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Syria 2015, Spain 1938 Or Sarajevo June 1914?: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 22 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

22 October 2015

 Syria 2015, Spain 1938 or Sarajevo June 1914?

By Harlan Ullman

 Kunduz: a political and strategic failure

By Nasurullah Brohi

 Afghanistan’s security

By Ikram Sehgal

 What the Ankara bombing means for Turkish politics and the West

By Kemal Kirisci

 How can I complain about men staring at me when I’m not wearing my dupatta?

By Yasmin Elahi



Syria 2015, Spain 1938 or Sarajevo June 1914?

Harlan Ullman

October 22, 2015

Windsor Castle, London: Russia’s military intervention in Syria has opened a Pandora’s box of potential crises and frightening scenarios as well as hinting at the slimmest glimmer of an opportunity. Backing Bashar al Assad along with Shia Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin has, knowingly or not, declared a de facto war against the Sunnis. Certainly, Saudi Arabia thinks so. Many Saudi clerics have issued fatwas targeting Russia for jihad.

Russia’s Syrian military deployment is relatively modest. Several dozen fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, a small naval armada in the Mediterranean led by a three-and-a-half decades’ old cruiser and 2,000 ground forces supported by anti-air and other defensive systems is not, by any measure, substantial. Nor has the number of Russian air and missile strikes been significant. Yet, the political and geostrategic impact of Putin’s actions far exceeds what Russia will or will not achieve militarily in Syria.

For the moment, Putin is running circles around the White House. Twenty-six Kalibr land attack cruise missiles were initially fired from small naval escorts in the Caspian Sea to strike targets in Syria 900 miles away. This display of Russian military prowess captured the attention of many militaries especially in Europe. That four missiles may have crashed in Iran — as well as the actual effectiveness of the strikes — surely raises questions about that prowess. However, Moscow’s public relations packaging of this intervention has been impressive so far.

But (and this is a big but) Russia’s expanded military operations in Syria increase the risks of an incident in which de-confliction (meaning preventing Russian and western forces from inadvertently clashing) fails and some catalytic escalation follows. Russian aircraft reportedly have violated Turkish airspace. If that violation becomes serious enough, Turkey could legitimately and legally respond by shooting down the offending aircraft. What would Russia do? And what would NATO do given Article Five, the centrepiece of the alliance that specifies an attack against one is an attack against all, if Russia were to “retaliate” against Turkey should a shooting incident occur? Beyond that, how will the Sunni Arab world respond? What actions will the US take to neutralise and discredit Russian support of Assad? And what unintended consequences that no one has predicted arise?

Two historical events form bookends that bound the range of possible contingencies. If this turns out to be a proxy war between Sunni and Shia, and Russia and Syria’s adversaries, could the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 be relevant? The Spanish Civil War was fought between loyalists (or Republicans) supporting the regime and fascist nationalists led by General Francisco Franco. Nazi Germany and its allies supported the latter. The Soviet Union, along with foreign fighters from the US and the west came to the aid of the government. The nationalists won. Unlike the Spanish Civil war, Syria is closely linked to the ongoing crises in the region from Libya to Iraq with other neighbouring states caught in between.

The other bookend was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie on June 28, 1914 that triggered World War I. Austro-Hungary was granted free reign by the Kaiser’s Germany to attack Serbia. Russia became mobilised and the rest is tragic history.

Putin is neither historically nor strategically ignorant. He is however arrogant and could push the US and west too far. On the other hand, if Putin’s intent is to give the Assad regime some breathing room that leads to a negotiated settlement, active Russian military engagement could be the grounds for a tiny sliver of hope however unlikely. What happens almost surely will fall between these bookends. If Assad/Putin prevail, rebuilding a broken Syria will take decades. And will Russia commit billions of rubles to that end? Probably not.

No one wants a catalytic war. Putin must understand that while the Obama administration may not speak softly, the US and NATO militaries are a big stick. That message must be delivered unambiguously by a very senior US official and soon. And the Pentagon knows how to back up that message and flex its military muscle in an unmistakable yet understated manner.

Finally, let us cool the rhetoric for a bit. Lecturing Russia on how dangerous and wrong this intervention is reinforces Putin’s gambit. However, issuing a few reminders of how the Soviet Union fared in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 does not. Statecraft, creativity and imagination, not bluster, are needed. Perhaps the White House can create a geopolitical and diplomatic initiative equal to Russia’s dramatic Caspian missile launch. Now that would make a real difference.

The writer is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today


Kunduz: a political and strategic failure

Nasurullah Brohi

October 22, 2015

The recent siege and takeover of Kunduz from Afghan forces showed a political victory over the Afghans and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF); in fact, it was seen as an indication of strategic failure on their part though it happened in a period of less than one year of the drawdown of US troops and allies’ forces. Most alarming is the fact that only 500 Taliban fighters drove over 7,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) out of Kunduz in a very short period time — less than a day — without any sturdy resistance. This, in a broader spectrum, raises questions about the success of the US and Afghan forces in the coming future. Many analysts believe that the fall of Kunduz has unveiled many lies about the promises of delivering stability, security and an inclusive peace process.

This takeover also proves that the Taliban are still highly effervescent and that they can easily capture many other major cities. The northern province of Kunduz has always remained a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban. The Kunduz incident dramatically erupted at a time when US military strategists were exploring a variety of options about keeping troop presence beyond the withdrawal deadline of 2016. However, Afghan security officials claim that the Taliban insurgents have been pushed forward and that parts of Kunduz city have been cleared. The northern Kunduz police Chief Quasim Jangal Bagh claimed that the clearing operations were still underway and that the Taliban were being pushed forward to the Takhar-Kunduz highway and the Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz.

The vice president of Afghanistan, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, also claimed that the government was aware of the plans of the Taliban to attack Kunduz, Faryab, Helmand and Kunar provinces; he further claimed that the people in these areas should not think that the government was careless and that obviously it is ready to prevent any further penetration in other areas in the coming future. During his recent visit to Russia, General Dostum emphasised that Russia should help by proving military equipment such as attack helicopters, long-range mortars and other latest weaponry to the Afghan security forces in order to counter Islamic State (IS) and Taliban militants.

Previously, Taliban insurgents assaulted a prison in Ghazni province and released more than 350 most wanted Taliban insurgents and commanders, and as a consequence further aggravated the situation, bringing serious concerns about the prevalent security situation in the country. For some reasons, the partial failure of the Afghan strategy is also because of the US and its allies who had been largely relying on their alignments with corrupt warlords, drug lords and corrupt politicians whereas the current unity government under President Ashraf Ghani is still divided on many issues.

The matter of peace in Afghanistan in the near future seems obscure because of the breakdown in the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the Taliban demands of a complete withdrawal and the revoking of all military and security accords with the foreign troops in Afghanistan. The other side of speculation is also based on the hypothesis that the US and its allies are not all that serious about the complete withdrawal of ISAF forces and, therefore, the ‘dragging on’ policy will hardly bring complete peace to Afghanistan. Most importantly, the Afghan government and the Taliban have been engaged in a process of peace talks this summer and another round of talks under the mediation of Pakistan was also expected whereby it was strongly believed that the two sides would reach a consensus about a seizefire and develop confidence building measures (CBMs). Unluckily, the process was also halted with the revelation of the news of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omer and consequently the leadership crisis among the Afghan Taliban. It is worthwhile to note here that a delayed peace process between the two parties will further fuel the ongoing tension in the country and, of course, will encourage some other militant groups to make their place in the country. As an immediate neighbour, for Pakistan it is also the need of the hour to play an effective role to revive the stalled peace process.

The writer works for the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and can be reached at


Afghanistan’s security

Ikram Sehgal

October 22, 2015

Kunduz has starkly shown that Afghanistan may be in the process of a meltdown, the virtual dissolution of which has been achieved at great cost and effort by a US-led coalition over a dozen years. This disintegration would be a dangerous threat to the stability of the region and its security. Therefore, US President Obama’s decision to delay the withdrawal of all US forces to post-2016 is a positive initiative for the future of Afghanistan. This decisive measure will impact stability positively in a strategic but very dangerous region of the world. This newfound Obama propensity of making courageous choices will go a long way in protecting the enormous investment and sacrifice that has been made. The caveat is whether the Afghan government is committed to change.

The Atlantic Council in its ‘Afghanistan and US security’ report rhetorically asked whether 14 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Afghanistan still mattered enough to justify the continuation of personal sacrifice and financial, political, military and intelligence investment. One cannot deny that continued engagement along with a sustained counterterrorism partnership with intelligence and military cooperation will counter the terrorist threat in the region. This long-term, multilateral and multifaceted strategy will effectively counter violent extremism and the terror it spawns.

The US strategic goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and prevent them from using Pakistan as a safe haven requires Afghanistan to contribute to security and stability for itself by opposing and confronting Taliban terrorism by actively disrupting and degrading the threat. The threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan has morphed into a threat from a network of terror groups in the region and beyond. While the aim should be to defeat al Qaeda or Islamic State (IS), the need is to develop and implement a long-term strategy to eliminate the extremely violent ideology and the distorted Islamist fundamentalism manifest in promoting and sustaining al Qaeda and IS. With the threat being long-term and generational, a multilateral effort is required from many countries in the region, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan included.

During his visit to the US, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani described a “new ecology of terrorism” threatening the state system of South and West Asia, China and Central Asia. He said it was the responsibility of the Islamic world to challenge this phenomenon and counter extremism where it could be contained and ultimately defeated. Afghanistan’s national unity government needs to perform and demonstrate achievement to its own people and the international community; it cannot blame others for its own shortcomings. It must continue and accelerate the process of achieving self-reliance, particularly as the role of the international community gradually recedes. Even mature democracies have difficulty making coalition governments function. Afghanistan faces severe challenges but it is in political and practical terms that Afghanistan’s friends see progress made on the security, economic, political and reform agendas that the government has outlined. To see whether Afghanistan is still worthy of political, financial and military commitment, and worthy of US and international support will be critical

The US’s strategic goal was to get US forces out of their combat role and to transfer responsibility for security to the Afghans. For the past two years, US forces have mostly been engaged in training and assistance, force protection and counterterrorism. However, as Kunduz has shown, this has not succeeded; Afghan forces could not meet the challenge of proving their counter-terrorism capabilities. The fighting this year has been difficult, the Taliban pressing hard against the new government to see if they can sustain the challenge after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ended its mission by end 2014. Unfortunately, there are huge gaps in their capability in intelligence, close air support, special operations/counterterrorism and command and control; the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) need continued assistance to provide the needed capabilities.

Kunduz has shown that further withdrawal of US forces will leave those gaps unfilled and Afghanistan at grave risk. The military provides critical support for US intelligence capabilities carrying out vital counter-terrorism operations supporting the Afghans' own efforts. The decline in US counter-terrorism operations would have important implications, given the need for direct and indirection protection against terror attacks. In the end, Obama listened to his military planners about the threat being too great and the uncertainties of future developments too extreme to end the US presence.

The subsequent struggle in Kunduz by the ANSF to regain control of the city only demonstrates the difficulty of providing security throughout the country as well as the ANSF’s ability to respond. The requirement is for an effective, integrated political and security leadership, as well as coordination on the ground and in the field. Assessing the shortcomings that contributed to Kunduz, one must apply the lessons learned. The Taliban’s mocking mantra, “The Americans have the watches but we have the time” must be countered. They need to see plainly that their campaign will not prevail because mass public hatred for Taliban terror will ultimately defeat it.

The Pakistani government understands the threat of extremism to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the Haqqanis and al Qaeda have aligned with the new Taliban leader, Mullah Mansour, and it seems with IS the need to generate economic activity urgently is almost as vital to success. Lack of clarity about the way ahead for Afghanistan impedes economic activity. Urgent steps are needed to jumpstart the economy. Concrete steps must demonstrate the implementation of the government’s ‘realising self-reliance’ strategy by improving the country’s business climate, invigorating the private sector and entrepreneurship, making the commercial legal environment predictable and attacking the corruption that impedes economic activity.

During a February 2015 visit to Kabul, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, declared “enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan”. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif repeated in Kabul in May that “Afghanistan’s enemies will be treated as Pakistan’s enemies”. Even though Pakistan is following through with concrete action, the mood in the US, assiduously stoked by those that stood to profit from the region remaining in turmoil, blames Pakistan for all the reverses. Figments of imagination like “Pakistani operative was directing operations from the MSF Hospital in Kunduz” are both unfair and unhelpful. It hurts that the tremendous sacrifices by the Pakistani public and the Pakistan army are not only ignored but also very deliberately glossed over. There will be no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan continuing to support the process. The Afghans need to get used to it!

The writer is a defence analyst and security expert


What the Ankara bombing means for Turkish politics and the West

By Kemal Kirisci

Published: October 21, 2015

As the Russian intervention in Syria intensifies the chaos in Turkey’s neighbourhood, Turkish politics are becoming more unstable. The two explosions that went off in the capital city of Ankara took place right across from the train station, a landmark soaked in republican symbolism. The bombing took a high toll on peaceful demonstrators, who were on their way to a central meeting place to protest the violence in the country and demand peace.

These explosions arrive on the heels of the ones in Suruç, on the Syrian border across from Kobani in July, and in Diyarbakir just before the general elections in June.

What is driving this violence? What are the implications for the West? And, will Turkey be able to come out of it?


High-stakes electioneering— combined with developments in Syria— are fueling this instability and violence. Parliamentary elections held this June yielded results that threatened to bring the governing Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year reign to an end. It happened against a background of increasing authoritarianism in the country, growing economic difficulties, and deep entanglement in Syria’s civil war. The failure to draw lessons from the election results and seek reconciliation through a coalition government eventually necessitated repeat elections, now scheduled for November 1, 2015.

The endless fighting between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also laid bare the Kurdish community’s frustration with the AKP leadership. They allege that the AKP has betrayed them by abandoning the peace process with the PKK. They also claim that the government has supported the Islamic State (IS) in Syria against their brethren there. Meanwhile, a growing number of secularists, liberals, and members of the middle class now oppose the AKP.

The explosions in Ankara are symptomatic of the above concerns and the deep polarisation in the country. Accusations have been flying in all directions – Many are now pointing the finger at the ISIS affiliates responsible for the Suruç and Diyarbakir bombings. Many government critics are also charging that necessary security measures were not taken to protect the demonstrators. They accuse the government of holding a double standard by deliberately failing to adopt the kinds of measures that it had adopted for similar pro-AKP gatherings.

There have been calls for the minister of the interior’s resignation, yet officials have resisted, insisting there were no security lapses — even as the death toll continues to rise. Such an obvious disregard for accountability has even irritated some prominent AKP members. It has also transformed a significant portion of secular Turks into unlikely partners for the Kurdish community, who would otherwise be concerned about Turkey’s territorial integrity being undermined by violence and the PKK.

What the Turks need now

The explosions in Ankara will have serious ramifications for the upcoming election, though exactly what they’ll be is hard to predict. In the meantime, the current state of polarisation in Turkey is a red flag, including for the western leaders who have, or should have, a stake in protecting Turkey from the deepening chaos in its neighbourhood.

Three main steps are needed now:

1. First and foremost, it will be critical to ensure that Turkey holds free and fair elections. Any sort of electoral fraud would be interpreted as repression of the national will and would run the risk of aggravating polarisation in the country. It would also undermine Turkey’s western vocation — After all, Turkey’s main democratic credential is that it regularly holds national elections that are, by and large, free and fair. The upcoming vote would be the 17th such election since 1950.

2. Secondly, there should be domestic and international pressure to ensure a credible and serious investigation into what transpired in Ankara; accountability and transparency are, after all, two critical elements of good governance. Actually, these are the very values that had once made the AKP a beacon of liberal democracy, economic growth, and stability in Turkey’s neighbourhood, even prompting President Obama in 2009 to call Turkey a model for the region. This time around, transparency and accountability might help the AKP renew its mandate to govern Turkey.

3. Thirdly, at a time when Turkey is facing Russian intrusions into its territory and the situation in Syria risks becoming even more aggravated, Turkey’s western allies should display solidarity. This is especially important since recent polls show that the Turkish public is once more advocating closer relations with the EU, the United States, and NATO. A strong expression of western solidarity would help weaken the impact of anti-western populism that some politicians will inevitably resort to during the run-up to the elections. Such expressions of solidarity may also provide a base to bring Turkey and the West into a constructive dialogue to address their common foreign policy challenges, such as tackling the Syrian refugee crisis as well as finding a political solution to the civil war in Syria.

A tinder box?

Turkey is at a critical juncture. It is hard to believe that the very political party that once gave Turkey a taste of liberal democracy, along with untold prosperity and stability, is failing— or refusing— to adhere to the very values it once championed. Repairing the damage done will not be easy or quick. In fact, Nobel-winning author Orhan Pamuk recently expressed his fear that ‘Turkey could drift into a civil war’.

Ultimately, the power to shape the country’s future trajectory rests with the Turkish electorate. In the meantime, the West would be well-advised to stand by Turkey and its democracy. It should help ensure that the elections on November 1st truly reflect the national will of the country. A Turkey shaken by explosions, growing chaos, and instability would benefit no one—neither the neighbourhood, nor the West, nor Turkey itself.

This post originally appeared on Brookings here.

The author is the TÜSIAD senior fellow and director of the Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project at Brookings, with an expertise in Turkish foreign policy and migration studies. Within the project, Kirisci runs the Turkey Project Policy Paper series and frequently writes on the latest developments out of Turkey. He tweets as @kemalkirisci (


How can I complain about men staring at me when I’m not wearing my dupatta?

By Yasmin Elahi

Published: October 21, 2015

“Hawa mein urtaa jaaye mera laal dupatta malmal ka!”

This takes me back to a cherished childhood memory. My twin sister and I would use Ammi’s dupattas and sing this song, while dancing clumsily on our spacious terrace, as the dupattas flew behind us in the air.

A dupatta was once considered as an integral part of our dress code, specifically in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. The long, flowing scarves covered the women’s hair and chest, and were considered as a symbol of femininity. It used to differentiate our women from those belonging to the western society.

Unfortunately, over the decades, the influx of foreign influence, along with the general misconception of women empowerment, has made our women abandon these beautiful scarves from their attire.

It is a common sight to see women dressed in shirts (kameez) with shalwar, trouser, tights or cigarette pants, with no sign of a dupatta. I personally feel that their outfit looks incomplete, as if they have forgotten an important part of their clothing at home. A dupatta adds grace, charm and beauty to a woman’s look and is in no way a hindrance or hassle for her.

After years of hesitation, I finally decided to write on this controversial issue. In order to do so, I felt that taking the views of today’s young girls would be appropriate.

Considering my age, anyone can easily accuse me of doling out unnecessary, aunty-like advice which does not go with the requirements of our so-called progressive society. I personally know the two girls who have given their opinions, they are highly educated professionals.

Quratulain Ahmed, an entrepreneur, (also the chief motivator behind this writing), speaks her mind with clarity.

“Belonging to a conservative Urdu speaking family, I was not even allowed to wear jeans to college. Shalwar kameez was the only outfit which my sisters and I could wear once we outgrew our teens. Wearing a dupatta was a must for us. For four years, I went to a liberal arts college managing a dupatta with my art materials. But gone are those days. Dupattas are now considered out of fashion, hence women have stopped wearing them.”

Zehra Awan, who has recently completed her ACCA and works with a reputed accountancy firm, says,

“Before giving my views on the disappearance of dupattas from the female apparel these days, I would like to mention that I was also one of those so-called modern girls, who had stopped wearing a dupatta. For some reason, I thought wearing a dupatta was a hassle and a hindrance to my movement, whether I was at work or in a social gathering. Then with time, one day I realised how inappropriate it was to go out without a dupatta. It did not take me long to realise that I felt much better when I wore it with my outfit, as I felt safer from unnecessarily prying eyes. It also encouraged me to pray regularly. Although I am not claiming that wearing a dupatta has made me religious, or a better person. Nor has it clarified the rights and wrongs in my mind. However, it has changed me through my female conscience as it gives me a sense of security when I step out of my house.”

Qurat adds in,

“Western influences in our culture have crept in slowly over the decades, and sadly it is now acceptable to see a Muslim woman without a dupatta, in a sleeveless dress in public places, social gatherings and on the television.

I would like to ask, where are we headed next?

Our media is portraying the Pakistani women as so-called modern individuals. I would like to tell them that getting rid of an important part of your outfit empowers you in no way! If a woman feels that not wearing a dupatta gives her a sense of belonging and makes her look chic, then she is headed in the wrong direction. If this mind-set continues, I fear that those who wear this graceful attire will be termed as backward or conservative.”

Zehra adds in her opinion:

 “I do not want to pass stereotypical comments, like a girl is shameless for moving in public without a dupatta, or that her parents have failed to instil our cultural values in her mind and worse of all, no decent man will ever marry her. A person’s character, family background or values are not for me to judge. I am not sharing my views to mock or ridicule any woman who does not wear a dupatta. You can be covered in a burqa, yet the girl next to you wearing tight jeans and a sleeveless top may be a better person. Your personality and character is yours, something between you and your Creator, not something to be judged by your clothing.

I want to confess that I find myself actually looking better, more lady-like when I wear a dupatta. I now feel that it’s an essential piece which completes a female’s outfit. Sometimes I wonder why I completely stopped wearing it in the first place. I find that there is no fashion that I fail to meet while wearing a dupatta. Moreover, I feel more secure when I move in public.

How can I complain of a man staring at me in bazaars or on the roadside, if I have left my attire incomplete?

A woman’s beauty is not in revelation; it is in what she keeps hidden from the world.”

Therefore, in conclusion, I just want to convince women that discarding your dupatta is not a status symbol, nor does it prove that you are highly qualified, progressive or liberal. It is only a matter of confused conception of what is modern and chic. I would like to request women who have abandoned dupattas, whether it is due to peer pressure or misguided desire of being called progressive, to promote your own culture instead of a foreign one.

Dupattas may not be ‘in’ for some women these days, but they are definitely not ‘out’ for others. This is the main reason all designers are still promoting three piece suits and have not yet compromised with the length or breadth of a dupatta. I firmly believe that dupattas are an inevitable part of our cultural dress code and will not be blown away with the wind, come what may!

The author is a home maker and a part time writer. She loves to write (both prose and poetry) on diverse subjects. She tweets @YasminElahi ( and blogs at