पाकिस्तान और सऊदी अरब के बीच बिगड़े रिश्ते

सी. क्रिस्टीन फ़ैर

Nov 28, 2021 

31 अक्टूबर को, पाकिस्तान के प्रधान मंत्री ने सऊदी अरब को “वर्ष के दौरान $3 बिलियन जमा करने और $1.2 बिलियन विकाशन किया हुआ  पेट्रोलियम उत्पादों के वित्तीयन के लिए” उसकी हालिया प्रतिबद्धता के लिए कृतज्ञता व्यक्त की, और आगे कहा कि दोनों राज्य के दरमियान  “लंबे समय से भाईचारे और आपसी संबंध, जो साझा आस्था, साझा इतिहास और आपसी समर्थन पर आधारित हैं”|  इमरान खान ने आगे कहा कि यह कदम “दोनों राज्यों के बीच सदाबहार दोस्ती की पुष्टि करता है“।

यह वाकपटुता मात्र एक छोटा “अंजीर का पत्ता” है जो सत्य को छुपाता है: दोनों राज्यों के सम्बन्ध में लम्बे समय से तनाव है |  रियाद ने अब एक सौहार्दपूर्ण संबंध बनाने का प्रयास क्यों किया है? अफ़ग़निस्तान में हाल के घटनाक्रम और पाकिस्तान की तरफ़ ईरानी कहाव कुछ हद तक इस कदम की व्याख्या किये जा सकते, लेकिन भारत के साथ रियाद के बढ़ते आर्थिक संबंध सऊदी-पाकिस्तान संबंधों की सीमाओं को बाधित करेंगे।

जन्नत खतरे में है

पाकिस्तान और सऊदी अरब के संबंध सऊदी अरब के विशाल संपत्ति के अधिग्रहण से पहले के हैं। 1960 के दशक के दौरान, दोनों राज्यों ने पारस्परिक कारणों से एक-दूसरे को महत्व दिया। सऊदी ने सराहना की कि पाकिस्तान, मिस्र में जमाल अब्देल नासिर के समाजवादी शासन के प्रत्युपाय के रूप में, सऊदी के सशस्त्र बलों को सैन्य प्रशिक्षण प्रदान किया|  सऊदी अरब ने सैन्य प्रशिक्षण के लिए पाकिस्तान भेजा।  बाद में, 1960 के दशक के मध्य में एक समझौते के बाद, सेवानिवृत्त पाकिस्तानी सैन्य अधिकारी राज्य के सशस्त्र बलों के निर्माण के लिए सऊदी अरब गए|  इन अनुभवों  से, पाकिस्तान 1965 और 1971 में भारत से अपनी हार के बाद भी एक अंतरराष्ट्रीय उपस्थिति स्थापित कर सकता था| 

1970 के दशक के अंत में कई घटनाओं ने सऊदी की रुचि पाकिस्तान की सैन्य मदद से अपनी सुरक्षा को मजबूत करने में  बढ़ाई । इनमें विद्रोहियों द्वारा 1979 में मक्का में मस्जिद की घेराबंदी, ईरानी क्रांति, ईरान-इराक युद्ध और अफ़ग़निस्तान पर सोवियत आक्रमण शामिल हैं।

1981 तक, पाकिस्तान सरकार ने स्वीकार किया कि “सऊदी अरब में 1500 से 2,000 आदमी  सैनिक ड्यूटी पर हैं, जिसमें वे इंजीनियरिंग और प्रशिक्षण असाइनमेंट के रूप में वर्णित करते हैं“। बदले में, सऊदी अरब ने पाकिस्तान को शायद 1 अरब डॉलर का भुगतान किया। इस अवधि के दौरान, पश्चिमी ख़ुफ़िया एजेंसियां ​​पाकिस्तान के परमाणु बम बनाने के प्रयासों से अवगत थीं। 1980 के दशक के दौरान, पाकिस्तान सऊदी उदारता का लाभार्थी बन गया, और सऊदी अरब पाकिस्तान की सैन्य परिसंपत्ति से फ़ायदा उठाता गया।

जैसे-जैसे पाकिस्तान की आर्थिक स्थिति और गंभीर होती गई, सऊदी अरब पर उसकी निर्भरता गहरी होती चली गई। सऊदी अरब उपकृत करने से अधिक खुश था: इसने सब्सिडी वाले पाकिस्तानी तेल आयात करने के लिए कर्ज़ भुगतान स्थगित कर दिया; मदरसों के बड़े नेटवर्क बनाने में मदद की | सऊदी ने पाकिस्तान के 1998 के परमाणु परीक्षणों के बाद प्रतिबंधों के प्रभाव को कम कर दिया और बदले में, पाकिस्तान ने सऊदी अरब को सैन्य सहायता प्रदान की और अपने क्षेत्रीय हितों को बढ़ाने में मदद की|  इसके अलावा, सऊदी अरब में पाकिस्तानी प्रवासी श्रमिकों के विप्रेषित धन पाकिस्तान के कुल विदेशी प्रेषण धन का लगभग एक-चौथाई हिस्सा है, जबकि पाकिस्तान सऊदी अरब को बहुत आवश्यक मानव संसाधन प्रदान करते हैं।

सऊदी अरब पर पाकिस्तान की अत्यधिक वित्तीय निर्भरता को देखते हुए रियाद ने उम्मीद लगाई कि  पाकिस्तान यमन में सऊदी के क्रूर अभियान में जहाजों, विमानों और सैनिकों मे योगदान करेगा, परंतु जब पाकिस्तान ने से इनकार किया तो सऊदी अरब उग्र हो गया| सऊदी अरब यमन में सैन्य बल द्वारा राष्ट्रपति अब्दराबुह मंसूर हादी को बहाल करना चाहता है। सऊदी अरब को इस मिशन में पाकिस्तान की सहायता की उम्मीद थी, लेकिन अप्रैल 2015 में, पाकिस्तान की संसद ने तटस्थ रहने के लिए मतदान किया। तत्कालीन प्रधानमंत्री नवाज़ शरीफ़ के सऊदी अरब के साथ घनिष्ठ संबंधों के बावजूद, शरीफ़ कि सेना के विरोध ने उनकी सरकार को रियाद की नज़र में अविश्वसनीय बना दिया। रियाद की झुंझलाहट को शांत करने के लिए, पाकिस्तान ने सऊदी अरब और उसके सहयोगियों के साथ 2016 के “नॉर्थ थंडर” सैन्य अभ्यास में भाग लिया और इसके अतिरिक्त दोनों देशों के विशेष बलों के साथ संयुक्त अभ्यास किया।

शरीफ सरकार ने अतिरिक्त रूप से 1,000 से अधिक सैनिकों को सऊदी अरब में भेजा, जिसने सऊदी अरब में पहले से तैनात 1,600 को “इस्लामी पवित्र स्थलों को सुरक्षित करने और अन्य आंतरिक सुरक्षा भूमिकाओं में सेवा करने” के लिए बढ़ाया।  नवंबर 2017 में शरीफ की सरकार सऊदी के नेतृत्व में इस्लामिक मिलिट्री काउंटर-टेररिज्म गठबंधन में शामिल हो गई, जिसमें 41 इस्लामिक देशों के सैनिकों ने भाग लिया। पाकिस्तान के सेवानिवृत्त सेना प्रमुख राहील शरीफ ने समूह की कमान संभाली। इस गठबंधन का उद्देश्य पूरे मुस्लिम दुनिया में आतंकवादी समूहों और उनकी गतिविधियों से लड़ना था।

अगस्त 2018 में, पाकिस्तान सेना ने इमरान खान को प्रधानमंत्री के रूप में चुना, जो कि रावलपिंडी और इस्लामाबाद के बीच अधिक से अधिक संरेखण का सुझाव दे रहा था । एक संक्षिप्त अवधि के लिए, प्रधान मंत्री खान और सऊदी क्राउन प्रिंस मोहम्मद बिन सलमान ने मिलनसार का आनंद लिया| 

जैसे ही खान प्रधान मंत्री बने, वैसे ही पाकिस्तान की सेना ने रियाद से एक आर्थिक पैकेज हासिल कर लिया था और क्राउन प्रिंस ने व्यक्तिगत रूप से खान को निवेश पर एक सम्मेलन में भाग लेने के लिए किंगडम आने के लिए आमंत्रित किया था। अमेरिका में रहने वाले एक विरोधी सऊदी पत्रकार जमाल खशोगी की 2018 की हत्या के बाद प्रतिष्ठापूर्ण आमंत्रित लोगों ने सम्मेलन में भाग लेने से इनकार कर दिया था । सम्मेलन के एक महीने के भीतर, 3 अरब डॉलर के ऋण में से पहला $1 बिलियन पाकिस्तान को दिया गया था।

 क्षेत्र में रियाद के कनिष्ठ साथी, अबू धाबी ने एक तुलनीय पेशकश की। एक कुशल ग्राहक को पुरस्कृत करने के लिए, फरवरी 2019 में, मोहम्मद बिन सलमान ग्वादर में एक अरामको तेल रिफाइनरी सहित, $20 बिलियन की परियोजनाओं के साथ, व्यवसायियों के एक दल के साथ इस्लामाबाद पहुंचे| (2021 में, सऊदी ने रिफाइनरी परियोजना को कराची में स्थानांतरित करा ।) मार्च 2019 में, पाकिस्तान ईरान के ख़िलाफ़ सऊदी के नेतृत्व वाले गठबंधन में शामिल हो गया | पाकिस्तान की भागीदारी ने राज्य के प्रति पाकिस्तान की प्रतिबद्धता के बारे में रियाद की चिंताओं को कम कर दिया।

एक अल्पकालिक राहत

अगस्त 2019 में, भारत ने कश्मीर के विशेष दर्जे को समाप्त कर दिया। दिल्ली के इस फैसले से पाकिस्तान नाराज था|  सऊदी अरब और संयुक्त अरब अमीरात के इस मामले पर चुप्पी साधे रहने और ऐसे ही बने रहने से पाकिस्तान और परेशान हो गया था| इसके विपरीत तुर्की और मलेशिया ने पाकिस्तान के साथ मिलकर इस फ़ैसले का विरोध किया| तीन देशों ने भारत के साहसिक कदम के बारे में अरबों को आगाह करते हुए एक वैकल्पिक इस्लामिक ब्लॉक बनाने का विचार किया। 

मलेशिया ने दिसंबर में एक शिखर सम्मेलन निर्धारित किया। मलेशिया के प्रधानमंत्री ने सूचित किया कि यह “इस्लामिक सहयोग के निष्क्रिय, सऊदी-प्रभुत्व वाले संगठन के लिए एक वैकल्पिक ब्लॉक के रूप में कार्य करेगा।” अंततः, सऊदी धमकियों के तहत, पाकिस्तान कुआलालंपुर शिखर सम्मेलन से हट गया, जिसमें सऊदी के क्षेत्रीय प्रतिद्वंद्वियों ने, यानी कतर, तुर्की और ईरान, भाग लिया था

कश्मीर को उसके विशेष दर्जे से छीनने के भारत के फैसले की बरसी पर, और सऊदी की निष्क्रियता से हताशा होने के बाद, पाकिस्तान के विदेश मंत्री, शाह महमूद कुरैशी, ने मांग की कि सऊदी अरब इस मामले पर नेतृत्व दिखाए और ओ.आई.सी की एक विशेष बैठक बुलाए। अगर रियाद ने इनकार करा, तो कुरैशी ने मलेशिया, तुर्की और ईरान की ओर रुख करने की धमकी दी, जिन्होंने इस मामले में पाकिस्तान का साथ दिया| 

रियाद खुश नहीं था। उन्होंने मांग की कि पाकिस्तान तुरंत 1 बिलियन डॉलर का भुगतान करे, जो नवंबर 2018 में पाकिस्तान को दिए गए 3 बिलियन डॉलर का हिस्सा था|  अब जब चीन ने पाकिस्तान की मदद के लिए कदम बढ़ाया है , एक महत्वपूर्ण सवाल लटका हुआ है:  सहायता पर निर्भर पाकिस्तान के पास अपने उपकारी के ऊपर क्या उद्यामन है?

क्या भविष्य?

सच तो यह है कि सऊदी अरब ने भी दीवार पर लिखावट देखी है। 2019-20 में, भारत और सऊदी अरब के बीच द्विपक्षीय व्यापार 44 बिलियन डॉलर से अधिक का था, जबकि पाकिस्तान के साथ व्यापार केवल 3.6 बिलियन डॉलर था। मोहम्मद बिन सलमान को नकदी की परवाह है, न कि मुस्लिम दुनिया में मंजस्य।

इस वास्तव पर जोर देने के लिए, मोहम्मद बिन सलमान ने झिंजियांग में चीन की नीतियों का समर्थन किया, जिसे अन्य राज्यों ने “जातिसंहार” घोषित किया है। चीन सऊदी अरब का सबसे बड़ा व्यापारिक साझेदार है।

हालाँकि, सऊदी अरब इस क्षेत्र के सबसे महत्वपूर्ण घटनाक्रमों से बाहर रह गया है: अफ़ग़निस्तान में तालिबान की जीत जो पाकिस्तान के अथक सैन्य, राजनयिक और राजनीतिक समर्थन के कारण संभव हुई। 2013 में, तालिबान ने दोहा में अपना पहला विदेशी कार्यालय खोला। कतर सऊदी अरब का अहम प्रतिद्वंद्वी है| उस समय  से, दोहा और चीन ने, पाकिस्तान, तुर्की और अमेरिका के साथ-साथ, सऊदी अरब के बिना, अफ़ग़निस्तान कि घटनाओं मे अपना प्रभाव डाल दिया है| 

कई वर्षों तक अपने क्षेत्रीय प्रतिद्वंद्वियों द्वारा ग्रहण किए जाने के बाद, सऊदी अरब इस क्षेत्र में अपनी प्रमुखता को फिर से स्थापित करना चाहता है। हालांकि सऊदी अरब पाकिस्तान के इशारे पर भारत के साथ संबंधों को सीमित नहीं करेगा, वह ईरान के साथ संबंधों को फिर से स्थापित करने के लिए पाकिस्तान के प्रलोभन को सीमित करना चाहता है। बीजिंग के साथ पाकिस्तान की साझेदारी, जो लगभग पूरी तरह से कर्ज पर आधारित है, सऊदी अरब की जगह नहीं ले सकती, जिसका अभी भी मुस्लिम दुनिया में बहुत प्रभाव है। हालांकि पाकिस्तान को कश्मीर पर सऊदी समर्थन नहीं मिलेगा, वह रियाद के चेक को भुनाकर पूरी तरह से खुश है।

A version of this was published in the Indian Star on 28 November 2021.

The Unfinished Business of the 1971 War

The signing of the Instrument of Surrender

On December 16, 1971, Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi, the Commander of the Pakistan Eastern Command, signed the Instrument of Surrender in Ramna Race Course in Dacca which was signed and accepted by  Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of India’s Eastern Command. This formally concluded the military conflict that is usually called the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. However, this nomenclature elides and even eclipses several distinct wars that culminated in Pakistan’s surrender. Oddly, while biographic accounts, which are frequently blatantly self-serving,  there are relatively few empirically robust accounts of this conflict, most of which focus upon the most visible dimension of the war: that between Pakistan and India. 

These lacunae are important because these other battles that culminated in the bilateral conflict continue to cast shadows over the region that are as long as those of the 1971 conflict between India and Pakistan. Notably, Bangladesh has never fulfilled its potential and remains a secular democracy in retreat. Pakistan learned the wrong lessons of the war and concluded that repressing and exploiting disgruntled minorities is a viable tool of domestic statecraft. Despite decisively defeating Pakistan, India was never able to build upon that victory to impose a settlement of the Kashmir issue in line with Delhi’s equities.  In retrospect, while Pakistan may have lost that battle, in many other ways Pakistan and its project of Islamist violence seem to have won the larger and enduring war. Let me explain.

The Wars 

The first conflict was a domestic conflict between Pakistan’s ethnic majority Bengalis, who dominated East Pakistan, and the ruling elite in West Pakistan. This conflict was apparent as early as 1952 when Bengalis began mobilizing to force the state to recognize Bengali as a national language. On February 21 and 22 that year, the Pakistani armed forces murdered several students as well as numerous others in indiscriminate fire. This internal conflict precipitously expanded after the ruling junta of General Yahya Khan refused to convene the parliament following the 1970 elections in which the East Pakistan-based Awami League, led by Mujibur Rahman, decisively defeated Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party. 

The consequences of these elections were monumental because the victors were tasked with writing Pakistan’s third constitution. Mujibur Rahman’s party, under the banner of the Six Points Agenda, had long advocated for greater federalism; separate convertible currencies; fiscal responsibility to be delegated to the federating units; as well as the right to maintain a separate militia. Each of these demands was in response to the west’s cultural, economic, and linguistic oppression; exclusion from the military and bureaucracy; as well as consistent and calibrated efforts to deprive Bengalis of their legitimate share of political power. The political elites in the west, speer-headed by General Yahya and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, wanted a strong federal government and found the Awami League’s Six-Point Agenda to be a thinly veiled demand for outright cessation. 

Despite winning too few seats to veto any constitution offered by the Awami League, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto refused to let his party participate in any convening of the parliament and made absurd demands for a power-sharing agreement. After Mujibur Rehman refused to cede and insisted upon the Awami League’s right to form the government, General Yahya Khan commenced Operation SearchLight, which was a brutal and thuggish military operation to disarm the Bengalis. 

As refugees began fleeing into India, the second phase of the war began: a proxy war between India and Pakistan. With the monsoons looming, India had few military operations at hand. Given the riverine terrain of Bangladesh, any military operations had to wait until the monsoons’ conclusion. To ensure that China would not intervene on its client’s behalf, India would have to wait until winter when snow would preclude Chinese movements through the mountain passes. In addition to these meteorological and geographical constraints, India was ill-equipped to undertake military action in the spring of 1971. India used the summer to reposition forces from the west to the east and construct necessary infrastructure to support military operations while seeking diplomatic support from Russia and imploring the United States to counsel Pakistan to end what was clearly ethnic cleansing in East Pakistan. 

US President Richard Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, were unmoved by India’s requests even though the United States did provide a significant amount of aid to subsidize in some measure the enormous and growing cost of caring for the refugees who continued to pour into India. While initially, the refugees were both Hindu and Muslim it soon became evident from the fact that the refugees were increasingly Hindu that the West Pakistani forces were cleansing Hindu Bengalis from the country. At independence, about one in four Pakistanis were non-Muslim minorities, most of whom were Bengali Hindus in East Pakistan.

The Nixon administration was unconcerned about the munting atrocities because it was commencing an unprecedented diplomatic overture to China and it chose Yahya Khan to be its mediator. Despite popular opinion otherwise, the Nixon administration had two other European-based alternatives to Yahya Khan. Gary Bass makes a compelling case that Nixon chose Yahya both because he and Kissinger had a deep personal affection for him– and even compared him to General Grant of the American Civil Wa–and because they had a personal, visceral, and deeply misogynistic hatred for India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. However, even after Nixon had secured a personal connection to China and no longer needed Yahya’s intercession, Nixon refused to make the slightest appeals to Yahya to cease what Archer Blood, the American Counsel in Dhaka, and other dissenting state department officials described as a “genocide.” The Nixon administration even beseeched China to feign intervention in the hopes of deterring Indian involvement in the war.

While India prepared for the larger war, the proxy war continued and intensified. Throughout the summer it trained and equipped the Bengali Resistance while also mentoring the shambolic, disorganized and ineffective Bengali political elites. As India supported this rag-tag collection of non-state actors to challenge Pakistan’s formidable armed forces, Pakistan too worked through a number of Islamist militant organizations, including the notoriously violent student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. By the end of the summer, India was providing artillery support to the Bengali insurgents who battled Pakistani state and non-state combatants. East Pakistan became a killing field.

While it is unpopular to say so: the Bengalis, in and out of the resistance, also victimized non-Bengali and even Bengali “collaborationist” non-combatants in the East. This fact renders any actual assessment of war’s noncombatant casualties impossible with extant data, which is deeply problematic. The Pakistanis wish to undercount the atrocities.  The Bangladeshis wish to overcount them. India for its part does not declassify documents pertaining to the war at all. While one may disagree with some of Sarmila Bose’s conclusions in her book, Dead Reckoning, her critique of extant data and analytical methodologies are insightful.  

The third, conventional, war officially commenced on 3 December when Pakistan’s Air Force conducted preemptive strikes on forward Indian airbases and radar installations. This too was a formality given the growing intensity of the proxy war before the official onset of the bilateral confrontation. 

When the war ended on 16 December 1971, Pakistan was vivisected with East Pakistan emerging as an independent Bangladesh. Some 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the Indian Armed Forces and were taken to India as POWs.  Pakistan lost more than half of its population and about 15% of its territory.  However, 61% of the 54,500 square miles of land lost in the east was arable in contrast to a meager 21 percent of the 310,000 square miles it retained. All said and done, the Pakistan army was reviled for losing the east, which allowed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to ruthlessly rule the west until General Zia ul Haq ousted him in a coup in July 1977.  

Who Won the Forever War?

India successfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed the July 1972 Shimla Accord with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. This accord formally concluded the political conclusion of the war.  Despite being the clear victor in the war, India bizarrely acquiesced to most of Pakistan’s demands, including India’s relinquishing of the 5,800 square miles of territory it captured in the west, the repatriation of the 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war, assurance that Bangladesh would not conduct war crimes trials against Pakistani military personal, and the inviolable viability of its long-standing, if baseless, claims on the disputed disposition of Kashmir.  India and Pakistan respectively retained the territory seized in Kashmir and a new Line of Control was defined where once the Cease Fire Line stood. 

India’s aims at Shimla were modest despite vivisecting the country, most notably securing Pakistan’s commitment to resolving outstanding disputes peacefully and bilaterally. Indian participants aver that Bhutto had agreed to make the Line of the Control the de jure border when times were more propitious to do so. He argued that this would require time given the public outrage of the outcome of the war and that to cede Pakistan’s long-nursed position on Kashmir would be political suicide. Some Indian interlocutors justify India’s appeasement of Pakistan as a strategic decision to not impose a “Treaty of Versailles”-like condition upon Pakistan. India also interpreted the accord as a potential victory because Pakistan’s agreement to settle disputes bilaterally obviated any scope for the United Nations or other bilateral or multilateral involvement.

Unsurprisingly, Pakistan has never honored its commitment to resolve outstanding disputes peacefully nor did it ever move to make the Line of Control the de jure border. In fact, Pakistan now claims that no such agreement was ever considered and continues in an unending effort to change maps in Kashmir through low-intensity conflict, proxy war, and terrorism. 

Not only has Pakistan never abided by this accord, but the Pakistan that emerged from the war ironically was also stronger than it was pre-war despite losing a significant amount of valuable territory and more than half of its population.  The Pakistan that survived was more defensible, more ideologically coherent, had significantly fewer non-Muslim minorities, and strategically positioned to extract rents by collaborating with the United States on occasion while actively furthering its own agenda at the same time. Unfettered by the problematic Bengalis, Pakistan was able to seek financial, diplomatic, and political support from the Gulf State Monarchies which, in turn, enabled Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to fulfill his dream of developing, in his own words, an “Islamic Bomb.”  

Bhutto also began the jihad in Afghanistan in 1973 following the ouster of King Zahir Shah by his cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan. Khan began an aggressive liberalizing campaign and brutally oppressed any opposition among the Communist and Islamist ranks alike. Bhutto, along with the ISI, deftly organized the Islamists who fled to Pakistan into seven effective guerilla groups. Pakistan did this with its own meager resources because doing so was critical to securing Pakistan’s own enduring interests in Afghanistan. The United States would not become involved in this conflict until many years later, despite Pakistan’s frequent requests for US support.

In fact, in 1979, President Carter sanctioned Pakistan for its progress in nuclear reprocessing thanks in large measure to Bhutto’s perseveration. Once President Reagan was inaugurated in 1981 he began securing waivers for those sanctions, which came through in 1982 after which the United States–along with Saudi Arabia and China–provided massive overt and covert resources to Pakistan. In fact, throughout the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the United States continued funding Pakistan even though US officials understood it was still advancing its nuclear weapons program. While the United States reimposed sanctions in 1990, Pakistan was once again able to resurrect its strategic importance in the wake of 9/11. While ostensibly working with the United States, it received over $34 billion even while actively supporting myriad terrorist organizations such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network and working to undermine US efforts in Afghanistan. While benefiting from American assistance, Pakistan became the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile and has likely outgrown that of France while also developing battlefield nuclear weapons. Pakistan remains both able and willing to undermine India’s quest for hegemony in South Asia and beyond. 

During the same period, those who struggled to free the Bengalis of East Pakistan from West Pakistan’s project of subordinating ethnic identity to that of an army-sponsored project of political Islam and establish an independent Bangladesh on the principles of secular democracy failed to create a durable democratic state with a broad consensus on secularism. Within a few years, Mujibur Rehman and most of his family were murdered in a bloody coup. He left a legacy of corruption and authoritarianism that resembled that of Pakistan’s own civilian autocrat, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. After a tumultuous power struggle, by 1977 General Ziaur Rahman was in control of the country. He removed secularism from the constitution and began revivifying the Jamaat-e-Islami, which the Awami League had illegalized because of its extensive collaboration with Pakistani forces in committing countless atrocities. By 1988, Bangladesh’s next military leader, General Ershad declared Islam to be the state religion. 

While Bangladesh returned to democracy in 1990, the two main political parties vied for power and the right to rule rather than the privilege of governing. While the right of center Bangladesh National Party, “led” by Khaleda Zia (the widow of Ziaur Rahman) is reviled for its explicit reliance upon the Jamaat-e-Islami among other regressive Islamist parties, the Awami League, “led” by Sheikh Hasina (the daughter of Mujibur) has also courted Islamist parties for the purposes of retaining control. Hasina long ago instituted one-woman rule secured through electoral malfeasance, misuse of legal instruments to harass her opponents, and other oppressive state tactics to silence her growing numbers of increasingly vocal critics across broad swathes of civil society. Even though Bangladesh’s Supreme Court declared the constitutional amendments of previous military dictators illegal and presumably restored the principle of secularism as a fundamental tenant of the Constitution, Hasina has retained Islam as the state religion even as religious minorities continue to suffer persecution under her watch.  India’s desire to create a secular and democratic Bangladesh and forestall an emergence of another “Pakistan on the east,” has not fructified and is unlikely to in any policy-relevant future.  

Is India Any Safer?

Is India safer today than it was before vivisecting Pakistan in December 1971? India now faces a country of uncertain future on the east and a Pakistan that is ever more committed to using violence in pursuit of its policies at home and abroad while enjoying complete immunity from consequences and impunity to continue with its sanguinary tactics to force its will upon Afghans as well as Indians–especially Kashmiris. While British unwillingness to adopt coercive policies towards Pakistan can be explained by the political power of British Pakistanis, the Americans have consistently demonstrated that it has too little political will to consider means of constraining Pakistan even as Pakistan continues to engage in nuclear coercion and proxy warfare under its ever-expanding nuclear umbrella. Thus while India and the United States continue to forge important breakthroughs in their bilateral relationship–inclusive of defense, intelligence, and space cooperation– India has had very little success in weaning the Americans off of its inexplicable belief in Pakistan’s indispensability in managing security in South Asia even though Pakistan is the principal progenitor of this very insecurity.  It seems as if no Pakistani outrage is ever enough to persuade Americans to see Pakistan as the enemy rather than a problematic ally that can be motivated through a magical concoction of inducement. If the discovery of Osama Bin Laden in an Abbattobad safehouse a short distance from the presumably hallowed Pakistan Military Academy wasn’t an adequate motivation, one would have thought that defeating the US-led forces in Afghanistan through its unstinting support for the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network among numerous other terrorist groups should have. Instead of availing of a diminished logical dependence upon Pakistan to maintain the war in Afghanistan and adopting a coercive and punitive approach towards Pakistan–perhaps in line with the US approach to Iran–Washington in fact facilitated the hand over of Afghanistan to Pakistan via its proxies, the Taliban. Moreover, with the American embassy in Kabul closed, the United States seems poised to continue its reliance upon Pakistan’s ostensible expertise in catching the very snakes it continues to farm. 

Pakistan never suffered any punishment of consequence for its relentless persecution of its Bengali population and indeed learned a very important lesson. Namely, it can continue to violently harass, harangue, oppress and even kill its own domestic critics–often with American weaponry. The world is so numb to Pakistan’s barbarism that it no longer registers significant outcry beyond the limited purview of human rights organizations. Moreover, Pakistan long ago learned that not only can it abscond for its domestic bloodshed, but it also continues to enjoy impunity in its brutal interference in the affairs of its neighbors. While Pakistan has learned lessons, the United States has learned nothing. Americans will continue working with Pakistan, motivated by short-term-policy prerogatives. Sadly it will do so even at the expense of long-term American security interests because Pakistan invests the fungible American and international assistance into the very assets its uses to coerce the international community: nuclear weapons and terrorists. 

In turn, India continues to struggle with defense reforms; the deafening silence of nonexistent inter-ministerial debates about what kind of threats India will face; the kinds of defense requirements it needs to manage if not confront those threats; and how to source these systems much less integrate them. China continues its belligerent rise along India’s borders and within India’s near and far strategic environment. Worse yet, China is doing so by working through India’s nemeses: Pakistan and the odious Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

It’s hard to escape the discomfiting conclusion that Pakistan, despite losing the battle for East Pakistan in 1971, continues winning the wars.

A version of this was published in The Print on 14 December 2021.

An Exercise in Critical thinking: Detecting and Assessing the “Pseudo-Profound Bullshit” over Balakot

The Assignment

For this assignment, there is no “correct answer;” rather, I want to see evidence that you have discerned what is known; what is unknown but knowable with reasonable resources, and unknowable for all reasonable intents, purposes and resources.

Your Task

While no one doubts that India launched a strike, significant questions persist. Your memo should address each of these below questions to the best of your group’s ability.

  1. Did Indian aircraft attack Balakot after crossing into Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? The weapon India claims to have used, Spice, is an Israeli stand-off weapon that could have reached Balakot having been fired from India’s side of the line of control. (See the map below.)
  2. How many JeM cadres were killed in the attack?
  3. How much of the structure did India destroy?
  4. Did India shoot down an F-16? (Note that the United States clarified that Pakistan did fly an F-16. A Foreign Policy article claims that the USG did an inventory of F-16s and found none missing. How likely is it that the United States could have done such an inventory when this article was written? Who would tell the journalist such a thing? Did the journalist find a supporting source that independently could support this claim? How long was this journalist working this beat? What is her expertise to detect and evaluate Bullshit? (See note below on the structure and function of Bullshit.) Note that the US Dept of Defense subsequently repudiated this report noting that it did not do such a study. Does the United States know what happened? (My view? Yes.) What incentive does Washington have to inveigh on the truth of Balakot? Consider how ‘the truth” would affect relations with the involved country?
  5. Discuss the relative credibility of Indian and Pakistani government sources having read claims up to the present to provide an overall assessment of which side won the “information war.”

You will draft a formal memo of 1,000 words (max) along with a table described below. This memo should be well-cited using footnotes. Footnotes may only contain references and no additional explanatory prose. For this reason, citations do not count towards the word limit. The word count of the table does not count towards the 1,000-word limit. The table is essentially a graphic summary of your conclusions.

I strongly recommend the following structure for your memo:

  1. Introduction with a roadmap.
  2. Data and Methods. Here you discuss your general empirical approach. You may want to do technical research on the Spice Weapons System. You may want to do more research on how many parachutes the MiG Bison deploys (hint: drogue chute).
  3. A section that addresses questions 1–4.
  4. Conclusion with a discussion of Question Five.

Note: My views on this subject are well-known. No one should feel compelled to reproduce my thinking. I don’t want y’all to be clones of me. This is my chance to learn from you and your collective expertise. Every past semester, my students taught me a lot and I’m looking forward to learning from you!

Your memo should have an annex that fills out the following table:

The most important consideration of this assignment? I want you to have fun and be curious and go down rabbit holes as needed. Feel free to consult with others in and beyond the class, but you are responsible for your own work. All Honor Code strictures apply.

WHAT IS BULLSHIT?

Professor Harry G. Frankfurt lays out the problem of Bullshit that while we repine about its noxious and ubiquitous presence, we have little understanding of what it actually is. He writes that that “we have no theory” of or for Bullshit. He sets for himself a heroic task: to develop a “theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.”

He does not consider the ample rhetorical uses and abuses of Bullshit; rather he aims “to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not — or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate, more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept.” For Frankfurt, Bullshit is “something that is designed to impress but that was constructed absent direct concern for the truthThis distinguishes bullshit from lying, which entails a deliberate manipulation and subversion of truth (as understood by the liar).”

As Pennycook et al. observe in “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit,” Bullshit differs from mere nonsense in that Bullshit “implies but does not contain adequate meaning or truth. This is akin to what Buekens and Boudry (2015), drawing from Ludwig Wittgenstein, referred to as obscurantism which implies a

“deliberate move on behalf of the speaker, who is accused of setting up a game of verbal smoke and mirrors to suggest depth and insight where none exists. The suspicion is, furthermore, that the obscurantist does not have anything meaningful to say and does not grasp the real intricacies of his subject matter, but nevertheless wants to keep up appearances, hoping that his reader will mistake it for profundity. This promise of a deep insight into intriguing subject matters is often sufficient to lure the audience into a futile quest for understanding.”

Moreover, this sort of Bullshit, according to Pennycook et al., comprises
Pseudo-Profound Bullshit. While Pseudo-Profound Bullshit may be one of several types, Pennycook et al. dilate upon Pseudo-Profound Bullshit “because it represents a rather extreme point on what could be considered
a spectrum of bullshit.”

I hope that you will find this formalization of Bullshit generally and Pseudo-Profound Bullshit specifically to be useful as you set upon this task.

BACKGROUND TO THE CREATION AND PROMULGATION OF PSEUDO-PROFOUND BULLSHIT OVER BALAKOT

Known Details. On 14 February 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) dispatched a Kashmiri suicide bomber to attack a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicles in the Pulwama district of the then state Jammu and Kashmir. (As of August 2019, the erstwhile state has been reorganized into two Union Territories of Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir.) Analysts typically refer to this attack as the “2019 Pulwama attack.”

By most accounts, 40 CRPF personnel died in this assault for which JeM accepted responsibility. This attack was notable for several reasons: 1. It was the first use of a suicide attack since the JeM December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament; 2. This was the first time that a local Kashmiri boy (Adil Dar, 20) was the suicide attacker instead of a Pakistani; 3. The attacker released a “martyrdom video.” Note that there is no dispute about any of the above facts in the open-source domain.

“Pulwama Attack 2019,” India Today, updated 16 February 2019. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pulwama-attack-2019-everything-about-jammu-and-kashmir-terror-attack-on-crpf-by-terrorist-adil-ahmed-dar-jaish-e-mohammad-1457530-2019-02-16 (Links to an external site.)

Joanna Slater and Niha Masih, “At least 38 killed in deadliest attack on security forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 3 decades, The Washington Post, 14 February 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/at-least-18-killed-in-deadliest-attack-on-indian-security-forces-in-kashmir-in-years/2019/02/14/cf8d01c8-3054-11e9-8ad3-9a5b113ecd3c_story.html (Links to an external site.)

In response, the Modi government launched a punitive air raid on 26 February targeting a JeM base at Balakot, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The Indian government variously claimed that it killed hundreds of terrorists (see Martin Howell and Salhuddin, “Inside the Pakistani madrasa where India said it killed hundreds of ‘terrorists’,” Reuters.com, 11 April 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-kashmir-pakistan-madrasa/inside-the-pakistani-madrasa-where-india-said-it-killed-hundreds-of-terrorists-idUSKCN1RN0XT (Links to an external site.)) and destroyed many of the JeM facilities. However, there were immediate doubts about India’s claims.

Map (Links to an external site.):

For articles disputing these varied claims see:

Amos Chappel, “Misinformation Flies After Kashmir Air Battles,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, 1 March 2019. https://www.rferl.org/a/misinformation-after-clash-between-india-and-pakistan/29798194.html (Links to an external site.).

Martin Howell, Gerry Doyle (Links to an external site.)Simon Scarr (Links to an external site.), “Satellite images show buildings still standing at Indian bombing site,” Reuters.com, 5 March 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-kashmir-pakistan-airstrike-insi/satellite-images-show-buildings-still-standing-at-indian-bombing-site-idUSKCN1QN00V (Links to an external site.).

Elizabeth Roche, “IAF jets hit 5 out of 6 targets in Balakot air strike,” LiveMint, 25 April 2019, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/iaf-jets-hit-5-out-of-6-targets-in-balakot-air-strike-1556168713573.html (Links to an external site.).

Marcus Hellyer (Links to an external site.)Nathan Ruser (Links to an external site.) and Aakriti Bachhawat (Links to an external site.), “India’s Balakot Strike: A very precise Miss?” The Strategist, 25 March 2019. https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/indias-strike-on-balakot-a-very-precise-miss/ (Links to an external site.).

The Dog Fight and the “Mystery” of the F-16

On 26 February 2019, Pakistan attempted to retaliate by dispatching several aircraft (allegedly F-16s among them) to attack targets in Indian-administered Kashmir. India scrambled aircraft from various positions and a dogfight ensued. India claims it repulsed the strike package while Pakistan claimed that it retreated after releasing its payload. (See “Surgical strikes 2.0: Pakistani jets turned back due to size of IAF formation, claim reports,” The Economic Times, 26 February 2019.
//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68163928.cms?from=mdr&utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Links to an external site.).)

What is known is that Pakistan shot down a MiG Bison which landed on Pakistani territory. Pakistan took the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan, into custody. He was returned amidst much drama, and after a controversial tea commercial, several days later.

India claims that prior to being shot down, Abhinandan locked onto a Pakistani F-16 and shot it down before being shot down himself. Indian officials, such as the then-Air Chief, as well as the Twiteratti launched an all-out offensive to prove that this F-16 was in fact shot down by Abhinandan. They asserted the following;

  1. Pakistan initially claimed that it had shot down two IAF aircraft. However, in the end, it shot down only one. They argue that Pakistan mistook its own second downed aircraft for one of India’s aircraft from its strike package. What other explanation could account for Pakistan’s initial claims?
  2. Indian commentators among others circulated this video from an Indian think-tank analyst based in Bangalore (https://twitter.com/nitingokhale/status/1114193393415016449 (Links to an external site.)).

The video contains an image of several falling objects. Note the different rates at which they fall. The audio is clearly in a village-accented Punjabi; however, there is nothing definitively asserted by the villagers in the video. The persons heard speaking are debating how many persons and/or parachutes they saw and they are discussing among themselves how many “chutes” and “bandas” (persons) they saw. What do you see in this image? Consider why different objects are falling at very different rates. Why might this be? You will want to investigate the issue of a “drogue chute.”

Some Indian commentators assert that this video “proves” that India shot down an F-16. Does it? [What do we know about the pedigree of this video?]

  1. Indian papers published photos of the F-16 pilot whose aircraft was shot down. Indian media even claimed that Pakistani mobs attacked their own pilot mistaking him for an Indian (http://www.catchnews.com/national-news/shocking-mob-mistaken-pakistani-f-16-jet-shot-down-by-abhinandan-as-indian-lynched-own-pilot-to-death-151473.html (Links to an external site.)). India alleged that the downed F16 pilot was the son of a previous air marshal (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/abhinandan-downed-f16-pilot-died-media-was-censored-pak-lawyer-in-london/articleshow/68237172.cms (Links to an external site.)), which appears to be untrue by the name the Indians released (the air marshal has no son by that name). The Pakistanis also published dubious reports that the ostensibly non-existent fellow is in fact “alive.” Does the person not exist or does he exist but is alive? Why is this still a mystery?
  2. India’s Air Chief began circulating “radar” images from India’s AWACS that “prove” that India shot down an F-16. Think critically about this evidence. What does it really show? How do we know that it is actually a radar image? What –if anything — can we say about this imagery? The images are available here (among other places): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvVVeg-k9Qk.
  3. Several sources claim to have “‘irrefutable evidence’ that our MiG-21 shot down Pakistani F-16, says IAF,” Times of India, 8 April 2019. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68780475.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst (Links to an external site.).

See also Sameer Joshi, “In PAF Lies and Subterfuge,” The Print, 7 April 2019, https://theprint.in/defence/in-paf-lies-subterfuge-f-16-tail-number-paf-pilot-both-hidden-to-serve-myth/218125/ (Links to an external site.).

Sameer Joshi, a former pilot, and “talking head” on Air Force issues, continued to present “new evidences” well after the event lapsed. See Sameer Joshi, “Eight Pieces of Clinching Evidence,” The Print, 20 August, 2019, https://theprint.in/defence/8-pieces-of-clinching-evidence-that-show-how-iafs-abhinandan-shot-down-a-pakistani-f-16/278752/ (Links to an external site.).

For fun and games check out this “exchange” of yours truly with the Indian Air Chief and Mr. Sameer Joshi (who blocked yours truly on Twitter after this event):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiAxUfX3_vk (Links to an external site.)

You should also watch the video which is embedded in this article.

Sumit Kumar Singh, “Indian Air Force shows radar images to shoot down Pakistan’s lies: India has irrefutable proof that Pakistan lost an F-16 during an aerial combat with the Indian Air Force on February 27, Air Force Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor said on Monday, putting to rest questions raised on the Balakot strike,” DNAIndia.com, 9 April 2019. https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-indian-air-force-shows-radar-images-to-shoot-down-pakistan-s-lies-2737745 (Links to an external site.).

Warning: Social media was flooded with various complex graphics demonstrating that Pakistan flew F-16s and that India shot one down. (See the Twitter feeds of noted think-tank analysts:

Nitin Gokhale: https://twitter.com/nitingokhale/status/1101008776973377536 (Links to an external site.)

Defence360_Official: https://twitter.com/defence_360/status/1101128394371096577 (Links to an external site.)

Among numerous others including https://www.bellingcat.com/news/rest-of-world/2019/03/02/falcon-vs-bison-verifying-a-mig-21-wreck/ (Links to an external site.).

CONSUME THIS STUFF VERY CAUTIOUSLY AND WITH GREAT SKEPTICISM.

However, aviation wonks in the US and elsewhere immediately cast doubt on the various “irrefutable evidence” as being highly if not easily refutable. See articles here:

Iaian Marlow, “India Never Actually Shot Down Pakistani F-16 in Kashmir Clash, New Report Says,” Time.com, 5 April 2019. https://time.com/5564980/india-never-shot-pakistani-plane-kashmir/ (Links to an external site.).

Tyler Rogoway, “Enough With The Indian Mig-21 Bison Versus Pakistani F-16 Viper Bullshit,” TheDrive.com, 11 March 2019. https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/26880/enough-with-the-indian-mig-21-bison-versus-pakistani-f-16-viper-bullshit (Links to an external site.);

By Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway (Links to an external site.), “Indian Radar Data That Supposedly Proves They Downed An F-16 Is Far From “Irrefutable,” TheDrive.com, 8 April 2019. https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/27331/indian-radar-data-that-supposedly-proves-they-downed-an-f-16-is-far-from-irrefutable (Links to an external site.)

Joseph Trevithick, “We Cut Through The Conflicting Claims And Misinformation Surrounding India’s Strikes On Pakistan,” TheDrive.com, 7 March 2019. https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/26836/we-cut-through-the-conflicting-claims-and-misinformation-surrounding-indias-strikes-on-pakistan (Links to an external site.).

Additional Sources:

Michael Safi (Links to an external site.)Mehreen Zahra-Malik (Links to an external site.), Azhar Farooq. “Pakistan says it has shot down Indian jets after Kashmir cross-border attack,” The Guardian, 27 February 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/27/pakistan-india-jets-shot-down-airstrikes-kashmir (Links to an external site.)

Joana Slater and Pamela Constable, “Pakistan captures Indian pilot after shooting down aircraft, escalating hostilities,” The Washington Post, 27 February 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistan-says-it-has-shot-down-two-indian-jets-in-its-airspace/2019/02/27/054461a2-3a5b-11e9-a2cd-307b06d0257b_story.html (Links to an external site.).

Helen Regan, Nikhil Kumar, Adeel Raja and Swati Gupta,” Pakistan says it shot down two Indian jets as Kashmir border crisis deepens,” CNN, 28 February, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/27/india/india-pakistan-strikes-escalation-intl/index.html (Links to an external site.).

See M. Ilyas Khan, “India’s ‘surgical strikes’ in Kashmir: Truth or illusion?” The BBC.com, 23 October 1999, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37702790 (Links to an external site.).

Tom O’Connor, “INDIA INSISTS IT SHOT DOWN A PAKISTANI F-16 AFTER U.S. REPORT SHOWS IT DID NOT, Newsweek, 5 April 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/india-pakistan-plane-shot-down-report-1387512 (Links to an external site.)https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/super-strange-why-did-india-send-really-old-mig-21-battle-f-16-60632 (Links to an external site.).

Other Contextual Details to Consider.

This attack took place amidst standing tensions between India and Pakistan and followed several high-profile terrorist attacks by Pakistan-backed and based groups. For a list of significant terrorist attacks in India, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_India (Links to an external site.).

  1. It occurred in the final months of the first government of Prime Minister Modi, which came to power through the general elections of 2014. Modi and his party like to distinguish themselves from their main national rival, Congress, on the grounds of their “muscular foreign policy” and “tough stance on Pakistan.”
  2. As of late 2018 and early 2019, a Modi and BJP victory in the 2019 general elections was uncertain. See Alyssa Ayres, “Why Narendra Modi’s Ruling Party No Longer Looks Invincible in 2019 Indian Elections,“ Time, 12 December 2018. https://time.com/5477783/bjp-state-loss-elections-narendra-modi/ (Links to an external site.) and “Mood of the Nation poll: If elections were held today, what would be PM Modi’s fate?,” India Today, 25 January 2019. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/web-exclusive/story/20190204-motn-poll-nda-seat-share-lok-sabha-election-2019-1439262-2019-01-25 (Links to an external site.).
  3. By the time this attack occurred, India’s media had already been groomed by the government to silence dissent and promote patently pro-government coverage. You will find considerable coverage of the current government’s effort to stifle the media. See for example Annie Gowen, “In Modi’s India, journalists face bullying, criminal cases and worse,” The Washington Post, 15 February 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-modis-india-journalists-face-bullying-criminal-cases-and-worse/2018/02/13/e8176b72-8695-42ab-abd5-d26aab830d3e_story.html (Links to an external site.).
  4. Modi took credit for launching India’s putatively “first cross-border,” “surgical strike” against Pakistan in retaliation for a Lashkar-e-Taiba attack in September 2018. The media covered this event uncritically and tended to report the government’s claim with little questions. For example, see “Leopard urine, airdropping commandos and more: This is how Uri attack was avenged by Indian Army, [yes that IS the actual title]India Today, 28 September 2016. https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/surgical-strikes-2016-indian-army-pok-loc-pakistan-1351421-2018-09-28 (Links to an external site.). While India’s media were not critical of these claims; others were. UK-based Shashank Joshi questioned the claim that Modi conducted the “first-ever” such strike and mustered considerable evidence that numerous previous such raids occurred; however, the previous governments which ordered them opted not to make a political spectacle out of them. See Shashank Joshi, “The Line of (Out of) Control,” 4 October 2016, https://shashankjoshi.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/the-line-of-out-of-control/ (Links to an external site.). The BBC also questioned several aspects of the account. See M. Ilyas Khan, “India’s ‘surgical strikes’ in Kashmir: Truth or illusion?” The BBC.com, 23 October 1999, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37702790 (Links to an external site.). [N.B. Khan is a Pakistani journalist whom I have known since 1999. He does not have a history of publishing rubbish. He now works for the BBC because his previous reportage with a local publication on Pakistan’s war on terror drew undesirable ire of Pakistan’s ISI.”
  5. Several weeks prior to the Pulwama attack, a Bollywood film, Uri: The Surgical Strike, was released which dramatically retold Modi’s surgical strike to avenge Uri, as noted above. This film featured fantastical technologies which many Indians accepted real. More generally, many Indians viewed this film more as a documentary than a fictionalized account. The film’s depiction of PM Modi (as well as depictions in other films) prompted concerns that India’s film-industry was a political partisan.

See Amrit Dhillon, “A narrative is being built’: Bollywood’s battle for Indian hearts and minds,” The Guardian, 29 April 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/apr/29/a-narrative-is-being-built-bollywoods-battle-for-indian-hearts-and-minds (Links to an external site.); Abhishyant Kidangoor, “In India’s Upcoming Elections, Bollywood Wages a Battle for Hearts and Minds,” Time.com, 4 April 2019. https://time.com/5534273/india-modi-gandhi-movies-election-bollywood/ (Links to an external site.). When I was in India during these events, many Indians noted that in devising a response to Pulwama, Modi was really competing with the film depiction of his own resolve in Uri: The Surgical Strike

Pakistan’s Latest Panga With America: Will it Pay Off?

On 5 November 2001, Pakistan announced that Sardar Masood Khan has been selected to become Pakistan’s new envoy for the United States after the current ambassador, Asad Majeed Khan, completes his three-year tenure in January 2022. Among the small coterie of South Asian analysts who have been critical of America’s unending pandering to Pakistan despite Pakistan’s demonstrable role in undermining virtually every single American national security in the region since 9/11 and beyond, several have criticized this choice arguing that Khan “is a dangerous radical with a long history of working with Islamists” whose appointment evidences “an increasingly dangerous Pakistani regime, which is working to coopt and support Islamists all around the world, including in the United States.” 

Pakistan is still celebrating its success in defeating the United States after twenty years of benefiting from American largesse under the guise of being a partner in Afghanistan while using every means possible to aid the Taliban and their murderous allies culminating in the American withdrawal. Perhaps giddy on one of the few victories the Pakistan army can celebrate (apart from its defeat of Pakistani democracy), perhaps Pakistan believes it can revivify its violently revisionist agenda vis-a-vis Kashmir and the rest of India. Managing Pakistan’s relationship with the United States has always been one of the most important objectives of the Pakistani deep state.  While Pakistan may think this is the best way to capitalize upon its victory in Afghanistan, foisting a terrorist enthusiast upon Washington is unlikely to produce the results it expects.

Who is Sardar Masood Khan? 

Uncontroversially, he is a retired career diplomat who hails from Azad Kashmir. In 2016, Pakistan’s former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, appointed him to assume the 27th president of so-called “Azad Kashmir,” that part of Kashmir which Pakistan has controlled since it snatched the territory in what became the first Kashmir war of 1947-48. Prior to retirement, he served twice as Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in both Geneva (2005-2008) and New York (2012-2015) and as ambassador to China (2008-2012). After retirement, he headed the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (formerly known as the Pakistan Institute for Strategic Studies, or PISS), a government-funded organization charged with disseminating briefs that align with or are dictated by the uniformed men that matter, before assuming his appointment as president of Azad Kashmir.  I am sad to report, that I could find no evidence that he was involved in the think-tank jointly launched by Beijing and Islamabad, which would focus solely upon research and development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The initiative was astutely named the Research and Development International (RANDI). RANDI, according to The Daily Times, was to serve as an “‘information corridor’ to promote perspectives, data and information for policymakers, students, specialists, scholars and companies of both countries.”

Pakistan’s Ejaz Haider, a prominent pro-army interlocutor in various media platforms, has criticized this selection on several grounds, including the fact that he has already retired from his foreign service career. Haider likened it to “an army chief accepting command of a battalion, post-retirement.” Oddly, at least two service chiefs have done just that when they accepted the post of emissary to Washington after retirement: former Army Chief General (Retd.) Jehangir Karamat, who served in Washington between August 2004 and June 2006, and Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan who served from July 1989 to 15 September 1990. This is in addition to a long list of lower-ranking retired army generals who have assumed the post. He won’t be the first or last person to be rousted from retirement for this enviable post.

Given his ambassadorial posting to China, his pro-China views should not come as any surprise. In October 2001, he opined that “the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and fragile peace in the region demand extension of CPEC route to Afghanistan.” Equally of note, Pakistan’s emissaries to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, prioritize raising Pakistan’s myriad mendacious claims to Kashmir at every opportunity. Given his service in both posts as well as his appointment to the presidency of Azad Kashmir, his relentless caviling about purported Indian perfidy in Kashmir should not be surprising either. Notably, upon leaving his post as appointed president, he lugubriously lamented Pakistan’s inability to “to turn the Kashmir cause into an international civil rights movement,” which he fallaciously attributed to “India’s colonial and irredentist occupation of the territory since August 2019 needs to be broken through.”

A Controversial Past and Present

His selection has furrowed eyebrows in Washington and New Delhi alike. For good reason. As intimated above, he has been a relentless interlocutor for Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir, despite their complete lack of legal or historical legitimacy. Necessarily he has trotted out the tiresome calls for a plebiscite, on the (all too often correct) assumption that anyone has actually bothered reading the United Nations Security Council Resolution on the matter. Washington has long grown tired of Pakistan’s flogging this long-dead horse and has increasingly moved towards India’s position, with the exception of a few predictable voices of ignorant persons in Congress, swayed by the efforts of Pakistan’s extensive lobbying enterprises

The more problematic issue is his pro-active support for Islamist terrorist organizations such as Hizbul Mujahideen, which the Trump administration designated as a terrorist organization in 2017, which also meant that its senior-most leader, Syed Salahuddin, is a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” Khan  bemoaned the move arguing that the terrorist outfit has been “struggling for the freedom of Indian occupied Kashmir, adding that their struggle is not linked to any form of terrorist activity across the border.” he furthered that “Ignoring the genocide of Kashmiris by Indian army and declaring freedom fighters as terrorists is a criminal departure from international humanitarian and democratic norms by the US.”  For the record, the data belie his claims. According to a database on global terrorism maintained by the University of Maryland, there have been 244 successful terrorist attacks by the group between 1990 and 2019, using the most rigorous coding criteria. In these attacks, 356 people were killed and 633 injured.

Figure 1: Attacks by Hizbul Mujahideen (1990-2019)

Source: University of Maryland, START, Global Terrorism Database, accessed 20 November 2021.

As Sam Westrop has detailed, he has supported–and likely still supports–numerous Islamist terrorist organizations and terrorist leaders, including Fazlur Rehman Khalil who founded the Deobandi Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The United States designated this group a terrorist organization in 1997 and later, in 2014, designated Khalil himself as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Khalil is known to have “maintained a close relationship with al-Qaida, including with Usama bin Laden (UBL) prior to his death. Khalil was a key member of UBL’s International Islamic Front and a cosignatory of UBL’s first fatwa issued in 1998 calling for attacks against the United States.” 

Delhi, for its part, finds him to be a noxious provocateur for his various criticisms–with varying degrees of validity and absurdity–of the conduct of India’s armed forces in Kashmir; his ceaseless hailing of Burhan Wani, a slain popular terrorist leader associated with Hizbul Mujahideen as a hero; and his comparisons of Prime Minister Modi’s pro-Hindutvadi regime to that of Hilter’s fascist Nazi regime. The notion of continuously cleaning up after his diplomatic micturitions on Delhi’s own policy priorities as it continues to forge ties with Washington amid numerous serious disagreements is no doubt unpalatable and rightly so. Given the relentless efforts of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, to both stir up problems in and pertaining to the Punjab and Kashmir, his appointment is likely a harbinger of more reckless Pakistani shenanigans aiming to cause problems for India at home or abroad.  Given that relations between India and Pakistan on the one hand and between the United States and Pakistan on the other are at their local nadirs, it’s easy to question the sobriety of the Generals’ Selection of Khan to this important post.

Will The Panga Pay Off?

Pakistan will not likely reap the benefits it expects should Khan assume this post early next year for several reasons. First, Khan himself makes a mockery of Pakistan’s own policies towards that portion of Kashmir it mismanages. Even Aijaz Haider has noted that for all of its hollering about Indian malfeasance in Kashmir, Pakistan’s own record with respect to the Kashmiris it governs is shambolic.  International organizations such as Human rights Watch agree

Second, should Pakistan insist upon playing this one-note, sad song, on its Kashmir kazoo in Washington, he will find few takers. Americans are exhausted with the endless Pakistani terrorist hijinx and its never-ending dalliance with Islamist evil-doers.  Washington hasn’t been terribly subtle about this fact. Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to whine that president Biden hasn’t yet called him. While Biden has said very little about Pakistan since he followed through his predecessor’s disastrous plan to hand Afghanistan over to Pakistan, President Biden fully understands how Pakistan’s behavior undermined American efforts along given that he was the Vice President for eight years, during which vocal Pakistan critics like Bruce Riedell advised the Obama White House. Moreover, most of the men and women who have served in Afghanistan know full well who was behind the Taliban: Pakistan’s military. One day, those men and women will be generals and they will not have the soft spot for Pakistan’s men in uniform that many current American generals mysteriously harbor.

Given this silence buttressed by widespread antipathy for Pakistan across much of the US government, one might expect more probity from the deep state security managers in Rawalpindi and Abpaara. Alas, I suspect that Pakistan is so accustomed to farming terrorists and setting them loose in its region and then offering its terrorist-catching expertise at a premium, that it anticipates once again being Washington’s duplicitous, but well-compensated, partner in managing the crises in Afghanistan it nurtured in the first place. And, as it has happened repeatedly since 1954, Washington will fall for the ruse and continue subsidizing Pakistan’s most lucrative business: terrorist farming. 

This piece was originally published in The First Post on 22 November 2021.

The Troubled al Bakistan-Saudi Barbaria Bromance

C. Christine Fair

On October 31, Pakistan’s troubled prime minister expressed his gratitude to Saudi Arabia for its recent commitment “to deposit $3 billion and financing $1.2 billion refined petroleum products during the year”, and further opined that the two states enjoy “long-standing and historic fraternal relations, rooted deep in common faith, shared history and mutual support”. Imran Khan further effused that the move “reaffirms the all-weather friendship between the two states”.

However, this verbiage is a small fig leaf for the bigger truth: There has long been trouble in paradise for the two states. Why has Riyadh sought to begin closing the otherwise gaping chasm in relations now? Afghanistan likely explains the move in some measure, but Riyadh’s growing economic ties with India will constrain the limits of Saudi-Pakistan ties.

PARADISE LOST?

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s ties predate the latter’s acquisition of massive wealth. In the 1960s, both sides valued each other for reciprocal reasons. Saudi appreciated Pakistan’s willingness to train Saudi armed forces as a countermeasure to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s socialist regime in Egypt. The kingdom sent troops to Pakistan for training and later, following an agreement in the mid-1960s, retired Pakistani military officials went to Saudi Arabia both to help build up the kingdom’s armed forces while enabling Pakistan to forge an international presence in the wake of its defeats to India in 1965 and 1971. Saudi Arabia became even closer to Pakistan after the loss of East Pakistan.

Events in the late 1970s bolstered Saudi’s interest in strengthening its security with the military help from the Land of the Pure, including the dissidents’ 1979 siege of the mosque at Mecca, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. By 1981, the Pakistan government admitted that “1,500 to 2,000 military men are on duty in Saudi Arabia in what they describe as engineering and training assignments”. In return, Saudi Arabia paid Pakistan perhaps as much as $1 billion. Throughout this period, Western intelligence agencies were aware of Pakistan’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Throughout the 1980s, Pakistan became the beneficiary of Saudi largesse while Saudi Arabia benefited from Pakistan’s military assets.

As Pakistan’s economic situation became ever more shambolic, its reliance upon Saudi Arabia deepened. Saudi Arabia was more than happy to oblige: It deferred loan payments for subsidized Pakistani oil imports; helped build large networks of madrassas, dampened impacts of sanctions following Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear tests in exchange for Pakistan military assistance while shoring up its regional interests. Moreover, remittances from Pakistani migrant workers in Saudi Arabia comprise about one-fourth of Pakistan’s overall foreign remittances while providing the kingdom with much-needed human resources.

Given the inordinate financial dependence upon Saudi Arabia and Riyadh’s expectation that Pakistan would be a reliable military partner, Saudi Arabia was miffed when Pakistan demurred from contributing ships, aircraft, and troops to Saudi’s brutal campaign in Yemen to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in April 2015 after Pakistan’s parliament voted to remain neutral. Despite then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s close ties with Saudi Arabia, Sharif’s opposition to Pakistan’s military made his government unreliable in the eyes of Riyadh. To smooth over Riyadh’s ruffled feathers, Pakistan participated in the 2016 “North Thunder” military exercise with Saudi Arabia and its allies as well as joint exercises between the special forces of both countries.

The Sharif government additionally dispatched more than 1,000 troops to the Kingdom, which augmented the 1,600 already deployed to Saudi Arabia to “secure Islamic holy sites and serve in other internal security roles”. In November 2017, Sharif’s government joined the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition, which comprised militaries from 41 Islamic countries ostensibly to fight terrorist groups and their activities throughout the Muslim world. Pakistan’s retired Army chief Raheel Sharif commanded the group.

In August 2018, the Pakistan Army selected Imran Khan as the prime minister, which suggested a greater degree of alignment between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. For a brief period, Prime Minister Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman enjoyed bonhomie. As Khan came into office, Pakistan’s military had secured an economic package from Riyadh and the crown prince personally invited Khan to come to the Kingdom to attend a conference on investments. Other high-profile invitees withdrew following the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist residing in the United States. Within a month of the conference, the first $1 billion of a $3 billion loan was delivered to Pakistan.

Riyadh’s junior partner in the region, Abu Dhabi, followed through with a comparable offering. As if to reward a pliant client, in February 2019, Mohammad bin Salman arrived in Islamabad with an entourage of businessmen with projects in over $20 billion, including an Aramco oil refinery in Gwadar. Later, in 2021, Saudi shifted the refinery project to Karachi. In March 2019, Pakistan’s willingness to join a Saudi-led coalition against Iran appeared to have patched up any lingering concern about Pakistan’s commitment to the Kingdom.

A SHORT-LIVED RESPITE

In August 2019, India dispensed with Kashmir’s special status. Pakistan was incensed and was discomfited when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates kept mum on the matter and remained so. In contrast, Turkey and Malaysia lent their outcry to that of Pakistan. The three countries considered forming an alternate Islamic bloc given Arab insouciance about India’s bold move.

Malaysia put a December summit on the books. Malaysia’s prime minister intimated that it would serve as an alternative bloc “to the inert, Saudi-dominated Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.” Ultimately, under vituperative Saudi threats, Pakistan withdrew from the Kuala Lumpur summit, which was attended by Saudi’s regional rivals Qatar, Turkey, and Iran.

On the first anniversary of India’s decision to strip Kashmir of its special status, and after accumulating frustration with Saudi inaction over the outrage, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi demanded that Saudi Arabia show leadership on the matter and convene a special meeting of the OIC to inveigh upon the matter. Failing to do so, Qureshi threatened to turn to Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran which had vocally sided with Pakistan.

Riyadh was not amused. It demanded that Pakistan immediately repay $1 billion, which was part of the $3 billion lent to Pakistan in November 2018. While China stepped in to bail out Pakistan, but the question lingered: What leverage does aid-dependent Pakistan have over its long-standing benefactor?

THE LONG HAUL?

So what happened? Economics happened. The fact of the matter is that even Saudi Arabia has seen the long-term writing on the wall. In 2019-20, bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia was valued at more than $44 billion while trade with Pakistan was a meager $3.6 billion.

Under Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia cares about cash not concord across the Muslim world. To underscore this point, Mohammad bin Salman endorsed China’s policies in Xinjiang, which other states have decried as genocide. China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner.

However, Saudi Arabia has been shut out of the most important developments in the region: the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, due to Pakistan’s unstinting military, diplomatic and political support. In 2013, the Taliban opened its first overseas office in Doha. Since then, Doha and China—along with Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States—have shaped the events in Afghanistan without any substantive role for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia wants to reassert its prominence in the region after being eclipsed by its regional rivals for several years. While Saudi Arabia has no interest in limiting ties with India at Pakistan’s behest, it does want to limit the temptation for Pakistan to reassert ties with Iran. Pakistan’s partnership with Beijing, based nearly entirely on loans, cannot replace the Kingdom’s heft in the Islamic world even if it can influence it with the allure of its economy. While Pakistan won’t get Saudi support on Kashmir, it is perfectly happy to cash Riyadh’s check. And that’s enough for both for now.

This appeared in First Post on 5 November 2021.

Black Mango

by Balwant Gargi, translated from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair

I was a bachelor and had been unable to rent a home in Patel Nagar. Wherever I went, the landlord would glower at me and ask, “Where is your wife?”

I would explain “Well, sir, I’m about to get married and that’s why I am searching for a house.”  In the meantime, the landlord’s obese wife or young daughter would come outside for some chore or another and I’d realize that I wouldn’t get the house. The landlord, after rebuking his daughter, would look at me intently and explain “This is a neighborhood for families. Bachelors have no business here.”

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t rent a home. I had one or two recommendations sent over, agreed to pay an advance of three months’ rent, and even provided proof of my monthly salary from my pakka job with the Government of India. Still, I received flat refusals from every landlord.

Finally, an elderly contractor, who had neither a son nor daughter, agreed to rent me a smallish room. The rent was Rs. 70. Opposite was a dirt courtyard in which there was a water tap and a broken bathroom. It also had a low, mud wall. Three refugee families lived on the other side of the wall.

I would get up at the crack of dawn, stand in front of the neighborhood dairyman to get some fresh buffalo milk, prepare a quick breakfast and tea, then, by early morning, I’d lock up and head to the office.  At five o’clock, I’d go to a coffee house, eat some piping hot vadde and dosa, drink some coffee, and listen to the backbiting gossip of Punjabi writers. On my return, without fail, I’d buy a pound of ripe mangoes.

From the time I was a child, my maternal aunt planted this notion in my head that anyone who slurps down a pound of ripe mangoes and drinks buttermilk every day during the summer months would be sanguine and healthy and would never fall ill. As soon as you get down at the Patel Nagar bus stand, there would be several fruit and vegetable shops.  Here there would be some twenty or so cart vendors who decorated their handcarts with various kinds mangoes: Langra, Sandhuri, Malda, Chausa, Safeda, Totapuri, Fazli, Dasheri, Saroli, Tapka and Alphonso of Bombay, which is also called Hafiz ji. The hawkers would compose verses praising their goods and jostle with each other over their prices.

Without even touching a mango I can discern how large its seed is; whether it’s hairy or bald; whether the inside is yellow, saffron-hued, the color of sandalwood, light brown like the color of an almond, or a pale green; whether the pulp is moist or stringy; whether its taste is sweet or bland, bitter or sour.

While studying in college, my childhood friend, Sadhu Singh, and I would go to fairs and weddings. Whenever we saw a young woman or a girl, we would rate their attractiveness.

If an old man were nearby, Sadhu Singh would say “It’s really hot. Let’s get out of here for a while and peek at the bounty of abundant mangoes.” “Mango” was like a secret codeword that we used to communicate with each other. Whenever we’d see women, we would swap notes on our assessments like this: Sadhu Singh would ask “Did you see that chick? Her mangoes have been sucked dry, right down to the seed.” I’d answer, “Didn’t you see that Sandhuri?” Sadhu Singh would ask “Which one?” and I’d respond, “The one standing between the Langra from Benaris and the Chausa.” Sadhu Singh would remark “Your eyes are sharp, Kanjara! I was just drooling over that Fazli, which would probably choke me if I actually bit into it. It’s nothing compared to your Sandhuri. I swear on the Guru Granth Sahib, she’s as sweet as raw sugar.”

We used to take pleasure in describing the beauty of young women and the lusciousness of their young limbs in the vernacular of mangoes as if we were connoisseurs. When we were kids, we would climb mango trees and, as we plucked the red mangoes near the top, the dense green leaves gave off a fragrance which was identical to the scent effused by the body of Rabbo, the mirasan, whenever she’d come into our courtyard and pick me up lovingly.

In our village, I grew up playing in the courtyards of my father’s sisters-in-law. Then my full, black beard came in. Even though I was still a little boy to them, in the neighborhood of Patel Nagar, I was a dangerous bachelor. I had no connection to this neighborhood. I would leave for the office in the morning and return after dark. On hot summer days, the people would sit upon the cots they opened and put out in the alleyways. Embarrassed, I’d lower my eyes and open my courtyard window. I would sit beneath the tap and bathe. Then, I’d sprinkle two or three buckets of water onto the scorched soil of the courtyard which released a musk that rose from the hot ground. I’d unfold the cot in the courtyard, tie a cloth around my nether regions while remaining unclothed from the waist up, and gulp down a chilled mango from the bucket. It was so pleasurable. I’d next drink two glasses of buttermilk and, after this routine, I’d go to sleep.

My reputation as a respectable man spread throughout the neighborhood.

One evening, after completing my routine, I laid down on the bed and saw something hanging from the clothesline in my courtyard.  A small shirt of some kind was dangling. It couldn’t have been my shirt.  Nor could it be my pajamas or underwear. I kept thinking that maybe when I left for the office early in the morning, I hung my scarf to dry and then forgot about it. But I wrung out my scarf and hung it upon a nail to dry. To solve this mystery, I got up and removed the garment from the clothesline. It seemed as if I had a snake in my hand. It was some woman’s bra.

I began to wonder how this bra got into my home. Who left it here? I knew that while I was away during the day, the neighborhood women would come here to fetch water and do their laundry. The neighborhood dairyman told me that whenever he brought water from the tap to wash his water buffalo, several women were always there in the courtyard washing their clothes. I didn’t say anything when I heard this because it meant that my house was safe during the day and because of the accessibility of my courtyard, in their eyes I was a gentleman. So, what did it matter to me? On Sundays, when I was always at home, no one ever came.

In the darkness, I examined the bra by feeling it. It was netted, soft, had round things that were made of chintz and its straps were still damp. Feeling mischievous, I pulled two left-over mangoes out of the water and placed them in the bra’s chintzy cups. I strapped it to my chest and began stroking them.  Then, feeling embarrassed by what I was doing, I burst out laughing. I looked all around. Even though no one had been watching, I nonetheless felt silly about what I did. I removed the bra, tossed the mangoes back in the bucket and hung it back on the clothesline as I found it.

In the morning I went to get milk. When I returned, the bra was gone.

I made tea, had breakfast, and headed to the office. The day passed per the usual routine.

One day, I returned from the office as I was having a headache. On that day, I was immersed in an old file in the office. The officer insisted that I could leave only after I finished the work. In the evening, when I wrapped up my work and left the office, my body felt as if it were breaking. I didn’t even have the strength to stand in the long line for a bus ticket. I grabbed a scooter, went straight home, and laid down on the bed. That day, I did not buy any mangoes.

My head hurt until very late into the night. I couldn’t sleep because it was hot and humid. In the middle of the night, a cool breeze came in and mixed with air, and I could finally doze off.  I slept until the break of dawn. That day, I took leave from the office, brought the bed inside and considered resting for the day. I drank tea, shut the door, turned on the fan and fell asleep.

At about 11 o’clock, I got up drenched in sweat. The power went out unexpectantly and the fan had stopped. I was suffocating in that room. To get a bit of fresh air, I opened the little window. In the courtyard, there was a woman hanging her bra on the clothesline.  From the waist down, she wore a delicate petticoat which, when wet, clung to her body. From the waist up she was naked, her hair was open, and her complexion was perfectly black. She was the young wife of the man who operated the neighborhood tandoor—a mother of two children, who sat in her lap as she baked the bread in the tandoor.

I immediately closed the window and then opened it ever so slightly and began to peer out through the crack.

She had been looking for an opportunity to come here and bathe.  She closed the door to the courtyard, crammed a stick used to clean teeth into the lock, and was enjoying her bath without worry. She shook out the water from her bra then stood on her tiptoes to hang it on the clothesline.

I stood there, holding my breath.

Both of her arms were stretched upwards. I could see the shaved hair of her armpits as well as her firm, black breasts. Upon then were dark areolas, as if someone had painted them with tar and a brush. Purplish nipples swelled up upon the areolas. They reminded me of two black mangoes dangling from a branch, which bent beneath their weight.

In the sunlight, two drops of water were glistening upon them as if they were drops of juice that seep from the mango as you ever-so-slightly squeeze it. I was beholding the beauty of these juice-filled black mangoes when, suddenly, she glanced towards the open window. She dropped her bra and at once turned her back towards the window.

I quickly stepped back from the window. I heard the clanking of the bucket from within the bathroom and the fluttering of footsteps. After some time, there was a banging sound of the door to the courtyard opening then closing. She was gone.

I came back to bed and stretched out. After some time, the electricity returned. The fan began to blow, and I laid in bed, half-asleep, until evening. By the time I got up, the sun had already set behind the walls. My body felt refreshed and in good health. I washed my hands and face and headed out for a walk. Per my usual habit, I went out to buy some mangoes from the fruit carts near the bus stand.

The cart wallah, who has long known me as a regular customer, said “Babu Ji! Fresh Sandhuris came today! Have a taste.”

I tasted the mango. It was flavorless. When he saw me shake my head, he showed me a Banarasi Langra and said “Take this. Take it. It’s very sweet.”

I felt it and bought it as a sample to try. It was absolutely tasteless. After this, he showed me Saroli, Chausa, Dusehri and Maharani varieties. But each struck me as unpalatable and bitter. The fruit seller indignantly asked “Babu Ji, I have shown you all of the very best varieties. What kind of mango do you want?” Impulsively, the words fell from my mouth “Black Mango.”

The fruit seller looked at me in astonishment.  

Acknowledgments: The translator is grateful to Balwant Gargi’s son, Manu Gargi, for giving me permission to translate this story as well my various Punjabi instructors over the years, especially Seema Miglani of the American Institute of Indian Studies program in Chandigarh.

This story was originally published by Muse India in November 2021.

एक्सपर्ट एनालिसिस:पाकिस्तान जिस तरह खालिस्तानी समूहों को पनाह दे रहा है, उससे लगता है करतारपुर कॉरिडोर कहीं खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर न बन जाए

वॉशिंगटन, अमेरिका5 दिन पहलेलेखक: क्रिस्टीन फेयर

तारीख 9 नवंबर 2019, जब गुरु नानकदेव जी की 550वीं जयंती से 3 दिन पहले करतारपुर कॉरिडोर का उद्घाटन हुआ, तो सिखों में खुशी की लहर दौड़ गई कि अब वे पाकिस्तान स्थित करतारपुर साहिब जाकर माथा टेक सकेंगे। बंटवारे के दौरान भारत और पाकिस्तान के बीच बंटे सिखों के 2 प्रमुख धर्मस्थलों- भारत में रावी नदी के तट पर बसे डेरा बाबा साहिब और पाकिस्तान के शकरगढ़ में स्थित श्री करतारपुर साहिब को इस कॉरिडोर ने फिर से जोड़ दिया, लेकिन भारत की सुरक्षा स्थिति पर नजर रखने वाले एक्सपर्ट्स को चिंता है कि ये कॉरिडोर कहीं ‘खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर’ में तब्दील न हो जाए। उनकी चिंता बहुद हद तक जायज भी है।

पंजाब में 1992 में हुए विवादित चुनावों के बाद खालिस्तान का हिंसापूर्ण आंदोलन लगभग खत्म हो गया था, लेकिन पिछले एक दशक से इस हिंसक आंदोलन और इसके सबसे प्रमुख आतंकवादी नेता जरनैल सिंह भिंडरावाले के राजनीतिक अस्तित्व को फिर से जिंदा करने के प्रयास किए जा रहे हैं। भारत में भले ही खालिस्तान के लिए मुखर समर्थन ना हो, लेकिन कनाडा, ब्रिटेन और दूसरे पश्चिमी देशों में रह रहे सिख डायस्पोरा और बाकी जाट सिख समुदायों में इस हिंसक और क्रूर आंदोलन का समर्थन जारी है।

भिंडरावाले की तस्वीर वाली टी-शर्ट, खालिस्तानी साहित्य और अन्य सामान सिख धर्म के सबसे पवित्र स्थल श्री हरमिंदर साहिब एवं भारत के विभिन्न गुरुद्वारे के आसपास के बाजारों में बेचे जा रहे हैं। भारत के कई गुरुद्वारों में सिखों के ऐतिहासिक शहीदों के साथ भिंडरावाले की तस्वीरों को भी शामिल किया गया है। भारत के लिए सबसे चिंता की बात ये है कि हाल के सालों में कई खालिस्तानी हमले हुए हैं, जिन्हें सुरक्षाबलों ने रोका है।

मैंने और मेरे सहयोगियों ने जो रिसर्च किया है उसमें सामने आया है कि हाल के वर्षों में भारत में दर्जनों खालिस्तानी हमले हुए हैं। ये घटनाएं एक जनवरी 2009 और 25 जनवरी 2019 के बीच हुई हैं।भारत-पाकिस्तान के सुरक्षा हालातों पर नजर रखने वाले एक्सपर्ट और स्कॉलर सबसे ज्यादा चिंतित पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों के सार्वजनिक बयानों को लेकर हैं। जिनमें उन्होंने कहा है कि ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ पाकिस्तानी सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की उपज है।

पाकिस्तान में 1991 के बाद से कई बार केंद्रीय मंत्री रहे राजनेता शेख राशिद ने चुटकी लेते हुए एक बयान में कहा, ‘भारत करतारपुर कॉरिडोर को हमेशा जनरल बाजवा के दिए गए गहरे घाव के रूप में याद रखेगा। जनरल बाजवा ने करतारपुर कॉरिडोर खोलकर भारत पर जोरदार प्रहार किया है।’

भारत के लिए चिंता की एक और बड़ी बात ये है कि पाकिस्तानी खुफिया एजेंसी ISI ने प्रवासी सिखों यानी सिख डायस्पोरा के बीच खालिस्तान के लिए समर्थन जुटाया है। ISI हमेशा से ही भारत विरोधी कश्मीरी अलगाववादी समूहों का साथ देती रही है। अनेक सबूतों के अनुसार इस्लामी आतंकवादी समूह लश्कर-ए-तैयबा और पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ताओं के बीच सहयोग और साठगांठ जारी है।

पाकिस्तान लंबे समय से खालिस्तानी समूहों को मजबूत कर रहा है और पनाह भी दे रहा है। इन खालिस्तानी समूहों के साथ मिलकर पाकिस्तान के साजिश रचने का उद्देश्य भी साफ है। पाकिस्तान पर लश्कर और दूसरे इस्लामी आतंकवादी समूहों का इस्तेमाल करने की वजह से अंतरराष्ट्रीय दबाव भी बनाया जाता रहा है। अब बदले हुए सुरक्षा हालात में पाकिस्तान के लिए खालिस्तानी समूह बेहद अहम हो गए हैं। हो सकता है पाकिस्तान जिन समूहों का लंबे समय से विकास कर रहा है, उनका इस्तेमाल अब शुरू कर दे।

This piece published in the Dainik Bhaskr on 10 September. Note that this was the article originally plagiarized by a dubious joker, as I detail here: https://shortbustoparadise.wordpress.com/2021/08/05/should-i-be-flattered-or-irked-that-my-hindi-article-was-plagiarised-by-a-hindi-language-journalist/.

What America did to itself after 9/11

Like many Americans, 9/11 is a day I won’t forget. I was 33, living in West Los Angeles, trapped in an abusive relationship and too underpaid by RAND to move out on my own. As had become my habit, I was sleeping on the futon with my dog, Ms Oppenheimer. As I was waking up, I saw the news coverage of the first tower falling. I thought it was a movie. Like many Americans, the trajectory of my life changed for both the good and the bad.

Prior to 9/11, I was a research associate at RAND. I had fled the University of Chicago’s toxic environment and was trying to recover from the myriad traumas I had experienced there while also trying to finish my PhD in South Asian languages and civilisations remotely. Before 9/11, I worked on numerous projects for the Office of the Secretary of Defence, among other clients, but rarely did I work on South Asia. One of my clients was killed in the Pentagon attack, but I never closely interacted with him. RAND was closed for several days. Its office in Virginia was right across from the Pentagon and many of my colleagues witnessed that crash first hand. When we returned to the office, I had already been contacted by various US government agencies and I casually mentioned this to a colleague. Within 15 minutes, RAND’s then vice-president Natalie Crawford came to me and asked how much it would take to keep me. She also wrangled money to help me finish my PhD. The overnight raise helped me find a new home and begin a life free of abuse with my dog. It’s terrible to say that 9/11 altered the trajectory of my life in a positive way. But it did.Opinion |PB Mehta writes: What 9/11 unleashed on us

But there were costs. I didn’t set out wanting to be a scholar of Islamist terrorism. I studied Punjabi literature in graduate school and my intellectual interest lay in the politics of the Sikh diaspora, particularly the mobilisation of Khalistan. It would be decades before I could return to the subject. Overnight, all of my language work and time in Pakistan would be harnessed to study this threat that few Americans even knew existed.

As someone who often worked in policy circles and for government clients, I watched in horror as the US government sought to reduce a very complex challenge to “scalable projects”. I watched as my government and fellow citizens began to view Muslims as a threat to our very way of life. I watched how a complicit media and pusillanimous members of Congress did nothing to stop the Bush administration’s invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq even though the justifications for doing so were rank lies.

The US Congress, keen to seem interested in and capable of protecting us, passed the ironically named The Patriot Act in late October 2001. It gave the government widespread powers of surveillance and severely compromised civil liberties. Yet Americans acquiesced to the sacrificing of their freedoms in exchange for an ephemeral perception of security.

As America went to war in Afghanistan, it hoovered up young men without the ability to discern who was an actual combatant from who was just a person caught in the wrong place at a life-changing time. We set up prisons in Guantanamo and Bagram and other dubious places across the world where persons were held without habeas corpus while being subjected to torture which the Bush administration referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA hired dubious contractors to develop these torture methods and paid these so-called “torture teachers” $80 million. The US Congress would eventually conclude what had already been known: Torture is not effective and the testimony extracted under torture did not help capture Osama Bin Laden.

It’s impossible to know how many people were detained across the known eight black sites, where the United States deposited captured persons. Many of those persons were innocent but were captured due to faulty intelligence, mistaken identity, or other absurd errors. The Bush administration even paid bounties of $3,000-$25,000 for anyone who would hand over a “possible terror suspect.” Of the 780 persons who were detained at Guantanamo, there were only eight convictions. Today 39 people are still held at the facility. They have never been charged with a crime, much less been tried.

I also believe that the so-called war on terror spawned the fascistic, hate-filled xenophobia that is destroying the body politic of my country. The Republican Party learned that fear and anxiety motivate voters. Trump perfected baseless fear-mongering to fan the flames of white males who fear the loss of their privilege and then harnessed it for political gains. Those who espouse these beliefs are not a minority. They are about half of this country and the entire Republican Party has sought to placate these boors, who harbour the insane belief that when women, racial, religious and ethnic minorities enjoy the full suite of rights enshrined by our constitution, white men must suffer a loss of rights. It’s as if they see rights as a pizza: More for us means less for them. For these Americans, Trump and the white male supremacist xenophobia we empowered were all that could block the browning of America. In this insane zeal, his supporters in and out of the US government attempted a coup on January 6.

I don’t know what Bin Laden envisioned to be the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But I can say confidently that Bin Laden didn’t destroy America. America destroyed America.

This column first appeared in the print edition on September 11, 2021 under the title ‘America destroyed America’. The writer is a professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.

The Rise of Global Idiocracies

The media we watch informs our opinions, often for the worse. In 2003, a Gallup Poll revealed that solid majorities of Americans supported President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, which was in stark contrast the opposition to the war held by global polities. The invasion and the disastrous occupation that ensued continue to haunt the United States. It wrecked our economy, trashed our standing as a country that upholds rule of law, generated global suspicions about American intentions towards the Muslim world, undermined our relations with key allies, and created the very conditions that gave rise to ISIS. Despite the fact global publics resoundingly rejected the war, a majority of Americans supported it. Fifteen years later, Americans remain divided on this war despite the volumes of information about it and its motivations. In March 2018, another national poll of American adults found that while 48% believed the use of military force was wrong, 43% supported it use.

Americans Were Asked Three Questions

In 2003, one year after the invasion, several researchers wanted to understand the bizarre beliefs Americans espoused about the war. The researchers asked Americans three basic questions, to which the answers were clearly “no” — Has the United States found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation? Has the US found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? And whether or not they agreed that world populations supported the war, opposed it or were evenly balanced. The team found that Americans, on average, were misinformed. A majority of Americans surveyed repeatedly in 2003 believed that Hussain was working with al-Qaeda. In fact, Hussain and al-Qaeda were sworn enemies.

Depending upon the month surveyed, anywhere between one in three and one in five believed that the United States found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, when, in fact, there were no such weapons to be found. Even though global opinion was decidedly opposed to the war, about one in four thought global publics supported it, while about one in three thought they were “evenly balanced”. Across all American adults surveyed, only one in three had no misperceptions. Unsurprisingly, those who had such misperceptions were more supportive of the war than those without.

The Source of News Matters

How did Americans come to be so ill-informed about a war of such enormous consequence? It’s reasonable to posit some role of the media they consumed. The team also asked respondents where they got most of their news. Of the 3,334 persons asked, 19 per cent primarily obtained their news from print media while 80 per cent cited non-print means. Respondents were then asked about the specific news network they primarily use to obtain “information.” Because consumers of public radio and public television were so few, they were combined into one category.

However, what was surprising is that among CNN viewers, 55 per cent had one or more misperceptions. In comparison, 71 per cent of CBS news consumers, 61 per cent of ABC consumers, 55 per cent of NBC consumers, and 47 per cent of print news consumers had one or more misperceptions. (Note this survey did not include MSNBC, which caters to consumers on the American political left.)

The team also examined the average rate of misperceptions. While Fox came in with the highest rate of misperception (45), the other media outlets had roughly the same rate of execrableness. CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC, and Print Media has misperception rates of 36, 31, 30, 30 and 25 respectively. Consumers of public media (NPR and PBS) were the least likely to be ill-informed on these three issues with an average misperception rate of 11.

Other studies have come to similar conclusions: global media which have a responsibility to inform are failing in their most basic charge.

My Personal Experience

As a scholar, I am curious about the causal pathways that account for the failures of important media houses to inform their publics. Personally, I have had about 20 years of my own experiences that have helped shape my understanding of these failures. Here are a few insights from my own participation in news programs that span North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

It should be no surprise that Pakistan television shows have been particularly problematic for me: a scholar who had dedicated much of her career to unpacking the strategic culture of a country that is the single-most contributor to instability in South Asia. There was a time when I did do Pakistani television shows because Pakistan’s deep state generally viewed me as someone who is not in anyone’s pocket. I have a reputation as a fierce and blunt critic of any policy or country that I deemed as deserving criticism.

However, one experience in Pakistan was particularly telling. Sometime around 2010, I was doing a one-on-one interview with a female anchor of a popular show on Pakistan’s MSNBC. The anchor asked me “Why can’t the United States be a friend to Pakistan like China?” I answered in my typically blunt way “You mean, fail to bail it out of any war it starts, provide loan aid with heavy interest rates instead of grant aid and enough weapons to encourage to pick a fight with India but not help you when a fight happens?” I had not completed my final sentence when the host immediately and abruptly went to an unplanned commercial break. She told me plainly that I could not speak of China in this way. I told her plainly, “Then don’t ask me questions about China.”

‘Editorial Positions’ Are usually Missionary

For many years, I had experienced the “editorial positions” of television networks — notably of the BBC and Al Jazeera — on drones. Neither channel would indulge any position, however grounded in data, which supported the drone program in Pakistan as I did. At one point, during an Al Jazeera programme, the co-host, Mehdi Hassan, actually said “forget about the data”. For some time, I was persona non grata at the network for repeatedly calling out Al Jazeera’s fictions about the programme.

And as many confrontations I have had with what passes for news among Pakistan’s channels, I had had my own experiences with the circus of buffoonery that so often characterises India’s own migraine-inducing television channels.

However, two recent experiences stand out because of their momentous consequences. On 26 August, 2021, I did an interview with Bloomberg Asia on the developments in Afghanistan. When the panel asked me about the most likely source of income for the Taliban, I began to explain China’s support to the movement that predated 9/11 and which continues to date. One of the hosts, Rishaad Salamat, immediately tried to shout me down and claimed that these assertions were merely speculation. Naturally, I stood my ground and maintained that these assertions are facts for which I have substantiating evidence.

In hindsight, it was clear that the network was worried about irritating China, which has gone to great lengths to silence any uncomfortable truth about its atrocities at home and abroad. In fairness, I don’t have high expectations of journalistic integrity from a network dedicated to the global elite’s wealth accumulation.

The Philippa Thomas Fiasco

Of more concern is my recent interview with Philippa Thomas of the BBC. Ms. Thomas is a popular newsreader on the network and I had been interviewed by her before. She is one of countless many persons who are hired to read the teleprompter with enthusiasm while interviewing guests, while never cultivating any substantive expertise.

Ms. Thomas set the tone by addressing me as “Christine.” Does she usually address her guests with the familiarity of a brunch companion? Throughout the interview she made numerous unprofessional grimaces which one expects from a balatron like Tucker Carlson.

As is apparent in the clip, every question Ms. Thomas posed was pre-loaded and sympathetic to Pakistani official–if farcical–claims. Whether I sought to explain Pakistan’s historical 7-decade-long effort to subjugate Afghanistan, its long-standing reliance upon Islamist terror groups as tools of foreign policy, or even its well-established rent-seeking strategy of claiming to be the fireman instead of the arsonist it is, she interrupted me and repeatedly asserted that Pakistani officials would, of course, disagree with me. Oddly, several Pakistani officials who had previously been on the network had confessed to doing exactly as I charged.

Surely, if there had been a Pakistani official present, they would have offered their preferred storyline of perpetual victimhood. And indeed, such officials are frequent guests of the BBC. No matter what absurd falsehood they assert, they are not interrupted. And certainly, no newsreader would ever say things like “Well, of course, if we had a scholar on Pakistan’s strategic culture, they would reject these claims”. It’s preposterous to even even consider it.

Most shockingly, she abruptly cut off the interview when I reminded her that Pakistan has long-relied upon a menagerie of Islamist terrorists to prosecute its foreign policy goals. As she turned her attention to her viewers, she concluded with another maniacal facial contortion more suitable for a farceur than a BBC newsreader.

Britain’s Domestic Politics Tied With BBC?

I’ve been left pondering that interview and the comportment of Ms. Thomas. Was Ms. Thomas simply a rank simpleton or ignoramus? I must reject that explanation because the premises of her questions reflected a deep familiarity with Rawalpindi’s narrative. Also, she seemed astutely aware of the kinds of things that would irritate Pakistan’s Derp State. I also reject the conspiracy theories popular in India that the BBC is “anti-Hindu”. The BBC does spend a lot of time covering uncomfortable events in India, but too many Indians would rather blame the international coverage of atrocities than the perpetrators of such atrocities.

Instead, I suspect that this shameful episode has more to do with the domestic politics of the news outlet. The BBC is a publicly owned institution and a long-cherished institution at that. But in the context of British electoral politics, this does not ensure fair and accurate programming. In fact, it ensures, specific blind-spots and one of those blind spots is Pakistan. In 2019, fifteen candidates of Pakistani descent were elected to parliament. This reflects the electoral significance of British Pakistanis. And British Pakistanis are important swing voters in key constituencies. Thus this electorate is and will remain important for both the Conservative and Labour parties.

British authorities have long known that segments of the British Pakistani community have deep and significant ties to terrorism. However, they have struggled to not be seen as targeting those communities because of presumed backlash from British Pakistanis specifically or British Muslims more generally.

Britain’s flagship counter-radicalisation project PREVENT goes to great lengths to obfuscate one of its most important target audiences. Britain, like the United States, has long known that Pakistan ultimately is behind the deaths of its soldiers and civilians. And like the United States, it has resisted publicly chastising Pakistan for its support to terrorism generally or the Taliban and Haqqani Network specifically. Why? The United Kingdom has long worked with the ISI to obtain information about the activities of its citizens when they visit Pakistan. In this cold calculus, British soldiers signed up to be blown up. But civilians riding Britain’s metros and buses didn’t.

It is very likely that the BBC wants to avoid any political fallout for programming presumed to offend the sensibilities of this important swing electorate.

The Birth of Idiocracies

While it’s easy to be outraged that the BBC is happily carrying out Pakistan’s information offensive, we need to ask ourselves, is there any network that is any better across the board? As I reflect upon my own experiences as a public intellectual but also my experience as a scholar who has sought to understand how media informs the public, I have come to the conclusion that the greatest threat to democracies everywhere and a secure and peaceful world is, in fact, such media houses.

Motivated by their parochial politics and demands for revenue, they misinform the global polities on issues pertaining to war and peace, climate change, the current pandemic, the salubrious benefits of vaccines or wearing masks, or simply shaping a polity to vote for one candidate over another. In short, the global polities have been reduced to idiocracies and we have only ourselves to blame.

A version of this essay was published in The Quint on 7 September 2021.

The Unwinnable War

A much redacted/trimmed version of this article appeared in The Daily Beast on August 17, 2021. This piece has a more expansive discussion of China and the Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on the Indian parliament. It also has a more expansive discussion of the shortcomings of SNTV in producing stable, legitimate political outcomes.

The indelible images of the fall of Saigon featured American helicopters departing from the roof of the US Embassy overflowing with Vietnamese seeking an escape from an uncertain and terrifying future. In 1975, some 125,000 Vietnamese refugees found refuge in the United States as a result of a US-sponsored evacuation program in the wake of the war. The images of the fall of Kabul are darker: Americans occupying the airport in Kabul, focusing upon evacuating their own while terrified Afghans cling to the departing C-17 aircraft. To disperse the crowds of Afghans on the runway, the US army flew attack helicopters lower over their heads. As of August 13, the United States evacuated 1,200 Afghans although that number is likely to rise to 3,500 in coming weeks.

Virtually every American news channel has been focusing upon the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives every day to support the US military and civilian mission. This addition to countless more who worked with NATO and other wester embassies and multi-lateral organizations such as the United Nations. Everyone knows that the Taliban has a list of the so-called collaborators, and they are being hunted down and killed along with their families. However, many Americans are in a conundrum. They hear the figures recited: 2,448 US service members killed through April 2021; an estimated 3,846 contractors for whom there is no official count; another 1,444 other allied service members killed; 444 aid workers murdered; 72 journalists20,660 US soldiers have been injured in action; all at an estimated price tag of 2.3–6.5 trillion. What they are less likely to hear are these figures: at least 111,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since 2009 alone, when the United Nations began systematically recording civilian casualties. The Taliban killed so many members of the Afghan National Defense and Security forces in 2016, the American and Afghan governments decide to maintain their death and casualty figures a secret for fear of further eviscerating their morale. President Ghani said that 45,000 Afghan security forces were killed between the time he took office in 2014 and January 2009. Prior to the last two weeks, US officials estimated that about 30–40 were being killed each day. Obviously, the tolls of the injured are many fold this figure. While the war’s price tag looms large, vast majority of those “allocations” returned to the United States economy as much of the civilian and military activities were farmed out to US contractors with massive amounts of corruption, much of which has been committed by US entities and persons.

Rightly so, many Americans are asking whether massive loss of life treasure was worth it. What if I told you that this war, as the Americans fought it, was winnable in the first place and that we lost this war on the installment plan? Here are perhaps three of the American blunders that ensured this defeat.

Pakistan Was Always the Problem….and it still is

The biggest American blunder was going to war with the one country dedicated to undermining American objectives at every turn even while raking in tens of billions of dollars in the fictive guise of supporting them: Pakistan. Pakistan’s perfidy was evident from the earliest days of the war and it continues now, helping its assets — the Taliban — squeeze the democratic life from Afghanistan wherever and however it can.

On 7 October 2001, the United States entered Afghanistan from Tajikistan under the aegis of “Operation Enduring Freedom” with a small force of special operators. Their goal was to shore up the Northern Alliance after their leader, a murderous warlord known as Ahmad Shah Massoud, was grievously injured in the first suicide attack Afghanistan had ever experienced on 9 September 2001. No American pundit anticipated that the Taliban would fall so quickly. Many Afghan Taliban and their clients anticipated that the United States, furious at the Taliban for harboring Osama Bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, would succeed and defected pre-emptively in hopes on being on the winning side. As the Northern Alliance took Kabul, the dedicated Taliban who aimed to fight another day headed south and took refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Meanwhile in November 2001 in Kunduz, the Americans granted Pakistan permission to conduct numerous sorties over two days in what is known as the Kunduz airlift or, according to US military personnel on the ground “Operation Evil Airlift.” Pakistani army officers and intelligence advisors who were working with the Taliban and fighting alongside them were trapped in Kunduz following Northern Alliance advances bolstered with US special forces. The United States permitted the Pakistanis to airlift this menagerie of despicables back to Pakistan using US-supplied transport aircraft. Special operators who witnessed this firsthand and with whom I’ve discussed this operation claim that the number of sorties was much larger than was reported. They believe there were dozens of sorties. While the Americans insisted it was supposed to be a limited evacuation of Pakistani military and intelligence operatives, uncountable Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were also ferried out of Kuduz by Pakistan’s “Evil Airlift.” That probably should’ve have been a good signal of what the Pakistanis would do as the conflict progressed. But Pakistan was just warming up.

On October 8, 2001, President Musharraf appointed a close advisor and Taliban sympathizer Lieutenant-General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai to the Peshawar-based XI Crops. Aurakzai, with ostensible ties to the Tribal Agency of Orakzai, would lead the Pakistani forces deployed on the Afghan border to support the Americans who in December 2001 searching for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora cave complex. According to all-source intelligence reports, Bin Laden was in Tora Bora for several days in mid-December. Aurakzai’s forces were supposed to be playing the “anvil” to America’s “hammer,” by catching and/or killing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters escaping into Pakistani territory. That effort was short-lived.

On 13 December 2001, Jaish-e-Mohammad launched a suicide attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi. Due in large measure to the incompetence of the attackers, they killed nine and injured 18. The Jaish-e-Mohammad was a creation of the Pakistani state and its notorious intelligence agency, the ISI, and was a loyal proxy force of the same. Jaish-e-Mohammad, under the leadership of Masood Azhar, was loyal to the Pakistani hands that fed it even though part of the organization defected and regrouped under various names. It is extremely unlikely that the organization would have conducted such an outrageous attack with such tremendous strategic importance without the explicit go ahead of the Pakistani state. Had the attackers not bungled the assault, countless more would have died. India mobilized for war along the border with Pakistan in what was the largest mobilization since the 1971 war. They would remain in place until October of the following year after provincial elections were held in Kashmir.

The Indian army is a large, bulky, non-agile force. Pakistani generals “could see that India was shifting divisions from as far away as Calcutta, in the east, to the western frontier with Pakistan; it looked like the largest military mobilization in Indian history.” Pakistan’s khaki brass informed the Bush administration that it must swing its forces to the Indian border. Subsequently, Pakistan dispatched more than seventy thousand troops and their equipment — two full corps, or four divisions — to the Indian border. Pakistan left mostly Frontier Corps along the Afghan border. Not coincidentally, the Frontier Corps was precisely the organization that had previously trained the Taliban and myriad other militias that Pakistan trained and dispatched back into Afghanistan since 1974. Despite protests from American diplomats, Musharraf did not waiver. Even though the so-called ratlines or trails which wound through the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan are overdetermined by geography and geology and well-known to Aurakzai, they were conveniently unguarded Under General Aurakzai’s watch, Taliban and al Qaeda operatives “slipped” into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Aurakzai. There is a general consensus that by the end of December 2001, bin Laden escaped Tora Bora and fled to Pakistan where he was eventually killed by US special forces in May 2011 in a garish safe house in Abbottabad, a casual one-mile stroll from Pakistan’s Military Academy, its equivalent to the US West Point Military Academy

It’s hard not to draw connections between the Jaish-e-Mohammad attack and the Bin Laden escape. All of these years, I’ve wondered if the very point of the attack was to provide an excuse for Pakistani forces to leave the border unguarded as their proxies made their way back home to roost. This is all the more plausible because Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Taliban were joined at the hips, share Deobandi “theological” leaning and goose step to the tune of the ISI’s kazoo.

Oddly, despite Bin Laden’s escape with at least Pakistani passive if not active facilitation, the United States congratulated itself for its swift defeat of the Taliban. In fact, the Americans had only routed them. Safe again in their Pakistani sanctuaries, the Pakistan state silently helped their allies regroup and prepare for what would be their reinvigorated offensive in 2005 which would persist until Kabul fell this week. The United States was largely indifferent to the Taliban for many years in large measure because the George W. Bush administration was overly focused upon its Iraqi misadventure and because it narrowly focused upon al Qaeda. For all intents and purposes, al Qaeda had evacuated Afghanistan and sought out various safe houses in Pakistan. However, Washington was generally pleased with Pakistan’s cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda because Pakistan regularly coughed up “Al Qaeda Number Threes” conveniently timed for the visits of Bush administration officials. Maybe Pakistan was helping to catch so many al Qaeda terrorists precisely because there were so many to catch in Pakistan?

While President Bush insisted that Musharraf was a loyal ally (pro tip: he wasn’t), the remaining sentient observers grasped Pakistan’s unending perfidious support to the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other groups operating against American forces and their. In 2009, in an effort to stem the losses, the Obama administration was strong-armed by his generals to launch the so-called surge. The surge could never have worked for two reasons. First, the numbers were fictional. If we took Field Manual 3–24 on counterinsurgency seriously (and I did not), you would need about 450,000–500,000 troops in Afghanistan. We never had more than 140,000. Second, the surge misdiagnosed the problem: we were losing because of Pakistan. As the American and allied presence in Afghanistan increased, Pakistan became ever-more central. Even though Iran had been extremely helpful to the US and international efforts early on in Afghanistan and even though Iran continued to offer assistance to Washington first Afghanistan and then in Iraq for more than a year, the Bush administration rebuffed Iran and denounced it as part of an Axis of Evil. With Pakistan being central to sustaining the war in Afghanistan, the United States could not find a way of punishing Pakistan for murdering Americans and their allies despite being an ostensible ally.

No matter what Pakistan did, American officials found reasons to excuse Pakistan rather than treat it like the enemy it clearly was. Many believed that there was some magical combination of allurements that could transform Pakistan from the regional menace was and is, into a state that is at peace with itself and its neighbors. President Trump, despite his numerous other outrages, at least understood was Pakistan was and cut off the aid. But even Trump could not bring himself to do what needed to be done: apply every possible sanction against the Pakistani military, intelligence, and political personalities for which we have intelligence (and we slews of it) of supporting the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups which have long been the workhorse of Pakistani foreign policy.

Corruption: We built It

Second, only to our failures to properly handle the problem of Pakistan which had been waging jihad in Pakistan since 1974 (not a typo), the second major blunder was corruption. For those Americans who care enough to know that we have spent at least $2.3 trillion in Afghanistan, very few know that because the United States relied upon a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, belt-way banditry, and aid contractors as much as 80 to 90% of outlays actually returned to the US economy. Of the 10–20 percent of the contracts that remained in the country, the United States rarely cared about the efficacy of the initiative. While corruption is rife within Afghanistan’s government, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction repeatedly identifies bewildering corruption by American firms and individuals working in Afghanistan. In many cases, American firms even defrauded Afghans. A military member of the International Security Assistance Force, speaking about this under-discussed matter, explained to Carlotta Gall, “Without being too dramatic, American contractors are contributing to fueling the insurgency.”

It’s a story that Americans don’t want to hear: that we contributed to the massive corruption in Afghanistan. In some cases, it happened because USAID didn’t know how to allocate all the money it was expected to allocate and relied upon enormous institutional contractors and a complicated series of sub-contractors, all of whom took their overhead fees for the privilege of being a booking agency. USAID was drinking from a firehose and oddly didn’t seem bothered by the fact that it was effectively transferring US taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of institutional contractors who enriched themselves in the process. By the time the leftovers reached Afghan implementing partners, there was neither interest nor ability to monitor those activities. Much of the funds were stolen or spent on poorly executed projects. This is why Asri Suhrke, for example, strenuously argued that less aid is actually more. She argued that fewer, smaller projects executed with less corruption would produce better results. But this was a fast-moving gravy train and everyone wanted to take a ride. The money just kept pouring in and the corruption kept growing. The US knew that corruption was losing Afghan hearts and minds. Afghans quickly became came to resent public displays of generosity when they understood that most of the money went into the pockets of US firms or dodgy Afghans who had little intention of aiding ordinary people. They also understood that the corruption was giving the Taliban grist for their mill of decrying the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

Proponents of the surge steadfastly ignored Pakistan experts and indeed General Stanley McChrystal didn’t even bother having a single competent Pakistan authority on his assessment team that produced the absurd proposal. Unsurprisingly, the surge made the United States more dependent upon Pakistan for ground lines of control (GLOCs) than ever before while doing little to develop genuine alternatives. The Northern Distribution Route could never carry more than 20% of the logistical demands and Russia insisted that it not be used for lethal goods. Given that this route was needed to resupply a war, Russia effectively rendered this route inutile. And even though the United States was perfectly capable of working with Pakistan — despite a well-known history of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation and decades of supporting terrorism — Washington could not palate the idea of finding ways of using Iran’s ports and safe road and rail network to supply the US-led NATO effort in the country.

General Stanley McChrystal, in his leaked interim commander’s report, also encouraged the United States to do something about the industrial-strength corruption in Afghanistan. But this was too hard and instead, everyone focused upon his surge idea. To win in Afghanistan — by any metric of winning — the international community had to foster better business practices amongst themselves and amongst their Afghan partners.

However, there is a darker side of the corruption fostered by the US government: it wanted to use corruption as a means of control. It secretly paid Afghans working in the government a secret, and often illegal, the second salary so that those officials would be the eyes and ears of the US government inside the palace. It could use such emoluments to induce desired behavior among compliant Afghans. And when that relationship soured, as it so often did, the United States could denounce that person for being a corrupt, bride-taking ne’er-do-well who traded his country in for personal gain.

The Myth of the Legitimate Leader

If the corruption aided the Taliban’s return to power, so did the failure of Afghanistan’s political system to produce a so-called legitimate leader. Biden officials have been busy the last two weeks castigating Afghan political leaders for “failing to come together” in aid of their country. It’s a nice narrative if, in fact, this was the fault of dodgy Afghan leaders. Unfortunately, the United States and its partners foisted upon Afghanistan a political system that would always be characterized by fragmentation and illegitimacy. How? The Afghan constitution itself was never appropriate for the country. US officials use to quip that we “gave the Iraqis the constitution that Afghanistan got, and we gave the Afghans the constitution that Iraq needed.” Part of the problem was that the United States wanted an Afghan government that would rubber-stamp its objectives. The easiest way of achieving this was to have a strong man as president. The Americans thought that Karzai was going to be their man in Kabul. To make sure that he was, they put several of his staffers on those afore-noted illegal salaries.

In 2003, President Karzai banned political parties. The United States went along with this because, in fact, the United States did not want an effective Afghan parliament to get in the way of its big ideas. Political parties function to aggregate interests as a bloc. If there are no political parties, Afghan politicians would have to form coalitions repeatedly. This was one way of keeping the parliament from getting in the way of the United States. Parties are now allowed to function, however, they are very week institutionally and individuals have little incentive to affiliate with any party. Efforts by civil society actors and NGOs to strengthen parties were hobbled by Karzai who strongly opposed them.

The next internationally-backed recipe for illegitimacy was the way in which Afghan elections are carried out. Elections for national and sub-national elections are not held on the same day. This means that each election is an opportunity for fraud, malfeasance in the election rolls, counterfeit ballots, and a raft of election-stealing techniques that the Afghans perfected often with American and international complicity. Elections for the lowest level of elected positions specified in Afghanistan’s constitution never even happened. So Afghans were not governed by elected officials at the provincial level. Instead, they were governed by strong men appointed by the President.

Then there was the electoral method itself that as much as anything ensured that no leader would have genuine legitimacy: the Single Non-Transferrable Vote or SNTV as the elections aficionados call it. Afghanistan is one of four countries that use this shambolic method of ascertaining the will of the people. That alone should have given the masterminds behind this scheme pause if they wanted to produce legitimate and stable electoral outcomes. Per this system, voters cast a single vote for individual persons unconstrained by any party structure. Even when parties have been allowed to function, multiple persons from the same weak party can contest the same seat. To an American accustomed to a two-party system and generally, only two candidates from which to choose, this may not seem obviously heinous. However, if anyone were to look at an Afghan ballot, there are often hundreds of persons contesting a single seat. This means that no candidate must secure a majority; rather, he or she need only get more votes than anyone else. And parties, such as they are, can win a majority in a legislative body with a small fraction of the overall votes.

Thomas Johnson provides a good example of the dysfunction of this system. He notes in his analysis of elections in 2014 that there were 664 candidates who competed for the 33 seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) allocated for Kabul province. A total of 486,111 valid ballots were cast. The chairman of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan and former Vice President and the Minister of Planning in the interim government of Afghanistan, Muhammad Mohaqiq, secured the largest number of votes. Here’s the catch: he only secured 3.6% of the vote! How is it possible that he could legitimately claim to represent the will of Kabul province? Johnson calculated that that 21 of the 33 candidates elected to the Wolesi Jirga from Kabul were elected with less than 1% of the total vote in their district. How can this system produce legitimate and stable electoral outcomes? It can’t. And this was why it was adopted in the first place?

Now What?

Last night, during his address to the nation, President Biden doubled down on this criminal retreat that abandoned our Afghan partners to fend for themselves. Callously, he reiterated the same canards: that we couldn’t stay forever, that the Afghans need to fight for themselves, that Afghans need to find unity amidst diversity, and other nauseating bromides meant to serve as a salve on a nation’s heavy conscious. Know this. All of this is a lie. We never gave the Afghans a fighting chance.

PS: If you’d like to do something to help Afghans, consider the options listed here: https://twitter.com/CChristineFair/status/1428003177912324102

1. Sign this letter from Scholars at Risk urging Secretary Blinken to undertake a select set of clear, doable tasks to offer a modicum of security to Afghan scholars, researchers, and public intellectuals whose lives are now in great peril.

2. Donate to the organization of your choice raising funds to get SIVs here, find them homes, and provide basic home furnishings. These are the orgs to which I have donated so that you know I’m putting my money where my mouth and fingers are: https://help.rescue.org/donate/afghanistan?ms=fb_ppc_fy21_afghanistan_20210712&initialms=fb_ppc_fy21_20210712&fbclid=IwAR3D03CoODm1ws0EgKNl2WnHj_lHJ32ydcCZp6-Sj0TsPemg5AFCx3gnRuI and https://www.facebook.com/donate/887738608492266/10158417116015003/

3. Many of us with day jobs are writing op-eds or media for which we are paid, I’m donating ALL proceeds I receive to help Afghans. Obviously, if you’re a struggling writer, you can’t help others if you can’t help yourself. But most doing this have day jobs. This is pocket money for us. But with the average OpEd fee, you can help a dozen Afghans. Do I sound preachy? Yes. I won’t apologize.

4. If you’re offering your “hot takes” because you have something to say, be cognizant that many who read your well-intentioned hot takes on “empire” or whatever, fall on those of us who have worked in Afghanistan as offensive&triggering. Remember that many of our students have served in various capacity whether in the United States, Europe, Australia, India and of course Afghanistan and beyond. Do you want to make them think you’re a heartless ass with your ill-informed and posturing “hot takes”? Do you want your colleagues to think you’re a heartless ass with no actual experiences or understanding to underpin your “hot takes.”

5. Don’t just recirculate the tired wisdom of the grand white men of strategic grand strategery WHO GOT US INTO THIS MESS. Instead, LISTEN to the Afghans on Afghan twitter. Even if they write in Dari or Pashtu, Google translate does a fair job. LISTEN MORE to them.

6. Don’t recycle/ legitimize Pakistani talking points that: The Taliban freed Afghans; Pakistan is the REAL victim here; that this was US imperialism when the most enduring imperialists have been the Pakistanis. They’ve been trying to subjugate Afghanistan since the late 50s.

7. Finally, if you are a US citizen reach out to your congressional representation. If you are American, you find your 2 senators and house rep here: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. If you are not a US citizen and your soldiers or civilians worked alongside Afghans, reach out to your parliamentary reps. We may not get the outcome we desire, but we don’t have to it here bitching when we CAN take steps.