Pankaj Mishra and his discontents…

Pankaj has an op-ed in the NY Times. Friend Sardul Minhas prodded me to say something about it, but I was short of time and just gave some general comments about the Pankajist worldview and it’s discontents. These comments are quick and off the cuff, so almost as superficial as Pankaj Bhayia’s op-ed, but they sort of add to my earlier longer rant about his book, and my earlier article about Pankaj and Arundhati Roy. Read them all and you will start to see what I mean (or at least, where I am coming from). Trust me 🙂 

Before I go on, let me say that India hypernationalism is at least as real as Pakistani or American or Chinese hypernationalism and can be almost equally crazy. Like those hypernationalisms, it is mostly held in check by real-life constraints and need not trigger world war three, but world war three is not inconceivable. Shit happens. So I do not mean to imply that all is well and will forever remain well in the Indian subcontinent with the BJP in power (and of course anyone who says all was well before the BJP came to power must be joking). But I do think some of the doom and gloom is overdone and a lot of it is just hyperventilation that provides no good analysis as to why this phenomena has grown, what it may become, and what can be done to moderate or counter it’s possible excesses…in short, i dont think there is nothing to fear, but I do think that the Pankajist worldview is neither an adequate analysis, nor a rational prescription for it’s cure.

Pankaj seems to believe (or knows it is
fashionable to believe) that the worship of strength and material progress is a serious mistake
and therefore all of recent Western history (with its abundant displays of
strength and material/organizational progress, however defined) was a very bad thing. But he
also believes the equally fashionable meme that the weak should “stand up for their
rights” and
fight back and defeat the strong….since I have not seen any evidence to suggest
that he has some well-developed theory of Gandhian resistance, how is this
circle to be squared? Given belief A, belief B requires the acquisition of
strength and at least some material/organizational progress (how else will anyone be able to overcome the
amoral West?) but it so happens that the constituency of “strength and material/organizational progress” in India is one that Pankaj cannot afford to be associated with. He has little
trouble with non-Indian strength-worshippers like
Jamaluddin Afghani (a minor and ineffectual fascist whom he portrayed, historically inaccurately, as one of the great exemplars of Asian resistance to Western domination), but in India his home is in the liberal elite Left, and the “strength and progress” idea, while very much present in the traditional Left, is not one that the postmodern Left is comfortable with…besides, the strength part is now mostlymonopolized by the Hindutvadis, so there are problems with admiring Indian anti-Westernism and strength-worship that do not arise for Pankaj when he is talking about Muslims or Chinese who want to become strong like the West. Incidentally, Japan remains a sore spot of Pankaj; perhaps because of his initial Leftist orientation or because the rise of Japan does not fit his preferred picture of “East tries to Westernize and falls flat on face”, he completely skipped Japan when discussing his version of the rise of Asia from the ruins of Empire. Anyway, given these ideological limitations, what is to be done? His options include:

 1. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. The apparent weakness of “Eastern” nations is actually strength; a sign of moral superiority, closer to nature, deeply rooted, psychologically sound, more humane etc etc. Gandhi had some such beliefs. Of course Gandhi also believed that if we stick to our (moral) strengths, we can “defeat” the apparently stronger West. But this defeat will not look like the usual victory and defeat looks in war. Valid or not, this would be a relatively consistent (and very attractive) set of beliefs. But many elements of this system are anathema for the Left (like Gandhi’s embrace of the people’s ancient religon and religious myths, his lack of interest in physical strength, and his un-Marxist view of history), so Pankaj cannot comfortably take a Gandhian position against the West (though he can say patronizing nice things about it).

2. Westernization has been and forever will be a disaster for non-Western nations. They must find their own unique way forward. They have unique cultures and cultural strengths and these are embedded in their language, their culture, their myths, their religions… and they must build from these, etc. But this is what a lot of the Hindu right is saying, so it certainly cannot be Pankaj’s choice either.

3. Or Pankaj can drop the whole Eurocentric post-Marxist framework and start from scratch. He might then find that “Westernization” is not so exclusively Western. A lot of it is just progress in human knowledge (always incomplete and prone to errors) and any individual or group can acquire and make use of past discoveries in human knowledge, whether they happen to have been made in Europe or Central Asia or Japan, and build on those…. that maybe the flaws we see in the West are not that foreign either, but are human characteristics, and their larger organized expressions (armies, conquests, wars, colonization, cultural and literal genocides, megalomaniacs, liars) are not really some unique and novel Western invention…. If strength and scientific progress are diseases, then we are all prone to falling victim to their allure….and so on. But that would be such a departure from the postcolonialist postmodern post-marxist universe in which Pankaj operates, its not really a choice either. What if his audience no longer buys his op-eds?

It’s a tough place to be in.  Hence the confusion.
btw, he started with Naipaul, betting that his audience would have little or no clue about Naipaul’s actual views about Indian history and the rise of the BJP. I think this move shows Pankaj is not dumb and he sometimes takes risks. Those are worthy qualities 😉
Or it may mean that Naipaul’s earlier expression of admiration for Pankaj (as a literary critic) has created a soft spot. Human nature being what it is…

I initially posted these thoughts as a facebook comment and asked some questions on 3quarksdaily (where Pankaj’s article was up on the blog). One of the responses (from someone named Sundar) was as follows:
I doubt if I fit the profile of Pankaj’s intended readership, but here goes:

I think the Indian left (and Pankaj in particular) has become irrelevant. The Left parties have been decimated even in their citadel of West Bengal, where they had unleashed a reign of terror for 25 years. (If you think that is an exaggeration, you should learn more about life in Rural West Bengal). It is another matter that the TMC is continuing their tactics.

Intellectually, the left has been in shock since their utopias of Russia and China have moved on. Hence their desperate attempt to use any issue they can get their hands on: Environment, Caste etc. Their last gasp was their infiltration of the centrist Congress party via Sonia Gandhi’s unconstitutional NAC.

They are terrified that Modi has put together a workable coalition of various caste groups which aims to control parliament for the foreseeable future. They don’t know how to deal with Modi: he comes from the very groups that they claim to represent. But he represents a new kind of India, one which does not want handouts from elite controlled parties.

Whether Modi’s electoral coalition will hold in the next Lok Sabha elections, I don’t know. But if it does, the India left’s worst nightmare will come to pass: A world where they are simply irrelevant. A Bourgeois India that hasn’t heard of Pankaj Mishra and his ilk. And doesn’t care.

My answer had some more questions, which I will post here in the hope that someone will attempt some answers:
I think you are right, though out of loyalty to my youthful ideals and deference to my friends /peer group I would assign a less positive valence to this decline and fall… Anyway, follow up questions : since higher education and public intellectuals in India share (consciously and unconsciously) many of the historic assumptions, ideals, paradigms etc of the Left, what does the
 future hold in that area? Will they modify their beliefs and carry on? Will there be a circling of the wagons and a vicious fight with the newly powerful right, followed by an auto da fe? Will the crazier Hindutva historians replace our familiar Marxist intellectuals as most of my friends seem to fear? And will all this play any role in “real life”? 
Inquiring minds want to know 🙂

Finally, a word from my better half (who has higher IQ and EQ): I must not just criticize Mishra. I must also say what he would be good at; so here goes: I think he would be an excellent literary critic if he could just give up his urge to push his (fashionable, but ultimately irrelevant) political agenda in every thing he writes. I know, “the personal is political” and all that, but comrade, that too may just be fashionable claptrap. Take a deep breath. Let go…

PS: Given the current political conflicts within India (with which I have only an outsider’s connection), it is inevitable that an attack on Pankaj will get positive responses from his supposed ideological opponents in the BJP (I say “supposed” because Pankaj actually shares their emotional antipathy towards the West and has some sympathy for their counterparts in other Asian countries, just not in India itself). Just to keep things clear, I am mostly Left-of-Center in my politics and extremely left of center on most social issues (though somewhat right of center on state intervention in social issues, whatever). I do hope a left-of-center alternative survives and thrives in Indian politics, not just because my own inclinations (mostly) lie that way but because the total dominance of any one ideology is always a problem. Best to have some balance and some competition. Finally, I do realize that all who identify as leftists are not as Eurocentric/Europhobic and confused as Pankaj. 
Oh, and about the Hindutvadis, I think there are some obvious problem areas in their quest to become the leaders of resurgent and powerful India: I am saying nothing original if I say that the “Muslim question” is one of them. In my case, the concern is not that they will try to “Indianize” Islam well beyond what current Indian Muslim leaders would consider desirable… I think that is the eventual fate of Indian Islam and I see no great reason to abhor that possibility. My concern is that they will mess up the “soft landing” that is the “desirable option” in this process. i.e. I think a soft landing is possible (and desirable) but the way the BJP has evolved, they may not be the best people to achieve it. More on that some other day, but I do want to add that to me this is not a specifically “Muslim” concern. It is an Indian concern. In numbers, in solidarity, in civilizational consciousness, in cultural contribution, etc Indian Muslims are not an insignificant component of India. A “hard landing” would hurt everyone and the outcome is by no means guaranteed to be in the Hindutvadi’s favor. Softer approaches would work better for everyone, not just for the Muslims. Fascist tendencies and mob action are other obvious problems but are by no means a BJP monopoly (see West Bengal for details) but a BJP-specific (much less serious) area of concern is the large mass of pseudoscientific nonsense that has accreted around the crazier edges of the Hindutva brand. While I think the actual “real world” significance of that mass of craziness is sometimes exaggerated by liberal/Westernized/agnostic/atheist observers, it is not necessary trivial.  I quote Prime Minister sahib: “We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery – See more at: “
I really dont think modern Indian medicine will be easily derailed by such flights of fancy, but ….There. That should do it 🙂 

Post-post script: Friend Shivam Vij posted Guardian’s piece about Modi making his Hindutva pseudosciency remarks and I told him its funny, but may not necessarily be too consequential. Many friends seemed to find that surprising. Why not consequential? he is saying an elephant head was transplanted on a human, literally. That’s crazy. Well, yes, it is, but if we go by that, we would lose our shit everytime some leader says he believes in the talking snake or the flying horse or whatever. The silliness is not the problem. Or at least, its not NECESSARILY a big problem. The same people who believe in flying horses and talking snakes are very rational and clever in matters closer to our own lives. So the problem is not necessarily the silliness of the belief. Its the fact that PM sahib chose to express it on such an occasion and in such a context, indicating a certain mixing of knowledge streams best left unmixed…and the implication that such hindutvadi pseudoscience may then be forced on people in real life settings, maybe even in Medical schools and (God Forbid) in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Now in a democracy that is certainly a possibility and a scary one. But a reasonably competent elite can erect filters and keep the ship on near-even keel even in a democracy.
Is the Indian elite competent enough.
I guess we will find out. 

Hazara Genocide: Are the police just stupid or is there more to it?

As the systematic genocide against the Shia Hazara community in Balochistan continues unabated, Mohammed Hanif has a good piece on his interactions with “law enforcement” in Quetta.

Some choice quotes:
““Hazaras, you know, are our ladla babies,” said one of Quetta’s senior most police officer earlier this month. “We’ll do anything to protect them.” He was giving an off the record briefing and went into some detail about the number of security cordons he had thrown around the Hazara community in Quetta, particularly Hazara town. And what about their movement? Students, traders, office workers? Students going to the university, according to the police officer, got a police escort. The problems of food delivery were discussed. “Even the vegetable vendors get police escort,” he said triumphantly. And then like a true philosopher of law and order he went on to explain: “Do you know the basic problem with Hazaras? They look different; because of their features, they are easily identifiable.”

On Thursday, when eight of those pampered babies, with different features, were gunned down while buying fruit and vegetables, Quetta’s police was quick to absolve themselves. “We offered them escort, and they just didn’t tell us.”

Forget about the details, just look at the strategy: a well armed, organized group has declared war on Shias in general and Hazaras in particular (because they are so easy to identify; one reason racism works more effectively than most other forms of discrimination: the enemy is color coded or otherwise easily identifiable). This armed group runs countless madressas in which they teach their anti-Shia ideology. They have an organized militant wing that carries out assassinations and bombings. The police, charged with stopping this campaign and protecting Pakistani citizens, throws up ever higher walls around the Hazara community and wrings their hands when some terrorist either gets across the wall or some Hazara gets slaughtered wandering outside their prison.
Does this make any sense? 

What about tracking down and capturing (or killing) the killers? After all, they do not drop out of the sky and disappear under the earth, they live in and around Quetta. They meet somewhere. They plan their attacks. They make their bombs. They buy guns and ammunition. They have bases and hideouts.
And the police strategy is to build more walls around the Hazaras?
Are the policemen just stupid or is there more to this policy?

What do you think? 
I think they are stupid, but no more than any other subcontinental police force. Mostly “there is more to it”… First and foremost there is a dual government in Balochistan, with the army running it’s own regime and the so-called elected provincial govt twiddling their thumbs and looking for ways to make money doing so; Secondly, the army has other priorities when it comes to Jihadists, so an all out operation is inconceivable. Good jihadis must be protected while bad ones are hunted. It has never worked, but hell, this is the army that has been trying the same tricks in Kashmir for 65 years and “it has never worked” is not a problem for them; next year will be different. Armies from Madina Saani will conquer India and Khorasan and together with China we will rule the world, etc know the drill. 
Is there any way to change this? 
Or do we wait for the Hazaras to either die or leave? 

“we are muslims”

…“We have source besides the (Pakistan) army…people in
Kashmir are fighting….just need to incite them….
we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front
and back
….we are Muslims”…..

This is true, there is a hot war going on right now in Kashmir and all the familiar arguments (pro-war, pro-peace) are being re-hashed. It is time to examine them anew.

We have ex President/General Musharraf noting that the path to freedom in Kashmir involves inciting Kashmiri Muslims to launch an intifada. He is confident that the inherent strength in the “we are muslims” argument will (finally) lead to the vanquishing of a half-million strong Indian army.

Short response: Our opinion is that the only feasible way forward in Kashmir is to bring Indian civil society on-side by impressing on the moral arguments about self-rule. For that two things (at the minimum) need to happen. First, there has to be a popular consensus in India that meaningful peace is possible with Pakistan. As of now, only Pranay Sharma (see below) and a few committed leftists believe in this. Any Pak incitement will only lead to more Kashmiri deaths (and a rise in popularity of Modi).

Second, moral arguments are not convincingly made by (or on behalf of) people who do not have any inherent faith in them. Large sections of Kashmiri muslims rejoiced when the Pandits left. The argument is simple: get rid of the people (minorities) and the land is yours to enjoy for all times. As originally battle-tested by the proponents of the two nation theory, this winner-takes-all argument has been a winning one all across South Asia. Today in Hindu majority Telangana, the man in charge compares himself favorably to Hitler (see link below) and wants to chase away all Andhra people (also Hindu majority and Telugu speaking).

Thus to win the argument Kashmiri muslims (and their well-wishers such as Musharraf and a Hindu Brahmin like Vishal Bharadwaj) have to stipulate that suppression of the weak by the strong is wrong. But Musharraf is not making that argument. He is claiming that victory will come from Pak army fighting outside-in, even as the Intifada fights inside out. This “we are muslims” dream helped in the birth of Pakistan and (seemingly) helps hold Pakistan together even now. But it will not help liberate Kashmir.

Next, Bruce Riedel worries about a cross-border nuclear war and Pranay Sharma frets about Modi using “Pakistan card” to consolidate his power.

It is interesting (and typical) to see how differently the two analysts read the same situation, while “neocon” Riedel points out that not responding to Pakistan’s misadventures will encourage them to attack even more, “aman ki asha” Sharma is worried that a robust response from India will invite backlash from Pak (we think both predictions are correct, an ideological response holds constant regardless of the counter-response).

India has a no-first strike policy on nuclear weapons. Thus the only way a nuclear war happens is if Pakistan initiates a strike. Two things are for sure. First this will not happen without Chinese authorization and that seems unlikely. After all India CAN launch a nuclear missile on Beijing (it is a bit closer to home than MARS). Doomsday scenarios are fun to discuss but beyond the recycled concerns we doubt there is anything fresh to ponder upon.

Second, if Pakistan does strike it will be also the end of Pakistan as a nation. We know that the Pak army has a long history of being irresponsible, but we doubt they are suicidal. 

Former president General Pervez Musharraf on Thursday said Pakistan needs to incite those fighting in Kashmir, India Today reported.   
“We have source (in Kashmir) besides the (Pakistan) army…People in
Kashmir are fighting against (India). We just need to incite them,”
Musharraf told a TV channel.

Musharraf, who assumed power in 1999 soon after the Kargil conflict
as hostilities erupted between Indian and Pakistani troops in the area,
claimed that the Pakistan army is ready for war with India. But he
cautioned India against any misadventure.

“India should not be under the illusion that Pakistan will not hit back,” he warned.

“In Kashmir, we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front
and back…We are Muslims. We will not show the other cheek when we are
slapped. We can respond tit for tat,”
he said, while commenting on the
recent firing along the Line of Control and working boundary.

At least 12 people have been killed since India resorted to
‘unprovoked’ firing on the border.

“Modi is anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. He has not changed. The
problem is with us… We are running to attend his (Modi) inauguration, we
should keep our dignity.”


Let us be absolutely clear on this: the only person who has no dignity left over Kashmir is Ex-P/G Musharraf. He has been exposed as a person who was betraying his allies in the West and (specifically looking at Kargil) betraying his own (Muslim) troops.

The argument that democracy (even if imperfectly) should come to all corners of South Asia (and the near-abroad) is a powerful one.

But then Pakistan as the worst case offender should repair the democracy deficit urgently and teach big brother a “peaceful lesson” in how democracy works, starting with (muslim) people in “Azad Kashmir”. Unfortunately there is not a chance of that happening anytime soon, not in Pakistan, but also not in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. And we will be very surprised if Ex-P/G Musharraf will ever come to a position where his opinion counts for anything, except as a measure of what his fellow citizens think (and dream).

India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947 and had several
crises that went to the brink of war. Both tested nuclear weapons in
1998. Now tensions are escalating between the two again.

It began in May, when a heavily armed squad of Pakistani terrorists
from Lashkar e Tayyiba (Army of the Pure) attacked India’s consulate in
Herat, in western Afghanistan.
They planned to massacre Indian diplomats
on the eve of the inauguration of India’s new Hindu nationalist prime
minister, Narendra Modi. The consulate’s security forces killed the LeT
terrorists first, preventing a crisis.

Since LeT is a proxy of Pakistan’s military intelligence service
known as the ISI, Indian intelligence officials assume the Herat attack
was coordinated with higher-ups in Pakistan.  They assume another LeT
attack is only a matter of time.  They are probably right on both

This summer, clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops
have escalated along the ceasefire line in Kashmir. Called “the Line of
Control,” the Kashmiri front line this year has witnessed the worst
exchanges of artillery and small arms fire in a decade, displacing
hundreds of civilians on both sides. More than 20 have died in the
crossfire already this month. Modi has ordered his army commanders to
strike back hard at the Line of Control to demonstrate Indian resolve.

Although Modi made a big gesture in May when he invited his Pakistani
counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration, since then Modi has
canceled routine diplomatic talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and signaled a
tough line toward terrorism. He also appointed a very experienced
intelligence chief, Ajit Doval as his national security adviser. Doval
is known as a hard-liner on terrorism—and on Pakistan.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party strongly criticized his predecessor,
Manmohan Singh, for what it saw as a weak response to LeT’s attack on
Mumbai in 2008. No military action was taken after 10 LeT terrorists,
armed and trained by the ISI, killed and wounded hundreds of innocents,
including six American dead.

In 2001, a previous BJP government mobilized the Indian military for
months after a Pakistan-based terror attack on the Indian parliament.
The two countries were eyeball to eyeball in a tense standoff for almost
a year. Two years before that, the two countries fought a war in
Kashmir around the town of Kargil.

In the 1999 Kargil War, the Pakistani army crossed the LOC to seize
mountain heights controlling a key highway in Kashmir. BJP Prime
Minister Atal Vajpayee responded with airstrikes and ground forces. The
Indian navy prepared to blockade Karachi, Pakistan’s major port and its
critical choke point for importing oil. A blockade would have rapidly
cut off Pakistan from oil supplies. The Indian navy was so eager to
strike it had to be restrained by the high command.

The Pakistanis began losing the fight at Kargil. Then they put their
nuclear forces on high alert. President Bill Clinton pressured Nawaz
Sharif (the prime minister then and now) into backing down at a crucial
summit at Blair House on July 4, 1999. If Clinton had not persuaded
Sharif to withdraw behind the LOC, the war would have escalated further,
perhaps to a nuclear exchange.

Kargil is a good paradigm for what a future crisis might look like. A
BJP government is not likely to turn the other cheek. It cannot afford
to let terror attacks go unpunished. That would encourage more.

The difference between the Kargil War and today is that both India
and Pakistan now have far more nuclear weapons and delivery systems than
15 years ago. Pakistan is developing tactical nuclear weapons and has
the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world.
China provides
Pakistan with its nuclear reactors. India has missiles that can reach
all of Pakistan and even to Beijing. The escalatory ladder is far more
terrifying than it was on the eve of the millennium.

For retreating in 1999, Sharif was overthrown in a coup by the army
commander, Pervez Musharraf, who had planned the Kargil War. Now
Musharraf is calling for Sharif to stand up to Modi and not be pushed
around by India. The main opposition party leader, Bilawal Bhutto, has
called for a tough line defending Kashmiri Muslim rights, promising to
take “every inch” of Kashmir for Pakistan if he is elected prime
minister in the future. Sharif is under pressure from another party
leader, Imran Khan, to resign. The politics on both sides in South Asia
leave little room for compromise or dialogue.

America is seen in South Asia as a power in decline, a perception
fueled by the Afghan War. U.S. influence in New Delhi and Islamabad is
low. A Clinton-like intervention to halt an escalation will be a tough
act to follow. But the consequences of a nuclear exchange are almost too
horrible to contemplate.


The hype notwithstanding, Narendra Modi’s ‘tough’ line on Pakistan,
as reflected in the fortnight-long firing across the Line of Control and
the International Border by Indian and Pakistani soldiers, sets a
dangerous precedent.

A flag meeting that could have ended the firing between the rival
troops earlier than it did was put off because of India. Officials in
New Delhi justify the Indian stand to argue that it was to prevent
Pakistan from embarking on similar ‘adventurism’ in the future. In the
process, however, this also opens up space for India’s own ‘adventurism’
which it can adopt in dealing with other smaller neighbours as well.

To his myriad supporters, Modi’s hard stand against Pakistan is
something that was long needed. In Modi they see an Indian leader who
has finally decided to set the parameters of engaging with Pakistan in a
manner that is both effective and couched in terms that the neighbour
can well understand.

However, despite the prevailing mood of belligerence in the country,
especially among the prime minister’s admirers, the Modi government’s
policy of how to deal with Pakistan raises some serious concerns.

There are clear indications that much of India’s tough response was
fashioned by Modi to shore up his image domestically, especially before
the crucial assembly elections in Maharastra and Haryana.
According to a
report in the Economic Times, during the entire period of
firing at the border, Modi did not convene a single meeting of the
Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The decision to escalate the Indian
response to the Pakistani firing was taken solely by the Indian prime
minister and his national security advisor Ajit Doval, a former
Intelligence Bureau chief.

Modi decided to refer to the developments at the border and the tough
stand his government took several times during his campaigns in
Maharashtra and Haryana. This clearly shows that irrespective of the
death of several people, including hapless civilians living near the
border areas, the prime minister continued with his tough line to raise
his own stock
and brighten the chances of his party’s victory in the two assembly elections.

But the willingness to adopt such a stand and to use Pakistan to
build his own image can have negative implications. One, its success may
encourage him to play the Pakistan card every time he finds himself in a
spot and needs to boost his image with his countrymen at home. Two,
Pakistan can play this game of brinkmanship as well in future, with
dangerous consequences.

Whether or not it results in a war between the
two nuclear-armed countries, heightened tension between the hostile
neighbors will surely scare off potential investors from India and
derail India’s project of economic development.

More importantly, a tough, confrontational line drastically reduces
the diplo­matic space to resolve differences through peaceful
negotiations between the two countries. The precedent Modi is setting
can also send a negative signal to India’s smaller neighbors in South
Asia. If they continue to feel nervous about India, they may end up
moving closer to China
—the other big power in the region. And surely the
Indian leadership would not desire a possible scenario where India gets
isolated in South Asia. For the sake of its own development and growth,
India needs a peaceful neighborhood, particularly in South Asia.

The Indian prime minister will therefore have to go back from where
he started—by reaching out to India’s immediate neighbours. A policy
that not only ensures a peaceful neighbourhood but also allows the space
for others to grow and develop with India may turn out to be much more
effective in dealing with neighbours. Modi may as well show his strength
by taking the ‘tough’ political decision to reach out to Pakistan and
resume his engagement with the recalcitrant neighbour.


Suffice to say the Congress govt followed Sharma’s prescription and lost
respect on the international stage and politically at home. Sharma
makes the economic point that investments in India will suffer in case
of escalation in conflicts but then where were these investments in the
peacetime of 2009-2014?

Also, as is clear from the recent state elections
in Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi will keep winning due to a complete
vacuum in the opposition ranks. Congress is finished, Mayawati also
looks finished. Modi has been accepted as an OBC (Shudra) leader by Indians drawing from all sections of society. India is also an OBC nation by a large majority…thus we have a truly strange situation where powerful OBC communities like Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, and Jats in Haryana opposing Modi (and he will still win).

As far as the muslims are concerned the in-fighting between the “secular” parties have left them without any sure source of political patronage. The understandable reaction has been to vote for “communal” parties like AIMIM headed by the odious Akbaruddin Owaisi. Unfortunately, this will lead to even more marginalization. Strategically, it would make much more sense for muslims to vote for the BJP and make it bend to minority demands (this is starting to happen in some strange places….in Kerala and in West Bengal).

It is early days yet but Modi is transforming into Indira Gandhi (it is a good thing that he has no sons to hand over the baton when the time comes).
The weakness of Man Mohan Singh was that the public knew that he was a
puppet. So yes, India will not turn the “other cheek” as the
provocations keep coming…and Pakistan becomes more and more isolated
as a nation with no friends.

Finally, Pranay Sharma knows this well: small neighbors of India seem to be working much better with Modi than the small neighbors of China. Not to mention how the Iran-Pak border has become hot as well as Iranian soldiers violate borders and shoot down Sunni insurgents. It also seems that Afghanistan will not remain passive if ISI continues with the “incite muslims” strategy.

So all in all, even the strongest opponents of Modi are only peddling weak arguments. We have to look harder for better leaders and better arguments (since we are pro-peace after all) but right now all we see is Modi all around us (even if with a broom and a dusting-pan).

Link (1):

Link (2):

Link (3):

Link (4):


High Court Upholds Death Sentence on Aasia Bibi

Setting new records of shamelessness and spinelessness, the Lahore High Court has upheld the death sentence awarded to Aasia bibi for “blasphemy”.

For years now, the lower courts in Pakistan have taken the route of automatic award of death sentence in blasphemy cases. Lower court judges feel that they have no security and why should they put their life on the line for a Christian or an Ahmedi (and of course, for apostates they themelves almost certainly feel a death sentence is justified, so no conscience issues there)? They expect that the case will go to the High court and high court judges will either keep it in limbo forever or hear it and throw out the death penalty (helped, no doubt, by the transparent lack of due process at the lower court in a way the lower court judge is doing the accused a service by giving zero time to their defence and pronouncing sentence on the flimsiest of grounds).
Well, no more.
Christians and Ahmedis in Pakistan now face a legal situation whose closest parallel may be in the Jim Crow South, where Black defendants were frequently found guilty on the flimsiest of grounds and if acquited, faced mob justice and public lynching. But while the Jim Crow South has moved on (a lot, though not all the way), the situation in Pakistan is headed in the opposite direction.
A poor woman has been in prison for 4 years and now faces the very real prospect of execution for what is basically the crime of being “uppity”. 
Very sad.
Btw, this does shed light on what is clearly the weakest part of Ben Affleck’s ignorant but well-meaning liberal account of the Muslim world: the fact that the core Islamic world (really, everyone except Muslim countries that have been hit hard by communism, as in the Soviet Stans and in Xinjiang) is COMPLETELY illiberal when it comes to apostasy and blasphemy. Illiberal views on these issues are not fringe views in the Muslim world. Blasphemers are to be punished, usually by death. This is a MAJORITY view, supported by ALL major Islamic sects and their theologians. The notion that apostates are to be killed has a little less support, but is still the majority view in many countries and is again the clear consensus among orthodox Sunni theologians (I have little detailed knowledge of Shia theology, so I am leaving them out of it…they may believe exactly this as well). Based on these two memes, criticism of Islamists becomes a problem in all these countries and “reform from above”, enforced by Westernized rulers (like Ataturk) is always in danger because the religious establishment has never accepted it and the population continues to honor classical beliefs in principle (without knowing them too well, thanks to secularized education) and so is always available to be “reformed” back to those classical beliefs when circumstances change (as they have been changing in Turkey).
And so on.
Its not as hunky dory as Affleck and his fans may wish to believe.
For more, see this article about blasphemy laws.

Also note that while Aasia bibi cannot get out of jail no matter what, this guy apparently had no problem joining the Mujahideen after being imprisoned in Croatia and deported to Pakistan for being a Jihadist

Shoot rushdie

Imran Khan: between a rock and a hard place

For the past one month, Imran Khan has been spending several hours a day on top of a container in the heart of Islamabad, demanding that the elected government must resign (because he says so) and pave the way for him to become prime minister and finally create the Pakistan that was dreamt of by Iqbal and that will be run according to the model of the State of Medina. (I am not kidding, he regularly evokes both Allama Iqbal and the model state of Medina and seems to be seriously impressed by both). Unfortunately, his sincere admiraition is not matched by any detailed knowledge of either Allama Iqbal or the state of Medina. This causes problems when someone who knows a bit about either of them shows up to bully him…poor IK has to cave in. Very fast.

This is Imran Khan promising that in his new Pakistan, “the best will be appointed on merit” and he has just heard that Atif Mian, a Pakistani economist at Princeton is among the top 25 economists in the world, so Atif Mian will be his finance minister:

Imran Khan wants “Qadiani” Atif Mian to be his… by PakistantvTV

Atif Mian is apparently an Ahmedi.

Complete Interview IMRAN KHAN on MessageTv… by fame6

Why can Imran Khan not stand up to the Jamat e Islami or Hamid Gul or anyone with any Islamist credentials?

1. Imran Khan’s opinion of Iqbal and Islam is almost entirely based on what he learned in Pak studies and Islamiyat classes in Aitchison college Lahore. His knowledge of both may have progressed a little beyond that level …though only a little in the case of Iqbal: he still struggles to recite even one verse of Iqbal from fact, he tries the same verse repeatedly and has difficulty with it:
Sabaq Phir Parh Sadaqat Ka, Adalat Ka, Shujaat Ka
Liya Jaye Ga Tujh Se Kaam Dunya Ki Imamat Ka  (recite again the lesson of truth, of justice, of valor/ for you will asked again to lead the world)
OK, he may have difficulty reciting the verse, but he seems to genuinely believe in it. Maybe he is just one of those otherwise smart people who are not good with memorizing poetry, but there are other problems…

2. Based on what he learned in 6th grade (I know, because I learned the same things), he really believes there is an Islamic model, that model is perfect, that model was best understood and explained by Iqbal, and he can put it into practice if people will only make him prime minister. All the links in this chain are controversial, but let us assume that the first three are correct, is the fourth one also correct?

3. Unfortunately, no. Because even if the first three are true (An Islamic model exists, it is perfect, it is best explained by Iqbal), the fourth can only work if IK knows the first three links in some detail and is so smart and capable (in the sense of being able to do X) that he can maneuver past all the people who have bad versions of the model or who don’t want the model because they are evil or whatever, and put his vision (which is, of course, the correct vision) into practice. On current evidence, what would make you believe that? In hundreds of speeches he has never moved beyond the vaguest and most general bromides (“true Islam will provide justice to all”), what would make anyone think he actually has something more profound hidden somewhere? The Atif Mian flap is not just an example of IK withdrawing from a position double-quick once some bigot shows up to challenge him, it is also a good example of how his mind works. He read somewhere that Atif Mian is a famous economist and he is a Pakistani. Without knowing anything more about Atif Mian, the people who nominated him as a top economist or even about ecomonics, he jumped all in and decided someone like Atif Mian should be his finance minister?

He has been asked before about the topic of laws discriminating against Ahmedis. And he has made some encouraging noises (though even he knows enough to be stick to vagueness in this case)

Even if he has some Western/Modern/Secular liberal instincts, it is clear that he is unable to stand up for that particular vision of justice the moment someone shows up with Islamist credentials and bullies him to retract…

Quick rough translation (not every word is translated): I want to condemn this propaganda about me and my position about Qadianis (notice that he takes care to use the term Qadiani, not Ahmedi). This is propaganda by those who see their political death coming.  I am a Muslim. I have read the Quran (uses the feminine gender for the Quran repeatedly; his knowledge of Urdu is as shaky as his knowledge of Islam and Iqbal). I believe in the Quran. Whoever does not accept our beloved prophet as the final prophet is not a Muslim. So for someone to say that PTI will make some change in the 1973 constitution about laws relating to Qadianis after coming into power, this is a lie and it is propaganda. People who are giving fatwas about me without giving me a hearing are not being just. I am not a two-faced person. Wikileaks has said that I am the only politician in Pakistan who says the same thing behind closed doors as he does in public….this is my faith. This is the faith by which i live. “we follow Allah and we follow no one else”. This is challenging my faith. By which I live my life. 

Its not going to end well.

He was doing such good work with his hospital and his university. Another good man lost to Pakstudies and Islamiyat….

Sun wey bilori akh waaleya

The original

 The Coke studio version from Meesha Shafi

Whatever you may think of the new effort (“desecration of the original” or a vast improvement), it is interesting that coke studio (and Meesha Shafi’s expresions) is trying to to salute some folk and classical elements in their modernized version and the director of Anwara is trying to make his picturization of the folk-ish Punjabi song more modern… I detect at least a short essay opportunity in the journal of postcolonial studies..

Haider – a spectacular tour de force

Lady V & I just managed to catch Haider and I have to say it was a great adaptation of Hamlet in Kashmir. In Kampala I see Shakespearean adaptation but they aren’t even localised instead it’s copied over word for painful word (especially when done in a different accent so it’s a double adaptation).

Other than that Haider demonstrates the maturity and emerging role Bollywood is weighing on the national conscience. It demonstrates the open-air prison that Kashmir was as well as the huge more ambiguity amongst all protagonists.
Furthermore while staying true to Hamlet and Shakespeare it also managed to infuse a unique desi element that makes the adaptation so compelling. Haider at times was edge of the seat but also weighed on the individual conscience with searing glimpses of the different types of love (& hate) that define the human experience.

Pashtun power play(s)

….The Pushtuns are
divided among the Durrani, Ghilzai, Waziri, Khattak, Afridi, Mohmand,
Yusufzai, Shinwari….. each tribe is divided into subtribes…..divided into numerous
clans… Zahir Shah belongs to the Muhammadzai clan of the Barakzai subtribe of the Durrani
tribe. Such clan, subtribal, and tribal divisions contribute already
intense rivalries and divisions…..

For some time now there has been an expectation that post-2014 Af-Pak will go from a slow burning play-field to a hot fire battlefield. These fears are just a tiny bit less now that Ashraf Ghani has assumed powers (by consensus) and Americans are allowed to stay and fight (and contribute to the Afghan economy), unlike Iraq.

Traditionally we have had a lot of (gleeful) finger pointing from the left that if the world had simply ignored their attempt to transform Afghanistan into Cuba then things would have been just fine and dandy. The problem though is more basic: Pashtuns have never accepted the Durand line and the attraction for a national homeland (we would presume) would be just as strong as that of the Sikhs (and Kashmiris and Balochis…).

The difference between then and now is that the Pashtun powers that be now feel confident about their chances to create Pakistan in their own image. All the Taliban versions (Punjabi, Pashtun) may have differences in goals and opinions but doctrinally (and often operationally) they are brothers.

We have seen this Punjabi vs. Pashtun movie before when Afghan armies would raid Lahore and Delhi and Punjabi armies would go the other way. But we have not really seen a joint Punjabi-Pashtun operation to make Pakistan more pure and homogeneous.

The fear is not that the tribal districts will be ruled by religious nut-jobs (they already do), the worry is that Karachi and Lahore will fall in the hands of the extremists. This will happen as part of a well co-ordinated strategy. These people know what they are doing and they are capable of playing the long game.   

In this context meaningless words like “failed state” are not helpful, a state bound by powerful (but hateful) laws is not the same as a law-less state. The far greater problem may be “isolated state.” People – yes, lots of Hindus, Jews and Americans, but also Europeans and Chinese…and Arabs (!!!) – associating Pakistan with terrorism when it is actually Pashtun nationalism in alliance with Punjabi islamism hoping to create a Caliphate for the true believers, trying to establish territorial, cultural, and spiritual control through the power of the gun (and the mob).
Flying into Kabul earlier this week just before Afghanistan’s
presidential inauguration, a number of embassy cars sat waiting to pick
up VIPs and visitors from their respective nations. It was telling that
the Pakistani embassy cars were the only ones not armored.


After all,
because Pakistan supports the Taliban and its terrorism, the visitors
from Islamabad had about as much need for an armored car as Iranian
diplomats would in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon. Terrorism is
not a random phenomenon.

For many Americans, ancient history is
anything more than a decade or two old. While a generation of American
servicemen, diplomats, and journalists think about the border between
Afghanistan and Pakistan, they think about it in terms of one-way
infiltration: Pakistani-supported Taliban or other terrorists
infiltrating into Pakistan in order to conduct terrorism. In this, they
are not wrong. But if the broader sweep of history is considered, then
much of the infiltration went the other way, with Afghan and Pashtun
nationalists sneaking across the border into Pakistan’s Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province. (I had
summed up a lot of that history, here.)

As U.S. forces and America’s NATO partners prepare to withdraw upon
an arbitrary political deadline, terrorism will surge inside Afghanistan
but terrorism will not be limited to that country. Many Afghans
believe—and they are perhaps not wrong—that diplomacy will never
convince Pakistan to curtail its terror sponsorship. Pakistani officials
do not take American diplomats seriously. Pakistani diplomats either
lie shamelessly or purposely keep themselves ignorant of the actions and
policies of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Instead,
Afghans may increasingly turn to tit-for-tat terrorism, all with
plausible deniability: A bomb goes off in Kabul? Well, then a bomb will
go off in Islamabad. A Talib shoots an Afghan colonel? Well, then a
Pakistani colonel will mysteriously suffer the same fate.

Pakistan has supported Islamist radicalism since at least 1971, when
its defeat at the hands of Bangladeshi nationalists convinced the ISI
and President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that radical Islam could be the glue
that held Pakistan together and protect it against the corrosiveness of
ethnic nationalism. President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took that embrace of
Islamism to a new level.

The Pakistani elite has not hesitated to use the Taliban and various
Kashmiri and other jihadi and terrorist groups as a tool of what it
perceives as Pakistani interests. Sitting within their elite bubble,
they mistakenly believe that they can control these forces of radical
Islamism. That Pakistan has suffered 50,000 deaths in its own fight
against radicals suggests they are wrong. The blowback may only have
just begun, however.

Pakistanis may believe that an American withdrawal will bring peace
(on Pakistan’s terms) to Afghanistan, but they may soon learn the hard
way that Afghanistan can be an independent actor; that not every
official is under the control of, let alone easily intimidated by
Pakistan; and that terrorism can go both ways. That is not to endorse
terrorism—analysis is not advocacy—but simply a recognition that the
regional reverberations of the forthcoming American and NATO drawdown
will be far broader than perhaps both Washington and Islamabad consider.

As the United States prepared for war against Afghanistan, some
academics or journalists argued that Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qa’ida group
and Afghanistan’s Taliban government were really creations of American
policy run amok. A pervasive myth exists that the United States was
complicit for allegedly training Usama bin Ladin and the Taliban. 

example, Jeffrey Sommers, a professor in Georgia, has repeatedly claimed
that the Taliban had turned on “their previous benefactor.” David
Gibbs, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, made
similar claims. Robert Fisk, widely-read Middle East correspondent for
The Independent, wrote of “CIA camps in which the Americans once trained
Mr. bin Ladin’s fellow guerrillas.”(1) Associated Press writer Mort
Rosenblum declared that “Usama bin Ladin was the type of Soviet-hating
freedom fighter that U.S. officials applauded when the world looked a
little different.”(2)

In fact, neither bin Ladin nor Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Umar
were direct products of the CIA. The roots of the Afghan civil war and
the country’s subsequent transformation into a safe-haven for the
world’s most destructive terror network is a far more complex story, one
that begins in the decades prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


Afghanistan’s shifting alliances and factions are intertwined with
its diversity, though ethnic, linguistic, or tribal variation alone does
not entirely explain these internecine struggles. Afghanistan in its
modern form was shaped by the nineteenth-century competition between the
British, Russian, and Persian empires for supremacy in the region. The
1907 Anglo-Russian Convention that formally ended this “Great Game”
finalized Afghanistan’s role as a buffer between the Russian Empire’s
holdings in Central Asia, and the British Empire’s holdings in India.

The resulting Kingdom of Afghanistan was and remains ethnically,
linguistically, and religiously diverse. Today, Pushtuns are the largest
ethnic group within the country, but they represent only 38 percent of
the population. An almost equal number of Pushtuns live across the
border in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Ethnic Tajiks comprise
one-quarter of the population. The Hazaras, who generally inhabit the
center of the country, represent another 19 percent. Other groups —
such as the Aimaks, Turkmen, Baluch, Uzbek, and others comprise the

Linguistic divisions parallel, and in some cases, overlap ethnic
divisions. In addition to Dari (the Afghan dialect of Persian that is
the lingua franca of half the population) and the Pushtun’s own Pashtu,
approximately ten percent of the population speaks Turkic languages like
Uzbek or Turkmen. Several dozen more regional languages exist.(4)

Tribal divisions further compound the Afghan vortex. The Pushtuns are
divided among the Durrani, Ghilzai, Waziri, Khattak, Afridi, Mohmand,
Yusufzai, Shinwari, and numerous smaller tribes. In turn, each of these
tribes is divided into subtribes. For example, the Durrani are divided
into seven sub-groups: the Popalzai, Barakzai, Alizai, Nurzai, Ishakzai,
Achakzai, and Alikozai. These, in turn, are divided into numerous
clans.(5) Zahir Shah, ruler of Afghanistan between 1933 and 1973,
belongs to the Muhammadzai clan of the Barakzai subtribe of the Durrani
tribe. Such clan, subtribal, and tribal divisions contribute already
intense rivalries and divisions.

Religious diversity further complicated internal Afghan politics and
relations with neighbors. Once home to thriving Hindu, Sikh, and Jewish
communities as recently as the mid-twentieth century, Afghanistan today
is overwhelmingly Muslim. The vast majority — 84 percent — are Sunni
Muslims. However, the Hazaras are Twelver Shi’i, and so have sixty
million co-religionists in Iran. In the northeastern Badakhshan region
of Afghanistan, there are many Isma’ili Shi’ia. When I traveled along
the Tajik-Afghan frontier in 1997, numerous Tajik villagers told me they
had regular clandestine contacts with the Isma’ili communities “just
across the river,” despite the watchful guard of the Russian 201st

Many countries thrive on diversity. However, in the context of both
Afghanistan and the civil war, the fact that most identifiable Afghan
groups have co-linguists, co-ethnics, or co-religionists across national
boundaries became a catalyst for the nation’s collapse, as well as a
major determinant in the coalition-building during both the years of
Soviet occupation and post-liberation struggle. For example, the
Pushtuns of Kandahar have traditionally looked eastward toward their
compatriots in Pakistan, while the Persian-speakers of Herat have looked
westward into Iran. Uzbeks in Mazar-i Sharif have more in common with
their co-linguists in Uzbekistan than they have with their compatriots
in Kandahar.

As various Afghan constituencies looked toward their patrons across
Afghanistan’s frontiers for support, they created an incentive for
Afghanistan’s neighbors to involve themselves in internal Afghan
affairs. The blame cannot be placed only on outside interference in
Afghanistan, though, for the Afghan government has a long though often
forgotten history of interfering with the ethnic minorities in
surrounding countries and especially Pakistan.


Zahir Shah took the throne of Afghanistan in 1933 after the
assassination of his father, Nadir Shah. Zahir was not a strong leader,
though. As Louis Dupree, the preeminent anthropologist of Afghanistan
observed, “King Mohammed Zahir Shah reigned but did not rule for twenty
years.”(6) Instead, real power remained vested in his uncles who sought
to break Afghanistan out of both its isolation and dependence on either
the Soviet Union or Great Britain. It was during this period that
Afghanistan and the United States first exchanged ambassadors. The
Afghan government awarded a San Francisco-based engineering firm the
rights to develop hydroelectric and irrigation projects in the Hilmand
River Valley. Slowly, Afghanistan began drifting toward the West, both
politically and economically.

In 1953, Zahir Shah’s first cousin, the 43-year-old Muhammad Daoud
Khan became prime minister. Daoud sought to root out graft in the huge
Hilmand scheme, speed up reforms, but he remained a firm opponent of the
liberalization in Afghan society. Seeking to recalibrate Afghanistan’s
neutrality, Daoud sought closer relations with the Soviet Union.(7)
However, neutrality in the Cold War was a fleeting phenomenon.

Both the Soviet Union and the United States increasingly plied
Afghanistan with economic and technical assistance. Daoud’s government
sought to buy arms, and approached the United States several times
between 1953 and 1955. However he was unable to come to an agreement
with Washington, which tied arms sales to either membership in the
anti-Communist Baghdad Pact or at least in a Mutual Security Pact.(8)

The Soviet Union, though, was eager to supply what the United States
would not. In 1956, Afghanistan purchased $25 million in tanks,
airplanes, helicopters, and small arms from the Soviet bloc, while
Soviet experts helped construct or convert to military specifications
airfields in northern Afghanistan. The Cold War had come to Afghanistan.

While acceleration of the Cold War competition in Afghanistan — with
its subsequent tragic impact on the country — would be a major legacy
of Daoud, it would not be his most important one. Rather, during Daoud’s
premiership Afghanistan’s relations with neighboring Pakistan would
irreversibly sour. Afghanistan increasingly saw in Pakistan both a
competitor and a threat. Indeed, Daoud’s quest for arms was in large
part motivated by Afghanistan’s own cold war with Pakistan. However, it
was Daoud’s support for a Pushtun nationalist movement in Pakistan that
would have the greatest lasting repercussions.


The root of the Pushtunistan problem begins in 1893. It was in that
year that Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of India,
demarcated what became known as the Durand line, setting the boundary
between British India and Afghanistan, and in the process dividing the
Pushtun tribes into two countries.

The status quo continued until 1947, when the British granted both
India and Pakistan their independence. Afghanistan (and many Pushtuns in
Pakistan) argued that if Pakistan could be independent from India, then
the Pushtun areas of Pakistan should likewise have the option for
independence as an entity to be called “Pushtunistan,” or “land of the
Pushtun.”(9) Once independent of Pakistan, Pushtunistan would presumably
choose to unite with the Pushtun-dominated Afghanistan, to form a
“Greater Pushtunistan” (and also bolster the proportion of Pushtuns
within Afghanistan).

The Pushtunistan issue continued to simmer into the 1950s, with
Afghanistan-based Pushtuns crossing the Durand Line in 1950 and 1951 in
order to raise Pushtunistan flags. Daoud, prime minister from 1953 to
1963, supported the Pushtun claims. The issue soon became caught up in
Cold War rivalry. As Pakistan ensconced itself more firmly in the
American camp, the Soviet Union increasingly supported Afghanistan’s
Pushtunistan agitations.(10)

In 1955, Pakistan reordered its administrative structure to merge all
provinces in West Pakistan into a single unit. While this helped
rectify, at least in theory, the power discrepancy between West and East
Pakistan (the latter of which became Bangladesh in 1971), Daoud
interpreted the move as an attempt to absorb and marginalize the
Pushtuns of the Northwest Frontier Province. In March 1955, mobs
attacked Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, and ransacked the Pakistani
consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar. Pakistani mobs retaliated by
sacking the Afghan consulate in Peshawar. Afghanistan mobilized its
reserves for war. Kabul and Islamabad agreed to submit their complaints
to an arbitration commission consisting of representatives from Egypt,
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. Arbitration failed, but the
process provided time for tempers to cool.(11)

Twice, in 1960 and in 1961, Daoud sent Afghan troops into Pakistan’s
Northwest Frontier Province. In September 1961, Kabul and Islamabad
severed diplomatic relations and Pakistan attempted to seal its border
with Afghanistan. The Soviet Union was more than happy to provide an
outlet, though, for Afghanistan’s agricultural exports, which the
Soviets airlifted out from the Kabul airport. Between October and
November 1961, 13 Soviet aircraft departed Kabul daily, transporting
more than 100 tons of Afghan grapes.(12) The New Republic commented,
“The Soviet Government does not intend to miss any opportunity to
increase its leverage.” Indeed, not only did the Soviet Union “save” the
Afghan harvest, but Pakistan’s blockade also effectively ended the U.S.
aid program in Afghanistan.(13)

Pakistan, meanwhile, looked with growing suspicion on the apparent
development of a Moscow-New Delhi-Kabul alliance.(14) For the next two
years, Afghanistan and Pakistan traded vitriolic radio and press
propaganda as Afghan-supported insurgents fought Pakistani units inside
the Northwest Frontier Province. On March 9, 1963, Daoud stepped down.
Two months later, with the mediation of the Shah of Iran, Pakistan and
Afghanistan reestablished diplomatic relations.

Nevertheless, the Pushtunistan issue did not disappear. In 1964,
Zahir Shah called a loya jirga — a general assembly of tribal leaders
and other notables — during which several delegates spoke out on the
issue. Subsequent Afghan prime ministers continued to pay lip service to
the issue, keeping the irritant in Afghan-Pakistani relations alive.

Even if Kabul’s support for Pushtun nationalist aspirations did not
pose a serious challenge to the integrity of Pakistan, the impact on
Pakistan-Afghanistan relations was lasting. As Barnett Rubin commented
in his 1992 study, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan, “The resentments
and fears that the Pashtunistan issue aroused in the predominantly
Punjabi rulers of Pakistan, especially the military, continue to affect
Pakistani perceptions of interests in Afghanistan.”(15)


In 1973, Daoud overthrew his cousin Zahir Shah and declared
Afghanistan a republic. Pakistan, still reeling from the secession of
Bangladesh, feared a return of the fierce Pushtun nationalism of Daoud’s
first term. Meanwhile, Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, embracing a
strategy of Third World activism, sought to exploit Daoud’s coup to
retrench Soviet regional interests.(16)

In 1971, Pakistan fought a bloody and, ultimately unsuccessful, war
to prevent the secession of East Pakistan which, backed by India, had
declared its independence as Bangladesh. While Pakistan had been founded
on the basis of Islamic unity, the 1971 war reinforced the point that
in Pakistan, ethnicity trumped religion. Accordingly, Pakistan viewed
Daoud’s Pushtunistan rhetoric (and his simultaneous support for Baluchi
separatists), as well as his generally pro-India foreign policy, as a
serious threat to Pakistani security.

Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto responded by supporting
an Islamist movement in Afghanistan, a strategy that Islamabad would
replicate two decades later with the Taliban.(17) For Islamabad, the
strategy was two-fold. Not only could Pakistan deter Afghan expansionism
by pressuring Afghanistan from within, but also a religious opposition
would have broad appeal in an overwhelmingly Muslim country without the
implicit territorial threat of an ethnic-nationalist opposition. It was
from this Islamist movement that Pakistan’s intelligence agency,
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would introduce the United States to
such important later mujahidinfigures as Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmad Shah
Masud, and Gulbuddin Hikmatyar. The latter is actually a Ghilzai
Pushtun, but from the north, with only limited links to the Pushtuns of
the south. Accordingly, he was not considered a Pushtun nationalist by
his Pakistani benefactors (or most Afghans).(18)

In 1974, the Islamists plotted a military coup, but Daoud’s regime
discovered the plot and imprisoned the leaders — at least those who did
not escape to Pakistan. The following year, the Islamists attempted an
uprising in the Panjshir Valley. Again they failed, and again the
Islamist leaders fled into Pakistan. Islamabad found that supporting an
Afghan Islamist movement both gave Pakistan short-term leverage against
Daoud, and also a long-term card to play should Afghanistan again seek
to strategically challenge its neighbor to the East. With a sympathetic
force in Afghanistan, Pakistan would be better able to influence
succession should the elderly Daoud die. It was thus in the mid-1970s,
while both the United States and the Soviet Union continued to ply the
Kabul regime with aid, that Pakistani intelligence — with financial
support for Saudi Arabia — first began their ties to the Islamist
opposition in Afghanistan.(19)


Under Daoud’s presidency, Afghanistan became increasingly polarized.
The Islamists were by no means the only opposition seeking to reshape
the status quo. Just as Pakistan backed the Islamist opposition, the
Soviet Union threw its encouragement behind the People’s Democratic
Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), sometimes referred to by either of its two
constituent factions, the Khalq and the Parcham. The Khalq and the
Parcham effectively remained competitors under separate leadership
between 1967 and 1977, when the Soviet Union pressured them to reunite.

Why did the Soviet Union shift its support from Daoud, with whom it
previously had a good relationship? Barnett Rubin explains that Soviet
policy toward the Third World underwent a fundamental shift in the
1970s. The ouster of President Sukarno in Indonesia and Anwar Sadat’s
decision to expel Soviet advisers from Egypt convinced Moscow that it
could no longer rely on non-communist nationalists. Simultaneously, the
American defeat in Vietnam had emboldened the Soviet Union to push
harder and compromise less.(20)

In 1978, a leading Parcham official fell to an assassin’s bullet.
Massive demonstrations erupted against Daoud and the CIA, which Parcham
blamed for the killing. Daoud responded by arresting the PDPA
leadership, spurring military officers sympathetic to the PDPA to move
against his government. On April 27, 1978, they seized power in a bloody
coup. On April 30, a Revolutionary Council declared Afghanistan to be a
Democratic Republic.

The Soviet Union welcomed the new regime with a massive influx of
aid. However, the old rivalries between the Khalqis, who dominated the
new government, and the Parchamis, crippled the regime. Hafizullah Amin
sought to implement the Khalq’s program through brute force and terror,
alienating many of his former partners. The Soviet Union, witnessing the
disintegration of state control, sought to salvage their influence in
Afghanistan through a change of leadership, but Hafizullah Amin refused
to accept Soviet dictates.


Having lost in Iran’s Islamic revolution their staunchest regional
ally, the United States again sought to engage Afghanistan. In December
1979, Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, not willing to lose the tenuous
Soviet advantage in Afghanistan, sent the Red Army pouring into the
country. When Hafizullah Amin still refused to relinquish power, Soviet
units stormed his palace and executed him. While the Red Army and its
client regime in Kabul controlled the city, the Soviets were never fully
able to gain control over the countryside. Pockets of resistance
continued despite all attempts to stamp them out.

Despite the oversimplifications of some in academe and opponents of
the military campaign against the Taliban, the mujahidin was not simply
created by the CIA in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion. Rather, as
Red Army crack soldiers flew on Aeroflot planes into Kabul, and as
Soviet tanks rolled across the Friendship Bridge from what is now
Uzbekistan, a cadre for the enlargement of the Afghan mujahidin already
existed. This cadre had remained in Pakistani exile since their failed
uprising four years before. However, even if the mujahidin existed prior
to the Soviet invasion, it was the occupation of a foreign power that
caused the mujahidin movement to grow exponentially in both influence
and size as disaffected Afghans flocked to what had become the only
viable opposition movement.


The decision to arm the Afghan resistance came within two weeks of
the Soviet invasion, and quickly gained momentum.(21) In 1980, the
Carter administration allocated only $30 million for the Afghan
resistance, though under the Reagan administration this amount grew
steadily. In 1985, Congress earmarked $250 million for Afghanistan,
while Saudi Arabia contributed an equal amount. Two years later, with
Saudi Arabia still reportedly matching contributions, annual American
aid to the mujahidin reportedly reached $630 million.(22) This does not
include contributions made by other Islamic countries, Israel, the
People’s Republic of China, and Europe. Many commentators cite the huge
flow of American aid to Afghanistan as if it occurred in a vacuum; it
did not. According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, the Soviet
Union contributed approximately $5 billion per year into Afghanistan in
an effort to support their counterinsurgency efforts and prop up the
puppet government in Kabul.(23) Milton Bearden, Central Intelligence
Agency station chief in Pakistan between 1986 and 1989, commented that
by 1985, the occupying Soviet 40th army had swollen to almost 120,000
troops and with some other elements crossing into the Afghan theater on a
temporary duty basis.(24)

Initially, the CIA refused to provide American arms to the
resistance, seeking to maintain plausible deniability.(25) (The State
Department, too, also opposed providing American-made weapons for fear
of antagonizing the Soviet Union.(26) The 1983 suggestion of American
Ambassador to Pakistan Ronald Spiers, that the U.S. provide Stingers to
the mujahidin accordingly went nowhere for several years.(27) Much of
the resistance to the supply of Stinger missiles was generated
internally from the CIA station chief’s desire (prior to the accession
of Bearden to the post) to keep the covert assistance program small and
inconspicuous. Instead, the millions appropriated went to purchase
Chinese, Warsaw Pact, and Israeli weaponry. Only in March 1985, did
Reagan’s national security team formally decide to switch their strategy
from mere harassment of Soviet forces in Afghanistan to driving the Red
Army completely out of the country.(28) After vigorous internal debate,
Reagan’s military and national security advisors agreed to provide the
mujahidin with the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. At the time, the
United States possessed only limited numbers of the weapon. Some of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff also feared accountability problems and
proliferation of the technology to Third World countries.(29) It was not
until September 1986, that the Reagan administration decided to supply
Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahidin, thereby breaking the
embargo on “Made-in-America” arms.

[While there was significant fear of Stinger missiles falling into
the wrong hands in the 1990s, very little attention was paid to the
threat from the anti-aircraft missiles in the 2001 U.S. campaign against
the Taliban. This may have been due to an early 1990s covert campaign
to purchase or otherwise recover surplus Stinger missiles still in the
hands of the mujahidin factions .](30)

The CIA may have coordinated purchase of weapons and the initial
training, but Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controlled
their distribution and their transport to the war zone. John McMahon,
deputy director of the CIA, attempted to limit CIA interaction with the
mujahidin. Even at the height of American involvement in Afghanistan,
very few CIA operatives were allowed into the field.(31) Upon the
weapons’ arrival at the port of Karachi or the Islamabad airport, the
ISI would transport the weapons to depots near Rawalpindi or Quetta, and
hence on to the Afghan border.(32)

The ISI used its coordinating position to promote Pakistani interests
as it saw them (within Pakistan, the ISI is often described as “a state
within a state”).(33) The ISI refused to recognize any Afghan
resistance group that was not religiously based. Neither the Pushtun
nationalist Afghan Millat party, nor members of the Afghan royal family
were able to operate legally in Pakistani territory. The ISI did
recognize seven groups, but insisted on contracting directly with each
individual group in order to maintain maximum leverage. Pakistani
intelligence was therefore able to reward compliant factions among the
fiercely competitive resistance figures.(34) Indeed, the ISI tended to
favor Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most militant Islamist of the
mujahidin commanders, largely because Hekmatyar was also a strong
proponent of the Pakistani-sponsored Islamist insurgency in Kashmir.(35)
Masud, the most effective Mujahid commander, but a Tajik, received only
eight Stingers from the ISI during the war.

Outside observers were not unaware that Pakistan had gained
disproportionate influence through aid distribution. However, India, the
greatest possible diplomatic check to Washington’s escalating
relationship with Islamabad, removed herself from any position of
influence because its unabashed pro-Soviet policy eviscerated any
American fear of antagonizing India. The U.S. State Department
considered India a lost cause.(36)

While beneficial to Pakistani national interests at least in the
short-term, the ISI’s strategy had long-term consequences in promoting
the Islamism and fractiousness of the mujahidin. However, the degree to
which disunity would plague the mujahidin did not become fully apparent
until after the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was a bleeding wound for the Soviet Union. Each year, the
Red Army suffered thousands of casualties. Numerous Soviets died of
disease and drug addiction. The quick occupation had bogged down into a
huge economic drain at a time of tightening Soviet resources. In 1988,
Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev announced his intention to withdraw
Soviet troops. Despite Gorbachev’s continued military and economic
assistance to Najibullah, Afghanistan’s communist president, most
analysts believed the Najibullah would quickly collapse. The CIA
expected that, at most, Najibullah would remain in power for one year
following the Soviet withdrawal.

However, Najibullah proved the skeptics wrong. Mujahidin offensives
in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal failed. Washington had only
budgeted money to support the mujahdin for one year following the Soviet
withdrawal, but Saudi and Kuwaiti donors provided emergency aid, much
of which went to Hikmaytar and other Wahabi commanders.(37) While the
United States budgeted $250 million for the mujahidin in 1991, the
following year the Bush administration allocated no money for military
assistance. Money is influence, and individuals in the Persian Gulf
continued to provide almost $400 million annually to the Afghan

Many Afghan specialists criticized the United States for merely
walking away from Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ed
Girardet, a journalist and Afghanistan expert, observed, “The United
States really blew it. They dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato.”(39)
Indeed, Washington’s lack of engagement created a policy void in which
radical elements in the ISI eagerly filled. However, to consider
Afghanistan in a vacuum ignores the crisis that developed when, on
August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Washington’s attention and
her resources shifted from the last battle of the Cold War to a
different type of conflict.

Islamist commanders like Hikmaytar, upset with the U.S.-led coalition
in the Persian Gulf, broke with their Saudi and Kuwait patrons and
found new backers in Iran, Libya, and Iraq. [Granted, while the break
was sudden, the relationship with Tehran was not. Hikmaytar had started
much earlier to collaborate with Iran]. It was only in this second phase
of the Afghan war, a phase that developed beyond much of the Western
world’s notice, that Afghan Arabs first became a significant political,
if not military, force in Afghanistan.


One of the greatest criticisms of U.S. policy, especially after the
rise of the Taliban, has been that the CIA directly supported Arab
volunteers who came to Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Soviets,
but eventually used those American arms to engage in terrorist war
against the West. However, the so-called “Afghan Arabs” only emerged as a
major force in the 1990s. During the resistance against the Soviet
occupation, Arab volunteers played at best a cursory role.

According to a former intelligence official active in Afghanistan
during the late 1980s, the Arab volunteers seldom took part in fighting
and often raised the ire of local Afghans who felt the volunteers merely
got in the way. In an unpublished essay, a military officer writing
under the name Barney Krispin, who worked for the CIA during its support
of the Afghan mujahidin’s fight against the Soviet Army, summoned up
the relationship between Afghan and non-Afghan fighters at that time:

The relationship between the Afghans and the Internationalists was
like a varsity team to the scrubs. The Afghans fought their own war and
outsiders of any stripe were kept on the sidelines. The bin Ladin’s of
this Jihad could build and guard roads, dig ditches, and prepare fixed
positions; however, this was an Afghan Jihad, fought by real Afghans,
and eventually won by real Afghans. Bin Ladin sat out the ‘big one.’

Milton Bearden, former CIA station chief in Pakistan, was equally blunt, writing:

Despite what has often been written, the CIA never recruited,
trained, or otherwise used the Arab volunteers who arrived in Pakistan.
The idea that the Afghans somehow needed fighters from outside their
culture was deeply flawed and ignored basic historical and cultural

Bearden continued to explain though that while the Afghan Arabs were
“generally viewed as nuisances by mujahidin commanders, some of whom
viewed them as only slightly less bothersome than the Soviets,” the work
of Arab fundraisers was appreciated.(40)

In 1995, Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan Army Colonel and top
military planner on the directing staff of the Islamic Unity of Afghan
Mujahidin, along with Lt. Col. Lester W. Grau, US Army, ret., a career
Soviet Foreign Area Officer, published a collection of essays by
mujahidin commanders explaining their tactics in various engagements.
Throughout their essays, various commanders make reference to the
presence of Afghan Arabs, often in ways which indicate their combat role
was marginal at best. For example, describing a 1987 mujahidin raid on a
division garrison in Kandahar, Commander Akhtarjhan commented, “We had
some Arabs who were with us for jihad credit. They had a video camera
and all they wanted to do was to take videos. They were of no value to
us.”(41) Similar comments were made by other commanders.

So where did the Afghan Arabs come from? Many of the volunteers
originated in the Muslim Brotherhood or other radical Islamist
organizations. The Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Coordination Council
organized both the new recruits, and disbursement of assistance. In
Pakistan, Arab volunteers staffed numerous Saudi Red Crescent offices
near the Afghan frontier.

The Arab volunteers also disproportionately gravitated to the
Ittihad-i Islami (Islamic Union), led by Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf.
Sayyaf was a Pushtun, but he long lived in Saudi Arabia, had studied at
al-Azhar in Cairo, and spoke excellent Arabic. Sayyaf preached a strict
Salafi version of Islam critical of manifestations of both Sufism and
tribalism in Afghanistan. However, successful as he was with Saudi
financiers, he remained unpopular among ordinary Afghans both because of
his rampant corruption and also because Afghans considered both Sayyaf
and his fundamentalist brand of Islam foreign.(42)

Even without a central role in the jihad, though, Afghan Arabs did
establish a well-financed presence in Afghanistan (and the border
regions of Pakistan). While he does not cite his source, Pakistani
journalist Ahmed Rashid estimated that between 1982 and 1992, some
35,000 Islamists would serve in Afghanistan.(43)

Is the United States responsible for creating the Afghan Arab
phenomenon? It would be a gross over-simplification to ascribe the rise
of the Taliban to mere “blowback” from Washington’s support of radical
Islam as a Cold War tool. After all, while many mujahidin groups are
fiercely religious, few adhere to the combative radicalism of the Arab
mercenaries. Nor can one simply attribute the rise of Islamic
fundamentalism to U.S. involvement, for this ignores the very real fact
that a country preaching official atheism occupied Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, by delegating responsibility for arms distribution to the
ISI, the United States created an environment in which radical Islam
could flourish. And, with the coming of the Taliban, radical Islam did
just that.


The Taliban seemingly arose from thin air. Newspapers like The New
York Times only deemed the Taliban worthy of newsprint months after it
had become the dominant presence in southern Afghanistan.(44) The rise
of the Taliban was accompanied by heady optimism. Just as many Iranian
opponents of the Islamic Republic freely admit to having initially
supported Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a wide variety of Afghans from
various social classes and cities told me in March 2000 that they too
were initially willing to give the Taliban a chance, even though few
still supported the movement at the time of my travel through the
Islamic Emirate. Teachers, merchants, teachers, and gravediggers all
said that the Taliban promised two things: Security and an end to the
conflict between rival mujahidin groups that continued to wrack
Afghanistan through the 1990s and, indeed, until the ultimate victory of
the Northern Alliance with U.S. air support in December 2001.

Following the 1989 withdrawal of the Soviet military, Afghan
president Najibullah managed to maintain power for three years without
his patrons. In 1992, ethnic Tajik mujahidin forces captured Kabul and
unseated the communist president. However, Rabbani, Ahmad Shah Masud,
and ethnic Uzbek commander General Rashid Dostum could not control the
prize. Hikmatyar immediately contested the new government that, for the
first time in more than three centuries (except for a ten-month
interlude in 1929), had put Tajiks in a predominant position. Hikatyar’s
forces took up positions in the mountains surrounding Kabul preceded to
shell the city mercilessly. Meanwhile, Ismail Khan controlled Herat and
much of Western Afghanistan, while several Pushtun commanders held sway
over eastern Afghanistan.

Kandahar and southern Afghanistan was in a state of chaos, with
numerous warlords and other “barons” dividing not only the south, but
also Kandahar city itself into numerous fiefdoms. Human Rights Watch
labeled the situation in Kandahar “particularly precarious,” and noted
that, “civilians had little security from murder, rape, looting, or
extortion. Humanitarian agencies frequently found their offices stripped
of all equipment, their vehicles hijacked, and their staff
threatened.”(45) Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid argued that the
internecine fighting, especially in Kandahar, had virtually eliminated
the traditional leadership, leaving the door open to the Taliban.(46)

Afghanistan became a maelstrom of shifting alliances. Dostum defected
from his alliance with Rabbani and Masud, and joined Himatyar in
shelling the capital. The southern Pushtun warlords and bandits
continued to fight each other for territory, while continuing to sell
off Afghanistan’s machinery, property, and even entire factories to
Pakistani traders. Kidnappings, murders, rapes, and robberies were
frequent as Afghan civilians found themselves in the crossfire.

It was in the backdrop to this fighting that the Taliban arose, not
only in Afghanistan, but also among Afghan refugees and former mujahidin
studying in the madaris (religious colleges) of Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid
conducted interviews with many of the founders of the movement in which
they openly discussed their distress at the chaos afflicting
Afghanistan. After much discussion, they created their movement based on
a platform of restoration of peace, disarmament of the population,
strict enforcement of the shari’a, and defense of the “Islamic
character” of Afghanistan.(47) Mullah Muhammad Umar, an Afghan Pushtun
of the Ghilzai clan and Hotak tribe who had been wounded toward the end
of the conflict with the Soviet army, became the movement’s leader.

The beginning of the Taliban’s activity in Afghanistan is shrouded in
myth. Ahmed Rashid recounted what he deemed the most credible:
Neighbors of two girls kidnapped and raped by Kandahar warlords asked
the Taliban’s help in freeing the teenagers. The Taliban attacked a
military camp, freed the girls, and executed the commander. Later,
another squad of Taliban freed a young boy over whom two warlords were
fighting for the right to sodomize. A Robin Hood myth grew up around
Mullah Umar resulting in victimized Afghans increasingly appealing to
the Taliban for help against local oppressors.(48)

Territorial conquest began on October 12, 1994, when 200 Taliban
seized the Afghan border post of Spin Baldak. Less than a month later,
on November 3, the Taliban attacked Kandahar, the second-largest city in
Afghanistan. Within 48 hours, the city was theirs. Each conquest
brought the Taliban new equipment and munitions — from rifles and
bullets to tanks and MiG fighters, for their continued advance.(49) The
Taliban maintained their momentum and quickly seized large swathes of
Afghanistan. By February 11, 1995, they controlled 9 of Afghanistan’s 30
provinces. On September 5, 1995, the Taliban seized Herat, sending
Ismail Khan into an Iranian exile. Just over one year later, Jalalabad
fell, and just 15 days later, on September 26, 1996, the Taliban took

A stalemate ensued for almost eight months, but shattered when
General Malik rebelled against Dostum, allowing Taliban forces into the
north. On May 24, 1997, the Taliban seized Mazar-i Sharif, the last
major city held by the mujahidin. However, after just 18 hours, a
rebellion forced the Taliban from the city. When the Taliban again took
the refugee-swollen city in August 1998, they took no chances, brutally
massacring thousands. With Dostum in an Uzbek exile, the only major
mujahidin commander remaining was Ahmad Shah Masud, nicknamed ‘the Lion
of the Panjshir’ for his heroism during the war against the Soviets.(50)

While supported materially by Pakistan, the Taliban relied heavily
upon momentum in its near-complete conquest of Afghanistan. Following
the fall of Kandahar, thousands of Afghan refugees, madrasa students,
and Pakistani Jamiat-i Ulama supporters rushed to join the movement.
Ahmed Rashid estimates that by December 1994, more than 12,000 recruits
joined the Taliban.(51) Each subsequent Taliban victory resulted in
thousands of new recruits. Often these victories were less a result of
military prowess than cooption of opposing warlords into the Taliban

I was in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997, when the Taliban first marched on
the city. Their advance was surprisingly fast (leaving foreigners in the
city scrambling to evacuate). The reason was they had simply coopted
General Dostum’s deputy Malik, who was in command of the neighboring
province. Rather than fighting their way through more than 100
kilometers, the Taliban force suddenly found themselves with free
passage to within a dozen kilometers of the city.

Stalemate ensued as the Taliban were unable to gain significant
ground against Masud, who retained control of between 5 and 10 percent
of Afghan territory. The fight between the mujahidin forces commanded by
Masud and the Taliban became a fight between those who had been
beneficiaries of American assistance in the 1980s, and those who had
sprung to prominence in the aftermath of American withdrawal from Afghan


The Taliban became the latest incarnation of Pakistan’s desire to
support Islamist rather than nationalist rule in neighboring
Afghanistan. The Taliban arose in madaris on Pakistani territory. Upon
the capture of Spin Baldak, mujahidin commanders in Kandahar immediately
accused Pakistan of supporting the new group. In late October 1994, the
local mujahidin warlords intercepted a convoy containing arms, senior
ISI commanders, and Taliban.(52) The men and material in this transport
proved crucial in the seizure of Kandahar.

Even after the stalemate ensued between the Taliban and Ahmad Shah
Masud, Pakistan provided the Taliban with a constant flow of new
recruits. Rumors spread throughout the city while I was there that 5,000
new ‘Punjabis’ were on their way into Afghanistan to supplement the
fight against Masud. Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Julie
Sirrs gained access to Taliban prisoners held by Ahmed Shah Masud; among
them were several Pakistani mercenaries.

Merchants in the book market in central Kabul talked about seeing
many Pakistanis “here for jihad.” In Rish Khor, on the outskirts of
Kabul, operated a training camp for the Harakat ul-Mujahidin, a
Pakistani-supported terrorist group waging a separatist campaign against
India.(53) It was members of this group that hijacked an Air India
flight from Nepal to Kandahar in December 1999, eventually releasing the
hostages after Taliban mediation and escaping. Afghanistan provided a
useful base not only to train pro-Pakistani militants and terrorists,
but also to give them field experience.

While politicians in Islamabad repeatedly denied that Pakistan
supported the Taliban, the reality was quite the opposite.(54) While
some Taliban trade occurred with Turkmenistan and even Iran, and the
Taliban benefited from the supply of opium to all of its neighbors,
Pakistan remained the effective diplomatic and economic lifeline for the
Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. Senior ISI veterans like Colonel “Imam”
Sultan Amir functioned as district advisors to the regional Taliban
leadership. Pakistan also supplied a constant flow of munitions and
recruits for the Taliban’s war with the Northern Alliance, and provided
crucial technical infrastructure support to allow the Taliban state to

This did not represent a radical change in Pakistan’s Afghanistan
policy. Rather, Islamabad’s support of the Taliban was simply a
continuation of a pattern to support Islamist rather than nationalist
factions inside its neighbor. Nor was the ISI the only supporter of the
Taliban within the Pakistan government. Former Prime Minister Benazir
Bhutto’s interior minister Nasrullah Babar also staunchly supported the
group. Robert Kaplan, correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly went so far
as to argue that Bhutto and Babar “conceived of the Taliban as the
solution to Pakistan’s problems.”(56) Ahmed Rashid commented, “The
Taliban were not beholden to any single Pakistani lobby such as the ISI.
In contrast the Taliban had access to more influential lobbies and
groups in Pakistan than most Pakistanis.”(57)

Taliban volunteers, interviewed by Human Rights Watch, described
Pakistani instructors at Rish Khor which, according to Afghans I
interviewed, also served as a training camp for the Harakat
ul-Mujahidin, the violent Kashmiri separatist group engaged in terrorist
operations against India.(58) Citizens of Kabul derisively spoke of
“Punjabis,” volunteers from Pakistan. Guarding ministries in Kabul in
March 2000 were Taliban officials who only spoke Urdu, and did not speak
any Afghan language. The Pakistani government did not dispute reports
that thousands of trained Pakistani volunteers serving with the

While the Pakistani government was directly complicit in some forms
of support for the Taliban, just as important was its indirect support.
In 1971, there were only 900 madaris (religious seminaries) in Pakistan,
but by the end of President Zia ul Haq’s administration in 1988, there
were over 8,000 official madaris, and more than 25,000 unregistered
religious schools.(60) By January 2000, these religious seminaries were
educating at least one-half million children according to Pakistan’s own
estimates.(61) The most prominent of the seminaries — the Dar al-Ulum
Haqqania from which the Taliban leadership was disproportionately drawn
— reportedly had 15,000 applications for only 400 spots in 1999.(62)

Ahmed Rashid comments that the mullahs running most of the religious
schools were but semi-literate themselves, and blindly preached the
religious philosophy adopted by the Taliban. Visiting one such religious
seminary in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, students
told a Western reporter that, “We are happy many kaffirs [infidels] were
killed in the World Trade Center.” Regarding Muslim casualties in the
World Trade Center, one student responded, “If they were faithful to
Islam, they will be martyred and go to paradise. If they were not good
Muslims, they will go to hell.” The seminary students generally learn
only Islam, tainted with strong strain of anti-Westernism and


Where does Usama bin Ladin fit into the picture? The Taliban and
Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qa’ida network retained distinct identities.
Indeed, only in 1996 did Usama bin Ladin relocate from refuge with the
Sudanese government to the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Bin Ladin caused a
seeming paradox for Afghanistan watchers. On one hand, the Taliban,
recognized as the government of Afghanistan by only Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, sought to break its isolation. On
the other hand, the Taliban continued to shelter Usama bin Ladin, even
after his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania.

As the media turned its attention to Afghanistan after September 11,
many commentators sought answers as to why the Taliban continued to host
Usama bin Ladin, despite the international ire that he brought to the
regime. CNN’s correspondent even went so far as to postulate that the
Taliban could not turn over Usama bin Ladin because of Afghanistan’s
tradition of hospitality (something which did not stop the Afghans from
killing nearly 17,000 British men, women, and children evacuating Kabul
under a truce during the First Afghan War in 1842.)

The answer to the paradox is actually much more mundane, and also a
result of the discrepancy in the fighting ability of the Taliban versus
the mujahidin commanders like Ahmad Shah Masud who had received U.S.
support and training in the 1980s. Masud remained undefeated against the
Red Army and, lacking both men and material, he managed to stubbornly
hold back the Taliban from the last five percent of Afghanistan not
under their control. Masud’s secret was superior training and a fiercely
loyal cadre of fighters. While the Taliban’s rank-and-file may have
talked jihad, more often than not they would flee or hide when the
bullets began to fly. Unlike Masud’s men, the Taliban simply were
incapable of fighting at night.

Bin Ladin brought with him to Afghanistan a well-equipped and
fiercely loyal division of fighters-perhaps numbering only 2,000. While
many of these trained in al-Qa’ida’s camps for terrorism abroad or
protected bin Ladin and his associates at their various safe-houses, bin
Ladin made available several hundred for duty on the Taliban’s
frontline with Masud, where they assured the Taliban of at a minimum
continued balance and stalemate. While the Taliban suffered a high
international cost for hosting bin Ladin, this was offset by the
domestic benefits the regime gained. The war with the Northern
Alliance-not recognition by Washington or even the Islamic World-was the
Taliban’s chief priority.


In hindsight, and especially after the World Trade Center and
Pentagon attacks, it is easy to criticize Washington’s shortsightedness.
But American policymakers had a very stark choice in the 1980s: Either
the United States could support an Afghan opposition, or they could
simply cede Afghanistan to Soviet domination, an option that might
result in an extension of Soviet influence into Pakistan.

Contrary to the beliefs of many critics of American foreign policy,
the United States is not able to dictate its desires even to foreign
clients. Washington needed Pakistan’s cooperation, but Pakistan was very
mindful of its own interests. Chief among these, especially following
the secession of Bangladesh in 1971, was minimizing the nationalist
threat to Pakistani integrity. Islamabad considered Afghanistan,
especially with successive Afghan government’s Pushtunistan claims, to
pose a direct challenge to Pakistani national security. Accordingly,
Islamabad only allowed religiously based rather than nationalist
opposition groups to operate on Pakistani territory. If American
policymakers wanted to oppose Soviet imperialism in Afghanistan, then
they simply would have to accede to Pakistani interests.

The United States is not without fault, however. Following the Soviet
Union’s collapse, Washington could have more effectively pressured
Pakistan to tone down the support for Islamic fundamentalism, especially
after the rise of the Taliban. Instead, Washington ceded her
responsibility and gave Pakistan a sphere of influence in Afghanistan
unlimited by any other foreign pressure.


1. Robert Fisk, “Think-Tank Wrap-Up,” United Press International,
September 15, 2001; “Public Enemy No. 1, a title he always wanted,” The
Independent, August 22, 1998.
2. Mort Rosenblum, “Bin Ladin once
thought of as ‘freedom fighter’ for United States.” Chattanooga
Times/Chattanooga Free Press, September 20, 2001. Even some foreign
dignitaries have sought to promote the myth. In a December 7, 2001,
interview with the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily al-Safir, Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak commented, “…When the so-called Mujahideen
went to Afghanistan, they became more extreme, and began to disseminate
extremist ideas. People like Omar Abd Al-Rahman and bin Laden were
American heroes.”
3. “Afghanistan,” The World Factbook 2001
(Washington: Central Intelligence Agency, 2001) . (After more
than two decades of war, any statistics regarding Afghan demographics
must be considered only approximations.)
4. Ibid.
5. Vartan
Gregorian, “The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and
Modernization, 1880-1946,” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969),
6. Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980,) p.477.
7. Dupree, p.507.
8. Dupree, pp.510-511.
9. Dupree, pp.485-494.
Barnett Rubin, Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and
Collapse in the International System (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1995,) p.82.
11. Dupree, pp.538-539.
12. Dupree, p.546.
13. “George Washington Ayub,” The New Republic, October 30, 1961, p.7.
Amin Saikal, “The Regional Politics of the Afghan Crisis,” in: Amin
Saikal and William Maley, eds., The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989,)p.54.
15. Barnett Rubin, pp.63-64.
T.H. Rigby, “The Afghan Conflict and Soviet Domestic Politics,” in:
Amin Saikal and William Maley, eds. The Soviet Withdrawal from
Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989,) p.72.
17. Barnett Rubin, p.100.
18. Najmuddin A. Shaikh, “A New Afghan Government: Pakistan’s Interest,” Jang, (Internet edition)December 1, 2001.
19. Barnett Rubin, pp.100-101.
20. Barnett Rubin, p.99.
Alan J. Kuperman, “The Stinger missile and U.S. intervention in
Afghanistan,” Political Science Quarterly, No. 2, Vol. 114, June 1999.
22. Barnett Rubin, pp.180-181.
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Islam, Oil, and the New Great Ga e in Central
Asia. (London and New York: I.B. Tauris and Company, 2000,) p.18.
24. Milton Bearden, “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001.
25. Ibid.
26. George Schulz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993,) p.692.
27. Kuperman, “The Stinger missile and U.S. intervention in Afghanistan”
Steve Coll. “Anatomy of a Victory: CIA’s Covert Afghan War; $2 Billion
Program Reversed Tide for Rebels,” The Washington Post, July 19, 1992,
29. Kuperman, “The Stinger missile and U.S. intervention in Afghanistan”
30. Interview with former CIA operative, November 1998.
31. Kuperman, “The Stinger missile and U.S. intervention in Afghanistan,”
32. Barnett Rubin, p.197.
33. Pamela Constable, “Pakistani Agency Seeks to Allay U.S. on Terrorism,” The Washington Post, February 15, 2000, p.A17.
34. Barnett Rubin, pp.181,198-199.
35. Kuperman, “The Stinger missile and U.S. intervention in Afghanistan”
36. Amin Saikal. “The Regional Politics of the Afghan Crisis,” p.59.
37. Barnett Rubin, p.182.
38. Barnett Rubin, p.183.
Mort Rosenblum, “bin Ladin once thought of as ‘freedom fighter’ for
United States,” Chattanooga Times/Chattanooga Free Press, September 20,
40. Bearden, “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001.
Commander Akhtarjhan, “Raid on 15 Division Garrison,” In: Ali Ahmad
Jalali and Lester W. Grau, eds. The Other Side of the Mountain:
Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. (Quantico, Virginia: The
United States Marine Corps Studies and Analysis Division, 1995,)p.396.
42. Rubin, 223-224; Rashid, p.85.
43. Rashid, p.130.
44. See: John Burns. “New Afghan Force Takes Hold, Turning to Peace,” The New York Times, February 16, 1995, p.A3.
45. “Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity,” Human Rights Watch, July, 2001, Vol. 13, No. 3, p.15.
46. Rashid, p.19.
47. Rashid, p.22.
48. Rashid, p.25-26.
49. “Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity,” Human Rights Watch, July, 2001, Vol.13, No. 3, p.15.
50. See chronology in Rashid, p.226-235.
51. Rashid, p.29.
52. Rashid, p.28.
Michael Rubin and Daniel Benjamin, “The Taliban and Terrorism: Report
from Afghanistan,” Policywatch, The Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, No. 450, April 6, 2000.
54. For Pakistani denials of support
for the Taliban, see: Pamela Constable. “Pakistani Agency Seeks to Allay
U.S. on Terrorism,” The Washington Post, February 15, 2000, p.A17.
55. “Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity,” Human Rights Watch, July, 2001, Vol.13, No. 3, p.23.
Robert Kaplan, “The Lawless Frontier; tribal relations, radical
political movements and social conflicts in Afghanistan-Pakistan
border,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1, 2000.
57. Amit Baruah. “Pak. Ripe for Taliban-style revolution,” The Hindu, February 24, 2000.
58. “Afghanistan: Crisis of Impunity,” Human Rights Watch, July, 2001, Vol. 13, No. 3, p.29.
59. Gregory Copley, “Pakistan Under Musharraf,” Defense and Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy, January 2000.
60. Rashid, p.89.
61. Gregory Copley, “Pakistan Under Musharraf,” Defense and Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy, January, 2000.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, “Pakistan’s Taliban Problem; And America’s Pakistan
Problem,” The Weekly Standard, Vol. 7, No. 8, 2001, p.24.
63. Barry
Shlachter, “Inside Islamic seminaries, where the Taliban was born,” The
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 25, 2001. The views of the Pakistani
madrasa students were equally anti-Western before the September 11
attacks. See: Robert Kaplan, “The Lawless Frontier; tribal relations,
radical political movements and social conflicts in Afghanistan-Pakistan
border,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1, 2000.


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