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17 November 2009


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Patrick Lang

Eagle in the Mountains writes -

"It seems to me that one of the main problems in analysing the situation
in Af-Pak is to figure out the proper framework within which to do the

F. B. Ali, for whose writings I have great respect, continues a
narrative of the US intervening in a regional struggle involving Muslim
nations whose elites are uncomfortable with the intervention for reasons
either of religious Islam or of political Islam (a distinction that I
find a shade difficult concerning Islam, but that is not to disparage
the analysis). In Pakistan this elite also has an axe to grind with
India for historical among other reasons.

However in such analyses,apart from Professor Kiracofe's passing
reference to China, there is no reference to possible broader American
goals in the region nor to the broader interests and interventions of
other regional actors.

What I mean is this: While the US may have originally gone into
Afghanistan by reason of 9/11, the question arises whether the foreign
policy elite in Washington will leave without having considered broader
American interests in Central Asia, Iran and China. For example,
someone has claimed that the reason that the US is now supporting
India's nuclear program is to put pressure on China from below. I don't
know whether this is true or not. Another example would be the issue of
the proximity of Afghanistan to China on the one hand and gas-rich
Central Asia on the other. Certainly remarks of the Chinese ambassador
to Pakistan indicate that China is uncomfortable with large numbers of
American troops so close to China.

Moreover, I understand that China played a direct role in the
construction of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, and that Chinese technicians
still play a role in the operation of Pakistan's nuclear establishment,
precisely for the reason that a nuclear Pakistan puts pressure on
nuclear India's flank. Again, I don't know whether this is true, but
for the reader who puts Brigadier Ali's analysis side by side with
Seymour Hersh's recent discussion in the New Yorker of the safety of the
Pakistani nuclear weapons there is a danger that the discussion will
take on an air of unreality: if the Chinese are directly involved with
the Pakistani bomb, then perhaps they are helping the Pakistanis play a
shell game with the Americans and the Indians. That would suggest that
any attempts by the US to 'safeguard' Pakistani nuclear weapons would be
fruitless--precisely because it is not in the perceived interests of
some major players that they be 'safeguarded'.

I wonder if some of the more learned members of the Committee of
Correspondence would comment on these issues.

As a postscript, I was hoping to pose another question to Brigadier Ali,
from another thread: Does he have any information on the role of Sufism
in the Af-Pak conflict? I am confused because the emphasis is usually
on what the 'Salafis' are doing, yet the traditional Sufis seem to have
played a role in the Afghan wars in the Soviet period and the Deobandi,
presumably the heart of the Taliban, accept Sufi practice. I was
wanting to study this matter a little further.

Eagle in the Mountains"

Charles I

Nice piece FB, sadly Crooks and Fools redux it seems.

From Counterpunch Tariq Ali gives us this vignette, the Pakistani Army op as seen from inside Shamshatoo refugee camp in Peshawar:

"On 4 November I received an email from Peshawar:

Thought I’d let you know that I just got a call from a former Gitmo prisoner who lives in Shamshatoo camp and he told me that this morning at around 10 a.m. some cops and military men came and raided several homes and shops and arrested many people. They also killed three innocent schoolchildren. Their jinaza [funeral] is tonight. Several people took footage of the raid from their cell-phones which I can try to get a hold of. The funeral of the three children is happening as I’m typing.

How could this end well?"


Eagle in the Mountains, you may be rewarded by reading Ahmed Rashid's books, one detailing, inter alia, U.S. deal-making with the pre-9/11 Taliban with a view to gaining the upper hand in strategic oil & gas pipeline routing competition, and the latter on some of the fruits thereof. They are both detailed documented studies of this crucial arena and its protagonists.

Taliban : militant Islam, oil and fundamentalism in central Asia, Yale university Press, 2000, there's a 2003 audoibook editon available from Blackstone Audiobooks; and

Descent into chaos: the U.S. and the failure of nation building in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, Viking 2008.

These two detailed books can begin to address some of your questions about people, religion and politics in the region.

Surely somebody's plan/dream/jihad is for an expanded war on the Afghan/Pak border and/or in the F.A.T.A./tribal reagions leading to the dissolution of the present Pakistani state and the rise of Pashtunistan, all further bloodying the U.S.

Imagining good governance or security being delivered to Afghanistan, or Paksitan for that matter, via Nato is surely by now possible only by the most deluded among us. Ergo, the mission(s) are now about something else - terror, oil, Nato, the great Game, Pak nukes, Israeli settlements, take your pick, mine's all the above - or our leaders don't really have a clue either and are just making it up as we go along.

The older I get, the more I read, the less irreconcilable all of these occurring at once becomes, many oars pulled in many directions by many seen and unseen hands, some in league and many not. Only certain thing seems to be that current centers will not hold, and are currently held by crooks and fools.


"Since its creation, Pakistan’s defence policy has been based on the major threat to its security coming from India, and the military has been positioned accordingly. Cleaning out and occupying all the tribal areas would require the long-term redeployment of such large forces that it would result in the denuding of the defences of the eastern border with India, and would effectively change the defence policy of the country."

What is the point of defending border with India when taliban erode Pakistan from inside out? (attacking government facilities, killing civilian administrators, setting up alternate government and justice system, dealing drugs, launching military attack into other countries tangling pakistan in conflict beyond government control. Taliban is De facto eliminating state of Pakistan. and when they don't like what state of Pakistan is doing they start blowing up buildings, army base, ISI office, etc.)

Maybe this is a case of protecting religious kins and advancing cause of Islam. But huge number of people in this area can't read, has no access to government service such as health or judicial system, and their quality of life go down year after year. I doubt most can even read Quran, let alone know what "Islamic" means.

What is the point of state of Pakistan then? Clearly it cannot improve its citizen's life nevermind defending islam. Is it about picking up a fight with India? I realise this is gross simplification of complex history between the two countries, but what has Pakistan gain meaningfully from the 4-5 decades of conflict? National pride?

On top of that compared to other Islamic countries, Pakistan started off with far more and isn't exactly the worst victim of external circumstances from all WWII post colonial countries. It doesn't have the curse of oil (saudi, Iraq, iran, nigeria), never been a target of extremely violent regime change (Iran, indonesia), didn't get bombed to smitherin (Iraq, afghanistan), never a target of currency attack (malaysia, indonesia), never been in long and severe trade embargoes (Iraq, iran). Invaded (Iraq) Doesn't have the worst demographic (nigeria, indonesia). All of Pakistan major problems can be said largely result from decission made within its own government. (yes, comparatively speaking even considering coup and constitutional suspension.)

And Pakistan still has the lowest GDP per capita and growth, with the lowest major indicator number except against some african countries. Nobody can say any colonized country is more fucked than vietnam (similar western colonisation period as pakistan, about 20 years difference . nearly destroyed from war of independence, then massive decade long modern conventional war killing some 5% of population followed by decades of embargo), yet there they are bigger GDP per capita and triple the growth rate with 90% literacy rate.

So clearly something is wrong with what Pakistan is doing right?


The peril the West faces is the permanent burden of a Pakistan that threatens to go "Islamist with nukes" unless constant transfusions of cash and arms are not maintained.

Trying to be of strategic importance to America has been Pakistan's modus operandi since Independence, if you believe Margaret Bourke-White (remember her?)


"What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

"America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America," was Jinnah's reply. "Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed" -- he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles -- "the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves." He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. "Russia," confided Mr. Jinnah, "is not so very far away.""

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

As one of the not very learned, but one with with a little time on his hands, it seems to me that Eagle is addressing the (possible) crux of the matter of Afghanistan. I recall making a few remarks on this C of C a few months ago, the tenor of which was: what, if any, are the real reasons that the U.S. is spending money, resources, manpower, and prestige in operations and occupations in Asia? The changing array of reasons, preserve our way of life, protect us, find Osama bin Laden, spread freedom, etc., have never adequately explained the massive effort.

Geopolitics and the control of energy resources in Central Asia and the Near East are much more plausible as reasons for the whole thing. If not, and in my opinion, the whole thing has been idiotic. By which I mean that the huge effort since 2001 has been expended for a policy grounded in cliches and mistaken views of the national interest.


William P. Fitzgerald III

I would add to my previous, that I wasn't addressing whether control of Central Asia was a proper aim of U.S. policy. That woud be another discussion. Also, Pepe Escobar, writing in the Asia Times, published a series of articles about, what he called, "Pipelinestan" on the subject of control of those resources and the routing of the pipelines.


Anwar Ahmed

I came accros "These posts" only today. I would not like to add any thing at this late stage of debate except that "West" can stay and fight/occupy for another 100 years.Nothig will be achieved in Afghanistan but Pakistan will disappear.FB Ali"s post is brilliant timely overview. Anwar

FB Ali


While a political Islamist government in Pakistan would be very wary of India, it does not necessarily follow that it will provoke India by fostering terrorist attacks in Kashmir or India. So much depends on the type of people in charge. In India, too, there are religious fundamentalists who are very anti-Pakistan; they are also represented in the Indian military (a colonel is accused of having blown up a train carrying Pakistani visitors).

Where there is suspicion and hostility, miscalculations can often occur. When the players have nuclear weapons, these can be deadly.

FB Ali

Eagle in the Mountains

Thank you for your comments.

The big difference between religious Islamists and political Islamists is that the main aim of the former is to impose their brand of religion on a population; other goals, which are primary for the politicals, are secondary for them and mostly receive lip service. The principal goals for the political Islamists are to strengthen the political, economic and military power of the Muslim world; religious observance is not a big deal in their book. However, both types are strongly against the encroachment of Western (or other foreign) power and influence in the Muslim world, and would be prepared to fight it ‒ as they are currently doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This difference in goals is what provides the US with the opportunity to end the Afghan war through a political settlement, under which foreign troops would leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban would get an appropriate area in which they could run their own political/religious system. With such an arrangement their objectives would not require them to continue the war against the West, and it is quite unlikely that they would risk their rule by allowing al-Qaeda to operate in their territory for this purpose (knowing what happened last time they allowed this).

My understanding is that the Chinese gave some assistance earlier on in the development of the Pakistan bomb, but do not play any role in the safeguarding or deployment of these weapons now. The Pakistan military is quite capable of safeguarding its own nuclear assets – from the US or any other outsiders.

I do not think Deobandi or Sufi beliefs or practices, as such, have much practical bearing on these conflicts, past and present. Pakistanis have always practised a fairly moderate form of Islam, influenced by some Sufi beliefs and, in some areas, old, indigenous practices. They have no affinity for Taliban beliefs and practices, which are based on the strict, fundamentalist type of Wahabi/Deobandi Islam. This does have practical significance, and explains why Pakistani public opinion changed so dramatically against the local Taliban when it became generally known what type of Islam they sought to impose.

FB Ali

I would invite everyone's attention to an extraordinary essay by Ambassador Richard R. Polk on Juan Cole's blog today (Nov 22). It examines the choices available to the United States in Afghanistan, and recommends the only option that will not make matters worse (at home, too!).

I have not come across another study of the issue with this depth of comprehension. I would highly recommend it.

The essay is at: http://www.juancole.com/

Patrick Lang

FB Ali

The military art is the art of the possible.

In a perfct world, I, too, would simply leave Afghanistan to its own devices, but this is not a perfect world. Ambassador Polk and Juan Cole should know that it is not politically possible on the world scene for the United States to abandon Afghanistan to the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Indians or whomever.

Absent the ability to achieve that ideal state, a realistic strategy must be adopted. pl

Mateen M. Mohajir

Dear Brig F B Ali,
Assalam o Alaekum.
It was a pleasure to go through this very composed, temperate and cogent write-up.
Just two points:
1) The conflict-resolution process that President Obama seems to be preparing, may be a bit disagreeable to our Military. However, in the long run, it ius likely to be acceptable and should bring about a semblance of governance in Afghanistan.
2) Pakistan has the essential wherewithal to perform as a 'wunderkind' - two qualifiers [caveats] being in place: A. Pakistan Army accepts the Obama/McChrystal strategy, provided that attendant benefits of stability accrue and Indians play ball in Pakistan's court; B. Pakistanis are given guarantees [long shot!!] by US-Russia-China-UK that India and Iran will create conducive conditions for the civil society of Pakistan to successfully get the State/Government/Polity that was broadly spelt out by Jinnah...
About two years ago, you had written a very open-minded article on the essence of Islam: it was really thought-provoking. In my archives now...
If you have the time, inclination and patience to go through some writings of mine, it will be an honour.
If desired, I can email them to you, if you wish to give me your email address.
Thank you.
I had the privilege of being in your Command [6 Armd Div Arty] as Adjt/GPO in 1st SP, during the desultory days of 1971 conflict in Sialkot Sector...No flattery intended, but you were an inspiration to us youngsters [I belong to the Nawaita Family - same as Sayeed Qadir (FF)]
Warmest regards.
Brig Mateen M. Mohajir [Retd]
Email: mmohajir@hotmail.com OR matmoh@gmail.com
You can also google my IDs: < MateenMM >
< Mateen M. Mohajir >
< Brig Mateen M. Mohajir >

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