Why Kill Jamal Khashoggi? (A personal view from Dr Hussain)

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Someone asked my two cent worth opinion on ongoing saga of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. More informed people have commented on the subject and many details are still murky. Based on my own work on the Kingdom’s power dynamics in the past, following is may take;

Thanks. With time, we change and our thoughts also evolve. This may be the case with Mr. Jamal Khashoggi and he may have been genuinely convinced that some kind of people’s participation in government is the way forward. However, we need to keep in mind the broader context as this incident is related to struggle inside the royal family. Khashoggi held some progressive views by Saudi Arabian standards related to extreme austere code of Wahabbism. However, he never questioned the legitimacy of the rule of al Saud family. He advocated increased consultation with population on important issues. He was employed by many government newspapers and any significant alternative view no matter how mild is simply a career ending move. He was not a dissident but mild critic of some policies of Prince Muhammad Bin Salman such as blockade of Qatar, Yemen war etc.

There are many Saudis in exile who are much harsher critics of royal family but why Khashoggi? More important to remember is his links with members of royal family who have been sidelined by the meteoric rise of the mercurial Prince Muhmmad Bin Salman (MBS) in 2015. Government’s view is published by a number of influential newspapers (Arab News, Sharq-ul-Awst etc) run by Saudi Research and Marketing Group. Owner of this group is Prince Turki Bin Salman. Khashoggi worked for some of these newspapers in the past. He also worked with former intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal and billionaire Waleed Bin Talal. He served in some advisor capacity to Turki projecting his softer image to the outside world. In 2015, Waleed opened a satellite channel Al Arab in Bahrain and in this venture partnered with Bloomberg News. Khashoggi was to be the star kid of Al Arab. This channel lasted mere eleven hours on air before it was shut down by Bahrain; a close Saudi ally and dependent on Saudi forces on its soil to protect its royal family from the restless Shia majority population.

MSB started grand purge on two fronts. One front was to sideline powerful brokers in royal family such as Crown Prince designate Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef; former interior minister, Prince Mitib Bin Abdullah; former head of Saudi National Guard (SNG). Head of SNG is a powerful position as SNG is royal family’s insurance policy against army coup. SNG recruits on tribal basis and head inserts his loyalists at various levels of positions. The second front was to weaken the financial muscle of some princes. This resulted in famous/notorious Ritz Carlton saga of billionaire princes hauled up there until they coughed up billions to get their limited freedom. Waleed was the prized prisoner of Ritz Carlton; the world’s only five star jail. Members of both groups cannot leave the country. On the other hand, other family members who have kept their heads down in the tent like Prince Turki are allowed to travel. With this in background, alleged rumor of an assassination attempt on MBS by his guards raised the fear factor by several degrees. Some reports suggest that most of his inner circle of security is now manned by foreigners.

Where Khashoggi fits into this picture? He was the window of these disgruntled royal family members to the outside world. Everybody in Washington who wanted to know what was happening in the Kingdom would knock at Khashoggi’s door. This was the main threat that MBS feared that angry royal family members may attempt to make some kind of deal with Washington to pull the royal rug from under his feet. A close study of MBS personality suggests that he acts rashly without thinking through and no one around him would even suggest an alternative thought. Hence, a very sloppy operation which is not even an intelligence operation. A rag tag team of guards, special forces people and a forensic doctor was to emulate a Mossad style overseas hit a la 2010 Dubai saga of assassination of a Palestinian operative.

Looking at the fall out of the operation, Khashoggi’s own words seem prophetic that ‘Saudi brand has been severely damaged’. What will be MBS likely response? The old Arab bedouine tradition is that when a big dust storm come down furiously (haboob), the Arab ducks down in his tent covering his head and wait until it passes away. For the next few weeks, MBS will be spending more time in his $500 million yatch parked in red sea than in his palaces. The only suggestion one can give to MBS is the words of one his own elders late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; “a friend is someone who tells you the truth; not someone who believes in you’.

“Man’s history is waiting in patience for the triumph of the insulted man.” Rabindranath Tagore

Regards,
Hamid

Postscript:

Follow up intelligent questions from well informed people were inevitable thus a follow up. I wandered a little bit further as my personal quest of learning about military and conflict is to paint the horrible picture of the killing fields so that we can all avoid filling more graves.

Thanks Sir. You are correct. Trump will give him cover in view of personal/business relationship. However, there is a little bit shift in other power centers. In senate, recent vote to approve munitions to KSA was 53-47; a significant shift against KSA. If in mid-term, democrats take house of representatives, then there will be little more heat. In the long run, KSA is important and MBS cannot be pushed aside without arrangement with alternative leadership from royal family. This usually takes time. However in short term, single point agenda of getting Iran is making things complicated and they don’t want to quarantine MBS/KSA at this stage.

Anti-Iran camp of current administration coupled with almost messianic change in Bibi Netanyahu personality where he thinks his historic role is to strike nuclear assets of Iran is the possible ‘escape hatch’ for MBS. If Bibi wins in elections called early then watch for who he picks for IDF chief; who is retiring by the end of the year. In 2009-15, IDF COS, heads of all three intelligence agencies (Mossad, MI & Shin Bet) pushed Bibi back on military strike against Iran. This was complemented by Obama administration warning to Israelis that they will be alone in the mission with no military or diplomatic cover. Bibi wants a security team that will not second guess his mission. Bibi has covered a lot of ground by appointing his former national security advisor Yossi Cohen as head of Mossad, a more mellow head for Shin Bet and a new director of MI. The only chip left is COS. Two top contenders (Yair Golan & Aviv Kochavi) are their own men especially Kochavi is considered a ‘prince’; very well respected and highly professional man who cannot be bullied. Bibi may go for one of the two juniors ones for the post. If two conditions are met; first Bibi wins elections and still PM and then he picks one of the juniors as IDF COS, then I’ll put chance of Israeli strike on Iran around 50%. To hold the Arab bag, they will need MBS with General Sisi playing the second fiddle. Water is too muddy in the middle east to read tea leaves.

MBS is following the footsteps of all autocrats; thinking that they are invincible and normal rules don’t apply to them even if they see things like Saddam caught like a rat and Qaddafi dragged on the streets. This they watched with their own eyes and not something read in history books of decades or centuries old events. Power has its own logic not comprehended by commoners like us.

I can only think about words of Voltaire when I closely review personalities of three main actors on the stage for coming production; Trump, MBS & Bibi Netanyahu. “If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances, and to not forget to be excessively opinionated and obstinate. It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you”.

As far as bankrupt leadership is concerned, Arab poet and philosopher Nizar Qabani has summed up nicely;

Every twenty years

Comes to us a gambling man

To stake our country and culture

And resources and rivers

And trees and fruits

And men and women

And the waves and the sea

At the gambling table

We die; broken, hated

Cursed like dogs

While our philosopher in his shelter cogitates destruction into victory

In the post-world war II period, in mad search for security, humanity has invented modern and more lethal killing machines to find itself less secure and living in fear. A whole new model of peaceful co-existence emerging from the wretched of the earth is needed. War mongers are busy 24/7 while those who wish peace are sleeping. They need to wake up, shake dust of their clothes and reach to the ‘other’ over the head of their leaders. The question for present generation is whether they will continue to fight the wars of their grandfathers and fathers on the altars of religion, nation etc. or choose a new path.

“Ishmael, my brother hear my plea

It was the angel who tied thee to me

Time is running out, put hatred to sleep

Shoulder to shoulder, let’s gather our sheep”

Shin Shalom, an Israeli Jewish poet

Regards,

Hamid

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Pakistan and the Great War

From Dr Hamid Hussain

2018 is centenary of the end of the Great War. This piece was written for a magazine published in England about Indian military history. I tried to highlight participation of areas and units of future Pakistan army in that epic struggle to honor countless who served all over the globe.

Hamid

Pakistan and the Great War

Hamid Hussain

“We know that it was not strategy nor tactics nor leadership that really gained us the victory, but the spirit of sacrifice”. General Sir William Birdwood’s address on unveiling of the Punjab Frontier Force (PIFFER) Memorial at Kohat October 23, 1924.

It is impossible to narrate the story of the Indian Army in the Great War on ethnic or religious lines as some modern observers are tempted to do. It is equally futile to attempt a “revisionist” narrative through the nationalist lens of modern India and Pakistan. What were then Indian soldiers of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds fought in the Great War under their regimental standards as imperial British subjects of the Indian Empire on a global battlefield.

In 1947, British India and its armed forces were divided between the two new nations of India and Pakistan. Punjab Province, which had provided the bulk of the old regular Indian Army, was carved up with a few strokes of the cartographer’s pen. Ambala and Jullundur divisions and Amritsar and Gurdaspur of the Lahore division became part of India. Punjabi Muslims, Muslim Rajputs and Pathans of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) became Pakistani citizens while Sikhs, Jats, Dogra and Rajput Hindus became Indian citizens. All of this cut across the traditional structures and allegiances of the old Indian Army, and the Great War experiences of men such as Subedar Major Parbhat Chand, a Hindu Dogra, who won a Military Cross fighting under the colours of the 59th Scinde Rifles, which would later become the 1st Frontier Force Regt. of the Pakistani Army, the many Punjabi Muslim sepoys who served under the colours of the 125th Napier’s Rifles and 101st Grenadiers which were allotted to India in 1947, and medical officers Capt. Indrajit Singh of the 57th Rifles and Major Atal of the 129th Baluchistan Infantry who died alongside their Punjabi Muslim and Pathan comrades. While these and other factors discourage any attempt to interpret the conflict in light of the later partition of the subcontinent, there is no reason why the war-time experience of what is now Pakistan, especially the Punjab, should not be studied in the same way that, for example, the impact of the war on the north of England and regiments raised there are examined for insights. Continue reading “Pakistan and the Great War”

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Book Review: Pakistan Adrift by Asad Durrani

Book review by Dr Hamid Hussain

Former Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI) Lieutenant General ® Asad Durrani’ s memoirs Pakistan Adrift will be released in Pakistan in the second week of October 2018. It is a memoir of a former DGISI and ambassador and his perspective about events of the last two decades.

Durrani is considered a cerebral officer by his peers and had a good career profile. Like most officers in the business of intelligence, the most controversial part of his career was his stint as head of Military Intelligence (MI) and ISI. This book is his perspective about the events but provides the reader an insight into the dynamics of power at the higher echelons. He is candid in accepting his own mistakes especially role in distributing money to politicians. Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing this case.

Two segments about his stint as ambassador to Germany and Saudi Arabia are his views about these two societies. The most interesting segment is the chapter on terrorism when he seriously discusses the subject, its various shades and the use of this term by various states to pursue their own interests. He also elaborates on the consequences of recent destructive policy of United States of dismantling fragile states that has unleashed new demons. Very little academic and policy discussion has been devoted to this crucial subject that has made world more dangerous, violent and unstable.

Durrani devoted a significant segment towards the issue of Afghanistan. His own personal experience as DGISI and observations on later events where he had some contact in the form of ‘track two’ parleys accurately reflects thought process of majority of Pakistani officers. This view is based on a genuine national security interest of Pakistan about its western neighbor as country bears the fallout directly. As these officers interact with Afghans in official capacities therefore they sometimes get blindsided. Pakistan has influence over some Afghan clients, but Afghans are very good at playing one against the other. They survived as an independent nation based on mastering this art. Amir Dost Muhammad Khan’s letters to Czar of Russia, Shah of Persia and British Viceroy of India in nineteenth century sums up the foreign policy of the country. A good friend of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me in 2002 what Afghans thought about the new phase? Many key Afghan players were of the view that ‘in the previous round, neighbors played their game and we ran away from the country. This time around, we are staying put and if neighbors don’t behave, we have sworn that we will make sure that the winds of chaos will not stay in Afghanistan but blow in the other direction’. Afghan and Pakistan liaisons with Americans in Kabul share a space. At prayer time, Afghans always insist that Pakistani counterpart lead the prayer. A Pakistani can be seriously mistaken by this gesture. When with Americans, Afghans are unanimous in their view that real problem is not Afghanistan but Pakistan. Like any other intelligence agency, ISI is a large bureaucratic organization and not monolithic. Mid-level officers of the organization may have a unique perspective about an event and in some cases not in agreement with policies adopted by the high command. My own work on the subject to get opinion of the boss and his subordinate about a given event or policy provided some limited insight about many shades of grey.

In this work, Durrani is confident in claiming that ‘since leaving service, I have spilled a few beans, so to speak, but not once have I been cautioned or charged with indiscretion’. This claim was severely tested recently. Three months ago, his informal conversations with former Indian intelligence chief about diverse topics were published in a book ‘The Spy Chronicles’ that caused an uproar in Pakistan. He was severely criticized and, in some cases, abused by his uniformed colleagues. Pakistan army headquarters summoned him for explanation and an inquiry was initiated. Hopefully this work will help in understanding his views and not add more indiscretions to his charge sheet.

Durrani’ s book provides a useful insight into the thought process of senior brass. Shaky civil-military relations with deep mistrust on both sides is explained by Durrani with many anecdotes. Recent events have shown that this Achilles heel of Pakistan has not shown any sign of improvement. In view of the recent events of Pakistan and in the neighborhood, it looks that Pakistan’s policy has been consistent about what it views as its core interests. This book should be on the reading list of those interested in Pakistan.

Asad Durrani. Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters (London: Hurst & Company), 2018, pp. 273

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Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971

 

India’s wars by Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam is a history of the wars (external wars, not counter-insurgencies) fought by the Indian army from 1947 to 1971. It is a pretty good summary, but does have it’s weaknesses.

The book starts with a bit of the “pre-history” of the Indian army. Interestingly Subramaniam chooses to highlight two distinct streams that he believes should get credit for the internal culture and ethos of the Indian army. One is obvious: the British Indian army, which was the parent organization that was split (unequally) between Pakistan and India to create the Indian army. The second is an angle that would not have been included by an official observer/author in 1950, but that has obviously grown since then to the point that a Pucca Air Marshal gives it near-equal billing in his book: i.e. the armies of the Marhattas and the Sikhs. I think this reflects contemporary politics and cultural arguments in India more than it reflects the reality of the Indian army from 1947 to 1971, but will be happy to be corrected by people who have better direct knowledge of the Indian army in that period. Anyway, the author gives a quick and very brief account of the British Indian army. The origins and growth of that force are dealt with very quickly and summarily, but there is more details about developments closer to 1947. This is not a book that is heavy on relevant numerical data (i.e. this is not the sort of book where you get tables showing “The caste/religious/ethnic composition of the British Indian army from X to 1947”) and this is a weakness that persists throughout the book; the author is not big on tables or data. Perhaps as someone who grew up with some of that history, I did not find it detailed or insightful enough, but most readers may not mind this omission too much. And even if you are a British Indian army brat, the sections on the origins of the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal Indian Navy are likely to add to your knowledge. Incidentally, many of the early aviators in the Indian air force seem to have Bengali surnames; the author does not comment on this, but I wonder if anyone has more information about this. If you do, please add in the comments section.

Continue reading “Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971”

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Review: The Forge of Christendom by Tom Holland

Tom Holland’s latest book is about the slow recovery of Western Europe between 900 and 1100 AD, a period that he sees as the beginning of Western Europe’s transformation from a decaying and dilapidated backwater to the mastery of the world. Tom Holland clearly thinks Christianity had much to do with this rise and presents the violent elimination of paganism in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe as positive achievements of the age. This is mostly done not by direct editorializing; it is done by using the language of the invading Christians (not as quotes from ancient books but as the text of the book itself) to describe the pagans. What the pagans thought of this transformation is rarely mentioned or is explicitly presented as a quote, not as the author’s own text.

He sort of claims that this great transformation had something to do with rising apocalyptic expectations about the end of the first Christian Millennium, the disappointment of which was followed by the channelization of these energies into this-worldly revival and expansion. He does not really prove this hypothesis and it may be that it is mostly a device to frame the book and is not taken completely seriously by Tom Holland himself. Certainly I more or less ignored it while reading the book and you can get some value out of the book without paying this theory any mind either.

(The book’s Amazon.com intro presents this as the central thesis of the book: “At the approach of the first millennium, the Christians of Europe did not seem likely candidates for future greatness. Weak, fractured, and hemmed in by hostile nations, they saw no future beyond the widely anticipated Second Coming of Christ. But when the world did not end, the peoples of Western Europe suddenly found themselves with no choice but to begin the heroic task of building a Jerusalem on earth.” I did not find it convincing and I think you can ignore it too). That said, the book is still fun to read. Tom Holland always wants to make history fun, to tell stories, to quote contemporary accounts and to paint vivid pictures of life in those times. He is always interesting, but the reader will have to read other books to find out if the slant presented here is the most reasonable one or if Mr Holland is letting his storytelling side (or his Christian/English side) dictate how events and characters are presented.

There is definitely an element of subtly (and occasionally not-so-subtly) challenging the more “woke” interpretations of history that are currently popular in some elite Western universities. He wants the readers to see Christianity (specifically Catholicism) as an overall force for good (separation of church and state, suppression of elite violence, etc) and as an important source of cultural unity, growth and creativity in those troubled time. He is not necessarily wrong about this, but he rarely makes a solid evidence-based case case (with alternative views systematically evaluated and rejected) for his preferences, relying instead on eloquence and (selective?) presentation to convince the reader.

If you don’t mind (or already approve of) his Christian and “Eurocentric” viewpoint, this is the book for you. Even if you do mind, it is a very entertaining read, full of zany anecdotes and interesting factoids. A reasonably good overview of the age and worth a read. But it will be a good idea to read other books about the period before you decide that the trends were exactly as described in this book.

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Ahmedis and Pakistan. Some background..

Atif Mian

Professor Atif Mian is a prominent Pakistani-American economist and a professor of economics at Princeton university. 2 weeks ago he was nominated to be a member of Imran Khan’s “Economic Advisory Council” (a think tank of sorts that is supposed to generate ideas for the new PTI government; it is not at all clear what influence, if any, this group will have in real life). This set off a controversy in Pakistan because Atif Mian is an Ahmedi and Ahmedis are widely reviled as heretics, apostates and traitors in Pakistan. After an initial attempt to defend his appointment (including the obligatory Jinnah quote and reference to the fact that an Ahmedi, Sir Zafrullah, was one of Jinnah’s closest advisers and Pakistan’s first foreign minister) the Imran Khan government backed down and asked him to leave the council.

Since then his defenders (mostly liberals who believe religion should play no role in such appointments and experts should be judged on their professional skills and not their religion) and opponents (Islamists, PTI-type Islamist-lite folks who believe Ahmedis in particular should not be appointed to any important position because they are fake Muslims and potential traitors, etc etc) have been arguing about this case on social media. This post is an attempt to provide background and clarify some of the issues raised by both sides.. (some of the background material was published earlier in a post I wrote in 2012 for 3quarksdaily.com)

Mirza_ghulam_ahmad
Mirza Ghulam Ahmed

The Ahmediya movement was started in Punjab in 19th century British India, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadiyan. He seems to have been a quiet, religious loner who brooded about the challenges faced by his faith and his people. The decisive military and economic superiority of Western civilization over the Islamicate world had produced a variety of efforts at reform and revitalization. They ranged from the Wahabi-influenced puritanical Jihadism of Syed Ahmed Barelvi (who led an extremely fanatical jihadist movement in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwah, until he was defeated by superior Sikh firepower and a reaction to his extreme views among the local Muslims) to the anglophile reformism of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University). Mirza Ghulam Ahmed’s response was to start a movement of religious revival that was built around his own charismatic claims. Though he contradicted some mainstream Islamist claims about the finality of prophet-hood and the absolute necessity of military Jihad (military jihad as a Muslim duty is now so widely downplayed that it is hard for Westerners and even Westernized Muslims to figure out why his claim was considered so controversial). His movement was socially conservative and even puritanical and he vigorously defended Islam, especially against Christian missionaries and Hindu critics. He found some support among modestly educated middle class Punjabi Muslims (including Islamist icon Allama Mohammed Iqbal, who either flirted with joining the movement or actually joined for a few years, depending on what version you believe). As his movement (and his claims regarding his own status as prophet or messiah) grew, it also drew orthodox opposition, especially from the dominant Sufi-oriented Barelvi Sunni sect. Ironically this branch of local Islam enjoyed some American (and world media) attention as “moderate and tolerant Muslims” in contrast to their Deobandi/Wahhabi brethren in the aftermath of 9-11 (though this attempt to fight Wahabi/Deobandi fire with Sufi-Barelvi water seems to have run into some trouble recently).

This increasingly vocal opposition (complete with fatwas from Mecca declaring the Ahmedis as apostates liable to the death penalty if they did not repent) led to a sharper separation between Ahmedis and other Muslim sects, but the Ahmedis themselves always claimed to be Muslims and made efforts to remain fully engaged in “Muslim causes”. In their own view they were reforming and purifying Islam, not opposing it, so they had a legitimate interest in the cause of oppressed Muslims everywhere (e.g. they took a leading role in supporting Kashmiri Muslims against their Dogra-Hindu ruler). Some Ahmedis played a very prominent role in the Pakistan movement, including Sir Zafrullah Khan, who wrote a Pakistan proposal for the viceroy in Feb 1940 and shared it with Jinnah before the Muslim League passed its Lahore resolution in March 1940. He remained one of Jinnah’s closest associates and was the first foreign minister of Pakistan and Jinnah’s representative on the boundary commission that divided India) and others held prominent positions in the new state and fought for it with distinction (most famously, General Akhtar Malik in the 1965 war with India). It is likely that neither they, nor the relatively Westernized leadership of the Muslim league had a clear idea of what lay in store for them in Pakistan. Even more ironically, the Ahmedis themselves aggressively pursued “blasphemers” (e.g. Pandit Lekh Ram in Punjab in 1897). It is hard to read this Ahmedi polemic against Lekh Ram without thinking about where the Ahmedis themselves now lie in relation to the blasphemy meme. Continue reading “Ahmedis and Pakistan. Some background..”

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Review: Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The following is a review by Dr Hamid Hussain.

Book Review – Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll.

 Hamid Hussain

 Steve Coll’s new book is an excellent account of events of the last two decades in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.  Steve has all the credentials to embark on this project.  He is one of the best and well-informed journalist and his previous book Ghost Wars is the most authentic work of the history of Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) war in Afghanistan in 1980s.  For his new book, he has used important American sources from different departments of US government engaged with Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has also used some Afghan and few Pakistani sources, but it is mainly an American perspective of the events. There is need for work on Pakistani and Afghan perspective which is a far more difficult task. Continue reading “Review: Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan”

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Review: General Shahid Aziz’s Memoir Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak

Shahid Aziz retired from the Pakistan army after a long and successful career, reaching the rank of Lieutenant General (3 star general) and serving as DG analysis wing of the ISI, DGMO (director general military operations), CGS (chief of general staff) and corps commander (commanding 4 corps in Lahore). After retirement, he served as chairman of the powerful National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the main anti-corruption watchdog in Pakistan. In spite of having been one of General Musharraf’s closest associates (and related to him by marriage; the daughter of one of Shahid Aziz’s cousins is married to Musharraf’s son) he became increasingly critical of Musharraf after retirement and in 2013 he wrote a book that was highly critical of Musharraf and of Pakistan’s supposedly pro-US policies at that time.

In May 2018 there were several news reports claiming that General Shahid Aziz had left his home last year (or even earlier) to join the Jihad against the West and had been killed, either in Syria or in Afghanistan (General Musharraf was the one who claimed he was killed in Syria, most other reports said Afghanistan). While his family has denied these reports, they have not been able to produce any explanation about where he is if he has not actually died on Jihad. So I decided to read the book. Having read it, I think the combination of naive idealism and PMA-level Islamism found in his book makes it very likely that these reports are true. My review follows (please also read this review by Abdul Majeed Abid as a complementary piece) Continue reading “Review: General Shahid Aziz’s Memoir Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak”

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VS Naipaul (and Prime Minister Imran Khan)..

I have been busy with a move for several months (from the Midwest to the Best Coast) and have not been active on Brownpundits. I hope this will change in the coming weeks and months. Not enough time today for a full post on something,  just some quick notes on two recent events:

  1. VS Naipaul has died. I am a fan of Naipaul the writer, which sometimes gets me into arguments with woke friends, because the memo has been circulated that he was “a White supremacist” and so on (there is also the issue that he was a misogynist and mistreated some of the women in his life, which is probably true, but the broader un-personing instructions are based on his supposed ideological crimes, not his personal life). I don’t have anything to say about his relations with women (FWIW his last wife seems to have been happy with him) or his general crankiness and misanthropy, but I think the ideological accusations are an unfair characterization of his work. As far as I can tell, he had no single over-arching ideology; his aim was to try and see “things as they are”, which is never easy (and perhaps never possible), not to promote a particular Right or Left wing political viewpoint. He will be missed.   

From “The Enigma of Arrival”

Continue reading “VS Naipaul (and Prime Minister Imran Khan)..”

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Pakistan Elections 2018

Pakistan heads to the polls on July 25th. I happen to be in the middle of a move, so I have not been posting much but a short note on the election is certainly due. Back in 2013 Pakistan had its first peaceful democratic transfer of power and it looked like some sort of democracy was finally taking root, with the military still exercising disproportionate influence but with an elected government running most of the country according to its own priorities. Unfortunately, the trend line has since reversed and done so in spectacular fashion. There are many theories about why this particular reversal happened, with some people blaming the party in power (the nominally right of center PMLN) and others the overweening ambitions of GHQ (*General Headquarters. The army). Whatever the triggers, it seems that at some point the army high command decided that it could not coexist with Mian Nawaz Sharif and his politically ambitious daughter (Maryam Nawaz Sharif) and for the last year and a half the army, primarily acting through its intelligence agencies (for the rough stuff) and ISPR (the PR wing of the army, now expanded into a vast public relations operation with a serving general in charge) has been on a crusade against the PMLN in general and Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) and his daughter in particular.

The operation has not gone according to plan; it seems clear that the army expected that MNS would give up the fight easily and the PMLN (a party once put together with the help of the army and including many professional turncoats) in any case will get the hint and push him out and replace him with his more cooperative younger brother (Mian Shahbaz Sharif, MSS). But MNS has refused to back down and most of the party has chosen to stand by him. The army has been forced to resort to more and more blatant attempts at political engineering but every escalation has been met by even more stubborn and public resistance from MNS, culminating in his return to the country after being sentenced to a long prison term in a corruption case where legal norms were openly flouted and the fairness of the judiciary was seriously compromised. Multiple national and international observers have already commented on the kind of tactics being used to corner the PMLN and to give an unfair advantage to Imran Khan’s PTI and I won’t go into those details (see links for more on that), but this level of blatant military intervention has also stiffened the resistance of the PMLN and seems to have energized their supporters. At the same time, the combination of 24/7 one-sided propaganda in the Pakistani media and the behind the scenes pressures applied by intelligence agencies has not been without effect, with several candidates disqualified, others induced to switch sides and all facing the possibility of more engineering on election day. The end result is that there is great uncertainty on the eve of the election. Polls generally indicate a close contest, but the unknown unknowns make any guess hazardous.

That said, it is the job of pundits to make predictions, so I will make mine. We will see how it turns out tomorrow. Continue reading “Pakistan Elections 2018”

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