Tuesday, August 3

Joe Klein's column on Pakistan for TIME overlooks a few things -- actually, a great many things

The British Martial Race theory had an elegant symmetry: Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward.

First a recap of my Friday post about Joe Klein's column:
Joe Klein's column for TIME's August 9 issue is on solid ground when it sticks to a summary of David Kilcullen's testimony earlier this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ("We need to kill a lot of Taliban," explained Dave) and Matt Waldman's paper on the control that Pakistan's military has over Taliban killing ISAF troops in Afghanistan. After that he gets lost in the Great American Fog about Pakistan, created by Pakistani influence agents plying propaganda in Washington and the American think tanks and reporters that drink in their every word.
I invite you to read the column before continuing because I only quote a few passages from it here. And I would ask you to study the map of Afghanistan, below, before proceeding. Note the thin blue lines representing rivers, where they flow to, and all the countries neighboring Afghanistan, because all this is a big part of the war situation.

All right, to begin; no need to quote some of Mr Klein's remarks as they're self-evident from my replies:

> Amrullah Saleh is not an Indian agent and Pakistan's military knows this. He is something far worse in their eyes: an Afghan patriot who can't be bought or bullied, and who has proved to be a very hard man to kill. And no, Karzai didn't fire him; Saleh resigned his post.

> Relations between President Hamid Karzai and Islamabad have not exactly 'warmed.' To the extent Karzai reached out to Pakistan's regime he did so only under the most severe pressure from the NATO command, and also because he came to believe, amd with justification, that NATO forces would abruptly decamp, leaving his government high and dry. (For the moment, at least, the U.S. has re-thought on the matter of the timing of troop withdrawals, according to Bob Gates's remarks on Sunday.)

> Mr Klein writes:
"Why on earth are elements of the Pakistani military supporting the Taliban? In a word, India. India is, first and last, the strategic obsession of the Pakistani military. The U.S. has come and gone from the region in the past; the perceived Indian threat is eternal.
Here he relates a canard that's been repeated so many times by Pakistani influence agents and apologists that the Western press and even many Western 'Pakistan experts' take it on faith. Pakistan's military leaders are not obsessed with India. They are obsessed with maintaining a rationale for their control of Pakistan's society and their vast military organization; India is the handy excuse for both.

> Regarding this howler:
The one thing the U.S. can do to reduce [the threat of Pakistan's nukes falling into the hands of Taliban] is to convince the Pakistanis that we will be a reliable friend for the long haul — providing aid, mediating the tensions with India; that we will help stabilize Afghanistan; that we will support the primacy of Pakistan's civilian government.
The "one" thing, eh? Anything else we can do for the Pakistanis? Take out their trash, serve them up tea? The one thing we can and must do is convey to Pakistan's leaders that terrorism is not an acceptable tool of diplomacy and that if they want to continue designating terrorism as 'jihad,' they're going to have a war on their hands. If President Bush had named Pakistan as part of the Axis of Evil we could have been out of Afghanistan by now.

> Mr Klein writes:
Afghanistan is really a sideshow here. Pakistan is the primary U.S. national-security concern in the region. It has a nuclear stockpile, and lives under the threat of an Islamist coup by some of the very elements in its military who created and support the Taliban.
I've got news for Mr Klein: if the law of your land is the death penalty for any citizen who even inadvertently insults your religion's founder, that indicates your government -- and your nukes -- are already controlled by religious fanatics.

Afghanistan, not Pakistan, is the key country, and a stabilized Afghanistan is the key to bringing about positive changes in Pakistan's society. This is so for several reasons, some of which are hard for Westerners to understand. But just as Iraq is the model for Iran, so an Afghanistan renaissance will be the model for Pakistan -- provided the Pakistani military isn't allowed to smash the model as they did the last time.

Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq have not yet seen the truth, even though it's before their eyes with every fresh crackdown on freedoms in Iran: the repression and end-of-days rhetoric have followed the curve of Iranians' visits to the democracy next door.

It might not look like much of a democracy to Americans, but what's been happening in Iraq since the country survived the fall of the Baathists and clambered out from the worst of the insurgency has been a revelation to Iranians who visit the country. They are carrying their revelations back to their own country.

So, somewhat in the manner of preachers during an earlier era in America who warned of hellfire and damnation, as hoardes of young adults left the farm for work in the big city, Iran's mullacrats are responding to the ever increasing cross-border traffic between Iraq and Iran by hanging anyone who disagrees with them and measuring the hem length of Iranian women's skirts.

But just as you couldn't keep 'em down on the farm, so Iran's mullahcrats are fighting a losing battle against the inevitable. It's one thing for the West to lecture Iranians about democracy; it's another for Iranians to see with their very own eyes how the neighbors are living with more freedom than anyone in that region can remember. These revelations are building to a critical mass.

So while it pains me whenever I have to agree with Michael Vlahos, he was right when he advised John Batchelor's radio audience that the best help Americans can give to Iranians at this time is to back off and let them go the final miles on their own.

I would only add to the advice that it's still necessary for the USA to maintain a presence in Iraq, just to make sure the playing field doesn't slope into a cliff. As to how long we should remain -- we'll know the correct time to leave.

With regard to Pakistan, the real problem isn't Islam; it's an ancient way of life that I've explained many times got frozen in time -- frozen first by the British Raj and then by U.S. Cold War strategy.

One point I haven't mentioned before is that the British Raj propounded the 'martial races' concept, which had a big impact on the Indian subcontinent, and which Pakistan continued to accept after independence. Technically the concept was abandoned in the 1970s within the Pakistan military but until just a couple years ago Pakistani society held the military as the highest ideal -- and (alongside cricket stars) the ideal for the male.

The fiercest of military men as the model for manhood followed the British colonizer's dictum, which was dryly summarized by Dr. Jeffrey Greenhut:
The Martial Race theory had an elegant symmetry. Indians who were intelligent and educated were defined as cowards, while those defined as brave were uneducated and backward.
The 'high' culture of the Bengalis in East Pakistan, which placed great emphasis on the arts and intellectual pursuits, was intolerable to West Pakistan's military class -- and this was partly the reason for the horrific atrocities they carried out against the Bengalis, both Hindu and Muslim.

While the Western imagination popularly envisions Afghans as an uncouth warlike mountain people, the following two photographs, taken from a handbook of Afghan urban life in the 1960s, provide a more accurate view of Afghans who didn't live in mountain redoubts.

The photographs and captions are from a handbook published by Afghanistan's planning ministry in the 1960s. Mohammad Qayoum obtained a copy of the book, digitized the photographs, which number more than a score, and published them along with captions and his commentary at Foreign Policy in May under the title Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan. (Or view the article and photos at the e-Ariana website, which published them on one page.)

Qayoum, an Afghan expat who is president of California State University, grew up in Kabul and came to work in the United States in 1978. Since 2002 he's volunteered his time in Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts, serving on the board of directors to the central bank and as senior advisor to the minister of finance.

Qayoum republished the book's images in part because he was tired of hearing Western officials and Afghanistan 'experts' describe his countrymen as barbarians. Here is a picture of the barbarians in Cabinet session:

Most high-ranking Afghan government officials in that era had a master's or doctoral degree. It's not for nothing that Afghanistan was once called "the Geneva of Central Asia."

I urge you to study the rest of the photographs in the handbook, which offset the impression of Afghanistan that the Western press has bombarded the public with. Yet I think the two photos I've chosen convey the great emphasis the Afgans place on learning and reasoned deliberation (consider their endless councils!) and that even though they had a king during the era of the photographs they supported meritocracy.

In Pakistan the military is the one institution that places a value on earned merit and it's a kind of refuge from the country's very rigid caste system. Pakistanis who are not in the military or the highest castes, and not holders of vast tracts of land, are at the mercy of a social system that in modern eyes is cruel, and which devalues the concept of hard work as the means to upward mobility.

So here are a few of the big differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan: the latter is not a caste society, and Afghans escaped the psychological tactics the British Raj used to keep the natives in line on the Indian subcontinent. That means among other things that Afghans have a self-confidence not shared by the Pakistanis. Post-colonial India's size and raucous diversity allowed it to regain confidence lost under the British rule fairly quickly. This was not so for Pakistanis, who retained the worst of both the ancient Indian and British colonial-era mindsets.

Curiously -- curious, because it's brought out so little -- the Afghans had a leg up when it came to embracing the values underpinning Western civilization; this is because the Greek civilization that Alexander of Macedon brought with him to the region profoundly influenced the society for centuries. The city of Kandahar was established by Alexander. The society was also influenced by the fabulous Gandhara civilization and of course by the Persian empires. So I am always surprised when I hear Afghanistan described as a backwater peopled with primitives; Afghanistan -- or more precisely Ariana -- was at the crossroads of several of the world's most advanced ancient civilizations.

If you find the photographs of what Afghanistan was like a half century ago in relation to today to be unsettling -- oh yes, very unsettling, to think how quickly a modern society can collapse. But as I explained in the NO COMPROMISE post, for all its modernity in that era the country's infrastructure -- bridges, 'interstate' roadways, dams; etc. -- was not sufficiently developed. And because they'd refused to allow the British to build railways out of fear that the rails would be used to quickly transport British troops through the country, the outbreak of war quickly took them from modernity back to the Middle Ages and even earlier in many places.

What war didn't do, Pakistani gangs did. They picked that country clean -- gutted factories and office buildings, ripped out telephone poles -- basically everything that wasn't nailed down and could be sold. Then the Pakistani 'transportation mafia' stripped the country of its forests. They did the same thing to their own country, by the way.

If you ask, 'Where was Pakistan's government while all this was going on?' -- the government was the "22 feudal families" that with the military is the real Pakistan. And those families didn't excel at governing and still don't. They excel at only one thing: being served.

So here we are today, still cleaning up after them while the U.S. regime continues to prop them up. As to the gratitude: America, peel us a grape.

I swear, it's almost enough to turn one into a Trotskyite.

Where was I? It's proving very hard for the Pakistanis to accept India's progress as a model to emulate -- here I am speaking of a psychological model. They will be able to accept a resurgent Afghan society as a model. But first they have to be prevented from raping the country again, as they did with the help of American military training, funding, and arms.

This time the American military must throw all its weight into keeping Pakistanis on their side of the fence, so to speak, until Afghanistan's army and police are strong enough to make the boundaries stick.

All this won't be as hard as it might seem at this point; just a few days ago a former Pakistani prime minister and now the leader of Pakistan's major opposition party, Nawaz Sharif, dismissed the 'strategic depth' canard propagated by Pakistan's military. He said shortly that Pakistan shouldn't meddle in Afghanistan's affairs.

Also, several factors, which I've discussed before on this blog, are naturally lessening the hold that extreme militarism has on the popular imagination in Pakistan.

Aside from the psychological stuff that has made Pakistan very predatory in its relations with Aghanistan, there is Afghanistan's 'natural' power in the region because of its command of key rivers, which flow into neighboring countries, including Pakistan, a power the Pakistanis greatly fear (chiefly because they know what they'd do to others if they had such power).

Afghanistan's power over its neighbors is overlooked when considering the country's landlocked position. A man who always sounds as if he's reading from the Pakistani military's Propaganda Manual 101 when he talks about Afghanistan observed recently that Pakistan would have great influence in Afghanistan after ISAF forces moved out because Pakistan is Afghanistan's only gateway to a port. He neglected to mention that the power of the gateway is more than offset by the power of Afghanistan's rivers. Because of decades of poor water management, Pakistan is dying for water. According to a recent AP report, "At least 90 percent of Pakistan's water is used for farming, and around 25 percent is wasted by farms that use flood irrigation..."

Two other reports, one from the Christian Science Monitor and one from the Afghanistan embassy in Poland, detail the seriousness of the issue regarding Afghanistan's rivers. The country's water management has been virtually nonexistent for decades, which has allowed other countries to use, between them, two-thirds of Afghanistan's water supply. Now Afghanistan wants more control of its own water supply -- a very unwelcome idea in Pakistan.

Working out water sharing pacts will be a delicate matter, whch goes against the Pakistani military's smash-and-grab tactics when they saw anything they wanted in Afghanistan. The same for the country's incredible mineral riches, which Pakistan's military has known about since the Soviet era.

In sum, the American enterprise in that part of the world should be focused on Afghanistan, not Pakistan. This doesn't mean turning our backs on Pakistan -- never wise to turn one's back on a tiger, particularly not after grabbing its tail -- but the sooner Afghanistan is stabilized the sooner we can draw down troops there then fall into the 'hovering' routine we currently perform in Iraq until Pakistan gets clear that Afghanistan is not its sandbox.

I was very glad to see that Joe Klein's column gave space to Matt Waldman's paper on the ISI's involvement with the Taliban because the paper has not gotten enough attention in the mainstream media. However, Mr Klein is wrong to assume that the paper's revelations are in the rear-view mirror. Pakistan's military/ISI have not turned over a new leaf, not yet, and it's not a given that they will. They have simply become aware that they're now under great scrutiny from the international community, so they've become more careful. For that reason, the scrutiny should be unrelenting until there is strong evidence they've stopped using their purported fear of India as justification to sponsor terrorism.

With all the above said, I was impressed by Mr Klein's sincerity; he was clearly trying to work his way through to an understanding of the Pakistan situation. Sincerity is not enough, however; as I hope this post indicates, it must be shored with better knowledge of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Finally, for the colleague who has thrown up her hands in despair about the snail's pace of the war and its cost to American lives and the U.S. budget:

The Wikileaks scandal serves as a morality tale about the evils of playing Pandora, for in war there must be secrets. However, if not for the release of the Wikileaks Afghan War logs, the vast majority among the general public would still be unaware of the extent to which Pakistan's military acted against ours and those of other NATO nations. Where is the golden mean in this tragic situation?

Both the Iraq and Afghan campaigns were rooted in situations created by the U.S. government and some of its closest allies while they were fighting the Soviets. In both cases -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- the U.S. government viewed peoples in far flung regions -- peoples who'd never harmed the United States -- as chess pieces and the regions as a chessboard. That view is un-American, an affront to our Constitution and every value we hold dear.

So it came to a day when U.S. soldiers walked slowly down a dusty road in Iraq, patiently and at great risk to life and limb clearing IEDs. Lined along the road watching the soldiers were members of a Sunni tribe. Finally the Sunnis turned to each other and said, 'Why are we standing here watching these Americans risk their lives for us? We should be helping in this work.'

And so they did and thus, the true birth of the Anbar Awakening, which Bing West recounts in The Strongest Tribe. The Sunnis along the road also saw the true face of America that day.

This awful war, this long and costly war, is reminding us of who we really are. It we take that remembrance and fashion it into the determination that we must never again allow the kind of elected and appointed officials who find nothing strange in conceiving of other people as chess pieces, I don't think we'll ever to have to fight such a long war again.

The 1960s found the Afghans a self-reliant people who had no desire to make war on any of their neighbors, and who never did a damn thing to hurt America. We can't undo the wrongs we did to those people. We can insure that the country does not fall prey to Pakistan again as soon when we pull out.

I understand my words are cold comfort to Americans who have lost relatives in the war or seen them returned maimed in body or spirit. But it's by such words that I return again and again after quitting. I think it's okay to despair, okay to quit. Just not okay to quit for long. Too many people are depending on us.

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