Are Things Under Control?

I’m sorry I have to ask this but I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone left  who understands what’s going on.

It all started with 9/11 and look where we are now.

First Afghanistan. Then when things were almost under control Iraq was sprung on an unsuspoecting world. Then  back to Afghanistan but it hasn’t stopped there. Now I wonder where this roadshow will end up. Is Pakistan the priority or Afghanistan?

If the idea is that Afghanistan will stabilise once Pakistan is bailed out , I am unable to understand the logic. Sure they are entwined to an extent. Even so, they are two seperate issues altogether and should be handled individually. One cannot run an operation by shifting focus every few weeks. More problems will arise.


About Dara

Just me. Love golf, political history and meeting new people, even though I am not great at social conversation. "If you have nothing to say it is better to let people think you're stupid rather than open your mouth and remove all doubts." (someone said that) :)

25 thoughts on “Are Things Under Control?

  1. […] Original post by Dara […]

  2. heath says:

    With Taliban entering Pakistan and trying to take control of some of the most comfortably-inhabitable parts of the region, the border between the two countries has virtually dissolved. (From what I’ve read, in the view of the Pashtun tribals who make up the most significant portion of the Taliban and the general population of the region, the border pretty much doesn’t exist to start with.)

    Taliban pressure on Pakistan is due to two things, from my pov: a retreat from what used to be safe positions in Afghanistan, and a realization by the Taliban that Pakistan has more resources that will allow them to fund and strengthen themselves more effectively than they can if they stay in Afghanistan.

    Actions in Pakistan are in effect the closing of a pincer. The other side of the pincer is in Afghanistan.

  3. heath says:

    TOI: “Taliban Won’t Let Residents Escape Battle Zone” —

    NYTimes: “Fears Rise Over Refugees as Pakistan Presses Fight” —

  4. heath says:

    Out-and-out bullies:
    “Taliban vow to ‘eliminate’ Pakistan’s top leadership” —

  5. Dara says:

    Dear Heath,
    Where you are spot on is in surmising that the border doesn’t exist. In fact this has always been so for the Pashtuns. However, as regards the Taliban entering Pakistan, I think it’s important to recollect that the Taliban is a child of Pakistan, nurtured and brought up in the 80’s using US money and in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They have always had sanctuary in Pakistan. In fact the ferment to-day in Pakistan is by the Pakistani Taliban – a new breed evolved by the media and probably the one considered as the moderate Taliban – as different from that operating in Afghanistan. They are interested in taking over the country, much as their cousins did in Afghanistan after the Russians and Americans left.

    In my view, right now Pakistan is facing an onslaught from people whom its military, clergy and politicians have long nurtured. One can only run with the hare and hunt with the hound so long. Pakistan has internal problems with its zealots, who are an offshoot of their Afghan relatives. The problems, though entwined, are still distinct from each other in my opinion. Very few agree with me.

    The other point I was trying to bring out is slightly different. Is anyone in charge and is their a clear perspective on what needs to be done? The disconnect between the various voices emanating from Washington forces one to ask this question. In all the rhetoric does anyone have a clear idea of the predominant US aim in Afghanistan? Is there a clear cut political aim? Is the aim to try and work out an exit policy? Surely that cannot be top secret.

    Just think about the following:

    In January Obama announced that he would be nominating a special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and India. After India came down on this, Af-Pak was born and Holbrooke nominated special envoy to the two countries. He stated that his brief did not include India and Kashmir. Recently Gen Petreaus announced that Holbrooke’s brief most certainly includes Kashmir! Hidden agendas?

    Now suddenly the shift is on events unfolding in Pakistan. Afghanistan, once again, seems to have been sidelined. From all the earlier emphasis on training Afghan security, its now about drone flights, aid packages, and strengthening democratic forces in Pakistan. Here’s a tip 🙂 The next time the Pakistani aid package is being discussed and finalised is when you will again hear of renewed offensives by the Pak army against the militants.

    According to US thinkers, India needs to thin out troops along Pakistan’s Eastern sector so that they can be moved West. Has anyone considered Indian security concerns? India has been involved in more armed conflicts with Pakistan than either the US or Afghanistan.

    I could continue. That is why I have to ask, is anyone in charge and are things under control? Personally I feel the US has gotten too involved in this region and is going about creating more problems for itself. I would be happy to be wrong.


  6. heath says:

    A big issue that I see is that there is little US understanding of the region’s socio-cultural values. When Karzai says Afghani relations with the US are becoming strained because of civilian deaths, most if not all of those in the US who are making decisions about what the US does in the region will not get it. Socio-cultural values allow the Taliban to survive, and sometimes take control, de facto and otherwise, of large areas, as well as make it possible for regional politicians and military to feel OK about manipulating local paramilitary to carry out actions they can’t carry out officially. This lack of US understanding is why Obama made that special envoy mistake. It’s why Petreaus would be silly enough to say there’s a hidden agenda (or maybe honest enough, but diplomatically, it was a mistake to say it even if true).

    From the Western pov, the Kashmir issue is the point at which all the regional fabric strains. So wanting a typically quick solution, the US thinks including Kashmir in regional diplomatic efforts is the right thing to do. They underestimate the history and feelings involved. If they don’t even understand Karzai’s obvious point, how can they understand the rest of the region effectively? It will be luck by chance if they get it right enough to make a positive difference.

    It used to be that the US’s good intentions were often powerful enough to swing a war situation around to peace that benefited both sides. The past couple of decades of US greed personified by some of its now-retired leaders, was enough to taint the heart of the US in the eyes of the world. So many individuals in the US have never stopped being good-hearted. But the trust, built on the evidence of past trustworthy actions and intentions, that’s needed to support US efforts on foreign soil, has faded mightily due to guys like Cheney/Bush and their pals.

    I think the US cannot advise India on its relations with Pakistan. There is not enough understanding in the US to advise on this or many other issues. There is just not enough understanding.

    In any case, India has a proven track record of keeping the border under control, and the region safe despite bi-lateral nuclear capability.

    The US would want India to comply with its wishes as a beachhead for advising India on Kashmir in the future.

    If Kashmir were not in dispute, the regional politics would not be so volatile. The volatility, India’s rising power, and the nuclear capabilities, scare the US.

    The US thinks of India as a partner at this point, in part because both were colonized by the Brits then threw the Brits out, and in part because of economic ties. But if world economy changes, economic ties could thin, leaving only sentiment as a strong connection. India has a fair chance of replacing the US as the major world beneficent power in the future. I think for that reason, too, many in the US look to India favorably. The US has had its hand in from the CIA days, and wants to keep it in to maintain a powerful connection with India — to show the world that the US is still powerful, and to influence India’s direction in the future.

    If you removed India geographically from its present position on the earth, and placed it where Australia is now, the importance of the region’s politics would plummet and the US would not be very involved.

    The economic pressure on Pakistan is already increasing, so there are more strikes against the Taliban right now:

    The US will press for these actions for two reasons: Taliban taking over Pakistan is a seriously frightening scenario. And it’s from Pakistan that the more modern armaments and strategies being used in Afghanistan are coming, and its the sanctuary to which “insurgents” retreat to regroup and resupply.

    The summer months are when both sides can make most headway without being stopped by weather-driven supply or survival issues. So now is when the action will be hot.

    People are in charge. But do they know what they’re doing? I think the answer is, not as much as they should. I thank the universe that Obama is so intelligent, and a quick study. But he doesn’t know enough right now, and if he doesn’t learn enough fast enough, he could make mistakes.

    – h

    (comment originally added under the Admin ID, I’ve recreated under my ID & deleted the Admin comment — h)

  7. Dara says:

    Hi again Heath,

    Thanks for all the links.

    As regards Zardari’s comments about madrassas, I’m sorry but its just the same old, same old, different date. Musharaff said exactly the same over 5 years ago. Madrassas must register, all foreign students need clearance, blah blah. Result on ground – seek nearest waste paper basket. The other similarity, that speech too was when the US applied pressure after, as far as I remember, the Daniel Pearl murder. I’m sorry, but as far as believing Pakistani establishment when they make mea culpas, as Zardari is doing in the States these days, just produces a massive yawn here. Its all been said before and no one sees any action on the ground.

    As regards the change of command in Afghanistan, I really have no comment to offer as I am not well informed. However, what I would like to emphasise, is that it is not so much about how the war is being prosecuted as about how there are just too many discordant noises coming out of Washington. It gives the unfavourable impression that people are groping in the dark and really have no grip over the subject. Change for the sake of change is not progress or improvement . I still have no clue what the US aim in Afghanistan is. I knowit started with going after Osama, but since then too much happened, made worse by Bush going off at a tangent to Iraq and letting the Taliban regroup and rearm right under his nose. Remember a few years ago, it was al_Qaeda, al-Qaeda, more al-Qaeda. To-day does anyone remember what the al-Aqaeda is all about? I wonder. Its now all about good and bad Taliban.

  8. heath says:

    Dear Dara

    Your sense of Washington groping in the dark, and churning out change for the sake of change, seems on the money to me.

    Last night I saw a film about an Afghani physician who resides in the US, but goes back most years to help out — “Motherland Afghanistan” — . In 2003, the US was supposed to renovate a hospital in Kabul, but did a terribly poor job. And the US physicians who were helping out there could not relate to anyone except other Americans.

    Something that needs to happen, pronto, is the US becoming better world citizens. Like learning the language and culture before going to a country to “help out”. And if money is given to help out, making sure it’s used the way it’s intended, and the intentions should be to meet real needs.

    I think Taliban because they shelter al Qaeda and provide it with recruits. But more importantly, at the moment, if they took control of Pakistan, fundamentalist Islam would have ready-to-go nuclear weapons in-hand. This is the biggest fear.

    I get the sense that Zardari means what he says. And taking over the madrassas is different from registering them. But can he do it? Dunno.

  9. Dara says:

    Dear Heath,

    Just two quotes from David Kilcullen, from an article by Luke Baker “Too much fighting, not enough talking?”

    “The U.S. military has about 1.6 million personnel all told, from frontline troops to cooks and drivers. But there are just 6,000 foreign service officers in the U.S. State Department, he said. That’s about 260 soldiers to each diplomat, a far higher ratio than in any other major military in the world, according to Kilcullen.”

    ““I fear that in Afghanistan we are getting to the worst of both worlds. In the next year or two, we still won’t have enough troops there to keep everyone safe, but we will have just enough to keep everyone pissed off. It’s the opposite of a sweet spot. It’s a sour spot.”

    These just about sum it up for me. My sympathies lie entirely with the US forces. I feel they are being badly let down by their support staff. A professional soldier, no matter who, where or which country, deserves better – far far better.


  10. heath says:

    Dear Dara

    Excellent quotes & points. And thank you for the reminder about how hard a military life is.

    How does one say “the man with an always-balanced point of view” in Hindi? 🙂

    — h

  11. Dara says:

    There is no literal hindi translation – maybe because those of us who speak hindi do not generally have balanced views 😉

    ‘soch samaj ki baat’ is as close as I can get

    • heath says:

      Dear Dara

      🙂 How strongly I feel my want of Hindi! Your words sent me on a mind-walk that lasted for hours, as I contemplated what I know, and what puzzles me, about Hindi syntax, and the way I feel like a two-month-old infant, when I want to write or say something, but like a four-year-old child, when I hear Hindi dialogues in films or song lyrics. If I won a lottery prize, one of the first things I’d do is hire a Hindi tutor. As I ached to know the language properly, once again, I felt, again, like a that two-month-old infant, mute, trying to speak.

      Dear Kate

      Hullo & hugs!

      love, h

  12. Kate... says:

    #13 – smiling at you, wise one
    ~ Kate

  13. Dara says:

    Dear Heath,

    Actually Hindi is not what is called my ‘mother tongue’. I’m not sure which one is anyway. I picked up Hindi, you can’t live the life I have and not know it – as a user, not as an expert. I grew up speaking Gujarati, so that should logically be my mother tongue, over the years and for a very long time now, I think in English. I do, however, speak and swear in either and all of them. The latter with great proficiency, even if I say so myself. One reason I am uncomfortable playing golf with the fair sex!

    Good lord, just reading what Ive said here and I asked myself ‘but why are you telling her all this?” No reason I guess. Your thoughts got my thoughts whirring and since the keyboard is there, this is what happened.

    I find your fascination with Hindi truly amazing. From what Ive read of it here, it is impressive and since you are a perfectionist, you will end being an authority on the language subsequently.

    Love Dara

  14. Dara says:

    Hello dear Kate,

    Been missing you and happy to see you back. Find myself humming “Hello Dolly” 🙂 🙂

    Love Dara

  15. heath says:

    Dear Dara

    Have been under the weather for more than a week, please forgive my silence. Will be back to comment on your Op-Ed.

    Wanted to say here that soch opened up a cluster of understanding for me. It seems as if some Hindi words are baskets that hold many concepts. In their basketness, they’re flexible, allowing language to be stretched and played with, with no destruction of either integrity of meaning or linguistic form. (Not for nothing is humor a consistently important feature of Indian culture and communication, I think.) Looking at English, basketness is often hidden or absent altogether. What replaces it is the collection of small things that a basket can hold. A this in this color, and a that in that texture. I like the basket that can hold a this and a that in any color or texture. One of the delights of watching Hindi films, for me, is getting the little jokes and word-plays. Even the most morose or violent films have them. So it seems to me that these are part of what language in India is about. It seems to be one of the prominent faces of India’s humanity, and it delights me.

    love, h

  16. Dara says:

    Dear Heath,
    Hope you get above the weather soon. Just take it easy and relax for a bit. Its often necessary to give your body a much needed break.

    I tend to agree with your observation that Hindi is very elastic. It is amazing how context and timing give one so much room to play with words. I have experienced laughter and raised eyebrows as simultaneous reactions to the same words from different people.

    Love Dara

  17. heath says:

    Dear Dara

    😀 — to an outsider, it seems that the inner joy of India escapes to the outside world via its language: poetry, song lyrics, essays, arguments, reporting and fiction. And many of these aspects of language come together in film.

    love, h

  18. heath says:

    I’ve been wondering if the recent “ya think?” bit of colloquial US English didn’t find its start as “soch?”

  19. mariana says:

    Of course they will, but what I am more afraid about now is the fact that we are completelly misinformed, much more than where no blogs or forums where around. Information is completely biased, and is impossible to know who to believe now. It is kind of a paradox, cause it looks like we should be able to know much more with the new communication mediums we have around. But we are much more lost about where to seek for the information we want.

  20. Dara says:

    A few years ago a friend remarked that the problem with the internet would not be about shortage of information. It would really be a matter of locating that information and then verifying whether it is reliable.

    On the other hand though, the fact is that we are not solely dependent on biased govt information and an even more biased media anymore. isn’t this true of media the world over? Fortunately now, there are millions of individuals voicing their opinions and this I think helps us come to a reasonable conclusion.

    Where you are on the button Mariana is in questioning what we read on blogs and wherever. Sometimes I feel we are all being manipulated, or at least attempts are being made to do so. Open sources need to be treated with caution as well.

    Do stay in touch. Your inputs here are refreshing, specially when you say nice things 😉


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