In 1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain named Rev G.H. Gleig wrote a memoir of the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated”.
It would be difficult to imagine any military adventure today going quite as badly as the First Anglo-Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that ended with an entire East India Company army utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of Rs 80 billion and over 40,000 lives. But this month, almost 10 years on from NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan, there were increasing signs that the current Afghan war, like so many before them, could still end in another embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos, possibly partitioned and ruled by the same government which the war was originally fought to overthrow.
Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being defeated by the surge, are instead beginning to converge on, and effectively besiege, Kabul in what is beginning to look like the final act in the history of Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. For the Taliban have now reorganised, and advanced out of their borderland safe havens. They are now massing at the gates of Kabul, surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahideen once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late ’80s. The Taliban controls over 70 per cent of the country, where it collects taxes, enforces the sharia and dispenses its usual rough justice. Every month their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government only controls 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. More:
Pervez Hoodbhoy in New Politics (via 3quarksdaily):
The left has always been a marginal actor on Pakistan’s national scene. While this bald truth must be told, in no way do I wish to belittle the enormous sacrifices made by numerous progressive individuals, as well as small groups. They unionized industrial and railway workers, helped peasants organize against powerful landlords, inspired Pakistan’s minority provinces to demand their rights, set standards of writing and journalism, etc. But the Left has never had a national presence and, even at its peak during the 1970s, could not muster even a fraction of the street power of the Islamic or mainstream parties.
A comparison with India is telling. While the Indian Left has also never attained state power — or even come close to exercising power and influence on the scale of the Congress Party — it looms large in states like Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal where it successfully ended iniquitous feudal land relations. Across the country it helps maintain a secular polity, protects minorities, keeps alive a broad focus on progressive ideas in culture, art, and education, and uses science to fight superstition. Today, a Maoist movement militantly challenges the depredations of capitalism as it wreaks destruction on their native habitat. Left-inspired movements noticeably impeded passage of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Indeed, for all its divisions and in-fighting, the Indian Left is a significant political force that is a thousand times stronger than its Pakistani counterpart.
Surely this difference begs an explanation. The answer is to be found in Pakistan’s genesis and the overwhelming role of religion in matters of the state. Understanding this point in detail is crucial to the question: how can one hope to make the Pakistani Left relevant in the future? Are there intelligent ways to deal with a major handicap? More:
Time Magazine’s recent cover photo of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman whose nose and ears were sliced off in 2009, under orders from a local Taliban commander.
Rod Nordland from Kabul in The New York Times:
She cannot read or write and had never heard of Time magazine until a visitor brought her a copy of this week’s issue, the one with the cover picture of her face, the face with no nose.
On Wednesday, the young woman, Bibi Aisha, left Kabul for a long-planned trip to the United States for reconstructive surgery. Earlier in the day, as she prepared to leave the women’s shelter at a secret location here that has been her refuge for the past 10 months, the 18-year-old was unaware of the controversy surrounding the publication of that image.
“I don’t know if it will help other women or not,” she said, her hand going instinctively to cover the hole in the middle of her face, as it does whenever strangers look directly at her. “I just want to get my nose back.”
Reaction to the Time cover has become something of an Internet litmus test about attitudes toward the war, and what America’s responsibility is in Afghanistan. Critics of the American presence in Afghanistan call it “emotional blackmail” and even “war porn,” while those who fear the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan see it as a powerful appeal to conscience.
The debate was fueled in part by the language that Time chose to accompany the photograph: “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan,” pointedly without a question mark. More:
Read Time storyAfghan Women and the Return of the Taliban
India may have a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban. So it’s not just the Pakistani military that believes bigger, richer India to be the existential threat; a majority of ordinary people share that perception and that surely ought to worry Indian policy planners looking to find a way around the security establishment and make an opening to the Pakistani people. Only 23 percent thought the Taliban was the greatest threat to their country, and just 3 percent for al Qaeda, despite the rising tide of militant violence in not just Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, but also cities in the heartland.
More troubling for India, Pakistanis have mixed views about Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan based organisation that New Delhi has blamed for a series of attacks in India including the Mumbai assault of 2008. Just 35% have a negative view of the group, a much lower percentage than for the other extremist organizations tested. One-in-four Pakistanis express a positive assessment, while 40% offer no opinion, Pew reported. For a large number of Indians, memories of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai are still too fresh, and this will only reinforce negative perception of the neighbour. Indeed, India has virtually made all dialogue with Pakistan conditional on the steps it takes to roll up groups like the Lashkar. The latest poll findings will only strengthen the case of the hawks in New Delhi, watchful for any sign of a concession to a country they consider pathologically opposed to India. More:
David Cameron’s post-WikiLeaks remarks on Pakistan helping the enemy in the Hindu Kush shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The carefully orchestrated “outburst” in India was designed to please his hosts and seal a few business deals (Cameron and Cable are fagging for the British arms industry). It’s all part of the schmoozing.
Pakistan’s official response was equally disingenuous. Since it’s impossible for Islamabad to attack the organ grinder, it went for the monkey.
Meanwhile all sides know full well what the Pakistan army has been doing with various Taliban factions since Afghanistan was occupied nearly nine years ago. Three years ago a US intelligence agent was shot dead by a Pakistani soldier at such talks – as reported in the Pakistani press. A source close to the Pakistani military told me last year in Islamabad that US intelligence agents were present at recent talks between the ISI and the insurgents. No reason for anybody to be surprised. The cause, too, is clear. The war cannot be won.
It’s hardly a secret that Pakistan never totally abandoned the Taliban after 9/11. How could they? It was Islamabad that had organised the Taliban’s retreat from Kabul so that the US and its allies could take the country without a fight. The Pakistani generals advised their Afghan friends to bide their time. More:
An Afghan teenager’s nose and ears were cut off by vindictive in-laws after she tried to run away from an abusive marriage. Now, after national media attention, Bibi Aisha will travel from Afghanistan to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon from Kabul in The Daily Beast:
On a sweltering July afternoon in Kabul, Bibi Aisha sits in a second-floor office holding a black scarf dotted with sequins over half her face. The 19-year-old is talking about her upcoming trip to the other side of the world.
“I am really happy about going to California,” she says, letting her scarf drop onto her fashionable black pants with embroidered cuffs. “I will get my nose and ears back.”
As first reported by The Daily Beast, Bibi Aisha’s husband’s uncle cut her nose and ears off nearly a year ago while her husband tied her down as a crowd of Taliban looked on. The crime for which the men meted out such barbaric punishment? Bibi Aisha brought shame to them after daring to run away following months of beatings from her husband and his family—a family she was married into at age 13 in order to settle a murder committed by her father’s cousin. More:
As the big names of world politics fly into Kabul for a conference on the future of Afghanistan, many of the capital’s international residents have been fleeing in the opposite direction, keen to escape before the airport is closed down and the city put into “lockdown”.
Today cars in the city were stopped at checkpoints every few hundred metres as part of a “ring of steel” operation. Those foreigners who have not escaped have been banned from leaving their guesthouses by their employers.
Organisers have attempted to attach great historic symbolism to the half-day conference. Of the nine international conferences on Afghanistan held in the last nine years, this is the first to actually convene inside Afghanistan.
But even diplomats involved in the five-hour event roll their eyes when asked whether it is going to produce any dramatic changes in policy.
The communique – already leaked in draft form to the media – focuses on efforts to build up the Afghan state by making it more effective, better funded and less corrupt. But on the fringes of the conference the hot topic is a subject that is barely mentioned in the draft and until recently eschewed by the US administration; making peace with the Taliban. More:
With violence on the rise, Afghan women are terrified at the prospect of a deal between President Karzai and the Taliban. Patrick Cockburn in The Independent:
Women in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan say they are once again being threatened, attacked and forced out of jobs and education as fears rise that their rights will be sacrificed as part of any deal with insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan.
Women have reported attacks and received letters warning of violence if they continue to work or even contact radio stations to request songs.
One female teacher at a girls’ school in a southern Afghan province received a letter saying: “We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut off the heads of your children and will set fire to your daughter.”
Another woman, Jamila, was threatened in August 2009, in a letter bearing the Taliban’s insignia when she was working for a local electoral commission. It said: “You work in the election office together with the enemies of religion and infidels. You should leave your job otherwise we will cut your head off your body.”
Jamila ignored the letter, but days later her father was murdered. She left her job and moved house. More:
Rumours fly as Karzai talks to Pakistan. From The Economist:
The view from Pranav Ganesh’s office was never spectacular, even before a very high wall started going up right through his garden. Behind it, another high wall protects India’s consulate in Kandahar. Mr Ganesh’s job, issuing Indian visas to Afghans, often for medical treatment, sounds humdrum. But an Indian diplomat could not work in a more dangerous spot.
This tiny diplomatic mission in the heart of Kandahar sends Pakistani officials into paroxysms of rage. They see the consulate, and three others in Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, as fronts for anti-Pakistani activities, including support for Baluch insurgents inside Pakistan. Mr Ganesh scoffs at the suggestion that he is up to anything more than the day job.
Pakistan’s long-held ambition for Afghanistan has been for it to provide “strategic depth” in the event of all-out war with India. So it resents the presence of the historic foe in places such as Kandahar, as well as India’s aid programme, which has included building a road towards the Iranian border, to weaken Pakistan’s grip over landlocked Afghanistan’s trade.
Pakistan, says Mr Ganesh, “won’t be happy until we have no diplomatic presence, including in Kabul.” More:
In 1843, shortly after his return from Afghanistan, an army chaplain, Reverend G R Gleig, wrote a memoir about the First Anglo-Afghan War, of which he was one of the very few survivors. It was, he wrote, “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”
It is difficult to imagine the current military adventure in Afghanistan ending quite as badly as the First Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that slowly descended into what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato’s invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain’s fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow.
Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal’s surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s. Like a rerun of an old movie, all journeys by non-Afghans out of the capital are once again confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters. The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. More:
West meets East in prosperous, populous Punjab. But the Taliban wants to change the status quo. John Lancaster in National Geographic:
The Taliban would not be amused. On a sunny winter afternoon in Lahore, the local culturati have turned out in force for the annual show at the National College of Arts. In the main courtyard young men and women mingle easily, smoking and sipping from cans of Red Bull. Some of the men sport ponytails, and one has a pierced eyebrow.
Nearby is a life-size sculpture of a couple hold ing hands on a swing. Inside, the image of a male torso, viewed from one angle, morphs into a female breast. Yet there is no mistaking the stamp of the subcontinent. Women wear tra ditional thigh-length tunics over their jeans, and some cover their hair. There are also miniature paintings, which traditionally might capture a hunting scene; here they portray other scenes, as in one bold depiction of a bearded cleric reclining on a couch in front of a bombed-out school.
The jumble of styles and influences—the stew of peoples and faiths Rudyard Kipling captured so vividly in his novel Kim—is a hallmark of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city and capital of Punjab Province. The wealthiest and most populous of the country’s four provinces, Punjab is where East meets West and everything in between. Even the brutal and bloody partition of British India in the mid-20th century could not destroy Punjab’s cosmopolitan brio.
But the Taliban and its allies are doing their best. In the past few years they have unleashed a wave of terrorist mayhem in Punjab, the home turf of Pakistan’s political and military establishments, that has targeted even the visiting Sri Lankan national cricket team. The intrusion of violence from the remote tribal badlands near Afghanistan has shocked Punjabis, who until recently tended to dismiss the extremists as someone else’s problem. It also has raised fears in Washington that nuclear-armed Pakistan, an inconstant but vital partner in the war on terrorism, could be heading toward collapse. More:
As the U.S. struggles to manage its efforts to influence opinion about Al Qaeda abroad, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has produced its first English-language propaganda magazine.
It’s called “Inspire,” and you can read parts of it below. A U.S. official confirmed that the pages correspondent to the version its open-source collectors had obtained.
“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda’s second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,” and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)
The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to “answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.” It includes a feature about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” More:
For nearly five brutal years, Ijaz fought in the Pakistan Taliban. Under a pseudonym, the former militant tells Rebecca Conway in The National about his life as a Taliban fighter and what made him turn away from a harrowing life of radicalism and bloodshed. Here is his account.
I was involved with jihad for five years. When we started, we were trained to fight in the Kashmir struggle. We wanted to travel to Indian-held Kashmir and join the conflict. It is the duty of every Muslim and every Pakistani to attend military training. I believe it is not necessary to fight against all non-believers, but it is my duty to fight against the non-believers who threaten Islam and Pakistan.
I was interested in learning to fight, and the local messages from militant groups, and what we heard in the mosques and speeches during Friday prayers, made me want to join the jihad. They talked about the threat to Pakistan and the threats to Islam.
I did 45 days of training. There were 2,000 recruits in the camp from across Pakistan. There was no distinction in terms of where recruits came from. It was difficult training. Not everyone could complete it. But those who did were sent to fight jihad. More: More:
Pakistan’s notorious spy agency provides crucial funding and training to Taliban fighters operating inside Afghanistan and is represented on the movement’s leadership council, according to a new report that says links between the two are deeper than previously believed.
Such is the importance of the relationship, says the report, that President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited Taliban prisoners, assuring them they would soon be released and telling them: “You are our people.”
While links between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Taliban have been known for many years, the report by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, suggests it is the “official policy” of Pakistan, which sees the fighters as providing strategic depth.
“The ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement,” said its author, Matt Waldman. More:
The American military presence in Afghanistan is in the midst of a surge, with the pledge of an extra 30,000 soldiers. Win or lose, Barack Obama, the US president, has promised to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, while the fight for hearts and minds has changed into a battle to gain influence where it counts. Hamida Ghafour reports in The National.
The S-92 Sikorsky helicopter takes off in the hot morning sun and sways over an expanse of the Hindu Kush mountains, the brown barren ridges of which contrast with the soft green patchwork of wheat and corn fields below.
It is just after 9am and we have left Forward Operating Base Fenty, the US military site 5km outside Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan’s largest city in Nangarhar province.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” says Colonel Randy George, his eyes scanning the landscape. George’s powerful figure is hunched in the small seat. He slips on headphones to talk to his right-hand man, Dante Paradiso, an American diplomat, who is sitting behind him.
These men are part of a new vision in US military strategy in Afghanistan. For years, the military action in the country was viewed as a counter-terrorism war. Soldiers were focused on hunting down militants in their hideouts and winning hearts and minds through clumsy gestures such as handing out footballs and pencils to compensate for dead bodies. More:
The Pakistani military has been conducting a military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in the northern tribal area of South Waziristan since last fall, provoking retaliatory terrorist attacks by Pakistani Taliban on the cities of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore.
What Friday’s attack suggests, if Geo is right, is that small networks of Punjabi fundamentalist vigilantes had gathered in Waziristan, from which they are now being expelled by the Pakistani military. They are attempting to take their revenge by destabilizing Pakistan. Hitting the Ahmadis, considered heretics by most Muslim Pakistanis, puts Pakistan’s politicians in the awkward position of having to defend them, and so cleverly tars the government with the brush of heresy itself.
Geo quoted a prominent Muslim cleric, Mufti Munib-ur-Rahman, who underlined that in a Muslim nation, the lives and property of non-Muslim citizens are sacrosanct. On the one hand, if this atrocity pushes the Pakistani elite to admit this crucial principle, that would be all to the good. On the other, the militants will use such statements to stir up fanatics. More:
Terrorism, shameless religious bigotry and Pakistani mindset
Raza Habib Raja in Pak Tea House:
As I write these sentences, the details of the most shameful attack on the religious sites of Ahmedis in Lahore are unfolding. However, this is not new as Pakistan has been the victim of this brazen behavior repeatedly. The thirty years of state sponsored “true” Islam is showing its colors. In Pakistan all the minorities are constantly harassed and state’s protection has often proved completely ineffective when a serious attack occurs. Although the counterargument can also be made that state is not also able to protect even when Muslims are attacked.
In case of Ahmedis it is a well known fact that they have been victims of state induced discrimination also apart from being openly hated by the public. In fact even today as this most in human barbarity was unfolding I had the opportunity to actually hear people in my office saying that though terrorism is bad Ahmedis deserved it. Muslims are an extremely intolerant group and yet extremely sensitive when it comes to their own religious sensitivities. And when such minorities are under attack the state protection has often been particularly inadequate and public condemnation virtually absent. After all we all remember Gojra where the government was completely unable to provide protection to the Christians when attackers attacked their houses and literally burnt people alive. In that incidence, there was no “sudden’ attack but mob actually first assembled after being provoked by the religious clergy and then systematically executed the attack. But even much more horrific was the aftermath where instead of widespread condemnation, the public response was apologetic. That incidence was not a political failure alone. It was national shame and depicted weakness at every level of our society’s moral fabric. More:
Art Keller at Foreign Policy. Keller is a former case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. He participated in counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the FATA of Pakistan in 2006:
Attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad claims he received explosives training in Waziristan, Pakistan, the heartland of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group closely allied with al-Qaeda. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly stated that Shahzad was both directed and financed by the TTP. Yet Shahzad’s alleged militant pedigree reconciles very poorly with the ineptitude of his attempted attack, which raises more questions about his background than it answers.
Was Shahzad simply a poor bomb-making student/incompetent jihadist?
Was the training he received unsuited for conducting attacks in the U.S. context?
Despite claims of a six month sojourn in Waziristan, did he really get any bomb-training?
One place to look for answers is the improvised explosive device Shahzad cobbled together. The FBI’s criminal complaint against Shahzad describes an IED constructed of 153 M-88 fire-crackers, three propane tanks, two five-gallon cans of gasoline, bags of fertilizer, and two alarm clocks connected to wires.
A demolition and pyrotechnic expert with 23 years of experience, Matt Kutcher, deconstructs Shahzad’s device in an interview:
Click here to read more and and the video of the bomb factory.
An attack on a professor revealed a power struggle between an educated class and those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam. Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times:
Lahore: The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.
Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.
The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.
But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.
The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors. More:
Mingora: Their cousin was kidnapped and killed in a hail of bullets – her body dumped at a roundabout, dripping blood.
That was 15 months ago when the Taliban roamed Swat with impunity.
Today Shabana and her sister Shabnam are back in business, proffering their favours and their dancing skills for discerning gentlemen with cash to spare now that Pakistan’s army say they have pushed back the extremists.
Business starts towards dusk. As the sun dips in the sky, Shabnam is already with a client. Aged 16, she has the fresh-faced beauty of youth.
“We received death threats earlier, but not now,” she says, a year since the army offensive began and nine months since commanders declared the northwestern valley, carpeted with mountains and peach trees, free of Taliban. More:
Even the threat of death cannot deter one 30-year-old entrepreneur here from his appointed rounds supplying the Pakistani elite with expensive contraband Scotch.
The bootlegger employs an elaborate scheme to conceal his business, renting a private house that doubles as a secret warehouse and hiring teenage motorbike drivers to deliver his supplies. Such inventiveness is a requirement in this line of business: to hide from the police, who want his money; the Taliban, who want his head; and his family, who would disown him.
Alcohol products have been illegal in Pakistan since the 1970s, when religious groups reacting to a spike in consumption persuaded Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to institute a ban.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Bhutto silenced the moralists and softened the prohibition when, addressing a crowd of constituents, was asked if he drank. He responded by saying, “Yes, I do drink wine, but at least I don’t drink the blood of the people.” More:
American drones overhead, Taliban troops on the offensive, and the horrifying rise of child kidnapping – Pakistan is in pieces, writes Robert Fisk, in a devastating portrait of a country thwarted by violence and corruption. From The Independent:
Pakistan ambushes you. The midday heat is also beginning to ambush all who live in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province. Canyons of fumes grey out the vast ramparts of the Bala Hisar fort. “Headquarters Frontier Force” is written on the ancient gateway. I notice the old British cannon on the heights – and the spanking new anti-aircraft gun beside it, barrels deflected to point at us, at all who enter this vast metropolis of pain. There are troops at every intersection, bullets draped in belts over their shoulders, machine guns on tripods erected behind piles of sandbags, the sights of AK-47s brushing impersonally across rickshaws, and rubbish trucks and buses with men clinging to the sides. There are beards that reach to the waist. The soldiers have beards, too, sometimes just as long.
I am sitting in a modest downstairs apartment in the old British cantonment. A young Peshawar journalist sits beside me, talking in a subdued but angry way, as if someone is listening to us, about the pilotless American aircraft which now slaughter by the score – or the four score – along the Afghanistan border. “I was in Damadola when the drones came. They killed more than 80 teenagers – all students – and, yes they were learning the Koran, and the madrasah, the Islamic school, was run by a Taliban commander. But 80! Many of them came from Bajaur, which would be attacked later. Their parents came afterwards, all their mothers were there, but the bodies were in pieces. There were so many children, some as young as 12. We didn’t know how to fit them together.” More:
There is something unusually compelling about his combination of total coolness, gentle innocence and self-deprecating humor. At 46, he still has a child’s heart. At last year’s Brookings Institution conference on Muslim-American relations, in Doha, Qatar, he sort of owned the place: With every appearance, he was immediately surrounded by admiring wonks, wanting to bask in his aura of peaceful energy. There is even a healing quality about him. Perhaps it’s because he has just been dowsed.
Samina, Ahmad’s wife, whom he met and fell in love with at age 17, is a holistic health counselor. Both are, in fact, physicians–though he had always wanted to be a musician, his parents persuaded him to become a doctor. She’s also accomplished in the kitchen and for six years had her own cooking show on television. She was, he says, the Martha Stewart of Pakistan. Samina recently learned to dowse, which is done with a pendulum-like mechanism. “It’s like prayer,” he says. “It uses positive energy from the universe. It’s not distant from the Muslim tradition.”
“I know,” he says with a laugh, “that it sounds like hocus-pocus, and I was skeptical at first. It’s like a spiritual ouija board. It raises people’s energies.” He says it’s certainly hard to describe, and that it’s not like the divining rods that westerners used to find water. His wife started dowsing him in June, and when she does, he recites a Muslim prayer: I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak. He focuses on a specific issue that may be bothering him, making him melancholy or anxious. “It’s a cathartic process,” he explains. “Through prayer and talking, you lift yourself out of it.” More:
They would have called themselves Katis, but the Muslims surrounding them had for centuries called them Kafirs – infidels – and their land, thus came to be known as Kafiristan. C.M. Naim in Outlook:
My Heartrendingly Tragic Story By Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah Khan ‘Azar’. Edited By Alberto M. Cacopardo and Ruth Laila Schmidt. Oslo: Novus Press, 2006
One day in 1897, near the village Brumotul not far from Chitral, then a semi-independent Muslim state high in the Himalayas, a bunch of boys went walking. They were not Chitralis, but refugees from another place that lay west of the newly demarcated Durand Line. They were not Muslims, either. The boys would have described themselves as Katis, but the Muslims surrounding them had for centuries used “Kafir” to describe the boys’ ancestors, and “Kafiristan” for their original land. The British had retained that nomenclature for the portion of that land they now controlled, while the Afghan Amir, Abdur Rahman, whose invasion had made the boys refugees, had named his portion “Nuristan” (“The Land of Light”).
The boys stopped on a bridge to watch two “Sahibs” fishing in the stream below, not having seen their likes before. One of the sportsmen came over to them and said something in Khowar, one of the several languages spoken among the Kafirs. One Kati boy understood what was said; he asked his friends to find earthworms for the Sahib. Later, he and another boy carried the day’s catch to the Sahibs’ camp. The man who spoke to the boys was an army doctor named Capt; the Kati boy who understood him was named Azar. Something about the boy struck Harris as exceptional. He sent for him the following day and almost obsessively insisted that Azar—barely ten or eleven at the time—should join his service. Azar offered excuses, his mother cried, but his father, Kashmir, the leader of the clan, gave his permission. Azar became Harris’s servant—first for 18 months at Chitral, and then for two years at Peshawar. Meanwhile, Kashmir was killed by some relatives when he was on his way to Kabul—after converting to Islam—to meet the Amir and seek from him his previous high status. More:
Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express on what a weak America means for India:
There was nothing un-Holbrooke-like about his utterly insensitive statement that the Kabul attack had not particularly targeted Indians. The use of really awful language, “I do not accept [that this was like the attack on the Indian embassy]” and “let’s not jump to conclusions”, was also true to form. In fact, coarse directness of this kind is so much his hallmark that, talking about him when his appointment was announced, a former American envoy — who himself was not exactly some Mr Congeniality — told me, “You guys will learn to deal with Holbrooke… he will make me look so diplomatic to you.” It follows, therefore, that there was also nothing so unusual about what should normally have been shocking insensitivity. What kind of a guy — other than Holbrooke, of course — speaks like this when four Indian victims of that terror attack are still battling for life in the hospital? His tone was dismissive, almost an admonition of those (read the Indian government) who “jumped to the conclusion” that this was an attack specifically on Indian interests. More:
A choice for change
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s former information minister and currently a member of Parliament’s National Security Committee, in The Times of India:
There is no denying that the only game-changer in the battlefield can now be a shift in anti-Taliban operations across the Durand Line. By arresting much of the dreaded Quetta Shura Taliban, Islamabad has demonstrated two things: that it can swoop down tactically where the US has been unable to tread, and that if given the right strategic incentive, it can draw down on fresh reserves of political will. India was at pains to avoid the word mediation, but clearly, New Delhi hopes that the Saudi card may give it a seat at the Afghan table, as well as open a channel as interlocutor to Islamabad.
As it stands, the motors that work to tip the scales on this razor-edge between war and peace are predictably already at work. Almost as soon as Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, crossed the Wagah border into Lahore, the debris from the Taliban attack in Kabul, where Indians were also killed among others, infected the air. The Jaish-e-Mohammad disclaimed its hand in the incident, blaming it on a fidayeen Afghan attack, but the terrorists who always seek to disrupt talks reminded everyone how they can affect both headlines and deadlines in this terrain. More:
Carlotta Gall from Rawalpindi in The New York Times:
With his white turban, untrimmed beard and worn army jacket, the man known uniformly here by his nom de guerre, Col. Imam, is a particular Pakistani enigma.
A United States-trained former colonel in Pakistan’s spy agency, he spent 20 years running insurgents in and out of Afghanistan, first to fight the Soviet Army, and later to support the Taliban, as Pakistani allies, in their push to conquer Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Today those Taliban forces are battling his onetime mentor, the United States, and Western officials say Colonel Imam has continued to train, recruit and finance the insurgents. Along with a number of other retired Pakistani intelligence officials, they say, he has helped the Taliban stage a remarkable comeback since 2006.
In two recent interviews with The New York Times, Colonel Imam denied that. But he remains a vocal advocate of the Taliban, and his views reveal the sympathies that have long run deep in the ranks of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. More:
The Taliban’s jihad, like rock and roll, has passed from youthful vigor into a maturity marked by the appearance of nostalgic memoirs. Back in the day, Abdul Salam Zaeef belonged to the search committee that recruited Mullah Omar as the movement’s commander; after the rebels took power in Kabul, he served as ambassador to Pakistan. “My Life with the Taliban,” published this winter, announces Zaeef’s début in militant letters. The volume contains many sources of fascination, but none are more timely than the author’s account of his high-level relations with Pakistani intelligence.
While in office, Zaeef found that he “couldn’t entirely avoid” the influence of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. Its officers volunteered money and political support. Late in 2001, as the United States prepared to attack Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the I.S.I.’s then commanding general, Mahmud Ahmad, visited Zaeef’s home in Islamabad, wept in solidarity, and promised, “We want to assure you that you will not be alone in this jihad against America. We will be with you.” And yet Zaeef never trusted his I.S.I. patrons. He sought to protect the Taliban’s independence: “I tried to be not so sweet that I would be eaten whole, and not so bitter that I would be spat out.” More:
Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself, the man who had long overseen the Taliban insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
New details of the raid indicate that the arrest of the No. 2 Taliban leader was not necessarily the result of a new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban, or a bid to improve its strategic position in the region. Rather, it may be something more prosaic: “a lucky accident,” as one American official called it. “No one knew what they were getting,” he said.
Now the full impact of Mullah Baradar’s arrest will play out only in the weeks to come. More:
1. Al Qaeda’s original leadership. The first group is made up of al Qaeda’s original leadership — and it is shriveling up like the roster of the local VFW. This crew still has a few big names: still-at-large figures like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Yahya al-Libi. But the original core of al Qaeda is shrinking fast. No one knows the exact composition of this highest-level group, nor its exact whereabouts. But the best intelligence suggests the members live somewhere in the vicinity of Pakistan.
2. Al Qaeda’s regional subsidiaries. Next, there are members of al Qaeda’s regional subsidiaries, local terrorist or insurgent groups that have declared allegiance to the group. This includes outfits such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar al-Sunnah in Iraq, al-Shabab in Somalia, and segments of the Taliban. These organizations do not take operational direction from al Qaeda’s core, but accept broad strategic guidance. They are often critical to al Qaeda’s efforts to expand its jihad throughout the globe. Al Qaeda, in turn, exploits these proxy groups, often mired in regional conflicts, to co-opt nationalist struggles into its broader narrative. Often, the senior leaders of these regional insurgent-cum-terrorist groups are in contact with original senior al Qaeda leadership. More:
Michael Crowley in The New Republic (via 3quarksdaily):
On August 26, 2008, Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touched down for a secret meeting on an aircraft carrier stationed in the Indian Ocean. The topic: Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The summit had been arranged the previous month. Mullen had grown anxious about the rising danger from Pakistan’s tribal areas, which Islamic militants were using as a base from which to strike American troops in Afghanistan and to plot terrorist attacks against the United States. He flew to Islamabad to see the country’s army chief of staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Kayani is Pakistan’s most important general, commanding its 550,000-man army. By some accounts, he is also the ultimate source of power in a militarized society that reveres its generals more than its politicians. Mullen had been blunt with Kayani: The United States needed Pakistan’s army to take on the militants flourishing along the border, he said. The days of Pakistan looking the other way–cutting deals and playing double games with the radicals–had to end.
It was hardly a painless request; the Pakistani military is organized for warfare against its arch-nemesis India, and many of its mid-level officers are sympathetic to the Taliban and, at best, wary of the United States. More: