Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pakistan

Jihadists, Suicide, and Nuclear Weapons

Over at The Long War Journal, Lisa Lundquist examines the decision by Pakistani clerics to give religious sanction for suicide attacks. While her analysis focuses on what the Pakistani declaration means for Afghan attempts to outlaw religiously-motivated suicide attacks as part of the ongoing Afghan peace process, there are two larger points which she leaves unaddressed.

The first is pedantic, but necessary in an age when political correctness trumps reality. The Pakistani ulema council’s decision should end the nonsense quips that suicide bombing can’t be theologically-grounded, because Islam forbids suicide. The debate among Muslim theologians is actually more nuanced, and was well-covered in this Middle East Quarterly article. In short, the devil is in the details, because Koranic verse 2:154 declares, “Do not think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware,” which means that a bystander’s assumption that the terrorist committed suicide because his head is lying on the street somewhere is wrong, since he went to paradise while still alive and therefore can’t be said to have killed himself.

Read More

Over at The Long War Journal, Lisa Lundquist examines the decision by Pakistani clerics to give religious sanction for suicide attacks. While her analysis focuses on what the Pakistani declaration means for Afghan attempts to outlaw religiously-motivated suicide attacks as part of the ongoing Afghan peace process, there are two larger points which she leaves unaddressed.

The first is pedantic, but necessary in an age when political correctness trumps reality. The Pakistani ulema council’s decision should end the nonsense quips that suicide bombing can’t be theologically-grounded, because Islam forbids suicide. The debate among Muslim theologians is actually more nuanced, and was well-covered in this Middle East Quarterly article. In short, the devil is in the details, because Koranic verse 2:154 declares, “Do not think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware,” which means that a bystander’s assumption that the terrorist committed suicide because his head is lying on the street somewhere is wrong, since he went to paradise while still alive and therefore can’t be said to have killed himself.

The second is more important. “Palestine is occupied by Israel, Kashmir by India, and Afghanistan by the US. So if the Muslims don’t have the atomic bomb, they should sacrifice their lives for God,” Lundquist cited Tahir Ashrafi, the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, as declaring. This suggests that if Islamist powers or groups did have the atomic bomb, they would gladly use that against Israel, India, or the United States.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel might live in the belief that it is the American projection of power that is the problem, and that radical Islamists are simply another breed of negotiating partners. To dismiss the desire of the most radical elements for the destruction of Western culture, however, would be a fateful mistake. Their failure to attack the United States is not the result of reticence or a desire for peace, but rather because they have not yet mastered the weaponry to do so.

Read Less

Losing Afghanistan

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.  

As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.

Read More

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.  

As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.

The reason why the United States or, more specifically, the Central Intelligence Agency was so interested in Hamid Karzai after 9/11 was that he was a man who had a foot in every camp, and a finger in every pie. When Secretary of State Warren Christopher, for example, wanted to reach out to the Taliban in 1995, the Taliban middleman to whom he turned was … Hamid Karzai. The Afghan president personifies the Afghan trait of never losing a war, only defecting to the winning side.

Karzai’s actions—both the ban on Special Forces in Wardak and the prohibition of NATO airstrikes in civilian areas—are meant to bolster the Taliban. Karzai sees the Taliban as winning, and has convinced himself that he can pivot to represent them and their Pakistani patrons rather than the Americans. In this he is wrong: Pakistan’s ISI trust Karzai about as much as Washington should have, and will not hesitate to dispose of him once the Americans are gone.

So what is the American strategy? Talks. There has been no breakthrough in Qatar, however. This should not surprise. We are talking to the same exact Taliban officials who lied their way to 9/11, yet the State Department has never bothered to assess what went wrong with talks in the 1990s. The Taliban are most interested in springing Taliban prisoners, not political compromise. That Taliban members released from detention in Pakistan have rejoined the insurgency should not surprise, nor should the fact that Pakistani authorities didn’t coordinate their prisoner release with Kabul, let alone Washington.

In 2014, against the backdrop of planned Afghan elections, the United States will abandon Afghanistan. Rhetoric about continuing relations fall short given how such promises fell short with Iraq. Afghans are already preparing for the civil war which will follow. Some, like Karzai, will try to pivot and then grovel in the hope of maintaining their position. Others will flee, their money already safely stowed away in Dubai real estate or Swiss banks. Many tribal leaders and officials have sons in both camps, trying desperately to preserve their family’s security come what may. The notion that the Taliban are only interested in predominantly Pushtun areas is silly. Their occupation of Herat in 1995, Kabul in 1996, and Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997 and again in 1998 should put to rest the idea that their appetite is satiable.

The coming civil war will be bloody. There are more stake-holders than after the “Peshawar 7” ousted Najibullah in 1992. American officials can claim victory, but they are abandoning our Afghan allies and women in a way which will reverberate far beyond the borders of Afghanistan, and have yet to articulate a strategy to ensure that the vacuum that enabled an al-Qaeda presence doesn’t once again open, endangering U.S. national security.

The most dangerous lessons drawn from the Afghanistan war are those already grasped by our opponents and with which the United States will have to grapple for decades to come: First is the fact that it is easy to outlast America, and second is that embraced by Pakistan—distract America with a proxy, because diplomats will always treat that proxy as an independent actor. Under Obama, we have become like a cat, swatting a string and never bothering to look at who is dangling it.

Read Less

Pakistan Should Fear U.S. Afghan Pullout

When U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan “on schedule,” Afghanistan will revert to civil war. White House and Pentagon officials may have convinced themselves that their transition mirrors that in Iraq, and that Iraq’s transition was a success, but to Afghans, the U.S. strategy is a cookie-cutter repeat of the Soviet withdrawal. We have the Afghan Local Police, and the Soviets had similar local militias. We hope that we can leave behind agents of influence in the government, and the Soviets tried the same tactic.

The Soviet-era dictator Najibullah managed to hold on to power for three years after the Red Army’s withdrawal, but that was only because of the Soviet ‘peace dividend’: The Soviet Union provided Najibullah with almost $3 billion a year and equipment it withdrew from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. Only when the money ran out did Najibullah fall. The same will happen with Hamid Karzai. Even the most sobering World Bank reports regarding what the international community must do to keep Afghanistan afloat assume that Afghanistan will have a functioning mining industry, but insecurity and poor infrastructure have hampered even the Chinese, who do not care as much if they lose civilian contractors.

Read More

When U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan “on schedule,” Afghanistan will revert to civil war. White House and Pentagon officials may have convinced themselves that their transition mirrors that in Iraq, and that Iraq’s transition was a success, but to Afghans, the U.S. strategy is a cookie-cutter repeat of the Soviet withdrawal. We have the Afghan Local Police, and the Soviets had similar local militias. We hope that we can leave behind agents of influence in the government, and the Soviets tried the same tactic.

The Soviet-era dictator Najibullah managed to hold on to power for three years after the Red Army’s withdrawal, but that was only because of the Soviet ‘peace dividend’: The Soviet Union provided Najibullah with almost $3 billion a year and equipment it withdrew from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. Only when the money ran out did Najibullah fall. The same will happen with Hamid Karzai. Even the most sobering World Bank reports regarding what the international community must do to keep Afghanistan afloat assume that Afghanistan will have a functioning mining industry, but insecurity and poor infrastructure have hampered even the Chinese, who do not care as much if they lose civilian contractors.

So, as soon as the money dries up—and it will happen faster than Karzai realizes—the Afghanistan National Army will implode. While the Pentagon points to metrics of numbers trained, it does not speak as often about retention. Logistics, triage, and intelligence remain challenges absent U.S. oversight. And while the Afghans have fought ably against Taliban assaults in Kabul and the Afghan special forces are excellent, Afghans have never had an opportunity to prove what they can do (or cannot do) when they are running the Corps level alone. The fact that regional states have reactivated their residual links to warlords should be a sign no one in the White House should ignore.

When the chaos starts, it will be worse in some respects. Just as with the Taliban’s rise in the 1990s, the main victories will not be on the battlefield so much as the result of momentum, and so will catch the West by surprise. During the Soviet era and its aftermath, the fighting was limited to Afghanistan itself. The next round of civil war likely will not be. Pakistan should get ready: It will soon learn the meaning of blowback. There is no doubt that the Pakistanis will face blowback for their support of radicals and Taliban terrorism. The issue is not that various Taliban groups will take their fight into Pakistan. There, the Pakistanis will continue to contain the Taliban’s challenge largely to the tribal region. Rather, with the Americans gone, there will be no more restraint on the reconstituted Northern Alliance. Years ago, I had a conversation with one in a position to actually implement what he said: He argued that the only way to get the Pakistanis to stop interfering in Afghanistan was not to meet them at the diplomatic table or ply them with aid and incentives, but to respond in kind. If a bomb goes off in Kabul, he suggested, then one should go off in Lahore. And if an attack occurs in Jalalabad, then there should be two such attacks in Rawalpindi.

When, back in 1997, I was a teaching assistant for an American political history course at Yale University, I took a colleague’s suggestion and asked the students in my section what their earliest political memory was: The earliest any of the 18-21 year olds had? Michael Dukakis in 1988. Americans’ political memory seldom extends back more than a decade. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is longer. Many Afghans and Pakistanis remember that, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, it was the Afghans who were the aggressors across the border, tearing down Pakistani flags and raising the banner of Pushtunistan. This time, history will repeat, but with far greater lethality against ordinary citizens. Perhaps Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence will rue the day they decided to send terrorists into Afghanistan.

Read Less

Is Turkey the New Pakistan?

Last week, while participating at a conference on Afghanistan at Fort Hood, I met some U.S. officers who served in Turkey a bit over a decade ago. While they clearly loved their time in Turkey, they noted how many of their Turkish counterparts had quietly fled the army and Turkey itself over the past few years. Many disagree with the Islamism which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan, and fear his arbitrary justice, as well as the blind eye so many in Europe and our own Foggy Bottom who care little so long as the victims are soldiers.

The flight of old guard Turkish officers reminds me of the flight of Pakistani officers in the wake of the 1971 loss of East Pakistan/Bangladesh when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1978, accelerated Islamization as a means to build an overarching Pakistani identity. Many high-ranking Pakistani veterans, uncomfortable with religious radicalization, fled Pakistan. Whereas the Turkish military, at least until a few years ago, served as the bulwark against Islamic radicalism in society, the Pakistani military—under which Pakistani intelligence falls—became the catalyst for radicalization. Several decades later, Pakistani is a state sponsor of terrorism in all but name.

Read More

Last week, while participating at a conference on Afghanistan at Fort Hood, I met some U.S. officers who served in Turkey a bit over a decade ago. While they clearly loved their time in Turkey, they noted how many of their Turkish counterparts had quietly fled the army and Turkey itself over the past few years. Many disagree with the Islamism which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan, and fear his arbitrary justice, as well as the blind eye so many in Europe and our own Foggy Bottom who care little so long as the victims are soldiers.

The flight of old guard Turkish officers reminds me of the flight of Pakistani officers in the wake of the 1971 loss of East Pakistan/Bangladesh when Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1978, accelerated Islamization as a means to build an overarching Pakistani identity. Many high-ranking Pakistani veterans, uncomfortable with religious radicalization, fled Pakistan. Whereas the Turkish military, at least until a few years ago, served as the bulwark against Islamic radicalism in society, the Pakistani military—under which Pakistani intelligence falls—became the catalyst for radicalization. Several decades later, Pakistani is a state sponsor of terrorism in all but name.

Erdoǧan has made no secret of his desire to Islamize Turkey, and it is now clear that the country’s military is a shadow of its former self. Many of the generals who saw Turkey as a Western country or one that would honor the separation of mosque and state are now retired, in exile, or in prison. The few who remain are muzzled or Quislings. Most live in constant fear. Many of the new recruits and mid-rank officers are conservative Muslims if not Islamists. The Turkish intelligence service is also in the hands of political Islamists. While the State Department seldom criticizes Turkey’s role in the Middle East, many Kurds accuse Turkey of sponsoring outright Jihadist elements in Syria in an effort to counter secular ethnic nationalism among the Syrian Kurds. In a sense, Turkey is sponsoring Islamism abroad in the same way that Pakistan, fearing Pashtun nationalism, only allowed supply to groups in Afghanistan that made Islam their chief identity.

The parallels continue: While Zia ul Haq sponsored scores of madrasas to radicalize permanently Pakistan’s education system and, with time, its bureaucracy, Erdoǧan too now prioritizes the Imam Hatips, Turkey’s equivalent. The results will be felt in the decades to come. And while Zia used the state media to incite virulent anti-Western conspiracies and hatred, Erdoǧan seems intent to do the same thing as he consolidates control over the media and infuses it with anti-American and anti-Semitic poison.

How ironic it is that while the White House praises the “Turkish model,” Turkey itself seems intent on following the Pakistani model.  

Read Less

Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Emerging Missile Threat

Remember the “Axis of Evil,” George W. Bush’s much-mocked phrase to refer to Iran, North Korea, and Iraq? Admittedly it was a bit of a stretch to suggest that all three nations were cooperating. But there is a new axis which is, alas, much more grounded in reality: Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Their cooperation has already borne fruit in one dangerous area: the development of ballistic missiles.

In recent weeks North Korea has tested a missile and Syria has fired Scud missiles at its own people. The two missile programs are closely related, largely through Iranian intermediaries. Indeed, there are reports of Iranian experts being on hand to help the North Koreans with their missile launch. In the past there has been credible evidence of North Korea exporting missiles to Iran and Syria. Now, at least in the case of Iran, the help seems to be going the other way.

Read More

Remember the “Axis of Evil,” George W. Bush’s much-mocked phrase to refer to Iran, North Korea, and Iraq? Admittedly it was a bit of a stretch to suggest that all three nations were cooperating. But there is a new axis which is, alas, much more grounded in reality: Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Their cooperation has already borne fruit in one dangerous area: the development of ballistic missiles.

In recent weeks North Korea has tested a missile and Syria has fired Scud missiles at its own people. The two missile programs are closely related, largely through Iranian intermediaries. Indeed, there are reports of Iranian experts being on hand to help the North Koreans with their missile launch. In the past there has been credible evidence of North Korea exporting missiles to Iran and Syria. Now, at least in the case of Iran, the help seems to be going the other way.

And it’s not only in the missile arena that Iran and North Korea are cooperating: there is evidence of nuclear cooperation as well. As one proliferation expert has noted: “The centrifuge design that the North Koreans got from Pakistan is very similar to the one that the Iranians got, and so just as the two countries’ ballistic programs are based on common designs and can involve common work, you can easily imagine the same thing for the centrifuge program.”

Regardless of the flow of weapons of mass destruction, the underlying reality is that both Iran and North Korea are racing ahead with missile and nuclear programs that will give them the potential to strike not only regional neighbors but eventually, unless their designs are stopped, the United States itself. This makes it all the more imperative to proceed with missile defense plans and to also do more to undermine the Iranian and North Korean regimes to prevent them from fielding more fiendish weapons.

Read Less

The Murder of Birgitta Almby

Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:

Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News.

Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.

She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years.

“Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.”

Read More

Who, you ask? Were it not for the valiant agency Morning Star News, which specializes in documenting the persecution of Christians around the world, even fewer news consumers would know the name of this angelic-looking, 71-year-old Swedish lady who was gunned down in the Pakistani city of Lahore:

Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News.

Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.

She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years.

“Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.”

Who would commit such a monstrous act? According to the local police superintendent, Ijaz Shafi Dogar, the lack of witnesses means that it’s hard to figure out the motive behind Almby’s murder. But Qaiser, Almeby’s colleague, is in no doubt that the responsibility lies with Islamist terrorists. “Who else would want to murder someone as apolitical and harmless as Almby, who had dedicated her life to serving humanity?” he asked. Superintendent Dogar, meanwhile, is making every effort to dampen speculation over the Punjabi Taliban’s involvement in the murder, on the grounds that “there was no word from them regarding the attack on the Swede.”

There is much that can be said about the significance of Almby’s murder. To begin with, it is a particularly horrific example of the violence meted out towards Christians in the Islamic world, whether natives or foreigners, from Egypt to Indonesia. Additionally, Superintendent Dogar’s statements are yet more confirmation that, whether through fear or collusion or a combination of the two, every Pakistani security agency appears to crumble at the mere mention of the Taliban. As The Washington Post reported this week, a new report on Afghanistan issued by The Pentagon “included stark language on Pakistan,” noting the country’s “passive acceptance of insurgent sanctuaries [and] selectivity in counterinsurgency operations that target only Pakistan militants.”

Yet what stands out most of all is the media silence around the killing of Birgitta Almby. Outside of Swedish press outlets like Aftonbladet, which published a heart-rending photograph of Almby with one of her young charges, no media organization of any significance has yet picked up the story.

There is no need, here, for a detailed reprisal of the arguments as to why the slightest offense against the Quran garners world headlines. Nor is it necessary to ask why those Western commentators who hang on every syllable of Muslim anger continue to ignore the plight of Christians in the same part of the world. However, as someone who follows this issue closely, I have to ask whether atrocities like the Almby murder are no longer considered newsworthy.

Read Less

Baluchistan’s First Rhodes Scholar in 40 Years

My colleague Danielle Pletka alerted me to this article, which truly is a rare good news story out of Pakistan:

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan… Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him. His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.

The whole news report is worth reading. Baluchistan is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan and Iran (for history buffs, about five years ago I did a thumbnail history of Baluchistan, here), and Pakistan is a society where elite and family connections often trump talent. American politicians may quip that it takes a village, but government alone will never supplant hard work and individual aptitude, nor does progress occur when it dampens rather than promotes rewards inherent in personal ambition.

Read More

My colleague Danielle Pletka alerted me to this article, which truly is a rare good news story out of Pakistan:

Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan… Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him. His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.

The whole news report is worth reading. Baluchistan is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan and Iran (for history buffs, about five years ago I did a thumbnail history of Baluchistan, here), and Pakistan is a society where elite and family connections often trump talent. American politicians may quip that it takes a village, but government alone will never supplant hard work and individual aptitude, nor does progress occur when it dampens rather than promotes rewards inherent in personal ambition.

Kakar’s story is further testament both to the importance of merit scholarships and family support. USAID and U.S.-government programs waste so much money on sublime and ridiculous programs that it sometimes is useful to remember the importance of seeking to bring the best and the brightest to study in the United States, as we did for Kakar two years ago. Alas, when we compare the good that Kakar might accomplish on a pittance with the waste the State Department now engages in by subsidizing Muslim Brotherhood misgovernment in Egypt, heads should spin.

Read Less

Will Obama Duplicate Iraq Errors in Afghanistan?

Kim and Fred Kagan have a typically trenchant op-ed in the Washington Post today on the minimal force requirements necessary for post-2014 Afghanistan. Bottom line up front: They argue a force of at least 30,000 personnel will be needed for a bare-bones counterterrorism and advisory mission.

They begin by assuming that the U.S. will need three major bases outside Kabul–in Jalalabad, Khost, and Kandahar. Each base will require a battalion of ground troops, primarily for protection, and a battalion of combat-aviation to enable drone strikes and operations by Special Mission Units. That adds up to two brigades, or 10,000 troops. Add in 5,000 or so logisticians to keep those bases supplied and you’re up to 15,000. To prevent the areas around those bases from going to hell, it will also be necessary to send some advisors to the local Afghan army and police headquarters. That adds another 6,000 or so personnel. If you add in “the security forces for a base near Kabul, a theater headquarters, route-clearance packages, theater logisticians and other ancillary units,” you are pushing “the requirement above 30,000.”

Read More

Kim and Fred Kagan have a typically trenchant op-ed in the Washington Post today on the minimal force requirements necessary for post-2014 Afghanistan. Bottom line up front: They argue a force of at least 30,000 personnel will be needed for a bare-bones counterterrorism and advisory mission.

They begin by assuming that the U.S. will need three major bases outside Kabul–in Jalalabad, Khost, and Kandahar. Each base will require a battalion of ground troops, primarily for protection, and a battalion of combat-aviation to enable drone strikes and operations by Special Mission Units. That adds up to two brigades, or 10,000 troops. Add in 5,000 or so logisticians to keep those bases supplied and you’re up to 15,000. To prevent the areas around those bases from going to hell, it will also be necessary to send some advisors to the local Afghan army and police headquarters. That adds another 6,000 or so personnel. If you add in “the security forces for a base near Kabul, a theater headquarters, route-clearance packages, theater logisticians and other ancillary units,” you are pushing “the requirement above 30,000.”

That is not a grandiose objective; it is a bare minimum. As the Kagans write: “At that level U.S. forces in Afghanistan could do nothing beyond the minimum necessary to allow us to continue counterterrorism operations in South Asia: no nation-building, no effort to affect the Afghan political process or help the Afghans secure presidential elections in 2014, no development assistance; only defensive operations against the Taliban and other insurgent groups from three bases.”

Their math adds up. It is indeed similar to my own calculation that 25,000 to 35,000 troops would be needed–a figure echoed by other serious security analysts. So it is with some alarm that I read reports that the administration may have settled on keeping only 10,000 troops. Such a force would have trouble doing much beyond keeping itself supplied and secure; it would be hard-put to have much of an impact against the major terrorist networks that call Afghanistan and Pakistan home. If such a decision has indeed been made, it is hard to see how it can be justified on the merits: the Kagans’ calculations are hard to dispute. But sound as the Kagans’ strategic thinking may be, it does not accord with what passes for political wisdom in the White House, where war-weary politicos are eager to draw as many troops out as quickly as possible, without fully thinking through the consequences of their actions.

One consequence they should consider is that, given how little a force of 10,000 could contribute to the long-term security of the government of Afghanistan, it is by no means a sure thing that Hamid Karzai will make the necessary concessions, in particular granting U.S. troops complete immunity from Afghan prosecution, that are necessary to conclude a Status of Forces Agreement. We could in fact be heading for an Iraq Redux disaster, wherein the Obama administration squanders the goodwill of our local ally by not making a real commitment to its future, thereby torpedoing diplomatic negotiations on a long-term U.S. presence. If that were to happen in Afghanistan, it would be an even bigger disaster than in Iraq because Afghanistan remains our best–indeed virtually our only base–to strike into the heart of terror in Pakistan, as SEAL Team Six did with its raid on Osama bin Laden.

Read Less

Mullah Omar’s Triumphalism

On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

Read More

On Wednesday, Mullah Omar, the elusive leader of the Taliban, released a message for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which this year falls on October 26. Omar’s message is well worth reading, especially against the backdrop of Obama administration efforts to negotiate with the Taliban.

As Ahmad Majidyar—probably the most astute Afghanistan analyst in the United States—points out, Mullah Omar used his address to redouble his commitment to a complete military victory. “We will continue to wage Jihad against the invaders who have invaded our country until the occupation ends completely,” he declared. Obama and Governor Romney might both have reaffirmed the 2014 pullout date during their most recent debate, but let us hope that they did so fully cognizant that no amount of spin will convince Afghans and Afghanistan’s neighbors that the withdrawal is anything but a Taliban victory.

Mullah Omar celebrates the “Green on Blue” attacks which have brought the Taliban to the verge of victory. I’ve addressed the ideological motivation behind the “Green on Blue” attacks, here. The Pentagon continues to hamper itself by rooting insider attacks more in grievance than in jihadist ideology. Hopefully, Mullah Omar’s message will put a rest to that silly notion:

We call on the Afghans who still stand with the stooge regime to turn to full-fledged cooperation with their Mujahid people like courageous persons in order to protect national interests and to complete independence of the country. Jihadic activities inside the circle of the State militias are the most effective stratagem. Its dimension will see further expansion, organization and efficiency if God willing. I urge every brave Afghan in the ranks of the foreign forces and their Afghan hirelings who may find an opportunity to utilize this opportunity effectively and quash the enemies of Islam and country in their centers and use all possible means, opportunities and tactics to strike them. This is because Jihad is an obligation enjoined on every one. It is the duty of every individual of the nation from religious perspective and on the basis of his conscious to strive for the liberation and independence of his country.

Likewise, it is essential the Obama administration and the State Department pay attention to what Mullah Omar says of negotiations and diplomacy, especially as that has become the central pillar of the Obama administration’s exit strategy. Omar makes no secret that his goal in talks is the release of prisoners—not peace with the Afghan government. He assures Afghans that the Taliban is “neither thinking of monopolizing power nor [do we] intend to spark off domestic war,” but any Afghan knows to take such assurances at his peril. After all, Mullah Omar made the same assurances upon taking Kandahar in 1994 and again in 1996, right before the Taliban seized Kabul and purged all opposition.

Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. At a dinner party a month ago, a CIA operative who recently returned from Afghanistan said she thought that soft-partition was going to be the best possible outcome. Partition—soft or hard—will be impossible in Afghanistan, however, because it ignores the importance of momentum. Mullah Omar appreciates what the CIA doesn’t. “Our Jihadic momentum has reached a phase that enjoys comprehensive global Islamic support.”

Jihadists issue declarations all the time. They are not without meaning. Some are defensive, and others are fantastical. Mullah Omar’s tone and statements, however, are illustrative of his goals and strategy. Let us hope that a desire to withdraw “on schedule” will not affirm Mullah Omar’s triumphalism.

Read Less

Why Was Malala Yousafzai Missing from the Debate?

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

Read More

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ right to education, has done more to de-legitimize Taliban rule and the radical Islamist ideology for which it stands than any Western diplomat or multimillion dollar de-radicalization program. How disappointing it was, then, that in last night’s debate, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney saw fit to pay tribute and provide a shout-out to this bold little girl.

Obama argued that his administration strategy was predicated on fighting radicalism:

Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engaged these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their governments aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they’re treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

The words are empty, however, as the Taliban declares itself on the verge of a great victory, and when the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to send women back centuries. Even in Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of Obama’s closest friends, has seen the situation of women decline precipitously. To this, Obama appears oblivious.

Romney, for his part, affirmed Obama’s political deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan: “Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014,” he said. Regarding Pakistan, he added:

We’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met.

Romney also had the perfect opportunity during his discussion of radicalization and the Arab Spring:

A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law.

The fact of the matter is that Malala is not some contrived campaign anecdote which both candidates use to appear more down-to-earth. She is a truly powerful symbol whose very name delegitimizes the extremists. Just as Chechen jihadists saw popular support for their cause collapse when they attacked the school at Beslan, so too the Pakistani Taliban realize what a terrible mistake they have made. That neither Obama nor Romney take advantage of their mistake to embrace this symbol of resistance against Islamist tyranny reflects badly on their vision and on their commitment to win the ideological war, which may very well define the 21st century.

Read Less

Al-Qaeda’s Resurgence

Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”

Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.

Read More

Much attention has been focused in recent days, and for understandable reasons, on the emergence of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as a serious threat in Libya. Indeed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led a security assistance team in Libya, testified yesterday that its “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are.”

Libya is hardly alone, however. There is also growing evidence of al-Qaeda’s reemergence in Iraq. The Associated Press reports that “the insurgent group has more than doubled in numbers from a year ago — from about 1,000 to 2,500 fighters. And it is carrying out an average of 140 attacks each week across Iraq, up from 75 attacks each week earlier this year, according to Pentagon data.” There are said to be as many as ten al-Qaeda in Iraq training sites in the western deserts of Iraq.

Meanwhile, other al-Qaeda-associated organizations are gaining strength in Mali and Yemen, among other places. According to one report, Tuareg jihadists in Ansar al Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, both affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now control a region the size of France in Mali. And they are also making fresh inroads in Syria where the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant has claimed responsibility for an attack on Tuesday by suicide bombers on an intelligence compound near Damascus.

This is an obvious election issue since President Obama keeps saying that “al-Qaeda is on its heels.” It is true that “al-Qaeda central”–the organization headquartered in Pakistan and headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri–does appear to be on its heels; certainly it is less of a threat than it was in the days when Osama bin Laden was alive. But al-Qaeda has managed to spread its tentacles to other corners of the greater Middle East, and its franchises and affiliates remain far from being on their heels. These groups are increasingly well-funded through criminal rackets such as hostage-taking for ransom. Daniel Cohen, the Treasury Department’s top official on terrorist-financing, has recently said that “the U.S. government estimates that terrorist organizations have collected approximately $120 million in ransom payments over the past eight years.”

Part of the reason why al-Qaeda has been able to infiltrate Libya is because of the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi–a war that I believe was, on the whole, in our national security interests. But there has been too little follow-up to try to help the nascent, pro-American government in Tripoli establish its authority. In Iraq, AQI’s reemergence is tied directly to Obama’s ill-advised withdrawal of U.S. troops after half-hearted negotiations with the Iraqis to extend their mandate failed. In Syria, al-Qaeda has an opening because the administration refuses to do more to help the non-jihadist rebel groups overthrow Bashar Assad’s regime. And in Somalia and Yemen the group is finding traction because of the breakdown of state authority–conditions that the Obama administration can hardly be blamed for and that it is grappling with just as the Bush administration did. Overall, the resurgence of al-Qaeda shows the limitations of the Obama administration’s preferred response–drone strikes. They are a good idea, but insufficient to prevent extremists from gaining control of territory. That can only be done by bolstering state authority–something that is notoriously hard to do, especially in lands where the U.S. does not deploy large numbers of ground troops.

However this issue plays out in November, the resurgence of al-Qaeda is a worrisome trend that the next president will have to confront through a variety of mechanisms which will draw the U.S. even more closely into the morass of the Middle East. There is simply no other choice. If America retreats, our enemies advance.

Read Less

A Horrifying Reminder of Taliban Mentality

The barbarism of the Taliban is occasionally disguised but never very effectively and never for long. The latest example of them showing their true colors is the horrifying assault on Malala Yousafzai, a precocious 14-year-old-girl from the Swat Valley of Pakistan, who has emerged as an outspoken champion of girls’ education–which is anathema to this violent fundamentalist movement. Taliban gunmen answered her temerity with a bullet to the head, leaving her in critical condition. What makes this heinous act even more shocking is that the Taliban took no effort to hide their involvement. As the New York Times reports:

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone Tuesday that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.”

“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”

So in the eyes of the Taliban, advocating for women’s education is a capital crime.

Read More

The barbarism of the Taliban is occasionally disguised but never very effectively and never for long. The latest example of them showing their true colors is the horrifying assault on Malala Yousafzai, a precocious 14-year-old-girl from the Swat Valley of Pakistan, who has emerged as an outspoken champion of girls’ education–which is anathema to this violent fundamentalist movement. Taliban gunmen answered her temerity with a bullet to the head, leaving her in critical condition. What makes this heinous act even more shocking is that the Taliban took no effort to hide their involvement. As the New York Times reports:

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone Tuesday that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an “obscenity.”

“She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it,” Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. “Let this be a lesson.”

So in the eyes of the Taliban, advocating for women’s education is a capital crime.

As it happens this attack was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban (a.k.a. the Tehrik-i-Taliban). But they are animated by the same ideology as their Afghan counterparts, which are fighting U.S., Afghan, and other foreign troops. While organizational structures may differ slightly, the Pashtun extremists operating on both sides of the artificial Durand Line separating Pakistan from Afghanistan are otherwise very similar, and a victory for one translates into greater gains for the other. Therefore, it is imperative that the Western powers that made a commitment to fight the Taliban in 2001 show sustained commitment and hold off on further troop withdrawals until Afghan security forces are strong enough to take on the Taliban with decreasing levels of outside assistance.

Otherwise, these savages are likely to shoot their way back into power, with unspeakable consequences for girls like Malala Yousafzai who aspire to something more noble than chattel slavery.

Read Less

Joint U.S.-Afghan Operations Crucial to Long-Term Security

It is good to hear that most partnering operations between coalition and Afghan forces have resumed after a ten-day pause due to the furor over the anti-Mohammad video and a spat of “green on blue” insider attacks. Such operations are absolutely essential in order to improve the combat effectiveness of the Afghan forces; advisers stuck on giant bases, waving good-bye to Afghan troops as they venture outside the wire, would not be nearly as effective in getting the job done as troops who share the same hardships and risks with their Afghan counterparts. Out in the field, our troops can not only teach the Afghans by example; they can also provide the critical enablers (everything from IED-clearance packages to medevac) that allow the Afghan forces to be more effective.

This decision may, unfortunately, increase the short-term risk to coalition troops–but in the long run it will decrease risk because it is the surest method to bring about a more peaceful Afghanistan. Those who suggest a permanent end to partnering are raising the likelihood that the Afghan security forces will be unable to cope with an insurgency which benefits from bases in Pakistan–and thus raising the likelihood of a larger civil war leading, quite possibly, to the Taliban recapture of significant chunks of the country.

It is good to hear that most partnering operations between coalition and Afghan forces have resumed after a ten-day pause due to the furor over the anti-Mohammad video and a spat of “green on blue” insider attacks. Such operations are absolutely essential in order to improve the combat effectiveness of the Afghan forces; advisers stuck on giant bases, waving good-bye to Afghan troops as they venture outside the wire, would not be nearly as effective in getting the job done as troops who share the same hardships and risks with their Afghan counterparts. Out in the field, our troops can not only teach the Afghans by example; they can also provide the critical enablers (everything from IED-clearance packages to medevac) that allow the Afghan forces to be more effective.

This decision may, unfortunately, increase the short-term risk to coalition troops–but in the long run it will decrease risk because it is the surest method to bring about a more peaceful Afghanistan. Those who suggest a permanent end to partnering are raising the likelihood that the Afghan security forces will be unable to cope with an insurgency which benefits from bases in Pakistan–and thus raising the likelihood of a larger civil war leading, quite possibly, to the Taliban recapture of significant chunks of the country.

Read Less

Pakistan Ads Show Obama’s Cluelessness

Politico reports that the Obama administration is now running a TV ad in Pakistan, condemning the anti-Islam film that it’s been blaming for the anti-American violence across the Muslim world:

The Obama administration is airing ads on Pakistani television condemning the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims,” a State Department spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

“As you know, after the video came out, there was concern in lots of bodies politic, including Pakistan, as to whether this represented the views of the U.S. Government.  So in order to ensure we reached the largest number of Pakistanis – some 90 million, as I understand it in this case with these spots – it was the judgment that this was the best way to do it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

The ads show clips of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film in English (but dubbed in Urdu) in remarks they made last week, emphasizing that it was not produced or authorized by the United States government.

Read More

Politico reports that the Obama administration is now running a TV ad in Pakistan, condemning the anti-Islam film that it’s been blaming for the anti-American violence across the Muslim world:

The Obama administration is airing ads on Pakistani television condemning the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims,” a State Department spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

“As you know, after the video came out, there was concern in lots of bodies politic, including Pakistan, as to whether this represented the views of the U.S. Government.  So in order to ensure we reached the largest number of Pakistanis – some 90 million, as I understand it in this case with these spots – it was the judgment that this was the best way to do it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

The ads show clips of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film in English (but dubbed in Urdu) in remarks they made last week, emphasizing that it was not produced or authorized by the United States government.

Imagine for a second that you’re a Pakistani enraged by the Muhammad video, and you are on your way to a violent riot at the U.S. embassy. Is a commercial of President Obama insisting the U.S. government had nothing to do with the film going to change your mind? The ad buy assumes that the rioters will act rationally when faced with the “truth.” But why should they, when they’re not acting rationally in the first place?

Rioting and setting things on fire is not an understandable or instinctive response to being insulted. That’s not a culturally or religiously-relative point, it’s a universal point. There are millions of devout Muslims in the U.S., many of them immigrants from countries like Libya and Egypt and Pakistan, and yet the YouTube video did not drive them to violent frenzies. Similarly, there are millions of devout Muslims in Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan who didn’t join in on the rampages outside U.S. embassies.

Those who engaged in violent riots this week and last did so for one reason: because they chose to. And why did they choose to? Maybe because there’s no real cost, and a whole lot of benefit. When top U.S. officials respond to wild tantrums across the Muslim world by pleading with crackpots like Terry Jones and blocking anti-Islam YouTube videos, it creates a moral hazard on two levels. First, it rewards these violent uprisings by handing a victory to the Islamist leaders who egged them on. Second, it hands anti-Muslim fringe figures an unhealthy amount of notoriety and power.

There’s nothing wrong with the Obama administration denouncing the anti-Islam film, in the context of condemning the riots. But that’s not what this is. This is a taxpayer-sponsored ad that repudiates a YouTube clip by a private citizen, while accepting the false premise that it was responsible for the violence. The intention is to ease the riots for the moment, but the long- (and short)-term consequence could end up being the opposite.

Read Less

Shakil Afridi: The Man We Left Behind

Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

Read More

Lost in the headlines out of the Middle East was this amazing interview Fox News conducted with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani medical doctor who helped the United States confirm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Even though Pakistani authorities said they were unaware of bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad, a town that hosts Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, they arrested Afridi, accusing him of treason. How one can commit treason without betraying state secrets is something that someone ought to ask the Pakistani government.

At any rate, after his arrest, Afridi says he was interrogated and tortured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s intelligence agency. He relates:

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained. “I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance — but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies….’ It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.

The Obama administration continues to work with Pakistan as a partner, and U.S. officials continue to consult with the ISI, even as that organization funds terrorist groups like the Haqqani network. Once again, it appears, Obama does not fully conceive the nature of U.S. enemies, the ideology that motivates them, and the idea that money and concessions cannot buy them off.

As for Afridi, let us hope that one day, a U.S. president will welcome him to the White House and pin upon him the Medal of Freedom he so richly deserves.

Read Less

Obama “Leads from Behind” on Designating Haqqani Network

By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

Read More

By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.

Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.

The only mystery now is how much time it will take–how much pressure will have to build both externally and internally–before the president will take serious action to help end the bloodletting in Syria. France is taking the lead here, most recently with the news that it is providing aid to five revolutionary councils which control areas with about 700,000 people living there. This flatly contradicts one of the administration’s excuses for inaction–the claim that, unlike in Libya, the rebels in Syria do not control contiguous territory. It is only a matter of time, I expect, before greater U.S. aid along the French lines will be forthcoming. And, rest assured, it cannot be long before the president is claiming credit for doing what he was dragged most unwillingly into doing.

Read Less

Pakistani Taliban Threaten Nuke Facility

There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

Read More

There is nothing the Pakistani government would like more than a precipitous American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will jump at the chance to fill the vacuum, much as Iran’s Qods Force and associated militias moved to fill the space in Iraq left by the departing U.S. presence.

Pakistani leaders will never stop supporting the Taliban. After the 1971 secession of Bangladesh, the ISI concluded that radical interpretations of Islam were all that could hold the relatively artificial nation of Pakistan together. The rise of ethnic identity (well, at least among the non-Punjabis) risked creating fissures which could tear the country apart. Perhaps today their paranoia does not match with the reality, but old habits die hard.

After the Pakistani government signed a deal with the Pakistani Taliban to allow the Taliban to administer Islamic law in certain tribal districts, Taliban presence in the neighboring Swat district nearly doubled. The Pakistani Army responded when a Taliban column marched on Buner, just 60 miles from Islamabad but, just as they sheltered Usama Bin Laden, the ISI continues to treat the Pakistani Taliban with kid gloves.

The situation is becoming more dangerous. According to the Pakistani press, the Pakistani Taliban are increasingly threatening Pakistan’s nuclear sites. According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune:

LAHORE. It could be the first-ever security threat to a nuclear facility in Pakistan, and the Army and security forces are taking no risks. Following ‘serious’ security threats from the homegrown Taliban, the Army and Punjab police have deployed heavy forces at one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear facilities in Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan), credible sources told The Express Tribune. Besides the deployment inside and around the nuclear installation, three divisions in South Punjab have also been asked to launch a crackdown against banned outfits, sources added. “DG Khan houses one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country, and has faced the first-ever serious security threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” said a high ranking military officer currently serving at the installation.

The U.S. election may revolve on the economy, but sometimes problems ignored metastasize. An emboldened Pakistan will be detrimental to U.S. interests. Abandoning the fight against Islamist radicalism is not an option, nor is allowing state failure in Pakistan. President Obama and Governor Romney may not want to talk Pakistan, but Pakistan might easily provide the crisis which will define Obama’s next term or the next presidency. It would be good to hear a real debate on how to address and, if possible, head off grave and growing threats to Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

Read Less

Blasphemy Laws Embarrass Pakistan

Almost two weeks ago, Pakistani authorities imprisoned Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian girl reportedly with Down’s Syndrome, accusing her of burning a few pages from the Noorani Qaida, a beginner’s guide to Koranic recitation. Her case is now the subject of debate in the Pakistani press. The Express Tribune Online featured a member of the provincial assembly criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. A commentary in The Daily Times, an English-language Lahore paper, declared, “Mentally ill are those who charge an 11-year-old, illiterate girl of blasphemy and then enjoy the sport of watching humans killed just as the Romans used to do in the times of gladiators. The police officials that arrested the little slum dweller and the judges that sent her to jail need to be examined for symptoms of mental derangement.” The Urdu-language press—for example, Karachi’s Ummat Online—however, are rallying to protect the blasphemy laws regardless of their abuse.

The embrace of radical Islamism has been a cynical strategy in Pakistan. In 1971, after Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) won its independence, the Pakistani military made a fateful decision to promote radical Islamism as the glue to hold the country apart. After all, Pakistan was founded as a “land for the Muslims,” but in practice it is impossible to boil identity down to a single variable. Pakistan may have been overwhelmingly Muslim, but Pakistanis were as likely to see themselves as Pastun, Baluch, Bengali, or Punjabi (among others). When the Bengalis went their own way, Islamabad could no longer consider Pashtun and Baluch nationalism to be a mere irritant: It posed an existential threat.

Read More

Almost two weeks ago, Pakistani authorities imprisoned Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian girl reportedly with Down’s Syndrome, accusing her of burning a few pages from the Noorani Qaida, a beginner’s guide to Koranic recitation. Her case is now the subject of debate in the Pakistani press. The Express Tribune Online featured a member of the provincial assembly criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. A commentary in The Daily Times, an English-language Lahore paper, declared, “Mentally ill are those who charge an 11-year-old, illiterate girl of blasphemy and then enjoy the sport of watching humans killed just as the Romans used to do in the times of gladiators. The police officials that arrested the little slum dweller and the judges that sent her to jail need to be examined for symptoms of mental derangement.” The Urdu-language press—for example, Karachi’s Ummat Online—however, are rallying to protect the blasphemy laws regardless of their abuse.

The embrace of radical Islamism has been a cynical strategy in Pakistan. In 1971, after Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) won its independence, the Pakistani military made a fateful decision to promote radical Islamism as the glue to hold the country apart. After all, Pakistan was founded as a “land for the Muslims,” but in practice it is impossible to boil identity down to a single variable. Pakistan may have been overwhelmingly Muslim, but Pakistanis were as likely to see themselves as Pastun, Baluch, Bengali, or Punjabi (among others). When the Bengalis went their own way, Islamabad could no longer consider Pashtun and Baluch nationalism to be a mere irritant: It posed an existential threat.

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was Pakistan’s president and military dictator for a decade, beginning in 1978. While there has always been a condemnation of blasphemy on the books, he specified that it was an offense that should be punishable by either life in prison or by death. Over time and with the general radicalization of Pakistani society, the law has been applied with increasing frequency. Cases now number in the thousands.

There is no doubt that the blasphemy laws are being abused. While Islamists can say that the charge must still be proven in court, the sad fact remains that dozens of those accused have never had their day in court: They are lynched before a verdict can be announced. Some bold Pakistani politicians have acknowledged the obvious: The blasphemy laws are being abused and used to repress and attack religious minorities. However, simply calling for their amendment, let alone repeal, is a virtual death sentence. Both Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab; and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, have been assassinated after demanding reform. Upon their deaths, several Islamist organizations praised their killers.

Pakistan may be a lost cause: Once such religious laws are on the books, they are nearly impossible to excise. Religious conservatives can depict their repeal as anti-Islamic, and all but the boldest moderates are cowed by the recognition that radicals will go outside the political process to impose their will or punish dissent. With the jailing of Masih, Pakistan has reached a new low.

Read Less

Guess Who Won’t Leave Afghanistan When We Do

Here’s something you might want to keep in mind while celebrating the U.S.’s pending withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. From Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard:

There is evidence that al Qaeda is already using Afghanistan (once again) to plot attacks against the West.

Earlier this month, for example, Spanish authorities announced that they had broken up a three-man al Qaeda cell that was plotting terrorist attacks on one or more targets. The cell had been trained in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Investigators added that the men had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is headquartered in Pakistan, and had attended the LeT’s training camps inside Afghanistan as well.

Read More

Here’s something you might want to keep in mind while celebrating the U.S.’s pending withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. From Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard:

There is evidence that al Qaeda is already using Afghanistan (once again) to plot attacks against the West.

Earlier this month, for example, Spanish authorities announced that they had broken up a three-man al Qaeda cell that was plotting terrorist attacks on one or more targets. The cell had been trained in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Investigators added that the men had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is headquartered in Pakistan, and had attended the LeT’s training camps inside Afghanistan as well.

After the United States helped push the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, American indifference to the fate of the that country turned immediately into neglect. A decade later, we went into Afghanistan because the ruling Taliban were hosting and protecting the terrorists behind 9/11. In 2014, we’ll leave Afghanistan—Taliban, al Qaeda plots, and all—because “it’s time for nation building at home” is a catchy slogan.

Must we really learn this lesson again? Mark Twain said famously that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. He was wrong; it repeats itself.

Read Less

Report: Precious Little Religious Freedom

Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

Read More

Here’s a pretty gruesome story from Pakistan that began circulating yesterday:

At least 11 nurses, including three Christians, were poisoned at Civil Hospital Karachi for eating during Ramadan. During their afternoon break yesterday, the 11 nurses went to the hostel cafeteria for some tea and food. Rita, a Catholic nurse, collapsed first after drinking her tea. Now all the nurses are in the hospital’s intensive care unit, some in very serious conditions.

It was an appropriate day, then, for the State Department to publish its 2011 report on religious freedom around the globe. And the bottom line is that, throughout the Islamic world, as well as in the unreconstructed communist and authoritarian states, there’s precious little of it.

What kind of ranking does religious freedom hold in the conduct of American foreign policy? As of this morning, the State Department’s website had on prominent display the following declaration from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “For the United States, religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority.” No room for misinterpretation there, then.

The report does shine much needed light on the serial violators of religious freedom. Pakistan, for example, features prominently in the report’s executive summary, which notes the assassination of two politicians who criticized the country’s draconian blasphemy law – one of them, Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, was the only Christian in the cabinet – and the continuing imprisonment of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is facing a death sentence for blasphemy. Other countries singled out in the executive summary include Iran, where the Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani still faces a death sentence arising from the charge of blasphemy, and where seven leaders of the embattled Baha’i minority remain incarcerated on trumped up accusations of spying for Israel; Indonesia, another state where Christians are being imprisoned under a blasphemy law; China, where Buddhists in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in the restive province of Xinjiang are subjected to all sorts of discrimination and harassment; and North Korea, where, the report states simply and accurately, “religious freedom does not exist in any form.”

The report also discusses what it terms “a rising tide of anti-Semitism.” In a welcome riposte to those who argue that anything short of an expletive-ridden denunciation of Jews isn’t really anti-Semitism, the report explains that in countries like Egypt and Iran, anti-Semitic agitation works hand-in-hand with opposition to Zionism and Israel. Instructively, the report mentions “Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism” (my emphasis) as manifestations of anti-Semitism. This last word refers to the execrable habit of Arab propagandists and western leftists of comparing Israeli policies with the Nazi Holocaust.

Still, the report does pull its punches in certain key areas. Reading the section on Afghanistan, you would never know that American and allied troops have been present there for more than a decade, nor that President Obama has still to spell out what the “new chapter” in U.S.-Afghan relations which he promised in May will actually involve, especially once the U.S. withdraws in full by the end of 2014.

In its section on Nigeria, the report buries the enormous threat posed by Boko Haram, an Islamist terror group whose name is Hausa for “western education is a sin.” It asserts that “Boko Haram has likely killed more Muslims than Christians, since its primary bases of operation have existed in the predominately Muslim North.” That statement may be true, but it misses two important points:  firstly, that there is an established global pattern demonstrating that other Muslims are the main victims of Islamist terrorists, and secondly, that Boko Haram sets out to kill Christians along with other members of non-Muslim faiths. The most yawning gap of all concerns Boko Haram’s status here in the United States: the Obama administration is still refusing to designate the group as a terrorist organization, citing its apparent lack of homogeneity as the reason.

Turkey, too, is treated with kid gloves. The report praises the Islamist government of Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan for issuing “a decree facilitating the return of property confiscated from religious community foundations in the past.” However, according to Open Doors, an American organization that monitors the persecution of Christians worldwide, Turkey stands at number 31 on its watch list of 50 countries, hardly evidence of the “improvements” which the report claims have been implemented.

Further afield, the report notes that the “influential” Jewish community in Venezuela numbers 9,000, but fails to mention that its Jewish population has plummeted by 50 percent during the past decade, largely because of the anti-Semitism stoked by the regime of Hugo Chavez. Nor is there any investigation of the claim the Venezuelan authorities required the Jewish community to obtain special sanitary permits for the importation of matzo for the Passover holiday.

In its conclusion, the report says that the “United States was active around the world promoting religious freedom,” before citing a vague list of meetings, conferences, and small grants to local advocates of religious tolerance. None of this will exactly have the tyrants shaking in their boots. And one wonders what the report will have to say in 2013, when we will have a better chance to assess whether the policy of constructive engagement with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has paid off. Or not.

Read Less