I saw theses on some Instagram political meme pages (don’t ask, Herald and Newsline aren’t around and this is how satire gets passed around once the world and the economy make magazines un-viable) and I was left with some questions.
My query was:
Are Hindu nationalists jealous of the Taliban’s success?
How do they really feel about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan?
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above.
This episode was recorded over the phone, so please excuse some minor audio issues. As many of our readers know, we posted an article from Major Amin a few days ago, arguing that the US had made a brilliant strategic move out of Afghanistan (even though the disengagement has been handled poorly). In this podcast, he repeats this view and has a few salty words about this and related topics.. Enjoy.
Postscript 1: Several friends have said that they cannot take his views seriously if he thinks “lower middle class” is such an insult, etc. But I no longer use that particular filter too much. I think people can have very “problematic” AND insightful views simultaneously. If we are interested in learning (and not just in virtue signaling) then we can filter them out and still find something useful. Of course, friends will do that all the time with each other, but I admit that it is a more complicated question when we talk with strangers online, so if you feel strongly about this issue, this may not be the podcast for you.
Postscript 2: Is there anything in the podcast that I should have objected to during the conversation? I think yes, there is. I should have suggested that we cannot really say “the only good Chinese is a dead Chinese”. Other than that, I have no regrets 🙂
After a long delay, I’ve dropped part 4 of my continuing series on the Eurasian steppe and its history (I am currently planning on going down to the 13th century AD…so this should take me into 2022 since I’ve barely made it beyond 2000 BC as of now). The next installment is planned to be on the early Indo-Iranians and their connection to the Fatyanovo–Balanovo culture, and subsequent expansion in the Andronovo expansion (this will compliment my twopieces on India from last January).
I had posted an earlier blog post with the somewhat tongue in cheek title “America’s brilliant strategy in Afghanistan”. This was basically a note (and an audio version of the same) from Major Amin, arguing that strategically a US exit was a brilliant move as it ensured that this tar baby is now the problem of Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran (and to some extent, India), and not an expensive American headache. The thought is strategically sound (if very cynical and cold blooded), but I have some doubts about whether the US is consciously trying to do this (they may indeed end up doing this, and could even emerge stronger, with their rivals weaker, as a result, but that may not have been the conscious intention). Anyway, here, in no particular order, are my random thoughts on this topic:
There are no grounds for thinking that the same damn people who created the disaster and were wrong about it at every step for 20 years are now suddenly these Machiavellian geniuses who will trap Pakistan and its patron China (not to mention Russia and Iran) in Afghanistan. It is far more likely that the geniuses are still dreaming of “engagement”, only now instead of engaging with Musharraf and the anti-Taliban Afghans, they will engage with General Bajwa and the Taliban. These geniuses will now sell new kool aid about how the new government they have helped to install will ensure security and crackdown on alqaeda and whatever bogeyman the Americans are now supposed to be scared of. And of course, to do this the new “anti-terror allies” will need aid (part of which will be stolen by corrupt Americans at step one, the rest to be stolen locally by these new allies, with a small trickle making it to starving afghans). Meanwhile, these new allies, not new to the game themselves, will make sure a steady supply of “alqaeda number threes” are handed over to be housed in Guantanomo or wherever. They will also make sure there are enough terror incidents and threats to keep the show going forever. We will of course get mucho dinero from the EU as well, since that is the only way refugees can be kept out of fortress Europe (or at least, this is the line that will be sold on TV). Now, this may NOT come to pass fully like this because Western powers are still democracies, there will be debate and the best laid plans of mice and thinktankers may be thwarted by bad publicity and “aid fatigue”, but NOT by their own planning. In short, the US and the West may indeed end up leaving the tar baby to less gentle caretakers, but they will do so unwillingly and in spite of themselves, NOT because this (sensible) plan is what they have opted for now that the first (nonsensical) grand strategic plan has failed and they have well and truly lost the war.
The failure in any case is not a failure of Democrats or Republicans, it is a systemic failure of the entire postmodern Western establishment. And the systemic failure starts from the vast gap that exists between Western civ and the rest of the world. For better AND for worse, the West has moved very far from where most humans were a century ago. Leaving aside all questions of whether this is good, bad or ugly, or whether this is sustainable or not, the fact remains that at this point in time the average ivy league educated “analyst” is bound within so many layers of WEIRD assumptions and habits that he or she (maybe especially she, since she will not have hormonal access to the patriarchal and macho world of men outside the West; though this is by no means a general rule; some Western women can also know men AND women and their quirks very well) has no framework for even beginning to see what is going on. Garbage in, garbage out is always true, but it is also worth remembering that there CAN be a machine that converts good information into garbage. If the software is faulty, then non-garbage going in will also become garbage on the way out. This should not be forgotten.
Some people say that Western corporate capitalism has become so powerful that it has now eaten through whatever older human paradigms were operating (and are still operating at some level) in Western societies. If this is indeed the case then the questions become all about who profits and who loses? but the twist here is that the usual Lefty answers are also mostly propaganda. War is profitable, but so is peace. Peace is actually MORE profitable for more corporations than war is. But if war profits alone were (and are) driving policy choices, then the issue becomes one of how SOME corporations and individuals (who DO profit from war) have managed to capture institutions to such an extent that their profits drove policy to invade Afghanistan? and their profits will determine what comes next? People have strong opinions on this, but I find that most of the opinions turn out to be emotional outbursts or propaganda on close examination. There is almost certainly SOMETHING to this angle of attack, but I still think, not as much as advertised; because I think they make money when they get the chance, but getting the chance was not something they planned in detail.. eg, “corporations” (who would that even be?) did not blow up the towers just so they could go to war. Other human concerns (race, religion, identity, national interest, individual madness, individual desire to do good, plain stupidity, error, chance, etc) are still driving us.
The whole notion of “non-state actors” is a huge red herring. There ARE non-state actors, and states usually defeat them. They are mostly a police issue, not a military issue. A really serious insurgency (Vietcong, Taliban, Kashmir, etc etc) needs overt or covert state support. Conversely, the really cost-effective counter (provided you have the conventional forces to have such an option) is to confront the states supporting them. The notion that the USA is helpless in front of some ragtag gang of Islamist mujahids is just bullshit. At some point, the US could be up against sponsors that the US cannot go to war with (China, Russia) and would then have to settle for other measures, but to fail to get countries such as Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan to change their behavior (short of being under the a full Chinese or Russian umbrella) is a choice, not a given.
The Taliban are going to rule all of Afghanistan now because the US chose to give them the country (whether as part of some Machiavellian scheme or just because Khalilzad and Trump were idiots), but they will not do so in some mythical “inclusive” or “moderate” fashion. They will not last long if they do anything that stupid, and they are not stupid. Their asabiya comes from Islam and their core supporters are committed to a very jihadist and harsh version of Islam. They can certainly be smart enough to act moderate or to include non-taliban in their govt because of considerations of realpolitik and their fighters have enough discipline and their ISI minders have enough influence that this can be done. But just as the Chinese communists included many non-communists in their national reconciliation councils or whatever, but never lost sight of the need for unity of command and clear authority over all aspects of national life, so will the Taliban. if they dont, they will fall quicker than expected. That said, they will not enjoy a free run. There will be many groups trying to undermine them. There will be criminals There will be smugglers. There will be local warlords. They will have to be harsh, they WILL be harsh, but they still wont enjoy enough tranquility to start giving out mining concessions to Shenyang Mining corporation number five or whatever. The US may eventually get out of the region (with think tankers kicking and screaming about “failure of engagement” all the way) and then will be able to enjoy the show from a safe distance. But with so many intelligence agencies and agents operating at every level, peace is not likely. Neither is it likely that the Taliban regime (even if it stabilizes) will totally eliminate all the various terrorists who are still holed up in Afghanistan. Ideologically, they cannot. Practically they cannot.
There will be massive economic disruption in Afghanistan very very soon. The whole place was running on American taxpayer money (and smaller contributions from the EU and others). Even though the think-tankers will try their level best to keep the manna flowing, it is not likely to reach even a tenth of the levels achieved in the corrupt war years. Neither China nor Russia believe in throwing money into tar pits. So who will pay? The afghan people will pay, by moving abroad (mostly to Pakistan and Iran, luckier ones further West), by living on less, by selling what drugs they can (though most of that profit goes to middlemen and smugglers, not to the growers). Pakistan will pay what it can, which is not a lot. There is no way there can be a sudden turnaround and prosperity and mining contracts raining down on Kabul. None.
But can there be a longer term recovery? Can China do what the USA could not? build a viable Afghan state? I doubt it. I doubt that they will even try. At best, they will give some money to Pakistan to have a go, but it will not be American level cash, it will be strictly “cash on delivery”. Can Pakistan deliver them a functioning Afghanistan? Our entire past record suggests we cannot. For the sake of the Afghan people, I hope I am wrong.
India mostly gets to sit tight and hope that their “balakot deterrence” still holds after Pakistan has so decisively defeated the great Satan. It could. We will see. Mostly, I think India comes out of this relatively OK. Their main issue is whether this will embolden Pakistan to restart the kashmir Jihad. It may. It may not.
Major Amin has also raised another interesting question: this one for Pakistani think tankers who think they have won some grand victory by defeating the USA. His thought is “what if our boys actually succeed”? ie what if the Taliban. actually stabilize their government and become a viable state? The think tankers in Pakistan maybe missing the possibility that these “grains of sand” (the Afghans) could come together to form a solid mass at some point. And at that point, they will start thinking about strategic depth in Pakistan. After all, if Islamic zeal is what gave them victory, then why not export that zeal to Pakistan? and who better to do it than Afghans? I believe the crucial point here is that Pakistanis (especially our Punjabi and Mohajir elites) have this misconception that just because they (through no great gifts of their own) are inheritors of the Sikh conquests and the administrative machinery and mercenary army of the Raj, they are somehow eternally meant to lord it over the Afghans. This is NOT how any Afghan (Leftist, Rightist, whatever) sees themselves. They are down and out right now because the Sikhs drove them out of the trans-Indus districts and the British created a modernish state in the region that is much more sophisticated and capable than the Afghan state (which was not very advanced to begin with, and whatever it was, we managed to utterly destroy in the first CIA Jihad in the 1980s). But this is not some sort of eternal historic truth. A truly stable Afghanistan will want those districts back and will export true Islam to Pakistan as the means with which to get their way. The current arrangement, with Pakistani officers issuing (or at least, trying to issue) orders to Afghans is only because the Taliban lack many things that only a modernish state can supply and we are that supplier. Let them get settled in, and they will start to look East. We cannot afford to let them win in the way Sethi sahib thinks we want (and hope to).
From the last post: Some people have asked if this was not inevitable. I think it was not. I think there was a slim chance in 2002 to make it work. But it involved two very difficult (but doable) things; 1. A more competent American occupation and transition. and 2. Pakistan decisively switching sides and abandoning Jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan (since the one is our justification for the second, both had to go). 1 in retrospect seems near impossible. 2 may have been more doable than 1, So putting the primary blame on Pakistan may be a bit unfair now. (Until a week ago, I might have blamed Pakistan first; though i saw the American effort as hugely corruption ridden and frequently incompetent, even I had not idea HOW incompetent it was. THAT effort was never going to succeed. Though it did not have to end in giving the country to the Taliban. It could still have ended with the US leaving a pro-US govt behind, who would likely have held on to some areas if given some money and support. Anyway, after what we have seen of american incompetence and cynical abandonment of friends, I think 1 (US incompetence and strategic and tactical blindness) is the more important reason this failed. Without Pakistan the Taliban could not have retaken the country. Without US incompetence, neither could have won their respective victories.
Below is an opinionessay in the New York Times by Afghan National Army (ANA) Lieutenant General Sami Sadat. LTG Sami Sadat,only 36, is one of the most loved and respected men in all of Afghanistan. He demonstrated remarkable success as the commander of the 215th Maiwand ANA Corps before being recalled to Kabul. The ANA lost over 70,000 Killed in Action (KIA). Including the MoI (Ministry of Interior) ANP (Afghan National Police), NDS (National Directorate of Security) and Arbekai the total Killed in Action was probably well over 100,000. The exact number is not known since the Afghanistan MoI and MoD (Ministry of Defense) have both classified the numbers since 2010 because they were afraid it would harm morale. In 2020 alone ANDSF KIA was likely over 15,000. I have been told that many of the ghost soldiers in many ANA battalions were actually KIA being kept on the rolls so that their salaries could support their families.
Posting LTG Sami Sadat’s NYT essay for those who can’t read it through the pay wall:
I Commanded Afghan Troops This Year. We Were Betrayed.
Aug. 25, 2021
By Sami Sadat
General Sadat is a commander in the Afghan National Army.
For the past three and a half months, I fought day and night, nonstop, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province against an escalating and bloody Taliban offensive. Coming under frequent attack, we held the Taliban back and inflicted heavy casualties. Then I was called to Kabul to command Afghanistan’s special forces. But the Taliban already were entering the city; it was too late.
It’s true that the Afghan Army lost its will to fight. But that’s because of the growing sense of abandonment by our American partners and the disrespect and disloyalty reflected in Mr. Biden’s tone and words over the past few months. The Afghan Army is not without blame. It had its problems — cronyism, bureaucracy — but we ultimately stopped fighting because our partners already had.
It pains me to see Mr. Biden and Western officials are blaming the Afghan Army for collapsing without mentioning the underlying reasons that happened. Political divisions in Kabul and Washington strangled the army and limited our ability to do our jobs. Losing combat logistical support that the United States had provided for years crippled us, as did a lack of clear guidance from U.S. and Afghan leadership.
I am a three-star general in the Afghan Army. For 11 months, as commander of 215 Maiwand Corps, I led 15,000 men in combat operations against the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan. I’ve lost hundreds of officers and soldiers. That’s why, as exhausted and frustrated as I am, I wanted to offer a practical perspective and defend the honor of the Afghan Army. I’m not here to absolve the Afghan Army of mistakes. But the fact is, many of us fought valiantly and honorably, only to be let down by American and Afghan leadership.
This interview with an American journalist, Lara Logan, who has been reporting on Afghanistan for nearly 2 decades now and has been on the ground, is worth watching.
It is nearly an hour long but I would request people to take some timeout and watch it in full. It is indispensable if you want to get a sense of what has happened in Afghanistan.
There are a few important takeaways from this, as I see it.
First and the most important, the US was actively working towards the creation of the outcome that we see today. That it wanted to leave Afghanistan was already made known by the US a few years back. But the interesting and befuddling aspect is that the US was negotiating its exit plan with the Taliban while keeping the Afghan Govt. out of it. India was also kept out of it while China, Russia and Pakistan were part of it.
It looks pretty certain therefore that the US establishment had already decided that once it leaves, it will hand over the power in Afghanistan to Taliban and leave the Ashraf Ghani Govt. in the cold. So things have likely gone as per the script.
The second important takeaway is how much compromised the US Govt. policy, especially its foreign policy is. I have no idea if Trump was a compromised leader but he was certainly confrontational and ruffled quite a few feathers including that of China. On the other hand, Biden has been much more accommodating towards China. Biden, as stated in the interview, is just an expendable figurehead and a fall guy who gets to take all the blame and shame. It was also evident by the way Biden was selected as the Presidential candidate and then how he won the Presidential election, despite his old age and clearly evident lack of competence for the job, that there were powerful forces working behind the scenes who were deeply interested in Biden getting the top job.
One thing that had me scratching my head while watching an otherwise brilliant interview was when Lara described how influential the Pakistani lobby is in Washington and the Pentagon and how it was mainly responsible in making the US do the things it did in Afghanistan. I find it a little hard to believe for two reasons.
1. Pakistan’s main problem in Afghanistan was India and not the US. Clearly, if Pak was so influential with the US, why did it not lobby and get India out of Afghanistan or atleast diminish its influence. One might say, getting the US out of Afghanistan was the only way to get India out as well but it looks a very long winded way to get your thing.
2. Is it really possible that the Pakistani lobby is so powerful that it could dictate US foreign policy in Afghanistan ? Wouldn’t that be extraordinary ? Why not look for what is more obvious ?
What about the elephant in the room, China ? As Lara agrees, China would be the single most happy country with exit of the US. The rise of China has come about through a strong backing by the US and the interests of the US corporates and the CCP are likely to be aligned together since decades. Nothing can beat the US corporate lobby in Washington. Can it ? Pakistan is a Chinese lackey. It would do so as directed by China. Therefore, while Pakistan may have played its role in handling the Taliban, its role is unlikely to be more than that of a facilitator. The real player pulling the strings could be China and maybe Russia.
China has now a free hand in Central Asia and Afghanistan. It has unrivalled amount of money to through around and buy allegiances everywhere for its BRI project. Besides Pakistan, China had a 400 billion $ deal with Iran recently. And now the Taliban also seems very welcoming towards China.
The question for us Indians is – what has India been doing in all of this ? And did India have a plan all along or does it have any right now ? The US has certainly shown itself to be a very unreliable ally. That is an important lesson I hope New Delhi does not forget.
The world is surprised, and now even memeing, about the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the outside country most responsible for this (unless you count America and the stupidity of its occupation strategies as the most responsible) there have been broadly three camps on this. The majority feeling was one of awkwardness, trepidation and a calling of the equivalent of councils of war. In the Army Chief’s staff rooms, in the Prime Minister’s and Chief Ministers and political party heads’ secretariats and across media stations in Pakistan, the national security and Afghanistan experts were on display and they were giving their council to their respective audiences on what was happening with the fall of Kabul and what it meant.
A smaller minority was one that was sometimes part of this but also openly condemning the takeover of the Taliban. Honourable mention should go to the Women’s Democratic Front for openly condemning the takeover of Afghanistan and various branches of Pakistan’s new-on-the-scene Aurat March (Women’s March) parroted their view. Frankly, I am very happy for the Aurat Marchers to get an explicit foreign policy – that would be cool. The PPP, as far as I can tell did not explicitly condemn the Taliban takeover in Kabul and as far as I know, no Pashtun nationalist formation did either, although if the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement did, I am waiting for their views.
Lastly, I have to mention the Taliban supporters. From heads of religious groups, to Taliban and ’80’s Afghan Mujahideen fanboys in the Pakistani media, this was, I feel, an even smaller group, restricted by age, that was openly hailing the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. It really was/is a sight to behold to see men in the media, of or beyond retirement age, hailing the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban – a sick joke. My guess is younger fans of the Taliban were either intelligently hiding, or more likely taking part in either jihadi ops or doing propaganda or harassment for the Taliban. So the pro-Taliban crowd inside Pakistan might be quieter than its portrayed – a bit like Italy after it switched ides in WWII to join the Allies against Germany.
But that’s Pakistan. What about India? This is one time BP commenters are welcome. Sound off and tell us what the Indians thought about the Taliban, what were the camps inside the country and how large they are.
Postcript — The Pakistan government and establishment’s view:
The official Pakistan government view, of the foreign ministry, the part allegedly controlled by Imran Khan says that they will not stick their neck out as an individual country and will only recognise Taliban control of Afghanistan if a group of countries, likely Russia, China and Iran, all simultaneously recognise the Taliban’s control of Kabul. I used the word alleged, because the foreign ministry takes its marching orders from the Pakistan Army’s General Hear Quarters, Imran Khan is fine with that, and so the foreign ministry’s views are the Army and establishment’s views.
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above.
In this episode Amey, myself and Karol Karpinski (Karol is a self-described financial plumber at the World Bank, with experience in Afghanistan and other “gap” countries) talk about Afghanistan and the American pullout. Check it out, leave comments. We hope to talk again soon on this topic and focus on aspects we left out.
If you want to just hear my summary of what happened in Afghanistan, it starts at the 7 minute mark. I think i talked too much, and should have asked Karol more questions, but that will have to be the next podcast 🙂