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:

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: and

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: 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.

America’s Leadership Has Presented False Choices in Afghanistan

Note that an edited, and much-abbreviated version of this appeared in Foreign Policy on 16 August 2021. This extended piece has more details.

U.S. President Biden has abandoned the Afghans to fend for themselves against the Taliban. By following a course of policy established by his ignominious predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, Biden has defiantly asserted that he does not regret his decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan even after provincial capitals are falling like dominos to the Taliban and even as Kabul itself expected to fall within weeks. The United States begged the Taliban for assurances that they will not attack the US Embassy as the United States callously scrambles to evacuate US personnel, leaving our long-standing Afghan partners to fend for themselves as the Taliban hunt them down and their families. American officials are busy offering sanctimonious repines that justify America’s exeunt from the country. They have announced to American and international audiences that the time has come for the Afghan national security forces to seize the reins of their nation’s defense; that Afghan leaders must unite and fight for their country; that the United States has done enough. This is rank nonsense and President Biden knows it. The United States did not do enough and even enabled the current onslaught.

What makes this current situation more unforgivable is that Biden did not come to this situation unaware. Unlike President George H. W. Bush, who genuinely was befuddled by the region and historically ignorant, the Obama administration in which Biden served benefited from a raft of experts including the former CIA analyst Bruce Reidell and long-time South Asia watcher Peter Lavoy, who was the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia, among numerous others.  Prior to the 2008 election, there were numerous assessments about the war in Afghanistan and the myriad ways in which Pakistan was undermining US efforts there. Obama’s incoming team, led by Bruce Reidell, spear-headed the so-called assessment of assessments and offered refreshingly blunt insight into the perfidy of Pakistan in aiding and abetting the Taliban and undermining US efforts, despite benefitting handsomely from American emoluments.  Despite this benefit of wisdom and knowledge, Biden continued several courses of policy that has led to the current sanguinary crisis for Afghanistan’s citizenry.

It’s Pakistan: Stupid

President Biden, like the earlier president he served, knows that Pakistan is the major force behind the Taliban. Without Pakistan’s unstinting support for the Taliban, this group would be a nuisance rather than an effective fighting force. The United States, far from doing enough to assist Afghanistan, has steadfastly refused to do the one thing that it could have and, indeed should have, done long ago: apply a raft of targeted sanctions against those in Pakistan’s deep state which have continued to provide every possible amenity to the Taliban, and other brutal Islamist militant organizations, despite receiving billions in American overt assistance 2001. 

It’s hard to imagine a country more perfidious than Pakistan. Despite claiming that Osama Bin Laden was not in Pakistan for over a decade, he was found hiding in plain sight in garish if spartan safehouse in Abbottabad, a leisurely stroll from Pakistan’s premier military academy in Kakul (the equivalent to the US West Point). Mullah Omar, the cycloptic founder of the Taliban movement, likely died in a Pakistani hospital. Pakistan’s ties to the Jalaluddin Haqqani Network have been known and enduring. During the last twenty years, Pakistan has continued to recruit, train, and mission numerous other Islamist terrorist groups operating in India and Afghanistan. It has feted terrorist leaders as national heroes. . Pakistan even requested the United Nations to permit the leader of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Hafez Saeed (an UNSC-designated terrorist), to access their frozen accounts for basic expenses. Pakistan was directly responsible for the death of American soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan, along with our NATO and non-NATO allies, and most importantly our Afghan partners and their families.

Rather than accepting the blinding truth that Pakistan was not a friend much less an ally, the United States remained convinced that Pakistan was too dangerous to sanction, too dangerous to punish, too dangerous to hold to account. For decades, Americans have wrung their hands about the Pakistan problem. They rehearsed the fears that Pakistan may collapse, provide nuclear weapons to terrorists, provoke an escalatory war with India that could result in the deliberate or accidental use of nuclear weapons all the while coddling Pakistan, while aiding and abetting the further development of its nuclear arsenal and militant assets which Pakistan uses to coerce the international community.

In 2009, instead of taking coercive measures against the single most important state to the revivification of the Taliban, the United States launched the so-called surge which resulted in a massive expansion of troops as well as defense contractors (aka “mercenaries”) as well as government and non-government civilians that comprised the so-called “civilian surge.” Without developing viable ground-lines of resupply independent of Pakistan, this surge created an even deeper dependence upon Pakistan at a time when the United States was losing the war precisely because of Pakistan.

Part of the problem was the American failure to understand the perduring nature of Pakistan’s quest to render Afghanistan a vassal of Rawalpindi, the real capital of Pakistan.  Americans thought that Pakistan was only responding to India’s presence in the country and, as a result, the United States at times pressured India not to antagonize the Pakistanis in hopes of mollifying the khaki clique in Rawalpindi.  Another myth, which Pakistan itself fosters, is that Pakistan did not begin its forays in Afghan affairs during the Soviet Invasion and at American prompting and funding. In fact, Pakistan had been using Islamist organizations like the Jamaat-e-Islami to influence Afghan affairs since the 1950s. AT the time, Pakistan had legitimate concerns: Afghanistan rejected the legitimacy of the Pakistani state that emerged from Britain’s decolonization of the Raj in 1947; sought to disencumber itself from the 19th century treaty which demarcated the Durand Line as the border between the two states; nursed Pashtun nationalism; and even invaded Pakistan in Balochistan and in several Tribal Agencies in the 1950s. Moreover, Afghanistan supported violent insurgencies in Balochistan for decades.  

Pakistan found the opportunity to retaliate violently in 1973 when President Daoud ousted his cousin, King Zahir Shah, and began an aggressive suite of modernizing reforms under Soviet tutelage and encouragement. Afghanistan’s regressive clergy and associated Islamists resisted Daoud’s efforts to mainstream Afghanistan and Daoud responded to the obdurate Islamists brutally. As Islamists fled into Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto established an ISI (Pakistan’s formidable internal and external intelligence agency) cell in 1974 tasked with rendering them into effective militia groups for undertaking operations in Afghanistan.  Pakistan’s third military dictator, General Zia ul Haq continued with this policy after he ousted Bhutto in a coup, which resulted in the latter’s death.  General Arif, who served as President Zia’s Chief of Army Staff and who was familiar with Bhutto’ stratagem observed that “Of her own free will, Pakistan adopted the… option to protect her national interest and to uphold a vital principle” by providing “covert assistance to the Mujahidin.”  Abdul Sattar, who served as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister between 1999 and 2002, similarly opined that because “the Mujahidin would be fighting also for Pakistan’s own security and independence,” Pakistan “continued to support the Afghan resistance…providing it modest assistance out of its own meager resources.” Long before the Russians crossed the Amu Darya on Christmas Day 1979, the ISI, working with the Frontier Corp consolidated more than fifty resistance groups into the seven major so-called mujahedeen groups which would later fight the Soviet forces.

Failing to understand the enduring nature of Pakistan’s quest to render Afghanistan subservient to its interests, Americans consistently found expedient reasons to excuse Pakistani malfeasance. Without experiencing significant costs for its persistent efforts to squash Afghanistan’s emergence as a viable and independent state, Pakistan will continue along these efforts. For this reason, long ago, the Americans and the international community needed to impose sanctions upon Pakistani individuals and institutions, just as it did in Iran.

“The US Has Spent More in Afghanistan Than It Did To Rebuild Post-War Europe”

Another popular repine among Americans that despite spending more in Afghanistan than it did during the reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War and yet, none of those gains are irreversible.  This has certainly encouraged American bitterness about its commitments to what has been the longest war in American history. However, this understanding too is flawed. First and foremost, the United States and its partners were adamant about building a sprawling Afghan state, despite the lack of human and economic resources to sustain this effort. Under the Soviet Union, Afghanistan was a rentier state nearly completely dependent upon Soviet Aid.  However, the government that the United States build was much larger than that built by the Soviets; however, the Afghan state is capable of paying even fewer of its bills.  Currently, about 80 percent of the Afghan budget is paid for by the United States with little prospects of improvement. One of the lessons of the departure from the Soviet Union was precisely this: the dependence upon Soviet aid. When the Soviet Union could no longer provide that aid, the Afghan government collapsed.

 While government capacity across all of the ministries is low, lack of capacity in the Ministries of Defense which oversees the military forces and the Ministries of Interior, which oversees the police, are perilous. This author has followed US and international efforts to build effective Afghan fighting military and police institutions for much of the last twenty years.  While some will prefer to take refuge in the claims that these inadequacies are due to Afghan shortcomings, this too is unfair. From the beginning, the United States and NATO partners struggled to develop efficacious training programs much of which were executed through contracting firms under the ostensible guidance of American, German or other partner militaries. Training concepts and doctrines changed often as different parts of the recruiting and training mission came under different contractors and national oversight.  The United States consistently sought shortcuts such as opting to train “Afghan local police,” whom Afghans more accurately called militias. Unlike training Afghan police, which was more resource intensive and provided by contractors, training of these militias was less so  but still dependent upon contractors. Americans, risibly, tried to justify equipping militias by applying Afghan names to these militias, such as arbaki, which implied these latest efforts were rooted in Afghan historical practices rather than a quick and dirty effort to make a reliable and accountable police force on the quick.

The United States was adamant that the Afghan military use American weapons rather than Russian weapons, which tend to be easier and far more cost effective to use, maintain and resupply.  Chronic illiteracy and innumeracy plagued these efforts. In contrast, the Soviet Union trained thousands of civilian and military personnel either in the Soviet Union or other Eastern European countries. Ironically, many of our most effective Afghan partners were those who had been trained by the Soviets. As American fighting forces withdrew from ground operations, Americans continued to supply air support and other important missions such as casualty evacuation. If the American and NATO failings are evident in training the Afghan police and army, the failures to build a competent and capable Afghan Air Force is even more so.

The United States insisted upon the security architecture for the country but has been retrenching from its willingness to pay for this architecture. Even though it was widely understood that the efficacy of Afghanistan national defense and security forces was the key to preventing the onslaught currently witnessed, the United States has actually diminished is support for the same. Since 2014, Washington provided about 75% of the $5 billion to $6 billion per year which was needed to fund the Afghanistan national defense and security forces while the remainder of the tab was picked up US partner nations and some modicum from the Afghan government. However, for FY2021, the US Congress appropriated $3 billion for Afghan’s fighting forces, the lowest amount since FY2008. This diminution of US support came even while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said clearly that his government cannot support its army for even six months without American financial aid.

While much of the American expenditures pertained to defense, the United States has ostensibly invested in other sectors of Afghan governance. As of June 30, 2021, the United States has spent about $144.98 billion in funds for reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan since FY 2002, including: $88.61 billion for security (including $4.60 billion for counternarcotics initiatives); $36.29 billion for governance and development (including $4.37 billion for counternarcotics initiatives);  $4.18 billion for humanitarian aid; and $15.91 billion for agency operations. While these numbers are staggering much of US investment did not stay in Afghanistan. Because of the heavily reliance upon a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, belt-way banditry and aid contractors, between 80 and 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 in Afghanistan, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction repeatedly identifies bewildering corruption in the US system.  The organizations culpable of this corruption strangely yet are allowed to continued receiving US contracts.

The Shambolic Peace Process

Perhaps the third most egregious ensemble of things that the United States did to the Afghan government was strong-arm it into “peace talks” with the Taliban. More than anyone, the Afghan government understood that the Taliban and their handlers in Rawalpindi could not be trusted to honor their commitments, such as they were.  The spectacle of the “peace talks” was important to President Trump and later President Biden as they were essentially a process of negotiated American defeat which would create a fiction of power transition that would cover what would otherwise be depicted as an ignominious American defeat. Those familiar with the process understood that there was genuinely nothing to discuss: the Afghan government is committed to constitutional rule of law including elections, howsoever problematic while the Afghan Taliban was committed to overturning the constitution and it opposed elections as non-Islamic. This was a convenient position to hold as the Taliban could never win significant elections if they did contest them. As the sham peace talks faltered, in March 2020, the Trump administration threated to withhold $2 billion in assistance if the Afghan government didn’t return to the negotiation table.  Equally, appalling, the United States forced the Ghani government to release more than 5,000 hardened Taliban prisoners at the Taliban’s request in recompense for the hundreds of government officials taken captive by the Taliban. Many of those individuals have been leading the current offensive against Afghanistan’s provincial capitals.  The United States also pressurized President Ghani to post-pone or even cancel the 2019 presidential elections in a bid to mollify the demands of the Taliban that the government must be dissolved as a condition of peace and replaced with an interim government in which the Taliban had a stake.  Ghani refused rightly. There was no consensus on what Afghanistan’s future governance system would look like. Even now the Taliban claim that they will relent from their military onslaught if Ghani is removed. Given the American desire to have a more orderly descent to disorder, I would not be surprised if the Americans are currently pressing Ghani to do so instead of pressing Pakistan to call of their hyenas.

Worse yet, the Taliban used the spectacle of the peace process as a recuperative retreat to revivify and emplace their forces while stashing weapons as the awaited the US withdraw and the concomitant opportunity to sequentially assault a garland of Aghan provincial capitals as they prepare for the final assault on Kabul.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The US government has done too little too late to save Afghanistan from an entirely preventable fate.  Many Americans view the events of the last few weeks as a fait accomplis and rationalizing this catastrophe by claiming that the Taliban no longer pose a threat to US interests or those of our friends or allies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The worst has yet to begin. To consolidate their hold on Afghanistan, the Taliban will continue with a blood bath of revenge killing targeting those who have served the country in the national security and defense forces; civilian bureaucrats and politicians who oppose the Taliban; those who worked with the United States, NATO, multilateral organizations and civil society organizations. The fate that awaits Afghanistan’s women and girls is too horrendous to contemplate. The United States has not prioritized providing visas for the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the United States who are entitled to Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). This dereliction of duty of care is staggering. More than 300,000 Afghan civilians have worked to support the US mission over the last two decades. However, a mere, 16,000 Afghan SIVs have been issued since 2014. At present, there are more than 18,000 applications in the pipeline in addition to countless thousands of Afghans who are ineligible for an SIV who are in dire need of protection owing to their association with Americans.

It is never too late to sanction Pakistan. While such coercive measures to impose costs upon Rawalpindi for its relentless support of the Taliban’s killing machinery should’ve been undertaken early in the war effort, such measures are still useful both for punitive reasons but also to curb ongoing support. If the Americans couldn’t muster the   intestinal or other fortitude to sanction Pakistan when its proxies were murdering us, how will it do so when they are primarily murdering Afghans.

Second, the United States should reconsider its hasty withdraw of military forces. There were only a few thousand in place and this figure was sustainable. (Compare the US commitment to Israel or South Korea, by way of contrast.) Without US assets on the ground, drone strikes cannot be effective, even if the bases are found from which to fly sorties outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan.  The United States needs to stay involved in Afghanistan, providing air strikes. It is not too late to pound the Taliban forces.

Third, the United States government must at once stop its efforts to undermine the Ghani government. He is all we have. Instead of treating his government as an obstacle, his government should be seen as a critical partner in staving off the Taliban.

Finally, it does not matter if no credible democracy recognizes a Taliban government forged through the barrel of Pakistan-supplied guns. Threats of withholding aid to a Taliban government are absurd for two reasons. First, the Taliban has what it needs: support from China and Pakistan. China is the largest foreign investor in Afghanistan. But it requires stability to get its investments out of Afghanistan’s soil and into Chinese and other global markets. The Chinese have never had a problem with the Taliban and they still don’t. The Chinese had signed a memo with the Taliban in the weeks preceding 9/11 under which they agreed to provide economic and technical assistance, among other contacts dating back to at least 1998. The only ones who will suffer any such refusals to provide assistance with be the ordinary Afghans, who have already suffered enough.

The United States walked out of Afghanistan in 1990 and made Pakistan the custodian of Afghanistan’s future. We saw the outcome of this horrible decision. However, ever unable or unwilling to internalize the lessons of the past, the United States is yet again handing the Afghans over to Pakistan. When the Taliban once again transform Afghanistan into a a base of operations for a raft of modern Islamist terrorist organizations operating in and beyond the region, Washington will only have itself to blame.

PS: If you’d like to do something to help Afghans, consider the options listed here:

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: and

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: 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.


How Afghanistan was lost on an Installment Plan

By CHRISTINE FAIR | August 2021

On 7 October 2001, the United States entered Afghanistan under the aegis of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” The invading party was a small group of special operators entering Afghanistan from Tajikistan. 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. The Americans did not expect that the Taliban would fall quickly, but they did. Nor were the Americans able to deter the Northern Alliance from storming Kabul, which they did. And, in these fateful weeks, the United States ensured its eventual defeat in a war that would stretch out for nearly twenty years and which would become the longest war in America’s history.

In the early weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, then Pakistan President Musharraf was forced to reckon with the reality that Pakistan would have to break with its long-time proxy the Taliban, even if it was temporary. In exchange for his cooperation, Musharraf had three early expectations from Washington. First and foremost, he wanted the Americans to prevent the Northern Alliance from taking Kabul. As an analyst at RAND, I had a ground-floor view of American decision-making in Afghanistan and the shocking ignorance about Afghanistan among American policy-makers. Few understood that from Pakistan’s point of view, the Northern Alliance was an Indian proxy just as the Taliban were a proxy of Pakistan. In fact, Ahmad Shah Massoud did not die in Afghanistan; rather, he died in an Indian field hospital in Tajikistan.

Second, President Musharraf wanted some American efforts to resolve the so-called “Kashmir Dispute,” from which the US government had long washed its hands. Secretary of State Collin Powell gave some life to this expectation but this expectation too was smashed on the rocks of reality.

Third, Musharraf wanted to ensure the safety of Pakistan’s “strategic assets.” While Washington never acted against Pakistan’s program as it did against Iran’s program and even while Washington never did anything to punish Pakistan for AQ Khan’s illicit nuclear arms bazaar, it did force Pakistan to reconsider its strategic requirements as the United States tumbled ahead with the bomb-friendly so-called Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement and equally important agreements on satellite launch and other space programs. These agreements were intended to bolster India’s strategic assets as Washington believed that a rising India would be able to assist in the management of China’s pugnacious rise in the region and the international system.

But Washington also failed to understand the perturbing nature of Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan, and it ignored very early signals that Musharraf had in fact done a U-turn on its U-turn on the Taliban. In fact, Pakistan’s duplicity could be evident as early as December 2001 when Jaish-e-Mohammad executed — thankfully ineffectively — a suicide attack on India’s parliament building. India mobilized for war with the full encouragement of the US Ambassador in Delhi, Robert Blackwell. Blackwell was a political appointee who was close to US President George W. Bush. While Blackwell was nudging the Indians towards war, the US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain was doing her level best to keep the Pakistanis engaged on the western border where Pakistan was supposed to be the anvil to the US hammer in Afghanistan. As the Americans, with their Northern Alliance allies pushed the Taliban and their al-Qaeda associates south, they fled to Pakistan’s tribal Areas. Nonetheless, as India mobilized the largest force deployment since the 1971 war, Pakistani forces reoriented from the west to the east. The standoff remained for months. A second peak of this crisis occurred in May 2001 when terrorists associated with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba slaughtered the wives and children of Indian army personnel at Kaluchek. Again, both countries teetered on the brink of war.

Meanwhile, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the Pakistanis did little to stop the Taliban and al-Qaeda from ensconcing themselves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Many Americans familiar with Pakistan and Afghanistan at the time (including this author) believed that Lt. General Ali Jan Aurakzai, the extremely important XI Corp Commander, in fact aided and abetted the fleeing Taliban. This was entirely within the performance envelope of the Pakistan army. Many American special operators witnessed first-hand the audacious “Kunduz Airlift” during which Pakistan made dozens of C-17 sorties to rescue their Taliban associates and their ISI trainers.

By 2005, the United States and its NATO allies were under the delusion that major combat operations had ended. As political officer with the United Nations in Kabul in 2007, I also saw firsthand the shocking discussions among NATO military leaders during which they actually debated whether or not Afghanistan was undergoing an insurgency. Many of the absurd questions and policy approaches that the US stumbled into in Iraq were now tripping them in Afghanistan. To anyone with at least two neurons firing, it was obvious that the Taliban were on the offensive after enjoying a recuperative spell in Pakistan.

To this observer, it seemed apparent that this effort would fail as early as 2005. The reason for this was simple: the United States had been so focused upon al Qaeda that the Taliban were a secondary — if not tertiary — concern. And Pakistan delivered on al Qaeda. Whenever a US official travelled to Pakistan, there was always a freshly caught “al Qaeda #3” on offer. However, once Afghanistan was largely free of al Qaeda — because it had shifted to Pakistan — the US and NATO began focusing upon nation building and defeating the Taliban. However, this required a substantially larger deployment footprint in Afghanistan. This “deployment footprint” not only included American and NATO soldiers, it also included an ever-expanding armada of defencse contractors (more commonly known as “mercenaries”) as well as civilian aid workers, who in turn were protected by the said mercenaries. With American enmity with Iran never seriously in abeyance, the only means of supplying this ever-expanding circus of war fighters, war profiteers and do-gooders was through the ground lines of control in Pakistan. These included air routes for very sensitive items but generally all of the logical supply went through Pakistan.

In fact, I used to marvel at this well-oiled profit machine. Any genuine insurgent with an iota of sense could have made US and NATO operations impossible simply by positioning themselves at the two crossing points in the Khyber Pass and Chaman. The vast majority of the trucks were carrying fuel. The Taliban needed only to explode the first truck in the convoy and the last. However, that happened rarely as mostly the truckers did it themselves as an insurance fraud. In fact, very little pilferage occurred either on the Pakistani side. As many of us noted, the amount of pilferage and destruction was kept to a minimum: just enough to keep the Pashtun trucking mafia satisfied and below the threshold which would force the Americans to shift to air supply.

Why was this? Because the Taliban were never an insurgent group. They were and are a wholly owned subsidiary of Pakistan. This war in Afghanistan has been greatly beneficial to Pakistan. Not only did Pakistan receive copious subsidies to support the war in Afghanistan, it was never penalized for continuing to undermine it.

In 2009, when the so-called COINistas coerced President Barack Obama to implement the so-called surge, this author was one of the few who opposed the surge. I did so not because I am a peacenik; rather because I understood that the reason why we needed the surge was the extensive sanctuaries that the Taliban had in Pakistan as well as every possible amenity the proxy outfit required. To defeat the Taliban, the United States had to develop a coercive policy that imposed serious punishment for continued support of the Taliban rather than a policy of unending blandishment and perquisites. The surge would only increase the dependence upon Pakistan. And, as this author predicted, the surge failed to achieve anything but modest gains which were reversed as soon as the soldiers left.

How could a few thousand foreign troops achieve what nearly 400,000 could not?

As the Americans are “severing and sauntering” their way out of Afghanistan, Afghans see the writing on the wall. While talking heads seem surprised that the Taliban never fulfill any of their problems, the Afghans understand that they never would. The reason is simple: the Taliban think they had already won.

This piece was originally published in South Asia on 5 August 2021.

The Revenge of Farkhunda

C. Christine Fair

There was nothing notable about the Afghan woman known as Farkhunda Malikzada while she was alive. No one would have read about her in local or international papers. She wasn’t a politician, a grass-roots organizer, or one of few liberal activists demanding more rights for women and children in a country that has steadily marched back in time since the 1970s when women in Kabul sported miniskirts, sipped wine and pursued their professional and personal dreams in a beautiful city surrounded by snow-kissed mountains.

Instead, Farkhunda was a devout Muslim who was disquieted by superstitious accretions she observed in the Islam practiced by most Afghans. She wore a black hejab covering her head and a long black coat which would have been more common in an Arab country than in Afghanistan where women tend to wear the ubiquitous blue burqa.

But, in death, Farkhunda became a stark reminder of American failures to cultivate robust democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights in Afghanistan despite: occupying the country since late 2001; spending more money, in purchasing power parity, on this country of 37 million than it did rebuilding post-World War II Europe; fighting the longest war in American history; and losing thousands of American and allied soldiers, civilians and contractors and more than 157,000 Afghans. Despite the squander of life and treasure, the dark influence of the Taliban endures undaunted.

Few Americans had heard of the Taliban or its reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar before the terror attack of 11 September 2001. Despite continuous military action by the United States and its NATO allies in the country searching for him, Mullah Omar died in 2013 in Pakistan from complications related to hepatitis. He was likely sixty years old at the time of death. He founded the Afghan Taliban in 1994 as a movement of students who were studying in Deobandi (a South Asian Islamic interpretative tradition) seminaries in Pakistan. In fact, the name “Taliban” means students. There are few confirmed photos of Mullah Omar. The most common image is that from 1993 which depicts his missing right eye. He lost it while fighting the Soviet Union, which had occupied Afghanistan between December 1979 and February 1989. He required this photographic evidence of injury to claim compensation from the Afghan government. At the time, he was an American ally as the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, supported the so-called mujahideen’s effort to oust the Russians from the country.

After founding the Taliban in 1994, the movement swiftly seized control of most of Afghanistan by 1998, with the unstinting financial, military, and political support of Pakistan. By 1998, the world increasingly became aware of the Taliban’s unusual cruelties and crimes against humanity. Men were threatened with death if they did not grow their beards. They were severely punished if they failed to ensure “their women’s” compliance with the Taliban’s strictures. Girls were no longer allowed to study. Women were forbidden from working, which immiserated countless widowed mothers whose menfolk had died in the decades of warfare. When the Taliban adjudged that a woman or girl had violated any of their draconian diktats, the Taliban stoned them to death in soccer stadiums where crowds were encouraged to attend the gruesome spectacle.

Farkhanda is just one victim from among countless others and deserves no more or less pity. Perhaps it was the public nature of her inhuman murder that garnered international attention and prompted many to wonder whether Afghanistan would escape its own past. Perhaps it was just a fluke of timing or the result of particular hue and cry from critical diplomats that made her lynching seem uniquely cruel.

Whatever the reason, we know that on 19 March 2015, the 28-year-old woman had an altercation with a mullah (a Muslim preacher). In Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, mullahs rarely have completed the religious education required by curriculum (Dars-e-Nizami) in the seminaries (madrassahs). Thus, all too often they propound local superstitions rather than the prescription and proscription in the Quran. Indeed, few of these uneducated ulema can read the Quran with understanding as it is written in early seventh-century Arabic. According to the woman’s father, Farkhunda quarreled with the mullah over the common-place practice of exploiting unlettered woman by selling them, often expensive, amulets at shrines. Heterodox Islam frowns upon such rituals and some devout Muslims even believe they constitute shirk (apostasy) as they ascribe mystical powers to inert objects and to those who distribute them when Allah alone has such attributes.

During the argument, the mullah falsely accused her of burning a Quran. It was a common but deadly tactic to silence critics. Those who overheard the allegation immediately decided that she must be killed. She was beaten with bats, stomped upon, and driven over by a car after which her body was dragged by a car and then immolated. 

Her real crime? She had the temerity as a woman to challenge superstitious practices propounded by ignorant male clerics. The trial that ensued against the police that failed to protect her as well as the participants in the murderous frenzy was galvanized by domestic and international outrage and sought to protect Afghanistan’s image rather than obtain justice for the atrocity. Her family repined that the true culprits, including the one who ran her over with his car, were never charged.

There are several ironies in this tale of Farkhanda. On the one hand, it was the tenure of the Taliban which empowered these “lumpen mullahs” to deploy the religion they so poorly understood as a weapon to silence detractors, especially women. But Farkhanda was no “Gloria Steinem of the Hindu Kush.” In fact, her interpretation of orthodox Islam was much closer to that of the Taliban than the amulet-hawking mullahs who are often criticized by the very Deobandi clergy which produced the Taliban’s ideology. However, even though her arguments against useless talismans would have pleased Mullah Omar, the temerity of a woman to speak to a mullah, a man, and impugn him would have signed her death warrant.

Mullah Omar’s followers believe that upon arrival in heaven, he would enjoy the endless pleasures of the celestial maidens who have been untouched by man or djinn.

In this piece titled “Farkhanda’s Revenge,” I instead imagine Farkhanda waiting for him at the doorstep of heaven and quarrelling with him just as she did the other mullah. I take solace imagining that brave woman insisting that Mullah Omar justify her heinous slaughter for defending orthodox Islam against its defilers. If she could, this is exactly what she would have done. Maybe this is Farkhanda’s legacy?

Carol Christine Fair is an American artist and scholar. She is professor in the Security Studies Program within the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her work is primarily focused on counter-terrorism and South Asian topics.

Text and art copyright 2020 Christine Fair

A version of this essay was published by Vox Populi on December 19, 2020.

My Letter to Mikey Krepon and Andy Wilder

As I wrote a few weeks ago, Mikey Krepon and Andy Wilder — two wizened white men —felt it appropriate to write to the president of my employer because I said, say, and will continue to say, things they don’t like. They hoped said president would muzzle me.

As I have repeatedly said, I find this culture of appealing to employers to silence speech one doesn’t like to be particularly necrotic for democracy generally and freedom of speech in particular. Taken to its extreme, should such crybaby half-wits have their way following a hissy-fit tantrum, the only people who will enjoy freedom speech are those with trust-funds. Ditto for cancel culture. And I feel this way irrespective of what side of the political divide a crybaby finds himself.

A screen shot of the boys’ missive, along with the obfuscated emails of the most of the recipients, is given below. The text of their playground sobstory follows at the bottom of this post.

Their missive, along with the obfuscated emails of the recipients, is given below.

While these hyjinx went on while I was in Afghanistan, I didn’t feel the need to response to those dingleberries hanging off the matted ass of white male privilege.

Today, I finally got around to it. And it felt good to explain to these these exalted gentlemen where to go. ( I should’ve provided a map about how to get there, since dudes like these don’t ask for directions. My bad.)

So here we go. Better buckle up buttercups!

Dear Mikey and Andy (After all, if you can refer to my observations in infantalizing terms such as “outbursts,” I can refer to you with infantalizing aphorisms.)

I am going to respond to this note in the spirit in which you intended: weapons-grade assholery. And to make a point of you and calling you out, I am including your first audience. (And as always, have posted this this exchange to my blog because I like transparency.)

First, I am correct in pointing out the pervasive and noxious impacts of Pakistani influence operations which have had an extremely warping impact upon “discourse” and policy discussions about Pakistan. To be clear, Pakistan is a state that is more an American foe than a friend.  Pakistan is directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of several thousand Americans in and out of uniform and our allies in RS and previously ISAF. It is directly responsible for deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. Needless to say, it has also killed tens of thousands of Indians through its use of terrorist proxies. It has used its nuclear weapons to extract many tens of billions of dollars from the US overtly and more covertly.

Now that we are clear on the facts, I will also note with equal clarity that it is is not my “outbursts” or “volleys” (aka “my willingness to call this out”) that is corrosive; rather, it is the pusillanimity of poltroons like both of you and your willingness to acquiesce to Pakistan’s influence operations that is the problem.

Second, in addition to be stunningly puerile, this effort is also stunningly misogynist. Two old white men opining to another white man to muzzle up his yappy bitch is as old as the hills. 

Third, I will continue to identify this Pakistan influence operations and those who willingly succumb for the perquisites that doing so offers. I will continue to criticize your genuflections to a murderous and rogue regime. There is not much you can do about it. If you believe I have slandered you, sue me. I welcome the opportunity to press my case with an even wider audience. I particularly welcome the testimony of US officials who share my view.

Fourth, neither of you titans our our discipline have ever so rallied in defense of other colleagues who have irked the deep state that you both so dearly propitiate.

Let me identify a few notable examples of your failures to mobilize your deep concern for freedom speech, reputational harm or even the ability to do field work at all in Pakistan or even live their in peace and security.

1. Neither of you gentlemen ever howled in protest when the ISI threatened me with gang rape. Some of you asshats even had the feckless temerity to doubt it occurred. However, Husain Haqqani can attest to its reality. He was the ambassador when it happened. And after receiving the threat I was still going to go to Pakistan. He actually called me–against the ISI’s orders–the night before I left. He probably saved my life. And I will be grateful to him for that.

Speaking of Husain and many others whom the Derp State has targeted . When he was detained and his life threatened, did either of you boors mobilize such a letter in defense of him? No. Gentlemen. You rubes did not.

3. Have you ever mobilized in defense of anyone whose life has been threatened by the deep state you defend repeatedly in your various op eds? Ayesha Siddiqua can no longer live in her own country because the fellows you admire so much put a hit out on her life. Did you fine upstanding citizens of the discipline so mobilize to writer letter. How about Taha Siddiqui? How about the bloggers in 2017? I spent WEEKS of my life helping one of those bloggers get to safety. I appealed to you rapscallions and you and you said nothing and did less.

Andy didn’t even lift a finger to help Mubashar Hassan who was captured and tortured by Bangladeshi intelligence even though he was so captured due to his association with USIP and even though USIP had an obligation to provide duty of care under the even the crudest understanding of “duty of care.” It was Ali Riaz and I who did worked tirelessly to get him released.

3. Did either of you so mobilize in defense of the myriad journalists who are currently “disappeared” in Pakistan because they speak the truth about the deep state you pimp in your grant proposals? What about the Baloch who have been disappeared and killed in broad day light?

The short answer is NO. But when it came to defending a very obvious source of influence, you guys were like the Bionic Duo of Duffusry.

(I also noted the people you included. Asra Nomani is NOT a South Asianist. She IS a deeply Islamophobic tool of the right wing who previously tried to get me fired. I also noticed that you included Feroz Khan, who is another Pakistan influence operation.

Both of you–not me–are disgraces to our discipline and your country who has lost many citizens because of this state you so eagerly defend.

Typos and other infidelities reflect my indifference to you both as colleagues and as ostensibly sentient humans.

Y’all have a great day.


PS Andy:  while I expected such shenanigans from Mikey, I didn’t expect them from you. But I should have. You have happily let USIP become Zal’s chop-shop to sell the Afghans to Pakistan.

Below is the text of their letter.

Dear Colleagues,

Andrew Wilder and I have drafted a letter to Georgetown about Chris Fair’s characterizations of some of us as being tools of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
Her latest volleys can be found here:

Freedom of speech is precious; using it to spread poisonous and false attacks is an abuse of freedom of speech.
These abuses are all around us. They stain our political discourse. They ruin lives and reputations.
The internet offers no safeguards. Even so, Andrew and I seek to affirm a code of conduct for responsible standards and conduct within our modest community of researchers and analysts. Mutual respect is key. As is calling out unprofessional conduct.

Our proposed letter to the President of Georgetown is attached and can be found below. If you are willing to lend your name to this letter, please let me know by COB Thursday. We would like to list affiliations for purposes of identification only.

If you wish to discuss this with me, please email or call my cell number, below. We suspect this initiative will cause further eruptions. This is even more reason, in our view, for being on record calling for norms of proper professional conduct. Our silence isn’t helping.


Michael Krepon | Co-founder
The Stimson Center |<> | 434.960.1111
1211 Connecticut Avenue NW | 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20036;>
30 Years of Pragmatic Steps toward Creative Solutions
MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions

John J. DeGioia
President, Georgetown University
37th and O Streets, NW
Washington, D.C.  20057

Dear President DeGioia,

We wish to express our deep concern regarding the unprofessional conduct of Dr. C. Christine Fair, an associate professor at Georgetown University.

For many years Dr. Fair has made baseless ad hominem attacks on experts and scholars working on South Asia. She has frequently and publicly insinuated or explicitly claimed that some who do not agree with her perspective are “proxies” or “agents” of the Pakistani state and its intelligence services. These accusations are unfounded and unsubstantiated. They are not only slanderous, they can endanger individuals engaged in their research and analysis.

The signers of this letter belong to a community of analysts working on South Asia. We may disagree with one another on various issues, but we respect each other’s work. We avoid libel and slander. We do not infer that those who disagree with our views have ulterior motives or are in the employ of foreign intelligence services. We accept professional courtesies, standards and practices not only when writing and speaking as representatives of our institutions, but also when writing and speaking in our personal capacities.

We believe in freedom of expression, and Dr. Fair is certainly entitled to her own views and to disagree with the views and analyses of other experts. But as professionals whose work relies on guarantees of free expression, we also believe strongly that with freedom comes responsibility. Character assassination, ad hominem attacks, slander and innuendo to try to undermine the credibility of scholars and experts with whom Dr. Fair disagrees ought to be out of bounds for the faculty of an esteemed academic institution. Such attacks create risks and reputational harm not only to those being targeted without reason but also to Georgetown.We would request that Georgetown take appropriate actions to ensure that the irresponsible and unprofessional behavior of Dr. Fair not endanger or maliciously undermine the work of others.

Signed (Affiliations for identification purposes only),

Cc:  Robert Groves, Provost, Georgetown University

        Joel Hellman, Dean, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
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India’s Move in Kashmir: Unpacking the Domestic and International Motivations and Implications

On Monday, Aug. 5, the Indian government announced that the “special status” accorded to the state Jammu and Kashmir—which includes Ladakh—was no more. The government also split and downgraded the status of the erstwhile state into two union territories“Jammu and Kashmir,” which will have a local legislature while Ladakh will resemble other union territories.

I was in India when this move was announced, and in the run-up, it became increasingly clear that something was afoot in Kashmir. First, the central government had airlifted an extraordinary augmentation of security forces. By Aug. 1, 2019, the center had dispatched an additional 35,000 security forces to the state, which already has hundreds of thousands of security forces in place. (The actual number has not been disclosed.) It also announced that it had suspended the Amarnath Yatra (a popular seasonal Hindu pilgrimage to the mountainous abode of an ice formation that resembles a phallus attributed to the Hindu god Shiva). Some 40,000 security personnel were deployed for the security of the pilgrims. Over the same weekend, Kashmiri politicians announced a complete media and communications blackout, including the unprecedented move of cutting off landlines. Mainstream politicians in the state announced that they were under arrest. My own trip to Kashmir with West Point cadets and instructors was cancelled without any explanation whatsoever. It was apparent that something was going on as the entire state was put in an indefinite lockdown.

What precisely that was became clear a week ago, when the government announced that it was using a provision in Article 370 to eviscerate the article itself. Article 370 would still exist in India’s constitution, but it would no longer confer any special status to Kashmir. While this process was arguably a legal one, it remains to be seen whether it will be upheld in India’s supreme court, which has a mixed history of sometimes siding with the government while against it on other occasions. Amit Shah, the controversial Indian home minister, made an appeal to worried Kashmiris throughout the country—many of whom were concerned as they were unable to reach their families in Kashmir—that nothing negative would happen. He further stated that Kashmir was heaven on earth and that it would remain so. He announced that it would not be permitted to become the balkanized battlefield of the 1990s.

 Initially, it was not clear whether the government’s move pertained only to those parts of Kashmir currently administered by India or whether it pertained to those parts of Kashmir currently controlled by Pakistan and China as well. If it was the latter, then the government was merely formalizing the territorial status quo.  However, on Tuesday, Shah clarified the matter by explaining that “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt over it. When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it.” In response, China and Pakistan have been swift to mobilize in opposition. The United States, which was unaware of the move, has largely seen it as an internal matter but has stated that it will continue to monitor the human rights situation.

For those who have long watched India and the country’s ruling Hindu-chauvinist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), only two things about this sudden action should have been surprising. First, it’s notable that this did not happen during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term from 2014-2019. After all, abrogating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which conferred upon Jammu and Kashmir its special status, has been a core promise inscribed in the party’s manifesto. And the BJP has a tendency to follow through upon manifesto promises even when they are controversial: the party previously vowed to confer nuclear status upon India and did so upon assuming power in May 1998. The second perhaps surprising element was that it was so easy to do. Rather than seeking a consensus-based approached in Srinagar and Delhi, the government simply eviscerated most of the provisions of Article 370.

Elsewhere on Lawfare, Laya Maheshwari explores the legal background of Article 370. Here I explain the history and significance of Article 370 and how the government moved to nullify it. I will unpack some of the motivations for the move, as well as some of the near-term domestic and international fallout. 

Kashmir as a Long-Lingering Problem

On Feb. 20, 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that a war-weary and broke Britain would decolonize South Asia. Atlee planned to transfer power by June 1948; however, anxious to leave as soon as possible, the British expedited the timeline for departure to August 1947. The British government dispatched Lord Mountbatten, who would be the last Viceroy of the Raj, to oversee the tumultuous and sanguineous process. 

In June of 1947, the British promulgated the Indian Independence Act of 1947, which called for the creation of two independent states, which would be known as India and Pakistan.  The act elaborated that the “the territories of India shall be the territories under the sovereignty of His Majesty which, immediately before the appointed day, were included in British India except the territories which, under subsection (2) of this section, are to be the territories of Pakistan.” It stated that the territories of Pakistan would be comprised of the Provinces of East Bengal and West Punjab as well as the territories included in the Province of Sind (now known as Sindh) and the Chief Commissioner’s Province of British Balochistan and, subject to a referendum, the territories of the Northwest Frontier Province. The precise boundaries in the east and west were to be decided by two commissions chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been to South Asia but was charged with a momentous decision nonetheless. The commissions were to divide Punjab and Bengal on “the basis of ascertaining contiguous majority areas of Muslims and non-Muslims. In doing so, [they would] also take into account other factors.” Astonishingly, Mountbatten was able to persuade the various political leaders of the future Pakistan and India—Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru in particular—to accept the boundary commission decisions before the awards were announced.  The details of the partition were not revealed until Aug. 16, 1947, a day after the transfer of power.

However, as noted, neither the Indian Independence Act nor the Radcliffe Commission pertained to the more than 560 “princely states,” which were under the rule of Indian princes and which en masse comprised nearly 41 percent of the territory.  The princely states’ rulers exercised near-autonomy in their internal affairs while recognizing the paramountcy of the Crown.  Mountbatten was able to persuade all but three to join either India or Pakistan prior to partition, based upon either geographical contiguity or upon the communal distribution of their subjects.  By the time Independence neared, only three held out: Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir.

Junagadh was a Hindu-majority state with a Muslim sovereign, within Indian territory. Its sovereign signed an instrument of accession to join Pakistan. Initially Pakistan refused to accept Junagadh in hopes that it could arbitrage the sovereign’s accession for the territory Pakistan actually wanted: Kashmir. India forcibly annexed Junagadh and ratified the acquisition through a plebiscite which endorsed joining India.

Hyderabad was a large state led by a Muslim sovereign ruling over a Hindu-majority population. Hyderabad’s leader sought to remain independent, which Pakistan’s leadership encouraged in order to weaken the emergent India. Indian accounts frequently describe India’s forceful acquisition of Hyderabad as a “police action,” but Srinath Raghavan describes the brutality of what was actually a military conquest of Hyderabad by the Indian government.

Kashmir, led by a Hindu king who ruled over a Muslim-majority population, abutted both India and Pakistan. While much of the roadways and irrigation networks tied Kashmir more tightly to Pakistan, there was one important tehsil (an administrative unit below the district) in Indian Punjab (Pathankot) that provided road and rail ties to India. The sovereign of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, also wanted to be independent. As he dithered, Pakistan worried that Kashmir would either remain independent or worse, join India.

While neither the Indian Independence Act of 1947 nor the Radcliffe Boundary Commission in any way shape or form indicated that Kashmir “belonged to Pakistan,” Pakistan believed that without Kashmir, partition could not be complete. Pakistan’s claims were not legal, but rather ideological. Pakistan was founded on the basis of the so-called “Two Nation Theory,” which argued that Muslims and Hindus represented equal nations even though the latter outnumbered the former. While this did not necessarily always equate with the demand for an independent Pakistan, it did ultimately yield a Pakistan. Because Kashmir was the only Muslim-majority state in the Raj, Pakistan believed it was entitled to this land on the basis of its state’s ideology. Thus, Hugh Tinker observed in 1977, while many countries remain embittered over lands lost, Pakistan is one of the few countries “with a sense of bitterness and grievance for territories that have never formed part of its polity.”

To secure Kashmir, Pakistan dispatched tribal “marauders” (who would later be known as Mujahideen) to seize Kashmir by force, despite signing a standstill agreement with Singh that committed Pakistani forces not to invade Kashmir. While Pakistan often insists that this was a non-state operation, Shujah Nawaz (the brother of a deceased Pakistan army chief) mobilized Pakistani army archival materials to decisively demonstrate the extensive provincial and central support for this operation. As Pakistani forces became closer to Srinagar, Maharaja Hari Singh sought Indian support, and India agreed to support him provided that he accede to India’s dominion. The maharaja signed the agreement on either Oct. 26 or 27. Only Pakistan and its partisans(including retired diplomats, military personnel, scholars and think tank analysts) dispute that the instrument of accession was signed. However, Andrew Whitehead, who wrote an authoritative book on this subject, suspects that the instrument was signed a few hours after India began airlifting troops to defend newly acquired Indian territory.

This instrument of accession permitted India’s parliament to impose legislation upon Jammu and Kashmir only in matters of defense, external affairs and communication. When the Indian constitution was promulgated in 1950, Article 370 enshrined this special status. This provision permitted the state to have a separate constitution and  flag.  An additional provision, commonly referred to as 35 A, restricted land purchases in Kashmir only to those who are considered Kashmiri citizens.  Women who married men not from Kashmir lost this privilege, as did their children. Men who married women outside of the region did not lose their privileges. Many argue that 35 A, by preventing outside investments in the state, precluded economic development. In total, the provision permitted these particular citizens of India to be subjected to the laws and regulations that were promulgated by Maharaja Hari Singh. While the provision was always meant to be temporary, it perdured until Aug. 5, 2019.

Initially, India referred the matter of Pakistan’s invasion of Kashmir to the United Nations. The first resolution on the matter, passed in 1948 by the U.N. Security Council, was UNSC Resolution 47. It called for Pakistan to completely evacuate all non-Kashmiris from the area and demilitarize. Once Pakistan made these moves to the satisfaction of a U.N.-appointed committee, India was supposed to demilitarize as well; however, India was permitted to retain a defense presence in the event that Pakistan resumed aggression. After these sequential conditions were met to the satisfaction of said U.N.-appointed body, a plebiscite was supposed to be held to determine the fate of the region.

Ironically, it was India’s leadership that suggested the plebiscite while Pakistan’s leadership demurred. Indian leadership understood the complexity of the region: Ladakh was mostly Buddhist, Jammu was mostly Hindu and Kashmir was a mix of Sunni and Shia Muslims. Religious minorities such as Christians and Sikhs were also spread across the territories, and there was widespread anger over the rapacity and brutality of the Pakistani invaders. Pakistan rightly assessed that a plebiscite would not be propitious. In any event, Pakistan never fulfilled the first necessary, but insufficient, condition for this plebiscite to ever materialize. (Pakistan continues to persist with mendacious demands for said plebiscite in international fora in hopes that audiences will be unfamiliar with the empirical facts of the case.)

Figure 1: The Disputed Region of “Kashmir”

A close up of a mapDescription automatically generated

Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

Article 370: Then and Now

Since 1950, several developments have materially affected the import of Article 370. In 1959, Pakistan discovered that Chinese maps had claimed part of its territory as China’s own.  Unable to secure a security pact with India against China, Pakistan’s military dictator Ayub Khan decided that it was best to press for peace with China. As a part of this rapprochement, in 1963 Pakistan ceded part of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, the Shaksgam Valley. This agreement paved the way for deepened Sino-Pakistan ties, which included the engineering feat of building the Karakoram Highway—which links Kashgar, the second most important city in China’s Xinjiang province, with Hasan Abdal (located a few kilometers beyond Islamabad). The highway passes through the part of Kashmir ceded to China as well as the part seized by Pakistan in the 1947-48 war, now known as Gilgit-Baltistan. Since then, demography of Gilgit-Balistan has changed considerably due to a variety of issues such as out-migration for work and education  as well as in-migration of Pakistanis from outside the region encouraged by the government.

In 1962, India and China went to war over their territorial disputes in Aksai Chin (ostensibly part of Ladakh in the north and west) and Arunachal Pradesh (in the east). In that war, which India decisively lost, two functional frontiers came into existence: the “Line of Actual Control” in Aksai Chin and the MacMahon Line in the East. Per the Line of Actual Control, China holds territory in Aksai China, which India claims is a part of Ladakh. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: The China-India Border with Disputes in the Northwest and East

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Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

While the afore-noted 35 A was promulgated to prevent significant demographic changes in the state, demographic changes occurred nonetheless. In the late 1980s, an indigenous insurgency broke out as a result of Indian malfeasance that begin with the dismissal of a popularly elected state government and the subsequent conduct of a rigged election to foist into power a New Delhi stoogeWhile the insurgency began indigenously, it was soon taken over by a menagerie of Pakistani proxies that evolved over time. Today, Pakistani terrorist proxies, as well as indigenous fighters, continue to cause problems for the region. In 1990, Islamist terrorists—many of whom were local—began a campaign to drive out the Kashmiri Pandits, a Hindu community unique to Kashmir, from the Valley. At the end of the campaign, between 100,000 and 190,000 had fled the Valley. Those Hindus have been unable to return to Kashmir. And section 35 A limited their ability to sell their land to outsiders who may have been willing to pay more than locals who would take advantage of their economic precarity and dislocation.

While it is commonplace to refer to “Kashmir” as “Muslim,” and reduce the aspirations of the entire policy to its Muslim residents, doing so does grave violence to the demographic realities. Per the most recent 2011 census, Muslim are a majority in what was the Jammu and Kashmir state: they comprise 68.31 percent of the population. Muslims are the majority in 17 out of 22 districts. Hindus, who make up 28.44 percent of total population overall, comprise a majority in four out of 22 districts.  However there is significant district- and subdistrict-level variation. While Jammu division is majority Hindu, it has three districts with Muslim majorities (Poonch, Rajouri and Doda) while three districts have very large Hindu majorities (Jammu, Kathua, and Udhampur). The division of Kashmir has six districts (Kupwara, Baramulla, Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama and Anantnag) with Muslim majorities in excess of 90 percent. Ladakh has two districts: Muslim-majority Kargil and Buddhist-majority Leh. While most of the Muslims in the Valley are Sunni, the entire region (including that held by Pakistan) has large Shia minorities as well.

Muslim identity, contrary to popular belief, does not predict regime preferences. In 2010, Chatham House conducted the most comprehensive survey of Kashmiri attitudes across those areas controlled by India and Pakistan. (It did not survey those in the part of Kashmir ceded by Pakistani to China in 1963).  In that survey, respondents were asked if they were given the choice in a vote tomorrow, which one option they would vote for. Options included: Should Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (the de facto boundary separating portions of Kashmir administered by both countries) become independent? Should Kashmir join India? Should it join Pakistan? Should the Line of Control to be made an international border? Should India and Pakistan to have joint sovereignty over Kashmir? Or should there be no change in the status quo?

For that portion of Jammu and Kashmir governed by India, 43 percent indicated that they preferred independence; however, the distribution was very uneven: support for independence in the Valley ranged between 75 and 95 percent across the districts; virtually no one in any district wanted independence in Jammu; and in Ladakh (with a very small sample size) one in three in Leh district and one in five in Kargil district wanted independence. Note that this option was not envisioned in the afore-noted plebiscite detailed in UNSCR 47.


With respect to joining India, 28 percent of the residents expressed this preference with similarly wide variation. In the Kashmir Valley, support ranged from a low of two percent in Baramula to 22 percent in Anantnag. In Jammu Division, support for this option ranged from 47 percent in Jammu to 73 percent in Udhampur; however, in Punch and Rajauri six percent and zero percent respectively wanted this option. In Ladakh Division, 67 percent in Leh and 80 percent in Kargil wanted to join India.


Support for joining Pakistan was uniformly low all over, with only two percent wanting this option. There were six districts in which no one wanted to join Pakistan. Only in the Valley of Kashmir did anyone prefer joining Pakistan with support being the highest in Srinagar (six percent) and Badgam (seven percent).


Nor does religion best predict where violence has traditionally occurred in Jammu-Kashmir. Indian officials uniformly acknowledge that violence is low relative to the highs experienced in the 1990s. Following the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, the Jaish-e-Mohammad attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi in December 2001 and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba attack on Indian army families at Kaluchak in May 2002, the United States pressured Pakistan to curb terrorism in India. By 2003, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir were at an all-time low. Violence has never since reached the levels of the 1990s. This is a function of India’s efforts to harden the Line of Control as well as different tactics and strategies pursued by the groups and their handlers in Pakistani intelligence and the army. During interSviews I conducted in July and August 2019, Indian military and civilian officials and think-tank analysts explained that at present, disturbances are localized to a mere six of 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir.

Source: f

With respect to the content and force of Article 370 in the pre-August 2019 state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government had used Article 370 to change laws in the state several times. Moreover, given the unrelenting campaign of terror supported by Pakistan, the state has been subject to a variety of  legal regimes (such as “aid to civil” enabled by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act), Governor’s Rule and President’s Rule, all of which have been justified on security grounds. (In India governors are appointed by the president of India and thus represent the central government, while chief ministers are elected at the state level.)

Why Now?

As noted, the BJP has long sought to eviscerate the special status of Kashmir, as its various election manifestos going back several decades attest. So what precipitated this course of action now? Presumably the government could have done this during its first term when its mandate was arguably the strongest. However, during Modi’s first term, the government tended to avoid “communal” talking points and instead focused upon economic issues. During the campaign period for the 2019 election, the party clearly signaled a return to its bread-and-butter focus upon issues intended to motivate the Hindu voter. I was in India in February 2019 during the most recent flair up over the Jaish-e-Mohammad attack against Central Reserve Police Forces at Pulwama and the corresponding Indian strike against that terrorism group at Balakot. During that period, there were murmurs about revoking Article 370 or at least 35 A, but those murmurs disappeared as the latest India-Pakistan crisis played itself out and as India went into elections.

Indian interlocutors during my recent trip raised two important and interrelated issues that might bear on the timing, even while conceding that this had long been an agenda item for the BJP, which—like President Trump—prioritizes fulfilling campaign promises irrespective of the wisdom of such promises. The first issue which has been looming over the last year is the potential “deal” that the Trump administration may reach with the Taliban. During the Taliban’s tenure in Afghanistan, Pakistan co-located numerous Pakistan-based and backed militant groups with the Taliban, whom the Pakistanis also supported militarily, politically, diplomatically and financially. During this period, many of these groups also forged closed ties with Osama Bin Laden and his al Qaeda, who were also co-located with the Taliban. These groups were used to conduct attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and later throughout India after Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests in May 1998. India understood—as it understands today—that what happens in Afghanistan rarely stays in Afghanistan.

India has long worried that Trump will seek a hasty deal that will justify an American exit from Afghanistan well before the 2020 U.S. elections, as he has promised to his own constituents.  The Taliban have demanded positions in government without contesting elections, they want to end elections altogether as they are “un-Islamic,” and they want to gut much of the Afghan constitution. The Taliban are particularly interested in rolling back the rights that women have achieved since the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001. And the U.S. government seems more than willing to concede many of these demands. Meanwhile, with victory nearly certain, the Taliban and their handlers in Pakistan have continued a brutal war in hopes of securing a maximally optimal deal.

With Trump desperate to extricate Americans from Afghanistan, he has had to reverse course on Pakistan, which he pilloried in early January 2018. During the visit of Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan to Washington, D.C. in late July, Trump admitted that Pakistan would help him extricate the Americans from Afghanistan. During that visit, to India’s consternation, Khan successfully linked peace in Kashmir to peace in Afghanistan, which was surely a diplomatic coup for Pakistan’s real government in army headquarters. (Oddly, some members of the Taliban rejected such linkage, likely in an effort to give the impression of significant light between the positions of the Taliban and their handlers in Pakistan.) To make matters worse, Trump asserted that Modi had requested Trump to intervene in the Kashmir dispute, a claim which New Delhi immediately disputed. However, this did not deter Trump from restating the preposterous proposition. Indian interlocutors on my recent trip—some of whom are close to the current government—indicated that these two factors motivated the Modi government to move when it did.

Domestic Impacts

In the near term, it is difficult to assess what will happen as a result of this bold move. While India may have taken this move in an effort to bolster security in advance of a U.S.-Taliban deal that could usher in renewed violence, critics fear that the move may actually make such escalation of violence more likely. However, it will take some time to discern which side is most correct, because Kashmir has been on a tight clampdown, making resistance impossible and making it difficult for Pakistan to coordinate with its assets in the Valley. Parts of Kashmir are under a curfew that is expected to last months. And there is no indication of when jailed politicians will be let go.

The downgrading of Kashmir’s status from state to union territory has important implications. In India, administrative powers are divided among central government and and sub-national units such as states and union territories. The “state” is a subnational Indian constituency with its own elected government (including legislative assembly and Chief Minister) and a limited right to frame its own laws. The governor, who is appointed by the president of India, serves as his or her representative in the state. Union territories, in contrast, are ruled directly by the central government. They are administered by a lieutenant governor, who represents the Indian president and is appointed by the central government. Most union territories (except Delhi and Puducherry) do not have their own legislatures; however, they are represented in the lower house (Lok Sabha) but have no representation in the upper house (Rajya Sabha), with the exception of Delhi and Puducherry. The central government both controls and administers union territories. The new union territory will resemble that of Puducherry and Delhi while Ladakh will resemble the remainder.

Notably, Ladakh residents are largely satisfied with this move. Ladakh has long resented being yoked to the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. (Kargil, with its large Muslim majority, may petition to join Kashmir.) First and foremost, there is no longer a functioning legislature in Jammu and Kashmir and there is no longer a chief minister. Politics in Kashmir have changed overnight. (Ladakh will have no state assembly but will have representation at the center.) This also means that the state’s police will not answer to Kashmir-based politicians; rather, the police will answer to the center. Security officials have opined that under the previous regime, politicians who were sympathetic to or subsidized by militant organizations or their handlers in Pakistan would leak operational details undermining the efficacy of such operations. Indian interlocutors are optimistic that this move will help the center better control violence in Kashmir.

Equally importantly, many of India’s anti-corruption laws were not applicable in Kashmir. Any observant visitor to Kashmir will notice the palatial properties of political actors that seem wildly disproportionate to their legitimate income. It is widely recognized that political actors in the state have long been on the payroll of all sides, allowing them to accumulate vast wealth. For much of India’s independent history, the Valley-centric government has been led by two dynastic families who control their own parties (the National Conference, led by Farooq Abdullah, and the People’s Democratic Party, led by Mehbooba Mufti). Modi and the BJP have a particular loathing of dynastic parties—surely another dimension of this move that merits attention.  BJP officials attribute the massive corruption and nepotism that exists in Kashmir to the existence of Article 370, as well as the lack of economic development.They are likely more correct than not. The central government has now vowed to identify the source of corruption and prosecute individuals appropriately. This will also have the effect of further eviscerating current political parties and their leadership in the former state. The BJP likely hopes that it can cultivate new party leadership that is less beholden to money appearing in suitcases of unstated origins and more beholden to integrating Kashmir into the Indian body politic.

Article 370 also had numerous pernicious impacts that have generally been overlooked by its defenders. Because the instrument largely existed to ensure continuity of Maharaja Hari Singh’s laws (which were a legal khichdi of colonial law and the diktats of his hereditary Dogra fiefdom), Kashmir’s citizens were denied many of the advantages of modern India. For example, it precluded the implementation of the Right to Education. As noted above, this is inherently anti-woman, but it also denies residents of the erstwhile Kashmir the advantages of the system of reservations enjoyed by other disadvantaged caste communities. (Reservations are a form of “affirmative action” that India has established to help uplift certain cast communities who have long suffered from path-dependent caste-based discrimination. However, it is not means tested and thus many so-called low-caste families have become quite wealthy. Generally, Muslims are not entitled to reservations, with very few notable exceptions.) Also of note, the 73rd and 74th amendments pertaining to elections of local bodies were not applicable in the state. (India has a vibrant system of local elections in both rural and urban areas.) In addition, because outsiders could not purchase and develop land in the state, Article 370 may well have suppressed development that would have otherwise occurred. Accordingly, the government announced plans for an investor summit to be held in an effort to galvanize private investment in industries, educational institutes, healthcare facilities among other job-producing activities.

To be clear, the BJP did not undertake this initiative for simply benign reasons like cleaning up corruption or development the state; it undertook it as a part of its long-standing political agenda of privileging Hindus and suppressing Muslims. Many left-leaning Hindus and politically engaged Muslims read the downgrading of the state to a union territory as a signal that the Hindu chauvinist regime cannot trust Muslims to be in charge of a state. They also read this as a part of a campaign to target issues that have most impacts for Muslims under the guise of feminism and development. (For example, the government made it illegal for men to divorce their wives by uttering or texting “Talaq” three times. Even though the practice is illegal in many Muslim countries and contravenes the spirit of the Quran itself, which dedicates an entire chapter to laying out the lenghty process of divorce, many Indian Muslims saw this is an erosion of Muslim personal law. The government justified the move by referencing concern for Muslim women.) Oddly, the government has been silent on issues that derive from Hindu practice which harms far more women (such as dowry deaths, female infanticide and female foeticide), all of which admittedly are illegal even if offenders are rarely prosecuted. Moreover, the BJP has been clear that it seeks to eliminate any constitutional provision of Muslim personal law, which is also consistent with the spirit of the Indian Constitution, which articulates the aspiration for all of Indians to come under a uniform civil code. Muslims fear that any such uniform civil code will privilege Hindu practices while denigrating their own.

Ironically, persons who genuinely support secularism in India should be willing to concede that Article 370 in effect rendered residents of the state second-class citizens. With Article 370 gone, the government has a direct responsibility to treat the citizens of these two union territories with the same rights and privileges of Indians elsewhere. This will be a challenge given the ongoing security concerns in the state, which seem to worsen with every news cycle.

However, Home Minister Shah has said that the central government will restore state status to Jammu and Kashmir as soon as normalcy resumes. In other words, residents of the Jammu Kashmir Union Territory have an incentive to cooperate on security issues to regain the area’s status as a state. Under the previous regime, politicians were incentivized to “outbid” each other and float the absurd specter of independence without penalty.

International Dimensions

The only countries that have been directly provoked by India’s action are Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s howls of protest are particularly problematic given that its own government has locked up myriad mainstream politicians and has sustained separate campaigns of violence against the Baloch people in Balochistan as well as Pashtuns mobilized the Pashtun Tehfuz Movement (PTM). Pakistan’s protestations also ring hollow because of its own moves in 1963 to cede territory that did not belong to it, as well as to formalize that relationship by large infrastructure projects through the territory with China, including the Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan’s efforts to raise this issue at the United Nations has already been rebuffed. China, too, is disgruntled and has complained that India is making unilateral domestic legislation on territory that both countries claim. The Chinese government has derided these moves by noting that they do little to change the facts on the ground, such as Chinese occupation of the territory India claims.

Pakistan may be tempted to underwrite terrorist operations in Kashmir or elsewhere in India in response. It rightly understands that when it comes to Trump, it holds the advantage because of the president’s desire to get out of Afghanistan. The United States would be hard pressed to come down hard on Pakistan when Pakistan is the key to Trump’s efforts to “sever and saunter” from a war that is unpopular with his base and other Americans. However, India has signaled that is no longer willing acquiesce to Pakistani bullying, and thus any gambit right now may be inordinately risky with near certainty of retaliation.

One of the interesting aspects of this division is that it effectively separates India’s territorial disputes with Pakistan from its disputes with China. Pakistan’s dispute will largely focus on the Valley, while China will largely focus upon claims to Aksai Chin. There is virtually no chance of a resolution with Pakistan, because Pakistan’s demand to the territory is ideological and moored in the Two Nation Theory. If Pakistan were to let go of its territorial demands, this would be tantamount to conceding the death of the Two Nation Theory itself. Also, Pakistan’s powerful army has a strong incentive to preclude peace between the two nations. Peace would make it difficult for the powerful army that dominates the country to justify its enormous size, its hogging of national resources and its claim to run the country when it feels the need. India’s disputes with China, by contrast, are not ideological and may therefore be more amenable to resolution.

The United States, for its part, has generally viewed this as an internal matter for India, although it has announced it will continue to monitor human rights issues such as the curfew, the media blackout and the inexplicable arrest of mainstream politicians.


Jettisoning Kashmir’s special privileges has long been a part of BJP’s Hindu-chauvinist agenda. Like white supremacists in the United States who resent the unequal enfranchisement of non-white Americans, Hindu chauvinists decry what they call policies of “appeasing” India’s Muslims to secure their vote during elections. Indians refer to this as “votebanking.” (If the current appalling socio-economic status of India’s Muslims—which typically falls between India’s “other backward castes” and “schedules castes and tribes”—is the result of appeasement, one can only imagine what results would have obtained without this ostensible appeasement.)

However, if the BJP only treats this move as a part of its communal “to-do” list, the security situation in Kashmir may well decline precipitously. While Indian officials seem hopeful that the arrest of politicians, the indefinite curfew and the communications blackout will suppress violence in the near-term—aided by the extensive deployment of security forces—this posture cannot be maintained indefinitely.  At some point, India will have to diminish the oppressive conditions that currently obtain in the state. At the same time, If India genuinely wants to mainstream Kashmiris, this effort cannot begin and end with this legal sleight of hand. India must follow through will the various commitments to develop the state and to extend all of the rights of privileges of Indian citizenship to the residents. Should it fail to do so, Pakistan will be loitering like a hyena waiting to pounce upon the injured carcass of Kashmir.

This originally appeared in Lawfare on 13 August 2019.

General Bajwana Trump ko Bajwata Hain

Trump learns that a nuclear-armed, terrorist festooned Pakistan has the Trump Card.

Donald Trump undid decades of bipartisan diplomacy forged by US presidents Bill Clinton & Barack Obama and Indian PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee & Narendra Modi.

America’s mendacious, racist, misogynist and all-around boorish President Donald Trump last week undid decades of bipartisan diplomacy forged by American presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Indian Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. This was evident during Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Washington DC.

While these respective administrations often disagreed amongst and between themselves in Washington and New Delhi, they all agreed on the natural strategic alignment in Indian and American interests. The progress was stunning.

The two inked deals that few could have imagined, including the civilian-nuclear deal, cooperation on satellite launches, and myriad agreements known by dizzying acronyms that detailed proliferating bilateral and defence and technological cooperation. Then came Donald Trump.

Trump & Indian optimism

When Trump was elected, many in India expected a new day in US-India relations. Much of this optimism was rooted in Trump’s Islamophobia and (ironically) race-baiting, which signaled to religious majoritarian chauvinists that Trump would finally give Pakistan the proper thappad before tossing Pakistan out into the street to fend for itself. Indeed, Trump occasionally provided ballast for those expectations. He famously tweeted on 1 January 2018:

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

After spurts, the deep state responded to the tweet state and began figuring out how to craft an ex-post facto punitive policy. At the time, I argued in Foreign Policy that while Trump may have sway over America’s checkbook, Pakistan in fact held the Trump Card. Trump’s policy is over-determined by the map he scarcely could read. If he was hoping for a military outcome different from that of his predecessors, he needed a country with a port. The options were two: Iran and Pakistan. (The northern distribution network was also a canard as Russia did not permit the United States to transit lethal goods, which are necessary during war-fighting.)

Since Trump was dead set upon doing Israel’s bidding to pander to his evangelical base, which (and I joke not) considers him the most godly president in the US history, this left only Pakistan. His “surge” policy would fail for the same reasons that previous surges failed — the persistent resistance to developing a coercive Pakistan policy. This would leave Trump in a position he hates: losing.

Trump’s Afghan promise

As expected, Trump switched course and sought to fulfil a campaign pledge that he made. Trump has an obsessive compulsion about fulfilling campaign pledges irrespective of how idiotic, dangerous or ill-informed they may be. And his base loves him for this. Trump believes that getting out of Afghanistan before the 2020 election season ramps up is necessary for him to win. From Trump’s point of view, if Afghanistan goes to hell in a hand-basket after he’s elected, it will not be his problem because he cannot legally contest a third term. If he loses the election in 2020, what happens in Afghanistan is also not his problem.

In an effort to sever and saunter from Afghanistan, Trump dispatched the Afghan-American Neocon Zalmay Khalilzad to stitch up a peace deal with Afghans. It has not gone as expected for the reasons that I argued in January 2018: Pakistan holds the Taliban leash. Trump needs Pakistan to put even the slightest fig leaf over what is clearly a failure that was purchased on the installment plan by three American presidents.

While many were doubtful — or hopeful — that Trump would backtrack on his “hard line” against Pakistan, all doubts were cleared on 22 July when Trump met Pakistan’s army chief-selected Prime Minister Imran Khan. The press conference will likely go down as one of the most bizarre, mendacious and even unhinged press conferences in US presidential history.

Trump & Imran meet

First, Trump conceded what perspicacious South Asia observers knew all along: he needs Pakistan to “help us out to extricate ourselves” from Afghanistan where “We’re like policemen. We’re not fighting the war.” Such a description belies and belittles the enormous death toll of this war, which includes: nearly 2,500 American soldiers, nearly 4,000 contractorstens of thousands of Afghan security forces, about 1.47 lakh Afghan civilians and over 1,100 allied troops.

He reassured Americans and everyone else watching the press conference that he could win a war in Afghanistan and that it would take a week to do so. But, he repined, “I just don’t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don’t want to kill 10 million people.” And since he doesn’t apparently want to use nuclear weapons on Afghans —our allies of nearly 18 years who have made countless sacrifices — he explained that Pakistan would help him out of Pakistan.

To Afghans, this was an explicit threat: accept Pakistan’s yoke or be incinerated. As I have repeatedly said, Trump may have denied Pakistan aid since early 2018, but he would bequeath the prize to them: Afghanistan. Pakistan would—just as it did in the 1990s—become the security manager of Afghanistan despite the will and aspirations of Afghanistan, despite the sacrifices Afghans and the international community made to empower women, educate children, provide healthcare and bring the country into the 21st century.

India’s outrage

For Indians, the worst was yet to come as the press conference continued. After Imran Khan told the world that Pakistan has “tried our best. We’ve made all overtures to India to start dialogue, resolve our differences through dialogue”, he ultimately massaged Trump’s ego and asked for intervention. Trump could not resist the bait and claimed that, two weeks prior, he met Modi who “actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.’ Because this has been going on for many, many years. I was surprised at how long; it’s been going on a long.”

Indians were aghast. How could the most powerful man in the world say something that was so implausible and most certainly untrue? (Indeed, India clarified that this was simply a lie.) As an American, I found the Indian incredulity to be charming. After all, since assuming office, Trump has told a whopping 10,796 lies (as of 7 July) about things big and small. Why would Indians believe that the third rail of their domestic politics was out of range for Trump’s prevarications?

Americans were confused by India’s outrage. Few Americans appreciate how fraught this subject is or how presidential terms have been littered with past efforts to play a role in “Kashmir.”

As diplomats and scholars of South Asia listened aghast and as the US Department of State attempted to roll- back what was surely a blatant lie that would shadow US-India relations for some time to come, Imran Khan hit a homerun (or whatever that is in cricket). Trump backpedaled and said that “Pakistan never lies” among other absurdities. Khan was able to link peace in Afghanistan to some sort of a resolution in Kashmir, which is a clear coup for Pakistan’s deep state messengers.

While Khan was the political farce of the visit, the real work was being done by Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who hobnobbed with American defence officials, including Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Dunford) who should understand Pakistan’s perfidy after he led the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan from February 2013 to August 2014. While op-eds were still being churned out summarising the visit, the US Department of State on 27 July announced that the US would resume military aid to Pakistan, beginning with a support package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.

Such a move was surely a blow to India given that an F-16 likely shot down the MiG-21 Bison being flown by IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman during the brief air-to-air conflict after the Indian Air Force attacked a Jaish-e-Mohammad training base in Balakot, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It also hurt Americans who were hopeful that India would consider a proposal to manufacture the F-16 airframe in India. The move is also reckless. Not only has Pakistan done nothing to rein in the zoo of terrorists it uses to kill in India, its Taliban proxies have continued to kill Afghans even while claiming to be negotiating in good faith with the Americans.

Trump, like virtually every President before him, reaffirmed what Pakistan’s deep state already knew: being a reckless nuclear-armed state festooned with terrorists is a strategy that always pays.

Indians learned what it feels like to be an American.

A version of this was published in The Print on 30 July 2019.

China and Pakistan Make A Trump Sandwich

C. CHRISTINE FAIR Updated: 15 March, 2019 9:47 am IST

For the fourth time in ten years, China placed a technical hold on a proposal to designate Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, under the United Nations’ Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (1267). The hold, for which no justification is required, lasts three months and can be extended for another six. After nine months, China can use its veto power to formally kill the proposal.

This time, France led the initiative with support from the United Kingdom and the United States. The renewed effort to designate Masood Azhar was motivated by the organisation’s February 14, 2019 suicide attack on a convoy of Central Research Police Force (CRPF) killing 44 at Pulwama (in Kashmir). In response, India attacked a facility at Balakot, purportedly associated with the Jaish-e-Mohammad, in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. In retaliation, Pakistan scrambled several fighter aircraft to which India responded by dispatching several MiG 21 Bisons.

This resulted in a dogfight in which an Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down and taken into Pakistani custody. Varthaman claims he locked onto a Pakistani F-16 and shot it down, although no evidence of the downed aircraft or its pilot has surfaced to date. The international community was on tenterhooks fearing a war. The crises de-escalated when Pakistan returned the Indian pilot after numerous gratuitous delays.

Given the gravity of the crisis, many Indian observers were optimistic that this time China would agree to the move to designate Masood Azhar. After all, in 2008, shortly after the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s simultaneous attacks in November that year on multiple, high-value civilian targets in Mumbai, China permitted the Lashkar leader, Hafiz Saeed, to be listed under this mechanism. Such optimism was never warranted because the two attacks are not comparable. Whereas the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s 26/11 assault on Mumbai killed 166 civilians, including Israelis and Americans, and included a multi-day siege of the iconic Taj hotel; Pulwama’s 44 victims were all Indian security personnel drawing from the CRPF.

Moreover, Pulwama is firmly within Kashmir, which China and Pakistan recognise as disputed. Because of the location and nature of the victims, some scholars have tediously observed that Pulwama was an “insurgent” rather than a “terrorist” attack, whereas the 2008 Mumbai attacks was without question a terror attack. That India responded to Pulwama but not Mumbai can be chocked up to an “Indian over-reaction.” In a point of fact, and largely due to the associated nature of seeing soldiers with reverence, Indians have arguably responded more angrily to the fatalities of security forces than when the casualties have involved only the civilians.

China has long sought to prop up Pakistan such that it can challenge India. To encourage Pakistan’s pugnacity, China has provided Pakistan military assistance inclusive of nuclear and conventional assistance as well as sustaining a permissive environment for Pakistan’s terrorist assets such as Jaish-e-Mohammed as well as Lashkar-e-Taiba. However, China has no interest in Pakistan actually going to war with India because, in such an eventuality, China would be forced to show the limits of its support to its “all-weather ally” by not actually supporting it. After all, China has never provided material support to Pakistan during any of its wars with India. During the most recent war at Kargil in 1999, China took the same line as India and the United States — namely that Pakistan needs to respect the sanctity of the Line of Control.

China’s dedication to supporting Pakistan’s terror camps may seem counter-intuitive given that China is confronting Uigher Muslim insurgents in Xinxiang. Should China not fear that groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba may give a fillip to their own restive Muslims? The answer is no, because both Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba are loyal proxies of Pakistan’s deep state.

While factions of Jaish-e-Mohammad broke with Masood Azhar to target the state from late December 2001, Azhar himself has remained loyal to his patrons who have dedicated numerous resources to rebuild his organisation over the last decade.

Also read: For the LeT, convincing mothers is one of the key steps to recruiting for Jihad

As for Lashkar-e-Taiba, it has never attacked any target within Pakistan. In fact, Lashkar-e-Taiba is vociferously opposed to the Deobandi groups targeting the Pakistani state, has rejected the practice of takfir (of declaring Muslims to be a kaffir and thus wajib-ul-qatil, worthy of being killed), and denounced any violent protestations of the state.

Jaish-e-Mohammed, along with the Afghan Taliban, are also critical means of redeploying fighters and commanders of the Pakistani Taliban to theatres of “legitimate” jihad in Afghanistan and India. In this way, Jaish-e-Mohammed along with the Afghan Taliban are “ghar vapasi” programmes for wayward Pakistani terrorists. Given that Pakistan’s domestic stability and encouraging Pakistani pluck against India remain Chinese objectives, groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also important Chinese assets by extension.

Unlike the situation that obtained in November 2008, both China and Pakistan have more leverage vis-à-vis the United States. During the November attacks, George W. Bush was a lame-duck president and Barrack Obama, who had won the US election on 4 November, would not take office until January of 2009. Bush had viewed the Pakistanis as an important ally in Afghanistan; however, Obama viewed Pakistan as a problem. President George W. Bush, wary of China, courted India as a partner in managing China’s rise in the region and beyond. Presidential candidate Obama said very little about China during his campaign, leaving few clues about how he would view China.

Beijing may have seen the acquiescence to designate Hafiz Saeed as a down payment on a better relationship with the United States and could use the international outrage over the civilian carnage as a convenient hook on which to hang this decision. In contrast, today China and Pakistan are viewed as important actors in Afghanistan, which President Donald Trump is anxious to abandon.

Also read: Even if Masood Azhar gets UN terrorist tag, it will likely be only a symbolic win for India

Trump, who fetishistically seeks to fulfil campaign promises irrespective of how foolhardy they may be, wants to make good on his pre-election promise to withdraw from Afghanistan. And when the last American soldier leaves, who will pick up the tab to pay for Afghanistan’s bills? Again, China is seen as critical to filling this vacuum. Thus, even if China is seen as a source of insecurity in the Indo-Pacific, it is increasingly viewed in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the power to which the Americans will hand over the keys to the jalopies that they are anxious to abandon.

Unless there is a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror attack in a major city like Mumbai or Delhi, which murders civilians on the scale of the 26/11 Mumbai slaughter, one should not expect that China will permit a valued terrorist organisation to be designated — particularly at a time when it has the upper hand over the United States.

C. Christine Fair is the author of Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War and In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

This originally appeared in the The Print on 15 March 2019.

Pakistan is Emboldened to Kill by American Policy: Over and Over and Over Again

Pakistani hubris and American cupidity

ON FEBRUARY 14TH, 2019, a suicide attacker associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) drove an explosives- laden vehicle into a bus transiting Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans in a convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir. At least 40 jawans perished in that attack. It was the first time that JeM had used suicide attacks since the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, which brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. Given that JeM—like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT)—is a well-behaved and obedient proxy of the deep state, there can be little doubt that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate played a direct role in the attack. While the exact details of India’s response remain disputed, India claimed that in the early hours of February 26th, it dispatched 12 Mirage fighter aircraft across the Line of Control (LoC) and into the airspace of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to attack a training facility associated with JeM in Balakot. Those jets returned unscathed. Indian media, citing figures leaked by the Government, claimed the base was destroyed and some 300 people killed. Virtually all of these details have been disputed by Indian and international media alike.

Pakistan, while risibly denying that it has any evidence of JeM culpability, claimed that its air forces rallied to drive the Indian planes out of its airspace, causing them to drop their ordnance prematurely and causing no damage. Incidentally, a recording of a preacher ostensibly tied to JeM conceded an attack (hamla) took place but asserted no casualties. Despite asserting that no damage occurred, Pakistan dispatched fighter aircraft—likely American-made F-16s—to target purportedly ‘non-military targets’, across the LoC. India sent out MiG 21 Bisons after which a dog fight ensued. After various claims and counter-claims, it now seems clear that Pakistan shot down a MiG 21 and captured its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was returned after considerable delay on March 1st. India, in turn, shot down a Pakistani jet which crashed on Pakistan’s side of the LoC. The fate of that pilot is unclear: Indian sources claim he was lynched by Pakistanis who mistook him for an Indian pilot while Pakistani sources deny this claim without offering alternative explanations.

While the return of Varthaman provided an off-ramp for the crisis to begin de-escalating, many questions remain. What motivated the Pakistani attack and what made Pakistan expect it could get away with murder this time? Similarly, what motivated Pakistan to escalate tensions by inducting air power? Now that the crisis may be receding, what lessons did Pakistan learn?

Pakistani goals at Pulwama

I have argued elsewhere that the attack at Pulwama had several distal and one likely proximal objective. At the most general level of abstraction, since Pakistan is obsessed with changing maps but has an army that cannot win the wars it starts and nuclear weapons it cannot use without courting its own destruction, Pakistan uses terrorist proxies under the security of its nuclear umbrella to demonstrate that it is able to challenge India. More specifically, Pakistan has been worried as both Al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and Islamic State (IS) have sought to hijack its project in Kashmir. Both AQIS and IS have mocked Indian Muslims within and without Kashmir for their pusillanimity and failure to resist the rising tide of Hindu nationalism, the revivified interest in rebuilding the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya and failure to insist upon rebuilding the Babri Masjid which was destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. Both organisations have chastised Indian Muslims for their parochialism and lack of interest in larger problems of the Ummah (community). While both AQIS and IS have largely failed to draw large numbers of recruits in Kashmir, this attack was likely aimed to help reclaim the initiative in Kashmir. The selection of a local Kashmiri boy, Adil Ahmad Dar, for this operation seemed well-placed to refocus the attention of Kashmiris upon the ISI-led struggle. Equally notable, Dar recorded a pre-attack video in which he criticised northern Kashmiris for shirking from the fight.

In addition to these distal causes, there is one proximate cause that likely explains the timing of the attack: a desire to influence India’s elections. While it may seem counter-intuitive (the Pakistani deep state prefers a Modi win) for the simple reason that Modi and his Hindutva supporters embody the very threats that Pakistanis have long imbibed. With Modi at the helm, the Pakistani army can continue arguing that its heavy- handed role in running the country and hogging its resources is necessary. Additionally, Pakistan is confronting some fairly serious domestic challenges and a strong enemy next door has traditionally helped the deep state justify violence when needed and to encourage elements fighting the state to put down its arms. Observers may recall that after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, the Pakistani Taliban leaders, Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah, declared a ceasefire and Pakistani army officials called them both “Pakistani patriots”.

Pakistan has once again absconded from any meaningful consequences of using terrorism at Pulwama or escalating the conflict. There is no meaningful discussion of the US declaring Pakistan to be a state sponsor of terror

The internal challenges that the army is wrestling with include opposition to the so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a simmering Baloch insurgency and a rising tide of Pashtun mobilisation against the deep state under the umbrella of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). PTM activists have been non-violently campaigning against human rights abuses of the Pakistan Army, which have long focused upon Pashtuns. One of the slogans protestors raise particularly disquiets the deep state: ‘Yeh jo deheshatgardi hai, is ke picche vardi hai (The men in uniform is behind this terrorism).’ The slogan summarises Pashtun beliefs that the deep state has created the terrorist menace in Pakistan but Pashtuns have been made the scapegoat and are at the receiving end of the army’s brutality so that it can show the US and others that it is seriously confronting terrorists at home, for which it had been handsomely compensated until the Trump administration ended such payments.

While the deep state can kill Baloch—who comprise about 5 per cent of Pakistan’s population—with impunity and intimidate any critics of this policy with violence, it cannot so easily kill its way out of its problems with Pashtuns. For one thing, Pashtuns are about 15 per cent of the population—and form the largest minority in Pakistan—but they may account for as much as 40 per cent of the Pakistan Army. Moreover, Pashtuns along with Punjabis have formed the ruling condominium since the late 1950s when Muhajjirs, who migrated from northern India, began to decline politically. The deep state needs to manage its Pashtun problem and having a menacing leader at the helm in India helps. It should be noted that Modi has not imposed such crippling costs upon Pakistan for its use of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy that may exceed the benefits of Modi’s continued tenure.

Grounds for impunity

Given that a far less audacious attack at Uri precipitated a cross-border raid by Indian forces in 2016, why would Pakistan think it would escape consequences after Pulwama? As is well- known, the US President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants out of Afghanistan. Trump obsesses over fulfilling campaign promises no matter how foolish, ill-informed or dangerous they may be. He sees this as a key reason for why he has a solid 35 per cent of voters who support him no matter what other dubious things he does —whether cavorting with porn stars while his wife is nursing his child or monetising the White House. Trump has dispatched Zalmay Khalilzad to work out some means by which Trump can succeed. These negotiations between the US and the Taliban rely heavily on Pakistan to persuade their proxies to co-operate. Notably, they have excluded the Afghan government. Trump’s calculus is crude. If he wins the 2020 election, it doesn’t matter what happens in Afghanistan. If he loses in 2020, it still does not matter for him what happens in Afghanistan.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, Pakistan prefers a Modi win for the simple reason that Modi and his Hindutva supporters embody the very threats that Pakistanis have long imbibed

Given the centrality of Pakistan to Trump’s scheme, Pakistan likely expected the US to caution India to stand down after Pulwama. It is also likely that Pakistan felt that its importance to Trump’s exit strategy in Afghanistan would afford it cover to escalate to air strikes on India’s side of the LoC. Evidence for these suspicions is offered by the remonstrations of the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington DC, Asad Khan, who complained that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s response to India’s airstrike was “construed and understood as an endorsement of the Indian position, and that is what emboldened them even more”.

What did Pakistan Learn?

With the return of Varthaman and the resulting winding down of the crisis, Pakistan has likely learnt a worrying set of lessons. First and foremost, Pakistan has once again absconded from any meaningful consequences of using terrorism at Pulwama or escalating the conflict. There is no meaningful discussion of the US declaring Pakistan to be a state sponsor of terror or any other kinds of punitive measures. Whether or not India succeeds in getting Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM, designated at the United Nations will be an important move but not one that will be a game changer. Second, coverage in papers of record such as the New York Times and the Washington Post repeated the tired false equivalence that equated India—the victim—with Pakistan—the perpetrator. Editorials and assessments of Western commentators applauded Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for his speech which they deemed ‘conciliatory’ despite the fact that it was anything but. Similarly, editorials calling for a ‘resolution of Kashmir’, all of which demonstrate an impoverished understanding of history, also rewarded Pakistan because they seemed to imply that Pakistan has defensible equities in Kashmir when, of course, it does not.

Finally, and the most worrisome of all, there is little appetite in India to know what the Government intended to do and what it succeeded in doing. Indian citizens who are asking these questions are being dismissed as anti-national while non- Indians asking these questions are being dismissed as Pakistan apologists or worse. While accepting whatever account is offered—irrespective of the various competing claims—may seem politically loyal, it is not actually helpful to India’s overall ability to handle the beast on its border. Worse, while everyone expects Pakistan and its press to promulgate rank fictions, the international community does have higher expectations of India. Most importantly, the Pakistani deep state does know what happened. It can assess whether Pulwama was worth it in the end. And, as I’ve argued, it likely has concluded this already. But if India did not live up to the maximalist claims about the assault on Balakot, when there is another attack, Indians will demand an ever-more robust response which India may not be able to deliver. This dynamic may force India’s hands in ways that are not only counter-productive but may catalyse a conflict that India cannot control. This is something that genuine patriots should be very worried about.

Bullshit over Balakot

Lying about facts to de-escalate tension in Kashmir is a playbook they’ve both used before.C. CHRISTINE FAIR1:00 AM ET

In May 1999, New Delhi discovered that Pakistani intruders had seized Himalayan posts in Kargil, part of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Initially, the Indian government believed that these infiltrators were scruffy mujahideen when in fact they were paramilitary soldiers, officered by Pakistan’s army. Curiously, India publicly maintained the fiction that they were militants well after their identity was discovered. Counterintuitively, the falsehood facilitated a de-escalation of a conflict that had already become a limited war.

Nearly 20 years later, Pakistan has again initiated a crisis in Kashmir that has brought the nuclear-armed states to the brink of war. Once again, the two countries have rolled out a series of partial truths, and, in the case of Pakistan, outright lies. Indeed, while the facts of the matter are up for debate, it is clear that at least one casualty of this conflict has been empirically verifiable truth.

As in Kargil, these untruths have provided a much-needed off-ramp for dampening tensions and, in the short term, the international community has welcomed any path to crisis mitigation.

In the long run, though, this normalization of fiction-weaving by India and Pakistan will likely have pernicious effects, not just on both countries’ domestic politics, but on future crises as well.

Why did New Delhi in 1999 publicly sustain the humiliating narrative that militants had taken control of its territory even when Indian forces were taking heavy losses and had to use air power to dislodge what the world believed was a ragtag bunch of fighters?

First, it was an easy cover to maintain, because Pakistan never clarified who the fighters were. Second, India was due to hold a general election within months, and the fate of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was uncertain. The previous year, Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, had begun a peace process, and political strategists in New Delhi worried that Vajpayee would look foolish if his Pakistani partners were anything but committed. Equally important, infiltration by mujahideen surely generated less public outrage in India than if people had learned earlier that part of Pakistan’s armed forces had deliberately snatched Indian-administered territory.

A Bus to Nowherpur

When the international community finally intervened to compel Pakistan to restore the sanctity of the line of control (LOC), the two countries’ de facto border, the United States and others also were content to permit Sharif in particular to keep up the story, providing Pakistan with an honorable exit, rather than force him to publicly humiliate his army chief, who was the mastermind of the crisis.

The Two Men of Teflon

Here is what we know for certain about the most recent crisis in South Asia. After the February 14 suicide attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based militant group, against an Indian paramilitary convoy that killed at least 40 soldiers, the leadership in New Delhi had to respond forcefully. The country had already responded to lesser outrages and, as with Kargil, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also of the BJP, faces an election within months.

India claims that in the early hours of February 26, a dozen fighter jets flew into Pakistan’s airspace to attack a training facility associated with JeM in the town of Balakot. Those jets returned unscathed. Indian media, citing figures leaked by the government, claimed the base was destroyed and some 300 terrorists, who were allegedly training for imminent attacks in India, were killed.

Pakistan’s military immediately disputed this account and asserted that Pakistani aircraft scrambled and expelled the Indian jets, which were forced to prematurely drop their payloads onto random forests. Pakistani officials also denied the existence of evidence tying JeM to the February 14 attack, even though JeM had taken responsibility for it. Despite claiming that the Indian jets caused no damage, Pakistan vowed a fitting response.

I have no cat in this fight.

Pakistan then dispatched its own aircraft to hit purportedly “non-military targets” in Indian territory. This time, India claimed that it intercepted the Pakistani aircraft, after which a dogfight ensued. Pakistan said it shot down two Indian planes, and that both pilots were in Pakistani custody. Islamabad then revised its position, saying it shot down one plane and captured its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was returned, after gratuitous drama, on March 1.

India, for its part, claimed that Varthaman, prior to being hit, shot down an F-16, which crashed on Pakistan’s side of the line of control. Indian media claimed that this pilot was lynched when Pakistanis mistook him for an Indian pilot. Regardless, Varthaman’s return provided an opportunity to begin de-escalating the crisis.

Journalists have questioned much of this story.

Multiple analysts using commercial-satellite images have found little evidence of widespread damage to the Balakot facility, and there is no evidence of mass casualties, nor are there signs of the downed F-16 or its allegedly lynched pilot.  Some Indian media accounts even assert that New Delhi did not send 12 jets across the LOC, and that in fact they fired weapons from India’s side of the line.

Neither India nor Pakistan has been forthcoming with evidence to back up its key claims, and Pakistan, predictably, has made it very difficult for anyone to independently assess the damage at Balakot. Pakistan also has an incentive to cover up its use of American-made F-16s to attack India as doing so would likely violate the end-use agreements of the purchase. The internet, meanwhile, has been flooded with vintage photos of the Balakot site that variously confirm the preferred accounts of both sides. Some social-media users have even posted images from a popular video game, insisting they prove India’s claims. In India, the ruling party and its followers discredit any citizens asking for evidence as “anti-nationals,” while denouncing foreigners who question the official narrative as Pakistani apologists.

Given the high stakes, why are both sides obfuscating the objective truths involved?

From New Delhi’s point of view, Indians can rejoice that their air force rammed through Pakistani airspace to drop bombs on a terrorist training camp, obliterating it and its trainees. They can also celebrate that their war hero, Varthaman, felled a Pakistani jet.

From Pakistan’s side, it can claim that its jets chased off Indian fighter planes at Balakot, and then rallied into Indian territory while downing an Indian pilot. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, titillated the international media with his ostensible statesmanship and Islamabad received numerous accolades for returning the pilot, despite the fact that doing so was required by international law. The world seemed to have forgotten that South Asia was embroiled in tension because of Pakistani use of terrorism in the first place.

Deception, in both this situation and Kargil, provided an important way for both India and Pakistan to step back from crisis. But is this a good thing?

At present, the two are nursing convenient delusions to differing degrees. But the truth matters.

Pakistanis believe that their air force protected them, while also denying that their country continues to cultivate terrorists as tools of foreign policy. If India did not do as it claims, the gains of the latest misadventure exceed the costs, which have been extraordinarily minimal. This suggests that future use of terrorist proxies killing more Indians might happen sooner than later. Alternatively, if India did in fact do as it says, then there is no problem. Islamabad knows what New Delhi can do, and that might be an important regulator in future Pakistani calculus.  

But with the available evidence, one should be cautious. If the Indian government is  fostering an inaccurate account of its military strength, its citizenry will have unreasonable expectations of future punitive measures. Civilian governments might feel compelled to engage in miscalculations of their own to satisfy the demands of a public with outsize beliefs about its military’s capabilities. This could have enormous consequences. In short, if India’s account is fundamentally braggadocious, a dangerous equilibrium will be established.

Let’s hope that in both countries, as the political stakes of honesty recede, the truth comes out.

C. CHRISTINE FAIR is the author of Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War and the forthcoming In their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.