The Af-Pak Morass
Yesterday, Tuesday 5/22/12, one year after his appointment, US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, announced he was stepping down, ostensibly for "health reasons." The announcement followed Monday's NATO summit in Chicago, where the alliance agreed to relinquish responsibility for Afghan security to that country's military forces by the middle of 2013, in preparation for the coalition's withdrawal of all of its 132,000 combat troops by the end of 2014.
Notwithstanding his own pre-emptive departure, and ongoing "reconciliation" negotiations with (i.e., capitulation to) the Taliban, just last month, Ambassador Crocker emphatically reiterated the need for US troops to remain in the Afghan morass.
To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban and Al Qaeda back in and set the stage for another 9/11 and that, I think, is an unacceptable risk.
Moreover, while Ambassador Crocker is quitting the scene shortly, expensive, de facto US infidel jizya payments to the Sharia-compliant kleptocracy we have helped midwife in Afghanistan, for the so-called "Afghan security forces," are projected to continue well afterwards, even following the complete US withdrawal in 2014.
Funding for Afghan security forces after 2014 could cost $4.1 billion a year, with the United States expected to cover a large portion of the bill.
Crocker was the gung-ho ambassadorial embodiment of US policies in "Af-Pak," crafted by Generals Petraeus and McChrystal in accord with a delusive see-no-Islam counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy. Utterly ignoring the region's continuous, millennial history as a hub of fanatical Islamic jihadism, COIN, and its corollary prohibitive rules of engagement implemented to "win Afghan hearts," devolved into a grotesque "post-modern form of human sacrifice" -- the apt characterization by journalist Diana West. Ryan Crocker shares responsibility for this feckless, morally debased, and failed strategy.
The witless and ethically-challenged avatars of COIN in Afghanistan were profoundly influenced by the concocted, fraudulent narrative of Greg Mortenson's, "Three Cups of Tea," which became, as MSNBC crowed (in December, 2009), "..required reading for U.S. commanders and troops deploying to Afghanistan,", while Mortenson himself emerged as "a valued but unofficial adviser to the Pentagon." In July 2010, the NY Times reported on the extent to which Mortenson's fraud was willfully imbibed by US military leadership shaping Af-Pak policies:
[Christopher] Kolenda [by 2010, a lead adviser at the Kabul headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force] was among the first in the military to reach out to Mortenson, and by June 2008 the Central Asia Institute had built a school near Kolenda's base. By the summer of 2009, Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with Kolenda, village elders and at times Obama's new commander, McChrystal. (By then at least two more military wives - Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus - had told their husbands to read "Three Cups of Tea.") As Kolenda tells it, Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, were the U.S. high command's primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the "Kabul bubble."
Mortenson's accepted "thesis" -- which sadly was never rejected even after he was discredited -- boiled down to this counterfactual platitude, extended and applied to Af-Pak (p. 268):
The only way we can defeat terrorism is if people in this country (Pakistan) where terrorists exist learn to respect and love Americans, and if we can respect and love these people here.
Would that US military and diplomatic policymaking elites rather than gullibly accepting Mortenson's mendacious drivel, had instead studied the evocative and brilliant eyewitness journalistic accounts of the then 23 year old Winston Churchill.
During 1897, Churchill was a journalist attached for some six weeks to the Malakand Field Force in the Swat Valley (now an area of Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border) as Britain fought rebellious Pashtun (or "Pathan") Muslim tribesmen in the region -- then the northwest frontier of British India. Churchill's dispatches for The Daily Telegraph were subsequently edited lightly and incorporated into his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War (1898).
Churchill's observations remain as edifying today as they were more than a century ago. Although completely unapologetic and duly proud of his Western heritage, Churchill's accounts were not without sympathy for the Pashtuns, or self-critical assessment of British policies, and more broadly, the tumultuous legacy of the Christian West. But Churchill understood with great clarity the threat posed by jihadism, referring specifically to the inciting contemporaneous publication of a book on "Jehad," and the exploits of "Mad Mullahs" such as Mullahs Powindah and Adda -- late 19th century equivalents of the Taliban's Mullah Omar -- who,
...preached a crusade, here called Jehad, against the infidel (p. 29)
They [the Pashtuns], when they fight among themselves, bear little malice, and the combatants not infrequently make friends over the corpses of their comrades or suspend operations for a festival or a horse race. At the end of the contest cordial relations are at once re-established. And yet so full of contradictions is their character, that all this is without prejudice to what has been written of their family vendettas and private blood feuds. Their system of ethics, which regards treachery and violence as virtues rather than vices, has produced a code of honour so strange and inconsistent, that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind. I have been told that if a white man could grasp it fully, and were to understand their mental impulses -- if he knew, when it was their honour to stand by him, and when it was their honour to betray him; when they were bound to protect and when to kill him--he might, by judging his times and opportunities, pass safely from one end of the mountains to the other. But a civilised European is as little able to accomplish this, as to appreciate the feelings of those strange creatures, which, when a drop of water is examined under a microscope, are revealed amiably gobbling each other up, and being themselves complacently devoured. [from, CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR]
... Truth is unknown among them. A single typical incident displays the standpoint from which they regard an oath. In any dispute about a field boundary, it is customary for both claimants to walk round the boundary he claims, with a Koran in his hand, swearing that all the time he is walking on his own land. To meet the difficulty of a false oath, while he is walking over his neighbor's land, he puts a little dust from his own field into his shoes. As both sides are acquainted with the trick, the dismal farce of swearing is usually soon abandoned, in favor of an appeal to force. [from, CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR]
All are held in the grip of miserable superstition. The power of the ziarat, or sacred tomb, is wonderful. Sick children are carried on the backs of buffaloes, sometimes sixty or seventy miles, to be deposited in front of such a shrine, after which they are carried back -- if they survive the journey -- in the same way. It is painful even to think of what the wretched child suffers in being thus jolted over the cattle tracks. But the tribesmen consider the treatment much more efficacious than any infidel prescription. To go to a ziarat and put a stick in the ground is sufficient to ensure the fulfillment of a wish. To sit swinging a stone or coloured glass ball, suspended by a string from a tree, and tied there by some fakir, is a sure method of securing a fine male heir. To make a cow give good milk, a little should be plastered on some favorite stone near the tomb of a holy man. These are but a few instances; but they may suffice to reveal a state of mental development at which civilisation hardly knows whether to laugh or weep. [from, CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR]
Their superstition exposes them to the rapacity and tyranny of a numerous priesthood - "Mullahs," "Sahibzadas," "Akhundzadas," "Fakirs" -- and a host of wandering Talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey, and live free at the expense of the people. More than this, they enjoy a sort of "droit du seigneur," [i.e., the alleged legal right allowing the lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters] and no man's wife or daughter is safe from them. Of some of their manners and morals it is impossible to write. As Macaulay has said of Wycherley's plays, "they are protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters." They are "safe, because they are too filthy to handle, and too noisome even to approach." [from, CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR]
Yet the life even of these barbarous people is not without moments when the lover of the picturesque might sympathise with their hopes and fears. In the cool of the evening, when the sun has sunk behind the mountains of Afghanistan, and the valleys are filled with a delicious twilight, the elders of the village lead the way to the chenar trees by the water's side, and there, while the men are cleaning their rifles, or smoking their hookas, and the women are making rude ornaments from beads, and cloves, and nuts, the Mullah drones the evening prayer. Few white men have seen, and returned to tell the tale. But we may imagine the conversation passing from the prices of arms and cattle, the prospects of the harvest, or the village gossip, to the great Power, that lies to the southward, and comes nearer year by year. Perhaps some former Sepoy, of Beluchis or Pathans, will recount his adventures in the bazaars of Peshawar, or tell of the white officers he has followed and fought for in the past. He will speak of their careless bravery and their strange sports; of the far-reaching power of the Government, that never forgets to send his pension regularly as the months pass by; and he may even predict to the listening circle the day when their valleys will be involved in the comprehensive grasp of that great machine, and judges, collectors and commissioners shall ride to sessions at Ambeyla, or value the land tax on the soil of Nawagai. Then the Mullah will raise his voice and remind them of other days when the sons of the prophet drove the infidel from the plains of India, and ruled at Delhi, as wide an Empire as the Kafir holds to-day: when the true religion strode proudly through the earth and scorned to lie hidden and neglected among the hills: when mighty princes ruled in Bagdad, and all men knew that there was one God, and Mahomet was His prophet. And the young men hearing these things will grip their Martinis, and pray to Allah, that one day He will bring some Sahib -- best prize of all -- across their line of sight at seven hundred yards so that, at least, they may strike a blow for insulted and threatened Islam...[from, CHAPTER I: THE THEATRE OF WAR]
It is, thank heaven, difficult if not impossible for the modern European to fully appreciate the force which fanaticism exercises among an ignorant, warlike and Oriental population. Several generations have elapsed since the nations of the West have drawn the sword in religious controversy, and the evil memories of the gloomy past have soon faded in the strong, clear light of Rationalism and human sympathy. Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men's passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination. But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness. In a moment the fruits of patient toil, the prospects of material prosperity, the fear of death itself, are flung aside. The more emotional Pathans [Pashtuns] are powerless to resist. All rational considerations are forgotten. Seizing their weapons, they become Ghazis-as dangerous and as sensible as mad dogs: fit only to be treated as such. While the more generous spirits among the tribesmen become convulsed in an ecstasy of religious bloodthirstiness, poorer and more material souls derive additional impulses from the influence of others, the hopes of plunder and the joy of fighting. Thus whole nations are roused to arms. Thus the Turks repel their enemies, the Arabs of the Soudan break the British squares, and the rising on the Indian frontier spreads far and wide. In each case civilisation is confronted with militant Mahommedanism. The forces of progress clash with those of reaction. The religion of blood and war is face to face with that of peace. Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed. [from CHAPTER III: THE OUTBREAK]
Civilization is face to face with militant Mohammedanism. When we reflect on the moral and material forces arrayed, there need be no fear of the ultimate issue, but the longer the policy of half measures is adhered to the more distant the end of the struggle will be. An interference more galling than complete control, a timidity more rash than recklessness, a clemency more cruel than the utmost severity, mark our present dealings...[ November 6, 1897, p. 30]