Posted on 18-08-2013
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The right-wing was outraged a few years back when Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos penned a book referring to them as the American Taliban.  Since then the tea party seems commited to proving him right.  Reality does not intrude into their fantasies and the last few years their definition of compromise has been for the other side to accept their policies without any compromises on their part.  The result has been a legislative logjam and veteran Republicans (Bob Bennett, Dick Lugar etc.) who had the temerity to work with Democrats were primaried out of office.

Now to be fair and balanced, there are many on the left unhappy with the tendencies of certain centrist democrats.  The key difference has been a lot of the ire against the Max Baucuses and Blanche Lincolns was for sabotaging their own party prior to negotiating with Republicans as opposed to the concept of compromise.  In the tea party world any compromise or legislative deal making is a sin.

Witness the gem included in letter sent to Senator Lamar Alexander this week urging him to retire:

Unfortunately, our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values.

How exactly do these nihilists expect any legislation to be passed without compromise and bi-partisanship when the Democrats control the Senate and the Presidency leaving the Republicans with only the House (and the Supreme Court)?  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Republican Party at present does not appear interested in governing.  The House Republicans made fools of themselves two weeks ago when they discovered that Paul Ryan’s budget fantasy left it to them to identify budget cuts – and there are cuts unpalatable to even Republicans (particularly when the Military-Industrial Complex is untouchable).  And now for the third time in as many years the tea party and conservative nut jobs are threatening a default on American debt if they don’t get what they want (the target right now is Obamacare – an originally conservative proposal that has somehow morphed into a socialistic attack on our freedoms).

The tendency of the establishment stenographers to lump both parties together and blame President Obama for not having a magic wand to overcome Republican obstruction has allowed the American Taliban to avoid the consequences of their irresponsibility.  This does not bode well for the fall.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 16-10-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs, India) by Rashtrakut

Pizza, burgers and other fast food are culprits too. These pearls of wisdom are delivered by a member of a Khap Panchayat, in the Indian state of Haryana.

India has been rocked by a series of publicized sexual assaults and honor killings in the past year. This has cast a bright spotlight on the Khaps, caste based village bodies, who are essentially India’s homegrown version of the Taliban. The Khaps have arrogated themselves judicial power independent of the Indian constitution and often wink at honor killings of eloping couples. They are a reactionary throwback for Indians unreconciled to modernity.

It is time the Indian state suppressed these thugs and Indian polity shunned their political enablers.

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 13-10-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Until this week, few people outside of Pakistan and the Swat Valley had heard of Malala Yousafzai.  As she now fights for her life, the victim of neanderthal reactionary thugs, the 14 year old has become a global icon.  The Taliban was notorious for turning women into chattel – good for cooking, bearing children and not much else.  Their Pakistani counterpart is no better.  For a while they held the Swat Valley under their sway while the gutless government in Islamabad dithered on confronting their created Frankenstein monster.

Yousafzai began blogging about life under the Taliban in 2009 while the Swat Valley was still under Taliban control and became a vocal advocate for female education.  In May 2009 the Pakistani army finally moved in and flushed out the Taliban from Swat.  By 2011 she was a celebrity in Pakistan, openly appearing on TV shows and was  nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.  Her blogging identity no longer anonymous she promptly became the target of death threats from Taliban adherents.

So on October 9 came the assassination attempt.  The backlash against the Taliban has been in Pakistan has been severe.  They were trashed on social media and in public rallies.  Yet, even though Pakistan’s foreign minister called this a turning point, all the thunder will not amount to much for now.  This blog has been harsh on Pakistan’s use of Islamic terrorists to further foreign policy goals in Afghanistan (hiding Mullah Omar and co. in Quetta) and India.  Pakistan’s religious parties offered only lip service to Malala’s fate before railing against American drone attacks.  Yet the American drone attacks, troubling as they are, occur only because Pakistan’s army will not move against terrorists perched in own country.

Girls schools and independent women are primary targets of the Taliban.   As a result,  girls like Malala who refuse to be cowed down are an existential threat to these thugs.  The Taliban remains unrepentant and has renewed the threat against her.  And yet, people like Imran Khan want a “political solution” with these assholes.  Nazi comparisons can be a bit overwrought, but I cannot resist noticing similarities to Franz von Papen’s belief that he could box in Hitler after bringing him to power.  The fight against the Taliban will not be won until there are harsh political consequences for their supporters, Pakistan’s educational system is upgraded to bring its teeming underclass out of the sway of the mullahs (whose madrasas are often the only available educational option) and Pakistan’s army gives up the dream that it is possible to support these thugs against its neighbors without being stung by the backwash.

I mocked the Nobel Peace Prize award to the EU yesterday.  I still stand by that.  It should have gone to someone like Malala Yousafzai.  To hear Malala in her own words see the video below. Also see this heartfelt article by Owais Tohid:

 

 

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Just when you thought that week 1 of this blog resuming posting could go by without a shout out to our favorite American “allies,” this week has has been full of delightful news in the region.

  • Our venal, incompetent ally in the presidential palace in Kabul may be suffering a nervous breakdown, but we are stuck with him.
  • Our venal, incompetent (though well meaning) ally in the presidential palace in Islamabad could be forced out of office in a shadow coup.
  • Pakistan is seething about drone attacks that NATO is now aggressively carrying out on their side of the border for the logical reason that the terrorists are located there.  The problem is that the drones have tendency to kill Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
  • As a result, American supply lines to Afghanistan are threatened by attacks on NATO convoys and by Pakistan blocking them.
  • The overhyped Pakistani offensive in the tribal areas still has not worked (as evidenced by the stoning to death of a woman by the Taliban for being seen with a man).
  • But Pakistan’s leaders are still focused on the drones crossing the border rather than fighting the Taliban in its North Waziristan stronghold.  Their elite in denial try to pretend that they are somehow being sucked into America’s war – even though Pakistan midwifed the Taliban and by sponsoring Al-Qaeda’s ideological allies as proxies against India was the training ground for terror.  This (and the recent discovery of a terror plot in Europe by men of Pakistani origin) got them a dressing down from CIA director Leon Panetta.
  • And last but most importantly, the Afghan army will not be ready in time for the withdrawal of American troops.

I understand the political imperative that forced the Afghan surge, but it has not worked in the face of bumbling civilian allies and duplicitous military ones (as shown by the Wikileaks documents this summer).  The question remains whether the administration will have the courage to cut its losses and focus on a smarter war against Al Qaeda, rather than squandering blood and treasure in the Land of Bones.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 25-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Christian Science Monitor has reported that Pakistan  arrested half of the Afghan Taliban leadership in recent days.  See link.  Speculation abounds about the timing of the crackdown and whether it was related to Pakistan seeking a more direct role in the Afghan peace negotiations.  To me the speed at which the Taliban leadership is being rounded up raises the question why this was not possible in the past eight years or even in the last couple of years when Pakistan itself became the target of the fundamentalist terror it midwifed.  Pakistan’s future actions will show just how serious it is in tackling the threat, or whether this is merely the latest gambit in the new Great Game (see previous blog post).

Also, unclear is the extent the lack of leadership affects the Taliban’s military operations.  It should make it harder to coordinate joint attacks, but there are enough lower level commanders with guns and experience to continue fighting.  Similar decapitations of the leadership among the Pakistani branch of the Taliban appear to have lead to militants training their guns at each other as they jockey for power.  Whether and to what extent the pattern repeats itself here remains to be seen.

For now, this should be a boost to the American surge.  But good news in Aghanistan seems to be accompanied by bad.  As usual it comes from the man supposed to provide the good governance essential for a lasting peace.  In recent days Hamid Karzai has tried to pack Afghanistan’s impartial election commission with his cronies, deepened his ties to the corrupt warlords and once again pandered to the fundamentalist fringe by weakening constitutional protections for female representation in parliament. See here, here and here.  Some things never change.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 16-02-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The last few weeks have seen an uptick in right wing carping about the Obama administration’s allegedly weakness in fighting terror (in large part based on increasing discredited facts about the arrest and interrogation of the underpants bomber and their refusal to torture him).  As signs of the silly season of the silly season are this piece by vocal torture supporter Marc Thiessen that the Obama administration is too darn successful in killing terrorists and is thereby costing us valuable intelligence.  Dick Cheney emerged from his coven to lob his usual broad sides at the administration.

Then came the news of the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi.  See link. Mullah Baradar is second in influence to Mullah Omar and coordinates the old Afghan Taliban’s military operations.  See link.  The arrest complicates the Taliban’s military response to the surge and is an opportunity to be exploited.  The administration is also drawing kudos for keeping quiet about the arrest while intelligence leads against the Taliban in Karachi were pursued.

The fact that this arrest occurred in Karachi shows how the drone campaign is affecting Taliban operations.  Pakistan’s commercial capital has seen an influx of Pashtuns of late and an uptick in violence (beyond the usual round of blood letting between the native Sindhis and the Muhajirs – Muslims who emigrated from India after partition).

The arrest has raised hopes that Pakistan is finally co-operating fully in the fight against the Taliban.  But not everyone is convinced.  Juan Cole in the link above speculates that the violence triggered by the Taliban starting to relocate to Karachi forced the Pakistanis to act.  Others have speculated that it is a cynical attempt to insert Pakistan into the talks with the Taliban.  See link.  I have been harsh in my evaluation of Pakistan’s Janus-faced cooperation in the past, but for now I will defer comments until events play themselves out.

I will also allow my sliver of hope for Afghanistan to widen, slightly.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 11-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Following up on my previous posts here and here, is this Newsweek article on the practical difficulty of buying off the Taliban.  See link.  A failure to buy off the “good-Taliban” renders a large chunk of the Obama administration’s Afghan pacification strategy meaningless.  Ron Moreau’s article highlights how the choice before the Pashtun peasantry resembles Morton’s fork.

There is no love lost for the brutal Taliban, but still a sneaking admiration for the true believers who have not taken the easy way out.  But the weak and venal Karzai regime along with its equally brutal warlords offer likelihood of protection.

When the Americans leave it is very likely things fall apart.  As noted in previous blogs, the Taliban resurgence has been immeasurably aided by the inability or the unwillingness of Pakistan to crack down on their former clients.   Pakistan’s crumbling state has also been unable and unwilling to seal off the porous Afghan border.  So the Taliban can strike, retreat to its Pakistani refuge and strike again. Even without the active backing of Pakistani intelligence services, this strategic advantage allows them to survive the immense disparity of manpower that exists on the ground.

Assuming Pakistan has cut off the cash and weapons flow to its former proxies, will that continue once America leaves?  There is little love lost between Karzai and his Tajik and Uzbek allies and Pakistan.  The temptation to rehash the early 1990s could prove irresistible to a Pakistani regime that still tries to distinguish between the domestic Taliban it is bombing and the Afghan Taliban it harbors, however unwillingly.

For a long time I supported the Afghan surge and still believe the diversion of American attention to Iraq cost the world a chance in a generation to guide an exhausted Afghanistan to an uneasy peace.  But as the Afghan conflict starts morphing into a tribal civil war of the sort that has plagued it since the creation of the country by Ahmad Shah Abdali, the desirability of American boots on the ground in the middle of the crossfire will continue to drop.

I hold out a tiny sliver of hope that the Afghan regime will prove my pessimism wrong, but the sliver is tiny and keeps shrinking.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(2) Comments    Read More   

A recent Foreign Policy article highlights a danger to stability in Afghanistan not often discussed – the toxic relationship between India and Pakistan.  See link.  This dates back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.  Afghanistan (even under the Pakistani created and supported Taliban) never accepted the Durand Line drawn by the British as the border between the two countries.  This line divides the Pashtun people between the two countries.  As a result every government in Kabul (other than the Taliban) has had a frosty relationship with Pakistan and a warm one with India.  Paranoid about facing hostile states on both flanks, Pakistan has always sought to install a more pliant regime in Kabul.

Baluch and Pashtun dispersion between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (in red). The blue area represents the predominant Pashtun and Baloch area.

It is one of the reasons why Pakistan has proved so unwilling to dump its Taliban clients and has eagerly pushed the idea of a reconciliation with the “Good Taliban.”  India having faced a tide of Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in the past decades sees this as a distinction without a difference.

India has been one of the major aid contributors to rebuilding Afghanistan.  This has, as usual, stirred paranoia about Indian intentions in Pakistan with wilder theories speculating that India intends to install military bases in the region once the Americans leave.  In 2008, these fears appear to have prompted an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  See link.

Given its ethnic divisions, Afghanistan is always likely to be a weak state subject to meddling by its neighbors.  The Indo-Pakistani tussle is yet another destabilizing influence that imperils any attempt to pacify Afghanistan.  And then there is Iranian meddling in the western part of the country.  The world community should prepare contingency plans if (or maybe when) things fall apart after the United States departs the region.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Follow Rashtrakut on Twitter

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

What a difference from the Musharraf years, when the former Pakistani dictator peddled his b.s. and nobody in Washington bothered to check him.  However, by the end even the Bush administration lost patience with him starting covert drone attacks and looking the other way when street protests forced him into exile.  After years of ignoring the problem the Obama administration is essentially throwing down the gauntlet.  One of the concerns with the Afghanistan surge was that the Taliban could execute a strategic retreat to its Pakistani hideouts.  Now Pakistan evidently faces the choice of dealing with insurgents in its territory of having American drones do the job.

Neither option is particularly palatable to Pakistan.  Reeling from a wave of terrorist attacks, a move against the Afghan Taliban could make the situation worse.  On the other hand, its bruised national pride will find it hard to bear expanded American strikes inside its territory.  Another concern is that the civilian government already weakened by a pending court challenge to its legitimacy may not survive.  However, the real power in Pakistan belongs to the Army-ISI nexus.  While presenting them with stark choices, the administration has tried hard not to alienate them.

President Obama’s Afghanistan speech did not spend too much attention on Pakistan.  However, Pakistan is the key to resolving the military portion of the Afghanistan problem.  The Taliban’s safe havens that have existed with relative impunity over the past decade and beyond have to go if the Afghan surge is to have any success.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 04-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

As the Pakistani army finally turned its guns on the monsters it help create, the monsters have responded with the type of violence that Afghans and Indians have experienced over the years.  For these so called warriors of Islam it is evidently no sin to send suicide bombers into a mosque (reserved for military families) or to blow up schools.  For the zealots who fund and support these terrorists the question must be asked, what sort of state do you think you would gain in the unlikely event these tactics succeed.  With Pakistan finally facing at home the tactics it has used via proxies against India for the past 25 years it is now or never to fix its corroded institutions and fractured civil society.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Share
(1) Comment    Read More   
Posted on 02-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Barack Obama’s speech yesterday threw no surprises. (Transcript here).   More troops are headed to Afghanistan (see previous post here) which has caused heartburn on the left.  There are assurances that this is not an indefinite mission and troops are supposed to start coming back by 2011 which has caused conniptions on the right.  There have been the expected harrumphs about fighting corruption and getting the Afghans ready to step up when the Americans leave (original post on Afghanistan from this blog here).

What is unclear whether this is feasible.  If the Afghan army is still a figment of imagination (previous post here) and the Karzai government remains as incompetent (both very likely scenarios) will the United States really start withdrawing to the chorus from Republicans that Obama “lost” Afghanistan?  Hopefully the answer is yes, because the prospect of an American withdrawal may be the only way to jolt the Afghan government to action.

What happens if the Taliban withdraws to its safe havens in Quetta?  Will Pakistan, which only reluctantly turned its guns on its homegrown Taliban, start another fight inside its western border in a province (Baluchistan) already brimming  on the verge of open rebellion?

What about the various NATO allies who have started withdrawing their troops?  Obama’s address noted that Al Qaeda’s attacks had targeted them as well.  Will that be sufficient to overcome the war weariness in those countries? Germany’s top general and deputy defense minister were forced to resign last week over a botched air strike and there are calls for a German withdrawal by 2011.

A successful solution is not entirely in American hands and relies a great deal on lady luck (and on wobbly Pakistan doing its bit).  Obama’s speech was a sober and realistic appraisal of the situation on the ground, but perhaps too optimistic (as such speeches always are) about success in the future (See Juan Cole’s take here).  The “success” of the Iraqi surge may have raised hopes of similar success in Afghanistan, but these are two entirely different societies with very different problems.  The future in Afghanistan remains murky.

Subscribe to Rashtrakut by Email

Share
(2) Comments    Read More   
Posted on 11-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

A follow up on a previous post.  There is yet more chatter that the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar is trying to distance itself from the nihilistic campaign of Al Qaeda.  With the American ambassador in Kabul now joining the critics of an expanded military presence in Afghanistan and with Hamid Karzai showing no signs of mending his ways this could enable the United States to cut bait on the Afghan quagmire and focus primarily on Al Qaeda.  Aram Roston at The Nation has a disturbing account of how the webs of corruption in Afghanistan have the United States funding Taliban operations.  The more I read about this mess, the more I gravitate towards the camp wanting to stop wasting American lives and treasure to protect a bunch of corrupt and brutal thugs.

Share
(0) Comments    Read More   

One of the emerging narratives of American military operations in Afghanistan is that the combat there is just another round of the Afghan civil war.  Peter Bergen the posted this column last week disputing this and discussing the “merger” of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Then comes Vahid Brown with this column suggesting the interests are not as aligned as Bergen thinks.  Which is it?

Ideological movements that claim a global reach have historically run hard into the brick wall of national sentiment.  The Soviet Union, China, Vietnam and other communist countries ultimately put their national interests first instead of heading off into hare brained crusades like Che Guevara (which ended with his execution in Bolivia).  The founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Saud used his alliance with the fundamentalist Wahhabi ulema and the religious militia the Ikhwan to propel him to power.  But when the Ikhwan wanted to continue a global jihad and raid neighboring states he crushed them.  As Brown’s link shows, Hamas and Hezbollah have been pragmatically presenting themselves as national movements even if they may have sympathy with Islamic radicals elsewhere  (as an aside Hezbollah from Al-Qaeda’s perspective are Shiite schismatics).

Of course the cold rationality displayed by other fundamentalists does not always translate to the mind of Mullah Omar.  This could be a feint meant to distract public opinion.

But, American foreign policy rhetoric in the cold war and post-9/11 has not always appreciated that every communist and every jihadist is not automatically in bed with each other.  It was this rhetoric that was used to justify the Iraq misadventure (where Saddam Hussein was not an Islamic radical to begin with).  While there may be broad sympathy by ideologues for the cause, it does not always translate into any direct or effective aid.  The Afghan Taliban regime has cause for bitter feelings towards Al-Qaeda.  It is possible that they may be willing to engage in the more pragmatic goals of regaining power instead of engaging in the nihilistic crusades like the one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi waged in Iraq, but at the same time availing themselves of the military aid and training Al-Qaeda is able to offer.

To what extent these purported divisions can be exploited in unclear.  But if they can lead to a repeat of the Iraqi scenario when Sunni groups banded together against Zarqawi’s blood lust,  America, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be better off for it.

Share
(0) Comments    Read More