More Failures

My friend Atiya Khan has a piece in The Platypus Review, The poverty of Pakistan’s politics (PPP), in which she takes me and Faisal Devji (finally, together!) to task for making “concessions to the Right” by not understanding, or not conceptualizing, or not realizing the “crypto-fascism” of the Taliban. This, accordingly, corresponds to the death of the Left in Pakistan since 1970.

Since her piece is in print, I will respond in print as well – either by sending in a letter or printing up flyers for Hyde Park. In the meanwhile, every one should go read her critique and reach their own conclusions (and discuss, of course).

Once More With Feelings

“Yet the Army leadership is refusing to strike at the heart of the Taliban command in Baluchistan Province.” declares another editorial from NYT today. If only these Pakistanis would realize – why won’t they just realize – that this is their wars, not ours.

Think back to March 2009. Then, the Taliban were on a march to Islamabad – mere 60 miles away – and the editorial chided the Pakistani army and civilian elite of not understanding their mortal threat. Invade Swat, became a mantra of pundits and editorials alike. After hemming and hawing – and filling up its coffers – the Pakistani Army did. It went in with guns blazing from every hill-top. It watched the million walk out of the valley with their houses gone and their livelihoods vanished. Never did the NYT or the Administration pause to even consider what were the local histories, the local demands, the causes which would have allowed the Taliban any foothold at all in Swat. Not once was Swat’s precarious constitutional structure discussed or attention paid to the Swati demands for expedient justice, equal opportunities and resource sharing. Not once. The drums of war drown out any other voice. All the Empire seeks is immediate action. In the here and in the now.

Then, in August 2009 came the second wave. The real battle is in Waziristan, not Swat where the Taliban’s real base exists. Why won’t the Pakistani army move in there already? Why are the wasting time in Swat? The timing was also good for a Pakistani “invasion” since Baitullah Mehsud had just been killed. Once again, the Army dithered until just long enough before finally launching an operation into N. Waziristan. Once again, the local population fled – but this time there were no IDP camps and no relief efforts. Apparently “most had relatives in the region“. Go figure that one out.

And because frontiers are “always empty”, the Taliban are now going to Baluchistan. So, let us send the Pakistani Army after them. It is fun, no? This chasing. Like a global game of tag. Get serious, Pakistan Army! Get into Baluchistan and crush those Taliban. Once again, who cares if the reality matches any of our discourse. Who cares that Baluchistan is not empty, and that it already has a war.

All clear?

Step 1: NYT (representing the Administration, of course) decries Pakistani Army needs to get serious on Taliban.
Step 2: Pakistani Army provides a suitable window of dithering, during which time a number of prominent pundits add their voice to the enfolding crisis.
Step 3: Pakistani Army gets more $ and then moves in to the “central area” in order to combat the Talibothra.
Step 4-40: Ignore any local issues; ignore the blowback of drones; ignore the constant bomb blasts in Peshawer, Lahore, Multan; ignore any political realities. Enjoy!

The Sunday Paradigm

Creepy Sundays in Berlin are quiet affairs. The usual shops are all closed – groceries, pharmacies, booksellers, fruit vendors, bike shops, bakeries, discount stores. You get the picture. In some U-bahn stations, in some busy corners, there would be a lone bakery, a hold-out grocer. New Berliners, such as myself, collect these informational nugget, knowing that we will never have purchased enough milk or shampoo or toilet paper or sandwich bags on Saturday.

At first, I was bemused by this state. Sundays are a day of rest, my native informants told me. Yes, they are. I like to read my week’s worth of NewYorkers, RSS feeds, and watch the Bears/Flash Gordon on cable. That used to be my usual Sunday as well. Not necessarily “rest” but mindful inactivity. But, this closed businesses rankled me, a bit. I wasn’t living in some religious state, right? This was the heart of secular, capitalist EU where I oughta be able to buy some snacks and/or wine on Sunday. Then I learned that during the Advent calendar (four Sundays before Xmas), Berlin shops are all open. Yes! See, I told my native informants – here is consumerist world I recognize and love (and avoid): sidewalks crawling with overstuffed shopping bags and attached arms and legs, the best medley Mandy Moore ever sang with Paul Anka and five times the amount of perfume than is ever necessary wafting on every breath.

The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany decided on Dec 1st, 2009 that the Berlin ordinance allowing for the shops to be opened during the Advent calendar was unconstitutional. The suit was brought by the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and the Archdioceses of Berlin and the Court accepted their argument that the abrogation of Sunday’s “restfulness” meant that the members of these churches could no longer have freedom of religious expression (ie. closed shops). Presumably, no other religion is laying a claim to a Sunday full of commercial activity. I really don’t understand the prezel logic.

The up-shot is that in another secular state, we the non-Christians, live under the tyranny (I know, too strong, but you catch my drift) of the theists.

Funnily enough, this is the same prezel logic that will have to define the implementation of the Swiss ban on minarets. After all, the might of the majority defining what constitutes proper architecture and what constitutes proper Sunday behavior are going to have to find similarly “secular” footholds in the Constitutions.

In a recent piece, Ian Buruma argues that the Swiss ban is less a sign of concern about Muslim religiosity and more a reflection on Europe’s own drift to socialist, atheist utopia:

Much has changed, thanks to global capitalism, European integration, the stigmatisation of national feeling by two catastrophic world wars, and, perhaps most importantly, the widespread loss of religious faith. Most of us live in a secular, liberal, disenchanted world. The lives of most Europeans are freer now than ever before. We are no longer told what to do or think by priests or our social superiors. When they try, we tend not to take any notice.

Hard to see where he gets that idea, isn’t it? Sure, the perception holds – and maybe those northies are indeed so free and disenchanted – but not here in Berlin, and certainly not in Switzerland.

The Seth Jones Experience

Seth G. Jones, the author of “In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan,” is a civilian adviser to the American military.

One of the brains behind President Obama’s Afghanistan policy Seth G. Jones, of RAND & McCrystal has a particularly unhinged op-ed in today’s NYT: Take the War to Pakistan.

The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces.

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

The moral bankruptcy apparent in the contrast between two sentences (“none requires military forces”) and (“to hit the Taliban with drone strikes”) is breath-taking. “Baluchi cities” like Quetta only have a million or so people, after all. Our precision strikes are surely only to singe a few curled mustaches. Right, Jones? But, yeah, I know. Crying about civilian casualties from non-military force is a luxury that only the un-informed and un-educated can afford. There are hard choices to make for real wars to end. And harder sells to make, as Nathan Hodge demonstrates in regards to Jones’ colleagues, the Kagans. In any case, Seth G. Jones is so much “civilian” cover for a war that has already spilled into Baluchistan. And WITH ONLY 20 CASUALTIES! Hallelujah.

Since Jones has never shown a predilection to history (or even an understanding of what “past” means. You can see some frank assessments of his earlier works, here and here), so here be a crude lesson about what the U.S. is getting into in Baluchistan: an existing war since 2004.

Seth G. Jones comes from the University of Chicago’s political science program and is an advisee of John Mearsheimer. His dissertation, The rise of Europe: Security cooperation and the balance of power, deals with the EU and intra-country security apparatus. He has no access to any relevant language, or historical archive. All of which, of course, makes him the perfect man to construct and explain this. [pdf]

I am too tired even to complain.

Imran Khan, Considered

In The Review, I have a review of Christopher Sanford’s Imran Khan in which I briefly consider the man. Below is what didn’t make it into the review – for fairly obvious reasons – but, I thought I’d spin it here. No pun.

Much has been written on Imran Khan’s transcendence from the game of cricket but little justice has been done to his game itself. Sandford, as well, finds it hard to capture any sense of the player even as he pays exquisitely detailed attention to life and politics on and off the field. Before we turn to all those enticing issues away from the game, let us linger, for a moment, on the game itself. Imran Khan was one of the smartest cricketers. His greatest strength as fast bowler was that he was a true batsman. He knew how to think as a batsman which meant he made sure that the batsman played every ball he hurled at them. Consider that in his entire ODI career he bowled 216 overs with only 18 maidens. Now most would read this as sign that he was easy to score against, but his economy rate of 3.7 runs conceded per over belies that supposition. Simply put, he bowled at the batsman. This quality, above all, not only contributed to him being one of the highest wicket takers during his career, but it ensured that his co-bowlers consistently picked up a higher percentage of wickets.

As a batsman, he had a high arch to his bat and a tendency to commit to the front foot often and early. He wasn’t too orthodox in his shot selection yet had an enviably straight bat. He was also one of the best players of the short ball (a much needed skill since his own tendency to bowl short balls guaranteed reprisals). His hooks and pulls were always a joy to watch and he rarely succumbed to the third-man trap.

In the field, he wasn’t the swiftest nor the surest. As a true embodiment of “gentleman’s game”, he rarely flung himself at the speeding ball. Still, he had safe hands and rarely dropped a catch. But from his long-off perch, he managed the entire field as a seasoned sea-captain coordinates the crew – constantly shifting the field, swapping players, speaking with the bowler. His fields were always dynamic organisms, drawing in and out in sync with every ball that sped towards the bat.

This last was his particular strength as a captain. Unlike other team sports, the cricket captain has to act both as the heart and the mind for the team. When on field – which was the only place some of us could witness him in action – Imran Khan was a hybrid conductor and a puppeteer. He orchestrated every movement of the other ten men on the field. He was quick with a scold as with a pat, and always in complete control. Not for nothing that Imran Khan, as the captain, was often called ‘the dictator’.

The War Must Go On

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The safe havens must be eliminated. The corruption must be stopped. The infrastructures must be built. The people must be free. The allies must stand together. The nuclear arms must remain safe. The bombing must be stopped. The safe haven must be eliminated.

30,000 plus a exit date of June 2011. It’s a safe bet that we will need some more troops. It’s a safe bet that things will calm down before they become restive, once again. It’s a safe bet that we will re-evaluate before we re-deploy.

A certain generation of Americans is heavily invested in the “Vietnam analogy” because that generation watches all of the cable shows. Is Afghanistan like or unlike Vietnam. Afghanistan is like Afghanistan. It’s majority population has been born and raised in the noise of bomb blasts and the heavy weight of an automatic weapon nearby – highly transient and shell-shocked. They say more Afghans are needed to fight for the future of Afghanistan. I’d say find more Afghans who are done fighting.

He said, “Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali.” See, again. There is no Islamabad. No Peshawar. No Lahore. No Lahore. No Lahore. Nor, even Mumbai (though, the Indian PM did get that nice dinner). No matter how much thoughtful and thorough review happens, some things are never questioned, nor changed.

“Public opinion has turned”, he said. Right. It was public opinion that kept us back from 2001-2008. We had a name for that public opinion, didn’t we? Our moderately enlightened public opinion. “In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over.” Ah, past. Let us not tarry there. Let us move on quickly and forcefully. But where? To fund and finance the capacity of Pakistanis to carry out bigger and more effective wars? How exactly is that a break from the past? Maybe the difference is that we are now going to drop night-vision goggles instead of a pellet full of dollars from the C-9 or C-7 or whatever big-planes-are-called? Yes, that is indeed new. Because night-vision goggles can give you sight in the darkness. Essential.

We will support democracy. We supported the “flawed” election of Karzai. That, unfortunately, is not “the past”. We supported Pervez Musharraf. He doesn’t want to be “the past”. And neither does “President Zardari” – who was bequeathed both a political party and a nation by a woman who last won an election in 1993 but was still the only possible future Pakistan was deemed to have. Sadly, she is also “the past”.

Should I have been heartened, at least, by his “concerns about our approach.” Yes, there are some concerns. In Islamabad. In Kabul. Maybe even is Khost and Karachi. Or in Kandahar and Lahore. We weren’t told but maybe those concerns were heard in the “review process”. I am sure that the easy traffic of weapons and people across borders, the legitimate demands of dis-enfranchised in Swat or Baluchistan, the fear of every-day life in Lahore or Karachi were all heard and discussed. Could it be that this “let’s send some more troops and help train some other more troops” strategy was developed with the political and civil leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the table with the Iranian, Indian, and Chinese officials to address inter and intra-regional tactics? Maybe hidden in the fine print are new means of communication, new definitions of strategic aims and missions and a much more harmonized action plan? It certainly never was in “the past”.

We have to “go forward”, “go forward”, while “going forward”, “going forward” and then “move forward” while “moving forward”. And Afghanistan? It has “moved backwards”. Movement is key in a stateless country where the only anchored reference remains Alexander the Great. We will move forward. If it comes that these (safe?) havens also move, we will already be ahead of them. Or behind.

Here we go ’round the mulberry bush.

[Photo Credit: Daily Waqt, Issue 69, vol. 287, Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009 & “Obama Announces Troop Increase for Afghanistan”, Doug Mills/The New York Times]