It’s Out! In Their Own Words Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba

Here’s an amuse-bouche of  In Their Own Words Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (Hurst, OUP). As always, I am grateful to Saira Wasim for her exquisite work that graces this cover. Check out her other inspiring paintings here:

Please note that I will donate my personal profits to the Government of India’s Central Scheme for Assistance to Civilian Victims of Terrorist/Communal/Left Wing Extremist Violence, Cross-Border Firing and Mine/IED blasts on Indian Territory, as well as Save the Children India. Over time, I may adjust the charities to which I donate, although I will remain committed to donating to non-religious/non-proselytizing organizations in India that do relief work. Thank you in advance for supporting these institutions through your purchase of this book.

Copies may be purchased here:

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The South Asia and US editions will be coming out shortly.

Potential Reviewers: If you would like to review this volume, please email me at with the Subject Header: “I’d like to review In Their Own Words.”


This project is the culmination of research I unwittingly began in Lahore in 1995 when I was a doctoral student studying Urdu as well as Punjabi through the renowned BULPIP (Berkeley Urdu Language Program in Pakistan, currently known as the Berkeley-AIPS Urdu Language Program in Pakistan). As a student of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, I frequented Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, where I first encountered booksellers purveying the propaganda of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), which now operates mostly under the name of Jamaat ud Dawah (JuD). I began collecting their materials that year and continued to do so during subsequent visits over the next couple of decades until I was ultimately deemed persona non-grata by the country’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).

Due to the ISI’s assessment that I am a “nasty woman,” I have been unable to return to Pakistan since August 2013, but astonishingly, I was able to continue gathering materials for this effort through inter-library loan. Since 1962, American libraries have procured books from South Asia through the so-called PL-480 program, named after the eponymous public law which allowed the US Library of Congress to use rupees from Indian purchases of American agricultural products to buy Indian books. In 1965, a field office was opened in Karachi to oversee the acquisition of Pakistani publications. While the PL-480 program was long since discontinued, The Library of Congress continues to use the same institutional infrastructure to purchase these publications under the guise of a new program called the South Asia Cooperative Acquisitions Project.

I am deeply indebted to the Library of Congress and the other libraries across the United States which purchased these publications through this program and made them available to scholars through their institutions’ inter-library loan programs. I am particularly beholden to Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library, which never failed to produce a book I requested. The University of Chicago and the Library of Congress were the primary sources of these books and I am grateful that they continue to obtain and lend terrorist publications. As one US government official wryly noted when I explained my new sources of materials, “there is no better way to keep terrorist literature out of the hands of would-be terrorists than putting it in a library.”

I am also extremely indebted to Georgetown University, which has supported my work unstintingly since I joined the Security Studies Program in the fall of 2009. The University and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University subsidized the writing of this book through a year-long leave through sabbatical and a senior research leave. Moreover, the School of Foreign Service provided invaluable financial support that enabled me to collaborate with Safina Ustaad, who did most of the translations used in this volume. (Ustaad and I are publishing a subsequent volume that contains these translations via Oxford University Press, entitled A Call to War: The Literature of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.) The School of Foreign Service also subsidized a related and ongoing project in which I am studying the battle-field motivations of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba fighters. Through that funding, Ali Hamza translated a 10 percent random sample of the over 900 fighter biographies I collected, the analyses of which I present in this book. I am also grateful to the Security Studies Program, my home program within the School of Foreign Service, for generously subsidizing other aspects of this project, such as my work with Abbas Haider and other ongoing collaborations with Ali Hamza. Both Haider and Hamza translated some materials (under my guidance and quality assurance) which I have analyzed herein. Ali Hamza has been a superb colleague and collaborator over numerous years on several quantitative and qualitative projects alike. I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a gracious and talented colleague.

I also benefited tremendously from fellowships with the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (IDSA) in New Delhi, which hosted me as a senior fellow in the summer of 2016, the Gateway House in Mumbai during the summer of 2015, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington DC, which hosted me as a fellow in the summer of 2017. I remain obliged to Jayant Prasad, Rumel Dahiya, and Ashok Behuria at IDSA, and Sally Blair at the NED. Don Rassler and the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point also provided important resources for the quantitative aspects of this project while I was a fellow at the CTC. It was a privilege to work with Don and the other members of that team including Anirban Ghosh, Nadia Shoeb, and Arif Jamal to whom I am deeply beholden. I would also like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press which graciously allowed me to compress, update and draw upon significant portions of Fighting to the End: The Pakistani Army’s Way of War (2014) as well as Taylor and Francis which granted me permission to draw heavily from a 2014 article in the The Journal of Strategic Studies (“Insights from a Database of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Militants,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 37, 2 (2014), pp. 259–290.)

As this volume is the culmination of years of research and consultation, it would be remiss were I not to mention the superb community of scholars with whom I have discussed this project and data. Those who have been generous with their time and insights include: Daniel Byman, Bruce Hoffman, Jacob Shapiro, Praveen Swami, Ashley Tellis, Arif Jamal, Maryum Alam, the late Mariam Abou Zahab, Jaideep and his colleagues, and numerous others who met with me over the years in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Seth Oldmixon deserves a special mention. Oldmixon is one of the most under-valued assets in the community of South Asia analysts. He has a hawk’s eye for details as he has scoured social media feeds and publications of militant organizations, reads the South Asian press more diligently than most intelligence analysts I know and has an extraordinary ability to recall events, identify persons and their associations.

I am also profoundly indebted to my husband, Jeffrey Dresser Kelley and our ever-evolving pack of canine associates, who have patiently, and at times, less patiently, abided my months away from home with grace and aplomb. They also endured long periods of my inattention as I sought first to comprehend the huge number of sources I processed for this volume and then drafted this book, which took much longer than I ever anticipated. They have foregone vacations and grown tufts of gray hair wondering when—or if—it would ever conclude.

Michael Dwyer at Hurst has been equally patient and supportive of this project. Without his belief in this project, there would be no project at all. Saira Wasim, one of the most intrepid and dauntless artists I have had the privilege of knowing, deserves extraordinary mention. Wasim has generously lent her courageous art to this cover and to that of my last two books. Wasim, masterfully subverting the tradition of the Mughal miniature painting, valorously confronts and interrogates the perversions and defeasances in Pakistani and international politics alike as well as the culpable dastards. When I have writer’s block, I peruse her body of work for inspiration. Her work is literally worth a million words.

Finally, I am aware that most readers who will buy this book will do so because of the hideous crimes this organization has perpetrated, mostly against Indian citizens. Thousands of Indians have been murdered by LeT, and if not for the group’s lethal effectiveness, no one would care about it. The biographies of the martyrs weighed heavily upon my conscience as I studied their declared intentions to slaughter an enemy about which they knew nothing but lies propagated by the organization and the Pakistani state, leavened with rare fragments of truth. Because my ethical commitments preclude me from profiting from the deaths of thousands, I will donate any personal proceeds from this book to charitable organizations that assist victims of terrorism. Because Lashkar-e-Tayyaba mostly murders Indians, I will donate my personal profits to the Government of India’s Central Scheme for Assistance to Civilian Victims of Terrorist/Communal/Left Wing Extremist Violence, Cross-Border Firing and Mine/IED blasts on Indian Territory, as well as Save the Children India. Over time, I may adjust the charities to which I donate, although I will remain committed to donating to non-religious/non-proselytizing organizations in India that do relief work. Thank you in advance for supporting these institutions through your purchase of this book.

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army: The Case of Missing “Jihadists”?

Today, more than one million Rohingya are languishing in squalid  camps in southern Bangladesh after suffering ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Myanmar state in late 2017. The international community has largely ignored the suffering of the Rohingya and failed to hold Myanmar accountable. While the 2017 events are the most recent and most gruesome in scope and scale, Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims have endured decades of political oppression and episodic violence since Myanmar secured its independence from the British in 1948. 

Even the name they use to describe themselves is disputed: In Myanmar, the term Rohingya, which simply means “from Rakhine” (a state in Myanmar), is rejected in preference to the ethno-linguistic appellation “Chittagonian Bengali Muslims” to describe the persons who have lived in Myanmar’s northern state of Rakhine for generations. Neither the government of Myanmar nor most of its citizens recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate ethnic group and instead contend that these hapless people are Bangladeshi. Bangladesh, which became an independent state in 1971, rejects this claim and avers that they are citizens of Myanmar.  While Rohingya were citizens of Myanmar at independence, in the subsequent decades the state vitiated these rights and waged campaigns of violence against them,precipitating bouts of temporary displacement to neighboring Bangladesh. With Myanmar and Bangladesh both rejecting the Rohingya as their citizens, they are de facto stateless.

Photo: C. Christine Fair

In spite of the grotesque brutalities the Rohingyas have endured, they have not articulated an Islamist or separatist demand. Their demand is simply to return to Myanmar with citizenship and, problematically, with government recognition as a distinct ethnic group.  The Rohingya have not given rise to many  -state actors claiming to represent them. One of the few violent groups that has emerged in recent years is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). While many in the “Islamist terrorism” industry have been quick to paint ARSA with the jihadi brush, I am skeptical of ARSA’s Islamist bona fides.  ARSA has assiduously rejected Islamist appeals. However, other Islamist groups in the region have identified the Rohingya as a cause celebre, including the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent. The longer the Rohingya remain cramped in inadequately-appointed camps in Bangladesh or countenance ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, the more probable it becomes that either the nature of ARSA will bend towards Islamism and/or Islamist militant groups will conduct violence on their behalf. 

Photo: C. Christine Fair

Rohingya: A Long History of Suffering

While the social and political standing of the Rohingya began to decline when Myanmar gained independence in 1958, their situation became ever-more perilous following the military coup of 1988. A few years later, in 1991,the junta deployed troops to northern Rakhine and confiscated Muslim agricultural land to feed its troops and establish encampments while imposing forced labor and arbitrary taxes. In response to these immiserating conditions,nearly a quarter of a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh where they lived in congested camps. Ultimately, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) oversaw the repatriation of about 200,000 of these refugees, all the while repudiating the conditions under which repatriation took place, including involuntary repatriation.

A restless peace perdured in Rakhine for nearly a decade,with the notable exceptions of anti-Muslim violence that occurred in 2001. Violence returned in 2010, when Rakhine Buddhists protested a commitment made by the junta-established Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to grant Rakhine Muslims citizenship as a part of the elections in which they were allowed to vote. Subsequently, in May 2012, several Muslim men raped and killed a Buddhist woman, which catalyzed violence in the northern part of Rakhine state and in the provincial capital of Sittwe. The following month, a mob assaulted and killed a group of ten Muslims in central Myanmar after anonymous actors distributed inflammatory flyers to instigate violence against Muslims. As the ensuing violence spread, including retaliatory Muslim assaults on Buddhists, the government declared a state of emergency and deployed additional troops to enforce it. According to government of Myanmar figures (which may be inaccurate), several hundred persons were injured or killed; additionally, 5,338 homes, mostly belonging to Rohingya, were destroyed and another 75,000—again mostly Rohingya—were displaced.

In October 2012, another wave of anti-Muslim violence resultedin the displacement of 32,000 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim.  The government responded by interning some 140,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps in Rakhine and imposing harsh restrictions on freedom of movement on those not in the camps. The United Nations reports that as of August 31, 2018, there are some 128,245 Rohingya living in 23 camps across Rakhine, most of which are near Sittwe.  There is also a ghetto,known as Aung Mingalar, in which 4,000 Muslims are confined in Sittwe itself. Without access to jobs, food, or medicine, Rakhine’s Rohingya are dependent on the international community, which Myanmar grants selective access.


An Unexpected History of Non-Violence

Ostensibly inspired by Islamist movements elsewhere in the world, the Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF) formed in 1974, but over time split into several factions. Perhaps the most important and well-known successor to the RPF was the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), which formed in 1982. It also split in 1986 and gave rise to the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF). The RSO and the ARIF later formed a loose alliance in 1998 known as the Arakan Rohingya National Organization.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the RSO had no presence in Myanmar but had bases in Bangladesh along the border. It never enjoyed support within Myanmar, and by the early 2000s, it had lost its remaining operational capabilities.

A new actor has emerged in recent years: the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). ARSA is led by Atta Ullah, a Rohingya Muslim who was born in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to a Rohingya migrant father who fled Myanmar sometime in the 1960s. When he was a young child, his family moved to Mecca where he was educated in an Islamic school. While little is known about Atta Ullah, he seems to have departed Saudi Arabia in 2012 shortly after violence erupted in Rakhine. The name of the group he initially founded was “Harakah al-Yaqin” (literally “Movement of Faith”), which perpetrated several high-profile attacks against Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) headquarters and two other bases on October 9, 2016. In response, the state launched a brutal crackdown including extensive “clearance operations” in an effort to recapture the myriad small arms and thousands of rounds of ammunition stolen by the outfit. The organization subsequently rebranded as ARSA.

Atta Ullah, leader of the ARSA

While ARSA did not have any ostensible religious motivations, it did legitimize its attacks on Burmese security forces using Islam. It also encouraged senior Rohingya clerics and numerous foreign clerics to issue fatwas asserting that its campaign against Myanmar’s security forces is legal given their ongoing persecution of Muslims in Rakhine state.

ARSA launched several high-profile insurgent attacks. On October 9 and November 12, 2016, it conducted several coordinated attacks on BGP bases in RakhineAmnesty International believes the group, brandishing swords and guns, is culpable for one and possibly two massacres of some 99 Hindu women, men, and children, as well as other abductions and murders of Hindu villagers in August 2017. In August 2017, it conducted its most complex attack, which entailed attacking some 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine; at least 59 insurgents died, along with 12 members of the security forces. In response to this outrage, the Myanmar military mobilized to conduct mass atrocities that the United Nations has declared to be tantamount to genocide. The most recent attack occurred on January 5, 2018, when the group targeted a vehicle with a remote-control mine and then staged an ambush; six soldiers and one civilian driver were injured. It has not conducted any operations since. 

Part of a list given to Amnesty International by Hindu community leaders, giving details of 99 Hindus killed in two massacres in the Kha Maung Seik cluster of villages in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State on 25 August 2017.

Myanmar contends, with very little evidence, that ARSA is an Islamist militant group which aggregates the interest of Myanmar’s Muslim mosaic to undermine the Buddhist nature of the state. The international presshas also been quick, with just as little evidence, to assert that the Rohingya are next the wave of jihadists. On these grounds,Myanmar has won the support of China, Russia, and India, which have their own concerns about their domestic Muslim populations and how best to contend with the threats they pose—both real and imagined.

A woman takes part in a rally of Myanmar nationalists to show support for the Myanmar government actions against Rohingya and to condemn the attacks in Rakhine state, Yangon, Myanmar September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer NO SALES NO ARCHIVES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Those who argue that ARSA is a jihadist outfit focus on thefact that Attah Ullah was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia. They cite unnamed and unaccountable “intelligence sources” to assert that he is close to LeT, and attempt to connect him with Abdus Qadoos Burmi, another Pakistani of Rohingya descent who is based in Karachi, has ties to LeT, and has appeared in videos arguing for jihad in Myanmar. None of these analysts alleging that ARSA is Islamist produce evidence beyond anonymous “intelligence sources,” many of whom are Indian and have their own vested interests in this popularizing this narrative to burnish their claims that LeT is not simply an Indian domestic problem.

Despite these allegations, ARSA has consistently asserted that it is not seeking a separate state or the imposition of Sharia law. In September 2017, ARSA said it wanted to “make it clear” that it had no “links to al-Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Lashkar-e-Taiba or any transnational terrorist group.” Indeed, ARSA has nothing to gain and everything to lose by associating with any Islamist movement.

Problematically for ARSA’s messaging, though, its flag depicts all of Rakhine state. This has made Buddhists worried that ARSA’s agenda is not simply securing the political conditions for Rohingya to safely return, but a larger agenda to assert dominance over the Buddhist-majority Rakhine state (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Flag of ARSA Depicting the Entirety of Rakhine State

Is the Past Prologue?

The past outcomes of Myanmar state violence, in which the Rohingya suffer silently and without violent mobilization, may not be the best predictor of the future for several reasons. First, this current crisis confronting the Rohingya is thoroughly unprecedented in scale, scope, and the rapidity with which it has transpired. There is a deep well of grievances from which ARSA or any number of Islamist groups can draw.

Second, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has sought to mitigate criticism that she is anti-Islam given her relentless campaign against the Jamaat Islami Bangladeshi, an Islamist political party that has traditionally aligned with her political nemesis, the Bangladesh National Party, and is accused of collaborating with Pakistan in perpetrating war crimes during the war for independence in 1971. To burnish her Islamist credentials, she has allied with the radical (and sometimes violent) Hifazat-e-Islam (HI), which nearly toppled her government several years ago.

According to authorities who discussed this situation with me in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, Hasina has allowed HI to open thousands of quami madaris (religious seminaries that do not teach Bangladesh’s school curriculum) in the camps in Cox’s Bazar and young men can be seen wearing the distinctive skull cap that identifies them as madrassah students. Quami madaris have long been associated with a “rejection of modernity as a whole, including  , and their employment of vigorous indoctrination techniques rather than methodical pedagogy,” as well as ties to terrorist groups in Bangladesh.

Photo: C. Christine Fair

 At the same time, Hasina  has eschewed any form of education that would permit the Rohingya to integrate into Bangladesh’s formal economy. Per force, they seek to earn cash through various illicit means available.

Third, both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent have identified the Rohingya as a target of opportunity. Equally disconcerting is that a variety of Pakistan-based and international terrorist organizations have set their sights on recruiting the Rohingya.

Fourth, and finally, Hasina’s refusal to disperse the refugees throughout the country will continue to tax the host community, who endure the negative externalities of the camps in their backyards, including the imperious behavior of aid workers in the camps. There is little short-term benefit to dispersing the Rohingya refugees. Most Rohingya have expressed little interest in migrating onward and there are few countries who want to receive more of them.

For the foreseeable future, the Rohingya are most likely to be confined to the camps in Bangladesh, no matter how crowded or dangerous. The unprecedented scale of the crisis, domestic political concerns in Bangladesh, and growing attention from jihadi groups make the Rohingya ripe for radicalization, even though groups like ARSA have resisted the violent Islamist ideology associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.  Even if ARSA does not emerge as the next wave of jihad as some fear, it is entirely possible that other violent groups will conduct attacks on their behalf in Myanmar or elsewhere. Should this happen, the plight of the Rohingya will become even more dire as what little international support they have at present will quickly dissipate.

Given that the international community is unlikely to muster any pressure on Myanmar, the least international actors can do is continue to help Bangladesh support this beleaguered community and monitor the situation for any developing security concerns while longer term solutions are developed.

This post is derived from C. Christine Fair, “Rohingya:  Victims of a Great Game East,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 3 (September 2018): 63-85.

A New Strategy for Afghanistan Begins In Iran

Secure Chabahar to Secure Afghanistan’s Future

When the imposturous Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency in January 2017, he resolved to undo Obama’s legacy whether it was domestic achievements such as healthcare for all or the historic rapprochements with Cuba or the Iran-specific Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As promised, in May 2018, Trump withdrew from the so-called JCPOA and threatened sanctions upon anyone dealing with Iran. This discomfited India in particular for several reasons. First India imports more than 80% of crude of which about 10% comes from Iran. Indian refiners prefer Iranian crude due to better pricing and terms compared to other suppliers. Second, India is set to develop of one of three berths at Iran’s deep-sea port at Chabahar, which would also come under sanctions. India is also working to build a rail link from the port to the Afghan border. Not only would these sanctions strain India’s strategic goals, but it would also call into question the economic viability of the port which, in turn, would have deleterious consequences for Afghanistan, which needs access to ports other than those in Pakistan.

Under the US law which prescribes these sanctions, Washington could exempt sanctions for activities that “provide reconstruction assistance for or further the economic development of Afghanistan.” Many analysts, including this author, strenuously argued that India should push for and ultimately receive sanction relief. India stood its ground on all counts and, consequently,  the Trump administration offered India a waiver on both oil imports and Chabahar developments, including the railway linkage. This is welcome news not only for India but also for Afghanistan. However, more needs to be done to make Chabahar the much-needed economic life-line of Afghanistan.

Indo-Iranian Relations: The Big Picture

In 2003, India and Iran signed the so-called “RoadMap to Strategic Cooperation.” This was a foundational document that put forward the key activities that would guide the most recent bilateral effort at rapprochement, which began in the mid-1990s under India’s then Prime Minister Rao and Iran’s President Rafsanjani but foundered with few tangible gains.  One of the prominent elements of the 2003 agreement was the collaboration on Iran’s deep-sea port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman. India is a stakeholder in the related so-called North-South Corridor per which goods move from Chabahar and travel through Iran on rail or road, then onward to the Caspian and beyond to northern markets. For India, Chabahar offers a lifeline to Iran, Afghanistan, the Central Asian States and beyond. Moreover, it is situated a mere 171 kilometers from Gwador, the port that China is building on Pakistan’s Makran coast in insurgency-prone Balochistan as a part of the so-called “China Pakistan Economic Corridor.”

In 2005, India also began building an ambitious road project that linked Afghanistan to Iran known as Route 606 or the Delaram–Zaranj Highway inside Afghanistan. The 215-km, two-lane road, connects Zaranj (the dusty provincial capital of Afghan’s Nimruz province bordering  Iran) to Delaram, a transport hub in Nimruz that connects to the Kandahar–Herat Highway, which is part of the Ring Road that connects most of Afghanistan’s major cities. Built by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) at a cost of Rs.600 crore, it was a constant antagonism to Pakistan for several reasons.

First, is the nature of the BRO itself, whose own website explains that it is “committed to meeting the strategic needs of [India’s] armed forces.” Over the lifetime of the project, over 300 BRO engineers and technicians were deployed on the project, accompanied by 70 Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel for the security of BRO personnel. Second, Pakistan understood that this route would help eliminate Afghanistan’s dependence upon Pakistan for access to warm waters.  Pakistan has long used Afghanistan’s dependence upon Pakistan as a tool of economic arbitrage and to preclude India from having ground access to Afghanistan. Third, Nimruz borders the restive Pakistani province of Balochistan, where Pakistan has long accused India of interfering in collusion with Afghanistan. Forth, it was yet another visible symbol of India’s presence in a country that Pakistan seeks to render into a vassal of Rawalpindi, the home of Pakistan’s opprobrious army. Given Pakistan’s enormous control over the Taliban and other murderous organizations such as the Haqqani Network, the road came under constant attack during its construction and after it was handed over the Afghans in January 2009, by which time some six Indians, including BRO driver and four ITBP soldiers, as well as 129 Afghans were murdered. This road was to be the shortest route to move products between Afghanistan and Iranian ports.

After the U.N. Security Council imposed Chapter VII sanctions on Iran in 2006, India retrenched from the project ceding space to China. In 2015, under President Obama, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States along with the European Union forged a historic deal with Iran to limit its ability to develop nuclear weapons while bringing Iran back into the comity of nations. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) cleared the path for India to re-engage in Chabahar. India resumed work with alacrity because this port is critical for India’s own access to markets in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia but also for Afghanistan’s own economic survival, in which India is a key stakeholder.  With the sanctions waiver on hand, India should move to deepen its commitment Chabahar and Afghanistan’s economic future.

A New Way Forward for Afghanistan?

While the United States is hopeful that it can come to some form of negotiated settlement with the Taliban which would conclude the endless war in Afghanistan, long-time observers of South Asia are skeptical that efforts will fructify.  Why would the Taliban negotiate an end when the Taliban need not defeat the Americans and their Afghan allies? The Taliban only need to keep fighting to demonstrate that the Americans and Afghans cannot defeat them. The is the very definition of an insurgent’s victory. Second, why would Pakistan allow the Taliban to sue for peace unless that peace meant Afghanistan’s capitulation to Pakistan with the former serving as the latter’s suzerain? Would Afghans—who loathe Pakistan for the decades of devastation it has wrought—ever agree to such peace terms?

Whatever happens with respect to ending decades of conflict, Afghanistan needs a new way forward and I contend Chabahar—and Indian investment there—is central to this new future.

Contemporary Afghanistan is not the Afghanistan of 2001. Today, Afghanistan is connected to railheads with Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. These railheads are key to helping Afghanistan get its valuable resources out of the ground and to international markets. Whereas Afghanistan was once virtually dependent upon Pakistan, it no longer is. Between 2012 and 2016, Afghan imports from Iran totaled $1.3 billion compared $1.2 billion from Pakistan and $1.1 billion from China. While Pakistan was the largest destination for Afghan exports between 2012 and 2016 with $283 million of goods, India was right behind in the second position with $230 million. This will likely increase as Chabahar comes online. In fact, over the last year, India has shipped about 110,000 metric tons of wheat and 2,000 tons of pulses from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar over numerous shipments, demonstrating the utility of this shipping route.  

If Afghanistan can focus on improving the political, economic, and trade ties with its near and far neighbors, Afghanistan can literally work around Pakistan by ever-more diminishing its dependence upon its murderous neighbor to the east.  When Afghanistan is completely independent of Pakistan, it will be in a greater position to extract political concessions it.

This does not mean that Afghanistan will become peaceful. Far from it. Pakistan will work assiduously to undermine these efforts. But it does allow Afghanistan to move forward, to prosper, and to work towards economic sufficiency while strategically isolating Pakistan in every way possible that is not terribly dissimilar from the strategic decisions that India has made. India has, over successive administrations, understood implicitly that Pakistan will continue to kill Indians. However, every Indian leader since Kargil has understood that it has much to gain by avoiding war with Pakistan.

This policy of strategic restraint has paid dividends: India’s long span of economic growth has enabled it to invest in defense modernization, to diminish the immiseration of Indian masses, make human capital investments, and diversify and fortify its complex portfolio of strategic alliances. This has not been cost-free: every year, Pakistan’s proxies murder dozens of Indians. In contrast, 3 Indians die every ten minutes from road accidents. In 2017 alone, 147, 913 persons died, which is many times more than the totality of Indian lives claimed in all of India’s wars with Pakistan, including Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. Even in Afghanistan—which is an active war zone–traffic accidents kill more civilians (nearly 5,000 in 2017) than the anti-government forces or friendly fire (3,438 in 2017). My intention here is not to trivialize either kind of death in either India or Afghanistan; rather put them into perspective and to argue that progress can continue of some fronts even though Pakistan remains committed to murdering citizens of both countries.

India is Needed Now More Than Ever

I recently traveled to Zaranj, on the border of Iran, linked Afghanistan the road built by India. I wanted to assess the infrastructural capacity and traffic through this border crossing. What I found there shocked my interlocutors in Kabul, many of whom were under the impression that this crossing is under-utilized. Far from it. This dusty town was a busy hub and at full capacity even though little traffic is coming in from Chabahar at present: most of the traffic is coming from Iran’s more established port at Bandar Abbas. If India hopes that this route will become a significant alternative to Pakistan’s routes to warm water, India should consider helping Afghanistan augment and expand the infrastructure here.

For one thing, the bridge that links the two countries is too narrow to permit two-way traffic. It takes interminably long for a single truck to make the crossing. For years, a two-way bridge has been promised but has not yet materialized. Trucks are stacked up along the theZaranj-Delaram highway, making it difficult for regular traffic. Trucks may have to wait in line, clogging up the narrow road, for up to two months as they await their turn to cross. The customs and border facilities at Zaranj struggle with the current operational tempo as does the counter-narcotics forces who witness large amounts of precursor materials that convert opium in lucrative narcotics like heroin but lack large-scale detection devices. As I spent two days in Zaranj speaking with drivers, businessmen and an array of officials, I could not imagine how this crossing could bear more traffic. My interlocutors agreed.

Once in Iran, Afghan truckers report a bevy of woes beginning with usurious visa charges, extortion, and inadequate quotas of petrol to make the journey. Truckers told me that they feel as if they have no advocates. Everyone said that they wish the border could be open all day, every day; however, they claim the Iranians demure for various reasons. Truckers who transport goods into Afghanistan from Zaranj must countenance the Taliban as well as corrupt Afghan police, seeking payments along their routes. If Afghanistan is to derive maximal benefit from this strategic border crossing, it will have to dedicate more resources to clean up corruption and enhance security and work with Iran to make life easier for those using the crossing. Presumably, both stand to benefit from doing.

While the twinned problems of corruption and insecurity perdure throughout Afghanistan, Kabul should prioritize this crossing more than it has to date. It has the potential to transform this dusty little outpost with few opportunities other than trucking and hocking smuggled fuel. India, which enjoys good relations with Iran and Afghanistan may be well positioned to help on all these fronts. In doing so, India will advance its own strategic interests in the region all the while continuing to provide the value-added projects that make ordinary Afghans’ lives all the more livable and which have endeared Indians to Afghans.

The writer has authored the books Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014) and in their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (Hurst 2018).

Versions of this blog post have been published by Khaama Post, on 22 November 2018 at:

Trump’s War on Real News Is Irrumating our Immiserated Democracy. (And the GOP is complicit.)

Trump has waged a systematic war on America’s press, which is a priceless pillar of our immiserated democracy. He has decried any media outlet other than Fox News and its allies dispensing right-wing cant as “fake news.” He has dubbed the media (with the exception of Fox) the “enemy of the people.” He has applauded murderous dictators for their draconian suppression of their press and, in turn, those dictators have justified their crimes with Trump’s own words and deeds. He has lavishly praised US congressman who, when questioned about health care policy, brutally assaulted a reporter. He has vituperatively refused to answer questions from journalists he dislikes, often verbally abusing. He has publicly insulted dozens of journalists, particularly women and people of color using crude and demeaning language. Footage of Trump grotesquely mocking a disabled reporter went viral.

Source: Laura Collins.

Last week, Trump and his administration sunk to a new low when CNN’s Jim Acosta persisted in answering a question Trump sought to evade, despite the efforts of a White House intern to seize the microphone from Acosta. The administration used manipulated video footage of Acosta’a exchange with the intern to assert that he assaulted her and used this as a pretext to strip him of his White House press credentials. (The manipulated footage omits the audio of Acosta apologizing to the young woman for the inadvertent contact as she sought to wrest the microphone from him.) CNN filed suit. Surprisingly Fox News publicly supported the suit, as did other media outlets. By the end of last week, a judge issued an injunction and ordered his pass to be reinstated while the case is heard. While this is a victory, the war is far from over. America’s enfeebled democracy will be one of its casualties.


Trump’s assailing American media corresponds to dismal public trust in it. In the spring of 2018, Gallup and the Knight Foundation querried 1,440 persons about the US media. While many respondents opined that news sources are biased, Republicans and Democrats rated the accuracy and bias of organizations very differently. disparities were starkest regarding Fox News, Breitbart News, CNN and MSNBC and were greatly shaped by whether or not the person espoused the ideological leaning of the source in question.  


Not all of this can be placed on Trump’s contumely attacks on freedom of the press as Americans’ confidence in their media has steadily retrenched.


However, it is unlikely a coincidence that about half of Republicans (51%) polled in August 2018 said they believed the news media is the “enemy of the people,” in contrast to 24% of independents and a meager 5% of Democrats who answered similarly. Moreover, that same survey found that three-quarters of Republicans trust Trump to tell the truth while about 15% of Republicans trusted the media to be truthful. Unsurprisingly, 86%of Democrats trusted the media compared to only 5% who trusted Trump. Such reliance Trump’s veracity among Republicans is discomfiting given the well-documented evidence that he lies repeatedly on issues big and small: The fact checkers at the Washington Post, as of 2 November 2018, reported that Trump has made 6,420 false or misleading claims over 649 days. However, forRepublicans, this will either not affect their trust in him or they will simply dismiss these claims using the words of their cult leader: “fake news.”


Republican leaders in Congress or elsewhere have generally demurred from criticizing Trump’s antics even after liberal media and opinion leaders were targeted in a failed mass assassination attempt by a rabid Trump supporter. In part, other Republicans avoid criticizing the president because they fear his base who loves him because of his boorish behavior not in spite of it.  

Note: Trump as well as CONservative media had the temerity to call this a “false flag” attempt to the influence the mid-term elections. How shitty is that? that shittiness goes to Eleven. (Apologies to Spinal Tap.)

However, Trump’s outrages are dangerous for democracy and Trump and the Republicans know it. By sewing doubt about all but right-wing media, Trump and the Republicans are confident that Fox and its allies will continue to garner viewership who, in turn, will be exposed to outright lies and pro-Trump propaganda with the net impact of improving Republican electoral outcomes. This price is high: it comes at the expense of producing highly ill-informed voters who are easily swayed by the False Prophets of Fox News.

This Fox News Effect has been well studied by schyolars. In 2007, Stefano Della Vigna and Ethan Kaplan wrote a scholarly studied titled “The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting” in which they leveraged data about Fox News’ entry into the cable market and presidential electoral data for 1996 and 2000. They found that the highly-partisan network increased vote share for Republicans between 0.4 and 0.7 percentage points, which is enough to swing tight races. They also found that Fox News affected Republican voter turnout as well as the Republican vote share in the Senate. The strongest impact upon mobilizing conservative voters was evident in Democratic-leaning districts. More recently, Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukoglu assess that persons who watch Fox News experience a substantial rightward shift in their attitudes and significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates. Provocatively these economists estimate that had Fox News not existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of vote would have been 3.6 points lower in 2004 and 6.3 points lower in 2008. These margins again are more than enough to swing an election.

Not only is there evidence that Fox News helps solidify and galvanize the Republican base, studies have shown that persons who use Fox News as their primary source of information are much more likely to be grossly misinformed regarding basic truths about domestic and foreign policy issues. When Steven Kull and his colleagues posed three basic questions about the Iraq war with indisputable correct responses to a representative survey of American respondents, they found that Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly more likely to get all three rudimentary questions wrong. Those who were most likely to answer the questions correctly were those who got their news from print sources or public radio and television. However, respondents who relied upon the other mainstream networks (CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) were less likely than Fox viewers to be misinformed, but far more likely to be so than those who used print media or public television and radio.

It needs to be stated that while numerous studies have shown that conservative Americans overwhelmingly rely upon Fox News and have greatly influenced by the misperceptions spread by that network, many of these studies predate the emergence of MSNBC, which is an explicitly Democratic-leaning partisan network. Patrick C. Meirick and Elena Bessarabova, in their study of partisan misperceptions, found evidence that Democrats too are more likely to espouse Democratic-serving misperceptions the more they accessed liberal media. However, the market share of such media is minuscule compared to the market dominance of the falsehood fabricating Fox News. In October 2018: Fox News averaged more total viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.


The enormous market share of Fox News, with its penchant for pro-Trump propaganda, dishonest reportage, race-baiting and fear mongering is worrisome for democracy for at least two reasons. First, it is well-known that partisans of all stripes use biased strategies when looking for information, tend to accept messages with which they agree while rejecting countervailing information.  The result is that partisans build opinions for the purpose of defending his or her existing point of view rather than being objectively correct. With the proliferation of media, it is increasingly easy for consumers of media to self-select into echo chambers with the disturbing reality that two distinct Americas have emerged, each equipped with what they believe to be their own “facts.” However, some of these facts are clearly less factual than the other. Second, studies have shown that is nearly impossible to dislodge a partisan fiction once it has taken hold. In fact, efforts to refute nonsense often have the adverse effect of encouraging the person to hold it more ferociously. Efforts to expose partisans to alternative news sources are virtually inefficacious in dislodging a misperception.

America is divided. One set of Americans, largely ill-informed by Fox News, is fearful of change, rues the diminution of white privilege and wants to “Make America Great Again” by trying to make it white again.  The other America is more cosmopolitan, tends to embrace change and diversity, is less fearful about America’s changing demographics and wants an America in which people are equal before the law irrespective of their creed, gender, race or who they choose to love. Republicans and their newly-denervated white supremacist allies know that demography is not on their side: America is changing and there is little that they can do to stop it.

This is at the heart of Trump’s war on media. It’s not just about vilifying every outlet that seeks to publish the truth about his corruption, incompetence, truculence and white supremacist pandering and therefore suppress.  It’s about ensuring that his cultish followers view him as their most trusted source no matter what facts are revealed on a nearly daily basis that demonstrates his unfitness for anything but impeachments. It’s also about shoring up the bona fides of behemoth Fox News, whose slavish willingness to serve as Trump’s “state television” makes that network his single most important constituency. As Michael M. Grynbaum observed, Fox once gave Trump a perch. Now it’s his bullhorn.

C. Christine Fair is the author of InTheir Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba(Hurst/OUP: 2018) and Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014). She is a proud member of The Resistance.

A version of this article appeared in First Post on 20 November 2018.

Five Questions With C. Christine Fair on India, Afghanistan, and Iran

The U.S. exit from the Iran deal will affect Afghanistan. To learn more about how, and what this means for U.S. national interests, I spoke with Georgetown University Professor C. Christine Fair, a scholar of South Asian security with longstanding expertise on Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iran. We spoke by phone (with follow-up by email) on her current research on this question. A lightly edited version of our exchange appears below.

You’ve been working on Afghanistan’s security, and the larger regional questions including Pakistan, India, and Iran. What are the most significant effects of the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Afghanistan?

In the soccer expression, this is an “own goal.” [President Donald J.] Trump has said he’ll be more forceful, that he will not tolerate Pakistan’s perfidious behavior, and that he will cut off assistance. But what he’ll find out—and likely has already found out—is that he will run up against the same barriers that [former President Barack] Obama ran up against. These barriers make any significant change in Pakistan policy very difficult.

The most important barrier is geography. We are still nearly completely dependent upon Pakistani air space and ground lines of communication (GLOCs). In 2011, when Pakistan shut down the GLOCs, we shifted to moving things through Pakistan’s air space. This was more expensive, but the expense was offset by the saving incurred by not providing Pakistan Coalition Support Funds for the duration that the GLOCs were closed. Currently, we are predominantly supplying ourselves through Pakistan’s air lines of communication (ALOCs). We are using Pakistan’s GLOCs to resupply the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The Northern Distribution Network [NDN, an alternate supply route pressed into service in 2011] was always a fiasco—you need only look at a map to see why. It was never used for anything substantive with the exception of fuel. The Russians were always clear that it could not be used for anything lethal, which is a problem if you’re fighting a war. So this is why, for all the bluster, the actual policy toward Pakistan has not changed and is unlikely to change. The Pakistanis could shut down the lines. There is an assumption among U.S. military [leadership] that Pakistan would not take those steps—such as closing down the air space—as it would be tantamount to an “act of war.” I am not sure how sensible this assumption is. And remember, Trump is expanding our presence [in Afghanistan], which is to say, we are more dependent upon Pakistan than we were before Trump’s new policy. And it is Pakistan that is largely responsible for providing all manner of support to those groups, such as the Haqqani network and the Taliban, which are murdering our allies in and out of uniform in Afghanistan as well as our troops.

The Northern Distribution Network, according to U.S. Transportation Command.

The promulgation of the JCPOA created interesting possibilities. It was conceivable that we could have begun moving things—at least for the ANSF or potentially for the U.S. forces—through Chabahar. Or one could have even considered moving matériel through that very short distance of Iranian air space. I am not suggesting swapping one dubious partner for another; however, just having another partner would have helped put pressure on Pakistan and relieved our dependence upon Pakistan.

Even prior to the JCPOA, the United States and the Iranians were on the same page in a general sense: that we didn’t want the Taliban back in power [and] we wanted to resist Pakistan’s efforts to promote Sunni extremists in the country. With the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA we not only have lost an important opportunity to develop an alternate route which would benefit American interests in Afghanistan, but we have also jeopardized the viability of Chabahar itself, which will harm Afghanistan’s economic interests over the long term.

What do you mean by the viability of Chabahar itself?

A deep sea port by itself is not a useful entity. For firms to send their ships to Chabahar, there must be a commercial ecosystem that includes companies that manage the flow of ships, enterprises to offload cargo from the ships and onto other conveyances, firms that provide ship maintenance and resupply, [and] transport companies that move cargo between ships and road and rail, among other enterprises. Usually deep sea ports are accompanied by special economic zones and are fitted with terminals to move oil and/or gas from the ships to smaller vehicles for distribution. Giant container ships are extremely vulnerable to wind and tide, and there are few companies that can handle these kinds of ships. In other words, the port is not itself an asset of interest. Without the system of commercial activity, the port itself is useless as no one will send their cargo to that port. A good example of a port that is not being used is the Chinese-built deep sea port in Gwadar (Pakistan).

Even prior to Trump assuming the presidency, investors were wary of putting money into Chabahar because they were not clear whether such investments would run afoul of U.S. law. These investors were looking for a clarion signal from the United States. Without those investors—whose business will help convert the port from an empty space to one that sees a healthy traffic of ships with the means of moving cargo to and from the ships to road and rail routes—Chabahar will not be a viable port. At the end of day, there has to be a value proposition. No one will want to use Chabahar if there are competitive alternatives.

A year ago I was in a trilateral with Indians, Iranians, [and] Afghans. At that time, there was still not a clear American “go ahead” to international investors to make this a practicable deep sea port. Without such a clear signal from Washington, no one wanted to put money into this project only to discover that they could not do business with U.S. financial institutions. Obviously, Trump has made this inordinately more difficult by withdrawing from the JCPOA. Without those investors who make this port enterprise remunerative, the port itself will not become a transport hub.

An Indian supply route to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port.

And the effect on Afghanistan? Why is this important for Afghanistan?

Because Afghanistan is completely dependent on Pakistan for imports and exports. Afghanistan has no other cost-effective access to warm water. For Afghanistan to be able to pursue its own independent foreign policy, it needs access to Chabahar. There are no other cost-effective access points for Afghanistan. As discussed, the NDN is a system of transit networks across numerous countries’ ground and air space, which requires bilateral agreement and transit costs that add up. Many analysts labor under the illusion that this is a material alternative to Pakistan and thus obviates Chabahar. But one need only look at a map to see why the various routes tied to the NDN are hugely expensive, inefficient, and simply make Afghanistan dependent upon Russia instead of Pakistan because Russia exercises enormous influence over the Central Asian states that comprise the NDN.

For many of us who watch this region, the question of the day is: how can we foster a community to protect Chabahar in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA specifically, and more generally as U.S. traditional leadership in Asia seems in peril?

I fear that that we can expect increasing hedging from traditional allies in Asia and maybe even greater alignment with China, which is expanding to fill the void that United States has left.

Needless to say, India and China are direct competitors in Chabahar. China was anxious to step into Chabahar if India did not manage to get the job done. But this may be a place where we need India and China to help create a safe investment space to make Chabahar viable despite their competition elsewhere. If we think the China option is a bridge too far, then we have to ask ourselves: what are the other options? The Japanese are no longer interested in Chabahar. Is it possible to establish some sort of insurance program that would protect investors? At the end of the day, we have a collective action problem as all these different countries are hedging against each other and uncertainty about American leadership and policies. The upside of countries gravitating toward China is the possibility of protecting Chabahar. However, unless India can persuaded that this is a good thing, this may rile India even though it does not have the assets to make Chabahar sustainable on its own. India has a lot at stake, which may make India more inclined to be competitive rather than cooperative with China.

China is needed in Afghanistan for other reasons. Namely, Afghanistan needs a railway. There are already railheads in Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to which Afghanistan can link up. This means that Afghanistan is close to being connected with rail lines to these neighboring countries. But what country is both capable of building such a railway and adequately risk acceptant to consider doing so? China is probably the only possibility. However, such a proposition will most certainly disquiet India.

Afghanistan needs the two biggest actors, China and India, to forswear their competition elsewhere to cooperate there. This is a hard ask of New Delhi.

During Obama’s tenure, the Indians were signaling that they could take on more in Afghanistan. This created some exciting possibilities. For example, why couldn’t the Indians supply the ANSF with uniforms and be responsible for moving them into Afghanistan—possibly through Chabahar? It is an expensive proposition for Americans to be sourcing these uniforms. India has a huge footprint of making and supplying uniforms. Why are we dependent on Pakistani GLOCs for this? The geography of Afghanistan is not going to change—there are two easy ways into Afghanistan: Pakistan or Iran. If the United States wants to increase the odds of helping to forge an Afghanistan that can stand up to Pakistan, the United States needs to realize that Iran is a better bet than Pakistan.

In earlier U.S. Iran sanctions legislation, there was the possibility of an exception specifically written in for “reconstruction assistance or economic development for Afghanistan.” Under this provision, an exception could have been made for Chabahar if one were to tie it to needs in Afghanistan. 

This is a superb point, which I forgot to note. In principle this is correct. But to make the argument that Chabahar should get an exception to advance goals in Afghanistan would require the Trump regime to muster political will and expend political capital. I think a successor to Obama would have been willing to do this. But, let’s be frank: the Iran policy pursued by the Trump regime is not driven principally by U.S. security interests. Instead, Trump is pursuing Israel’s interests as a part of his fervent appeals to the American evangelical voter. Obama was more willing to confront Israel. Trump has gone out of his way to appease Israel largely for U.S. domestic political concerns. If Trump or his policy team cannot look at a map, evaluate the data on terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and conclude that working with Iran to secure Afghanistan is far less deleterious to U.S. interests than working with Pakistan, I have a difficult time imagining how anyone in his administration would carve out an exception for Chabahar under the grounds that doing so would be advantageous to our efforts in Afghanistan. But yes, in principle, you are correct.

What about Japan’s involvement in investing in Chabahar? There have been numerous press articles about Japan’s interest.  

From what I can tell, the Japanese are no longer interested. Japan wants to use its assets to check Chinese expansion. But it doesn’t make sense to place resources in a questionable business environment when doing so runs the risk of running afoul of U.S. financial sanctions.

This originally appeared on June 28, 2018:

I’m Not The Cooperative Target You’d Like Me To Be: And I’m Not Apologizing

This week several journalists interviewed me regarding my role in the ouster of Richard Spencerthe Abercrombie and Fitch Nazi who has relocated his hate operations to Alexandria, Virginia—from his local gym. They were shocked that I was returning fire with fire. Even Spencer has conceded that I give as well as I get, which no doubt surprised him and his followers who are used to his opponents succumbing to their well-orchestrated campaigns of intimidation. Many others have weighed in to say that this behavior is not becoming of a professor.


But I’m not apologizing and here’s why.


Mr. Spencer believes that because he didn’t bring his torch to the gym, he was a model gym member who worked out then, upon leaving the weight room, returned to spreading his vile hate which has inspired a legion of amphibianabusing despicables. While it was the gym—not me—that made the ultimate decision to jettison Spencer for reasons known only to it and its legal team, his legions of vile followers have unleashed a torrent of abuses upon me that are anti-Semitic, misogynist, rapist, racist, body-shaming, and frequently violent through virtually every platform possible, including my home phone number. This is not my first rodeo with smug vulgarians with an epic sense of entitlement who have attacked me online and at the work place. In fact, like many women in male-dominated fields with a public persona, I am routinely attacked –mostly by men. While such harassment of women has reached epidemic levels, few policy makers or law enforcement agencies take it seriously or can.


The science of the uncooperative “agentic” woman who refuses to conform to well-honed and recalcitrant gender expectations is empirically wellknown. Given the prevalence of gender stereotypes, research has repeatedly demonstrated that women who violate these norms elicit negative reactions, even if they do so simply out of necessity to succeed in traditionally male-dominated domains. Abundant evidence now attests to the punitive and potentially debilitating social and economic repercussions that female agency elicits while disconfirming gender stereotypes. Put straightforwardly without the scientific jargon, women are punished for succeeding in male-dominated spaces. Studies of “women not behaving” find that such women may be seen as highly competent and even capable, but they are also seen as unlikable by both men and women as well as socially deficient. (Women do not need to be reminded of this. We already know.)


Not only are women punished in the workplace and always vulnerable while on the streets where we are subject to all manner of harassment by strangers and even violence, the rise of the internet has also made us more vulnerable to online menaces many of whom lurk pusillanimously behind anonymous personas. Much of the online harassment mimics the offline harassment. Men make crude, even rapaciously noxious comments about us. However, the anonymity that social media provides emboldens men to behave in ever-more genuinely vile and despicable ways because, unlike harassment off-line, they are generally immune from consequences.


While the science of cyber bullying of children and even college students is expanding, few studies have seriously examined online harassment of adults and its effects. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center Report, while males and females both experience online harassment, the data show that while “men are more likely to experience name-calling and embarrassment….young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and stalking.” Despite the high costs of being present online, it is simply not an option to disengage without incurring further professional and even economic harm. Moreover, “the fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.” (In fact, misogynists are precisely aiming for this goal: one notorious defender of pederasty and woman-hater has argued in a fanatical purveyor of “fake news” that “the solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: women should log off.


Given the costs of engaging and not engaging, young women frequently ask me how best to respond to the online harassment that includes Twitter attacks, disgusting commentary on my Youtube videos and editorials. Unfortunately, there is no good answer for every woman. I’ve endured crude, rapacious, misogynist, body-shaming and slut-shaming since joining Twitter in 2010. However, Twitter has been enormously important in disseminating my research and marketing books that I have written. The same goes for my Youtube channel and other social media. I tell women that they have to figure out what works for them and that can only be found by experimentation and recording how each strategy makes them feel. It is a canard to say that if you behave like a good girl, you will be spared the punishing blows of men—and their peculiar coterie of women-hating women—who are discomfited that you exist, have a fact-based opinion and assert your well-earned authority without deferring to the male-dominated starchamber for approbation or permission. I decided early on that I would assert my agency and confront my harassers head on. Why? Because I found that doing so made me feel better than simply absorbing their hate like a lady. I also found that ignoring their filth made me feel worse. It reminded me of how I felt when I was a student in Pakistan travelling to class on a crowded bus when men frequently slipped their fingers under my seat to assault me and I could not identify—much less clobber—the offender who did it.


After November 22, 2016, the kinds of harassment I received began to increase geometrically. On that date, I posted a series of caustically critical tweets to a right-wing shill who wrote a vapid editorial for the Washington Post titled “I’m a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump” in which she monetized her demographic niche to illiberal elements who enjoy hearing a Muslim woman validate their anti-Muslim stereotypes. After a series of public exchanges, she privately messaged me a treacly note stating her disingenuous interest in “dialogue.” I told her privately to “go #uck herself.” Later, when she wrote to a scholar misrepresenting herself as a journalist who was harassed for her pro-Trump views, I pointed out to the academic in question that the author of the noxious piece is not a journalist and has not been a journalist since 2004. The former journalist also claimed to be a Georgetown professor when in fact she only taught one course for one year several years ago and led a project espousing conspiracy theories about the death of Daniel Pearl from 2008 to 2011. Upon being exposed, once again, for being disingenuous she launched a harassment campaign against me and my employer for two months beginning on December 5, 2016. I remarked upon this event on a Facebook post that same day when I redoubled my opposition to this person who, in 2010, testified before the U.S. Congress that women who veil are at heightened risk for radicalization (they are not, by the way) and advocated profiling Muslims even though such a suggestion is not constitutional. She also supports Trump’s illegal Muslim ban and proposed registry.

In the wake of that assault, I launched a micro-blog called #ShitMenSay where I routinely post original noxious missives and any other publicly available information about the abuser. I usually include sarcastic criticism about the addlepated misogynist who sent the repulsive note in the first instance. My goal is ensuring that these persons have an internet footprint associated with their bullying of a woman they do not know simply because they disagree with what she says, does, or that she exists at all.

In addition to regularly updating #ShitMenSay with some of the more special messages (as I literally do not have time to post all of the abuse I receive), I regularly fight back on Twitter and other media. Again, I do so selectively because I do have a day job and actual research to conduct. If a troll, for example, tells me “What you need is a big, white d*ck” I am very likely to respond “I may or may not need one. But you don’t have one. So why are you contacting me.” I believe that these men should not be allowed to simply harass women with impunity. And I am taking steps to make sure that this is the case.


Many people have been appalled at the fact that I fight back using their own crude language. (Why would I use any other language if I actually want to communicate with said rube? He is unlikely to use a dictionary should I confuse him with polysyllabic words.) Journalists who have interviewed me recently have asked with some frequency, “don’t you think your response is inappropriate?” I am sure these journalists believe their question is well-intended even though the premise of the question is victim blaming. Would the same journalist ask a woman, who successfully fended off an attacker by crushing his trachea, “Did you really have to hurt that poor man’s trachea?” Most sentient people would immediately recognize the absurdity of the question. Yet the same persons think nothing of criticizing me when I fight back against online—or off line—harassment.


Some have even had the temerity to equate my self-defense with the actual offense in the first place. I do not pro-actively troll people. I do not find persons whose views I object to and harangue them. I do not send them sordid epistles in which I detail how I will violate them or why I disagree with them. I do not search for “normal, white men,” in the words of Richard Spencer, to intimidate and silence. (This assertion belies the white supremacist’s preposterous fears of agentic women by the way.) The only way a man—or woman—ends up in my blog #ShitMenSay is if they initiate harassment. The assertion that these men have a right to harass me without consequences is the most outrageous assertion of male privilege. Indeed, it hearkens back to a day when men believed that they should be able to sexually assault any woman in public because she was clearly asking for it just by virtue of participating in public life. This is, simply put, victim shaming and victim blaming.


It turns out that I have science on my side. The few studies that look at harassment find that the old adage that well-behaved girls should just “lay back and take it” is harmful. In a 2008 study of stranger harassment, the authors find that such harassment is a frequent experience for young women and has negative and significant impacts upon their well-being. However, the ways in which women responded to this harassment produced varying psychological impacts. Women who coped with this harassment using passive strategies tended to exhibit “self-objectification,” by which they regarded themselves as “mere sex objects, to experience body shame, and to chronically monitor their external appearance.” The experience of “self-objectification” also correlated with women’s fear of rape or risk of rape and compelled them to restrict their freedom of movement. In contrast, women who managed stranger harassment actively (e.g. by confronting the harasser) did not. In another study of women’s experience with and responses to street harassment, women who took action (by taking a photo of the harasser or reporting the harassment to an official) “appeared to experience less negative emotional impact than those who did not.” Whereas those who assertively responded tended to “describe emotional responses that were targeted outward (e.g., anger, surprise)” those who responded passively “described emotions that focused inwardly (e.g., embarrassment, helplessness, fear).” Unfortunately, there are no such similar studies of online harassment and the varying impacts of coping strategies, despite the urgent need for such studies.


The next time you are shocked or even appalled that a woman is fighting back on-line, maybe you should ask yourself why you are judging her. Instead of disparaging her for exerting her agency and exposing the revolting behavior of her abuser, you should instead focus your discomfiture and outrage with the harasser whose conduct precipitated the response. Any other response enables the abuser and further blames and shames a woman whose crime is that she refuses to take this abuse “like a lady.” And frankly, it has been my experience that being a lady is over-rated.

This originally ran in the Huffington Post on June 5, 2017.

American Democracy is on a Ventilator: Vichy Republicans Are Pulling the Plug


In America, democracy has never been but a dream deferred. The ‘founding fathers’ owned and raped those human beings they deemed subhuman because of their race; seized land from Native populations in what can only be described as genocide and believed that only white male landowners should vote.

America was literally founded upon white, Christian cis male supremacy. It has never atoned for its founding sins of slavery and genocide. In fact, many white Americans — including President Donald Trump — do not think doing so is even necessary. Meanwhile, the rest of us have been fighting and clawing for our rights since the founding of our republic. Republicans are seeking to steal the precious gains we have made in what can only be described as a war on democracy. Unfortunately, many Democrats thought that this battle could be fought — and won — at the ballot box on 6 November. They were wrong for several reasons.


First, demographic change coupled with our constitutional provisions ensures that the current tyranny of the minority, which rules over the majority, will expand. There is little that can be done to stop it. Currently, the majority of the Senate, which is our upper House and the most powerful of the two legislative Houses, is elected by a slight minority. By 2040, demographers predict that a meager one-third of Americans will elect two-thirds of this powerful institution. This is because Americans are fleeing to coastal states where jobs are and are likely to remain.

Equally, young persons who bristle at xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny and other bigotry that are common in their rural and peri-rural hometowns are flocking to America’s more cosmopolitan locales. Those left behind in the ‘red states’ are the most regressive Americans, most of whom vote Republican.

“Red State, Blue Cities”


While many democracies with a bicameral legislature provide for equal representation of the federating units in the upper House, these have little power. In the United States, the Senate holds the most significant powers to appoint justices to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary as well as to confirm Cabinet picks.

The anti-Democrat Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, abused his power in the last term of the Barack Obama administration to prevent any of the president’s judicial appointments from coming to a vote. Consequently, Trump has had the opportunity to appoint more than 100 judicial officials who have been vetted by the noxious Federalist Society to ensure that the nominees oppose a woman’s right to choose, support pro-business interests, and back the tycoon’s autocratic tendencies. Appallingly, McConnell declared that no judicial confirmations shall be made by a president unless his (sorry, ladies) party also controls the Senate.

Second, the same demographic future also ensures the dominance of the Republican Party in the selection of the president. The United States is not a direct democracy, but an indirect democracy through the system of the electoral college, which was devised to appease slave states after the Civil War. The number of electoral college votes for each state is equal to the number of congressional representatives. Astonishingly, most states award all the electoral votes to the winning presidential candidate: Only Maine and Nebraska have a variation of ‘proportional representation’. This system of ‘winner takes all’ helps explain why presidents like Trump lose the popular vote but become commander-in-chief by winning the electoral college.

Third, the House of Representatives is the only body where some modicum of competition remains in principle. In practice, these races are not competitive. In 2016, only 20 percent of the congressional races were competitive. This is due to gerrymandering, selective sorting of residents into ideologically coherent neighborhoods and myriad outright racist efforts by the Republican Party to prevent people of color from voting.

Fourth is the courts. Many Americans who are disgusted by the tyranny of this regime offer the Panglossian platitudes that our “courts will protect us”. The Supreme Court has been remade by Trump. Most observers expect this Republican court to overturn the Roe versus Wade ruling, which protects a woman’s right to choose, eviscerate hard-earned protections for LGBTQI community, rubber-stamp Trump’s abuse of power and further erode protections for American consumers and natural resources. Our courts will not protect the freedom of that majority of Americans who are not white cis males.

Fifth, the United States lacks an independent election commission or any dedicated body that can evaluate malfeasance in a race, declare results null and void, and order a do-over. This job falls to the courts and requires aggrieved parties to muster financial resources and file suit — America’s anemic Federal Election Commission only monitors campaign finances.

To make all of these structural outrages all the more discomfiting, the ‘red states’ labor under the delusion that the ‘blue states’ live off them — nothing is further from the truth. Blue states and blue cities are the economic engines of the United States: They literally subsidize the red state residents. They are so rich they can literally import their arugula. The red states have human development indicators that are more on par with developing nations than our developed peers.


America’s most economically productive Americans are the majority, yet we are ruled by a regressive minority. There are no easy remedies to resuscitate America’s choking democracy. The demographic shifts will not be halted because the people go where the opportunities are. Surely, a shift of power between the two Houses of the Congress would restore some modicum of democracy as would eliminating the anachronistic electoral college.

But why would the Republicans ever consider actual democratic reforms when the current tyranny secures their interests — perhaps in perpetuity? If the Republicans won’t desist from gerrymandering and robbing people of colour of their franchise, this treasonous party will surely resist constitutional change to rebalance power.

Another welcome innovation would be introducing term limits to Supreme Court justices’ tenures instead of the current system of lifetime appointments. Both parties will likely resist this change because they view such lifetime appointments as part of a president’s legacy.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to thwart liberal efforts to use the long-cherished principle of power devolution at city and state levels to circumvent Republican’s assertion of their vulgarian preferences upon cosmopolitans. Complete devolution of power may be the only way to resolve the emergence of two Americas: the Red State and Blue Cities. However, even while Republicans have historically championed a small federal government and devolution to local governments, they now seem to set reverse course since devolution is the antidote .


Without serious constitutional reforms, America has no hope of becoming a democracy. Americans cannot expect this to change with ‘get out the vote’ initiatives. What is needed is massive civil disobedience until these changes are enacted. If Americans are unwilling to mobilize to secure these changes, they deserve this tyranny, which will continue to masquerade as genuine democracy.

The writer has authored the books Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014) and In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (forthcoming 2018).

A shorter version of this post originally appeared in First Post on November 8, 2018.