Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pakistan

Undue Optimism on Pakistan

The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has become the foremost explainer of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the West. But his latest New York Times op-ed about the prospects of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, negotiating a peace deal between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban appears to reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Rashid concedes: “Pakistan’s Army has managed the country’s policy on Afghanistan since 1978.” He also notes, at the very beginning of the article, how elements of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani army’s powerful intelligence branch, sabotaged a 1992 effort by Sharif to negotiate a truce among the various Afghan Taliban factions. Yet somehow he expects that this time will be different–that Sharif will decide to push for peace in Afghanistan, which will involve ending ISI’s long-standing record of support for Taliban militancy, and the army will let him get away with it.

Read More

The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has become the foremost explainer of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the West. But his latest New York Times op-ed about the prospects of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, negotiating a peace deal between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban appears to reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Rashid concedes: “Pakistan’s Army has managed the country’s policy on Afghanistan since 1978.” He also notes, at the very beginning of the article, how elements of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani army’s powerful intelligence branch, sabotaged a 1992 effort by Sharif to negotiate a truce among the various Afghan Taliban factions. Yet somehow he expects that this time will be different–that Sharif will decide to push for peace in Afghanistan, which will involve ending ISI’s long-standing record of support for Taliban militancy, and the army will let him get away with it.

Why should the army do this? Because Rashid says it should? That’s not a very compelling reason when you have decades of strategic thinking in Islamabad which suggests that the Taliban are a reliable proxy for Pakistani interests. Rashid suggests that the army brass is getting uncomfortable with its habit of supporting Islamic militants because they see how Pakistani militants threaten their own hold on the state. Maybe so, but it’s a stretch to say that ISI is ready to give up on the Haqqanis, Taliban, and other Afghan militant groups–or to give up its control of national security policy to a prime minister who in the past had actually been deposed and exiled by the army.

In fact, the coming withdrawal of most Western troops from Afghanistan–an event which Rashid does not mention–will undoubtedly suggest to the generals in Islamabad that they need to continue their current support for the insurgency in Afghanistan because the Taliban will have a good chance to seize power once the Americans are gone. If they abandon the Taliban, the paranoid Pakistani generals undoubtedly figure, Indian influence will trump theirs in a future Afghanistan. This may be a misguided worldview, but it is one that ISI and the broader Pakistani army has clung to for years. A fundamental shift in Pakistan’s policy would be nice, but there are few signs of it so far.

Read Less

Confusing Cause and Effect in Pakistan

In this New York Times op-ed and in a book he has written, Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani official now teaching at American University in Washington, tries mightily hard to blame U.S. drone strikes for the growing radicalization in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He thereby confuses cause and effect.

He notes correctly that tribal authority has weakened in the frontier regions of Pakistan. The same thing has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, and other lands where violent Salafist organizations such the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Shabaab have tried to substitute their own form of militant rule in favor of the traditional structures that have governed tribal life.

Read More

In this New York Times op-ed and in a book he has written, Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani official now teaching at American University in Washington, tries mightily hard to blame U.S. drone strikes for the growing radicalization in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He thereby confuses cause and effect.

He notes correctly that tribal authority has weakened in the frontier regions of Pakistan. The same thing has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, and other lands where violent Salafist organizations such the Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Shabaab have tried to substitute their own form of militant rule in favor of the traditional structures that have governed tribal life.

But in the case of Pakistan, Ahmed chooses to place the blame not where it belongs–on a corrupt and ineffectual Pakistani state that can’t govern its own territory and on a violent movement called the Pakistani Taliban which has been taking advantage of state weakness–but rather on America’s program of drone strikes. He does so by clever juxtaposition of timelines, which implies causality where the evidence for it is actually tenuous.

He writes that “over the past few decades,” the pillars of tribal society in western Pakistan

have weakened. And in 2004, with the Pakistani army’s unprecedented assault and American drones’ targeting suspected supporters of Al Qaeda in Waziristan, the pillars of authority began to crumble.

In the vacuum that followed, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban, emerged. Its first targets were tribal authorities. Approximately 400 elders have been killed in Waziristan alone, a near-decapitation of traditional society.

Note how this conflates two separate developments–carefully targeted U.S. drone strikes and the Pakistani Army’s ham-handed and brutal assault into South Waziristan–as if they were one and the same. Ahmed makes no attempt to disentangle the threads here; rather he prefers to blame all of the weakness of tribal society and all of the brutality of the Pakistani Taliban on U.S. drone strikes. That’s a lot of weight to assign to an estimated 356 drone strikes since 2004–or roughly 40 a year, less than one a week–all of which are far more carefully targeted than the Pakistani Army’s blunderbuss use of artillery and air strikes against villages.

That rate actually exaggerates the pace of strikes since the average is driven up by an especially high number of strikes in 2010 (122); the number was much smaller before under President Bush and has fallen since. The reason why the number of drone strikes has increased is precisely because of the growing sway that militants have established in the tribal areas; the notion that the strikes themselves have caused the growth in militant activity remains, at most, an unproven supposition.

I have never believed that drone strikes can be the end all and be all of counterterrorism policy. I do believe that we need a more effective state-building strategy in Pakistan and that simply eliminating individual terrorist leaders will not make the threat go away.

But at the same time I don’t for a minute believe–as Ahmed and other critics of the strikes implicitly suggest–that if we simply stopped the drone strikes, then the tribal elders would re-establish their authority and the threat from the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups would recede. Quite the opposite: The drone strikes are one of the few effective measures keeping these extremist groups in check. Stop the strikes and the threat to the Pakistani state will grow. And that, in turn, means that the threat to the U.S. will grow because we can’t allow Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to fall into the wrong heads.

Read Less

Taliban Strike Exposes Flaw in Proposed Drone Guidelines

In a sign of how little has changed since President Obama’s much-ballyhooed speech last week on counter-terrorism, the latest news is that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman. He was apparently in Miram Shah, a town in North Waziristan that is also the headquarters for the Haqqani Network–one of the most vicious and effective insurgent groups in Afghanistan. This geographical coincidence indicates how closely linked all of these extremist groups are, and underscores the importance of targeting them to enhance regional stability.

Unfortunately, if Obama is serious about limiting targeting at some point in the future to targets that threaten only U.S. “persons” rather than “interests,” as has been widely reported, that will make it difficult to attack the Pakistani Taliban, which generally plot against the government of Pakistan, not against the United States (although the would-be Times Square bomber of 2010 was linked to the Pakistani Taliban).

Read More

In a sign of how little has changed since President Obama’s much-ballyhooed speech last week on counter-terrorism, the latest news is that a suspected U.S. drone strike has killed the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman. He was apparently in Miram Shah, a town in North Waziristan that is also the headquarters for the Haqqani Network–one of the most vicious and effective insurgent groups in Afghanistan. This geographical coincidence indicates how closely linked all of these extremist groups are, and underscores the importance of targeting them to enhance regional stability.

Unfortunately, if Obama is serious about limiting targeting at some point in the future to targets that threaten only U.S. “persons” rather than “interests,” as has been widely reported, that will make it difficult to attack the Pakistani Taliban, which generally plot against the government of Pakistan, not against the United States (although the would-be Times Square bomber of 2010 was linked to the Pakistani Taliban).

If the U.S. were to stop targeting the Pakistani Taliban, as it may well do after 2014, it would increase the threat to Islamabad and also make it harder for the U.S. to fly drone strikes against al-Qaeda and other groups that directly threaten the U.S. Pakistan is dubious about such strikes and allows them, it is generally believed, as part of a quid pro quo whereby the U.S. also targets the Pakistani Taliban, which Islamabad does want to fight. Stop targeting the Pakistani Taliban and the consequences could be severe for the broader war on terrorism. That is why I hope there are some classified loopholes in Obama’s new policies that will allow existing counter-terrorism efforts to continue.

Read Less

Curtailing Bangladesh Investment Is Short-Sighted

The April 24 collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza, a building hosting numerous garment factories on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, has now claimed more than 1,100 lives. There is no mitigating the disaster for the families of those killed or maimed, or for the nation of Bangladesh.

I had the true pleasure of spending a week in Bangladesh back in December 2008. After having spent time in Pakistan, Bangladesh is a breath of fresh air. While the specter of extremism, aggrievement, an embrace of terrorism and an obsession with its neighbors permeates Pakistan and Pakistani society, Bangladesh exudes tolerance and a general desire by its people that the fate of their country is in their own hands. Much of the difference between the two outlooks rests in the brutal birth of Bangladesh. Its 1971 independence war claimed upwards of 850,000 lives—far more than in Bosnia or the past two years of Syrian atrocities. Pakistan—which controlled what is now Bangladesh from 1947-1971—sought a state based on religious identity. Bengalis, who generally embraced much more moderate interpretations of Islam, embraced ethnic and cultural identities beyond religion. More than four decades later, Pakistanis who organize around ethnicity or secular ideas are considered traitors, and religious parties reign supreme. The opposite is true in Bangladesh.

Read More

The April 24 collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza, a building hosting numerous garment factories on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, has now claimed more than 1,100 lives. There is no mitigating the disaster for the families of those killed or maimed, or for the nation of Bangladesh.

I had the true pleasure of spending a week in Bangladesh back in December 2008. After having spent time in Pakistan, Bangladesh is a breath of fresh air. While the specter of extremism, aggrievement, an embrace of terrorism and an obsession with its neighbors permeates Pakistan and Pakistani society, Bangladesh exudes tolerance and a general desire by its people that the fate of their country is in their own hands. Much of the difference between the two outlooks rests in the brutal birth of Bangladesh. Its 1971 independence war claimed upwards of 850,000 lives—far more than in Bosnia or the past two years of Syrian atrocities. Pakistan—which controlled what is now Bangladesh from 1947-1971—sought a state based on religious identity. Bengalis, who generally embraced much more moderate interpretations of Islam, embraced ethnic and cultural identities beyond religion. More than four decades later, Pakistanis who organize around ethnicity or secular ideas are considered traitors, and religious parties reign supreme. The opposite is true in Bangladesh.

The shrill reaction in the West to the Rana Plaza disaster risks taking a tragedy and compounding it multifold. The failure to enforce building codes is criminal, and should be punished. But to suggest—as Pope Francis did when he declared, “Living on 38 euros ($50) a month … That is called slave labor,” is nonsense. Many British NGOs, however, are following his lead. Six hundred dollars a year might be a pittance in Italy or Argentina—and it may not make someone comfortably middle class in Bangladesh—but it is a livable wage, and one which can be used to improve one’s family. Bangladesh may be one of the poorer countries on earth—but it is no Haiti, Afghanistan, Nepal, or even Rwanda.

However, in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, Disney pulled out of Bangladesh. “After much thought and discussion we felt this was the most responsible way to manage the challenges associated with our supply chain,” Bob Chapek, president of Disney Consumer Products, told CNN. Other major chains and brand names may follow suit. To do so, however, would be to compound the problem.

Bangladesh’s greatest asset is its people. To demand that Bangladeshi industry operate by the same standards that developed Western economies do is to take away from Bangladesh its competitive advantage. To pull out of Bangladesh is to punish the hundreds of thousands of people who seek work. In past episodes in which Western do-gooders sought to crack down on underage labor, the result was a huge spike in child prostitution and other illegal and socially corrosive activities. If Bangladeshis are put out of work, they will also become more susceptible to groups like Jamaat-e-Islami which are becoming steadily more aggressive, as well as Saudi charities that seek to make inroads into the country with the fifth largest Muslim population. Few Islamic charities are strings-free.  

Rather than kick the Bangladeshis while they are down, a far better strategy would be to ensure that the government adheres to the workplace safety reforms that were already underway at the time of last month’s disaster. Corporate responsibility should not simply be to react to the politically correct winds of the West’s chattering class, but to also consider what might actually improve the societies and best aid the people in which they operate.

Read Less

In Pakistan, Expect More of the Same

The fact that 60 percent of Pakistanis voted in parliamentary elections, thereby defying Pakistani Taliban intimidation, is a good sign. So is the likelihood that Pakistan will see the first succession since the country’s founding in 1947 from one elected government to another after the first government had completed its full term in office.

But we should not expect much change in foreign policy from presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who got his start in politics as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. In the 1990s, during an earlier stint as prime minister, he was a supporter of the Afghan Taliban and has remained cozy with Islamic militant groups ever since; during this campaign he refused to come out strongly against the Pakistani Taliban, which helps to explain why that group did not attack rallies held by his Pakistan Muslim League party. Although Sharif is said to favor better ties with India, his most famous act as prime minister occurred in 1998 when he approved Pakistan’s first nuclear test, thereby ratcheting up tensions with India.

Read More

The fact that 60 percent of Pakistanis voted in parliamentary elections, thereby defying Pakistani Taliban intimidation, is a good sign. So is the likelihood that Pakistan will see the first succession since the country’s founding in 1947 from one elected government to another after the first government had completed its full term in office.

But we should not expect much change in foreign policy from presumptive prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who got his start in politics as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s. In the 1990s, during an earlier stint as prime minister, he was a supporter of the Afghan Taliban and has remained cozy with Islamic militant groups ever since; during this campaign he refused to come out strongly against the Pakistani Taliban, which helps to explain why that group did not attack rallies held by his Pakistan Muslim League party. Although Sharif is said to favor better ties with India, his most famous act as prime minister occurred in 1998 when he approved Pakistan’s first nuclear test, thereby ratcheting up tensions with India.

Sharif promises better relations with the United States too, but it is doubtful that he could deliver even if he meant it–and it’s doubtful that he does. As the Indian Express notes: “Sharif has criticized unpopular U.S. drone attacks targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Pakistan, and has called the Afghan conflict ‘America’s war.’ The Punjab government, controlled by Sharif’s party, turned down over $100 million in American aid in 2011 to protest the bin Laden raid.”

Even if Sharif were pro-American and secularist (he is neither), he would still not call the shots in Pakistan. Real power, at least when it comes to foreign policy and national security policy, is still held by the army, while in the domestic sphere the judiciary has proved increasingly important of late. President Asif Ali Zardari has been a figurehead. So too with his previous prime ministers. Real power has been increased by the army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the Supreme Court’s chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who succeeded in removing Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office last year. Both Kayani and Chaudhry are due to retire this year and their replacements will be more consequential than the change of elected leadership.

In foreign policy, however, there is unlikely to be much change since pretty much the entire army leadership–not just General Kayani–supports Pakistan’s existing policies, which include aiding and abetting groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which are killing Americans and their Afghan allies. It is high time we woke up to what Pakistan is up to. Instead of pretending it is a sometimes-wayward ally, we must recognize that Pakistan’s strategic interests–especially in Afghanistan–are squarely at odds with ours, and we must work to counter Pakistani influence as we would do with any other hostile power.

In Pakistan itself, we should work to bolster civil society and the power of civilians in government, but we should not delude ourselves that such efforts will have much impact in the short run–and possibly not even in the long run. Pakistan’s state is deeply dysfunctional and is unlikely to fundamentally change for the better under Nawaz Sharif.

Read Less

Defense Cuts Rest on Faulty Assumptions

Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

Read More

Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

The plan had been, because of half a trillion dollars in defense budget cuts mandated by Congress in 2011, to cut army end-strength down to 490,000–i.e. roughly the pre-9/11 level. But sequestration has added another half-trillion dollars in cuts which, if not rescinded, will result in an army of 390,000–the smallest level since before World War II.

Such drastic cuts only make sense if you assume–as the Obama administration and many on Capitol Hill seem to–that we will never fight another major ground war in the future or that if we do we will have plenty of time to mobilize and train reservists and new recruits. Neither assumption is historically warranted.

First, wars today do not take place after an elaborate mobilization; more often they arrive out of the blue, as the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan did.

Second, despite our aversion to fighting more wars after Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still plenty of places where it is easy to imagine American combat troops being sent–in fact just about anywhere in the giant arc of instability stretching from West Africa to Central Asia, in other words from Mali to Pakistan. That region is full of dangerous regimes and non-state actors and it is growing more unstable, not less. The danger to the U.S. is heightened by the fact that one country in that area (Pakistan) already has nuclear weapons, another is close to acquiring them (Iran), and others (Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) may yet follow suit.

Sending large numbers of U.S. grounds is not anyone’s preferred solution to the dangers emanating from this area–but even in a best-case scenario we will have to continue providing substantial security assistance and Special Operations missions to keep the threat under control. The worst-case scenarios (e.g., war with Iran, another 9/11 emanating from Pakistan) could, in fact, dictate large-scale ground deployments.

No matter how much we hate the idea of another major war, especially on the ground, prudence suggests we need to have the capability to fight and win–and the only way to achieve decisive results (i.e., change of regime) is through ground action. Ground troops can sometimes be provided by allies, such as the Libyan rebels, to complement American airpower, but we cannot rule out the possibility that in the future U.S. ground forces will have to be deployed.

It is the height of folly to cut our ground forces so much–and to degrade their readiness so markedly–that they will no longer be able to deploy in sufficient strength to win future wars. But that is precisely what we are now doing.

Read Less

Déjà Vu All Over Again in Afghanistan

I am not an optimist when it comes to Afghanistan. The United States lost the Afghan war the second President Obama issued a public timeline for withdrawal and when diplomats offered to negotiate with the Taliban. Officials endorsing such timelines—too often out of political perspicacity rather than military wisdom—are culpable in setting the stage for defeat. Momentum matters in Afghanistan more than spin, as Afghans have never lost a war: they simply defect to the winning side.

The White House may believe its spin, but no one in Afghanistan does. Whereas the Taliban once embraced the narrative of the First Anglo-Afghan War, describing Mullah Omar as Dost Muhammad and Hamid Karzai as Shah Shujah, with the implication that ISAF forces would play the role of the British heading into a disastrous retreat, the historical allusions have changed in recent months as Afghans filter events through the living memory of the Soviet withdrawal. Hence, Hamid Karzai has become Najibullah in the current Afghan narrative. Najibullah, of course, was the last Communist leader of Afghanistan. True, Najibullah managed to hold onto power for three years following the Soviet withdrawal, but he fell as soon as the rubles—about $3 billion per year—dried up. Afghans recognize that most of the money promised in the past years’ series of international donor conferences will never get delivered.

Further, when the World Bank estimates the foreign assistance that Afghanistan will require to stay afloat, they too often assume that the Afghan mining industry will be far more advanced than reality will dictate. In the past year, real estate prices have dropped 20 percent in Afghanistan as Afghans recognize that the long-term prospects for rule of law are dim.

Read More

I am not an optimist when it comes to Afghanistan. The United States lost the Afghan war the second President Obama issued a public timeline for withdrawal and when diplomats offered to negotiate with the Taliban. Officials endorsing such timelines—too often out of political perspicacity rather than military wisdom—are culpable in setting the stage for defeat. Momentum matters in Afghanistan more than spin, as Afghans have never lost a war: they simply defect to the winning side.

The White House may believe its spin, but no one in Afghanistan does. Whereas the Taliban once embraced the narrative of the First Anglo-Afghan War, describing Mullah Omar as Dost Muhammad and Hamid Karzai as Shah Shujah, with the implication that ISAF forces would play the role of the British heading into a disastrous retreat, the historical allusions have changed in recent months as Afghans filter events through the living memory of the Soviet withdrawal. Hence, Hamid Karzai has become Najibullah in the current Afghan narrative. Najibullah, of course, was the last Communist leader of Afghanistan. True, Najibullah managed to hold onto power for three years following the Soviet withdrawal, but he fell as soon as the rubles—about $3 billion per year—dried up. Afghans recognize that most of the money promised in the past years’ series of international donor conferences will never get delivered.

Further, when the World Bank estimates the foreign assistance that Afghanistan will require to stay afloat, they too often assume that the Afghan mining industry will be far more advanced than reality will dictate. In the past year, real estate prices have dropped 20 percent in Afghanistan as Afghans recognize that the long-term prospects for rule of law are dim.

When the Afghan civil war resumes—and with neighbors like Iran and Pakistan, it will—it will be bloody. If in 1989, the Soviets left Najibullah behind to face the so-called Peshawar-7, the Americans and ISAF appear prepared to leave the country behind with an even greater array of warlords or, as the State Department prefers to say, regional power-brokers. The ill-conceived strategy to prop up local militias will only exacerbate the conflict to come.

Negotiations with the Taliban only make things worse. Let’s forget that the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned exercise to explain why their previous round of negotiations with the Taliban—between 1995 and 2000—failed so precipitously or why they should expect different results now, when negotiating with many of the same figures.

Those who propose a soft partition, ceding predominantly Pushtun southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, forget that such a system has been tried and failed. After the Taliban consolidated control over southern Afghanistan in 1994, they had agreed not to enter Herat, an overwhelmingly Persian city, but did anyhow the following year. Ditto their entry into Kabul in 1996, against the backdrop of UN power-sharing talks. The only thing the Taliban were interested in sharing, it turned out, was their idea of God’s wrath upon anyone who did not share their twisted interpretations of Islam and culture. 

From early in the Soviet occupation through the Red Army’s withdrawal a quarter century ago, the United Nations worked to broker a withdrawal. Diego Cordovez, Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s special representative, credited the persistence of the United Nations (rather than the arming of the Mujahedin) with achieving the Soviet withdrawal. Again, it’s déjà vu. In 2011 and 2012, respectively, the International Crisis Group and the RAND Corporation published reports calling for UN-led mediation as, in the words of David Cortright, director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, “The U.N. is perhaps the only organization that is able to garner the political clout needed to successfully achieve a peace settlement.” This, of course, is nonsense. It may be dogma for the conflict resolution community, but foisting off responsibility for Afghanistan to UN officials will simply lead to a repeat of the bloodshed that swept over Afghanistan with renewed vigor in 1992.

The United States went into Afghanistan in 2001 to help the Afghan government fill a vacuum in which terrorism thrived, and to help Afghanistan rebuild a military that could monopolize the use of force within its borders. That mission is not yet complete. Perhaps politicians and diplomats will still push forward with withdrawal. As they do so, however, they should recognize that they are not leaving in victory, but rather condemning Afghans to repeat the past.

Read Less

U.S. Should Not Stay on the Sidelines of Afghan Election

Michele Flournoy and Michael O’Hanlon are right to argue in this Wall Street Journal op-ed that the U.S. has a big stake in the outcome of Afghanistan’s April 2014 presidential election. They are right, moreover, that we must do everything possible to safeguard the integrity of the balloting process. But I disagree with their assertion–which amounts to a bipartisan article of faith in today’s Washington–that “the United States and other key outside nations shouldn’t and won’t try to pick a winner.”

Tell it to Pakistan. Do Flournoy and O’Hanlon have any confidence that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence will refrain from picking a winner? Or Iran’s Quds Forces? What about the brutal and corrupt warlords and power brokers who dominate Afghan politics today in collusion with current president Hamid Karzai? Will they refrain from picking a candidate too?

Read More

Michele Flournoy and Michael O’Hanlon are right to argue in this Wall Street Journal op-ed that the U.S. has a big stake in the outcome of Afghanistan’s April 2014 presidential election. They are right, moreover, that we must do everything possible to safeguard the integrity of the balloting process. But I disagree with their assertion–which amounts to a bipartisan article of faith in today’s Washington–that “the United States and other key outside nations shouldn’t and won’t try to pick a winner.”

Tell it to Pakistan. Do Flournoy and O’Hanlon have any confidence that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence will refrain from picking a winner? Or Iran’s Quds Forces? What about the brutal and corrupt warlords and power brokers who dominate Afghan politics today in collusion with current president Hamid Karzai? Will they refrain from picking a candidate too?

Hardly. These actors and many others are going to use their bucks and, if necessary, bombs and bullets too, to shape the outcome in ways that are beneficial to their interests–and inimical to the interests of most Afghans and of the United States and our foreign partners who have invested so much in that country’s future.

Given the stakes and the reality that the election will not be an antiseptic exercise in good government, I believe we have no choice but to designate and support the best possible candidate for president. We should not look for someone who would be an American puppet but rather for a strong, honest, hard-working leader who will serve the long-term interests of Afghanistan.

This is, of course, an undertaking fraught with obvious risks. But as I argued in this Weekly Standard article, efforts to cultivate foreign leaders have paid off in the past. Look at how Edward Lansdale promoted Ramon Magsaysay in the Philippines in the early 1950s.

In fairness, such efforts have backfired too, and there is always the danger of blowback from more active intervention in the Afghan political process. But I think the greatest danger of all is to sit on the sidelines, congratulating ourselves on our moral purity, while malign actors steal the election and install a new president who will be weak, corrupt–and no match for the Taliban.

Read Less

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




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.