A couple of instances of Christianity in the world around us

I saw Omar Ali yesterday — terrific conversation — and when I asked what topics I should discuss here, he suggested I post whatever interests me — so here’s the anointing of Brazilian strong-man Bolsonaro, and hymn singing in Hong Kong.

Religious behavior in general fascinates me — but when it affects politics, people often don’t realize what powerful motivation it can provide.

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Religion can be coercive, as in the anointing of Bolsonaro

see video

— Remember the laying on of hands over Donald Trump? The overarching authority of religion has Trump bow his head, but sets Bolsonaro on his knees! —

— and religion can be liberating —

see video

— That’s a crowd of protesters in Hong Kong singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”.

Remarkable.

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From Reuters in June:

Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ an unlikely anthem of Hong Kong protests

For the past week, the hymn has been heard almost non-stop at the main protest site, in front of the city’s Legislative Council, and at marches and even at tense stand-offs with the police.

It started with a group of Christian students who sang several religious songs at the main protest site, with “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” catching on among the crowd, even though only about 10 percent of Hong Kong people are Christian.

“This was the one people picked up, as it is easy for people to follow, with a simple message and easy melody,” said Edwin Chow, 19, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students.

The hymn is simple, optimistic yet adds a touch of solemnity and calm to the proceedings, and also affords some legal protection to the protesters —

The students sang the songs in the hope of providing a cover of legitimacy for the protest. Religious gatherings can be held without a permit in the financial hub.

“As religious assemblies were exempt, it could protect the protesters. It also shows that it is a peaceful protest,” Chow said.

The hymn was composed in 1974 by Linda Stassen-Benjamin in the United States for Easter. Its five words are repeated over four stanzas in a minor key, which gives it an air of meditative solemnity.

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Between the anointing of a dictator and the hymn singing of a crowd of protesters demanding democratic freedoms from the Chinese state, we have quite an instructive confluence of ways in which religion can enter the public square.

No doubt there are others. In Nepal, there’s the tantric cultus of the goddess Kubjikaa. What’s religion up to in your neck of the woods?

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U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement; Hamid Hussain

From Dr Hamid Hussain

U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement

Hamid Hussain

 ‘Being a friend of the United States was like living on the banks of a great river.  The soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in a desert’.  General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to William Casey 1983 quoted in John E. Persico’s Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA.

 In July 2019, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and President Donald Trump met at White House that generated some headlines and as expected from every Trump encounter some controversy.  As expected, this news lasted less than twelve hours in United States and 4-5 days in Pakistan.  Life has gone back to normal.  Positive signs should be acknowledged but Pakistan should not be carried away by euphoria.  The good part is that civilian and army leadership does not have trust deficit and not undermining each other.  This alone is a breath of fresh air for Pakistan. Continue reading “U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement; Hamid Hussain”

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Muslim-American personalities and political polarization – part 1

 

I was meaning to write this for some time now but somehow I kept postponing. Razib’s recent post about Mehdi Hasan inspired me to sit down and finish what I was thinking of writing down (https://www.brownpundits.com/2019/07/31/mehdi-hasans-hypocrisies/). This long post is not about Mehdi Hasan par se, or even Ilhan Omar (sheepishly admitting her clickbait value). This is mainly about prominent Muslims in American public life and public perception of Muslims. In the first part of this post I will discuss direct political aspects of Muslim public representation and in the second I will dive into some of the relevant socio-political and moral issues.

Barack Hossain Obama became the first African-American person to be elected President of United States in 2008. He was reelected in 2012. Now, there are lot of grounds for criticism of Obama’s presidency. His leadership in lot of important matters, particularly in foreign affairs , have come under lot of criticism since the end of his presidency. In domestic matters too, his leadership record has lost lot of luster even among his supporters. However, most Americans agree that Barack and Michelle Obama occupied the White House with exemplary dignity and fulfilled the inspirational role that Americans generally expect the presidential office to provide in this very republican (small R) of countries.

The Obamas were very acutely aware of the huge responsibility they had as the first African-American couple in the White House. They knew personal scandals, failure to control and command, would create huge barriers for the next ethnic minority aspiring to be president. That’s why they were dignified and moderate to a fault in their conduct. In that consideration, the Obama presidency was an unqualified success. Today Barack Obama is the most popular living President to Americans with 60% approval rating (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/explore/public_figure/Barack_Obama) and Michelle Obama is frequently polled as the most admired woman in America. The next presidential candidate of African-American descent who will reach the final stages of election, will not face any questions because of his/her ethnic background except from the incorrigible bigots.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the first Catholic president in 1960. It’s hard to believe now but prejudice against Catholics was very widespread among mainstream Protestants of America, who were the overwhelming majority, until fifty years ago. When populist nativists of the early 20th century railed against domestic and foreign enemies of the people, ‘Jews, Papists and the N-word’ was the standard phrase used. Kennedy was aware of the great headwind facing him in seeking primary nomination and then eventual victory. He famously said before the election, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me,” (https://www.wbur.org/news/2017/05/25/kennedy-catholicism-presidential-campaign). He kept emphasizing this point before the election and was mindful of his role as the first Catholic president after getting elected. Suffice it to say anti-Catholicism ceased being significant in American political sphere after the Kennedy’s presidency.

Ilhan Omar became the first visibly-Muslim, hijab-clad elected representative at federal level in 2018. Understandably, her ascension to national stage created huge amount of interest, savory and unsavory, in all corners of the politically engaged section of the people. I am not going to mention the long list of accomplishments and  controversies Ilhan Omar has been registering in almost daily basis since her election. It will not be an exaggeration to say that she has become one of the most prominent banner issues that are feeding the frenzy of the two battling political armies in national arena. She is inflaming passion even more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who may be representing more the economic division than the cultural division represented by Omar.

I personally think that Ilhan Omar is not a very religious Muslim, the identity aspect of the religion is more important to her. Rather than cosmic theology, her religious identity offers her a worldview theology; providing explanation of power relations among communities, groups and institutions of today’s world. Socio-cultural beliefs define the modern political man and Ilhan Omar represents the current cleavages more starkly than almost any other public figures.

However, Ilhan Omar was not lucky enough to get the elite education and varied experience that both Obama and Kennedy had. Experiences greatly influence worldview. A liberal, integrative, long-term worldview that typify Obama, Kennedy, may be too much to ask from her. I personally think she is not very sophisticated but that is not germane to this discussion. However, among her most prominent public defenders there are many who have benefits of background and who are very articulate. That brings me to public personalities like Mehdi Hasan.

In the last couple of years, several Muslim media figures have been regularly invited into mainstream media like CNN, MSNBC, NYTimes, WaPost whenever some events related to Muslims became prominent in the fast churning stream of news and views. Mehdi Hasan, Wajahat Ali probably commanded bulk of those airing of Muslim perspectives. They are among the staunchest defenders of Ilhan Omar (also of other minority social justice public figures) in media. They are also among the most vehement critics and denouncers of Trump, Trump-supporters, the Republican Party and American foreign policy in general. They had been like this since Trump became the Republican nominee. I remember how I first saw Wajahat Ali in CNN before the 2016 election when he repeatedly and day after day described Trump as ‘impotent’. I cringed every time I heard that, but it could have been just me.

Now, people like Ilhan Omar, Mehdi Hasan and Wajahat Ali have lot of justification to go ballistic against Trump and his supporters. I think that Trump is significantly more racist than an average white American septuagenarian, his policies have targeted Muslims discriminatorily, his utterings have stoked outpourings of anti-Muslim hate, Muslims in America may become further victimized if Trump is reelected. However, opportunities of public criticism should not just opportunities for lashing out. We should evaluate effects of these criticisms, whether they are benefitting the country or even Muslims themselves. There is also an ethical aspect of this public criticism, which I will discuss in part II of this blogpost.

Ever since the 9-11 attacks the partisan divide in attitudes towards Muslims and Islam has gradually diverged in America. There are reasons to believe that the divide has become starker in recent years. A recent survey conducted before the 2018 elections show that 71% percent of self-described Republicans agreed they don’t believe Islam is compatible with American values, compared to an overall 42%. 60% of Republicans agreed with the idea that Muslim Americans weren’t as patriotic as non-Muslim Americans, compared to 38% generally (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/01/new-america-study-report-republicans-muslims-trump-midterms). The wide difference between the Republican numbers and the average for the population means the difference in attitude between the two parties is very wide. Few wedge issues signal the difference between the two parties more clearly now than their respective attitude towards Muslims in America.

Shadi Hamid has said that he is comforted that at least one of the two political tribes of America is acting as a shelter for American Muslims in these troubled times (https://gen.medium.com/how-donald-trump-made-me-a-muslim-7f28abcfd33a).  Muslim Americans reciprocate the Democratic support faithfully. It is estimated that about 90% of them vote for the Democratic party in national elections now, before 9-11 the figure was more even. As much as 30-40 Muslims voted Republican in the 1990s. Other analysts OTOH have expressed reservation about the state of Muslims in the political polarization. Republican disdain for the Democratic Party and suspicion about Muslims in America may be reinforcing each other, worsening the political divide. Moreover, it’s not that Muslims find a very natural place in Democratic Party that is mainly characterized by secularism and progressivism. Shadi Hamid recounts that a religious Muslim told him, “I can sense the disdain from the Democratic Party towards my faith, even as they don a cape against Islamophobia. The underlying view Democrats have [about] anyone seriously religious is that they’re, at best, silly and gullible, and at worst, dangerous.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/for-religious-american-muslims-hostility-from-the-right-and-disdain-from-the-left/2019/07/25/7121e4ce-99e4-11e9-830a-21b9b36b64ad_story.html?utm_term=.f693a53b2fd8 )

For a minority that comprises only 1% of the voters, this kind of polarization should be very alarming. Its true that there are other minorities who also are reliable member of the Democratic clan. Black-Americans generally vote for the Democrats in the 90s while Jewish voters vote in the 70-80% range. However, the socio-political positions of Muslims are not same as Blacks or Jews. Black American voters comprise about 12% of the total voters; they are indispensable core of the Democratic coalition and a un-ignorable part of America for Republics. Moreover, sufficient number of Black Americans take part in Republican politics and intellectual development , making them always cultivable for Republican political leadership.  While Jewish voting population is close to 2% of total, they have very powerful representation within the Republican establishment.

We must consider this context when examining the role of Muslim political and media personalities in the political sphere. It seems to me the most visible Muslim personalities in politics and media, determinedly and gleefully want to exacerbate the partisan divide. Few rational observers would disagree that Donald Trump has been most un-presidential in his public sayings during this political phase of his life. Even labelling those words as juvenile would probably be unjust towards the youth. However, these Muslim public personalities seem to think that going toe to toe and tit for tat with Trump and the Republicans, are the best tactics for Democrats and Muslims. I think, apart for impact on partisanship, there are important ethical aspects in these public exchanges that also have deep and wide consequences, which I intend to discuss in the second part.

These Muslim public personalities want total war against Trump and Republicans where crossing the line or fraternization with the enemy will be unthinkable. A few days ago, a very prominent Muslim religious leader, Hamza Yusuf, got widespread notice among Muslim Americans for joining a multi-religious state department commission on Human Rights (https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/time-muslim-americans-condemn-hamza-yusuf-190715130254222.html). Many people would argue this as a very sensible move considering the plight of Muslims in many countries of the world and the very important role that America has in global concerns about those hapless Muslims. However, for political activist Muslim-Americans, Hamza Yusuf joining a Trump presidency commission was an ultimate betrayal, an act of Vichy French ignobility.

A Blitzkrieg style total war wouldn’t be so reckless if the chances of victory were good. However, chances don’t look good at least in the short term. When Trump became presidents, Democrats and liberals were openly speculating how he would be removed from power within one or two years because of all the scandals and malfeasance in the past and before the election. With low presidential approval ratings acting as comfort blanket, few Democrats were thinking Trump would last the full first-term, let alone getting reelected. Now desperation is in the air. Democrats openly speculate that Trump is heading for a second-term and Democrat’s chances are not so good. Betting markets reflect that increasing despair also. This political atmosphere again demand that Muslim Americans take long hard look how their political and media personalities are representing them in the public sphere. I have not read any reports of how Muslim Americans view role of their representatives in the public arena but from my personal interactions I gather that most of them are very uncomfortable being the spearhead of the resistance. Lot of them say that they physically wince whenever Ilhan Omar is in the news and they wish she would be far less prominent.

However, coalition-building, gradual advances may be things of the past and the spirit of the times may demand reckless combativeness. Just as revolutions in military affairs made Blitzkrieg possible, revolutions in socio-political affairs of current era may be favoring bold tactics. After all, Republicans had their May 1940 moment in November, 2016 in a most improbable victory with a most improbable candidate who refused to occupy the center ground. In these kind of historical victories, being the armored spearhead of deep battles brings everlasting glory. Nevertheless, people should also remember that Blitzkrieg grinded to a halt in 1941 in face of obdurate structural conditions and determined resistance. The spearheads were obliterated.

 

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Does Trump Have a Strategy in Afghanistan? What is it?

This is an old post from Major Amin (from 2017) The article is by Dr D Souza (originally in “Eurasian Review”) and Major Amin’s own comments are in bolded black font.. Now that the Afghanistan exit strategy is in full flow, how does this stand up?

Trump’s ‘New’ Afghanistan Strategy And India-US Strategic Partnership – Analysis

Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia announced on 21 August, was intended to highlight the novelty and surprise elements of a roadmap that purportedly sought little short of the decimation of terrorism. For all that, the ‘new’ strategy, its overheated semantics and studious ambiguity notwithstanding, in reality is but a continuation of the American trial and error method that has kept insurgent aspirations of a victory alive these 16 years since the US intervened in Afghanistan.
THIS IS A VERY MISCONCEIVED ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA. THE NEW TRUMP STRATEGY IS TANGIBLE , PRECISE , WELL ARTICULATED , WELL SPELT OUT AND NOT SEMANTICS.
FIRST TRUMP STRATEGY HAS FOR THE FIRST TIME SPELT OUT THAT USA IN AFGHANISTAN IS DEALING NOT WITH NON STATE ACTORS BUT WITH A STATE PROXY I.E AFGHAN TALIBAN PROXIES OF THE PAKISTANI STATE.
 
THIS IS A RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM ABSOLUTE LACK OF MORAL COURAGE OR STRATEGIC RESOLUTION AS EXHIBITED BY BOTH PRESIDENTS BUSH AND OBAMA. 
 
THIS CHANGES THE US OBJECTIVES FROM PUNY THIRD RATE SNUFF SELLERS LIKE BAITULLAH MEHSUD BEING KILLED BY US DRONES TO STRATEGIC TARGETS WHICH ARE STATES AND NOT NON STATE ACTORS.
THE TRUMP STRATEGY AS PUBLICLY RELEASED DID NOT PRECISELY STATE THAT PAKISTAN WAS THE “MAIN ENEMY” BUT ITS CLASSIFIED PORTIONS AS PER HIGHLY PLACED SOURCES STATE THAT PAKISTANI STATE WAS CLEARLY SPECIFIED AS WHAT CARLOTTA GALL COINED ” THE MAIN ENEMY”.
After spending much blood and treasure, has the US learnt from its mistakes? Is the present strategy a break with the past? Or is it a mere continuation of a policy with no defined objectives and outcomes? India must consider carefully its desired terms of engagement for any serious partnership with the US in Afghanistan. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy.
THE ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA THAT THE USA HAS SPENT MUCH BLOOD IS ALSO SEMANTICS AND NOT BASED ON HARD FACTS. AFGHANISTAN WAS OCCUPIED WITH ONLY ONE CIA CIVILIAN KILLED BECAUSE OF HIS OWN RASHNESS AND US CASUALTIES IN 7 YEARS OF PRESIDENT BUSH DID NOT EXCEED 394 . 1400 US SOLDIERS WERE LOST BECAUSE OF SHEER AMATEUR BEHAVIOUR OF PRESIDENT OBAMA WITH ARM CHAIR STRATEGISTS LIKE REIDEL AND OTHERS DURING THE SURGE WHICH WAS APOLOGY OF ANYTHING THAT CAN BE CALLED STRATEGY.

Ambiguities and Novelty

President Donald J. Trump addresses the nation on the South Asia strategy during a press conference at Conmy Hall on Fort Myer, Virginia, Aug. 21, 2017. (Photo Credit: DOD photo by Sgt. Amber Smith)
President Donald J. Trump addresses the nation on the South Asia strategy during a press conference at Conmy Hall on Fort Myer, Virginia, Aug. 21, 2017. (Photo Credit: DOD photo by Sgt. Amber Smith)
After all the opposition for the war in Afghanistan he unleashed over the years via social media, especially in his election campaign, when push came to shove, Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, elaborated on 21 August 2017 chose the least bad option, the one which would have the least resistance and would provide room for maneuver to match the domestic needs and geopolitical interests. Despite tall claims of having studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle, Trump strategy’s on Afghanistan is neither new nor comprehensive.
New Delhi needs to remain cautious before embracing this ambiguous strategy. Among its many ambiguities, three are especially worth considering:

Kinetic vs Non-kinetic

First, the strategy, apparently scripted by the US military, is not about nation building but kinetic operations, search and destroy by another name. Getting a free hand on the ground with no micro-management from Washington is a victory of sorts for the US generals in Afghanistan.  Still, much confusion abounds as to whether the strategy is counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism plus, or an overt reliance on the use of military force. Moving away from the earlier time-based approach to one based on conditions is certainly appropriate. In this, Trump has addressed the error of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who in December 2009 had announced troop surge and exit at the same time. This only worked to insurgent advantage, allowing an approach of ‘waiting out the enemy’.
KINETIC IS THE ONLY THING IN A LAND OF COLD BLOODED ASSASINS WHO WERE PACIFIED BY MONGOLS , MUGHALS AND PERSIANS WITH MASSIVE MASSACRES.THIS IS A SCENARIO WHERE VULGARLY PUT NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGES YOU AS THEIR FATHER TILL YOU LAY THEIR MOTHER. KINETIC IS THE ONLY SOLUTION AND DID WORK UNDER GENGHIS KHAN , TAMERLANE AND BABAR.THE HINDU RAJPUT MUGHAL GOVERNOR OF KABUL CARRIED ONLY A WALKING STICK ! BECAUSE THE MUGHALS UNDER BABAR HAD SORTED OUT AFGHANISTAN.
Yet there is no indication whether the intent is to convert Afghanistan into a new South Korea, where US troops are indefinitely based, or something else. A conditions-based approach is preferable to the mistaken announcement of a time schedule, but there is nothing to indicate what will be done to address those conditions that are fueling extremism and violence. Further, the apparent decoupling of kinetic and non-kinetic elements of the strategy, the military and civilian components, will limit the gains achieved through kinetic operations. Claiming that all of this will be something more than smoke and mirrors is guaranteed, Trump proclaimed, by the application of will.  Unlike Obama, he implied, this time the US will fight to win. To point out the sheer profligacy of such a pronouncement seems almost a waste of effort.
MAKING SWEEPING JUDGEMENTS AND DISMISSING A PRESIDENT WHO HAS A STRATEGY WHICH HAS BEEN SPELT OUT IS NOT GOOD JOURNALISM AND THAT TOO FROM AN AUTHOR WHO HAS NOT REALLY VISITED THE ACTUAL BATTLE FIELDS OF AFGHAN WAR.

Role of Regional powers

Second, Trump has not identified any benchmarks and targets for actions. This keeps the expectation bar low but also does not address the basic component of metrics.  Neither has he expressed in any clear terms expected steps to be taken by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or even the US itself. Most importantly, the role of other major regional powers such as Russia, China, Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia remains undefined. Afghanistan’s tragedy lies in the fact that its internal contradictions have been exploited by external powers. Without a regional strategy, the external powers will continue along this path, notably neighbouring Pakistan.
PRESIDENT TRUMPS STRATEGY CLEARLY IDENTIFIES PAKISTAN AS THE CULPRIT AND THE WHOLE STRATEGY IS BASED ON THIS DEMISE. THIS HAS CREATED JITTERS IN PAKISTAN AND THE PAKISTANI ARMY CHIEF AND HIS ISI HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF RUNNING AROUND.

Safe haven

Third, every US president is aware of Pakistan’s role and interests in supporting the terrorist groups in Afghanistan. It is perhaps the first time that a US president has stated this publicly, but it is not as though the reality has not hitherto figured into planning. Nevertheless, there it was: ‘Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,’ Trump stated unambiguously. Unspecified was just what coercive instruments could be brought to play to change Pakistan’s behaviour.
Trump’s critique of Pakistan is in line with New Delhi and Kabul’s position on the external support and sanctuary provided to the insurgent and terrorist groups that are the source of Afghanistan’s instability. That Pakistan has been a mendacious ally in the US-led war on terror, sheltering terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and using them as strategic assets in Afghanistan, despite the aid of more than US $33 billion being given to Pakistan in the last decade and half for the counter-terrorism cooperation.
HAQQANI NETWORK IS A MINOR PLAYER IN TERMS OF NUMBERS OF US SOLDIERS KILLED. THE MAIN ACTOR IN NUMBER OF US SOLDIERS KILLED IS THE QUETTA SHURA OR THE MULLA OMAR GROUP BASED IN PAKISTANI BALOCHISTAN.

Strategic Partnership in Afghanistan

The sudden recognition by Trump of New Delhi’s concerns needs to be received with caution in view of the role he wishes to assign New Delhi as a strategic ally andfurther develop thestrategic partnership with India. The proof lies in the pudding. Even as Pakistan considers cozying up to China as its safety-valve, the strategy has been welcomed in Kabul and New Delhi.  In spite of Trump’s awkward mentioning first of India’s substantial trade benefits from good relations with the US – before  elaborating on his expectations from New Delhi ‘to do more’ – New Delhi has welcomed the strategy. It is seen as a nod to the importance of India’s economic and development assistance thus far and an acknowledgement that without India’s soft power, things could be much worse.

Counter terrorism cooperation

Though mentioning the fact that at least 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world, Trump’s strategy appears geared towards targeting al-Qaeda and the ISIS. If the US is still looking for apolitical settlement with the Taliban, New Delhi will have to make sure that this is done by the Afghan government through an open, inclusive, and accountable process.
Moreover, New Delhi needs to tell Washington that the targeting of terrorists groups cannot be selective and must include groups that are detrimental to India’s security interests, as well.  Any robust counter-terrorism cooperation with the US will need to address issues of funding, training, and support provided to these groups.

Non-kinetic Approach

India has pledged more than US$3 billion for various civilian capacity building, infrastructure and development projects in Afghanistan.  This has brought it significant good will among the Afghans. By avoiding a narrow security dominated approach, India is seen as a neutral partner and not a party to the conflict. It is prudent, then, for New Delhi to stay clear of involvement in the kinetic side of the equation, while simultaneously urging the US to play a more meaningful non-kinetic role in institution building and reform.
This goes against the Trump administration’s stated goal of avoiding nation-building, yet any military strategy divorced from building strong institutions of governance and service delivery is unlikely to translate kinetic gains into tangible political outcomes. A mere addition of over 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, where they will bolster the approximately 11,000 American forces already there will not make much impact unless there is a clarity of the mission, rules of engagement and outcome, in addition to building effective and responsive governance institutions.
There is serious possibility that the US is looking to India to perform the non-kinetic component while the US engages in what certain figures feel it does best, kinetics.  This would be a thankless position for New Delhi to be in which could entail burden-sharing and risk strategic distortion as concerns its interests.
ALL INDIAN AID WILL GO INTO DUST IF THEIR IS NO KINETIC ENERGY IN THE AFGHAN SCENARIO.

Long drawn out war

Likewise, the role of private contractors in the push to outsource the war; the continued dependence upon warlords, power-brokers and militias for support of counter-insurgency operations; the use of air power as a surrogate for actual engagement, together with inadequate human intelligence (HUMINT) resulting in collateral damage and increase in civilian casualties, all need to be clarified. The potential for New Delhi to be caught in the blowback from Washington’s ill-considered approaches must be considered.
Skeptics are already highlighting that by lumping its Afghan with its South Asia (India and Pakistan) strategy, the Trump administration runs the danger of not only intensifying the India-Pakistan competition but also intensifying regional competition as Pakistan seeks succour from the likes of China, Russia, and Iran. The dangers of such competition, notwithstanding, Pakistan will need to compete with India on the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan which will accrue good will from the Afghans. At the moment, the popular sentiment for Pakistan remains very low.
A weak and unstable Afghanistan has been a primary objective of its predatory neighbours.  Leaving to the side the reality that countries like Pakistan are not simply going to give up this quest, regardless of US positions or threats, there is the fundamental necessity for any American strategy that has any hope of success to work towards building a strong and stable Afghan state that will make the subversive campaigns of these neighbours and their proxies difficult.

Institution building and reform

This can be achieved by institution building and reforms in the security, political, economic, and governance sectors. The Trump administration has refrained from making clear long term commitments. The time to do so is now.
In the security sector, there remains a need for better training, equipment, vetting, and policing capabilities, as well as an increase in Afghan airpower capability. The latter element alone, if inadequate, seems all but to guarantee that the gains achieved through kinetic operations will be simply lost.
In the political sector, in addition to revamping the indigenous institutions for peace and reconciliation such as the High Peace Council, reconciled and reintegrated fighters will need opportunities for employment and acceptability as they transition back into society. More importantly, as Afghanistan heads to another round of presidential and much delayed parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2018, respectively, systems, procedures, and logistics need to be put in place to avoid the messy elections outcomes of previous years. These have seriously impacted the credibility and functioning of the Afghan government. Greater decentralisation will help popular participation on the margins. The limits of an overly centralised form of governance of last decade and half are evident.
A legitimate government that delivers to the people the basic services is essential to any hope of victory, however defined. A clean, responsive and accountable governance system under the rule of law is essential to build the trust of the populace and deprive the insurgents of their support. If this seems so much pie-in-the-sky, then there hardly seems any point in being involved. Just what the announced US strategy is to contribute to such an end-state is puzzling.

Prospects for India-U.S. partnership in Afghanistan

If India and U.S. intend to work together in denying these groups and their sponsors any space in Afghanistan, the first step will be to chalk out a comprehensive and long term plan along with the Afghan government to build a strong and stable Afghanistan that will be an antidote to these forces at play and predatory neighbours. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by New Delhi with Kabul in October 2011, provides a good template. As US adopts a kinetic approach towards Afghanistan, New Delhi will have to spell the conditions for any cooperation to take this strategic partnership ahead.
For New Delhi to partner with US development and aid agencies, such as USAID, there is a need for integrated planning to provide market access for the products produced, accompanied by skill-based training for small and medium enterprises for income generation and boosting domestic production. Continuing instability has enabled neighbouring countries to pour in cheap goods, thus, stunting Afghanistan’s indigenous economic revival and growth.
New Delhi will have to tread carefully in the shifting sands inside Afghanistan and the region. Rather than rushing into the American embrace, New Delhi’s primary objective must be to fulfill its obligations as Kabul’s strategic partner. Trump has sought an honourable and enduring outcome, the contours of which remain unknown. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, which will be followed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy. The Afghans have long looked to a friendly India to play this role of a serious interlocutor. India should step up to the plate commensurate with its rising power status and aspirations.
NEW DELHI WILL REMAIN A MINOR PLAYER IN THE AFGHAN WAR. IT DOES NOT HAVE THE GEOPOLITICAL MUSCLE TO RESTRUCTURE AFGHANISTAN. WHERE NEW DELHI CAN MATTER IS IN CAPACITY BUILDING OF AFGHAN STATE BOTH POLITICAL MILITARY AND ECONOMIC AND IN PRESSURISING PAKISTAN.THE GEOPOLITICAL PART OF RESTRUCTURING IS WHITE MANS BURDEN AND THE USA HAS TO ACCEPT THIS FACT.
AFGHANISTAN IS A US STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO DESTABILISE CHINA AND RUSSIA AND KEEP AN EYE ON PAKISTAN AND IRAN AND NOT A CALAMITY AS PESSIMISTS VIEW IT.

Continue reading “Does Trump Have a Strategy in Afghanistan? What is it?”

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Trump Finds Hafiz Saeed..

Pakistan has (once again, for the nth time) arrested Hafiz Saeed . This time the charge is “terror financing”. It should be clear to anyone who bothers to read a few newspapers that he was not hiding anywhere and did not need to be “found”. He has always lived and worked openly in Pakistan and this is not the first time he has been arrested (and may not be the first time he is let go after the dust settles and the IMF funds arrive). It is also worth noting that the charges have nothing to do with the Mumbai attacks and that the current military regime in Pakistan will not even admit that those attacks came from Pakistan. In fact their vast PR apparatus has successfully convinced many educated Pakistanis that the whole thing was an Indian (or Israeli) false flag operation and the attackers did not even come from Pakistan. While this is not the official stance of the government of Pakistan (which actually investigated the attackers to some extent under international pressure, and produced detailed evidence linking the attackers to Pakistan, including details such as where the boat was purchased and such like, and several people have been in jail at some point for their involvement in this attack), the domestic propaganda and management of witnesses etc  has been so effective that I regularly get whatsapp messages from friends “accusing” some Pakistani journalist or TV station of being Indian agents because they have said at some point that the sole surviving terrorist (Ajmal Kasab) was a Pakistani. As an aside, it would be interesting if someone can ask a senior member of the current military regime to publicly state on record that Ajmal Kasab was Pakistani. I doubt that anyone (except maybe Trump) can actually do this (i.e. I doubt that any senior official can come on TV and admit this.. it would be too far at variance with the domestic propaganda that ISPR has put out).

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab.jpg
Ajmal Kasab shooting civilians in Shivaji Train station

In 2014 Hafiz Saeed actually held a conference of his (renamed) Jihadi organization at the “minar e Pakistan” (Pakistan memorial) in Lahore and rode around on a horse to feel close to the spirit of the original Arab conquerors he idealizes.

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Hafiz Saeed riding a horse at the JUD’s convention in Lahore in 2014

So anyway, everyone knew where Hafiz Saeed was, and even this latest arrest does not mention the Mumbai attacks, so either Trump is remarkably ignorant (possible) or he is just playing to his base, who love the whole “Western” movie ethos of wanted posters, dead or alive, manhunt, etc and finally, Sheriff Trump riding to capture the “bad guys”.  I find it hard to believe that even Trump can be ignorant enough to not know all this, so I vote for “bullshitting his base” as the most likely explanation for this tweet.

But while all this may be just show to get Pakistan off the FATF hook and to get some much needed cash (and maybe even weapons) from Trump, it is still hard to say who is conning who here. At one level Pakistan has “successfully” conned the US for 17 years and received billions in aid while supporting the Taliban and hosting multiple other Jihadi organizations. But it is hard to see this as a “win” for Pakistan. While Pakistan’s military regime (and this issue has ALWAYS been handled by the army, no civilian was allowed to butt in.. Mian Nawaz Sharif lost power for trying to minimally rein in this policy) has played these games and thinks it is winning, it has actually presided over Pakistan falling steadily behind India and even Bangladesh in every economic and social indicator. It would have been much better to swallow the bitter pill in 2001 and actually switch sides and give up on Jihad. By now Pakistan would be outperforming rickety India and even “rising star” Bangladesh in many areas. Instead, we have wasted a generation trying to play these games and may not have anything to show for it if this round of show arrests does not even get us off the FATF grey list (or worse, gets us on the blacklist).
Indians are (unsurprisingly) not delighted with this latest show of successful Pakistani conmanship (or even genuine change of heart), but in the proverbial long run, who gets the last laugh? India, a rising economic power in the world, or Pakistan, playing strategic games with multiple sponsors and just staying half a shaky step ahead of its multiple creditors?

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Pakistan National Day, in March.

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The Last Hurdle to Afghan Peace

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

https://nation.com.pk/02-Feb-2019/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”

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