I Crashed into the Cuckoo’s Nest

In 1954, Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), presciently declared that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” Some 68 years later, most citizens of the world’s largest and oldest democracies have inadequate access to mental health facilities, much less treatment, which often involves therapy as well as pharmaceutical approaches. In addition to the absence of resources, both countries to varying degrees stigmatize those with mental health problems. It’s a common retort when we are annoyed with someone to say: “Go back on your meds.” Anyone with actual experience with mental illness likely has a lot to say about this offensive quip. Would we ever say “Go back on your insulin” to a diabetic? No. Yet, the brain is like any other organ and sometimes it too requires care.

The statistics are staggering. More than one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Suicide, the most extreme manifestation of mental illness, is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. For adolescents (15,019), it’s the fourth-leading cause of death. In 2019, 47,511 Americans killed themselves in addition to estimated 3.5 million people who planned to do so and 1.4 who attempted suicide but were saved. Overall, the United States has a suicide rate of 13.5 people per 100,000 people.

In India, mental health is also at a crisis point. In 2015–16, the Indian government undertook the Indian Mental Health Survey and concluded that some “150 million persons are in need of mental health interventions and care (both short term and long term) and considering the far-reaching impact of mental health (on all domains of life), in all populations (from children to elderly), in both genders, as well as in urban and rural populations, urgent actions are required.” India’s suicide rate is estimated to be 10.1 per 100,000.

Globally, each year some 800,000 people will take their lives. One person will commits suicide every 40 seconds and for each suicide, there are another 20 attempted suicides. The pandemic has only exacerbated acute mental health crises across the world, failing those citizens who are most in need. In January 2022, I became one of those statistics.

I don’t hide my own struggle with mental illness purposefully. When the social media trolls spanning the political spectrum between dangerously stupid and pathological malignant offer the “Go back on your meds” prescription, I confidently retort with complete sincerity: “Oh no, dumbass. I cannot go off my meds. It requires a lot of meds to keep my jalopy plane in the air.” I am open about my experiences of trying to fix my aircraft while flying it because I know that there are others whose airframes aren’t in tiptop condition either. Those who are spared the ravages of depression will most likely ask in earnest puzzlement: “Who wants to fly a broken plane?” The answer is easy: It’s the only plane we have. But I know that I am not waging war on an injured brain alone.

To give you the elevator introduction to my brain, she’s fifty-three. She’s kept me alive despite more than a decade of childhood sexual abuse, a petting zoo of every imaginable cretin malingering in out of my mother’s life largely for economic reasons, and from my own inept mother, who despite her best efforts, was first unable and then unwilling to protect me. And she was also known to give me a good whooping with any whooping object she could find, in addition to a sharp tongue and no internal filters. One of her common refrains when angry was “Goddamnit you little fucker! Cut me a switch.” And we did indeed cut that switch. So unless she intended to raise a highly educated savage, we may question her parenting skillset.

I first deduced that I could end this nightmare if I could figure out how to make myself die at the age of eight. Since then, I’ve generally managed these urges with medications and therapy until I couldn’t. This past year was the year the urges became too strong and too loud and I succumbed to their call. The last calendar year has been an unending onslaught of major assaults to my central nervous system. My tendentious mother-in-law finally died after three years of dying and my remaining in-laws, who consider me one chromosome short of being a spider inhabiting the reading light in the dining room, have repeatedly assaulted the fundaments of my marriage.

The emotional strain and drain of trying to help the Afghans who sought my help added to the burgeoning intolerable burden. Just when it was clear that the precarious window to help Afghans was closing, the holidays came. The holidays are that special time of year when your loved ones demonstrate how little regard they have for you. These specific challenges further strained my brain chemistry evolving under the ravages of menopause all the while suffering from unending pain from a roller-blading-induced broken wrist. One of the medications (gabapentin) given to me to stem my wrist pain has a regrettable side effect of suicide. One of my physician’s ex-post facto categorically denounced this drug as “dangerous.”

And so, on a lovely Friday afternoon on 7 January, without any compulsions or reservations at all, I drove my car into my garage, tried to run a hose from my exhaust pipe to my window and I hoped for that permanent sleep. Sometime later, the police were breaking into my garage and car and all hell broke loose. What happened next was a horror show.

I was rendered into what is called a “Temporary Detention Order” and I was forcefully admitted into our local hospital in Alexandria. There was one problem: That hospital had no psychiatric care. (As a well-practiced mental health survivor with an unfortunate habit of injuring herself, I know my hospitals.) I explained this to the police who kindly offered not to cuff me (as per protocol) for the short ride and they agreed that I was correct about the lack of psychiatric facility at the Alexandria Hospital. But statutorily they could not take me to the hospital that did have those facilities unless they asked for permission and they didn’t want to do that.

The police took me to the back-most room in the emergency room and cuffed me to the side of the rail, leaving my broken wrist unfettered. I briefly met with a doctor, who was younger than most wines I drink, who did a cursory exam and disappeared. I wouldn’t see her until about 9 or 10 that evening, some seven hours later, when I was begging to see a psychiatrist. The Alexandria Social Worker tasked to evaluate me via an overpriced notepad with ten percent battery remaining for all of ten minutes, announced that I should be remanded to a facility based upon virtually nothing. She refused to contact my therapist who, unlike this Zommed in nincompoop, knew me and my history.

For about nine hours, I was cuffed to that bed. I had been given juice and a turkey sandwich when I came in at about 3 pm. They did not serve me dinner. When I asked for dinner, I was told the service was over. They did not apologize for failing to give me dinner and indignantly complained when I explained I hadn’t had a proper meal since 7 am and needed to eat. At my insistence, they brought another turkey sandwich with the same enthusiasm with which one might dig a communal latrine. There was no privacy for my misery. A cop sat out my door. People wondered in front of me and stared. They thought I was a criminal. My students, colleagues or neighbors could’ve walked by. Why couldn’t the cop have sat inside my room with the curtain pulled for privacy? Why did my agony have to be shown to all who passed? And since my room was right across from the loo, many in fact passed by.

For the entire duration of the stay, which spanned 3 pm to past midnight, I cried nonstop. Without a proper meal, without any medication for my anxiety, or even a sedative to help me sleep, I remained chained to that bed. No one, including my husband, could visit me. I was essentially a prisoner receiving no medical care for my principal illness: PTSD-related depression. The bright lights and constant noise and untreated anxiety meant sleep was impossible. I was denied my phone and had no mental stimulation at all apart from coming up with creative invectives for the various humans whose actions and inactions put me in this situation.

A bit past midnight, I was ‘transferred’ in an unmarked police vehicle to a psychiatric ward about three hours from my home. My husband could not see me off and in fact, I wouldn’t see him until many days later, after my court date.

Once checked into the facility, I realized how bad our mental health facilities are. At one point, I actually considered checking into one of these clinics voluntarily. I now realized how bad that idea was. The ward was unsegregated which meant that I never felt safe the entire time I was there. What stroke of genius was this to put a woman with PTSD with a history of sexual assault on a ward with men? The staff was thin due to Covid-19.

The first doctor who saw me was a creepy older man who was redolent of brill cream and moisturizer for his freakishly pasty skin. He bristled when I introduced myself as “Dr. Fair,” after he introduced himself to me with his own title of “Doctor.” To regain the upper hand in this power dynamic, he casually announced that he “would not do my vaginal exam.” To which I replied, “Great. Because I wouldn’t let you.” This was a needless power move to reassert his control over the situation and remind me of my own helplessness. In the words of my therapist, to whom I later recounted this fiasco, it was “retraumatising.” He also sought to deprive me of medications that I required to manage my menopause symptoms which in large measure are intended to help regulate my mental state. I had to insist upon their reinstatement.

Given that I was remanded to this psychiatric ward on an emergency basis against my will, one would have thought that getting me to see a psychiatrist would be the highest priority. But it wasn’t. I wouldn’t see a psychiatrist until the day before I was allowed to go home, following a court hearing. This was not treatment: It was involuntary incarceration. It was a place they put me in hopes that my misery would pass without medical intervention. It was holding a tank.

I could fill pages with the insanity of that psychiatric ward. For those who have seen (or read) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, let me say that that film is more documentary than fiction. The preposterous group activities were more like babysitting than therapeutic. In fact, I have seen street signs with larger numbers than the IQs of our group wardens.

I had to get out of there. My PTSD made me a very unsuitable candidate for this kind of facility. In truth, I’m not sure who is a good candidate for what was the equivalent of a goldfish bowl for humans. I became very anxious as the court date came. Despite the efforts of my local authority in Alexandria who advocated to the judge via telephone that I should remain detained against my will with zero information, the court-appointed lawyer and my own therapist persuasively and successfully argued that I should be released.

I’ve been home for twelve weeks and the hell of that sequence of events continues to play out. In their efforts to medicate me without understanding me, my trauma, and my needs, they put me on medication (aripiprazole) known for inducing a state of hypomania. Unbeknownst to me, I had been living in an unsustainable state of hypomania for weeks. Eventually, my state became so disturbed that even I could discern it. I was fearful of what would follow when this hypomania ended.

Oddly, the one lesson that I learned from this experience is that if I am going to commit suicide, I must succeed. I will never trust an emergency room again with my suicidal ideation. My experience with the deceit and ruses of the police officers who barged into my garage has added to my previous extant wariness of police. And I know now that psychiatric facilities are not therapeutic either. All of this has made me less trusting of our systems because I know they are flusterclucked. I have frequently reflected upon the fact that I have a PhD, am accustomed to self-advocacy, and am an astute wrangler of bureaucracies in the conduct of my research. Yet I was completely victimized by this system when I was most vulnerable and needing help. How are others treated with far less social and other capital? Perhaps in our derelict health system, it doesn’t matter? But I know this system isn’t just failing me. It’s most likely failing everyone who needs it.

The current task is to find what works to silence the voices in my head without causing yet another set of problems to manage. Knowing that I’ll be under treatment for the rest of my life and am unlikely to ever be cured and thus free of this illness, is itself a source of depression that can be overwhelming. When I think about the decades ahead, I become wary. I don’t want to live like this. Yet much of the treatment for PTSD works for adult trauma. For survivors of childhood trauma — especially incestual sexual trauma — the scientific literature gives little cause for hope.

There is no happy ending to the story or moral. It’s just a glimpse into how one person, who at first blush seems together and successful, manages the darkest of demons. And despite having some of the best health care an American can have, it’s still not enough. I share this deeply personal account because I know right now, someone reading this is going through I what I am going through. In short, the struggle to live continues. Because it has to.

Here’s the final kick in the teeth: Just as I’ve been trying to get over the shock brought by even seeing that hospital up the street, that asinine facility had the temerity to send me a bill for services they did not render. Do prisoners pay the cost of their incarceration? In the United States of America, they just might.

Caste apartheid: India’s Less Salubrious Export to the United States

Until American state and federal laws — and domestic law elsewhere — catch up to the realities of caste apartheid, the most vulnerable of Indian-origin persons will suffer

Source: Equality Lab, “Caste In the United States,” https://www.equalitylabs.org/castesurvey

India exports nearly $20 billion in pearls and precious stones, pharmaceuticals, machinery, electronic equipment and textiles. But there’s another export that is increasingly apparent: India’s caste apartheid.

This was first brought to my attention in 2017 when students approached me about alleged caste-based intimidation and harassment they were experiencing in their graduate program. While I was dismayed by their reports, I wasn’t entirely surprised because Silicon Valley firms had already been in the news for similar reasons as the State of California sought to find a legal remedy and came up empty-handed based upon federal or state legal protections, which include the US Equal Employment Discrimination Opportunity (EEOC) enforced American laws which criminalize employment discrimination on the basis of a person’s “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information”. California’s own EEOC protects more classes of persons based upon ancestry, marital status, military/veteran status.”

But where does caste fit within these protections?

Source: Equality Lab, “Caste In the United States,” https://www.equalitylabs.org/castesurvey

Indeed, while such caste-based abuse is sinister and dehumanizing, American law has had difficulty finding a legal remedy for it. Two prominent lawsuits shed light upon this brutal form of discrimination in the United States In July 2020, the state of California sued Cisco Systems over alleged caste-based discrimination towards an Indian engineer by his Indian colleagues; however, the state struggled to argue that caste is protected as a form of religious-based discrimination but ultimately withdrew that case under pressure from Hindu groups which sought to minimize the role of caste in the Hindu religious tradition among other specious arguments including the argument that it violates due process and “uniquely endangers Hindus and Indians.”

In March 2021, a federal lawsuit alleged that a Hindu organization lured some 200 low-caste workers to the United State and forced them to work on building a sprawling temple complex in New Jersey for as little as $1.20 per hour. While lawsuits are battling out these issues, Krishnaswami and Krishnamurthi, in contrast, argue that caste discrimination is cognizable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the United States, it is true that caste is most typically associated with Hindus; Sumitra Badrinathan et al emphasize that caste hierarchies and caste self-identification are prevalent in most, if not all, the major religious traditions in South Asia. This is true in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Given that the vast majority of Muslims in South Asia converted from Hinduism, most Muslims carry with them the caste of their Hindu ancestors.

Additionally, Islam in South Asia has developed its own additional social hierarchies in South Asia, such as the Ashraf and Sayyids (persons who claim to be direct descendants of Prophet Muhammad), the local South Asian converts from Hinduism (Ajlaf) who also still bear the imprimatur of their Hindu caste origins, as well family and other network-based forms of social stratification (e.g. the Biradari System). Equally important one can be religiously secular while still perpetrating caste-based bigotry because it also confers notions of social status.

Two recent empirical studies demonstrate the impacts of India’s less salubrious transplant among its myriad diasporan communities in the United States. The Equality Lab, in its 2016 survey of 1,500 self-identified Hindu Americans, observes that many caste-oppressed migrant communities in the United States are affected by caste discrimination because this caste-apartheid has “replicated itself in South Asian community, religious, and business institutions. This has led to many shocking experiences of caste discrimination in the United States that includes physical assault, verbal slurs, and discrimination in schools, businesses, and workplaces.”

Moreover, they found that 41 percent of those identifying as lower-caste reported caste discrimination in American schools and universities compared to only 3 percent of those who identified as upper-caste Hindus. More than 67 percent of lower-caste respondents indicated that they suffered caste discrimination in the workplace compared to merely one percent of upper-caste respondents. Unsurprisingly, the Hindu American Foundation, lambasted this study perhaps revealing its own proclivities to upholding caste-based apartheid. While pro-caste trolls attacked this study, it is not the only effort to understand this phenomenon in the United States. In 2020, Badrinathan et al of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace oversaw a survey of 1,200 Indian American residents in the United States. They report that more than eight in ten Hindus identify as upper caste with foreign-born respondents being more likely to embrace a caste identity than are those who were born in the United States.

While the vast majority of Americans are likely to be blissfully unaware of this form of discrimination, South Asian Americans are. According to Krishnaswami and Krishnamurthi, in the summer of 2020, “[S]everal employees of large tech firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Cisco came forward with harrowing tales of workplace discrimination, including being paid less, denied promotions, and mocked for their caste background. And, undoubtedly, the scourge of caste discrimination extends beyond Big Tech. While caste discrimination is in no sense new, these recent reports should serve as a needed wake-up call. Eradicating caste discrimination demands our immediate collective attention and action.”

There are several scholarly as well as journalistic accounts of caste-based discrimination among diasporan communities in the United States and elsewhere, such as the United Kingdom and other countries with large South Asian diasporan populations.

Another venue that is increasingly emerging as a site of caste-based discrimination in the university system where Indians live in large numbers. Times Higher Education, which studied this phenomenon in the United Kingdom and the United States, concluded that caste is a global problem. Given the so-far undefined legal protections to low-caste South Asians, many American universities are taking action to codify caste as a protected category under its anti-discrimination policy. As of December 2021, the University of California Davis, Maine’s Colby College and Massachusetts’ Brandeis and Harvard universities have done so.

Until American state and federal laws — and domestic law elsewhere — catch up to the realities of caste apartheid, the most vulnerable of Indian-origin persons will suffer. It’s bad enough that black and brown bodies must endure the brunt of American white supremacy, but they seem to be increasingly facing the brunt of a brutal system that they thought they had left behind when they left India.

A version of this essay was published in The Print on 9 February 2022.

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

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

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

Who is Sardar Masood Khan? 

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

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

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

A Controversial Past and Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will The Panga Pay Off?

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

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

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

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

What America did to itself after 9/11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of Global Idiocracies

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

Americans Were Asked Three Questions

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

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

The Source of News Matters

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

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

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

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

My Personal Experience

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

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

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

‘Editorial Positions’ Are usually Missionary

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

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

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

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

The Philippa Thomas Fiasco

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

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

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

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

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

Britain’s Domestic Politics Tied With BBC?

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of Idiocracies

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

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

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

The Unwinnable War

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Was Always the Problem….and it still is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corruption: We built It

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

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

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

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

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

The Myth of the Legitimate Leader

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

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

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

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

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

Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: https://twitter.com/CChristineFair/status/1428003177912324102

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Should I be flattered or irked that my HINDI article was plagiarised…by a HINDI-language journalist?

Jitendra
Photo of Jitendra Bhardwaj, available at https://spiderimg.amarujala.com/assets/images/2021/07/23/jitendra-bhardwaj_1627028623.jpeg.

Spoiler Alert: I’m Furious

I’ve recently resolved that I wanted to make a concerted effort to communicate the findings of my research into political and military affairs of South Asia in the languages of persons who are most affected by the things I study. I have spent years working in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi and thus I have begun to submit work in those languages to vernacular press.

A colleague of mine at the Gateway House passed on my piece to Amar Ujala, a Hindi newspaper to see if they would be interested in running. I would have been happy to modify it as needed.

While they did not publish the piece, one of their “journalists” named Jitendra Bhardwaj (pictured below) lifted it, added additional material to it, then claimed it as his own. I wrote to Mr. Bhardwaj on Facebook, tagging our mutual friends, and asked that he rectify this ethical violation by adding me as a co-author. This was actually a generous request given that I should have been the FIRST author given that most of the prose and intellectual capital in this “article” was mine. Of course, this hubristic individual demurred and even tried to bully me by insisting that I am in error in accusing him of unethical content. He explained that to avoid any controversy, he’s asked that it be pulled. (See the screenshot of this exchange.) Why would he prefer that it be pulled rather than give due credit?

In this post, I demonstrate how he stole my work. This is an object lesson to anyone I catch doing it.

Screenshot of our exchange on Facebook:

What is Plagiarism

According to Oxford University, plagiarism entails:

“presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional. Under the regulations for examinations, intentional or reckless plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.”

In this essay, I demonstrate how Mr. Bhardwaj not only stole he essence of the work (as he has no previous history of writing on this issue), but he also reworded my words without attribution and, in places, even used my exact wording, also without attribution. He does quote me on occasion, but this is not a sufficient acknowledgement of my work and indeed it gives the illusion that he interviewed me, which is a further ethical violation.

Here’s the Analysis that Proves He Plagiarized My Work.

In his opening paragraph, he writes:

“साउथ एशियन पॉलिटिकल एंड मिलिट्री अफेयर की अमेरिकी विशेषज्ञ सी. क्रिस्टीन फैर का कहना है कि पाकिस्तान द्वारा खालिस्तानी समूह तैयार किए जा रहे हैं।“

Here he attributes to me my own work but uses the verb ” कहना,” (which means “says”) which implies that he interviewed me. He does this in the first paragraph.

He then goes on to use my language making only one insignificant change.

In his article:

“विभिन्न पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों के हवाले से ऐसी खबरें आती रही हैं कि ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ पाकिस्तानी सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की उपज है।”

This is virtually identical to what I wrote:

“विभिन्न पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों ने कहा है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” पाकिस्तान सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की उपज है।”

In his article, this appears:

“लंबे समय तक राजनेता रहे शेख राशिद, जिन्होंने 1991 से कई संघीय मंत्री पद संभाले हैं और अब रेल मंत्री हैं, ने चुटकी लेते हुए कहा था कि भारत ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ को सर्वदा जनरल बाजवा द्वारा दिए गए गहरे घाव के रूप में याद रखेगा।“

I wrote:

“लंबे समय तक राजनेता रहे शेख राशिद, जिन्होंने 1991 से कई संघीय मंत्री पद संभाले हैं और अब एक रेल मंत्री हैं, ने चुटकी ली, “भारत करतारपुर कॉरिडोर को सर्वदा जनरल बाजवा द्वारा दिए गए गेहरे घाव के रूप में याद रखेगा। जनरल बाजवा ने करतापुर कॉरिडोर खोलके भारत पे एक जोरदार प्रहार किया है।

He then gives the impression that we spoke. He writes:

“बतौर सी. क्रिस्टीन फैर, भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा स्थिति के विद्वानों और विश्लेषकों की भी यही चिंता है कि क्या ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ हकीकत में खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर तो नहीं बन जाएगा। ऐसी चिंताएं निराधार नहीं हैं।”

But in fact, he has simply plagiarized from another part of my essay in which I write:

“लेकिन भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा स्थिति के विद्वानों और विश्लेषकों को चिंता है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” हक़ीक़त में “खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर” बन जाएगा। ये चिंताएं निराधार नहीं हैं|”

 Again, he implies that he spoke to me and that I merely augmented his knowledge rather than my writing being the sole source of the same:

“एनआईए द्वारा पंजाब में पन्नू की कई संपत्तियां जब्त की गई हैं। साउथ एशियन पॉलिटिकल एंड मिलिट्री अफेयर की अमेरिकी विशेषज्ञ सी. क्रिस्टीन फैर के अनुसार, करतारपुर साहिब को सिखों द्वारा उच्च सम्मान में रखा जाता है, क्योंकि यह उस स्थान पर बनाया गया है जहां गुरुनानक ने पहले सिख समुदाय की स्थापना की थी। सिख संगत इस बात को लेकर खुश है कि वह पाकिस्तान में इस पवित्र स्थान पर माथा टेकने के लिए जा सकेंगे। भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा स्थिति के विद्वानों और विश्लेषकों को चिंता है कि ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ हकीकत में खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर बन जाएगा।”

In fact, he has simply plagiarized this entire section from my essay, omitting some details:

“करतारपुर कॉरिडोर का उद्घाटन सिखों के पहले गुरु, नानक की 550वीं जयंती के तीन दिन पूर्व 9 नवंबर, 2019 को किया गया था।  विशेष अनुमति प्राप्त सिख तीर्थयात्री, सिखों के दो प्रमुख धार्मिक स्थल – भारत में रावी नदी के तट पर सिख धर्म का सबसे पवित्र स्थल, डेरा बाबा साहिब और पाकिस्तान के शकरगढ़ में स्थित श्री करतापुर साहिब के बीच की 9 किमी (5.6 मील) की दूरी तय कर सकेंगे। गुरुद्वारा श्री करतारपुर साहिब को सिखों द्वारा उच्च सम्मान में रखा जाता है क्योंकि यह उस स्थान पर बनाया गया है जहां गुरु नानक ने पहले सिख समुदाय की स्थापना की थी |

बड़ी संख्या में सिख इस बात को लेकर खुश हैं की वे पाकिस्तान में इस पवित्र स्थान पर मथा टेकने के लिए सफ़र कर सकेंगे| लेकिन भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा स्थिति के विद्वानों और विश्लेषकों को चिंता है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” हक़ीक़त में “खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर” बन जाएगा। ये चिंताएं निराधार नहीं हैं|”

Again, he cites my name to further the illusion that we spoke:

सी. क्रिस्टीन फैर के मुताबिक, पंजाब में 1992 के विवादित चुनावों के बाद खालिस्तान की हिंसापूर्ण इंसर्जेन्सी लगभग समाप्त हो गई थी। पिछले एक दशक से इस हिंसक आंदोलन और उसके सबसे प्रमुख (आतंकवादी) नेता, जरनैल सिंह भिंडरावाले के राजनीतिक अस्तित्व को भारत में पुनर्जीवित किया गया है। यूनाइटेड किंगडम, अमेरिका, कनाडा के सिख डायस्पोरा और अन्य जाट सिख समुदायों का उत्साह इसके क्रूर आतंकवाद के लिए जारी है। भिंडरावाले की तस्वीर वाली टी-शर्ट, पोस्टर और अन्य सामान सिख धर्म के सबसे पवित्र मंदिर श्रीहरमंदिर साहिब एवं भारत के विभिन्न गुरुद्वारों के आसपास के बाजारों में बेचा जा रहा है। कई गुरुद्वारों में सिखों के एतिहासिक शहीदों की तस्वीर में भिंडरावाले को जोड़ा हुआ है। हालांकि, सबसे चिंताजनक बात यह है कि हाल के वर्षों में भारत में दर्जनों खालिस्तानी हमले हुए हैं। ये घटनाएं जनवरी 2009 और 25 जनवरी 2019 के बीच हुई हैं। लालक़िला पर उपद्रव के बाद अब पन्नू संसद सत्र के दौरान किसानों को उसका रहा है।”

In fact, he has simply plagiarized my own words again. He has made negligible revisions to my words. This is what I wrote; however I provided a chart that summarized the results of data my colleagues and I collected and analyzed.

“पंजाब में 1992 के विवादित चुनावों के बाद खालिस्तान की हिंसापूर्ण इंसर्जेन्सी लगभाग समाप्त हो गई थी लेकिन पिछले एक दशक से इस हिंसक आंदोलन और उसके सबसे प्रमुख (आतंकवादी) नेता, जरनैल सिंह भिंडरावाले के राजनीतिक अस्तित्व को भारत में पुनर्जीवित किया गया है। यूनाइटेड किंगडम, अमेरिका, कनाडा के सिख डायस्पोरा और अन्य जाट सिख समुदायों का उत्साह इसके क्रूर आतंकवाद के लिए जारी है।  भिंडरांवाले की तस्वीर वाली टी-शर्ट, पोस्टर और अन्य सामान सिख धर्म के सबसे पवित्र मंदिर श्री हरमंदिर साहिब एवं भारत के विभिन्न गुरुद्वारों के आसपास के बाजारों में  बेचा जा रहा है। कई गुरुद्वारों में सिखों के ऐतिहासिक शहीदों की तस्वीर में  भिंडरावाले  को जोड़ा हुआ है। हालांकि, सबसे चिंताजनक बात यह है कि हाल के वर्षों में भारत में दर्जनों खालिस्तानी हमले हुए हैं और कई और जिन्हें सुरक्षा बलों ने बाधित किया है। (नीचे चार्ट देखें)।“

Here again, he plagiarizes my prose with impunity and without shame. In some cases, he changes the wording but in many more cases he just ripped me off. Whereas, I provided a link to the article which formed the basis of my assessment, he does not. Here is what appeared in his article:

“पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों ने कहा है कि ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ पाकिस्तान सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की रणनीति का एक हिस्सा है। दरअसल, जनरल बाजवा ने करतापुर कॉरिडोर खोल कर भारत पर एक जोरदार प्रहार किया है। पाकिस्तानी सेना भारत के साथ अपने संबंधों को बहाल करने के लिए तब तक कोई कदम नहीं उठाएगी, जब तक कि इस तरह के प्रयास उसके रणनीतिक उद्देश्यों को आगे नहीं बढ़ाते। चिंता का दूसरा कारण यह है कि ‘इंटर-सर्विसेज इंटेलिजेंस निदेशालय (आईएसआई, पाकिस्तान की खुफिया एजेंसी) ने सिख प्रवासी (यानी डायस्पोरा) के बीच खालिस्तान के लिए समर्थन जुटाया है, जो अकसर भारत विरोधी कश्मीरी समूहों के साथ होता है। यहीं से पाकिस्तान ने एक अन्य जंग भी छेड़ रखी है। यह जंग ड्रग्स को लेकर लड़ी जा रही है।”

This is what I wrote in the article that was sent to his paper:

“इसके अलावा, विद्वान और विश्लेषक पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों के स्पष्ट स्वीकारोक्ति के बारे में चिंतित हैं, जिसमें विभिन्न पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों ने कहा है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” पाकिस्तान सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की उपज है।  लंबे समय तक राजनेता रहे शेख राशिद, जिन्होंने 1991 से कई संघीय मंत्री पद संभाले हैं और अब एक रेल मंत्री हैं, ने चुटकी ली, “भारत करतारपुर कॉरिडोर को सर्वदा जनरल बाजवा द्वारा दिए गए गेहरे घाव के रूप में याद रखेगा। जनरल बाजवा ने करतापुर कॉरिडोर खोलके भारत पे एक जोरदार प्रहार किया है।“ पाकिस्तानी सेना भारत के साथ अपने संबंधों को बहाल करने के लिए तब तक कोई कदम नहीं उठाएगी ज आंतरिक ब तक कि इस तरह के प्रयास उसके रणनीतिक उद्देश्यों को आगे नहीं बढ़ाते।

चिंता का एक और कारण यह है कि “इंटर-सर्विसेज इंटेलिजेंस निदेशालय (आई.एस.आई., पाकिस्तान की खुफिया एजेंसी) ने सिख प्रवासी (यानी” डायस्पोरा “) के बीच खालिस्तान के लिए समर्थन जुटाया है, जो अक्सर भारत विरोधी कश्मीरी समूहों के साथ होता है।

                इस से मज़ीद, पाकिस्तान एक और तरह की जंग छेड़ रहा है और यह जंग ड्रग्स के खिलाफ लड़ी जा रही है.”

He then continues to plagiarize my work on the Punjab’s drug addiction:

“साल 2015 में अखिल भारतीय आयुर्विज्ञान संस्थान ने एक अध्ययन प्रकाशित किया था। इसमें कहा गया कि पंजाब में क़रीब दो करोड़ अस्सी लाख लोग ड्रग्स के आदी हैं। अनेक सबूतों के अनुसार इस्लामिक आतंकवादी समूह लश्कर-ए-तैयबा (एलईटी) और पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ताओं में सहयोग और सांठ-गांठ जारी है। वहां पर खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ता (गोपाल सिंह चावला) करतारपुर कॉरिडोर की कार्रवाई में अहम सदस्य रहा था। सी. क्रिस्टीन फैर कहती हैं, पाकिस्तान इन खालिस्तानी समूहों के साथ साजिश करने की तैयारी कर रहा है। दशकों से जिन खालिस्तानी समूहों का पाकिस्तान विकास कर रहा था, अब वह बेहद अहम हो गया है। खासतौर से भारत सरकार को ‘करतारपुर कॉरिडोर’ के संदर्भ में गहराई से सोचना होगा।“

This is what I wrote. Note that again, he has simply stolen my verbiage with a few notable differences. Whereas, I provide a link to the source upon which my claim is based, he doesn’t:

2015 में, अखिल भारतीय आयुर्विज्ञान संस्थान ने एक अध्ययन प्रकाशित किया जिसमें कहा गया कि पंजाब में 28 मिलियन लोग आदी हैं। अनेक सबूतों के अनुसार इस्लामिक आतंकवादी समूह लश्कर-ए-तैयबा (एल. ई. टी.) और पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ताओ में सहयोग और साँठ गाँठ जारी है | इसके अलावा, कई पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ता (गोपाल सिंह चावला) करतारपुर कॉरिडोर की कार्रवाइओं में अहम सदस्य थे

                पाकिस्तान इन खालिस्तानी समूहों के साथ साजिश बनाने का अभिरोचन  सरल है: लश्कर और दीगर इस्लामी समूहों के इस्तेमाल करने का कारण, पाकिस्तान के ऊपर  लगातार अंतर्रराष्ट्रीय दबाव लगाया जाता है| इसलिए, दशकों से जिन खालिस्तानी समूहों को पाकिस्तान विकास कर रहा था, अब वे बेहद अहम हो गया है|”  

My QuestionS FOR the Editors of Amar Ujala

So what exactly is his contribution to this article? And if my words were worthy of being stolen by him in such measure, why didn’t he simply propose that we co-author the piece and thank me instead of stealing my work?  Surely, his editor saw his piece and knew the similarities to the one I submitted including extended verbiage often with little or not modification. This is straight up plagiarism and I’m sure he’s a dude and because he thought he wouldn’t be caught. Also, what kind of a lousy Hindi journalist STEALS the verbiage of a person who is writing Hindi as a non-native writer?

Here is my analytical piece Which my colleague sent to his paper

खालिस्तान की वापसी?

सी. क्रिस्टीन फ़ैर

            करतारपुर कॉरिडोर का उद्घाटन सिखों के पहले गुरु, गुरु नानक की 550वीं जयंती के तीन दिन पूर्व 9 नवंबर, 2019 को किया गया था।  विशेष अनुमति प्राप्त सिख तीर्थयात्री, सिखों के दो प्रमुख धार्मिक स्थल – भारत में रावी नदी के तट पर सिख धर्म का सबसे पवित्र स्थल, डेरा बाबा साहिब और पाकिस्तान के शकरगढ़ में स्थित श्री करतापुर साहिब के बीच की 9 किमी (5.6 मील) की दूरी तय कर सकेंगे। गुरुद्वारा श्री करतारपुर साहिब को सिखों द्वारा उच्च सम्मान में रखा जाता है क्योंकि यह उस स्थान पर बनाया गया है जहां गुरु नानक ने पहले सिख समुदाय की स्थापना की थी।

            बड़ी संख्या में सिख इस बात को लेकर खुश हैं की वे पाकिस्तान में इस पवित्र स्थान पर मथा टेकने के लिए सफ़र कर सकेंगे| लेकिन भारत की आंतरिक सुरक्षा स्थिति के विद्वानों और विश्लेषकों को चिंता है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” हक़ीक़त में “खालिस्तान कॉरिडोर” बन जाएगा। ये चिंताएं निराधार नहीं हैं| 

            पंजाब में 1992 के विवादित चुनावों के बाद खालिस्तान की हिंसापूर्ण इंसर्जेन्सी लगभाग समाप्त हो गई थी लेकिन पिछले एक दशक से इस हिंसक आंदोलन और उसके सबसे प्रमुख (आतंकवादी) नेता, जरनैल सिंह भिंडरावाले के राजनीतिक अस्तित्व को भारत में पुनर्जीवित किया गया है। यूनाइटेड किंगडम, अमेरिका, कनाडा के सिख डायस्पोरा और अन्य जाट सिख समुदायों का उत्साह इसके क्रूर आतंकवाद के लिए जारी है।  भिंडरांवाले की तस्वीर वाली टी-शर्ट, पोस्टर और अन्य सामान सिख धर्म के सबसे पवित्र मंदिर श्री हरमंदिर साहिब एवं भारत के विभिन्न गुरुद्वारों के आसपास के बाजारों में  बेचा जा रहा है। कई गुरुद्वारों में सिखों के ऐतिहासिक शहीदों की तस्वीर में  भिंडरावाले  को जोड़ा हुआ है। हालांकि, सबसे चिंताजनक बात यह है कि हाल के वर्षों में भारत में दर्जनों खालिस्तानी हमले हुए हैं और कई और जिन्हें सुरक्षा बलों ने बाधित किया है। (नीचे चार्ट देखें)।

लेख-चित्र १: जनवरी 2009 और 25 जनवरी 2019 के बीच प्रति वर्ष पुष्टि की गई घटनाएं (संदिग्धों को छोड़कर)

            इसके अलावा, विद्वान और विश्लेषक पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों के स्पष्ट स्वीकारोक्ति के बारे में चिंतित हैं, जिसमें विभिन्न पाकिस्तानी अधिकारियों ने कहा है कि “करतारपुर कॉरिडोर” पाकिस्तान सेना प्रमुख जनरल कमर जावेद बाजवा के दिमाग की उपज है।  लंबे समय तक राजनेता रहे शेख राशिद, जिन्होंने 1991 से कई संघीय मंत्री पद संभाले हैं और अब एक रेल मंत्री हैं, ने चुटकी ली, “भारत करतारपुर कॉरिडोर को सर्वदा जनरल बाजवा द्वारा दिए गए गेहरे घाव के रूप में याद रखेगा। जनरल बाजवा ने करतापुर कॉरिडोर खोलके भारत पे एक जोरदार प्रहार किया है।“ पाकिस्तानी सेना भारत के साथ अपने संबंधों को बहाल करने के लिए तब तक कोई कदम नहीं उठाएगी जब तक कि इस तरह के प्रयास उसके रणनीतिक उद्देश्यों को आगे नहीं बढ़ाते।

            चिंता का एक और कारण यह है कि “इंटर-सर्विसेज इंटेलिजेंस निदेशालय (आई.एस.आई., पाकिस्तान की खुफिया एजेंसी) ने सिख प्रवासी (यानी” डायस्पोरा “) के बीच खालिस्तान के लिए समर्थन जुटाया है, जो अक्सर भारत विरोधी कश्मीरी समूहों के साथ होता है।

            इस से मज़ीद, पाकिस्तान एक और तरह की जंग छेड़ रहा है और यह जंग ड्रग्स के खिलाफ लड़ी जा रही है. 2015 में, अखिल भारतीय आयुर्विज्ञान संस्थान ने एक अध्ययन प्रकाशित किया जिसमें कहा गया कि पंजाब में 28 मिलियन लोग आदी हैं। अनेक सबूतों के अनुसार इस्लामिक आतंकवादी समूह लश्कर-ए-तैयबा (एल. ई. टी.) और पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ताओ में सहयोग और साँठ गाँठ जारी है | इसके अलावा, कई पाकिस्तान में रहने वाले खालिस्तानी कार्यकर्ता (गोपाल सिंह चावला) करतारपुर कॉरिडोर की कार्रवाइओं में अहम सदस्य थे

            पाकिस्तान इन खालिस्तानी समूहों के साथ साजिश बनाने का अभिरोचन  सरल है: लश्कर और दीगर इस्लामी समूहों के इस्तेमाल करने का कारण, पाकिस्तान के ऊपर  लगातार अंतर्रराष्ट्रीय दबाव लगाया जाता है| इसलिए, दशकों से जिन खालिस्तानी समूहों को पाकिस्तान विकास कर रहा था, अब वे बेहद अहम हो गया है|  

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.

COVID Lungs: A Trilogy

This is a COVID-motivated, mixed-media triptych. Running across all three pieces is the image of the damaged lung, COVID’s most grotesque signature.

The left image depicts the brewing storm driven by China’s wet-market where trafficked animals are kept in conditions of bio-insecurity, ripe for zoonotic events. It details 2007 scientific findings that SARS emerged from these conditions and which predict that the next pandemic will too.

The middle image depicts the brutal reckoning of this disease and the concomitant haphazard way in which countries like the United States (mis)managed it.

To the right, is an imagined post-pandemic future of renewal.

This was published in Detour Ahead on 6 November 2020 and in Passager Books’ Pandemic Diaries.