Afghanistan: Colony or Outpost?

Source: Massoud Hossaini (AFP/Getty Images)

Regardless of what the public opinion is about the (still) ongoing war in Afghanistan, the United States is here to stay. Whether the Taliban stay or not. And they are most likely to because the NATO forces have still not been able to curb their insurgency and the situation pretty much seems like a stalemate. The issue with Afghanistan is that it offers key strategic territory in South Central Asia where the United States has not enjoyed significant political influence since the very early days of Cold War, or in other words, ever before, except for the Soviet Afghan War of the 1980s which was followed by the disintegration of the only challenger to the strongest power in the world.

Now the Americans have a choice, let’s drop the NATO part for a moment. They could either run Afghanistan as a functional colony (sorry the vassal state term hardly applies here), which they would probably plan to do, choosing a democratically elected local leader like Hamid Karzai for sugarcoating and keeping a US military viceroy to control the actual political interests. Or they could either use Afghanistan as an isolated outpost for the region leaving the internal affair of the rest of the country to its fate, constantly engaging in the conflict with the resistance and establishing military bases that are used for far greater interests of the United States in the region. The FP Magazine published an article about the Israeli military presence in Azerbaijan, but the US bases in Afghanistan are probably an even better option for war with Iran. Among many other advantages.

However, Iran is just one dimension of the episode. The campaign could even be broader than that and it is not necessarily about war. War just happened but it is actually about political influence and if that political influence is threatened, military force will of course be used. The dual US policies in Western Asia has created duplicitous allies such as Pakistan which is now offering them a taste of their own medicine by allegedly keeping a check on the US interests in Afghanistan, particularly apprehensive due to their own insecurities of growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. Whether that is true or not, it is true that India is more aligned with the larger US interest right now than Pakistan is. Furthermore, the US may not need Pakistan in the bigger picture as much as it used to do in the Cold War decades.

The US presence in Afghanistan has a great deal to do with the changed perspective of the United States towards Pakistan. It is seen as a problem area. Pakistan has been serving the US interest for decades and the utility of the state reached its zenith during the Soviet Afghan War from 1979 to 1989. However, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which for some odd but obvious reasons coincided with a sudden monstrous increase in religious extremism in Pakistan, all that has been changing gradually. This was pretty convenient for the future and thinking from the perspective that Pakistan has actually fulfilled its utility in the geostrategic targets of the West in the region, it is worth noting by all means.

It is an open secret that the Taliban were created by the Pakistani forces under the guidance of the American CIA as the more respected Mujahideen to fight against the Soviets and you hardly need any references to verify that. You know, one of those loosely declassified things of which there is no great evidence available perhaps. Call it a conspiracy theory, if you will. While there is no doubt that Osama Bin Laden was the man the US forces were after and that he was thought to be in hiding in Afghanistan in 2001, of which no one can be completely sure, but assuming that the United States attacked Afghanistan for that very reason is pretty naïve. At least that was not the only reason, if one at all. Actually it is pretty ridiculous to assume that in my books but I am sure the viewpoint I am offering is widely seen the same way as well. On a serious note, it seems that there were larger plans at hand.

However, things are not as simple as they seem, as is always the case with such affairs. Many among the US people are not even bothered about any advantages that the United States may be enjoying by occupying Afghanistan and want the government to call the troops back home. Others are too concerned about a terrorist threat rising from Afghanistan and would not mind if the military maintains its presence there but the fact remains that life is tough for the US soldiers in Afghanistan and the Taliban don’t seem to be giving up. You would think that they should have by now. It has been ten long years. More than that. The greatest problem that the United States is going to encounter in the future are the Afghan people, who could become out of control of the neocolonial power. They have a history of doing that at least.

Recently, two very unpleasant incidents occurred. A few American soldiers allegedly burned a copy of the Muslim Holy Book Koran and another opened fire on unarmed Afghan civilians including women and children in Kandahar. Both these events caused an outrage in Afghanistan with widespread protests for the former, given the religious fervor of the Afghan nation. The protests even resulted in the death of 2 US soldiers. Of course, it is hard for many in the West to understand the violent protests over the mere burning of a book but unfortunately that phenomenon is a reality in Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East. These two incidents were purely individual acts, as much as you disapprove of them or not, but what they have done is that they have created tension between the common Afghan people and their US masters. Reminding them that America is a foreign power after all.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge for the US strategists right now is this cultural shock and lack of trust in the long run. The longer the US military stays in Afghanistan, the more these incidents will appear. While no one needs to doubt the competence of the US military, you do not need to be a defense analyst to know that they don’t particularly enjoy their stay in Afghanistan, that too, under the constant threat of the attacks from the Taliban. In my opinion, a complete American pull out from Afghanistan will never occur in the short run, actually for a considerable period of time, and if it is made, it would be pretty embarrassing. Because quite frankly, they have achieved nothing in Afghanistan except for toppling over the Taliban regime and that was not the real objective after all. Removing their regime was never really a problem for the strongest country in the world anyway, though completely eliminating them is.

The US Presidential elections will be held later this year, that is, 2012. The candidates are on the campaign trail and there is some antiwar sentiment in the air with no less than 69% of the people disapproving of the US military campaign in Afghanistan, let alone the presence. This will certainly push President Obama to announce the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghan soil. The latest date is 2013 perhaps. But hey, wasn’t he supposed to pull them out in 2008? He actually increased the number of troops by 30,000 the very next year. Well that fits a person’s understanding from the perspective of the account presented above but perhaps not for the antiwar voter. Nevertheless, regardless of the outcome of the US elections, the US presence in Afghanistan will certainly not diminish after 2013 and as long as there are Taliban, there will be war. Actually some reports do point out that the military stay could even last up to 2024. Who knows.

Pakistan’s presence may only make the delay excruciatingly long or maybe not and maybe that is the new plan of stimulating the world economy. That’s just a joke, not a conspiracy theory. However, as much Pakistan would like to have a say in the political affairs of Afghanistan, they will not be given as much control as they were in the 1990s. Regardless of the Pakistani perspective and strategy, the US needs to see how it should run Afghanistan in the immediate future. Whether they want to run it as a colony, or a periphery if you want to be more euphemistic, or as a military base in a large and hostile battlefield. All that depends on how they engage with the Afghan people, making me think if only the word colony fitted that relationship. It seems something worse. An occupation maybe. Whether they want to appoint diplomats there or deploy generals with units prepared for battle. It is a bumpy ride ahead for the United States but not one that they can pull out of by choice.

This war is not over yet.

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Two Decades Since the Happiest News

Source: The Telegraph

I must admit I do not attach importance to sports anymore as I used to do ten years ago, neither do I associate it with patriotism in any way. I never did, even before my teenage, but it feels good to see everyone around you so jubilant and it feels very good to see something you associate with do well. Especially when it is a part of very personal nostalgia.

Pakistan is a country surrounded with troubles of all sorts, especially in the recent years, but it has had its share of fond memories and some very creative and important people in its history. I say this with an overtone of sadness that there have been very few instances of “good news” in its history, since its creation, at least in my living memory, since the late 1980s to date. However, one that I consider the most important one, and to some probably the only one, was the 1992 Cricket World Cup victory.

Now that was a huge moment for someone who had not even reached his teenage at the time and it was ecstatic. Imran Khan is my childhood hero and I recall that when I was in school there was no one in the world that I wanted to be like than Imran Khan. He is one of those very few charismatic and inspirational people you cannot help but notice. I was not alone. All the boys wanted to become Imran Khan and all the girls wanted to marry him. And it was really inspirational to see him lift the trophy for Pakistan. He is a politician now and a controversial figure, but I guess he always was. And that’s sexy.

Now that was one of those patriotic moments you cannot help but not hide under pragmatism, making it one of my very personal posts.

It happened on this day, March 25, exactly 20 years ago in Melbourne, Australia.

I know it is only a cricket tournament and many cricket world cups have come and gone since then, but to my generation, that moment means something really special. Besides, Pakistan was not as half as desensitized a nation to everything as it is now. I still remember watching the Pakistani cricket team victory parade on Murree Road in Rawalpindi from the roof of my old family house. It was a surreal moment that got attached to my memory forever and will never leave it until my brain cells are dissolved with my corpse.

Even the most useless cricketers in the squad are treated as heroes to this day.

I find the Pakistan of the 1990s a very magical piece of history anyway and it was really made special by this very special event. The earlier generations would attach far greater importance to the event not just because archrival India dramatically won the 1983 World Cup but because Pakistan was eliminated from the 1987 World Cup over a controversial umpiring decision that led to the dismissal of Captain Imran Khan in the Semi Final against Australia in Lahore. It was probably the lowest point in his career and he retired after the loss in the tournament. He was persuaded to come out of retirement and went on to lead an apparently dysfunctional team to victory, in a miraculous manner. Those who followed the tournament would know what I am talking about.

Whether you agree with it or admit it or not, I think that the 1992 World Cup victory had a great part to play in changing the destiny of Pakistan. It also led to the building of Pakistan’s first dedicated cancer hospital in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, which could have happened without the victory too perhaps, but maybe not in such a glorious manner. Donations poured in for it. We lost that spirit somewhere over the years. Hope not.

Imran’s acceptance speech was pretty much about him than Pakistan, but I guess Pakistanis don’t mind that. I don’t.

But it really was the Happiest News the Pakistani nation ever received.

Two decades since the Happiest News and probably waiting for the next one, which will never come because this was it I guess. Hope not.

I think the 1992 Cricket World Cup was a moment that I do associate with patriotism without any shame.

Yes, it is a moment for which I am very proud to be a Pakistani.

Kharcha Paani: Tracking Pakistan’s Bribery Path

Something worth sharing and worth spreading.

I have been told that RYSe.pk has come up with something really impressive. At least it impressed me, therefore I thought that it should get a mention in this space.

The project is called Kharcha Paani, the slang euphemism for bribery in India, and allows almost anyone with an internet connection to map and post their story whenever they are made to bribe someone in Pakistan, regardless of the sector of the economy or government.

Bribery tracking websites in the region probably originated in India with IPaidaBribe.com being one of the most prominent one and became an inspiration to a lot of similar projects in other countries. I guess Kharcha Paani is not the first such website in Pakistan, IPaidBribe.pk being an existing Pakistani version. Nevertheless, this initiative should certainly be appreciated. Much needed with the rapidly changing trends of internet usage in the country.  Too bad they don’t reflect the actual bribery rate in the country, but that can gradually improve. People make it work.

At least educated Pakistanis who know how to use facebook should be able to use this, though I don’t hope to use this tool. But I will if I have to. It will not stop them from asking for bribes, which you can always pay whenever it makes things convenient for you anyway (it can never be completely eliminated, fact), but it will at least offer a brutally true reflection of what this society is made of. Dishonesty and corruption that should be emphasized to tear down its false self-righteousness.

Who knows it could even reduce bribery cases some day.

The project could always be extended to other media, offering the masses access to a similar idea somehow.

The Example of Shahbaz Bhatti

Source: Asianews.it

There are not a lot of countries which have to endure unpleasant occurrences such as the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, since which a year has passed on March 2 this year, but even rare are examples set with such crude nudity and such evident clarity that religious extremism can really plague a society like a cancerous tumor. Pakistan is one country that proudly boasts fundamentalism as a part of its dysfunctional constitution and law.

Like always, you cannot be absolutely sure about who did it but the evidence and the messages left at the spot clearly point towards the Pakistani Taliban, a separatist faction which wants to enforce its brand of militant Shariah in the country, which many argue is what the Shariah is, but that’s another subject. It is thought that Bhatti was assassinated for his criticism on the Blasphemy Law. Ever since he has been silenced, so have been most of the voices in the country who were outspoken about it.

In any case, this pretty much puts to rest any false assertions about the Islamic constitution and law, or at least an Islamic Republic, protecting minorities. Even if that is true in theory, it certainly is not in practice. This is usually what I tell Muslim Pakistanis, like many other people who support a Secular constitution and law, that no matter how much you are confident about the provisions in the Islamic law, or Shariah, to protect the minorities, that is not how non-Muslims see that law and that is precisely the reason why there should be an “agreed upon” and uncontroversial constitution and the law, which should not be disputed by any party. As a matter of fact, most of the non-Muslims will immediately raise objections as soon as they hear about the Shariah or the Islamic Law.

People may or may not agree with it, but Bhatti’s assassination has been an alarming point raising question marks about the kind of protection the law and constitution of the country offer to its citizens. I am not talking about communities and minorities here because it sort of disturbs me calling for the rights of this community and that community. Every citizen has their rights and we don’t really have to refer to people as minorities, as if they are not completely a part of the society.

The bottom line is that Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination has been a wake up call for the Pakistani state and especially the Pakistani people that only a secular constitution, which is not loaded with communal bias, is the foundation to the solution of the problems of the country regarding civil rights.

To remind you of the neverending need for protest and the great struggle for civil rights in Pakistan in the face of pointless religious extremism, leaving you with the best sign spotted in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest.

Hope she gets heard some day.

One of the best signs ever seen in a Shahbaz Bhatti assassination protest rally. Source: Abid Nawaz/Express Tribune