Few thoughts on the “All Things Brown” podcast, which is the only podcast I’ve had the pleasure of listening start to finish without interruptions 🙂 Made possible by the fact that I was listening to it while driving yesterday.
From Dr Hamid Hussain. I would add that I interacted with Brigadier Munir on social media and found him always polite, inquisitive and open to many different points of view. We had talked about meeting the next time I was in Islamabad, but sadly that will not happen as Brig. Munir took his own life on March 15th (and blamed harassment by the National Accountability Bureau in a suicide note). Rest in peace. Very very sad news.
Brigadier ® Asad Munir
In early hours of March 15, 2019, Brigadier (R) Asad Munir committed suicide. In his suicide note, he mentioned harassment by National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Thus, extinguished the flicker of light of a fine officer and gentleman. I have known Asad for about ten years when in 2009 he contacted me. Few years ago, I spent a whole day with him at his apartment in Islamabad where he committed suicide. We periodically interacted and discussed issues of regional security. On my last visit to Pakistan in 2018, due to my hectic schedule, I could not meet him.
Asad joined Ist Special Short Course (SSC) of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and commissioned in 1972 in Baluch Regiment. He commanded an infantry Brigade where his division commander was General Pervez Musharraf. The other brigade commander under Musharraf was late Major General Amir Faisal Alvi (Alvi was assassinated in Islamabad in November 2008). Asad served as head of Military Intelligence (MI) of North West Frontier Province now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Asad was close to General Ehsan ul Haq then serving as Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, there was a major shuffle of senior brass. Ehsan was brought in as Director General Inter Service Intelligence (DGISI). Ehsan then brought Asad as head of ISI detachment of KPK. In this capacity, Asad was instrumental in coordinating with Americans to catch fleeing al-Qaeda leaders. After retirement, he served as member of Capital Development Authority (CDA) Islamabad and deputy director National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He continued his efforts about reforms in tribal areas. In early 2018, army chief met with a dozen Pashtun retired officers including Asad for their input about reforms in tribal areas.
From Dr Hamid Hussain
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”
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above. You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…). Would appreciate more positive reviews.
In this episode Razib and Omar talk to Major Amin and Dr Hamid Hussain. Major Amin and Dr Hamid are familiar to our readers for their regular contributions on military history. In this episode we discuss the current India-Pakistan confrontation and what comes next. Events may have moved on even as this gets posted, but I am sure listeners will find it an interesting review of the military and political aspects of the crisis.
Postscript: I may have been too hasty in concluding that only one plane was lost that day. It seems that witness accounts and initial Pakistani claims all mention two aircraft. Pakistan says that was another Indian plane, Indians say it was a PAF F-16. Right now, all we can say is that Abhinandan’s MiG 21 crashed without a doubt.. what happened to the second plane and who was it? We don’t know yet for sure.
Note from Razib: I tried my best, but there were a few issues with the sound on this podcast. But since the substance is timely and hard to find elsewhere I think it’s worth it!
From Dr Hamid Hussain
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”
I think Indian and Pakistan CAN make peace, but not yet… Anyway, you can read Major Amin’s more pessimistic take here..
From Dr Hamid Hussain
Following was in response to several questions regarding Pakistan’s regional challenges and current policies.
Kabuki Dance – Pakistan’s Balancing Act
Pakistan’s challenging regional environment has taken some new turns and new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to cope up with these challenges. Government’s major advantage is that it has no clash with the dominant army. In many areas of foreign policy, it has ceded significant ground to the army.
Pakistan is in a difficult spot on three issues. First is rapid pace of negotiations between Taliban and Americans with projected quick withdrawal of American troops, second is isolation of Iran and third is potential entanglement in intra-Arab rivalry with United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia on one and Qatar on the other side. Pakistan is facing these regional challenges in the background of internal political instability and very serious economic downward trend. Part of political instability and associated economic meltdown is due to self-inflicted wounds. Departing from the normal process of check and balance, judiciary and army played an active role in tuning up the system that will have its own set of consequences. It has widened the political gulf and added new fissures.
Regional challenges of Pakistan are directly linked with American policies. We are living in a Trumpian world that has sowed a lot of confusion on all fronts. Every country and non-state player is adjusting positions at such a rapid speed that it is hard to make sense of every move. Pakistan is also caught in this Trumpian world on several fronts.
US policy is in disarray with no coordination between different government agencies. President Trump is using single point agents without full institutional support behind these efforts. In many cases, some power centers of Washington are diametrically opposed to President’s efforts. It is probably right time for withdrawal of American troops from both Syria and Afghanistan. Trump may have realized what Christopher Fettweis wrote in 2008 in his book Losing Hurts Twice as Bad that “bringing peace to every corner of the globe, even those whose stability we have wrecked through our own incompetence, is not necessarily in the strategic interest of the United States”. However, the method in which it is being done has confused both allies and foes. American intelligence agencies are publicly disagreeing with Trump that is unprecedented. In late January 2019, in a hearing at Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence and heads of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) contradicted Trump on security issues. They told the committee that Iran was still abiding by the nuclear deal. Trump had pulled out of the deal stating that Tehran had broken the deal. Furious Trump sent his twitter tirade saying that ‘the intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong’. Continue reading “Kabuki Dance – Pakistan’s Balancing Act”
Some years ago in Tehran a 90 something gentleman got up to greet someone half his age since he said those are the manners he was taught as a young lad. I instagrammed it as “amazing ta’arof” and my Persian friends immediately corrected me that was not ta’arof but genuine.
So Ta’arof is not always a positive force since it’s mixed in with traces of deception. This article below was a very old post in my blog and thought I would share it since it’s so well-written.
One of the most complicated aspects of Persian culture — and language — is the untranslatable ta’arof. Depending on the circumstance, it can mean any number of things: To offer, to compliment and/or exchange pleasantries. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I doubt if any study can lead to a full understanding of Ta’arof. A born and raised Persian, even I find myself losing my grasp on it from time to time.
Brigadier Simon Saraf wrote a piece on the Afghanistan “peace” process that reflects the Paknationalist viewpoint. Major Amin has added his comments to it. (Major Amin’s comments are bolded). Major Amin is a military history aficionado who has decades of on the ground experience in Afghanistan.
The last hurdle to Afghan peace
Taliban and USA are in constant negotiations over withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. A draft pact addressing mutual sensitivities is concluded. The two parties facilitated by Pakistan will again meet towards end February to build a roadmap on the skeletal agreement.
APPEARANCES ARE DECEIVING— US HAS NO STRATEGY AND ITS ACTIONS ARE ACTIONS OF A LAME DESPERATE PRESIDENT BESIEGED BY SCANDALS AND A MINORITY IN CONGRESS–THIS MAKES HIM MORE DESPERATE THAN THE MOST UNDERFED TALIBAN–MR TRUMP WANTS TO NEGOTIATE A US WITHDRAWAL WHICH WOULD BE COMPLETED BY THE TIME ELECTIONS ARE ON THE TOP AND HE MAY WIN THE ELECTIONS—AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN CAN GO TO HELL—A.H AMIN
The best solutions must consider lessons learnt from the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, leaving power in hands of proxies and ignoring a broad based representative government. A representative government for Afghanistan does not mean democracy. Besides the people, it also means co-opting various warring groups, warlords and educated elites. Links with drug mafia and gun running are intrinsic. So unless these groups are satisfied, they have many supporters to make them disruptive.
BROAD BASED REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT WAS NEVER THE LESSON IN SOVIET AFGHAN WAR— PAKISTAN HAD ITS STOOGES–LOWEST RUNG MULLAHS LIKE HAQQANI WHO AS PER HIS ISI HANDLER COL QASIM ABBAS STANK SO MUCH THAT THEN MAJOR QASIM MADE HIM SIT IN THE OPEN BACK BODY OF HIS VEHICLE–THERE WAS NO BROAD BASE IN SOVIET AFGHAN WAR AND NO BROAD BASE NOW–ONLY STOOGES-PAKISTANI STOOGES OR IRANIAN STOOGES OR AMERICAN STOOGES OR RUSSIAN STOOGES OR INDIAN STOOGES—A.H AMIN
USA, the Afghan resistance, Taliban and Pakistan have been here before as a resistance to Soviet occupation and then a broad based alliance approved by Pakistan and USA.
Return of warlords gave meteoric rise to Taliban. They over ran most Mujahedeen groups led by warlords and fought fierce battles with Al Qaeda.
AL QAEDA NEVER EXISTED — FOUGHT AFGHAN WAR AS LOGISTICS ADVISOR OF A SIDE –NEVER SAW AL QAEDA–BASED IN AFGHANISTAN SINCE 2001–NEVER SAW AL QAEDA—DAESH IS ALSO A FICTIONAL ENTITY THAT THE PAKISTANI STATE INVENTS WHEN IT GUNS DOWN INNOCENTS LIKE AT SAHIWAL Continue reading “The Last Hurdle to Afghan Peace”
Prompted by some discussion on Twitter, a few random thoughts:
- The US has spent 100s of billions of dollars in its longest war and Trump has had it and wants out. He is not wrong in regarding this as a colossal waste of money. But Trump being Trump, he will probably end up wasting whatever gains the US DID make in the region in the process. Zalmay Khalilzad may be sincerely interested in a viable Afghanistan, but his boss has neither the interest nor the ability. Without knowing ANYTHING about the various layers of secret planning and execution going on right now, just on general principles (losers don’t get to dictate terms, winners are not bound by promises they made, Trump is an ignorant conman, etc) this is not going to end well. There WILL be blood.
- The waste is going to get blamed on “corrupt Afghans”, but really, the Afghan elite (while undoubtedly corrupt in many cases) is not the main actor here. The United States is simply not a very effective imperial power. Much of the corruption is on the US side (contractors for the most part) and all of it is ultimately the responsibility of the imperial power cutting the checks. The US has a frighteningly capable military and a huge war chest. For the US to spend 100-1000 billion dollars and be unable to manage Afghanistan is a tribute to American incompetence, not Afghan resistance or corruption. If they were fooled by Pakistan is it Pakistan’s fault? if they were fooled by Afghans, is it all the Afghan’s fault? Beyond the obvious corruption on the US side there is the issue of ideological incompetence; the US is neither a capable imperial power, nor an innocent spectator with no interest in meddling in far away countries. And somehow its processes are so designed that it is easier to waste a 100 billion per year than it is to sit back and figure out what the aims are, where the carrots and sticks are most likely to work and now to apply them.
- The threat of withdrawal is not necessarily a bad idea. There is an obvious moral hazard in this situation, where Afghan (and other anti-Taliban parties, including India, Iran, Russia, China etc) have limited incentive to shape up or step up as long as the US is walking around with a generous checkbook and a tremendous fighting force willing to act on their behalf. In better hands, this might have been exactly the way to make everyone shoulder their own share of the burden.. but these are not “better hands”. Trump has no plan and less interest in any good (or bad) outcome. I find it hard to imagine that this could end up as a US “win”. As a US citizen, I will be happy if it does, but I am not holding my breath.
- Pakistan, supposedly the “winner” in this war, will not find victory too satisfying. The Taliban will not take orders (I mean they probably WILL entertain requests to kill X or Y as a favor to us, but they won’t do things they don’t want to do anyway), anti-Taliban Afghans will not roll over and play dead. India will continue to support them and Indian support is not insignificant. Russia, Iran and even China probably do not want a Taliban govt either. Instead of peace, we will have renewed civil war and more violence, not less violence. (Including blowback IN Pakistan). While the US may pay us (directly or more likely, indirectly via Gulf allies) for help in getting out, they will not keep paying once they are out. And they may not leave either. They may stick around to support the rump Afghan regime, and may pay troublemakers in Pakistan. And China will never be as generous as Uncle Sam used to be. Our troubles will not end with “victory” in Afghanistan.
- It would have been better to work WITH the US to stabilize a pro-US Afghan regime back in 2002 instead of playing double games. The cost of these games may extend beyond “victory”.