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The Pope With The Midas Touch: New Age Islam’s Selection From Pakistan Press, 7 October 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

7 October 2015

 Beyond the fall of Kunduz

By Dr Qaisar Rashid

 Christians in district Narowal

By Ethsam Waheed

 Pakistan’s Afghan predicament


 A bloody history


 The ‘Ugly American’?

By Jonathan Power

 The pope with the Midas touch

By Bisma Tirmizi

 Afghanistan’s terrible war: money for nothing

By Vijay Prashad


Beyond the fall of Kunduz

Dr Qaisar Rashid

October 07, 2015

The recent fall of Kunduz to the Taliban has effectively rejuvenated those who were fearful of their irrelevance if the Afghan peace process had been successful. They are now out to claim it a major Taliban victory in Afghanistan after 2001. If the late General Hameed Gul were alive today, he would have felt excited and elated.

Kunduz is a city in the north of Kabul in Nnrthern Afghanistan near the Tajikistan border. It is the capital of the province of Kunduz and is the fifth largest city of Afghanistan. The fall of Kunduz is neither a significant victory for the Taliban nor a substantial failure of the Kabul regime, though the fall signifies that the Kabul regime overlooked both the importance of Kunduz and the renewed resolve of the Taliban. The onslaught on Kunduz may be an improved version of the phenomenon of launching suicide attacks in urban areas.

It is not that the Kabul government had been expecting the Taliban resurgence from the south of Afghanistan where the Taliban are numerically strong and that the Taliban have made a surprise move by selecting a comparatively less guarded city in the north of Afghanistan; it is that, since 2014, the Taliban have been trying to capture Kunduz but were repulsed each time. They did seize villages but not a city. This time, since April this year, they have finally been successful in making the first appearance of their spring offensive palpable in Kunduz.

History offers a sense of comparison. In November 2001, the Taliban became able to retain Kunduz for two weeks in the face of US airstrikes coupled with a ground offensive launched by the Northern Alliance. At that time, the Taliban were more well-entrenched than now in terms of both bunkers and defence equipment such as tanks and trucks. This time, the Taliban are more visitors than locals. Secondly, at that time, there were more fighters on the Taliban side (about 10,000) to lay down their lives than there are now. Thirdly, at that time, the Taliban had to flee to the south of Afghanistan to save their lives and launch the kind of guerilla warfare that is more suitable for a hilly, rugged terrain. However, this time, the Taliban intend to test their ability of fighting an urban (street) battle. This can be considered a new tactic employed by the Taliban. The tactic is dangerous because the Afghan national army may not be trained for an urban street battle and in doing so innocent Afghans may be killed to the disadvantage of the Kabul regime. However, if the Taliban become successful in engaging the Afghan army and the US’ residual forces in urban warfare for a certain period of time — say one month — more such attacks and taking over urban cities may follow. Above all, on both occasions (past and present), foreign fighters in the shape of fugitive Arabs, Tajiks and Uzbeks help swell the ranks of the Taliban. Nevertheless, Kunduz may also prove a test case for the Taliban on whether or not they can fight an urban street battle successfully.

There is another facet of comparison. First of all, in contrast to the past, the Taliban are now getting weary of the guerilla fighting they are thought as being specialised in. Secondly, in contrast to the past, the Taliban have lost their patience, which they used to employ in biding their time and waiting for the enemy to come to their positions (or hideouts) to fight. No doubt, the Taliban hiding in the hilly areas were proud of their guerilla warfare tactics but they unwittingly allowed the US to perfect drone technology by trying it on them. Consequently, the Taliban paid a heavy price in terms of manpower for sheltering al Qaeda, which has now mostly fled to Arab countries. Drones laden with missiles made life horrible for the Taliban. Additionally, there is also a sense of desperation in the Taliban after Pakistan launched, in mid-2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which compelled the Taliban, both Pakistani and Afghan, to abandon their retreats in North Waziristan. The Taliban along with remnants of al Qaeda, Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen fighters left the hilly areas of Pakistan and disappeared into Afghanistan. It is surmised that the same lot has reared its head in Kunduz.

After capturing Kunduz, the Taliban set prisoners free in the hundreds from jails. One aspect of this malevolent act goes in favour of the Taliban as they get more fighters joining them from amongst the freed prisoners. However, another aspect of this spiteful act goes against the Taliban as the locals begin hating the Taliban who have freed prisoners caught in crimes against them.

It is known that the Afghan army, which is still small in number (about 200,000 soldiers) is too stretched to defend all cities of Afghanistan simultaneously against the Taliban insurgency and the same is the case with the police, which are about 150,000 in number. Secondly, with available light weaponry, the Afghan army cannot defend cities. Thirdly, it is short of the experience needed to repel an organised Taliban attack. In fact, the Taliban have instigated the Kabul regime to think of deploying more forces, even the borrowed ones from regional countries who support the Kabul regime against the Taliban threat. This aspect would be a new version of the solution for Afghanistan unless the Taliban threat is over.

Interestingly, on the one hand, the conquering of Kunduz by the Taliban is a step towards papering over their mutual rifts and bringing all the Taliban under the unified leadership of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the political descendent of the late Mullah Omar. On the other hand, the fall of Kunduz will compel the US to keep the residual combat force backed by air power in Afghanistan for the time the Taliban negotiate their way into the Kabul government instead of overrunning it.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at


Christians in district Narowal

Ethsam Waheed

October 07, 2015

I write this opinion piece with a great tautness of mind. Will the citizens ever be able to witness Jinnah’s Pakistan? A Pakistan that is free from caste, colour and creed discriminations, and where all citizens are equal and no one is above the law? To comprehend the socially challenged incident I witnessed in district Narowal a few weeks ago, it is imperative to understand past gruesome incidents that I have managed to research and dig out in the Sialkot region.

I interpret the story of my beautiful capital city located in the northeast of Punjab. Sialkot is the city I belong to and have served it as a carpenter for numerous years in my life. It serves me as an honour to have been born there as it is the third richest city of Pakistan when it comes to resources and GDP per capita. It is also Pakistan’s 12th most populous city. However, rule of law in the city is horrific and has deteriorated over the past decade.

In the past few years, there have been numerous incidents, especially in Narowal, which have left locals in the area astounded. These incidents have lacked a voice and recognition. I would like to mention a few because such cases pose a major threat to this country. Christian citizens staged a peaceful agitation demonstration at Sialkot city’s congested Allama Iqbal Chowk a few years ago. Even the rainy weather could not stop them from showing their grief. This protest was against the brutal murder of Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was gunned down in Islamabad.

Sometime later, the Christians community observed a complete strike in District Sialkot against the burning of houses belonging to the Christian community by a mob in Badami Bagh, Lahore. They took out rallies and staged the sit-ins in Sialkot, Daska, Sambrial, Uggoki, Pasrur, Badiana, Chawinda and the surrounding areas to lodge their strong protest against the brutal incident of setting ablaze as many as 200 Christian houses in Lahore.

I now wish to bring the readers’ attention to district Narowal where rule of law has worsened at a rapid pace. In this district there is dire need for justice amongst citizens. A voice to such issues will come in handy for the abandoned and needy. Christian women have gone though abhorrent circumstances in Pakistan. These incidents reflect lack of moral value and character especially in the rural areas over the past few years. The gang rape incident of a Christian girl in Narowal this year just goes to show the police’s laxity — or more appropriately their leniency — in letting go of the alleged criminals. A young female student of Saint Paul High School in Narowal was picked up by six men and allegedly gang raped for three days. Proof of the local police’s complicity in defending the dignity of the accused rather than the victim was evident in the pressure tactics being used against the girl’s family. They initially refused to file an FIR and continued to force the Christians girl’s family to negotiate with the perpetrators, who happened to be local influentials. The six men involved in the gang rape got bail before arrest, forcing the aggrieved family to stage a sit-in, in early May, in front of parliament in Islamabad. Such negligence in enforcing the rule of law is indeed encouraging for the continuation of archaic practices.

Numerous Christian families have fled their homes in the latest spasms of religious strife. A few hundred Christians have camped in a forest in the Pakistani capital, cut down trees and are using the branches to build a church. Their tribulations began when a Christian girl in their poor Islamabad neighbourhood was accused by a neighbour of burning pages from the Quran, blasphemy under Pakistani law that can mean life in prison — or worse.

I plead to bring the attention of high police security enforcement authorities towards the most current incident that has taken place in a village in district Narowal. I believe due to the incompetence and lack of investigative training of the local police force this case has gone unnoticed. I state my opinion with such surety and confidence because I was present there in the village. Two individuals, who have powerful connections and influence in the area, continue to pin false allegations against the Christian community in the area and make their life more miserable than it already is.

It is imperative to comprehend that the Christian community of the area is very poor and, like other areas, most of their females are labourers who are trying to make ends meet. When these labourers want to explore better salary opportunities, owners tend to threaten them as did these two ‘gentlemen’. The aim behind this was the typical mindset of retaining Christian human resource. When the Christian citizens refused to agree to the terms put forth by these men, they used their connections in the police and filed a report against them. The report stated that the females are running a brothel in the area and that there was dire need for the local police to take action against them.

False allegations were made and the police, without following the very basic standard operating procedures of investigation, raided and arrested a few Christian men linked to these females. Some of the Christian women were humiliated and beaten up in the neighbourhood. I, as a volunteer human rights’ activist, plead that the provincial Chief Minister (CM) take notice of this case closely so that justice may prevail. I also urge the police officials to take action against such atrocities against the Christian community. A majority of citizens believe that Christians are our own brothers and sisters and due to some black sheep in the country who only care about their own needs, we have to face such shame.

The writer is a human rights’ activist and can be reached at


Pakistan’s Afghan predicament


October 7th , 2015

THE fall of Kunduz seems to have set in motion a domino effect with the Afghan Taliban forces threatening to overrun the other neighbouring northern Afghan provinces. Baghlan could be the next. Fierce fighting is also reportedly raging in Badakhshan and Faryab as the Afghan government forces face their most serious test yet. The residual US forces can hardly be expected to stop the Taliban advance from the militia’s traditional stronghold in eastern and southern Afghanistan. The bombing by US jets on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz that killed and injured scores of people has only served to further alienate the local population.

The battle for Afghanistan may be far from over, but the latest development is a grim reminder of what has long been feared. Can a fractured Kabul administration withstand the growing insurgent offensive with diminishing Western interest in the war-torn country? The prospects are bleak.

A real problem for the Afghan security forces is the crisis of confidence that has been more than evident in Kunduz, where over 7,000 soldiers failed to defend the city against a far fewer number of insurgents. Reports from Baghlan and other northern districts have not been encouraging either. Desertions have increased further in the face of the growing intensity of Taliban attacks.

Parts of Kunduz province have been under siege for more than a year, but the Taliban’s inroads in other northern provinces have been quite startling, shifting the battlefront away from the insurgent heartland in the south. A major factor in the latest offensive is the coalescing of various transnational militant groups driven out by the Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan. The fighting close to the Tajik border has inevitably alarmed the Central Asian nations facing their own militancy problems.

The Taliban escalation is a clear indication of Mullah Mansour consolidating his control over the group. Any challenge to his leadership seems to have vanished after the son and brother of Mullah Omar finally pledged their allegiance to the new emir. It has also proved wrong the widespread perception of the insurgent group disintegrating after the death of their ‘supreme leader’.

Despite their spectacular success in Kunduz and the rise in their influence in some northern territories, there seems to be no possibility of the Taliban winning this war. But this continuing civil war has serious repercussions for Afghanistan and beyond. The growing influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a serious concern for the region, especially for Pakistan confronting its own grave militancy problem.

Pakistan’s predicament has worsened with the breakdown of its relations with President Ashraf Ghani’s government after a brief period of bonhomie. Hostilities have further heightened with the escalation in Taliban attacks ending any possibility of the resumption of negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. The hopes raised at the Murree talks have all but vanished. Neither the Taliban nor Kabul is willing to move forward at the moment putting Islamabad in a tight corner.

President Ghani’s anger against Islamabad for not stopping the Taliban offensive may be exaggerated, but is not completely unfounded. He had put his government at stake by reposing full trust in Pakistan to not only deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table, but also to force them to stop insurgent attacks.

While Islamabad was able to persuade the insurgents to talk, it does not seem to have enough clout to convince them to cease violence. Pakistani officials contend that a ceasefire could have been possible after a few more rounds of talks. But it was not to happen. Now the Afghan president wants Islamabad to take action against the Taliban leaders and the insurgent sanctuaries on its soil.

That would be tantamount to Pakistan declaring a full-scale war on the Afghan Taliban leaders and fighters who are now deeply entrenched in the border regions. Our past policy of allowing Afghan Taliban sanctuaries and recruitment of fighters has surely helped the insurgents regroup and develop critical logistic support and supply lines.

It has also helped the Afghan Taliban get strategic depth in Pakistan making it very difficult for us to now take action against them. Pakistani officials contend that it is an unfair demand on the one hand to push the Taliban to talk and on the other to kill Taliban leaders based in their country.

The latest Taliban blitz has brought back international pressure on Islamabad to act particularly against the Haqqani network that is still deemed close to the Pakistani security establishment. Notwithstanding military operations in North Waziristan, there is widespread scepticism on Islamabad’s promise not to allow the network to use the region as its base. Reports of Mullah Mansour freely roaming around Quetta, and gaining the allegiance of insurgent commanders in mass gatherings, have further provoked the ire of the Ghani administration.

It is unfair to put the entire blame on Pakistan for the military debacle and the current political instability in Afghanistan. A flawed US military strategy and the failure of a fractious Afghan power elite are largely responsible for the present state of affairs in the strife-torn country.

Yet, there is no denying that most of the Taliban leaders operated from their bases in Pakistan and received invaluable logistical support to keep the insurgency going. It may be true that there has been belated realisation of the threat emanating from militancy to the internal security of the country itself. But we are still not clear as to how to deal with the current predicament.

The latest Taliban offensive and the militia’s capture of Kunduz have further complicated Pakistan’s internal security dilemma. It is true that the hostile reaction from the Kabul administration has not helped, but we need to review whatever relations we have with the Afghan Taliban in our own interest and that of regional security. The Taliban leaders must not enjoy our hospitality while refusing a ceasefire.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Published in Dawn, October 7th , 2015


A bloody history


October 7th , 2015

THERE is a degree of irony in the fact that an International People’s Tribunal on the profoundly traumatic events that occurred 50 years ago in Indonesia will be convened next month in The Hague, the capital of the old colonial power.

It would have been far better for an inquiry of this sort, with its aim of digging out the truth rather than indicting the culprits, to take place in Jakarta. But more than 17 years after the Suharto dictatorship crumbled, the events that enabled the general to ensconce himself in power continue to occupy a deeply disputed terrain in the national memory.

Which is not entirely surprising, given that Suharto’s path to absolute power did not merely entail wading through a few puddles of blood. Between the beginning of October 1965 and the end of January 1966, Indonesia witnessed what a classified CIA report a couple of years later described as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the 1950s”.

In hindsight, one can, of course, add several place-names to that list: for instance, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Rwanda. What makes the CIA’s description particularly poignant is the fact that the agency — and the United States more broadly — was very much complicit in the massacres.

The Indonesian mass murders were among the worst.

The precise death toll remains unclear, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to more than a million. The events were sparked on Sept 29, 1965, by a relatively small-scale rebellion by junior army officers whose ostensible aim was to pre-empt a military coup against Sukarno, Indonesia’s leader since independence from the Dutch. The supposedly left-leaning colonels and majors captured and killed half a dozen generals.

One of their targets escaped, but Suharto was not on the hit list — which has prompted suspicions that, having foreknowledge of the plot, he had somehow indicated that he wasn’t opposed to it. He was certainly well positioned to take advantage of it, though, and the official propaganda of the Suharto years decreed that he was instrumental in thwarting an attempted takeover by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).

With a membership of more than three million, the PKI was at the time the largest party of its kind outside the communist world, allied with Sukarno as well as with Beijing (in the context of the Sino-Soviet split), but hardly prone to Maoism of the militant variety on the domestic front.

It wasn’t Sukarno’s only ally, though — the wily leader, who was popular in his country (and more broadly in the Third World) was hardly a dedicated democrat, but he relied on a coalition that encompassed communists, nationalists and Islamists. There were, inevitably, political tensions between these disparate forces, not least in the context of land reforms that the PKI forcefully backed and conservative elements resolutely opposed.

Whether or not any members of the PKI hierarchy were involved to any extent in the junior officers’ plot, the party was clearly unprepared for the descent into the barbarism that followed. The victims of the genocide included not just PKI members but anyone suspected of harbouring leftist sympathies.

The military was instrumental in the massacres, but it had plenty of eager allies, not least among Islamist organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama — which yielded Indonesia’s first elected president after Suharto’s overthrow, Abdurrahman Wahid. Colonel Sarwo Edhie, who reputedly led special forces tasked with eliminating communists and their sympathisers, was the father-in-law of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who served as president until last year.

The military continues to wield overweening power in Indo­nesia, and some of the militias associated with its ex­ce­sses over the past half century re­main as­sured of their impunity. Small wonder, then, that death thre­ats are still not un­common if anyone begins to get too close to the truth, and that the current president, Joko Widodo, who had indicated he would at least be willing to apologise on behalf of the state for the mass murder of 1965, has lately resiled from that position.

There is some evidence that the CIA was inclined to assassinate Sukarno as early as 1955, the year of the non-aligned Bandung conference. By 1962, with his anti-imperialist stance firmly entrenched, the US and Britain were both keen to eliminate him. In 1965, the US embassy in Jakarta provided the army with a list of at least 5,000 PKI targets.

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, whose pair of extraordinary documentaries have shed unprecedented light on the events of 1965, suggested in The New York Times last week that were the US to come clean about its role in the monumental atrocities, the Indonesian state might be encouraged to follow suit. It would be unwise to hold one’s breath. But the Hague tribunal may help to highlight that the crimes against humanity committed in the name of anti-communism deserve a place of dishonour alongside the outrages associated with communism.


The ‘Ugly American’?

Jonathan Power

October 07, 2015

US foreign policy makers often wonder aloud why it is that much of the world has such an anti-US reflex. Why the “Ugly American”? Graham Greene would never have written a novel entitled the Ugly Russian or even the Ugly German. It is not just Iran that considers the US to be the ‘Great Satan’. Remember that day at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) when the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, accused President George W Bush of belching sulphureous fumes, and most of the chamber chuckled?

When the Russian government denies that it switched its publicly announced mission of deploying planes to Syria to fight Islamic State (IS) and has instead concentrated on bombing the redoubts of groups engaged in the civil war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a majority of the world’s governments seemingly accept the denial, despite the contrary evidence. When the US bombs a hospital in Afghanistan killing many staff members of Doctors Without Borders this confirms the opinion of those who are always convinced that the US does things like this on purpose after careful planning and will do it again as soon as the opportunity offers itself.

There are two reasons, I think, for the image of the Ugly American. The first is the US’ standing as the world’s number one economic and military power. The second is the CIA, the notorious Central Intelligence Agency. The British have their MI6 and its special agent, the glamorous James Bond. But the CIA only has its reputation as the master of the black arts of corruption, torture and assassination. Tragically for the US its bad reputation is largely deserved. There are some notorious examples of its malfeasance that every politically educated non-American knows about. The most recent were the waterboarding and other torture methods carried out by the CIA during the administration of President George W Bush.

The Congo and its goings on immediately after its independence from Belgium is rightly the stuff of legend, novels, history and film. On June 30, 1960, its young leftist firebrand, Patrice Lumumba, was sworn in as prime minister. Within days the army mutinied against their all-white officer corps. Belgium responded by sending troops to reoccupy the country. Its richest province, the mineral rich Katanga, was encouraged to secede. Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union, which immediately flew in transport planes. That is when the Eisenhower administration sent in the CIA. It ranked as the US’ largest covert operation in the CIA’s history. Its station chief, Lawrence Devlin, became so powerful that he controlled many of the key political players in the country. The CIA plotted to have Lumumba deposed, even murdered if necessary.

The CIA encouraged President Joseph Kasavubu to turn against Lumumba. He fired the prime minister. Devlin was quick to find a substitute, Mobutu Sese Sese, the 29-year-old army chief of staff. Devlin told his CIA bosses, according to an official US government study, that “this was the beginning of the plan for Mobutu to take over the government”. Ten weeks after independence, Mobutu announced he was suspending parliament and the constitution. Mobutu became the CIA-funded de-facto dictator, with Devlin as his chief counselor. The two of them agreed that Lumumba must be arrested and they sent him to Katanga, the Belgium-supported secessionist province, whose government had repeatedly called for his scalp. Within days of his arrival he was shot dead, as the CIA wanted.

The CIA then masterminded Cyril Adoula to be a nominal prime minister under Mobutu’s thumb. The CIA bribed parliamentarians, labour unions and the organisation of tribal chiefs to back Adoula. The seesawing in Congolese politics continued for another five years before Mobutu, with CIA help, became the paramount leader with no need for a façade of parliamentary rule. For 32 years, Mobutu, always considered a close friend by the US, milked the economy for his own financial benefit. The country ended up as the basket case of Africa, more riddled by continuous warfare, corruption and poverty than any other African country.

Finally, in 1997, rebels headed by a former Lumumbist and backed by military forces from Uganda, Rwanda and Angola deposed Mobutu, leading to a regional war that would kill more than three and half million people over the next decade. Only in the last handful of years has the Congo, with massive UN help, begun to right itself.

This is another case of the perfidy of the CIA I have told at length in my book Like Water On Stone (Penguin, 2001). It is the story of the overthrow of the legitimately elected leftist government of Chile in 1973.

Other countries do similar bad things as the Americans — the British in Kenya, the Russians in Ethiopia but the world forgets and even forgives. But not with the US. To take liberty with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that America does lives after it. The good is oft interred with its bones.”

The writer has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 20 years and author of the much acclaimed new book, Conundrums of Humanity — the Big Foreign Policy Questions of Our Age. He may be contacted at


The pope with the Midas touch

By Bisma Tirmizi

October 6, 2015

I was nine-year-old when Pope John Paul II came to Karachi in 1981. At the time I attended a Catholic school that housed a hostel for nuns belonging to various other missionary schools in Pakistan, which meant that we were let out for a week. Needless to say that was great news for all students who went to my school, and there were a lot of warm thoughts towards Pope Paul who made it all happen.

Being raised in a Muslim household and attending a Catholic school, I had some knowledge of Christianity. We sang Christmas songs come December, got a half-day holiday on Sunday when it was still a working day, were given a week off at Easter; but it was not until my recent trip to the Vatican, and my recent viewing of the documentary Finding Jesus, and finally, my recent introduction to Pope Francis (through the media), that I truly understood that all religions teach the same thing — kindness and humanity above all.

The pope landed in the US recently to a warm welcome and some scepticism amidst sexual abuse scandals that the Catholic Church had faced in recent years. However, upon viewing the pope’s persona, engagement and demeanour, the scepticism melted away.

Everyone in the US — Christian, Jewish, Muslim — was completely mesmerised by Pope Francis. His visit coincided with Eidul Azha, and hence became a topic of discussion at the scheduled Eid events held to celebrate the three days. I listened as all talked about Pope Francis with utmost respect and focused on his spirit of inclusion in these divisive times. Yes, that was the talking point, inclusion and kindness towards all regardless of race, religion, culture, language and gender.

One saw in Pope Francis humility and wisdom, and his philosophy and ideology appeared very humane, and I could not help but be inspired. He travelled in a Fiat, out of choice; he preached inclusion, out of choice; he did not condemn any other religion, out of choice; he stopped his car to hug and kiss people, out of choice; he genuinely seemed to care, out of choice; he truly seemed to understand that with great power comes great responsibility, and that too out of choice.

And then I ask myself, what’s so different about Pope Francis that makes him ‘The Peoples’ Pope’. Why is he so likable? In simple words, he’s just a good man and appears humane, tolerant, inclusive and genuine. Isn’t that what a spiritual leader is supposed to do? In a world, where of late religious clergy combined with a divisive politics — whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu — is busy banning beef and stereotyping people belonging to other faiths, comes a soft-spoken gentleman who talks about kindness. Is that not what all religions and all messengers of God have taught their followers? Hence, when an ordinary person hears a man in the modern times talk about bringing people together and shunning divisiveness, it strikes a chord.

I am a Muslim, a practising Muslim, and I was impressed with Pope Francis and his ways. He seemed to give humanity priority, and since his message was one of hope, it made sense at a very basic level.

I look at the likes of young Malala, Mother Teresa and Abdul Sattar Edhi and ponder at the wonders of the world. In a world filled with those thriving on hateful rhetoric, the messengers of hope and goodness never cease to inspire. They lead with their message of hope like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and humanity is willing to listen to their tune and hum along with them, and slowly and gradually their song becomes louder and louder. It’s that melody that keeps humanity going through all the chaos and pathos. There is always a song to be sung, and that is our hope.


Afghanistan’s terrible war: money for nothing

Vijay Prashad

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Taliban and its allies seized Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan. It was a Mosul-style capture – a few hundred Taliban overran thousands of the Afghan National Army soldiers and pinned down some US Special Forces troops at the airport. In retaliation, heavy US bombardment against the Taliban rattled the cages, but did not itself do much damage. What destruction came was tragic. Twelve MSF (Doctors without Borders) staff and ten patients died when US aircraft ‘repeatedly and persistently’ (according to MSF) struck their hospital. MSF had given the US the coordinates of the hospital in advance. It did not matter.

The Afghan Army said that it had started to take back Kunduz. Parts of the city remain contested. The Taliban has done its job. Their fighters delivered their message. The Taliban – with their allies – are capable of seizing a city even though they have been fighting the US for fourteen years. As the anniversary of this Afghan war creeps up on October 7, the gains from that war seem marginal. The Taliban remains a force despite the death of their founder Mullah Omar. Their new leader, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, has made his mark.

One of the war aims of the Afghan war was to silence Al-Qaeda. Certainly the command and control section of Al-Qaeda’s international operations has been disrupted but Al-Qaeda remains intact. War gives it meaning. In northern Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda’s old allies moved in far more dangerous directions. For the Kunduz strike, the Taliban relied upon three of its associates: the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union and Jamaat Ansarallah. These groups have tentacles that reach into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

This summer, a Colonel in the Tajik Special Forces – Gulmurod Khalimov – defected to Isis. He had been to the US three times to be trained for the fight against terrorism. Disgust at the lack of political and economic opportunities in Tajikistan has turned people like Khalimov toward insurgency. The audacity of Isis in Iraq-Syria inspired Khalimov to sign up his own branch to its franchise. This is how Al-Qaeda grew in the old days, but in the shadows. Isis has opened a new seam – these groups are happy to announce themselves in public, to parade their troops and to go into action. While the Taliban and its allies took Kunduz, Isis in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province struck ten Afghan Army and police posts. Between Kunduz and Nangarhar lies Afghanistan’s rich mining wealth. They have emerged on the roadways into China’s Xinjiang province.

Days after 9/11, the political class in the United States inaugurated the Global War on Terror (GWOT). One of the distinguishing features of this war was that it had no restrictions of space and time. Under the rules of GWOT, the US would be allowed to strike anywhere and at anytime it wished. International law had been fully suborned to the parochial needs of the US president. The Obama administration dispensed with the language of GWOT. In 2009, the GWOT was renamed Overseas Contingency Operation. Attempts to be bureaucratic about the war failed. It will not shake its apocalyptic nature.

Since 9/11, the United States has expended an enormous amount of money on the GWOT. A Congressional study from December 2014 found that the total bill over the past thirteen years was $1.6 trillion. That means, by this estimate, the US public is paying $8.36 million per hour on a war that has not yet ended. Brown University’s Watson Institute released a study in 2011 that showed the cost to be twice that amount – in the range of $2.3 to $2.7 trillion.

The rate of return from this money has been abysmal. Both the Afghan National Army and the Iraqi Army do not display the amount of money poured into them. Cash thrown at ‘moderate’ insurgents in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali and Syria do not buy loyalty. These fighters often drift off into the arms of the terrorists. Why should they be faithful to the dollars? No political project holds them fast. To be cannon fodder for American aircraft is hardly a worthy mission. The other side offers bolder ideas. Not warmed over promises of democracy.

Alternative political projects are not available. There is no Chavez of Afghanistan or Mali. When they emerged, the CIA and its allies took them out. Thomas Sankara (1949-1987), the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, used to end his speeches with the chant, “Homeland or death, we will win!” He was killed. His homeland is a battleground. Victory is far from sight. The west hands out cash to what seem to be mercenary armies. The men take the money and then move on. Why should they wait around to die for a cause that means nothing to them?

The costs to human life from this terrible war have been astounding. Perhaps a million dead in Iraq, a quarter million in Afghanistan, thousands here and thousands there. Millions of people displaced – five million in Iraq, one million in Afghanistan. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have been thrown into a downward social spiral, with little hope of an easy recovery. The violence in Iraq and Afghanistan continues. Brutality in Syria has been astounding – half the population displaced and hundreds of thousands dead. But the arithmetic of brutality from the GWOT is monumental. We move to the millions for our calculations.

Geopolitics gets in the way of rationality. After 9/11, the countries of Eurasia, who had long worried about the growth of the Taliban, asked the United States to join their struggle. The Shanghai Cooperative Organisation had since the 1990s been trying to create a regional approach against the spread of extremist ideology. But the US rejected any thought of working with the SCO. It held hands with its Nato allies, and drew in its old friends. China, Russia, India and Iran had been available. They had to be shunned.

Hitched to the old colonial powers, the US started its crusade in Afghanistan and then spread out in both directions. What the great powers did not understand is that the broken regions such as Afghanistan need more than aerial bombardment and more than schools – they also need a robust national project, articulated with one eye to the past and another to the present. None of their puppets of the new world order or the exiles with their dreams of revenge – the Karzais and the Malikis – were capable of leading their countries to the future. The Left had been destroyed in these zones, and new populist forces had been discouraged by reliance upon old networks of authority. Brave people such as Malalai Joya in Afghanistan and Yanar Mohammed of Iraq did not find the space to produce broad movements driven by a new kind of patriotism. They had to be set aside. History has not been kind to the Left in these regions. It will take its time to return. It will be a long while before the Sankara of Afghanistan emerges.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing’.