The Stain on the Peacemaker’s Legacy

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, Politico

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Every one of us can recall the larger than life election campaign of President Obama in the 2008 Presidential elections. The campaign stirred so much hope for change, that it inspired the entire world. Apart from the fact that the first African American was about to be elected for President in American history, the world saw this refreshing liberal leader as a new beginning for world peace, progress, and prosperity.

To a great extent, he has delivered on many of his promises. To many others, he has been a terrible disappointment, which of course is going to be the case if you try reconciling his too-good-to-be-true campaign with the reality. He got rid of Osama Bin Laden in a heroic operation in Pakistan and eliminated several Islamist terrorist through targeted drone strikes. He had a major healthcare reform act passed, albeit highly partisan, and just recently designated new national reserve areas in three states.

But his role as an international peacemaker was sealed with the conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on his election in 2009. He truly broke the ice with his historic decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, probably his greatest foreign policy legacy, and is trying his level best to conclude a civilized agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program at the cost of Israel’s satisfaction. If we ignore his aggressive drone warfare throughout Middle East and Southwest Asia, he certainly looks like an American President who has actually been a force for peace for a change.

But I wonder if many historians would count the rise of ISIS, or ISIL as he calls it, among his lasting legacies as well.

Despite the fact that many of his supporters and the Democratic leaders would dismiss the very mention of this notion and quickly transfer the blame to the policies of his predecessor, the explanation is far from enough.

Obviously, you cannot expect a President in the last year of his Presidency, when he is busy building his legacy, to start a war. That’s something for the next President to worry about. But it is a fair question to ask if he has done enough.

In my humble opinion, the answer is certainly no.

There is no doubt that America is war weary, and they certainly do not want to have anything to do with a war that does not concern them directly. They are right. They should not have been in Iraq in the first place. The sacrifice of thousands of US and allied veterans for their service must not be forgotten and must be appreciated. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that the problem of ISIS would not have surfaced without the vacuum of power created by Western intervention in the region.

The arming of the Syrian opposition to intensify the Syrian civil war probably contributed as much to this development than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, if not more, though the Shia-leaning central government of Iraq and lack of political understanding in this regard by the Bush administrations are also cited as factors. But what if President Obama would have refrained from fulfilling his campaign promise of withdrawing troops from Iraq? It only would have been the right thing to do in this context.

But what is the use in bickering over the past, as well as the cause? Because either way, it’s the Western intervention that caused the problem, whether due to the actions of a Democratic President or a Republican.

The point to concentrate on is if we want to do something about this problem today, as most Republican leaders are urging, and rightly so.

If you really want some insight into President Obama’s mind and how he has approached the ISIS crisis, hear or read his statement at the Department of Defense press conference on the issue.

His comment about the ISIS problem conceded that “ideologies are not defeated with guns, but better ideas.” It is hard to disagree with his statement, but President Obama must realize that ISIS is not just an ideology. The ideology we are confronting here is militant Islamism. ISIS is a very real political group which is gaining ground every day, and which can only be defeated with military power, not just better ideas.

Nobody wants to look like President Jimmy Carter, who struggled with the Iran hostage crisis in the very last days of his Presidential term. Therefore, ISIS is at just about the safe distance to accord neglect of any remedial action, something to be taken on by the “next generation” in this long battle. The hints toward that direction are not hard to find in the statement, apart from a complete lack of sense of urgency to tackle the issue.

Besides, actively taking on ISIS would be against the Obama doctrine of no boots on ground and relying heavily on drone warfare and other airstrikes. This makes perfectly good sense, but if only it had been good enough to deal with the severity of the threat of ISIS. It calls for forming a global coalition as rallied by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, hopefully under the United Nations, and with a permanent troop deployment. If US troops can still be stationed in Korea, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, why not in Iraq where they are needed the most?

But in his urge to be the great global peacemaker, to be the great American President who didn’t go to war, and the great liberal statesman who made the world a better place, not worse, is he leaving us with probably the worst entity imaginable just to undo most if not all of that good work?

Yet the very fact that President Obama is a force for peace in the world is a big question mark itself.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

 

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Farewell Tribute To Cameron Munter

Source: US State Department

While it sounds rather ridiculous for commoners to be interested in the office of diplomats, I mean what and who comes and goes, there are certain individuals that come across in this profession every now and then which are hard to ignore. One such person has been Ambassador Cameron Munter who has served in Islamabad from October 6, 2010 until he announced his early resignation on May 7, 2012 and left for the United States on July 24, 2012. Charge d’ affaires Richard Hoagland is performing stand-in duties for him.

Now I write this as a Pakistani national and someone who at least aspires to be if not is a citizen of the world. But even regardless of these viewpoints, I see the term of Ambassador Munter, a Californian who loves desi food, in Pakistan rather charming. I know it has been a while since he gave up his position, which happened in July 2012 actually, and this post has been overdue as I have been looking to write about it ever since.

I have observed Ambassador Munter to be by far the most interactive, publicly outreaching and friendly American ambassador in my living memory. The rest of them were either too dull or too cruel or too quiet in public. Of course, they all must have been heard loud and clear in the offices of Pakistani decision makers. Even if there were other ambassadors who had been as much active, certainly no one would have been so much outspoken and accessible to the media.

This is important because his term in Islamabad was marked by one of the most turbulent events in the history of Pakistan-US relations, especially due to the US Navy SEALs raid on Abottabad to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, the secret memo affair, the Raymond Davis killings and the continued drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have become a trademark of the Obama administration warfare.

Not to mention the NATO attack on Pakistan Army Salala checkpost on the Afghan border on November 26, 2011. I recall Munter appearing frequently in popular Pakistani talk shows and expressing his regret over the unfortunate incident while still not using the word “apologize”, which was clearly deliberate, with great emphasis. Tough job. We witnessed that thin line between being sorry and apologizing. Such is the nature of US-Pakistan diplomatic relations.

As a matter of fact, he handled affairs in one of the toughest conditions that a diplomat could ask for, when anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was on the rise. Similar difficulties were faced by his Pakistani counterpart Hussain Haqqani. Here is Munter’s last appearance on Pakistani TV.

Pakistani media had actually been hailing Munter for leaving his office for being disturbed at the continued drone strikes and avoiding an apology for Salala despite the public outrage in Pakistan, which is denied by the US Embassy in Islamabad as he is said to have stepped down for personal reasons, but there has been consistent rumor about that in the media throughout the latter part of his term. Even foreign media reported it, which really makes you wonder about its validity because usually you can safely consider what the State Department is telling you to be lies unless it is about attacking some country.

I am not sure how much a diplomat should be involved with his assignment emotionally, especially when it comes to the military objectives of a campaign, and we are not even sure if Munter was, but I can acknowledge that Munter was apparently more human and more humane of any of the US ambassadors that I have noticed. His public relations were at least, and that is what matters at the end of the day. The general public is least bothered about what goes on behind closed doors.

However, I am not sure if it is necessarily a good thing for a diplomat. I guess in the ruthless and Machiavellian world of diplomacy, you need to focus on your interests and objectives and get the cold hearted kill and go on your own way. I do not doubt Munter’s abilities as a diplomat a bit, but then again there is no reason to believe that he succumbed to his emotions at any time.

But he was certainly sincere in making an attempt to reach out to the people of Pakistan, and to improve bilateral relations.

That is important.

I don’t care if he was fine with the drone strikes or not. I also don’t care if he agrees with Obama’s warfare or not.

But what I care about is his gestures of friendship and I think that must be reciprocated.

Ambassador Cameron Munter, you will be remembered.

I am sure you won’t forget Pakistan.

Pakistanis and Double Standards

Source: Express Tribune

Maybe it’s just not exclusive to Pakistanis. Of course, it isn’t. It would be most unfair to say that, but because I live in Pakistan, I cannot help but notice it with a greater sensitivity in its case as compared to other nations around the world. Although it can safely be said that more or less the entire species is suffering from this condition in one way or another, but let us be specific over here.

It’s the annoying double standards that I am talking about.

Actually, you could make a huge list of the things for which Pakistanis have double standards, but there are quite a few incidents that occurred recently, which has pushed me to write something about it.

However, I will make the list nevertheless for the benefit of those who are not aware of the following issues.

CNG Strike and the Troubled Pakistani Economy

Alright, it’s true that the GST on the CNG for vehicles and increased prices will be a burden on the people, but what about the fact that using this resource for vehicle deprives the country of sufficient natural gas supply in the winters? While I am all for welfare and controlling poverty, people simply take it as an excuse to cover up their own corruption. Yes, I am talking about the CNG filling station owners’ body APCNGA.

Of course, they are protesting for their profit cuts and their strikes are only adding to the troubles of the people, who have been spoiled by this inconveniently convenient fuel. Clearly goes to show that Pakistan’s people and businessmen are the part of the problem that is the troubled Pakistani economy. They criticize the government for having no money and no fuel, but gladly deprive it of any opportunity of collecting whatever money it can in order to operate and to sustain the hideous CNG network in the country.

So the government doesn’t have money, right. How can they when they subsidize fuel?

Let the people pay for fuel and let the government subsidize the staples and see to it that the private enterprises and government organizations inflation-adjust the income of the people.

The Case of the Son of the Chief Justice & the Media vis-a-vis the Corruption of the Politicians

It was really striking, though not as shocking, to see that the tone of the Pakistani media was entirely different than usual when it came to the case of alleged financial favors that the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary took from a real estate tycoon. Of course, we know nothing about that. The reason why I found it a bit odd was that they always sound absolutely convinced when there are corruption allegations against politicians, such as the cases against the sons of Prime Minister Gillani.

Source: Express Tribune

There are several other factors for which double standards are practiced. Briefly.

Drone Strikes and PAF Strikes

Drone strikes on Islamists militants and FATA civilians are wrong because the United States carries them out, but certainly that would be fine if the technology is handed over to Pakistan and when Pakistan would make these strikes. Also, the PAF bombings are pretty cool.

Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban

But of course the Afghani Taliban are called freedom fighters because they are fighting for their domain that the United States and NATO captured, but the Pakistani Taliban are terrorists because they are fighting against the Pakistani state.

Taliban Separatists and Baluch Separatists 

Both Baluch separatists and Pakistani Taliban are fighting against the state. Baluch separatists are not a part of an Islamist movement. Therefore, Baluchs are separatists to one group of people while the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are terrorists and the other way around in other cases. However, both carry out bomb blasts, both harm state infrastructure, both are killed by military. Maybe the Baluch separatists are not idiotic enough or intellectual enough to carry out suicide bombings.

Though it can be argued that they are also widely different since the Pakistani Taliban do include people who are not natives of the land they are occupying.

But hey, I am only talking about separatists here.

Only speaking in objective, technical terms, not supporting or opposing anything.

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Blasphemors Outraging at Blasphemies

I know many righteous Pakistani Muslims, Sunnis in particular, who would gladly blaspheme against the Shias, the Hindu gods and even against Christians, who are supposedly in the same Abrahamic league, but would outrage when somebody blasphemes against the Koran or Prophet Muhammad.

Different Rules for Drinking Classes

Ameer piye to class. Ghareeb piye to cchaapa. 

The rich and the high can drink the prohibited liquor in peace. The poor either die of the poisonous spirit or the torture of police.

Different Rules for Men and Women

Men can practically have sex with as many women they want, can marry up to four. Kill women if they try to live like that or talk to someone or have sex with someone or even try to live like just another person, or even better, throw acid on face. But hey, that does not qualify for conflicting double standard, does it?

Sheltering Osama Ben Laden

Enraged by the violation of the sovereignty of the country by US Navy Seals yet many are not bothered by what the Most Wanted Terrorist in the World was doing in the lion’s den of the Pakistani military.

Misplaced Patriotism

Claim to be very patriotic, flag-waving, cricket-team-cheering, anthem-bowing, Quaid-saluting. Defy law in Pakistan, observe diligently abroad and do a lot of things that hurt the country’s economy such as tax evasion. Does that not hurt the country? While this is a common observation though sounds like a generalization, a lot of responsible Pakistanis in this category.

And finally the best of all.

Hate USA But Want Green Card

There is a widely spread misconception that Pakistanis hate the United States. They don’t.

They may burn the US flags all they want, but even the most fundamentalists of them would prefer US citizenship over the Pakistani any day.

Now of course don’t go on assuming that every Pakistani is like that but a lot of them do somehow think like that collectively.

In other words, Pakistan is a nation of double standards in many ways.

And it is suffering its consequences every single day.

Deal with it.

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.