Category Archives: South Asia

More evidence of Afghan civil war

A police commander from Bala Boluk District in Farah Province has defected to the Taliban; taking with him twelve police officers and a cache of arms. Authorities say he also poisoned seven other police officers for refusing to defect. There have been countless police and military personal who have attacked the Afghan state in the past couple years. Those in question though we’re already members of the Taliban. This incident on the other hand is the first recorded instance of someone within the Afghan government defecting to the Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan. A civil war in Afghanistan will come to fruition when ISAF forces leave the country. More and more defections will take place, and many lives will be lost.

Just to clarify, Afghan security is not improving

The recent attack yesterday on the Afghan resort in Qaragha lake is yet another blow the American narrative that Afghan forces are ready to take over.  With ISAF leaving in two years time, a massive propaganda effort has been under way to show Afghan forces as competent and reliable.  Nearly all ISAF press releases laud the Afghan military as the strongest institution in the country.  Yet it was the Norwegian special forces who were responsible for the leading the operation that finally put an end to the bloodshed  at the lake resort.  As reported in McClatchy “reporters at the scene observed Norwegian special forces – trainers for the Crisis Response Unit, Afghan police commandos who supposedly had the lead in the operation – raiding the restaurant where the attackers were holed up, helping to bring an end to the fighting.”  In General John Allen’s press statement on the operation he noted that ISAF support was minimal.  This differed from the McClatchy reporters who “observed the Norwegian forces quietly removing from the scene rocket-launcher tubes that are used by NATO forces, not Afghans, a further sign that the international troops were heavily involved in the operation.”  Even if we were led to believe that the Afghan armed forces were improving the same can be said of the Taliban.  Taliban fighters time and again have shown that they can easily take hold of and maintain sieges of large buildings.

The other half to ISAF’s propaganda war against the Taliban revolves around portraying Afghanistan’s security as improving.   In the past five days at least 24 people have been killed in several different Taliban attacks.  The Afghan public by and large believes that security has deteriorated, and have little faith in an army they view as corrupt, illiterate, and incompetent.  The Taliban are by no means on the run.  So far their summer fighting season has proved to be going splendidly.

Where’s the outrage?

After Staff Sgt. Bales murdered several civilians earlier this year the news media was a stir trying to explain the lack of outrage by the Afghan public. NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed an NPR correspondent in Kabul who presented the simplistic view that Afghan’s had simply gotten used to the violence. Many American commentators were perplexed by the muted response of average Afghans towards the reprehensible violence. A narrative began to develop here in the US that Afghans were cold and detached; no longer capable of empathy after years of endless war.
Well it seems as if the same can be said of the American public when it comes to gruesome images of soldiers desecrating bodies. This was the case with video footage of American soldiers urinating on dead Taliban fighters, soldiers committing human rights violations in Abu Graib, or the recent photos published by the LA Times. Where is the outrage over any of this? At best most Americans wrote off these incidents as a few bad apples. The actual photos though are not the real problem. Neither is the lack of anger that American soldiers, held in such high regard here in the US, are capable of doing this. Outrage should stem from the fact that war destroys human morality. To be a good soldier one has to view his enemy as less than human. NATO forces in Afghanistan are actively employing this view when it comes to fighting insurgents. Sec. Pannetta was certainly right when he remarked that war is awful and breeds this sort of behavior. This destruction of humanity should be neither accepted not excused. Instead it should trouble us immensely. Americans who simply shrug this off as a result of war are more heinous than the soldiers who commit these vicious acts. They grant cover to our elites to continue the cataclysmic interventionist foreign policy that has gained traction since 9/11.
The outrage should be directed towards our disgusting comfort with war, rather than soldiers doing what soldiers do under the most extreme and dehumanizing circumstances.

Only Americans have PTSD

The lawyer defending Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, John Henry Brown, is quoted by the AP today as saying that Bales suffered from “tremendous depression.”  This “tremendous depression” argument will eventually lead to PTSD as the root cause of why Staff Sgt. Bales murdered, and then set alight, seventeen Afghan civilians.  Clearly Bales was not playing with a full deck when he carried out his massacre.  His several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple injuries, history of financial problems, as well as marital and alcohol abuse played a hand in what transpired.  But, what about the people of Afghanistan?  Are they incapable of suffering mentally from the horrors of war?

From many Afghans civilians life has consisted of endless war and conflict.  Yet anytime that an Afghan kills an American, we here in the U.S. write them off as coherent logical thinking people.  No time is spent trying to determine if the individual in question is perhaps suffering from PTSD or other combat related stresses.  Rather, they are deemed violent Muslims who hate Americans and their values.  There is no way that their brother or sister may have been murdered in a U.S. airstrike; or that they may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury brought about by an IED.  Brown is using the laughable defense that the lose of part of Bales foot somehow contributed to his mental collapse.  If losing a body part were a prerequisite for war crimes, than the thousands of maimed and crippled Afghans across the country should be free to use that defense.

I don’t doubt that Staff Sgt. Bales suffered from the trauma of war, or that his trauma contributed to his heinous acts.  I take issue with the disgusting nature with which this incident has been portrayed, and the way with which PTSD (only applicable to Americans) has been used as the scapegoat time and time again.  It is deplorable that the American public seems to think this somehow excuses the murder of nine children, and eight adults.  In order to make ourselves feel better, and differentiate, moral freedom loving Americans, from violent freedom hating Muslims, we use PTSD to absolve ourselves from the horror of our war in Afghanistan.  The most lamentable aspect is that no Afghan, and more broadly no Muslim, will ever be allowed to use PTSD as an excuse.

The next time an Afghan kills an American solider perhaps we should inquire if this Afghan has suffered from prolonged exposure to war; suffered from substance abuse problems; fought with his spouse; and was the victim of a traumatic brain injury.

Balochistan: Pakistan’s other war

Great documentary by Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief on Balochistan and their fight for autonomy from Pakistan.   An amazing look at the most misunderstood province in one of the most misunderstood countries.  Make sure to pay close attention to the section dealing with the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the powerful tribal leader in Balochistan.  President Musharraf has been toying with the idea of returning to Pakistan and contesting elections, but could very well be tried again for his alleged role in ordering the killing.  It also has a really great soundtrack.

This is what war looks like

After my last post regarding the video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters I got to thinking about the reality of what that means. This is a war plain and simple. In a war really awful things are done by both sides. Rage and shock at these images, while justified, has more to do with Americans being so far removed from this decade long conflict in South Asia. We see so few real images of the war as it is, the few we do see make our skin crawl. But this misses the larger issue of how atrocious war is. This nation is so quick to send young men to go and fight their battles; yet lack the complexity to comprehend the magnitude of what we ask of them. I am not attempting to defend what these Marines have done, merely trying to explain why they might have what thy did. Soldiers, and Marines in particular, are killing machines. Their job description is to liquidate the enemy with extreme prejudice. In order to better kill your enemy you must view them as subhuman. Looking at the Taliban as less than human can be the difference between living or dying in Afghanistan.
This has of course been largely forgotten in the age of humanitarian intervention. All of those who are up in arms about the Marines urinating seem to miss the more sinister action here. These young men have killed a bunch of other young men. War is the legalization of murder. Of course the Marines are going to laugh at their “kills”, perhaps even urinate or desecrate their bodies. It may be the only thing that keeps them from turning their guns on themselves. For many of these young men the past ten years have been an endless cycle of violence. What do we really expect from them?
Even more abhorrent is that this intense psychological destruction seems to be lost by those in high office. Defense Secretary Panetta called the acts “deplorable”, while General Martin Dempsey said the actions were illegal. As if there are instances when acts of war are not deplorable or illegal. Young men who know nothing else aside from fighting and watching their friends die are mentally pushed to the limit. For Secretary Panetta to think that these are just a few bad apples is disgustingly naive at best. War looks like this. The sooner we stop thinking that somehow we are better than who we are fighting the better. Then and only then will we see that war is so horrific that it should truly never be used as a way of solving our problems.

To use an example from popular culture lets turn to one of my favorite shows The West Wing. In one episode Leo McGarry is persuaded by an Air Force General to drop a piece of war crimes legislation he is working on. Leo, being in favor of human rights, can not understand why. The General then reveals that while Leo was on a mission in Vietnam he accidentally bombed an village full of women and children, under the impression it was a Vietcong base. Horrified he asks why the General told him this. With a simple response the General tells him “All wars are crimes.”
There are no good parts war. There are no rules to how war is conducted. We can try and define what is ok and not ok, but this misses out on the fundamental enormity of the havoc that war brings to all people.

Marines urinate on Taliban fighters

Amid growing reports of possible negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, a video reminiscent of the Abu Grahib prison scandal has emerged. The video, showing Marines urinating on fighters and laughing, is pretty self explanatory. Former Taliban ambassador, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who has acted as a spokesman for the group, has expressed his outrage over the video. He was also quick to point out that this was not an isolated incident. Der Spiegel recently exposed a group of soldiers operating a veritable death squad in Afghanistan.

The effect this will have right now on negotiations will most likely be a negative one. Images like this are a media coup for a group such as the Taliban. It is easy to see why; it is pretty abhorrent behavior. Many in the armed services will defend, or rather excuse these actions, as a manifestation of the horrors of war. That probably is the case. But during a time when the notion of “American exceptionalism” is bandied about constantly, it is hard to defend when viewing images such as these. For those who will defend it by saying “who cares their Taliban” are perhaps the most despicable. If a similar video of Taliban fighters emerged, members of Congress would be demanding that the ICC issues arrest warrants for war crimes.

Conversely, hearing the Taliban decry the video and the actions of the Marines in laughable. For a group with arguably one of the worst human rights records to cry foul is hypocritical at best.

The biggest loser in this new scandal will be neither the Taliban or NATO forces, but instead the Afghan people. Inevitably they will be the ones caught between the cross fire that will ensue over the video. Even for those who loath the Taliban still view those fighters as Afghan’s whose bodies should be treated with respect. The often simplistic phrase “this is why they hate us” comes to mind.

Al Qaeda vs. Afghan Taliban vs. Pakistan Taliban???

A Reuters exclusive  reports that Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban are engaged in talks to figure out the direction of the militant movement.  They have also reported that there is a tremendous amount of the infighting within the TTP (Pakistan Taliban).  Reuters reports that long standing feud between the head of the TTP  Hakimullah Mehsud, and his deputy, Wali-ur-Rehman,  have now reached fever pitch. They cite sources as saying that Rehman has ordered militant fighters to assassinate  Meshud.  While Meshud claims that Rehman has received money from the Indian government.

This all come amid reports that “secret” talks with the TTP and the Pakistan security agencies.  The talks are supposedly reaching a crucial stage.

Memogate Probe

The memogate scandal in Pakistan enters into another phase with the Parliamentary Committee on National Security investigating what really happened.  The ISI chief Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha and former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani have been called to testify.  The panel has also called for business man Mansoor Ijaz to come and answer questions.  Ijaz has been at the center of the whole affair. He has stated that he was the individual who delivered the message to the United States.  Memogate has helped plunge Pakistani American relations to an all time low,  galvanized the ever growing opposition to the PPP , and further increased tensions between the civilian government and the military.

Some progress towards peace

The Taliban will open up a political office in Qatar.  This is the first step in the long process of negotiating an end to fighting in Afghanistan.  The Taliban will now have a place from which to negotiate with out the fear of being arrested or assassinated by NATO or the Afghans.  This will also cut down on imposters posing as Taliban negotiators.  Imposters have infiltrated high level secret talks with the Americans in recent years.  It seems as if the Unites States has finally woke up to the fact that the Taliban does not pose a threat to their national security.  In exchange for the office in Qatar the Taliban has asked for the release of several detainees in Guantanamo Bay, as well as recognition from the UN that the Taliban is an opposition group.  So far the U.S. has not confirmed anything substantive about the Taliban’s demands.   Armed conflicts don’t end with fighting though; they end with negotiations.  It may be a hard pill for many to swallow, especially here in the U.S., but this is what peace looks like.  Neither side is going to achieve victory in this war.  We can achieve an end to fighting though, and begin the long process of reconciliation.

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