The GWOT: globalised frontlines from Lashkar Gah to Londonistan
Interesting to see US intelligence crawl out of the shadows again, this time making strong comments about Afghanistan. Like the Iran report back in December, this seems to be a sign of a growing political movement within the intelligence community, perhaps a reaction to the misunderstandings of the role of intelligence that led to the failure in Iraq.
Afghanistan mission close to failing - US | World news | The Guardian
After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is "deteriorating" and President Hamid Karzai's government controls less than a third of the country, America's top intelligence official has admitted.
Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control...
But the gloomy comments echoed even more strongly worded recent reports by thinktanks, including one headed by the former Nato commander General James Jones, which concluded that "urgent changes" were required now to "prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state".
General Jones's comment requires a little deconstruction: Afghanistan is not going to "become a failed state" - it has pretty much always been one. I would argue that it is not even a state at all, dominated as it is by tribal factions.
McConnell mentions that "Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control." There's your key. Rather than 'Afghanisation', it may be better to recognise that the 60% under tribal control is the key ground. Just as with Pakistan's NWFP, it's impossible to rule over these chaps in a conventional manner - so why try?
The way to bring stability is to support local governance networks and hope that security and development will mean that they in turn don't support the Taliban. Unfortunately that means massive amounts of troops and cash, not the paltry 30,000 troops or so under ISAF and the other 30,000 separately-led and counter-productive US contingent.
Force multipliers such as PNGs and AH-64s help, but do not solve the problem of space. To cover an area as large as Afghanistan you need a lot more than that. Can't find the stats but I'm sure that there was ten times that number in the initial occupation of Germany post-WW2. Boots on the ground.
Can Musharaff, the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's PML(N) forge a workable coalition? If not, which will be the first to go?
Musharraf's party admits defeat | World news | guardian.co.uk
As president, Musharraf, a former army chief, did not contest the elections, aimed at completing a transition to civilian rule, but the outcome could hasten his political demise.
"It's the moment of truth for the president," Abbas Nasir, the editor of the Dawn newspaper told Reuters. "There will be thoughts swirling in his mind, whether he can forge a working relationship with two parties whose leadership he kept out of the country."
And something else to consider:
The results could hold important implications for the US-led "war on terror", especially Pakistani military operations against al-Qaida and Taliban-style militants in the border areas with Afghanistan.
Sharif and others have called for dialogue with the extremists and have criticised military operations in the area because of heavy civilian casualties.
What would that mean for Afghanistan and US policy in the region? Can the US accept the result?
If there's one thing that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - and arguably, sad to say, Vietnam - have proved is that in order to bring peace and stability to a country you need a lot of troops, a lot of money and a lot of time. All of them must be spent wisely.
That was the essence of Donald Rumsfeld's disastrous failure of vision, the deeply misguided belief that the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs was the be all and end all. But he eventually found out that once the high-tempo warfighting phase is over, then the force multipliers of US technology count for nothing.
Incredibly, the US Army has only just redrafted its manual to suggest that "stabilising countries and winning over locals required more than just military skills... and knowledge of foreign languages and local cultures are also important." Duh. That says it all.
That's why developments in NATO are alarming. The SecGen attempts to gloss over the problem, but it's certainly the case that many of the old European nations are still cashing in on the post-Cold War peace dividend. Times have changed, however. At least France under Sarkozy is beginning to pull its weight.
What NATO has to do is create a virtuous circle in Pakistan: contain the Taliban long enough for development and prosperity to flourish, which in turn will provide people with an alternative to fighting for scarce resources and political control. For that there need to be boots on the ground, because one thing's for sure - there's plenty more where the Taliban came from.
Nato crisis grows over Afghan troops | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited
In Washington on Wednesday Gates told the House of Representatives' armed services committee that the alliance could split into countries that were "willing to fight and die to protect people's security and those who were not". He added: "My view is you can't have some allies whose sons and daughters die in combat and other allies who are shielded from that kind of a sacrifice."
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato's secretary-general, said more forces were needed to combat Taliban and al-Qaida violence but dismissed Gates' suggestion that Nato could become a "two-tiered alliance" based on a country's willingness to fight. "I do not see a two-tier alliance, there is one alliance," he said as he arrived for the Vilnius meeting.
A disappointingly weak argument for the candidates' foreign policy apathy during the primary cycle. Surely, as commander in chief of the world's most advanced armed forces and helmsman of its largest economy, the president has some choice? Apparently not: policy is 'shaped by events'.
Rubbish. What is the point of all that power projection capability if the US has no role in helping to define global affairs? This is exactly the kind of argument that makes the world a worse place to live in. Sure, unpredictable events occur, but that doesn't mean the president must be hostile to being prepared and having beliefs and opinions.
If anything, the post below is an argument against democracy - if nothing can ever change, then why bother? Shame on you, Friedman.
Foreign Policy and the President's Irrelevance | Stratfor
When you drill down into position papers that are written but not meant to be read — and which certainly are not devised by the candidates — you find some interesting thoughts. But for the most part, the positions are clear. The candidates are concerned about Russia’s growing internal authoritarianism and hope it ends. The candidates are concerned about the impact of China on American jobs but generally are committed to variations on free trade. They are also concerned about growing authoritarianism in China and hope it ends. On the unification of Europe, they have no objections.
This might appear vapid, but we would argue that it really isn’t. In spite of the constitutional power of the U.S. president in foreign policy, in most cases, the president really doesn’t have a choice. Policies have institutionalized themselves over the decades, and shifting those policies has costs that presidents can’t absorb. There is a reason the United States behaves as it does toward Russia, China and Europe, and these reasons usually are powerful. Presidents do not simply make policy. Rather, they align themselves with existing reality. For example, since the American public doesn’t care about European unification, there is no point in debating the subject. There are no decisions to be made on such issues. There is only the illusion of decisions.
There is a deeper reason as well. The United States does not simply decide on policies. It responds to a world that is setting America’s agenda. During the 2000 campaign, the most important issue that would dominate the American presidency regardless of who was elected never was discussed: 9/11. Whatever the presidential candidates thought would or wouldn’t be important, someone else was going to set the agenda.
The issue of policies versus character has been discussed many times. One school of thought holds that the foreign policies advocated by a presidential candidate are the things to look at. In fact, the candidate can advocate whatever he or she wants, but foreign policy is frequently defined by the world and not by the president. In many cases, it is impossible to know what the issue is going to be, meaning the candidates’ positions on various topics are irrelevant. The decisions that are going to matter are going to force the president’s hand, not the other way around.
The pertinent point in the analysis below is perhaps overlooked. The problem with American democracy, from a non-American point of view, is that it is almost wholly concerned with issues of domestic policy. Iraq maybe, but that's because it has a direct and visible effect on the voting population.
However, as the writer points out, the responsibility of the Presidential office more often than not turns to foreign policy, like it or not. Yet it's not something the candidates are judged upon until their baptism of fire - as we saw with Bush and his pet goat.
Super Tuesday neglects Pakistan at America’s peril
Heading towards Super Tuesday, Pakistan has dropped off the radar of the primaries although it is the most likely place for the next civil war between Islamic terrorists and civilians. It might even become a cause of war with India and near total loss of American influence in the entire region.
Terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists supported by the Taliban and Al Qaeda has spread almost all across Pakistan. Terrorists killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and have attacked Air Force and Army personnel near military bases. Nearly half of Pakistani territory from Baluchistan to the North West Frontier is unstable and extremists seem to fear the army less.
Yet, none of the Presidential candidates seem to be aware of the dangers inherent in this situation for America, which is deeply engaged in the Pakistan and Afghanistan conflicts while trying to win over India as a strategic counterweight to China.
Next Thursday, 7 February, sees the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rat, the first in the Chinese Zodiac cycle. No, this isn't some cod astrological analysis: but it does put a little bit of mystical context in. Just look at all the international factors that are just about to converge and you'll see what I mean.
Basically, the next weeks and months could see some rather serious developments in the global political picture.
Kosovo might soon be declaring independence, and despite dissent it looks like most of the international community is going to recognise it. What few realise is that, for Serbia, the secession of Kosovo would be a disaster of monumental proportions. And they're holding an election this weekend in which a hard-right president could be selected.
Already locking horns with the UK, Russia is probably going to stand by Serbia - which means increasing antagonism with the rest of Europe. I can certainly foresee the gas spigot getting turned off for a couple of days, which given the present frigid economic (let alone meteorological) climate could have a severe impact.
Speaking of elections, it's Super Tuesday this week, another moment that's going to define the course of things to come. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or John McCain: the field of four will probably narrow down to two candidates for the top job in the world.
Not long after that, Monday 18 February is finally going to see elections in Pakistan. Whether rigged or not, there will inevitably be implications for regional stability.
Furthermore, set that against the context of Afghanistan. President Karzai has just shot his nation in the foot by turning away one of Britain's most competent statesmen, Lord Ashdown, as a potential UN envoy.
Moreover, NATO is lumbering towards a crisis with Germany refusing to pull its weight and Canada getting very cold feet in the face of what looks like sheer petulance from its allies. Thus, the NATO conference set for next week could well define the future of the mission, and general stability in Afghanistan. Condi is already jetting in do do her firewoman act.
We don't want to see either Pakistan or Afghanistan go down; both of them falling apart at the same time would be disastrous.
And finally, look at China.
Anyone who's queued for rail tickets at Spring Festival - even in a good year - will tell you what a nightmare it is. This year has seen the worst weather in half a century and chances are that the world's largest internal migration is not going to go ahead as planned. That means some unhappy chappies down Chinatown.
Add to that the very real danger of a food crisis - a failed crop could tip China over the edge - compounded by the general economic malaise and you have a recipe for civil unrest in Olympic year.
And finally, add to that a touch of spice in the form of an upcoming referendum in Taiwan (set for 22 March) and you have a fiery plate of noodles indeed.
In summary, there are various crises impending in Eastern Europe, South Asia and East Asia. The year 2008 could well be going for a bag of rats.
Well, it's that time again - as the year 2007 draws to a close, we look to the future. And one thing is for sure: the primary foci of this weblog, Pakistan and China, were hardly out of the news this year and won't be in 2008 either.
For China especially, 2008 is the crunch year. The Olympics have acquired a kind of existential significance, and their success or failure have become intertwined with China's contemporary sense of its national identity.
Unfortunately, I can't see the games being the resounding success that the CCP hopes for. Chinese athletes will probably haul in the most medals, but with the enormous pressures upon them there will inevitably be doping scandals. Other athletes will scorn the terrible pollution; tourists will be messed about, pushed, shoved and spat around (most Beijingers will behave admirably, but it'll still be the negatives that get remembered); and journalists will lament the restrictions on free reporting. Few Chinese yet realise how things will be perceived, and it will come as a shock.
Most of all, this most political of sporting events will inevitably be deeply politicised. There will be incidents: medal-winners standing up for Tibet, Taiwanese declarations, perhaps even Uyghur violence. Expect 888 to be a very interesting moment in the definition of the new China.
Turning to Russia, there Putin will remain in control, despite the appointment of a new president in Medvedev - little more than a deputy, really, But I have confidence in Putin: he is not stupid, and will not wish relations with the EU and NATO to deteriorate further. Things were getting silly, what with all this missile defence rubbish, not to mention Litvinenko and Lugovoi, and in 2008 Russia will attempt to repair some of the damage - though not with Britain, who will be the main losers.
Meanwhile, it will be a period of reflection for the EU itself, as the member states attempt to digest the implications of the Lisbon Treaty. Expect at least one ratification to fail.
There is at least reason to positive about the Middle East. Iraq has calmed in 2007, though of course it's not the end by any stretch of the imagination. We are also thankfully unlikely to see action against Iran either. Bush desperately needs a positive legacy to speak of, so with elections in full swing at home he and his cronies may attempt at least to broker a compromise solution. Does he have what it takes? We shall see.
But there are clearly going to be fireworks in Pakistan. Far too early to tell how things will pan out, but it probably won't be good. This writer is already predicting a Balkanisation of the country: that may be going too far, but with the conflicts in NWFP and Balochistan likely to gain pace as society fractures after the elections then the prospects for stability are low. Great map too - worth examining to see what it suggests about Iran and Iraq and all
It is almost certainly the end of the road for Musharraf, and with Bhutto gone there will be a power vacuum. Power vacuums mean conflict, as we have seen in Iraq. But the West and India have meddled enough in Pakistan - it is up to them.
It seems that there is a realisation now (as probably there always was) in Whitehall that there is no direct military solution to Afghanistan. The problem, however, is something of a chicken-and-egg situation: development will give the people the prosperity and stability they need to rid themselves of extremism, but without security there can be no development.
That's why some of the thinking outlined below is slightly worrying. Rushing things - as occurred under 'Vietnamisation' - will not improve the situation. At worst, it's merely a cover for an undignified retreat.
The battle of Musa Qula also has some uncomfortable analogies. Great that the town has been retaken - but why was it lost in the first place? That's just what went wrong in Vietnam: military victory on the ground was not backed up with long-term support. The Vietcong simply moved back in after the Americans left, as per Mao's doctrine of guerilla warfare.
The problem is that there are simply not enough NATO troops to do the job and the Afghan Army is not up to the job.
BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Dismantling the Taleban is the aim
The concept is that there are three tiers in the Taleban. The top tier is made up of the irreconcilable leadership. The second tier consists of locally based commanders and the bottom tier are the ordinary foot soldiers.
It is the second tier that is being targeted and the hope is that middle level commanders will bring a lot of the third tier with them. Some 5,000 ex-Taleban fighters are said to have come over before...
The buzzwords being used about Afghanistan right now are - Afghanistan, localisation, reconciliation, and (an old one) reconstruction.
The Guardian picks up and spins a recent pronouncement by Frederick Kagan of AEI. The operative paragraph and conclusion are below, and deserve a bit of picking apart.
A complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum? Highly unlikely. Kagan may say he is not "fear-mongering", but this statement is over the top. Whatever its problems, the moderate mainstream in Pakistan's civil society and the military is more than powerful enough to prevent that eventuality.
There again, it did happen in Iran, but circumstances now are not the same. It is correct, therefore, to make contingency plans, but not to push forward what is not yet an inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.
A struggle within the Pakistani military? Also not likely. Undoubtedly there remain radicals in the ISI, but if nothing else Musharraf has probably purged the army of the extremist tendencies seen under General Zia, who was himself somewhat discredited by the end of his rule.
However, there is a distinct possibility of Islamabad losing control of the outer regions - some might say it has already done so. This does have implications for both Afghanistan and Pakistan and thus must be taken seriously.
The basic point is that Pakistan needs well-planned aid and support if its WMD are not to fall into the wrong hands. It's the kind of thinking that should have been deployed prior to the Iraq invasion, which after all was about the same thing - preventing access of the wrong people to WMD.
Finally, two things Kagan fails to mention are the China and India factors. He treats the subject as if it's entirely a US issue, which it is not. The two Asian powers have deep-set interests too, and must be part of the solution rather than allowed to become part of the problem.
Pakistan’s Collapse, Our Problem - New York Times
The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism...
The great paradox of the post-cold war world is that we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before. There was a time when volatility in places like Pakistan was mostly a humanitarian worry; today it is as much a threat to our basic security as Soviet tanks once were. We must be militarily and diplomatically prepared to keep ourselves safe in such a world. Pakistan may be the next big test.
"It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when ... and in what form. The oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a new strategic paradigm before time runs out."
So says some hitherto unheard of thinktank, somewhat pessimistically perhaps, but they do have eyes and ears on the ground. The point is that without strength in depth and in numbers, NATO is not going to be able to hold ground it takes.
That's just what happened in Vietnam. US forces won most battles but lost the war due to bad politics and bad strategy.
Afghanistan 'falling into hands of Taliban' | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
The insurgency is divided into a largely poverty-driven "grassroots" component and a concentrated group of "hard-core militant Islamists", says the Senlis Council, which has an office in Kabul and field researchers based in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan.
It says that the Nato-led International Security Force of some 40,000 troops should be at least doubled and include forces from Muslim countries as well as Nato states which have refused to send troops to the country.
Brief profile of the guy responsible for the Islamist takeover in Swat.
Revolt in Pakistan’s NWFP: A Profile of Maulana Fazlullah of Swat
Maulana Fazlullah, who is now leading an extremist Islam-oriented insurgency in the valley of Swat in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, is the son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, founder of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws), which he established in 1989 (see Terrorism Monitor, November 30, 2005). In early 2002, TNSM was banned by the Pakistani government and Maulana Sufi Mohammad was sentenced to a prison term of seven years following a crackdown on jihadi organizations in the aftermath of 9/11 and President Musharraf’s collaboration with the U.S. global war on terrorism.
Fazlullah, born in 1975, was raised in a simple farmer’s family in Mam Dheray...
There had to be one, and note how this author neatly ties up all the conflicting elements in the current drama: internal opposition to Musharraf; the Balochistan rebellion; Afghanistan, America and the GWOT; China and Gwadar; India and Kashmir.
The essence of the article is that the current situation is all the result of an American plan to instigate regime change in Pakistan to advance its own interests. Of course much of the report is to be roundly dismissed. I particularly enjoyed this paragraph (I used to work at Jane's):
This was the perfect timing for the launch of Military, Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, a book authored by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha, a columnist for a Pakistani English-language paper and a correspondent for ‘Jane’s Defence Weekly’, a private intelligence service founded by experts close to the British intelligence.
But the point is that the Pakistan situation is not clear-cut in that all Pakistanis favour democracy and Benazir Bhutto, as the Western powers would have us believe. There are still deep veins of paranoia at work, and it's these that enable the continuing dominance of the military and security forces.
“We have indications of Indian involvement with anti-state elements in Pakistan,” declared the spokesman of the Pakistan Foreign Office in a regular briefing in October. The statement was terse and direct and the spokesman, Ms. Tasnim Aslam, quickly moved on to other issues.
This is how a Pakistani official explained Ms. Aslam’s statement: “What she was really saying is this: We know what the Indians are doing. They’ve sold the Americans on the idea that [the Indians] are an authority on Pakistan and can be helpful in Afghanistan. The Americans have bought the idea and are in on the plan, giving the Indians a free hand in Afghanistan. What the Americans don’t know is that we, too, know the Indians very well. Better still, we know Afghanistan very well. You can’t beat us at our own game.”
Mr. Bugti’s armed rebellion coincided with the Gwadar project entering its final stages. No coincidence here. Mr. Bugti’s real job was to scare the Chinese away and scuttle Chinese President Hu Jintao’s planned visit to Gwadar a few months later to formally launch the port city.
Gwadar is the pinnacle of Sino-Pakistani strategic cooperation. It’s a modern port city that is supposed to link Central Asia, western China, and Pakistan with markets in Mideast and Africa. It’s supposed to have roads stretching all the way to China. It’s no coincidence either that China has also earmarked millions of dollars to renovate the Karakoram Highway linking northern Pakistan to western China.
, author of Blood and Oil
, was in Amsterdam today to talk on his conception of the impending energy crisis
. While he was a good speaker, seeing him in person did begin to reveal some of the flaws in his arguments.
The lecture opened with a bold set of statements: "No government is willing to solve the energy problem by seeking alternative energies... and I have zero confidence that any will try to increase production." Having tantalised us with this and promises of an apocalyptic vision of the future, Klare then utterly failed to expand.
Fortunately, the organisers allowed one student in the audience to ask a question (the other debating time was reserved for the usual blathering incoherence of rival academics failing to make their points or even ask questions) and he did ask what I would have done. The question was "why?"; Klare's answer was that "dysfunctional governments" were at fault, "governments that piss away billions on Iraq yet invest little on finding solutions".
That seems far too easy a way to excuse the actions of the Bush regime, though he did have a good point on China's failure to deal with the crisis. Though the CCP itself is aware of the trouble we're in, grass roots-level corruption means that any efficiency measures are swept under the carpet in favour of improving growth figures.
Yet Klare's overall take on the US-China contest over energy was as simplistic as the rest. It was, he said, a situation analogous to the Cold War, in which both powers supply arms to their energy-supplying clients in a competition for influence.
He did later remark that Beijing's Africa policy also involves economic and infrastructural aid - something that Africans were rightly suspicious of - but did not elaborate further. But his aim was to reinforce his point that the recent creation of America's Africa Command (Africom) was the latest stage in a continuing Kennedy doctrine, building on previous policy in the Persian Gulf. The SCO, moreover, was a front for China to extend its military supply network to Central Asia.
All of that may be true, but overlooks the nuances of an evolving bipolar US-China situation that is far more than a simple military confrontation.
To be fair, Klare did have some good ideas about 'the resource curse' whereby the wealth in countries like Nigeria falls into the hands of those who control the state, thus negating democratic urges in the governing classes. (One could say the same for Burma). And his analogy with the Balkans of 1914 was apt - violent internal social forces could intersect with external geopolitical motives to produce an explosive mixture.
Also, an interesting theory from an otherwise egomaniacal second speaker came to light, in that $100 oil punished the PRC as much as anyone else, and could be a ploy in order to bring down the RMB or lessen China's export deficit. She also highlighted that fact that Klare didn't even mention Europe, though that merely proved his point that Europe's influence is next to negligible.
But overall, Klare was a little disappointing. He was right to note that control of chokepoints such as Hormuz give militarily powerful states great leverage, but his frame of reference was still bound by conventional military thinking.
The reality is that inducing energy scarcity, just like terrorism and WMD, is an asymmetric method of power projection that doesn't necessarily involve military firepower. Having a big technologically-advanced navy isn't the be-all and end-all any more. That's what makes the problems so complicated and so intertwined.
Kindly understand the criticality of the situation in Pakistan and around Pakistan. Pakistan is on the verge of destabilisation. Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide.
It's kind of sad. In many ways, General Musharraf has been one of the best leaders Pakistan has had for generations. He has more or less turned around the economic incompetence of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, as well as ensuring that General Zia's Islamist agenda was superseded by a more secular outlook.
That's why Musharraf's actions are so deeply disappointing. Probably it's a case of second-term delusion. It's commonly the fact that once leaders have been around for seven or eight years, surrounded by cronies and sycophants they begin to believe in their own infallibility and omnipotence. It even happened to Thatcher and Blair. That's why the US two-term limit on presidents is such a good idea.
Whatever the case, Musharraf has revealed himself for what he always really was: a tinpot military dictator of a teetering banana republic.
I'm not one to support democracy for democracy's sake, and of course it's easy to criticize from the safety and comfort of the West. Ali Eteraz at Comment is Free makes a fair point:
There is a segment of Pakistan - which includes the judges, lawyers, and journalists - which wants to take to the streets. They have dominated the news over the past year and they want to make a democratic push, with some people casting the lawyers in the same role as the Burmese monks. However, Musharraf's shrewd move of setting forth a limited PCO - targeting only the judiciary and leaving the assemblies intact - has neutralised this segment of the population. The illusion of popular participation is retained, while Musharraf's most vexing political opponents - the judges - get sidelined. If he had gone further and cancelled elections, it would have ignited a firestorm, but in his talk to Pakistani public (discussed below), he assured that he would do no such thing.
Disengaged western audiences, pumped full of the current pro-democracy intoxicants, will almost universally decry Musharraf's behaviour. I decry it too, precisely because I am a disengaged westerner and I have that luxury. However, the story in Pakistan is not so straightforward.
What I am being told by bazari merchants, some young professionals, and some industrialists in Karachi and Lahore is that they merely care for stability, whether it comes in the form of the military, or in the form of democracy. Incidentally, many of them believe that it is Musharraf who is more likely to assure that stability. A couple of people, with middle class businesses, suggested to me that Musharraf should behave more like a dictator; a secular version of the previous Islamist dictator, Zia ul Haq, in order to assure stability for business and economic growth. However, that is a minority view.
Yet that being said, history will probably see the state of emergency as Musharraf's biggest mistake. He has almost certainly grossly underestimated the ill-will against him within Pakistan itself. He has in fact strengthened the case against him, which can only help Bhutto, the lawyers and the militants.
In the greater geopolitical scale of things, Musharraf has also effectively chosen sides in the New Great Game too. America is incensed that their puppet president is turning away from even the veneer of legitimacy. Musharraf also mentioned in his address today his embarrassment at the kidnapping of Chinese workers prior to the Lal Masjid siege. Today's effective re-coup shows that Pakistan is now more likely than ever to align with China, which will not interfere in its internal affairs.
The worst case scenario is accelerated destabilisation as the US withdraws support, Bhutto's supporters rise up and in the ensuing unrest the militants seize their chance. Musharraf is committing rather than preventing the suicide of the state.
Heartthrob cricketer-cum-politician, Imran Khan, had a good point today during an interview with the BBC. Dictators always say they're acting for the good of the country; but really the outcome of suppressing the democratic process is to invite change by violent means instead.
"When you stop all legal and constitutional ways of people challenging [the president], then the only ones who challenge him are people with a gun.That's what happened to the Shah of Iran," said Khan, ominously.
Thought he might. This is not yet checkmate in the Pakistan endgame, there's a way to go yet, but this move - while long-expected - is highly significant. Musharraf has waited for Bhutto to leave the country for the weekend, and has reportedly surrounded the supreme court, home of his new enemies the legal fraternity. And - crucially - TV and radio are off the air.
Thus this incident has all the characteristics of a coup, though one held by the military already in charge. Musharraf came to power in what he called a 'counter-coup' against Nawaz Sharif's 'coup', though it's the winners that tend to write history. So I'd call this the beginnings of a coup to the power of three.
Musharraf is clearly using the steeply rising Islamist-inspired violence in the north-west as his inspiration, and indeed there is some traction to the concept of Pakistan really being in a state of emergency. The attack on Bhutto's homecoming convoy proved that. But it's above all a political move. The question is: how will it be used? With Bhutto and the lawyers closed down for the time being, can Musharraf use the opportunity to quash the militants once and for all - or will they bite him back? And in either case, what are the prospects for Pakistan sliding deeper into the morass rather than out of it?
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Musharraf imposes emergency rule
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has declared emergency rule, state-run TV has said, amid reports that police have surrounded the Supreme Court.
Judges are believed to be inside the building in Islamabad, reports say.
Troops have been deployed inside state-run TV and radio stations, while independent channels have gone off air.
Gen Musharraf is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while remaining army chief.
When I started this blog two years ago, crude was priced at $60 per barrel. Now it's $96. The dollar was $1.21 to the Euro then: now it's $1.44.
So go the figures. Something is up. There is a big picture to this, and - shock and awe - after spending the best part of the last two years studying International Relations, I have a theory.
The basic idea is this: there are too many people chasing too few resources. Breaking down this simple statement brings us to two key players - the US and China. And the hidden factor is the instability of a multipolar world that is evolving into a bipolar structure: the 'West', led by Washington, and the 'Rest', very loosely led by China, competing for dominance over those resources, particularly energy.
The thing is that, unlike the Cold War where two political ideologies were in competition, current US hegemony is still based on military and political power projection, whereas China's ace of spades is economic soft power.
The misuse of firepower is adding to rather than reducing the global instability that came to our notice on 9/11 (but had existed well before then). The World Trade Center attacks were as much a protest against US foreign policy than a statement about political Islam, and since then Islamist terrorism has increased exponentially.
The instability caused by terrorism is adding to the energy crisis by contributing to high prices if not yet directly threatening supply. Meanwhile, China's economic leverage means that the only way that US industry can compete is with a weak dollar. However, both things mean that oil producers such as Russia and manufacturers such as China are building enormous reserves of dollars, shifting the centre of the world economy away from the West. Thanks to events such as the subprime crisis, an economic meltdown is probably imminent.
China and Russia themselves are involved in abetting instability. While they do not directly support terrorism, they sponsor states such as Iran, the key outside player in Iraq and probably Afghanistan. Pakistan is also a pivotal state in all this, since if Pakistan goes down Afghanistan goes with it.
If Iran is bombed too, as looks increasingly likely, there will be a black hole of chaos slap bang in the middle of Eurasia - from Iraq through to Pakistan - creating a massive geographical chokepoint that most of the world's energy needs to get past.
The more terrorists that are bred in the black hole, the more the West has to spend on security, thus diminishing economies and general confidence. The US is already spewing vast quantities of blood and treasure on Iraq, a situation that can only be helping China's peaceful rise and Iran and Russia's leverage over the energy market.
Add to this the threat of WMD. After the Cold War ended in 1989, only the US had the capability to launch a decisive military blow. Now anyone, terrorist groups included, with a bomb (probably with uranium sourced from Russia and technology from Pakistan, itself donated by China) and a suitcase can hold any other entity to ransom - just as energy suppliers like OPEC and Russia can cut off dependent economies overnight.
Iran and Pakistan are both the key proxy players and the key potential battlegrounds. China and the US are vying for control of both, since whoever calls the shots in Tehran and Islamabad calls the shots over Gulf oil and the terrorist training grounds in Iraq, Afghanistan and the lawless badlands of Pakistan.
Russia sits in the middle, ostensibly neutral but leaning towards China and away from the US. It got burnt in Afghanistan in the '80s, but isn't shy of lending a helping hand to Iran. Conversely, India is also on the fence, but looks to Washington rather than Beijing. It needs stability in Pakistan above all else, since the threat of a nuclear standoff could suddenly become very real.
Thus it's all connected. That's what this blog is about - making the connections. It's not a dissimilar situation to the Cold War with its proxy conflicts in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but it is a more complex one. Instead of two or three, there are now four horsemen of the apocalypse - the West, meaning America and its rather powerless allies (notably Europe and probably India), versus the Rest's nexus of counter-hegemony - China and its partners-in-crime Russia and Iran.
The prospects for war? Unlikely at the time being, since Beijing and Washington are still playing different games. Should they ever go head-to-head, however, over Taiwan for example, then all hell will break loose.
On the back of the BBC's excellent analysis of the Bush administration's failure on Iraq, 'No Plan, No Peace' comes a similar analysis from The Economist. The essence of both is that Cold War thinking is useless in the modern era.
It's hard to summarise two hours of BBC documentary, but the essence was this: the US didn't have a plan for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and while the British had deep misgivings they failed to make an impact. Memorable moments include: the admission that the only intelligence on Iraqi culture came from the Lonely Planet; the discovery that orders for the aftermath had been copied directly from the Marshall Plan ("the only currencies shall be the US Dollar and the Reichsmark"); and the description of Rumsfeld's deputy as "the dumbest m****f***** I've ever met". Timeless comedy, were it not so tragic.
There needs to be a realisation in the corridors of power that the days of pitched battles and supremacy by superior firepower are gone. That was true in Vietnam, and arguably as far back as the Battle of Jutland. What matters is intelligence and boots on the ground - not soldiers brainwashed in bootcamp but educated professionals able to understand and adapt to the alien culture around them. No amount of technology can replace that. After all, the true weapon of mass destruction is the AK-47.
The reluctance of politicians to accept that this is the true 'Revolution in Military Affairs' is saddening. Rumsfeld's assumption was that a light force could take Saddam out in a matter of weeks, which was correct: but this did not dovetail well with his deeply flawed assumption that everything would be fine afterwards. The surge does appear to be working, but it would have been better in 2003 than now, after thousands have died, the country in chaos and Iran is in the ascendency. You need lots of well-worn boots, not a few shiny new hi-tech weapons.
Armies of the future | Brains, not bullets | Economist.com
The “transformation” advocated by Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush's first defence secretary, envisaged that the armed forces would be slimmed down and money invested in “smart” weapons, reconnaissance systems and data links. Speed, stealth, accuracy and networks would substitute for massed forces. The army's idea of its “future warrior” was a kind of cyborg, helmet stuffed with electronic wizardry and a computer display on his visor, all wirelessly linked to sensors, weapons and comrades. New clothing would have in-built heating and cooling. Information on the soldier's physical condition would be beamed to medics, and an artificial “exoskeleton” (a sort of personal brace) would strengthen his limbs.
The initial success in toppling first the Taliban in Afghanistan and then Saddam Hussein in Iraq seemed to vindicate such concepts. But the murderous chaos in Iraq, and the growing violence in southern Afghanistan, have shown that America is good at destroying targets, and bad at rebuilding states. Firepower is of little use, and often counter-productive, when the enemy deliberately mingles among civilians.
Finding a resolution to the crisis on the Turkish-Iraqi border has deep implications for many of the parties involved.
Turkey in particular, with its ambitions to be viewed as a leading state in the Islamic world as well as its aspirations to join the European Union, is under scrutiny as never before. Its actions over the next weeks will define whether its neighbors and allies will continue to regard Ankara as a reliable partner or a potentially destabilizing force within the region.
The United States of America must also impose its will but faces a tricky balancing act between its commitment to Turkey and the need to maintain regional stability. And Iraq, already engulfed in violence, cannot afford more conflict and the flows of arms and refugees that will ensue.
Continue reading "Turkey and Iraq: The Implications" »
One to bookmark for later - but interesting how ICG sees connections between Balochistan and the other key elements in the Pakistan story - military versus democracy, Talibanisation and the GWOT.
International Crisis Group - B69 Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochista
Violence continues unabated in Pakistan’s strategically important and resource-rich province of Balochistan, where the military government is fighting Baloch militants demanding political and economic autonomy. President Pervez Musharraf’s government insists the insurgency is an attempt to seize power by a handful of tribal chiefs bent on resisting economic development. Baloch nationalists maintain it is fuelled by the military’s attempts to subdue dissent by force and the alienation caused by the absence of real democracy. Whether or not free and fair national and provincial elections are held later this year or in early 2008 will determine whether the conflict worsens.
Instead of redressing Baloch political and economic grievances, the military is determined to impose state control through force. The killing of the Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti by the army in August 2006 was followed by the incarceration of another, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, who has been held on terrorism-related charges without due process since December. Law enforcement agencies have detained thousands of Baloch nationalists or those believed to be sympathetic to the cause; many have simply disappeared. With the nationalist parties under siege, many young activists are losing faith in the political process and now see armed resistance as the only viable way to secure their rights.
Relying also on divide-and-rule policies, the military still supports Pashtun Islamist parties such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Deobandi Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) in a bid to counter secular Baloch and moderate Pashtun forces. The JUI-F is the dominant member of the six-party Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Musharraf’s coalition partner in the provincial government since October 2002. It is also a key patron of the Afghan Taliban. Using Balochistan as a base of operation and sanctuary and recruiting from JUI-F’s extensive madrasa network, the Taliban and its Pakistani allies are undermining the state-building effort in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. and other Western support for Musharraf is alienating the Baloch, who otherwise could be natural partners in countering extremism in Pakistan.
Carnage in Karachi as suicide bombers attack Benazir Bhutto's homecoming parade - Reuters is now putting the death toll at 133. Sad to say, but it's a safe bet that just as many died in the panicked stampede and crush as were killed by the explosions.
It's happened: now attention must turn to the implications. First, let's take a look at the likely culprits and motivations. First among them is the Islamist movement and 'Al Qaeda', the Taliban and 'related groups' such as Jamaat-e-Islami. There's already been heavy fighting in Waziristan this month, and there have apparently been threats to Bhutto from extremist elements in response to her promise to crack down on them. The sensible fingers will be pointing at them first.
On the other hand, many - including Ms. Bhutto's rather indiscreet husband Asif Ali Zardari - will have conspiracy theories of their own. The ISI, once a sponsor of the Taliban, is foremost among the other possible instigators of the bombings. In fact, the ISI would have been in a good position to create a security loophole for the bombers to get through. And also worth noting that the blasts occurred at the right moment for prime-time UK TV and the US evening news, though not for the Pakistani newspapers. It was about international impact as much as anything.
Elements within the ISI - perhaps not under President Musharraf's control - will fear losing their grip on the country should 'democracy' prevail, though it hardly did badly in the '90s last time Bhutto was in charge. But the General himself or his uniformed cronies could also have a hand in things, since a dead Benazir would solve their short-term angst about handing over the reins and declaration of a state of emergency would certainly hold up the 'elections'.
One figure commentators seem to forget about is the current prime minister, Shaukut Aziz. It has to be said that he's done a reasonable job since 2004 and may well resent being demoted back to finance minister. Could he be raising a faction within the government to further his interests?
In effect, it doesn't matter who really perpetrated the outrage, since Pakistani public opinion - volatile at the best of times - is likely to become highly polarized now. What's for sure is that there will be a reaction.
All of the above - Bhutto, Musharraf and Aziz - are seen by many in the country as US puppets. The blasts are therefore not so much about pro-Islam or pro-PML(Q) [ie. pro-Musharraf] but also anti-American. Thus there's a couple of ways the camps could divide.
It's likely that Bhutto's PPP supporters will be enraged and will seek to vent their anger somehow, but whether this will be against the Islamists or the more obvious target of the military regime remains to be seen. Civil society in the shape of the strengthening lawyers' movement may be their key allies in this - but could there be a Devil's deal with the Islamists too in a union against the army? Alternatively, could the army and ISI be in cahoots with the Islamists, as they were in the last elections?
On the other hand, since Bhutto has effectively sold out to Musharraf anyway, it could be that the army sees this another excuse to crack down on militants, as occurred during the siege of the Lal Masjid a couple of months back. For this it will need the PPP's support. Asia Times sees the current fight against militants in Waziristan as "but a precursor of the bloodiest battle that is coming". And that could have wider implications:
A qualified estimate by intelligence officials is that Pakistani military pacification of the Waziristans would slash the capability of the Afghan resistance by 85% as well as deliver a serious setback to the Iraqi resistance.
Back to Karachi. If anything, Bhutto herself is indirectly responsible. Her showmanlike return - complete with a riotous reception on board the flight, swarms of supporters at the airport and rally and all kinds of thetrical gestures like wearing a sloganized baseball hat above her trademark white headscarf and the intended homage to Jinnah's tomb - was engineered to elicit an extreme mass reaction.
Now she's got it. Pakistani politics was galvanised enough as it was, and the bombs will have intensified the situation even further. What will transpire over the next days and weeks remains to be seen.
Picking away at three apparent setbacks for Al Qaeda, the author highlights some flaws in the arguments. A mildly critical letter from one of Bin Ladin's theological mentors (who recently emerged from prison) doesn't prove much. A rift between Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda bigshot Ayman Al-Zawahiri is also dismissed.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst who writes for The Washington Post among others, seems to accept the split in Al Qaeda's leadership and asserts that the real man in charge is now Al-Zawahiri. "It has been two years," he writes, "since bin Laden reportedly chaired a meeting of al-Qaeda's Majlis al-Shura—the movement's most senior deliberative body." That's according to "Asian intelligence", presumably from Pakistan's ISI. This in turn opens the following questions:
Al-Qaeda: Beginning of the End, or Grasping at Straws?
Dr. Hoffman's reference to "Asian intelligence" certainly is interesting, but one must, with respect, suggest one of four conclusions about its viability: (A) If it is true, U.S. and NATO forces should have been able to wipe out the Majlis al-Shura and much of al-Qaeda—though not bin Laden—based on Asian information about the timing and deliberations of the Shura's meetings over two years; (B) If it is true, and the Majlis has not been destroyed, one of America's Asian allies apparently did not share highly actionable data with Washington; (C) If it is true, and the Majlis has not been destroyed, Western authorities must have decided not to attack, perhaps because the Shura meets in Pakistan; and, (D) The information is not true.
In any case, it's all irrelevant. Even if Al Qaeda is refocusing its mission under new leadership; even if all the bigwigs got wiped out in an airstrike tomorrow; it's not going to affect the overall global security question. It's wrong to focus on the simplistic idea of Al Qaeda as some kind of overarching command structure (significant as it is) and right to look more deeply into the grassroots, not the tip of the iceberg.
As if Musharraf didn't have enough problems already, what with Bhutto and Sharif snapping at his heels and the lawyers conspiring against the legality of his rule, now there's this bloke too:
Bin Laden to declare war on Musharraf, al-Qaida says | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
In what was the third message from Bin Laden this month, he described Gen Musharraf as an infidel, condemning the president's closeness to the US.
He said the decision to send the military into the Red mosque in Islamabad in July had "demonstrated Musharraf's insistence on continuing his loyalty, submissiveness and aid to America against the Muslims ... and makes armed rebellion against him and removing him obligatory".
The message added: "So when the capability is there, it is obligatory to rebel against the apostate ruler, as is the case now."
We learn two facts from this. One, OBL (if indeed it is he) is alive and well and gets the Pakistani papers. Secondly, Al Qaeda recognises the pivotal position of Pakistan in the geopolitical map and wants a piece of the action. Here we go.
If the first casualty of war is the truth, then its first omen is also linguistic. The French foreign minister's remarks on Iran and the IAEA's subsequent riposte are eerily reminiscent of the war of words that took place in 2002 between the UN's inspectors led by Hans Blix and the hawks in the Pentagon.
What is very unusual is that it's the French that are the hawks this time. That's quite a major shift in international relations. Up until this year, Blair and his predecessors would have been the swiftest to cosy up to Washington, while Chirac and his forebears would bang the drum of protest. Perhaps, with Gordon Brown visibly shying away from Bush, the French are seizing the opportunity to regain a world voice in the absence of a coherent EU foreign policy.
Whatever the case, with a UNSC meeting scheduled for Friday, the path of no return may already be opening up.
UN nuclear boss warns warmongers over Iran | Iran | Guardian Unlimited
"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," Bernard Kouchner told French TV and radio.
While talks over Iran's nuclear programme should continue "right to the end", Mr Kouchner said, an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose "a real danger for the whole world". France has taken a much harsher line towards Iran since the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to success Jacques Chirac as president.
Every now and again, Asia Times Online turns up an absolute tour de force of an analysis: this is one of them. It pulls together every thread in the Afghanistan war, from the significance of events on Pakistan to the options available to the local powers China, India and Russia.
The one major beef I have with it is, as before, whether it is truly possible to negotiate with the Taliban. Sure, you can talk to the heads of major Taliban groups, but what are the guarantees that one agreement is going to quell the whole bunch of them? Isn't it likely that large splinter groups that oppose any settlement will break off and carry on doing their own thing? Still, the author seems to think that talks are on the cards.
Below, I attempt a rough summary of all the points, in an actor-by-actor format.
- The Taliban: As NATO and the US tire, the chances of a settlement grow, especially in the light of potential instability in Pakistan too.
The UN: Growing acceptance of the idea of talking with the Taliban.
The US: Should seek intra-Afghan and intra-Pakistan dialogue with the aid of China, Russia and India.
Iran: The US quagmire in Afghanistan is succour to their ambitions for regional dominance.
Russia: Fears of 'Talibanization' will draw the Central Asian states closer into seurity frameworks such as the SCO.
China: Stay out of it, and leave the Taliban to the US.
India: Stick with the US, and hope that Pakistan doesn't regain influence in Afghanistan.
And here's the key:
Clearly, the continued disintegration of the Pakistani state widens al-Qaeda's support base among the Taliban. If US-Iran tensions escalate, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan become intertwined. That means the Afghan war may take a new form rather than lead to peace.
The whole article is reprinted below: check out also Ahmed Rashid's sobering analysis in The Telegraph in which he describes his own land as "a failing state hovering over the abyss".
Continue reading "'Stan - The Big Picture" »
A lot of this Guardian article on the likelihood of US-Israeli strikes on Iran is purely speculative, and thus must be taken with a large pinch of sand. Neither the commentator quoted below, Patrick Cronin, and an ex-CIA source can offer any hard evidence, though both believe that an attack is imminent.
However, one prescient remark from Cronin is that, with elections coming up in November 2008, any action taken in the six months prior to the poll would be seen as 'political'. That would mean that if it's going to happen, it'll happen this winter. Just as with Iraq, it's highly probable that there are already plans drawn up to effect the mission, so all Bush needs is another plausible 'smoking gun'.
Proxy war could soon turn to direct conflict, analysts warn | Iran | Guardian Unlimited
"The proxy war that has been going on in Iraq may now cross the border. This is a very dangerous period," Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
Iran's leaders have so far shown every sign of relishing the confrontation. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared yesterday that American policies had failed in the Middle East and warned: "I am certain that one day Bush and senior American officials will be tried in an international court for the tragedies they have created in Iraq."
In such circumstances, last week's Israeli air strike against a mystery site in northern Syria has triggered speculation over its motives. Israel has been silent about the attack. Syria complained to the UN security council but gave few details. Some say the target was Iranian weapons on their way to Hizbullah in Lebanon, or that the sortie was a dry run for a US-Israeli attack on Syria and Iran. There is even speculation that the Israelis took out a nuclear facility funded by Iran and supplied by North Korea.
The situation is particularly volatile because the struggle for influence threatens to exacerbate a confrontation over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
This one's going straight on my blogroll. PostGlobal is a collaboration between The Washington Post and Newsweek that analyses global trends - the fall of America, the rise of China, energy, Islam etc..
In short, it's basically just like my blog, but with flash graphics, real cash backing, plus gurus like Fareed Zakaria on board. The only thing they lack is a decent subeditor, which does let it down a little.
What really caught my eye today was this introduction to 'midrange' trends over the next 36 months. Summary below:
A dramatic global realignment appears to be in progress (and quickening) as the result of several factors:
- The loss of US influence as a result of the Iraq war
- A view across the globe resulting from Abu Ghraib and range of missteps that the US has lost the moral high ground it had enjoyed for decades
- A feeling among global leaders that the US is without a coherent foreign policy strategy...a belief that has started feeding on itself and has emboldened US adversaries
- China's rise, its smooth diplomatic technique, its re-alignment with Russia and its aggressive, clever drive to form new alliances with nations extending from Asia and Africa to South America
- Russia's recent rise combined with Russian President Putin's domestic popularity and his reputation for effectively standing up to the West
- The rise of non-aligned nations emboldened by the inability of the US to effectively use the extraordinary power it possesses
- A view among key global leaders that the US will be bogged down in Iraq for many years (a view heightened by significantly by President Bush's September 13 Iraq speech), thus distracted and unable to respond effectively to key political moves by the range of international players
- A recognition by the international community that the Bush Administration not only hasn't been able to deal effectively with non-state actors (e.g. terror groups like Al Qaeda) but they are holding their own or starting to win
More excellent points culled from the article below.
Continue reading "PostGlobal" »
A balanced perspective from The Economist, which does look closely at the reasons for leaving: America no longer influences Iraqi politics; disaster has already befallen the nation. But the reasons for staying are even more compelling.
The Iraq war | Why they should stay | Economist.com
If the case for staying depended on extrapolating from the modest gains the general claims for his surge, it would be a weak one. The strong case is that if America leaves, things will get even worse. This can only be a guess, but it is more plausible than the alternative guess that America's going will nudge Iraq in the right direction. In the past two years, violence has tended to decline where American troops are present and to rise in the places they leave. There is no doubt that some Shia militias want to rid Baghdad of its Sunnis and that American troops are for now the only thing stopping them. Contrary to what foreigners think, most Iraqis say they oppose partition: in the BBC/ABC poll, 62% said Iraq should have a unified government and 98% said it would be a bad thing for the country to separate on sectarian lines...
If America could choose again, it would not step into a civil war in Mesopotamia. But there are worse reasons than preventing a bloodbath for a superpower to put its soldiers at risk. Having invaded Iraq in its own interest—to remove mass-killing weapons that turned out not to exist—America owes something to Iraq's people, a slim majority of whom want it to stay. It is hard to know how Iraq can be mended. At some point it may become clear the country has sunk so low it is simply beyond saving. But it is not possible to be sure of that yet.
Six years on from 9/11, and the main thing to report is that there is nothing to report. The newspapers are mercifully free of tearful tributes this time round, though I suspect that 2011 is going to see a whole new wave of hand-wringing. The only real news has been the re-emergence of Osama Bin Irrelevant in another of his Al-Jazeera video diaries.
On the other hand, flippancy aside, this has been a particularly bad year for Iraqi civilians, with the random violence surging out of control. Anyone who backs a withdrawal of US troops in the light of this fact is callous in the extreme, since in their absence the bombers will have a totally free reign to commit carnage. It's not about the right or wrong of the invasion any more: it's about the circumstances we have to deal with here and now.
And in Afghanistan, a stalemate appears to be emerging. As with all guerilla movements, the problem with fighting the Taliban is that you can't defeat them militarily. 'The Taliban' is just as nebulous a concept as 'Al Qaeda': in reality, it's a loosely-linked confederation of disparate groups that has no real central command that can opt to surrender or negotiate. For every dead Taliban, two more are growing up.
So it's an ambivalent stage in the GWOT, at which point things could go either way. The public are clearly tired of the shooting wars overseas, but fail to recognise that once in there's no easy way out. Meanwhile, what is never reported is the extent to which economic development is changing - or failing to change - the situation. The only way to defeat the extremists is by engendering long-term stability and prosperity, and that never makes the papers at all.
Well, Canada is doing a good job too but the Yanks are basically making things worse for ISAF. Below the BBC's Paul Wood summarises the commons defence committee's report on operations in Afghanistan. They can be summarised even further into one point - lack of resources.
Basically, in an age when deaths overseas have a direct impact on the ballot box, Afghanistan is proving the inefficacy of our NATO allies. Every military death is tragic, but the unwillingness of the other European nations to allow their troops to do the jobs they are supposed to do simply makes life more difficult and dangerous for the Brits and Canucks. There is no point deploying the military if you are not going to put them in harm's way with all the kit they need to support them.
Secondly, the reason ISAF is there is to establish security so as to create the conditions for development - and thus general happiness and well-being in Afghanistan. That's the greatest obstacle to Talibanisation, not armed action. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude seems to be that development should be left to the NGOs. In fact there are few worse people to do the job. NGOs exist simply to fulfil narrow and often irrelevant single issues eg. introducing women's theatre groups to towns where there's no running water. What Afghanistan really needs is big money and big business with the backing of Western governments.
Do the job properly or not at all. Put the cash in, put the kit in and put the people in. And this is a defining moment for Europe. Does it really have a role in the wider world, or is it content to let the 'Stan slip back into total anarchy? It would probably take Pakistan with it, and now that the GWOT has kicked off, the existence of a revived black hole full of terror training camps would have grave consequences for Europe's own domestic security.
If the battle in Afghanistan is lost, the war will be fought in the streets of Londonistan instead.
BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Afghanistan warning decoded
1. There are too few troops on the ground to win.
If the mission is to succeed, says the committee, it will require a commitment of size and strength greater than the international community is "willing to acknowledge, let alone to make."
2. If we are not exactly losing, we are not winning either.
The committee said: "Violence is increasing and spreading to the relatively peaceful Kabul and the northern provinces."
3. Too many Afghan civilians are being killed.
The committee said: "Civilian casualties undermine support for (the Nato force) Isaf and the Afghan government and fuel the insurgency, further endangering our troops."
4. There are still not enough British helicopters to do the job.
"UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity."
5. Some of our Nato allies are leaving us in the lurch.
"The reluctance of some Nato countries to provide troops for the Isaf mission in Afghanistan is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."
6. You can't fight the Taleban and opium at the same time.
The coalition's strategy lacks "clarity and coherence". "Uncertainty among Afghans about Isaf's role in poppy eradication puts UK forces at risk."
7. The Afghan security forces are a disappointment - some useless, some corrupt, some actually working against us.
"Police failure and corruption alienate support for the government of Afghanistan and add to grievances which fuel the insurgency." Even the Afghan army "are some way off operating independently".
8. So the exit strategy has problems, as in Iraq.
"We recommend that the government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009."
9. The media war isn't going well, either.
"The Taleban is ahead in the information campaign. The government (must)...co-ordinate more effectively the presentation of Isaf's objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are reported."
I think it's a little tenuous to suggest that the sole reason for Musharraf's crackdown on the Lal Masjid was the abduction of seven Chinese brothel workers. However, this author takes a close look at China's strategic relationship with Pakistan and considers how much Beijing's influence contributes to the conflict with Islamist extremism.
Foreign Policy In Focus | China, Pakistan, and Terrorism
U.S. pressure on Pakistan to clear the region of the Taliban and al-Qaeda has forced Pakistan into an ever-tighter embrace of China. Musharraf's crackdown on the Lal Masjid, a potent symbol of this strategic Sino-Pakistani alignment, also sent a blood-soaked message to religious militants that Chinese interests will remain off-limits. Musharraf is not apologetic about defending Chinese interests in Pakistan and punishing those who dared to harm them.
Authoritative figures such as Lords Inge and Ashdown have reiterated the fact that Britain is in the 'Stan for the long haul. Their foreboding does smack of the 'domino effect', but the danger in Pakistan is more real than it was in Southeast Asia back in the '60s. The battle of Las Masjid is testament to that. And if both Afghanistan and Pakistan succomb to Islamism, then the potential for a stream of trained-up bombers heading for the Piccadilly line multiplies fivefold.
The Lords are also correct to identify a double problem - NATO's lack of coordination with the US forces in country and lack of long-term development. Development can only come with security in place, goes the theory, though I wonder if anyone has ever tried promoting development and waiting for the security situation to calm down as progress is made.
Lastly, Iraq. The Brits look like pulling out of Iraq and leaving it to the Americans: the other side of the deal should be an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. That way, NATO can attempt to deal with Afghanistan - which is certainly not a hopeless case - without American impediments, and America can be left to its deserved fate in Iraq.
Generals' warning on Afghanistan | World | The Observer
Ashdown told The Observer that Afghanistan presented a graver threat than Iraq.
'The consequences of failure in Afghanistan are far greater than in Iraq,' he said. 'If we fail in Afghanistan then Pakistan goes down. The security problems for Britain would be massively multiplied. I think you could not then stop a widening regional war that would start off in warlordism but it would become essentially a war in the end between Sunni and Shia right across the Middle East.'
Update: Things just went from bad to worse. The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked, and one could even go so far to say that the Durand Line is no real border - they are one and the same problem.
Events in Islamabad over the last few weeks have now provoked the Taliban sympathisers in Waziristan to relinquish their tenuous truce - an added headache for both Musharraf and NATO. What chance is there of a NATO intervention within Pakistan proper?
The siege of the Lal Masjid is over, but in what looks like an increasingly critical juncture for General Musharraf, the repercussions will now begin.
In the next few days, weeks and months, the following questions may be answered. How will the 'martyrdom' of the hardliners and madrassa students who chose to remain at the mosque be perceived in Pakistan and the wider region? Will they inspire a larger movement, or only fuel the growing crisis of Talibanisation in the border regions? How will the aftermath of the siege react with existing political issues such as the sacking of the Chief Justice and the forthcoming elections?
It is also interesting to note that part of the Islamist's agenda relates to Chinese influence in Pakistan. The incidents are comparitively minor, but it appears that one of the extremists' grievances in Islamabad was a Chinese-run brothel: meanwhile, three Chinese workers were shot near Peshawar during the weekend. If this continues, Beijing may have to say a few private but stern words.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistani soldiers storm mosque
Security forces began a full-scale siege of the mosque last week, not long after mosque students abducted seven Chinese workers they accused of running a brothel.
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the military operation is a gamble for President Pervez Musharraf who risks a backlash from supporters of those inside the mosque.
In recent days the army has redeployed thousands of troops in north-western Pakistan where pro-Taleban militants opposed to President Musharraf have been carrying out a string of attacks said to be linked to the mosque siege.
I've been thinking this for quite a while, and looks like Gordon has been too. The essential problem with the Global War on Terror (GWOT) is that it is not actually a war. 'War' implies some kind of competition for territory and resources; even the Cold War was stretching the point, being as it was an economic and ideological conflict fought for real only by proxy.
The thing is that, once you have got into the 'war' mindset, your approach to the situation is defined by it. Military commanders throughout the world are obsessed with retaining a warfighting capability - MBTs, carrier groups and suchlike that project power over national borders. But the situation we are facing now is not about national borders. Terrorists simply cannot be fought with conventional military forces. Even guerilla armies can't be beaten this way - look at Vietnam.
What the US needs to do is acknowledge that there are two ways to defeat terrorism - through both hard power and soft power. The hard power part is about eliminating those terrorists who are an immediate threat, either through small tactically-inserted special forces teams working overseas or via intelligence and policing within home territory. Wading in with tanks and Apache helicopter gunships will simply create alienation and more terrorists, something the Israelis too have yet to cotton on to. The soft power part is about tackling the warped ideologies that fuel terrorism, which in turn are inspired by disenfranchisment and economic or social deprivation.
It's the classic speak-softly-big-stick argument, but I see little evidence that force structures and governmental foreign policy apparatus are being adapted to meet the moderm world. With the military brass - not to mention the defence industry and the trade union lobbies - eager to obtain and supply hugely-expensive power projection platforms, the real need is overlooked. Yes, of course retain a warfighting capability - but realise that a small nation such as the UK is unable to fight a real war larger than a Falklands/Sierra Leone scale without US assistance. Hold on to what we need to stay militarily viable, but spend the rest on restructuring the surveillance, intelligence and development side of the equation - all of which the military could still turn its hand to and prove its usefulness.
Language and terrorism | Don't mention the GWOT | Economist.com
To speak of a “global war on terror” is over-simple. Shortened to the acronym GWOT, it conflated the military campaign against al-Qaeda and its Taliban sponsors in Afghanistan in 2001 with the war two years later to overthrow Saddam Hussein, an old foe who almost certainly had nothing to do with September 11th. That Iraq is a magnet for al-Qaeda is the result of the invasion of Iraq, not its cause. GWOT also implies, wrongly, that there exists a military solution to a problem that for a few countries (eg, Afghanistan) requires a co-ordinated nation-building effort but for most demands patient police and intelligence work. “War” should be the exception, not the focus of the effort against terrorists.
Pakistan has enough problems with Taliban and Al-Qaeda-inspired militants in its border areas. Once the fighting spreads to the cities and the urban middle classes, there really will be trouble.
This is not a massive incident, but with several dead it will undoubtedly provoke something else - maybe a protest, maybe a political move, maybe rioting. It is telling that the ceasefire was negotiated by the MMA, not the military government - which is a further indication that the Islamist parties are strengthening their foothold within the country's fragile political structure.
Add to this the controversy over the sacked judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and Musharraf may have a recipe for distaster. All eyes in India, the US and the rest of the world need to be on South Asia in the next days in case this blows up out of control.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Clashes erupt at Pakistan mosque
Fighting around the Lal Masjid raged throughout much of Tuesday.
Deputy interior minister Zafar Warriach told a news conference: "The deaths of nine people have been confirmed so far and more than 140 wounded."
Other reports have put the number killed higher.
Speaking to the BBC, Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said the government was still discussing how to handle the situation.
The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan who is outside the mosque says the ceasefire was negotiated by a politician from the MMA, a coalition of Islamic parties.
The inevitable reams of analysis on the three bomb attacks in the UK once again miss the point. While there's no denying that there is a large and well-funded network known as Al-Qaeda - which is certainly still in existence notably in the Afghan-Pakistan border area, Iraq and doubtless many other countries in the Muslim world and the West - Al-Qaeda in itself is not really the threat any more.
The incompetence of the June plots indicates that the perpetrators were effectively 'freelancing' more than anything. They could well be a bunch of disparate people with a point to make about Britain's foreign policy - not even necessarily 'Islamists' as is widely assumed, though quite probably disgruntled about the fate of Muslims in the wider world. Had they been 'linked to Al-Qaeda' as the newspapers would love to report, there would have been two symptoms:
1. A greater sophistication of techniques and materiels, and a willingness to die;
2. A greater chance of detection prior to the attacks being carried out.
The truble with freelancers is that, without financial or organisational links to known terror networks, they are that much harder to detect. Intelligence needs a starting point somewhere, and one lead leads to more which lead to more. The readiness of the press and public to assume that all terrorists are somehow 'linked to Al-Qaeda' diminishes the significance of what is going on. These guys are working independently, and though this means greater incompetence it also means they are much harder to find in time.
Comment is free: Strings of terror are knotted internally
Sadly, their lack of professionalism is not necessarily heartening. We know already that the al-Qaida hard core of Osama bin Laden and the few dozen senior militants around him has been seriously degraded in recent years. Experienced, competent bomb-makers are now few and far between.
However, instead there are scores - if not hundreds - of young men who have been radicalised by al-Qaida's propaganda. Al-Qaida has traded competence and discipline for resilience and dispersion. Both are effective in their way. The threat has evolved but remains relatively constant - ie severe.
Beyond its place in the GWOT, could Pakistan become a staging post for the anti-Iran campaign? The author calls it a new Cold War, alluding to Iraq and Afghanistan's growing proxy war status - but don't forget who sponsors both Iran and Pakistan... China. So if there is a Cold War, it's the ultimate big daddy in the whole deal.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - All roads leading to Pakistan
The fact is Pakistan is uniquely placed - geographically and politically - to affect the outcome of Anglo-American strategy toward Iran and Central Asia. Zia was extremely prescient about such a geopolitical setting.
In recent months, the US media have reported on the role of Pakistani security agencies in enabling covert US operations aimed at destabilizing Iran. If US Vice President Dick Cheney has his way and a US-Iran military confrontation indeed takes place, Pakistan's role becomes of vital importance to Washington.