, but is now likely to get his fill dealing with it ‒ not in the US, but in the Muslim world. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is not some passing phenomenon. There is a wave of change surging through Muslim countries, and it is likely to ebb and flow for a long time. Obama (and his successor) are going to have their hands full coping with it. As will other powers. For this is the latest phase in the relationship between the Muslim world and the rest.
The spy games continue in “AfPak”, but this one ended in tragedy, and may yet have wider and serious repercussions.
The known facts are that a US national, Raymond Davis, driving a car with non-diplomatic plates in Lahore, while stopped at a red light pulled out a Glock 9mm pistol and, firing through the windshield, shot dead two people nearby on a motor cycle. He radioed the US consulate for back up, stepped out of the car and took pictures of the two dead young men with his camera. The backup van came tearing up the wrong side of the dual carriageway, hit a cyclist, killing him on the spot, turned around and sped away. Davis ran off on foot, mingling among the crowds on a side street, but was chased and captured by two traffic wardens.
In late December Col Lang posted here a piece of mine entitled Whistling past the graveyard.... This was a reference to the recently published overview of the Obama administration’s review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even though this summary dealt in very general terms with what path the USA proposed to follow in the future, I commented that it gave little hope that this would be any more effective than past efforts in dealing with the real dangers and problems the US and the West faced in this area.
Since then, various reports appearing in the media, and some actions on the ground, enable one to make a more accurate assessment of what policies are likely to be pursued after this review. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see that the principal players appear to be planning to follow different paths that suit their own particular interests. Since none of their policies are likely to deal effectively with the risks and issues looming in the area, it is apparent that, even though the tunes they’re whistling are different, they are still tiptoeing by the graveyard, each hoping that they’ll be safely past before the ghouls and banshees come charging out.
The graveyard of empires, that is. The Obama administration’s recent review of the Afghan war amounts essentially to little more than that. The bizarre aim of the war, formulated by Obama in 2009, is repeated: dismantling al-Qaeda! This weirdness permeates the whole report. It mentions, almost in passing, the two main pre-requisites for success (eradicating insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan, and establishing half-decent governance in Afghanistan) and then, without coming to grips with them, hurries on to claim all-round “progress” in the war. While this published overview is obviously a (rather futile) PR exercise, there is no evidence that the full review was any more realistic.
The US has now been fighting this war for nine years, and is prepared to continue it for another four; it presently has some 100,000 US soldiers fighting there at an annual cost of some 100 billion dollars. All in order to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda? Al-Qaeda? In Afghanistan and Pakistan? The ridiculousness of this proposition compelled Joe Biden a few days later to publicly clarify that he, at least, knows that, whatever the danger from AQ, it doesn’t come from this region.
It was the dawn of 2010, and the ISI had a problem: Pakistan’s spy agency was losing control over some of its Taliban proteges. The previous year the British and some Europeans, wearying of the unending war, had prevailed upon the UN representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, to get peace negotiations started between the Karzai government and the Taliban. With the assistance of the Saudis, Eide arranged some meetings with a few former Taliban leaders and also involved some Afghan officials. These didn’t bother the ISI; what was getting them worried now were reports that the Taliban’s No. 2 man, and operational commander, Mullah Baradar, was involved in these talks.
It is rather remarkable that, ten years after having drawn Pakistan into its war in Afghanistan, the US is still not clear on the motivations that underlie Pakistan’s stance in this war, where they’re coming from, where they’re going. This doesn’t just apply to the self-styled ‘experts’ in Washington’s numerous think tanks; it also seems to apply, surprisingly, to administration policy makers.
Typifying this confusion is the US government’s invention of the AfPak term to describe the theatre in which the war is going on. A term that had to be hastily dropped by officials, at least for public use, after Pakistan made it clear that it wasn’t amused. However, the US still thinks of it as the AfPak war, in which Pakistan’s function is to backstop and bolster US operations in Afghanistan. The generals conducting that war find it convenient to ascribe their lack of success to Pakistan’s failure to deliver, and keep demanding that Washington do something about it.
The American dilemma in dealing with the world, and especially the Muslim world, is neatly captured in two recent blogposts. The American people, by and large, espouse values and beliefs that they rightly expect should earn them the goodwill and affection of other peoples. However, many of the policies and actions of their government, ostensibly in furtherance of those same aims, result in creating resentment and dislike abroad, shading into hate and rage at the margins, which sometimes lead to attacks on the US and its people. Or, they lead to wars in which US soldiers fight in other lands, kill and are killed, maim and are maimed.
Requiem for a lost country
The earth gods are not mocked lightly. They are slow to anger, but scorn them long enough, defy them long enough, and they will rise up and unleash their fury upon you. This is what they are now doing. This year their baleful gaze has focussed on hapless Pakistan. They could hardly have picked a better target: a country with limitless vulnerability, and no defences. Over-populated, under-resourced, practically bankrupt, no governance to speak of, with a corrupt, bloodsucking ruling class, smothered under the weight of men with guns, some wearing uniforms, others sporting beards.
But it is not this country that I mourn. It will survive, as will its hardy people. Like the lowly of the earth everywhere, survival is about the only skill that their forbears bequeathed to them. They will pick themselves up, bury their dead, and resume their threadbare lives ‒ till the next calamity strikes. For, with Nature up in arms, it will be the drought next year, or the year after, or another flood, or some pestilence. If, at some point, the country begins to totter, one set or other of the hollow men with the guns will take it over. No joy there, for all they think about is war, all they care about is “the enemy”. To them (even the well-intentioned ones) the country is just a base to be used to mount their campaigns.
The country I mourn is the Pakistan that was meant to be, that could have been. The Pakistan that its founder wanted, the country in that vision he held out to the millions who laboured and struggled and sacrificed to help him bring it into being.
A country founded on the ideals and values of Islam, in which all its citizens would be equal whatever their faith, with liberty, social justice and the rule of law. Many forces opposed it, but the bitterest enemies were the self-proclaimed guardians of religion, for they knew their narrow, ossified creeds would have no place to thrive in the country that he wanted to create. He beat them back, as he did all the others arrayed against his mission. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s spirit was indomitable, but the arduous struggle wore out his frail body, and he did not live long enough to shape the country that he had created.
It is the loss of this country that remained just a dream that I mourn. This dream that is now dead. It survived the depredations of man, but with Nature now joining the assault, its time is finally gone. I mourn its passing as do many others: the dwindling numbers of those whose youth, like mine, was set ablaze by the promise of this vision, the others who came to it later but gave it their allegiance, all of us who kept the dream alive in our hearts and strove to bring it into being.
And, above all, the few, the happy few, who stepped unhesitatingly forward when the dream beckoned that it may need their lives to ensure its survival.
It is necessary for all of us to bear witness to this dream while we are still around. Since, as it has faded, there have crept out of the shadows many who would desecrate its memory: those who claim that creating this country was a mistake, and the many others who falsely claim that it was meant to be a theocratic state.
We owe it to this shining dream of long ago, the Pakistan that could have been, and to ourselves, to step forward and say:
It was not inevitable that things had to be what they are. It could have been different. Our lives are proof that the dream was real, that it could have come about, that it was a goal worth striving for.