[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]
I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur
In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.
Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.
On this weblog, there is sometimes a silly debate between Hindu nationalists and anti-Hindu anti-nationalists about the scope and size of Indian and Hindu cultural spheres (the terms “Indian” and “Hindu” being interchangeable for much of history). I stumbled onto this comment from Isidorus of Charax (a Greek subject of the Parthian Empire) in his Parthian Stations:
19. Beyond is Arachosia, 36 schoeni. And the Parthians call this White India; there are the city of Biyt and the city of Pharsana and the city of Chorochoad and the city of Demetrias; then Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia; it is Greek, and by it flows the river Arachotus. As far as this place the land is under the rule of the Parthians.
Here Isidorus is alluding to the Indo-Greeks who were dominant in much of Afghanistan and Bactria to the north. “White India” in the first few centuries A.D. seems to have meant the Helmand Valley, modern southern Afghanistan.
Apparently in the Avesta this region is asserted to be staunchly Zoroastrian. Either there is confusion and misrepresentation, or, Zoroastrianism retreated during this period. Though this specific case can be dismissed, it does seem to be a fact that under the Parthians and Sassanids the eastern and northeastern fringe of the Iranian world was coming under strong Buddhist influences. In the early period, Buddhism was, of course, the “Indian religion” (just as Islam was and is the “Arab religion”), so presumably, it was a vector for Indian cultural influence.
Mr. Djab Mara greeted them by burning cherry ballart leaves to cleanse their spirits. Then his partner, Ms. Mahomet, an Arrernte woman, invited the young visitors to view the same tree Ms. Jakobi had unknowingly driven by all her life.
A fourth-generation descendant of a Baluch cameleer who settled in Geraldton, Western Australia, set up a sheep station and married an Aboriginal woman, is proud of her heritage on both sides. She says that it was difficult for her ancestor to acquire permanent residence and permission to marry, but the Afghans were honourable men who preferred to marry rather than rape local women.
Last few years I have been working on horizontal and vertical spread of conflict in the Middle East. This is first of the series looking at each player. This one was the outcome of my own trips to Washington every few months to get some feel of beltway currents. I have no specific insight but want to provide some glimpses of the issues facing the region.
“I have had lobbyists, and I have had some very good ones. They could do anything.” Donald Trump
In United States, domestic and foreign entities engage in lobbying at federal and state levels to promote their interests. In the last few years, many Arab countries have increased their lobbying efforts in Washington to promote their interests. In 2017, open conflict between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain on the other has spilled over into international arenas. In Washington, these efforts are multi-faceted including marshalling support of large businesses, think tanks, universities, legislators and public policy influencers.
The meteoric rise of a 30-year-old previously unknown royal family member to the dizzying height and sidelining of the old hands of Royal family in Saudi Arabia changed power dynamics inside the kingdom. This resulted in some competition even in Washington. Crown Prince and interior minister Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef hired a lobbying firm run by a Trump campaign advisor Robert Stryk. The firm was paid $5.4 million to make inroads into new administration. However, in June 2017 when Muhammad Bin Nayef was removed from his positions and Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) elevated as Crown Prince, the deal ended. MBS alienated many royal family members but for international image, he used others. Old hand and once a long-time ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar Bin Sultan quickly changed his direction and lined up behind MBS. During MBS visit to United States, Bandar was at hand to bring in his old contacts. Bandar’s daughter Princess Reema provided the soft and feminine face for the new regime on international circuit defending royal family in Washington and Davos. Full brother and close confidant of MBS Prince Khalid Bin Salman was appointed ambassador to Washington. Saudi embassy chose an American raised and educated Saudi-American Fatima Baeshen as its spokeswoman. She had previously worked at a pro Saudi think tank Arabia Foundation run by a former banker Ali Shihabi. (Bloomberg Businessweek, 26 April 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-26/saudi-arabia-reboots-its-washington-lobbying-blitz)Continue reading “Beltway Bandits (Lobbyists and Middle East Policy), Dr Hamid Hussain”
Ahmed Rashid acquired fame and became darling of the west when his book on Taliban was published in 2000 or so.Descent into Chaos is another bestseller as far as publishing statistics is concerned.It is a tragedy that the West,guardian of the present worlds intellectual property projects what suits its political and social interests and stifles what it finds “ politically unacceptable”.Seen in this background what Ahmed Rashid writes is acceptable to the west.Possibly because what he says fits hand in glove with western perceptions about how to shape the future.
Book Review sent in by Maj Agha Amin. Unfortunately the pictures in the original are low quality and I was unable to fix that problem. Still, you will get the gist of it.
This is a very interesting book by a Montana University (adjunct) Professor (Owen Sirrs).
The author explains that the genesis of this book was his:– (page-9)
“Two- month stay at the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan during the summer of 2009. It was there that I learned a great deal more about Afghanistan–Pakistan relations in general and ISI operations in Afghanistan in particular.”
The book examines the following issues in the writers own words:–
How has ISI evolved as an institution exercising intelligence and security responsibilities at home and abroad? What were the driving forces behind that evolutionary process?
How does ISI fit into the larger Pakistani Intelligence Community?
What does the decades- old relationship between ISI and the CIA tell us about the larger US–Pakistan security relationship?
What is ISI’s record in providing accurate and timely early warning intelligence to decision- makers?
To what extent has ISI disrupted and abused Pakistan’s democratic processes?
Is ISI a rogue agency or a state within a state?
Can ISI be reined in and the PIC (Pakistani Intelligence community) reformed?
How has ISI employed UW (Unconventional warfare) in support of the state’s national security objectives? To what extent has UW been a successful strategy for Pakistan?
Following was an exchange with an old Afghan hand of ISI. It may be of interest to some. His comments in normal font; mine in bold.
26 February 2019
Thanks Sir for opening more windows; My comments essentially of a wandering dervish in red in your main text;
A very thought provoking analysis with indepth knowledge of situation in Afghanistan. My take:
No party can have total control over Afghanistan particularly psuedo democracy.(You are correct that no single party is strong enough to impose its will on the whole country. In good old times, a chap like Amir Abdur Rahman put the fear of God by beheading a large number of tribal leaders and exiling others far away from their homeland. In this way, he was able to impose a central state on reluctant Afghans. Times have changed. It is time for a grand bargain and compromise although I’m not sure whether Afghans are ready for it.)
Taliban will emerge as the largest group but will not be allowed total control by big powers. Fear CIS & Russians from fundamentalists will keep them supporting tajik and uzbek groups.(Correct. Interests of many countries are divergent and each state will support its own proxy. It is fine as long it is for political jockeying but all need to be mindful that one heated argument after endless cups of green tea can tempt one to reach for AK-47. This urge needs to be controlled. If not then;
aur ja’am toteein gein; iss sharab khane mein)
3.hazaras & other shia gps having tasted part powers will not easily succumb to Taliban rule. (Another reason for all Afghans to go for a bargain. Like many highlanders, Afghans of all ethnicities have a distorted sense of honor. They are willing to settle scores with gun for whatever perverted reason. However, their grandmother is begging on the street, young son is molested in coal mines of Baluchistan (Shahrag mining town in Baluchistan is the most heinous place in this regard where boys as young as 8 or 9 from FATA and Afghanistan are being molested on daily basis) or daughters going into prostitution to put food on the table in Pakistan & Iran, and their honor is nowhere to be found. Reminds me the words of an American who had worked in Afghanistan. He lived with his family among Afghans and worked in 1970s in Jalalabad for several years. In mid 2000s, he went back for a trip to Jalalabad. He said that Afghans were poorer then but had honor. Now they are richer but have lost their honor”. Hegel defined courage and bravery as “Courage among civilized peoples consists in a readiness to sacrifice oneself for the political community)Continue reading “Afghan Peace Process; Postscript”
My two cents of Afghan peace process. It is based on my own limited perspective informed by regular travels to the region and interaction with many including Pakistanis, Afghans, Americans, Indians etc. Many have been kind to candidly share their views and not ‘official’ narrative as well as hopes and aspirations of common people in streets and bazaars that they shared with me.
Making Peace with Broken Pieces – Afghan Peace Process
“There is nothing further here for a warrior. We drive bargains; old men’s work. Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men; courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. The vices of peace are the vices of old men; mistrust and caution. It must be so”. Prince Feisal (Sir Alec Guinness) to T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) in Lawrence of Arabia.
In the last few months, a new window opened in the seventeen years old war in Afghanistan. There was breakthrough with first serious efforts of direct negotiations between United States (U.S.) and main militant group Taliban. It was President Donald Trump’s announcement of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan that got the ball rolling. He made this decision without consulting any other government agency. Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department view rapid withdrawal as a recipe for disaster. Trump appointed former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and an Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad nick named Zal to spearhead this effort. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar worked as intermediaries and a bridge between Taliban, Pakistan and Americans.
Negotiations between Taliban and Unites States is only one dimension of a complex conflict. Taliban’s strategy is simple in its execution. It used its committed cadre of fighters and support structure in Pakistan to escalate violence to a level to achieve two goals. First to sow enough fear and uncertainty among Afghans that will undermine the efficiency and to some extent legitimacy of the government. Another objective is to convince fellow Afghans that without giving them a share in power and economic pie, Afghans will never see peace. Initially, behind the scene, questions were raised by Americans whether Taliban are a unified entity to work with. Taliban responded by announcing a three days ceasefire during Eid festival. There were no attacks all over the country proving their point that they have a firm command and control system and all fighters follow the leadership. When United States announced troop withdrawal plan, Taliban thought that by directly negotiating they will get the credit and fulfill one of their objectives of forcing foreign troop withdrawal. This will help them to carve out a much larger share in power after American withdrawal. Another factor was intense pressure on Taliban from Pakistan and Arab countries. Agreeing to direct negotiations with Americans, Taliban placated both parties and if no agreement is reached, they can claim that they entered in negotiations with good faith and put the blame of failure at American doorstep. From U.S. point of view, there is a narrow window of about six months. Domestic troubles of President Trump will take a sharp turn with completion of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s work. In addition, presidential campaign will start in the fall of 2019 and these two factors will suck all the oxygen in White House. Like many other foreign policy issues, Afghanistan will also recede in the background. Continue reading “Afghan Peace Process”