Tell me who the enemy is this time.

Henry_Montgomery_Lawrence_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_16528 I was busy the last few days, but the chatter on the news got me to wondering about the "background" thinking with regard to what we are preparing to do in Afghanistan.

In Iraq we blundered around for several years more or less assuming that the Sunni Arab fighters who opposed us in arms were a monolith.  The smart people and cognoscenti on the ground knew better than that, but the "system" as a whole did not.

In 2006, the US government finally "got the idea" that there were many groups and that a lot of them had been senselessly alienated by the policies of the Bush Administration.  That was sorted out in what the neocons like to "shorthand" as the "surge" and things have been on the mend in Iraq ever since.  May the Sunni/Shia divide erupt once again in the context of US withdrawal?  Certainly, especially if the US is so foolish as to think that its recent Sunni friends will accept abandonment. 

Now we are facing up to the issues of tribal and Islamic resistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan to governments and ultimately to the anti-terrorist goals of the United States.  Are we as invincibly ignorant with regard to the panoply of forces and groups in these places as we were in Iraq?  Are we?  Let us think more fully, more in the way of the people who live in these places.

The assumption that the Afghanistan-Pakistan problem set is one monolihic object is stupid and wrong.  Let us do better than that this time.

President Obama has proclaimed the goals of his policy in Afghanistan in terms of confounding our enemies.  Secretary Gates wants to give succor to the warriors in funny clothes who can differentiate between true enemies and the merely unhappy. 

Counter-terrorism has become an industry.  That industry and ambitious generals want to do what rewards them.  COIN is now accepted wisdom.  Let us be cautious and let us look for real wisdom in particularity.  pl

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24 Responses to Tell me who the enemy is this time.

  1. curious says:

    This is how I will do afghanistan if I were in charge.
    Forget secrety-secrety stuff. That sort of idiocy has been tried for the last 4 decades, and we got complex dance between major power intel service. (russia, india, pakistan, china, etc)
    Instead of multi billion dollar military operation, complete with NATO meeting that cost another hundred millions.
    I would set this very basic goal:
    1. how to create general calmness in entire afghanistan
    2. how to create quick developmental need on the ground without all the lengthy beaurocracy
    3. quickly enhance the functionality of afghan government
    4. hunt al qaeda.
    The big point is to move information so fast, and coordinate it with ground troop, afghan civilians leaders and everybody in the world that not even the smartest al qaeda, let alone cumbersome secret agents and military establishment around afghanistan can keep up.
    1. create something like afghanistan wikimapia.
    2. create afghanistan wikipedia that focus on describing every village and, characteristic, region developmental need, and security issue.
    Then put the database online.
    Let the entire world watch and start seeing what afghanistan need. farming map, village location, water resource, location of last attack, etc.
    I figure a server and the free software will cost 10K to set up. plus a couple of guy to keep it running. (never do pentagon contract, or it will turn into $100 million project)
    after that, everybody will know what to do in afghansitan. everybody can see, security area, civil service need, attack pattern, opium farm, villages that is taliban target, …etc.
    Nobody can cheat and do the clever dance, the entire world is watching. All contract will be visible. Public will ask, where is the result?
    Of course afghan government will also be in constant heat of not performing. (eg. everybody will track every developmental project that exist.)
    namely, open source nation building. (by way of public scrutiny, information sharing, and analysis.)

  2. PirateLaddie says:

    Trying to do one’s duty is difficult when faced with the COIN of the realm. Teasing out distinctions between tribal folk, especially in the Pak/Af region, is frustrating and has no short-term payoff. The day of colonial officers such as Lawrence is past, and academics, even diplomats, who might bring some wisdom to the table are dismissed by more career-oriented types who need solutions NOW.

  3. LeaNder says:

    sorry, for posting twice yesterday. Seems I didn’t watch it carefully.
    There is one main enemy of course: Norman Finkelstein As the most prominent supporter of a two-state-solution.
    I usually google his name too, and his site always, as should be expected, appeared on top. Not anymore. Or not over here in Germany either.
    Maybe I should shift my searches to yahoo.

  4. Two questions! First isn’t Afghanistan a completely artificial British/Russian construct? (Line drawing between Pakistan and Afghanistan was largely done in 19th Century by British if my info is correct?) Second, why not just sub-divide Afghanistan into its ethnic components (with the agreement of the Afghanis of course)? I am curious as to Why Afganistan now as an entity? My ignorance I am sure. Looking forward to seeing any comments on my comments.

  5. Brett J says:

    Prescient, Pat. I appreciate your foresight in noting that anything that has gotten some ‘traction’ (COIN) will already have it’s own ‘industries’ and individuals who would benefit from it’s propagation and continued use, whether or not it is appropriate/wise for the situation.
    It seems we had a somewhat more cleared whiteboard to write on in Iraq (of our own making – the ousting of Saddam) compared to the mess of domestic, regional, and international strings that pose a challenge to the addressing of the “AfPak” issue. Vast baggage in both cases, but Afghanistan also now has the filter of our Iraq stumbles and successes applied to it.
    The amount of subtlety needed each step of the way for a process as precarious as this can be staggering— and points to the importance of “the people who live in these places” wanting to, or being able to actively support the process. Missteps will be done, and if the expectation is perfect performance on the US side to achieve success in Afghanistan, failure is not to be unexpected.
    “hearts n minds” bla bla, but the Afghanis need a reason to activate themselves in pursuing stability — question is, can we either incentivize or start hacking enough of a path through the jungle that they can finish the job?

  6. Watcher says:

    I am quickly coming to see Astan as a country of individual interests where conflict is on the valley level.
    As for AFPAK we’ll be playing in family politics to make some kind of dent. The Durand line will be a mental obstacle for us until we learn how to build the weight and influence for to influence on the Pakistan side of the border.
    Curious, while I pike the wiki idea, you don’t address how we include the Afghans in this, especially one with such a low literacy rate

  7. dan bradburd says:

    Why don’t we start by changing the way in which we deal with opium. Rather than trying to destroy it, let’s establish a market and buy it. Remember, we would not have to buy it at street price, or even processor price, but farm-gate price. The producers would get their cash crop, we might be able to reduce the funding of people we don’t like, and we might be able to reduce corruption too. An alternative is to buy wheat or barley at farmgate prices far above those of opium.
    In short don’t try to change people’s culture and damage their economic prospects while trying to induce them to be more friendly to us.

  8. rjj says:

    Curious, you need to spend more time with country people. Turf has as many limbic tripwires as reproduction.
    LeaNder, maybe it is a glitch, or maybe google has been, um, fiddled???? [am sentimentally attached to google and don’t want to believe the worst.] Firefox has an add-on that submits one query to multiple engines. I am going to install it.

  9. rjj says:

    In case the limbic tripwires comment was too oblique —
    Screwing with a people’s way of life generates almost as much resentment as messing with their women.

  10. stickler says:

    What is our long-term goal in Afghanistan? What vital American interests are at stake there, and what price is reasonable for upholding those interests?
    I greatly fear that COIN is being used to gussy up mere inertia: “we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…”
    The logistics of the Afghanistan mission are mind-boggling all by themselves. This cannot be an open-ended mission.

  11. JohnH says:

    It is certainly tough when there is no clear enemy. The public has to have raw meet. Politicians, however, need no raw meet–they only need a piece of real estate to covet. Enemies can be invented later. That’s why Bin Laden and al Qaeda would have had to have been created if they had not already existed.
    The real question is what the American political class sees as so incredibly valuable about Afghanistan. The Europeans obviously see little threat and little to be gained there. Otherwise they’d commit more troops…

  12. FB Ali says:

    You ask a very good question. It suited the Bush administration, and its neocon-Likudnik instigators and abettors, to talk of the Great War on Terror, to be endlessly waged against “terrorists”. The aim was to suitably scare the American people into giving them a blank cheque to milk the wealth of the country while waging war on anyone on whom they chose to affix that label.
    The new administration has abandoned GWOT, but is still enmeshed in the confused thinking caused by believing that the enemy are some monolithic entity best described as “terrorists”, who exist almost exclusively in the Muslim world. As you say, unless the policy-makers understand clearly who their different opponents and enemies are, no coherent policy is possible, and, without it, there is little chance of success.
    The people the US is confronting in the Muslim world can appropriately be termed as Islamists (those whose attitudes and actions are motivated by their view of Islam). There are two main categories of Islamists – the political and the fundamentalist (“politicos” and “fundos”, for short). The long-term aim of the politicos is to establish the political, economic and military power of Islam; their short-term goal is to resist the encroachments of the West on the Muslim world. The aim of the fundos is to establish in the Muslim world their concept of Islam (which is traditionalist and fundamentalist, and rejects all modernity, especially Western). The leaders of the politicos come mainly from the educated intelligentsia, those of the fundos from clerics with limited secular education and experience. The goals and horizons of the latter are limited, those of the former are not.
    The Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan (two separate entities) are fundos. Al-Qaeda are politicos. The two categories are well disposed to each other, and, where feasible, assist each other, but they have separate goals. It is the failure to understand this that has prevented the West from realizing that it may well be possible to achieve its aims in Afghanistan by coming to an understanding with the Taliban that would freeze out al-Qaeda (after all, the arch-fundos – the Saudi Wahhabi establishment – have become the mortal enemies of the politico al-Qaeda).
    The imperatives of the war in Afghanistan led the US to buy and bully the Pakistanis into trying to suppress the Afghan Taliban in its territory. This created the Pakistani Taliban, who are now attacking Pakistan. The US, while maintaining its previous demands, now worries about a Taliban takeover in Pakistan. The West does not understand that this is not possible – the Taliban can destabilize Pakistan, but fundos cannot take over such an organized, complex country. What is certainly possible is a politico Islamist takeover, and the policies the US is pursuing are significantly increasing its chances. The West is running around in circles trying to thwart the possibility of a politico Islamist Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, blissfully unaware that they are creating the conditions for a politico Islamist Pakistan with nuclear weapons.

  13. fnord says:

    “I am quickly coming to see Astan as a country of individual interests where conflict is on the valley level.”
    Oh man, thats just one of the conflict lines in Af/Pak. Its so stunningly complicated, it makes the head boggle. Take a look at a ethnolinguistic map of just Nuristan:
    For a really good blog, take a look at Ghosts of Alexander ( is pretty good too, though it concentrates more on the whole area and not exclusively on Afghanistan.

  14. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I suggest you add every single city, village, and hamlet in the United States in your scheme and seek help and advice for rebuilding those communities that are struggling with social and economic malaise – some going back decades.
    “Physician, heal thyself!”

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    FB Ali:
    I think that the current war in Afghanistan only aggravated existing problems in Pakistan.
    Those problems – the militarization of NWFP, for example – had been created by the imperatives of the earlier war in Afghanistan against the Communist Government of Afghanistan, in my opinion.
    Now, what, in concrete terms, can be done to help Pakistan?
    Please be specific if you can.

  16. Arun says:

    This Pakistani Daily Times editorial says the distinction between Al Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban is artificial.
    Pakistan’s official position in the past has been at pains to describe “three distinct entities” in Pakistan in the shape of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. It was said in the past that no Afghan Taliban had ever been kept under official protection in Pakistan and that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, was spreading disinformation when he accused Pakistan of sheltering them in Balochistan. On the other hand, Pakistan admitted responsibility for the Pakistani Taliban and said it was doing everything possible to prevent their infiltrations into Afghanistan. About Al Qaeda, the accepted wisdom was that its leaders Osama bin Laden and Al Zawahiri were located somewhere on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a “notional” rather than a factual point of view.
    The official policy, therefore, has been to “talk” to the local Taliban and arrange “peace deals” with them, while having nothing to do with the Afghan Taliban whose leader Mullah Umar may or may not be in Pakistan, just like the Al Qaeda leaders. The war Pakistan was waging therefore was against Al Qaeda and the foreign Taliban and not the local Taliban who could apparently be made to mend their ways. The civil society slogan aimed against former President Pervez Musharraf was that Pakistan was fighting “its own people” in the Tribal Areas and that this was really America’s war that Pakistan was fighting on its behalf. State institutions also participated in this debate through retired intelligence officers who mostly spoke against the policy of fighting America’s war against the Pashtun people.
    Mr Rehman Malik has thankfully rejected all that self-serving nonsense. The clubbing together of the two kinds of Taliban and their patron Al Qaeda, as we have long advocated in these columns, is a correct final conclusion although it is likely to be opposed by the usual suspects in the media and many angry ex-servicemen and civil society types.
    That fact is that a dozen authoritative books on the subject have confirmed the presence of the “troika” of terrorism that is working in lockstep in Pakistan. This rephrasing of the problem that Pakistan is facing puts forward a realistic diagnosis of the problem of terrorism while putting the government and army on notice to formulate an effective strategy to confront the three-in-one challenge.
    The policy of “trifurcating” the problem of terrorism has not worked. In fact it has put the diagnosis of the problem back to front; and the nation at large has swallowed the line that action against Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007 was an “act of savagery against innocent people”. The truth is that Lal Masjid has always figured in the official statements of the Al Qaeda leadership and the Taliban followed the order of battle that these represented to them as obedient soldiers. The “trifurcation” also forced Pakistan to involve India more in the internal disorder of Pakistan than warranted, and thus gave Al Qaeda a free run. The local Taliban leaders, all “alumni” of Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan under the Taliban, unleashed a reign of terror in the Tribal Areas to convert the local population into servitude of Al Qaeda. Economic blandishments were not long in coming: Al Qaeda pays more to its Taliban recruits than the government does to its paramilitary recruits!

  17. Arun says:

    ‘Pakistan kay do shaitan: fauj aur uskay Taliban’ (‘Pakistan’s two demons: the army and its Taliban’).
    – quoted by columnist Irfan Husain, in The Dawn.
    “Following a perverse security agenda is one thing, not knowing or understanding its effects another. The fact is Pakistan isn’t the world’s most dangerous place because of rampant militancy. It is the world’s most dangerous place because it doesn’t know what to do about it.”
    Cyril Almeida in The Dawn.

  18. Arun says:

    Ardeshir Cowasjee in the Dawn:
    “Footnote: Karachi is already feeling the Taliban pinch. Co- educational schools in Defence, Clifton and Saddar areas are known to have received visits and been threatened if they do not change, others have been sent letters with the same message.”

  19. Arun says: article
    “…why is there no major outpouring of anger and outrage against the numerous
    suicide attacks in Pakistan these past couple of years (the Interior Ministry only recently reported that terrorist attacks in Pakistan were now averaging about five per week)? Obscure Swedish cartoons that are deemed blasphemous never fail to arouse our passions, but the death of thousands of our countrymen and the public flogging of our women fails to stir us to action…..
    ….Pro-Islamist, anti-Western, and anti-Indian sentiment is hardwired into Pakistanis – this includes even most liberals who are willing to argue with the Islamists on their terms rather than rejecting their message outright. Interestingly, public discourse regarding the recent public flogging of a teenage woman in Swat dealt largely with the applicability and validity of the punishment rather than an outright rejection of the punishment irrespective of the circumstances. This only goes to show how much ground has been ceded to the religious right in Pakistan. This indoctrinated and religiously conservative population fails to be outraged by excesses, which in any other civilized society would lead to mass protests. It explains the muted response to numerous suicide attacks which have killed over a thousand Pakistanis in the past year. On the other hand thousands will “revel” in violent street protests against American drone attacks or cartoons published in an obscure newspaper in an obscure country.”

  20. Arun says:

    You’re probably getting bored of this, but the first editorial here is worth reading. Here
    As per the Pakistani establishment, Baitullah Mehsud, whose Taliban are the targets of American drones, is in the pay of the US and India.

  21. Arun says:

    Dawn News Item Taliban say Osama is welcome in Swat.

  22. Arun says:

    This blog post will tell you who the enemy really is, if you read it closely enough.
    But it’s not just pronunciation that’s changing. Words are changing and being replaced too. The best example is how the Urdu phrase, “Khuda hafez” (God be with you), has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” They both mean the same thing, but thanks to the growing influence of Salafi movements among Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, the use of “Khuda hafez” became gunah (sinful). “Khuda” comes from the Persian word for God (pronounced “Khoda” in Farsi), but since Arabic is taught to be the “Muslim language,” it has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” I remember, on one of my trips to Pakistan, I heard some of my relatives say, “don’t say ‘Khuda hafez,’ it’s gunah! Say ‘Allah hafez.’” As Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy elaborates:
    Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “Khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “Allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.
    And of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Allah hafez.” I say it now and then, but why are we labeling “Khuda hafez” sinful? Is one “more Islamic” than the other? Have Muslims forgotten that God teaches logic and reason? Does it make any sense that God can only understand Arabic?
    End quote.
    The real enemy is the Pakistani war with their identity. Now that they are inching closer to having it extirpated in a Taliban bloodbath, some like the author above are realizing it. Some realized it all through, but those voices are few.

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