Afghanistan; Graveyard of Western Policy Wonks (but certainly NOT the graveyard of empires)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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).
  10. 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.

See the older post for more random thoughts and predictions.

Sethi sahib’s optimistic takes are here:

Afghan Conundrum II

From Dr Hamid Hussain. As usual, he gives sensible advice, but it is not going to be heeded. On this issue, I think Major Amin is right, there will be a civil war, Pakistan will take sides, PTM will not be reconciled and will instead be further demonized, things will not get better.
I also hope I am wrong. (Omar Ali)

Dr Hamid Hussain’s post follows:

One can only highlight signposts of a complex issue. Following is one such exercise.

Hamid

Pakistan’s Afghan Conundrum

Hamid Hussain

“On earth, it’s hard and heaven is far away”.  Afghan proverb.

 Afghanistan is going through another transition with many uncertainties causing hope and fear.  Pakistan has a long history of involvement in Afghan affairs.  President Donald Trump tweeted on 08 October 2020 that all American troops will be home from Afghanistan by Christmas. This surprised everyone in Washington and Pentagon, State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials were scratching their heads and contemplating how one single tweet has undermined the bargaining position of United States.  This also sent shock waves in General Head Quarters (GHQ) of Pakistan army.  Prime Minister Imran Khan government is not even pretending to have any role in Afghan affairs and has handed the Afghan file to the army.  Imran Khan wrote an op-ed piece for Washington Post pleading Americans not to leave Afghanistan in haste for Pakistan fears it will face all the negative fallout. 

There will be review of Afghan policy with the arrival of new administration in Washington in January 2021. However, domestic issues will suck all the oxygen and it is not likely that new administration will be able to spend significant economic, military and political capital on a side show in Afghanistan. President Trump is now the wild card before President elect Joe Biden takes oath on 20 January 2021.  He can order complete withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year that can make any course correction for new administration very difficult. Pakistan’s hope is that new administration keeps current level of forces and economic lifeline to Afghan government until meaningful progress is made on intra-negotiations front. Continue reading Afghan Conundrum II

Review: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations

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:–

  1. 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?
  2. How does ISI fit into the larger Pakistani Intelligence Community?
  3. What does the decades- old relationship between ISI and the CIA tell us about the larger US–Pakistan security relationship?
  4. What is ISI’s record in providing accurate and timely early warning intelligence to decision- makers?
  5. To what extent has ISI disrupted and abused Pakistan’s democratic processes? 
  6. Is ISI a rogue agency or a state within a state? 
  7. Can ISI be reined in and the PIC (Pakistani Intelligence community) reformed? 
  8. 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?

 These are the very interesting question that the writer has formulated as stated in the books beginning and has attempted to answer in this most interesting book. Continue reading Review: Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations

Pakistani Psychosis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEnrcpeIsYY

 

Our Brown Pundit Zachary Latif will hopefully share his perspectives on Pakistani Psychosis soon. Tarek Fatah gives a good synopsis of Pakistani Psychosis and Islamism in the above video. I am not an expert on Pakistani Pysochosis, and cannot validate many of Tarek Fatah’s perspectives on Pakistan. However, with respect to Islam, many muslims (including prominent religious leaders) privately share many of Tarek’s views, but the vast majority are too afraid to share their views publicly. Tarek Fatah is very knowledgeable about Arabic, Islamic scripture and Islamic law. If you have the time, please watch the entire video.

What is Pakistani psychosis? I am not completely certain and look forward to evolving my views with new information. To oversimplify, it is the combination of several things:

Continue reading Pakistani Psychosis

Book Review: Pakistan Adrift by Asad Durrani

Book review by Dr Hamid Hussain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is a review by Dr Hamid Hussain.

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

 Hamid Hussain

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

Political Engineering in Pakistan Part II

From Dr Hamid Hussain.

June 12, 2018

Following piece is mainly the result of questions form non-Pakistanis to explain the context.  It may not be very interesting for Pakistanis as they are already well informed and it seems lengthy and a bit boring.  The noise is at a very high pitch making reasonable discourse very hard.  Reminds me tenth century Arab poet Mutanabbi’s words, “With so much noise, you need ten fingers to plug your ears”.   

 Summary could be single sentence quotes;

Political Leaders: Reminds me Liddelhart’s words “The prophets must be stoned; That is their lot, and the test of their fulfillment.  But a leader who is stoned may merely prove that he has failed in his function through a deficiency of wisdom, or through confusing his function with that of a prophet”.

Generals: The Times, April 6, 1961 issue statement that “it is difficult to envisage some thirty or forty generals and a smaller number of admirals and air force commanders appointed solely by Providence to be the sole judges of what the nation needs”.

Judiciary: Jorge Ubico of Guatemala’s words that “My justice is God’s”.

Enjoy.

Hamid

Political Engineering – Modus Operandi

Hamid Hussain

“The establishments in the US, Pakistan and India are usually working for their own good rather than for the good of their public.  Shaking them might not be a bad idea”.  Former Director General of Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General (R) Asad Durrani quoted in Spy Chronicles

Pakistanis will be voting for general elections on 25 July 2018.  Events of the last one year have raised many questions about the process. The gulf between important institutions is widening by the day.  Attitudes have hardened and everyone is rallying behind their respective wagons.  Pakistan’s power stool is three-legged and at one time known as ‘troika’.  In the past, President, Prime Minister and Chief of Army of Staff were the three legs of this stool.  Change of President to a ceremonial role by taking most of his powers removed this leg. In due course, this leg was replaced by Judiciary. The three legs are uneven with executive as shortest, followed in size by Judiciary and then army.  There is an inherent element of instability in this arrangement.   Continue reading Political Engineering in Pakistan Part II