This is really, really, really funny. (h/t Sullivan)
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This is really, really, really funny. (h/t Sullivan)
Greeks around the world are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the emphatic Ohi! (No!) Day.
It was on this day in 1940 when the Greek government answered "No" to a request by Mussolini to enter Greece on behalf of the Axis Powers.
My friend MK over at the Ink Spots blog has posted a tough criticism of my argument that Kenneth Roth's idea for the United States to lead a U.S. military intervention into Central Africa to arrest Joseph Kony and destroy the Lord's Resistance Army is the worst idea on the internet. Since MK never really disagrees with my conclusion -- that getting U.S. troops involved in Central Africa to literally act as the world's policeman and carry out arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court is madness -- I get the sense this post of MK's was a chance for him to show off his knowledge of Africa and throw a brushback pitch to those of us who are not area experts but have the temerity to write on issues relating to the Dark Continent. (This is what Africa specialists call it, right? Right?)
Fair enough. I should have included a disclaimer in my 300-word post that I have never lived south of the Sahara Desert and am by no means an Africa expert. And as someone who has spent several years of my life studying the peoples, languages, history and geography of one area of the globe, I deeply appreciate area experts and what they can offer. I similarly appreciate any and all attempts to correct any gaps in my horticultural knowledge. (Forests are not jungles. Noted.)
But I am responding to MK's post for two reasons. The first is that I cannot believe my luck. I am regularly accused on the internets of being some kind of wild-eyed liberal interventionalist because I have favored counterinsurgency operations as well as slower, conditions-based withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think people just assume that I think these conflicts are fun and was in favor of the decisions that were made concerning our entry into each conflict. So whenever I get the chance to set the record straight and stress the fact that my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have made me more reluctant to engage in expeditionary military operations, I welcome the opportunity.
The second reason has to do with my semi-flippant reference to the disastrous 1993 debacle in Somalia. I stick by this analogy for reasons I'll discuss later.
First, though, let's talk about international interventions. There are four questions* we should ask when considering whether or not the United States should engage in an international intervention:
No surprise, but Roth skipped straight to Question 4, which is pretty typical not just for humanitarian advocates but also for U.S. military types, congressmen, talking heads, think tank researchers, etc. Questions 1 and 2 are really important, though. Question 2 gets at interests: does the United States have a vital interest at stake? (With "vital" meaning you're willing to use force?) Question 1, meanwhile, gets at a tricky question about how an intervention would change the dynamics of the conflict: On the one hand, it might immediately end the conflict. (Good!) On the other hand, it might also prolong the conflict due to unforeseen second-order effects of the intervention. (Bad!) Can we make a determination about what it would do prior to the intervention? And Question 3 is pretty important as well: are there other nations or militaries that might be better suited to intervene? Would it be more appropriate, in this case, to work by, with and through African nations?
Obviously, we can all disagree on interests. Kenneth Roth and I probably disagree on the question of whether or not the United States has a vital interest in Central Africa or, specifically, whether or not the United States has a vital interest in leading an expedition to arrest Joseph Kony.
That leads to operational concerns and my use of the Blackhawk Down analogy. I stick by the use of this analogy, even though I employed it pretty flippantly (and drew some grief from Laurenist as well). Here's why:
Once upon a time, in Prussia, some dude remarked that everything in war is very simple -- but the simplest thing is difficult. I understand that the LRA is not exactly Hizballah. But we should be very wary of those who claim military operations conducted against them would be some kind of cakewalk. Because one of the reasons the best military units constantly conduct rehearsals and plan for contingencies is not to prepare for when things go right but for when, even independent of enemy action, things go wrong.
Things will always go wrong. You may embark on an open-and-shut humanitarian intervention, as we did in Somalia, and get dragged into something different. Or you may be hitting a relatively easy target in the Bakaara Market one day when boom! A helicopter goes down and suddenly things get a lot more complicated. And it doesn't matter that you and your buddies manage over the next 18 hours to kill 1000+ Somali militiamen: when dead U.S. soldiers appear on CNN, the reason why U.S. troops are on the ground has to make sense to people back home. Going back to Central Africa, what happens when a helicopter drops out of the sky -- as helicopters tend to do -- and eight U.S. servicemen are killed? Was it worth it? Does the mission still make sense to the public?
Things go wrong, folks. Things always go wrong. Which is why it is really important that we determine vital U.S. interests are at stake before intervening.
In the next few years, the United States will draw down in both Iraq and Afghanistan. On the right, the last neoconservatives will clamor for more U.S. military action against rebels in Yemen or Iran's nuclear program. Liberal interventionalists on the left, meanwhile, will argue for the employment of U.S. military force in humanitarian interventions from Burma to Uganda.
I may be the only person to have read Samantha Power's "Bystanders to Genocide" and come away thinking Richard Clarke was kind of a hero. Clarke was one of those who asked the tough questions of all the plans to commit U.S. military power on the ground in Rwanda, another landlocked area of Central Africa: How would we seize the airport? How would we resupply the troops? What is our endstate? How would we evacuate casualties?
I'm sorry, but these are the kind of questions responsible people have to ask. The fact that we often don't ask these questions depresses me.
*A varient of these four questions is in my notes from a conversation I had with Dave Kilcullen two years ago, so we can safely assume I stole these from him.
Update: The comments thread of this post is a good one, with some back and forth between Gian Gentile and Gulliver worth reading. But the real show is the comments thread at Ink Spots, where the five of them are locked in what can only be described as "intense disagreement" with one another.
It's the motha ****in' waw ha ba (Haifa Wehbe, motha ****as).
Please suggest lyrics for Mr. Doogh in the comments.
I get several hundred emails a day and often do not have the time to respond to them all. I am by no means some kind of big deal, but I also don't have a personal assistant. So if I have not responded to your email or never got around to reading a paper you sent me, have mercy on me, okay? I regularly work long hours, read 100+ pages a day, and, believe it or not, have a life outside the office. (Though I can understand how it might not make sense why I can tweet about a baseball game yet leave your email unanswered.)
As I read over this post, I realize how pompous it sounds. I honestly do and apologize for that. But as you may have guessed, I have gotten some frustrated comments recently by people to whom I failed to respond or failed to respond in the depth and length they would have preferred. Maybe I should just let Ron Burgundy handle this:
I have searched and searched my libraries both here and in Tennessee for the following books, all four of which I read in 2004 and 2005 and thus probably lost in moves from Beirut to Cairo and from Cairo to Washington, DC. 'Tis a pity, as these are all four classics. And expensive to replace.
Dear Sir or Madam:
As one of your readers, what in the world am I supposed to make of an article in yesterday's newspaper claiming that the United States and its allies are kicking the holy crap out of the Taliban, and another article today that claims that, no, actually, U.S. and allied operations are not having much of an effect at all on the Taliban's ability to conduct operations?
Can you see how this is confusing? I know the articles were written by different journalists working from different sources, but as a layman, I read these two articles and note that one was sourced almost entirely from officers within ISAF and that the other was sourced almost entirely from officers within the intelligence community. I also note that one article was sourced entirely from Afghanistan while another was sourced entirely from Washington. Was no attempt made by the left hand to figure out what the right hand was doing?
Here's a radical proposition: why don't you direct your reporters to pool their sources, work together, and write an article that highlights the conflicting assessments rather than write two articles taking each set of sources at face value? Because I shouldn't forget to read the newspaper one day and miss the news that we're winning. Or losing.
By now you've all read about the ICBM Charlie Foxtrot that left 50 Minuteman III nuclear missiles on the fritz. We here at Abu Muqawama have been given exclusive access to the phone conversation that took place this afternoon between Presidents Barack Obama and Dimitri Medvedev:
The great Joao Silva, I have no doubt, will someday recover from his injuries and return to the battlefield, back to work, showing other photojournalists how it's done. But I have many friends Silva has mentored over the years, as his generosity to other photojournalists in what can be a cut-throat profession is legendary. It is very difficult to find a combat photojournalist anywhere in the world who has not been mentored at some point by Silva. It is appropriate, then, for me to link to the work of another New York Times photographer, my friend Bryan Denton, who has been in southern Afghanistan off and on for several years. Click here to see his latest from Arghandab. The work these guys (and gals) do amazes me.
Commentor Zathras rightly took me to task on a post about India and Pakistan's relationship.
Pakistan's long-term interest lies in the two countries settling their differences. But, as Zathras says, what's in the interests of the country isn't always in the interest of the people that run it.
"Suppose Pakistan's political elites continue to be driven by the inertia that encourages policies bad for the country but helpful to the maintenance of their domestic positions?"
This is a valid point to make in any country (ie. politicians and bankers, or politicians and defence firms). Pakistan has not fared well in the past 50 years. Some might argue that the political groupings felt they needed to cement their positions in order to implement their vision for the country's betterment. However, the end result is that rural landlords have succeeded in paying little tax and the military as made itself the country's strongest institution, while state services, the national economy and now public security have suffered dramatically.
I passionately believe that the way to remedy this is to build on Pakistan's often overlooked advantages and empower its people to become involved their country's future direction. I am just coming to the end of a one project I was working on to facilitate a discussion about governance, religion and identity based on Pakistan's own religious traditions (which I have written about before).
But the process that needs to take place is a discussion with the aim of building a new consensus where for 50 years there has only been one group trying to impose its vision on others. To that end, it's really good to see more initiatives that aim to work with and engage the public.
After the floods, I wrote about the activities of young Pakistanis who had decided that the responsibility for helping their country lay ultimately with them. For the afpak article, I spoke to Ali Abbas, the head of the Pakistan Youth Alliance. A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the launch of a new social movement that Ali, and other young Pakistanis, have started up.
Khudi was launched with the help of the UK's Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremism think tank. The launch in Islamabad gathered together figures from Pakistan's media, the young activists themselves, Maajid Nawaz, director of Quilliam, as well as Noman Benotman, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and a former associate of Osama Bin Laden.
Fasi Zaka, a well known and fairly outspoken commentator, talked about the responsibility the media has to promote reasoned, constructive debate. Hamid Mir, a well known TV anchor, talked about the limitations placed on the media. As Noman Benotman was speaking, a vocal section of the crowd cheered nearly every sentence he spoke. But when he paused respectfully during the call to prayer, a voice from the back called, "Where is your secularism now?"
I have friends that complained about the content and style of the evening. "It's not Pakistani enough." Or, "Why are they preaching at us?" Or, "The speakers are saying different things."
I differ. It is Pakistani by the fact that Pakistanis are taking a leading role in it. Also, Pakistanis find it appealing enough to become Facebook fans (13,500 Facebook so far). Also, I would say that the difference of opinion is the point of an initiative like Khudi.
In 2007, Maajid Nawaz, addressed a hall in London and laid out his reasons for leaving behind his former life as a leading member of the non-violent extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir. The hall was full of ultra orthodox Muslims (salafis), people who were sympathetic to his old group, generally interested young professional Muslims and many non-Muslims. Maajid laid out his thoughts and many people disagreed, vocally, right there and then. But the point was that it was debate. In the last three years, the space for debate amongst young British Muslims has grown.
Pakistan, a country where 60 percent of the population is under 30, also needs open debate. If everyone agreed from the beginning, it wouldn't be needed. Instead, in Pakistan, because there has been little national debate - and no consensus - about the core foundational questions that underpin the state, there is little common ground from which to start the debate.
A national consensus is the basis of political stability. It lays out a broadly agreed idea of what the country is about, the duties of the rulers and the ruled as well as the roles of its various intertwined communities (economic, ethnic, religious etc.) This sort of common understanding allows for differences of opinion to occur without ripping a country to shreds or bringing it to a standstill. A national consensus is necessary to develop a sense of political participation and the sense that leaders are responsible to the people. If that can be achieved, the elites Zathras mentions have less leeway to secure their positions at the end of their country.
Even though Pakistanis have little common solid standpoints from which to begin the debate, Khudi makes the point that desire for change amongst the youth is a powerful enough place to start.
In the long-term the answers can't come from abroad. If we accept that bad governance, the exploitation of deeply held beliefs and fears for short-term ends are amongst the issues that have contributed to extremism, then initiatives like Khudi and Karvaan-e-Amn (which I was working on) that promote debate and engagement are going to ultimately br more useful than military aid.
From mid November onwards, I'll be moving on to another role involving communications in Pakistan. But I hope the long-awaited national dialogue amongst Pakistanis grows.
I have heard from multiple people that Joao Silva, one of the finest combat photojournalists in the history of photojournalism, was severely wounded today in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province. The book Joao wrote with Greg Marinovich on covering the last days of apartheid is legendary, as are his exploits covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We here at the blog wish Joao the best. His injuries are apparently horrific, and he will need a lengthy period of recovery. God speed, Joao.
That title is a blatant attempt to draw your attention to the thing you cared about yesterday: reconciliation and negotiations in Afghanistan. I have a new piece on ForeignPolicy.com that you can read right here.
A couple of people have made the point that I skipped over India in my overview of Pakistan-US relations. It's a fair point. India is a post by itself (hence the new post). India does of course come into the equation in any discussions about Pakistan and the US, and that's likely to increase in the future. I don't mean to downplay the India angle, but from the point of view of US-Pak relations, it still boils down to the issue of Pakistan's political and economic independence, which itself comes down to building a stable political system internally.
But yes, there's more to Pakistan's relationship with India than just that... India is special because it is intrinsically linked to Pakistan's self image.
A Pakistani diplomat I met in Jordan once asked me, "You've worked in the Middle East. Tell me, how is it that the Arabs are so much better at building a long-term relationship with the US than us."
The question troubled me on a number of levels. I know the diplomat is thinking about the aid Egypt has received since 1982, and continual political and diplomatic support that has allowed the Egyptian state to become a disfigured behemoth. Jordan is propped up by military aid and free trade agreements while Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf states) find excuses to push their cash towards America so they get the big-power umbrella they need to survive. The main threat to these countries is that the ruling family will be deposed by their own people. I'd never worked in Pakistan at that point, and I found it worrying that from what I knew about the place. The fact that Pakistan isn't a centralised one-party/family state is a strength. Did the Pakistani establishment really think becoming Egypt or Jordan was the best direction for their country?
Whereas Arab countries are fearful for their ruling families (probably rightly so), Pakistan's fear is India. And whereas America's relationship - individually - with each of those states is more important to the smaller country than to America, as a whole it represents the foreign policy strategy that America uses to maintain its economy and position in the world.
For the Arab states mentioned above (apart from Egypt) their present form is largely based around a ruling family. So their narrow ruling classes are right in seeing a threat to the rulers as a threat to the country as a whole. Pakistan is based on an idea rather than a ruling family. That idea is a vague political conceptualisation of Islam. The threat to that idea is personified by India. An India that includes a peaceful Muslim-majority Kashmir knocks the most basic sense of the idea behind Pakistan; that Muslims would risk being wiped out physically and culturally while also removed from the history books if they were subsumed by the Hindu masses. An India at war with itself (in Kashmir and other non-Muslim provinces) proves the idea that Pakistan's founders were right to push for self determination and escape the "clutches of the conceited Hindu rulers of India" (as they would have put it).
This doesn't mean India is totally blameless. Historical evidence suggests that Pakistan's founders didn't expect to have the kind of relationship with India the country has today. It's speculated that Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, left some of his family and property in India at the time of partition because he thought he'd be able to travel between the two new Commonwealth states that both retained the Queen as their head of state and senior British Army officers heading their armed forces. In the early days Pakistan and India briefly talked about common defence agreements even while Kashmir lay unresolved.
In reality, Pakistan's founders, Jinnah in particular, probably saw Pakistan as a largely secular Muslim state with cultural and economic ties to both the UK and India. The point of Pakistan, in his mind, was not that every South Asian Muslim should live under Muslim rule, but that Muslims of the subcontinent would again be able to chart their political and economic destiny on their own terms as they did before the Indian Mutiny (First War of Independence) of 1857. India, he thought, would behave better to its Muslim minority when its regional power was checked by a Muslim neighbour. Also, it's worth remembering that Pakistan's squaring up to India hasn't always seemed like total folly. For many years, Pakistan had higher (but more volatile) economic growth rates and its industrial base and infrastructure was superior. Although Pakistan had the smaller army, it modelled itself on the numerically inferior Western forces designed to face a larger Warsaw Pact opponent. An approach the Israelis have used successfully against their Arab foes. India has surged ahead in the past 15 years, while Pakistan has really struggled in the last five.
The only future for Pakistan is a truly independent one. Relying on China as its patron is not wise. If India and China make common cause, Pakistan will again be out in the cold. China also has a Muslim minority that it doesn't always treat well. The potential for linkages to develop between Pakistan-backed elements working with or influencing Chinese Muslim discontent is high.
The only real future for Pakistan (or any country) is a truly independent one so that it has the confidence to engage the wider world on the basis of mutual interest. Pakistan will need peace with India if it is to stand on its own feet. But peace with India means building some sort of national consensus around Pakistan's identity, which is going to be a seriously tough prospect. There are infinite parallel universes of competing interests and visions. The easier option (which India indirectly encouraged) has been to build an identity around the idea of anti-Indianess and finding a big power patron to support Pakistan enough to avoid having to do any real meaningful country building. The only sort of government that will be able to start that process will be one with popular legitimacy. ie a democratic government that is seen as competent and sincere. That in itself is a huge challenge.
But perhaps this is where US policy can come in useful. By pushing the two countries together and pressuring them to make a real and lasting peace with a solution to Kashmir could kickstart Pakistan's inner conversation about itself. Right now, the only people with a compelling line of argument are extremists.
"I'm curious, though, to hear from my Islamabad-based blogging partner how he would square the circle facing U.S. policy-makers."
Right, well... hmm... I feel slightly fraudulent even assuming I can answer this question when the issue of Pakistan is befuddling lorry loads of eminent people even as I type.
Much is said about Pakistan, but I'm constantly saddened that so many innocent pixels are lost without good cause. Americans talk about what their country's policy should be towards Pakistan with almost as much vigour as Pakistanis when they talk about what their government should do about America. But none of the indignant laments get us any further to finding a way forward.
US commentators seem to see Pakistan through a very narrow time line that stretches as far back as 9/11 and as far forward as the end of the US involvement in Afghanistan. In turn, Pakistanis see their problem with extremism as starting with 9/11 and ending with the pullout of the last US soldiers from Kabul. Both views are as flawed as they are intertwined. Extremism has deep roots in Pakistan that were fed mainly by opportunistic politicians and army men while Pakistan's international friends looked away or actually helped. It's the results of that extremism that now draw the US to Afghanistan and what will continue to trouble it even when the last soldiers leave.
If no one objects, I'll take the medium to long term view of US policy towards Pakistan because the short term is dominated by Afghanistan and the tone will be set by American efforts to talk to elements of the Taliban and withdrawing in the next year or two. If the US wants to talk to the Taliban and relies on Pakistani help to do so, some might well see that as a victory of sorts for the Pakistani military's decision not to go hard after the Afghan Taliban. However, it would have come at a massive cost in terms of the violence and instability spreading now throughout Pakistan. However, even if the gamble is seen to have paid off and Pakistan gets to act as mediator and ends up with a fairly friendly regime residing in Kabul, that will not be the end of it, for Pakistan or the United States.
At the risk of sounding reductive, I would summarise the present situation thus: Pakistan, and much of the Muslim world, are largely rural landscapes with a fast-spreading media industry. In the various bits of travelling I've done in Pakistan, Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, I've found that most people in rural areas have heard little of the outside world. In most cases 9/11 means little and America, the UK, France and Germany are an incoherent jumble of places ruled by a king who lives in a palace called London. Abu Muqawama is the resident expert on COIN, insurgency and guerrilla war, but whenever I hear of a new attack planned by militants on civilians in the States or Europe, I can't help but thinking that it sounds like the kind of action insurgents have under taken since the dawn of warfare: attack a larger power in the name of honour/justice etc and provoke a disproportionate backlash that rallies the undecided masses around your cause.
i still marvel in horror at the ability of extremists against all conventional logic (Western assets, Muslim views) to make their narrative of events sound the more plausible to the increasing number of people becoming integrated into the global media and political landscape. This is more to do with the failure of Muslim leadership and the misdirection of Western efforts than the actual truth or abilities of the extremists.
Keeping that in mind; probably the most talked about issue when it comes to Pakistan is "the nukes. Conventional wisdom says; Pakistan deserves attention because of its nuclear status.
"It's all about the nukes."
Now, actually, that statement would probably be agreed on by your typical informed Pakistani and American, but from two totally different positions. Many commentators over in Washington, London, Brussels etc regularly paint a doomsday scenario that involves wild-eyed bearded men grabbing nukes and running off into the mountains. Whereas in Pakistan, the newspaper reading public is convinced the US is constantly planning to send black-clad Blackwater special forces to grab Pakistan's Islamic bomb and fly off in helicopters in the direction of Israel or India.
In truth, the problem crystallising in Pakistan is more about gradual state breakdown, ungoverned spaces, increased regional instability, internal chaos and the spiralling of events in such a fashion that the extremist fairytale starts resembling a plausible reality. It's depressingly more likely that someone like Faisal Shehzad succeeds in taking advantage of the increasing writ of militant groups to attack and kill people in America, India or elsewhere with regular arms and not nuclear weapons. In this scenario we could expect some sort of action on Pakistani soil and/or more Quran burning etc in the US and Europe, which would then play into the "War on Islam" talk.
Basically, nuclear weapons need not fit into a nightmare scenario facing Pakistan. Yes, it's worth worrying about, but it's not the start an end of the threat the situation in Pakistan poses to the region and the wider world.
Extremism: The well-repeated view in Pakistan on violence and extremism within the country is that it started with the US war in Afghanistan and will end with it. The corresponding misunderstanding in the West is that Pakistan's secret cabal of generals are al Qaeda's ideological comrades and the population is genetically prone to extremism.
Pakistan's problems with extremism will not end with the US-led involvement in Afghanistan because the problem did not start with 9/11. The Pakistani establishment has been rather cynically manipulating religious sentiment even before they had a state to rule. The concept of Pakistan was based on the idea that the Muslims of the subcontinent (the former rulers) would lose their identity and any political influence in Hindu-majority India. The issue there was self determination - a burning concern for minorities through the ages. The point here is not to argue whether the sentiment was justified, or whether a separate state was the appropriate answer (these are issues that South Asia specialists devote libraries of books to) but to make the point that Pakistan was built on the fear of a diverse set of Muslim societies who were told that being Muslim meant being Pakistani and that survival was built on being the "purest" Muslims they could be. In a feat of myopia challenged only by US-led lack of planning in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan that vague but over-exploited sentiment was never allowed to mature through the natural engagement of the public. Once the establishment of the state was achieved, the religious rhetoric was left aside in favour of more secular-leaning public pronouncements.
But it was too late by then. Too many promises had been made and politicians and generals were finding it too tempting to resist playing on religious sentiment for short term gains. Every Pakistani leader has done this at one time or another. In 1965, the largely non-religious military ruler Ayub Khan found himself running against Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan's founder. Shamelessly, Ayub Khan leaned on pronouncements by religious leaders that a woman can't be head of a Muslim country. Pakistan's military (led in those days by many a Sandhurst-trained whisky lover) used Jihad as a rallying cry in 1948. From their point of view, it was a cheap and effective way of raising manpower; a point of view that has not changed much. At the same time, the various decisions made in India and Pakistan coupled with the ideological underpinnings of their separation, ensured that hostility would endure and that in Pakistan, it would take on a religious dimension.
China vs US: Pakistan's leadership decided pretty early on that it would need big power patronage to challenge India. After the waning of British military influence around the globe, the US became the best bet and the arrangement served both partners. Now, it's common to hear Pakistanis talking about China being a better friend to Pakistan. The idea is based on the Pakistani perception that the country has been a steady Western ally for decades, but with little reward. The country (not the leadership) has paid dearly for the Afghan war and Iranian-Western hostility has soured relations between Iran and Pakistan, where economic logic would suggest Pakistan invest in cordial relations. The US-Pakistani relationship is a long one, and unfortunately, from the Pakistani point of view the US has used Pakistan like hired muscle in a turf war, and when the battle was won turned its back on the battered and jobless roughneck.
However, in seeking to play the enforcer role, Pakistan has neglected its long term interests. The Pakistani establishment whether political, bureaucratic or military - and this is my own opinion - seems to have become wedded to the idea that to survive against India it must enter into a Yakuza-style relationship as the kobun to a big power's oyabun. Be it Britain, the United States or China, Pakistan feels that if it swears loyalty it should be taken care of. When Pakistan feels betrayed, it goes rogue. And as Pakistan has realised more than once that the United States' interest waxes and wanes it turns to another cheap short-term solution, Jihadi militias, secret nuclear programmes and proliferation.
China's relatively good standing in Pakistan is based on the perception that China is a loyal ally - an image that China has worked to establish across the region. But again, this is a short-term solution that might seem to work for now but probably wont in the future as interests and priorities shift. The cracks are already present. As I recently heard from a former Pakistani official, the much vaunted free trade agreement is far much more in China's favour than Pakistan's. A few well-connected Pakistani businessmen-politicians will do well from the deal, but in essence it allows Chinese goods to destroy Pakistan's fragile industrial base.
Pakistan is not alone in seeking to sell its geography or assets to a larger power in the hope of survival and largess. Arab Western allies countries have done something similar for decades. In each case, the desirability of the vassal-like alliance is down to the difficulty of enacting an alternative; the development of a strong economy built on a stable political structure. If Pakistan was able to encourage economic activity beyond the narrow class of well-connected elites, and raise income tax to cover its expenditures it would have less need to seek fickle patrons. But building a political-social consensus has eluded Pakistan as it has other states in the region.
At the same time, Western powers have been unabashed at utilising Pakistan's failings for their own short-term goals. Yes, the USSR was humiliated, but look where we are now. 9/11 left Pakistan knowing it HAD to side with the United States. But the idea that reliance on Jihadi militias was a necessity ran deep through the state. Musharraf carried out a couple of purges of ISI. But as time went on, the state came to the conclusion that the US would ultimately withdraw from Afghanistan and leave Islamabad and Kabul to fend for themselves. In that scenario, Pakistan would be left having amputated its own arm with a backyard that was increasingly becoming the playground of its archenemy.
Having said all this, the basis for a stronger relationship between the US and Pakistan is there. Relations were good in the past (for example, see here). And they should be in the future. A Pakistan that becomes the Kobun of China is not in Pakistani or US interests. In my view a number of things need to happen that are beyond the experience of traditional state-to-state relations. Firstly, the US could well benefit from developing a relationship with Pakistani civil society with a view to strengthen the country (not necessarily the elites). This means youth groups that agitate against corruption, educational and health charities that foster greater social cohesion by bringing together Pakistanis from the various ethnic and sectarian backgrounds. At the same time, improving the economy should not just be focused on making the rich richer (as is usually the case with free trade agreements) but empowering regular Pakistanis to set up small to medium size business and make them grow and export. Pakistan's bureaucracy needs help to transform itself to an asset for governance, not a hindrance. These are not things that necessarily require lots of money, but they need thought and clever application. Of course, these are things that Pakistan's rulers should have done themselves. But right now that point has become academic.
In short, the challenge for US diplomacy is to help Pakistan normalise and stabilise. To do so will require subtlety, sensitivity as well as toughness. The key here is not money, but intelligently applied effort. In the past US political efforts had a specific goal (for example, fighting Communisim) and Washington needed specific things done which necessitated a relationship with the actors that could make them happen. This meant the US developed a relationship with the military and sometimes dealt with politicians. US policy in the future, if it is to be successful, needs to engage with the public. A good starting point to achieve this is to understand why the relationship went sour, and I think this is something US diplomats working in Pakistan understand. The challenge is to convert that quickly developing understanding into positive action.
At the moment, US public diplomacy in Pakistan is patchy. But to be fair, the task is immense. There are constant stories published in the media that paint any contractor, even one providing translation or financial services, as members of Blackwater hit teams. Security considerations make it difficult for diplomats to go out and about and make friends. Also, the infamous Pakistani bureaucracy makes getting visas for staff and getting staff out to visit outlaying areas a complicated process. But sometimes, too often, mistakes are made that just need not happen. I once saw a testy verbal altercation between US embassy people and staff at a well-watched Pakistani channel. The diplomats were bringing a senior US official to appear on a popular show but turned up late. The channel's staffers expressed their frustration and the diplomats did likewise. In the end, the official did not appear on the show.
The atmosphere of animosity makes bad situations worse and needs to be resolved (or at the least overcome) if the US is to deal with specific issues. And they don't come more specific than India. The key to a more stable Pakistan is a normalised relationship with its neighbour. A couple of Pakistani governments have tried to negotiate with India over Kashmir in the past but as opportunities have been missed and the decades roll on, the task becomes harder. Moves towards a resolution will unsettle vested interests and differences of opinion will inevitably be played out in the public domain. But this is where political capital with ordinary Pakistanis will be best used in the long term.
Abu Muqawama, master of the deceptively simple question, is wondering about US policy on Pakistan. While I ponder a response. It's worth having a read of a recent post on Reuters' Pakistan blog.
The post looks at Mosharraf Zaidi's very useful article on terrorism and responses in Pakistan.
Zaidi makes an important and much-missed point that:
"The epicentre of religious extremism is the institution of the political articulation of faith in Pakistan."
This is a concept I'll be touching on in a post about to be put up shortly.
The Reuters post then goes on to suggest a list of "influences buffeting Pakistan".
Read and ponder too.
George Bush said that on 11 September 2001. And whatever you think of the former president, not distinguishing between transnational terror groups and the individuals, groups and states that sponsor them makes a high degree of sense. What to do, then, about a country that, on the one hand, supplies much of the intelligence that allows the United States and its allies to target al-Qaeda but, on the other hand, most certainly also sponsors transnational terror groups to promote its own foreign policy? That's our Pakistan problem in a nutshell, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that U.S. policy toward Pakistan is schizophrenic, with us alternating between sticks and carrots, creating a dynamic that, from the Pakistani perspective, must make little sense and certainly fails to establish a coherent and enduring structure of incentives for collaboration.
Pakistan specialists talk of Pakistan's strategic triangle and the way it relies on the possession of nuclear weapons, a robust conventional army, and state-sponsored terror groups to advance Pakistani interests. I can understand how a smart old Pakistan hand like Ryan Crocker could then argue we should support Pakistan anyway, but at some point, support for the Pakistanis is just going to cease making sense to Americans and their representatives in the Congress. Americans will begin to wonder how we got from the president's words on 11 September to this. And it might not take another terror attack, emanating from Pakistani soil, to change the relationship.
I'm curious, though, to hear from my Islamabad-based blogging partner how he would square the circle facing U.S. policy-makers.
Recently, I went to the launch of a new social movement in Pakistan that seeks to promote democracy and counter extremism. I was later talking to a friend who had followed the launch in the media. You could say that he had a unique take on the matter - as a former officer in Pakistan's intelligence services, he spent many years working on counter terrorism and I was interested to hear what he had to say about all the new kids on the block setting up shop on his turf.
Most people who read this blog regularly can probably guess what I'm going to think about any given topic (particularly if it involves the media) so I thought it would much more interesting to hear a new take on a familiar topic. My friend graciously submitted the following article. However, be aware, the opinions are his own and do not represent those of his former employers or anyone else.
The extremism of simple phrases
The banner said, "Extremism leads to Terrorism". It's simple idea but a catchy phrase is seldom a good basis from which to understand a very complex problem.
Extremists come in a variety of forms. Some say that Muslim extremists are those that follow their religion rigorously. But Muslims aren't the only people with a set of strongly held convictions. Others, for example, might feel extremely attached to animal rights. However, in parts of the world where a fear of Islam is becoming widespread, the sight of Muslims praying can cause panic, while cabbage picking hardly raises an eyebrow.
Pakistan is becoming a test tube for people who want to understand and challenge extremism. Approaches are varied and often conflicting. A social movement called Khudi led by a former extremist recently launched in Pakistan. Khudi's approach reminds me of a faded hip-hop artist looking to get back in the limelight on the basis of a catchy remix of an old tune.
Maajid Nawaz, the former extremist, seemed like our own Nawaz Sherif (Ed. Leader of Pakistan's opposition Muslim League party) in Western clothes and a $100 haircut. He repeated pretty much the same rhetoric you hear surfing our news channels and came off sounding like a salesman trying to peddle himself as new visionary leader and the answer to our political vacuum. The media was there to lend its weight.
The speakers repeated their old - unremixed - tunes that the military and intelligence agencies were constantly curtailing the media, which is why it must grow and gain more power. They tried to make us understand that even if we weren't lucky enough to be noble journalists, we could help Pakistan - of course, by making everyone think like them. In reality, the media has no plan for the betterment of Pakistan; its only quest is to amass more influence for its chosen sons and daughters.
In guarding Pakistan, all separatists, regardless of their geography or level of education, need to be countered. Therefore, if certain members of the media have decided to mislead the nation on the pretext of liberties or the hidden evil of the security services they should be challenged with the same energy we put into stopping armed attackers and suicide bombers. The motive of both sets of people is the same, self-promotion at all costs, including the stability and security of the nation.
The real question here is, who are the terrorists and where is the war? And yet, the answers make the issue no clearer still. For example, Karachi's Binori Town madrassa is led by a man whose own immediate family resides in the United States. And yet, we still face threats from the institution's students and even faculty members.
We, as Pakistanis, feel ashamed when we are told a Pakistan has been arrested on terror charges in the US or the UK. The arrests continue, but so do the drone strikes. I don't believe that we should form an alliance with the enemy. When confronted, we should look to see whether we are facing a wolf or a wolf in sheep's clothes. In a time of war, people are called upon to take sides. There was Bush's "war or terror" and the "axis of evil". Whereas Islamists talk of the Harb al Kabeer, or the Great War. Those who choose a path of their own make powerful enemies.
New social movements for the growth and future of Pakistan are important. But we cannot let ourselves be guided by the agenda of a lone, self-serving individual. With his comment "I corrupted the minds of Pakistani army officers as well as others around the world." Maajid Nawaz showed that he had merely switched from one extreme to another. And as the banner implies, extremism leads to nowhere Pakistan might want to go.
I read the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times every day. For the past week, all three papers have been filled with articles, usually on the front page, concerning reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan. I do not have access to classified information, so maybe there is stuff out there that I am not seeing, but I have not seen anything in Afghanistan that suggests the kind of large-scale reconcilation, defections or reintegration that could be a "game changer" in the near term. The insurgency in Afghanistan is not unitary, which is always worth noting, but there are three major actors: the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the Haqqani Network, and the Quetta Shura Taliban. Of those three actors, the first -- which is easily the least significant -- is the only one I can see reconciling with the government anytime soon. The second, the Haqqani Network, strikes me as more or less irreconcilable, and the third, the Quetta Shura Taliban, will likely only come over to the side of the government -- if it ever does -- when it has the blessing of its senior leadership and Pakistan's intelligence services. I do not know of any credible or recognized expert on the conflict in Afghanistan or the insurgent actors there who believes reconciliation is a real prospect in the near term.
The people who write on Afghanistan for our nation's daily newspapers are hard-working, intelligent journalists. Some of them are my friends. But it's worth asking if a "scoop" by one of them based on a source has led to a kind of feeding frenzy in which editors are asking reporters for articles to keep up with the competition -- even if there is no "there" there. Reporters, like think tank researchers, are only as good as their sources. And maybe there is more to the reconciliation angle than I know. But I think this is a lot of smoke for not very much fire, and I find it annoying because the echo chamber of our nation's media is beginning to convince Americans that negotiations -- and a U.S. withdrawal -- are just around the corner in Afghanistan. I wish they were, but honestly, I don't think this is the case at all. So editors and reporters: before you assign or write another article on reconciliation or negotiations in Afghanistan, ask yourself a few questions:
1. Am I writing/assigning this article to keep up with my competitors or based on the bottom-up reporting of this newspaper's journalists?
2. The United States and its Afghan partners have been seeking a negotiated end to this conflict for years, and most especially over the past 18 months. What is new about this story? Are we actually seeing a new development or is this more of the same?
3. Defections are not the same thing as reconciliation. And the former can go both ways in a conflict like this. So what phenomenon am I describing here?
4. Is this article drawn from sources in Washington, DC or from credible sources in Afghanistan?
And a final note: we Americans tend to think of conflict as sequential. First, you fight. Second, you negotiate an end to the fighting. But in Afghanistan it is entirely normal to talk while fighting. Just because you're fighting each other during the day doesn't mean you're not talking at night.
Update: I may break the collective balls of the media, but my friend Maria Abi Habib has a great article (with a dateline in Afghanistan) on the general uselessness of the German and Afghan armies in today's Journal.
I always thought so, but this may come as news to Hassan Nasrallah:
Q: I know at least one national flag has an AK-47 pictured. Are there any other examples of weapons being national symbols on par with the AK-47? –steve
A: Dear Steve,
Commenter #11, Andrew S., offered one possible answer, although the machete is a tool that is not necessarily a weapon. Here is an image of the Angolan flag. I’ll leave it to you to decide what you think the machete means.
The Guatemalan flag includes a pair of crossed rifles, with bayonets affixed, as well as a pair of crossed swords.
And many nations incorporate arms in important ways into national seals, currency or anthems. But none of these that I know of have as strong an association with a particular product, or “brand,” if you will, as the Kalashnikov in the flag of Mozambique.
The Kalashnikov has worked its ways into the symbols of many groups, from youth activists in Russian to jihadists in Iraq. I’m on the road right now, and away from some of my records. Otherwise I could provide you with several images of insurgent groups that prominently display the Kalashnikov line in their flags or seals. In some cases these groups claim to be the spokespeople of their land.
We could also talk through some of the flags often said to carry the image of a Kalashnikov. I would argue, for example, that the flag of Hezbollah has a Kalashnikov-like image, but not a Kalashnikov image. The rifle has features of an AK-47 but also a feature from another well-known arm, the Heckler & Koch G3. Similarly, the logo of the Red Army Faction, which many commentators said bore the image of an AK-47, actually displays an MP-5 submachine gun. Does this matter? It’s maybe not especially important, aside from the fact that it demonstrates that much of the conversation that surrounds the Kalashnikov line, the things many people think they know, is wrong, or at least not quite right. This is a phenomenon I encountered again and again during my years of research.
I read Stefan Aust's book on the Red Army Faction last year, and Aust teases the RAF for putting the wrong damn gun on their logo. After all, what self-respecting revolutionary movement would put an H&K MP-5 on their logo instead of the AK-47? (C.J. Chivers, for his part, shatters the myth of the AK-47 as "the rifle of the revolutionary" in his book.)
Speaking of Hizballah, Mitch and I were chuckling last night about the fact that while Ahmedinejad was speaking in person in Bint Jbeil yesterday, Nasrallah appeared via a televised address from his bunker. The implied message: the Israeli Air Force would only waste a bomb on one of us -- and it's not the clown in the Member's Only jacket.
"An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today." -- Laurence J. Peter (Whose words, I think, might apply to the social sciences more broadly.)
It's not quite New Coke, and it's not as ill-advised as signing up to be al-Qaeda's #3, but this is a pretty bad idea.
Wrap your head around this one: the executive director of Human Rights Watch, an organization for which I have much respect, has suggested the United States wage a counter-guerrilla campaign in the dense jungles of not one but four central and east African states to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army and arrest Joseph Kony.
What could go wrong, right? I mean, this would surely be one of those in-and-out things. And our efforts to track down and arrest two dudes in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan went off without a hitch in 2001, so we probably don't need to do any contingency planning or anything. This is what we call a fail-safe plan.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Kony and other Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commanders, charging them with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the court depends on governments to make arrests ... there is no better case for the humanitarian use of force than the urgent need to arrest Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the LRA, and protect the civilians who are his prey.
Kenneth Roth is literally suggesting the United States act as the world's policeman here. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Roth and his organization, but this is a terrible, terrible idea. Roth mentions Bosnia and Kosovo as precedents for humanitarian intervention, but those were massive expeditionary operations supported by tens of thousands of soldiers. What he says is needed in this particular case is for the United States to send "special forces, expert intelligence, and rapid-deployment capacity" to a state in East Africa for humanitarian purposes.
Cutting defense spending is the only reliable way to stifle Washington's impulse to send U.S. troops on ill-considered missions around the globe.
Woah, really? That's the only reliable way? What about raising taxes to pay for those ill-considered missions? Would that not have a similar effect? It seems like we have a lot of literature on the subject of war and taxation, and a long history of imposing special taxes to fund conflicts. I'm not locked into one option over the other, but I would be interested in hearing from Chris or one of his policy ninjas at Cato why raising taxes doesn't have the same effect on the U.S. appetite for overseas engagements as cutting spending.
Update: I would have been more interested in making a bag of popcorn and watching Chris's head explode when he read this. Because deploying military force into a landlocked African country to pursue a guerrilla organization's leadership sounds like one of those things that could not possibly go wrong. I mean, that's basically one of those in-and-out kind of things, right? I have much respect for Kenneth Roth and his great organization, but he is literally suggesting the United States be the world's policeman here, dropping into African jungles and arresting people wanted by the ICC. Goodness gracious, this is the worst I idea I have read in some time. #AQ3
Update II: Chris writes in:
Suffice it to say, I don't want to starve the military of funds just to make a point. And I always say, always, that cutting force structure without cutting missions is the worst possible solution, because that would impose horrible (additional) burdens on the troops.
But... giving the Pentagon whatever it asks for (plus 2 pct, thanks Congress) hasn't produced security. It has enabled Washington policymakers to muck around in places that would best be avoided. Recall Albright to Powell: "What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always taking about if we can’t use it?"
I'll make you a deal. Let's cut back to where we were at 9/11 (once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over, of course), and then let's see if the politicians can resist their interventionist impulses. If they do, we can cut more.
Another shrine attack. The last major one was in early July in Lahore. This time, in Karachi. Regular readers will have by now heard me talking about the dangers of sectarian war in Pakistan a good few times. So instead of hearing me go on, I thought it would be worth hearing someone else's take on the theme
A news article in the Tribune newspaper reports that the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility and that security forces are expecting more such attacks.
"(Interior Minister) Malik said that by attacking places associated with mystic Barelvi Islam; these groups want to trigger a Deobandi-Barelvi war similar to the Shia-Sunni conflict... He said that the government law enforcement and intelligence agencies were capable enough to foil their plots."
There are all sorts of studies written by people much cleverer than me that will tell you violence in this type of conflict aims to do a lot more than just kill its immediate victims. In Pakistan, right now, it also aims to push people into ideological camps (for or against) so that the perpetrators can claim they defend a constituency and create an ideological cover for their actions. In that sense, the attacks were aimed at forcing people to think about the "who is Muslim and who is not" argument.
I would add just raising this argument where once it wouldn't be entertained at all is an achievement for extremists because, well.. if you are arguing about whether Muslims are really Muslims, whether people agree or not, you have already radicalised on the sly the discourse concerning non-Muslims, or Shia.
For example, have a look at the comments section of another Tribune article, this time a blog on the shrine that was attacked.
"...If Taleban are poisoning Islam by blowing the mosques off some Sufi followers are also indulging in evil innovations at shrines. I don't endorse neither Talibani nor Barelvi kind of Islam..."
But even though there are some Pakistanis, like "Tanzeel", who think that there is some sort of equivilancy between visiting a shrine and killing Muslims at worship, there are still others ready to push back.
"@Tanzeel Well sufi followers dont blow up mosques, they dont make it compulsory for others to follow their innovations. Comparison between taliban terrorists and sufis is just ridiculous. Its shocking that people still try to justify this mass murder by refering to the "true islam" which only they have the right to interprate and practice."
But what worries me is that Ali Khan (no relation) and the others who made similar points are on the cusp of being irrelevant to the conversation. Keep in mind that those who read an English-language newspaper online and then post replies in good English are likely to be more exposed and critical than the average member of the public. Tanzeel's point is reflective of a wider (and often more forceful) argument, and in the public arena (not just in Pakistan) an argument with any hint of nuance usually loses out to a "You are with us or against us" or "You are Muslim or you aren't" line of rhetoric.
So, I totally agree with what the interior minister says back in the first article:
"These are hard times; we are facing internal and external challenges and need national cohesion."
I wonder if a counter extremism policy and strategy would be a good place to start. Pity his government hasn't got round to formulating one.
I served as a respondent this afternoon, along with Jack Fairweather and Michael Semple, to an excellent new report written by my friends Erica Gaston and Jonathan Horowitz on the way in which U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan have been perceived by the Afghans themselves. The panel discussion, which was taped by FORA TV and should be available somewhere on the internets in the near future can be viewed below, was a good one. In the meantime, you can both read the report itself and read my prepared remarks, below. (Note: These remarks, as with all remarks I post on this blog, were a) intended to be spoken and b) not written with academic sourcing. That said, a list of works referenced is at the bottom.)