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Kashmir and the Afghan withdrawal

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By Abdul Majid Zargar

In-spite of a massive force build-up and despite adoption of ” Shock & awe” theory and thousands of Drone attacks backed up by latest technology, a defeat stares in the face of America in Afghanistan. Its troop withdrawal plan by the end of 2014 is an organized retreat, if not a total surrender.

And this defeat has not made appearance out of thin air. Washington has known for years that it had no hope of destroying the Taliban, and that it would have to settle for compromise and a political solution with an indigenous insurgency that remains sufficiently popular to have survived the longest U.S. military occupation in history. It was also predicted by think tanks & defense experts alike long ago. A 2010 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), report on Afghanistan predicted:”We have not yet achieved any meaningful form of positive strategic result from over nine years of war in Afghanistan and the conflict may end in a major grand strategic defeat.” Before dying, Richard Holbrooke admitted it, saying “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” His signal was clear & unambiguous .It is another thing that Washington Post reinterpreted it, saying:”Holbrooke’s death is the latest complication in an effort plagued by unreliable partners, reluctant allies and an increasingly skeptical American public.”In 2012, a New York Times editorial wrote that the U.S. military has had to give up on hopes of inflicting enough pain on the Taliban to set favorable terms for a political settlement. Instead, it will be left up to the Afghan combatants to find their own political solution once the U.S. and its allies take themselves out of the fight.

War has its own vocabulary & dictionary. While its start heralds a destruction, its ends sprouts a hope. Hope not only for people who have been direct victims of war but also for region as a whole. It also emits signals which are taken as precedents for adoption by parties- to- conflict in a near or distant land. And America’s imminent defeat in Afghanistan is already emitting powerful signals that only a Gun can be answer to enforce a decision or solution, how-so-ever powerful the other party might be. It has rekindled a new hope among those propagating armed struggle in Kashmir as the only viable way to solve the long festering problem of Kashmir.

Kashmir is a geopolitical Gordian knot, interwoven by Indian and Pakistani intransigence .The real reason for the Indian State’s obsession with Kashmir is that ‘losing Kashmir’ (whatever that means) will make the Indian state look ‘weak’. For Pakistan the misconception is that Kashmir is its jugular vein ( again whatever that means). Both these narratives are devoid of genuine aspirations of people of J&K. Even after acquiring huge stockpile of nuclear arms both countries are distrustful & fearful of each other.

Kashmir is the longest standing dispute recognized by United Nations & International community. It is the highest militarized zone on earth and according to a fresh entry in the Guinness book of world records, nearly a million of soldiers are continuously staring at each other in a territory which is flanked by three nuclear armed countries. And supposedly the professional armies of both the countries have ceded space to communal & extremist elements within their ranks.

It is a drain on the hopes for prosperity, peace and freedom for people throughout the subcontinent, and the world. There is no moving toward peaceful coexistence between the two countries, no stabilization of the region, no possibility for global nuclear disarmament. This conflict has made a vast majority of population hostages in their own land and a tiny minority refugees in their own State. This conflict of last sixty years has brought so much of death & destruction to countless families that another sixty six years will be insufficient to heal their wounds. One fails to understand What exactly is their fault? Is it that they were born on the wrong side of the globe?

Let India & Pakistan start negotiations not out of fear but let they also not fear to negotiate. And before the signals emanating out of Afghanistan are translated into action by extreme elements, which only means further death & destruction, let those be pre-empted by both Countries finding a lasting solution to the problem by taking genuine representatives of Jammu &Kashmir on board and sooner this happens, the better it is.

Author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Email:

Burning Quran endangers troops, says Petraeus

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Tuesday that an American church’s threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book the Quran could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.

fghans burn an effigy of Dove World Outreach Center’s pastor Terry Jones during a demonstration against the United States in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 6, 2010. Hundreds of Afghans railed against the U.S. and called for President Barack Obama’s death at a rally in the capital Monday to denounce the American church’s plans to burn the Islamic holy book on 9/11.

“Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence,” Gen. David Petraeus said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

His comments followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center – an evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy – to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States that provoked the Afghan war.

Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist that it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.

In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.

At Monday’s protest, several hundred Afghans rallied outside a Kabul mosque, burning American flags and an effigy of Dove World’s pastor and chanting “death to America.” Members of the crowd briefly pelted a passing U.S. military convoy with stones, but were ordered to stop by rally organizers.

Two days earlier, thousands of Indonesian Muslims had rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and in five other cities to protest the church’s plans.

Petraeus warned images of burning Qurans could be used to incite anti-American sentiments similar to the pictures of prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Graib (ah-booh GRABE) prison.

“I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible (Quran) burning. Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” Petraeus said in his message. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.”

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued a statement condemning the church’s plans, saying Washington was “deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups.”

Dove World Outreach Center, which made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that said “Islam is of the Devil,” has been denied a permit to set a bonfire but has vowed to proceed with the burning.

A surge in troop deployments has brought the number of U.S. forces battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan to about 100,000 and Petraeus is asking for 2,000 more soldiers to join the 140,000-strong international force here, NATO officials said Monday. It was unclear how many would be Americans.

Coalition officials said nearly half will be trainers for the rapidly expanding Afghan security forces and will include troops trained to neutralize roadside bombs that have been responsible for about 60 percent of the 2,000 allied deaths in the nearly 9-year war.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to talk about the issue with media, said the NATO-led command had been asking for the troops even before Gen. David Petraeus assumed command here in July.

Petraeus recently renewed that request with the NATO command in Brussels. The alliance has had trouble raising more troops for the war effort, with at least 450 training slots still unfilled after more than a year.

With casualties rising, the war has become deeply unpopular in many of NATO’s 28 member countries, suggesting the additional forces will have to come from the United States. In Europe, polls show the majority of voters consider it an unnecessary drain on finances at a time of sharp cuts in public spending and other austerity measures.

Who Owns General Petraeus?

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Anyone who has ever served in the military would confirm that to become a general in the armed forces of the United States requires highly developed political skills. One must be politically astute to guide large military forces while at the same time answering to largely ignorant constituencies in Congress, the White House, and the media. Many generals tire of the exercise after a certain point and retire to well paid sinecures on the boards of defense contractors. Others stage their own forms of rebellion, speaking the truth and walking the plank as a reward. Admiral William Fallon insisted in 2008 that there would be no war with Iran on his watch. He was forced to retire soon after. More recently, General Stanley McChrystal voiced his displeasure with the White House’s management of the Afghan war to a journalist and likewise was forced into early retirement.

Some generals, however, like the give and take of politics and harbor their own ambitions to hold high office. General Douglas MacArthur challenged President Harry Truman and was spoken of as a possible Republican candidate while General Dwight D. Eisenhower rode his own military fame to the presidency in 1952 and 1956. It is widely believed in the media that the current top general David Petraeus harbors similar ambitions. Eisenhower won the election virtually without campaigning, but Petraeus understands that he must satisfy some key constituencies before he throws his hat in the ring.

The tradition that general officers should provide disinterested advice to policymakers based on their best judgments and the most current available intelligence has long since passed. Modern generals first test the wind before they offer an opinion and then carefully tailor their comments to support the prevailing policy. Petraeus, who is regarded as an intellectual and even somewhat of an iconoclast, is no different. His counterinsurgency strategy, far from a new development, is a replay of similar thinking during the Vietnam war and a repudiation of the Powell Doctrine, which asserted that wars should be in the national interest, with attainable objectives, fought using overwhelming force, and incorporating a clear exit strategy. In short, Petraeus is the architect of the counterinsurgency long war combined with nation building strategy that has been embraced by both Presidents Bush and Obama.

Petraeus’ apparent close relationship with the neoconservatives and the Israel Lobby is a matter of concern, particularly if he does aspire to be president. Some have plausibly identified him as the neocon candidate for 2012 though others note appreciatively that he initiated a long overdue national debate with his Senate testimony in March 2010, observing as he did that the failure to achieve peace in Israel-Palestine has endangered United States soldiers in the region. To be sure, Petraeus quickly did damage control for the statement in the Senate, helping in the orchestration of an article that described him as a friend to Israel who did not view the conflict with the Palestinians as a matter of great concern. In May 2010 Petraeus received the Irving Kristol award from the American Enterprise Institute, indicating clearly that the Israel Lobby and the neocon establishment regard him as a favorite son.

Petraeus’ personal link to the neocons is through Max Boot and the two Kagans, Kimberly and Fred. All three have advised the general and have been cheerleaders for his “surge” policies. Kimberly Kagan has written a book featuring Petraeus entitled The Surge: A Military History. A series of emails to Boot that appears to have been inadvertently revealed to Israel Lobby critic James Morris suggests that Petraeus’ ambitions led him to seek expert advice on how to mend fences with the Jewish community after his Senate testimony faux pas. He asked Boot “Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night? And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome…,” exceptional pandering by a four star general and also a comment that suggests a certain naïveté on the subject. Petraeus even weasel worded about his actual testimony before the Senate, telling Boot “As you know I didn’t say that. It’s in a written submission for the record…” He also collaborated with Boot on the preparation of an article entitled “A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel” that appeared on March 18, 2010, appropriately enough, in Commentary magazine, a publication founded by the American Jewish Committee.

But maybe the neocons should think twice about their captive general. Many who harbor political ambitions rightly fear the power of the Israel Lobby, but fear is a far remove from affection. Many Congressmen held hostage by the Lobby resent it and long for the time when they would be able to support genuine American interests relating to the Middle East. Petraeus surely understands that no one can get nominated by a major party to run for president of the United States if the Israel Lobby and its media supporters say no. If he wants to get elected, he has to watch what he says and bend his knee, but he might not like it just as President Barack Obama clearly did not enjoy the battering he took from the Lobby in the fight for the Democratic nomination. Israel and its friends just might wind up selecting a strong leader with some very definite views that ultimately could lead to Washington distancing itself from Israel in a very decisive fashion. As a war hero with no particular political baggage, he would be a formidable opponent for any foreign Lobby, including that of Israel. And as a former general who has led troops in the field, he might become a president who actually believes the needless waste of his soldiers is unacceptable.

Petraeus’ report to the Senate Armed Services Committee was groundbreaking, a fact that was recognized at the time. It came after a team of staff officers conducted a series of off-the-record meetings with Arab allies in the Middle East in December 2009. All America’s friends emphasized that it had become increasingly difficult to generate popular support for US policies in light of the Israeli repression of the Palestinians. The responses were so alarming that Petraeus arranged a briefing for Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a month later. Mullen also was shocked by the depth of the antipathy towards the United States caused by Israeli policies and the report to the Senate was the result.

It is important to go back to the original statement to the Senate that started the furor about Petraeus’ views. Do not for a second think that the assessment of Israel and Palestine was something that made it into the 56 page Central Command posture statement by accident or because Petraeus did not notice it. The report was prepared by Petraeus’ staff and it is absolutely certain that he read every line of it and endorsed it before he appeared before the Senate committee. The report’s full title is “Statement of General David H. Petraeus, US Army Commander, US Central Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Posture of US Central Command, 16 Mar 2010.” This is what it says:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiments, due to perception of US favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the region and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

Though carefully expressed, there is no ambiguity to the statement and no doubt that it represents General Petraeus’ thinking. It means what it says, basically that Israel’s behavior weakens Arab regimes friendly to the US, makes it impossible to develop popular support for Washington’s programs, and strengthens terrorism. The result is that American soldiers and diplomats in the Middle East and Central Asia are threatened by irresponsible and unsustainable Israeli policies.

This means that the genie is out of the bottle no matter what Max Boot does to try to coax it back in or spin it into meaninglessness. It is also important to bear in mind that the Petraeus’ statement was not an isolated incident, a sign of what might amount to a new awareness in Washington that Israel represents a strategic liability. In March, Joe Biden reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops…” And Admiral Mike Mullen has warned his counterpart General Gabi Ashkenazi that Israeli actions are hurting the US posture throughout the Mideast region.

So who owns General Petraeus? At this point, maybe no one. If he does have political ambitions he is certainly smart enough to know that crossing the neocons and the Lobby would be suicidal as he would be subjected to a devastating media assault. But he is a smart man who understands that the relationship with Israel is a liability. If he were to become president would his better angel come to the fore? We can only hope.

Why we should de-weaponize our vanity

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India’s nuclear doctrine specifies no first use. This means we will not use the bomb unless our enemy first uses it on us

By: Aakar Patel

Who is our atom bomb aimed at? We have only two enemies: China and Pakistan. Our bomb is aimed at them. India’s nuclear doctrine specifies no first use. This means we will not use the bomb unless our enemy first uses it on us. This reveals two things: 1) We have no offensive intention; 2) But we are concerned that China and Pakistan might.

How valid is that concern? Let us look at what these states want from us.

We were defeated by China in a short border war fought in 1962. China is stronger than us, and it controls the land that it wanted before the war. It withdrew from the parts it did not want. The position is to China’s advantage, and it does not need anything from India except for us to formally convert the Line of Actual Control into the border.

Monster: The nuclear warhead-capable Agni-II missile has a range of 2,500km.

Though India’s leaders have known this for 25 years, no government can agree to this. This is because it is difficult to sell Indians a new map of India with bits of Bharat Mata’s anatomy lopped off. The textbook narrative of the war against China is irrational and emotional in India. However, India’s governments have been mature and pragmatic on this matter. Their view has been to accept the defeat and to move on. Conflict is always avoided when the stronger side (China) enforces the status quo, and the weaker side (India) does not attempt to change it.

China’s nuclear doctrine also specifies no first use, and no use against non-nuclear powers. Our atom bomb is useless against China.

What about Pakistan? Pakistanis believe we are in illegitimate possession of Muslim land (Kashmir). India is the stronger power and favours the status quo. The Kashmir solution India wants is to convert the Line of Control into the border. However, despite being militarily defeated by us, and losing half their country, Pakistan’s leaders have not accepted the status quo. This is because Pakistanis will not let them lose focus on Kashmir. Pakistan’s craving to defeat India keeps its army dominant even in periods of democracy. Pakistan is unstable because it keeps trying to compel the stronger power, though it has no capacity to do so. We cannot force it to change this behaviour, because we can no longer defeat Pakistan militarily as we could in 1971. But we must be aware of it.

Also Read: Aakar Patel’s earlier columns

Pakistan has only one enemy, and its atom bomb is aimed at us. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine warns that it could strike India first. This is because it recognizes that the conventional force of India is superior. Therefore Pakistan will use the atom bomb against India if it feels threatened. This has created an umbrella under which it can do mischief, because India is wary of the consequences of war.

India was unable to punish Pakistan after Hafiz Saeed’s boys killed 173 in the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Why? Because the Indian government knows that all military action carries the seed of a potential nuclear exchange.

We have put ourselves in this position. Here’s how. China tested in 1964, and became the fifth power to legally possess atom bombs. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, but Indira Gandhi kept India out of it and went rogue, testing a bomb in 1974, hypocritically calling it a “peaceful nuclear explosion”. Pakistan, which had just been cut in half by India, was compelled to follow under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Pakistan’s programme became capable at some point during the Afghan war in the 1980s, as America looked away. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India admitted that the “peaceful” bit was really a lie, and we weaponized our programme in 1998. Again, Nawaz Sharif was compelled to follow, at great loss to the economy, as capital fled Pakistan.

Two nuclear states should quickly reach a state of non-conflict because of the danger to their populations. But India and Pakistan are special. Months after weaponizing its programme, Pakistan confidently launched war in Kargil. The world was scared, but we went at each other as if nothing had changed.

When George Fernandes was defence minister, he was asked whether Vajpayee’s adventure at Pokhran might not result in atomic exchange with Pakistan. Fernandes accepted that Pakistan might take a couple of Indian cities out, but he was confident that after that they “would be destroyed. Completely destroyed”. Many Indians think nuclear war is like a football game: Pakistan scores two, we hit four, and we “win”. Many Pakistanis also think in this fatalistic way, and they are generals serving in the army.

Introducing atom bombs to the subcontinent has made India weaker, and Pakistan unhinged.

India’s focus after its stupidity at Pokhran has been on the economy. Our concern is how to get back to 9% growth and remain there for 20 years. But Pakistan’s economy is in a death spiral. Its GDP grew 2% last year (its population grew 2.14%). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says India can only prosper if Pakistan is stable. We can wish it, but what can we do to make it happen?

We should de-weaponize the subcontinent. We should give up our atom bomb, and open up all our nuclear sites to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. We should induce Pakistan to do the same, by signing a no-war pact with them. This means we will need to swallow our hurt every time attacks like the one on Parliament and in Mumbai happen. And they will happen because Lashkar-e-Taiba is more powerful than President Asif Ali Zardari’s government. But we can do little about them even now, other than to be vigilant and attempt prevention.

The threat to India is not from such attacks, but from the possibility that an unhinged Pakistan damages us through a nuclear exchange. We should absolutely and totally eliminate that possibility. Under our deal with the US, we have to open up 14 of 22 nuclear plants to the IAEA anyway. We should complete this, and end our military nuclear programme, which is not only useless, as we have seen, but actually damaging. This will also make our nuclear sites, which haven’t been properly inspected in 35 years, safer. Indians have no culture of safety (the slab of Kaiga’s reactor dome fell during construction) and India has the worst rail and road safety record on the planet. There’s no reason to believe that the government runs our nuclear programme any more efficiently than it does the railways. Additional benefits will come from this move. Pakistan’s proliferation will end, and it might be able to refocus on its economy.

India will also save the money we are spending on atom bombs and delivery devices such as fancy missiles and fighter planes. Strategic experts say we can have the bomb without sacrificing benefits, but this isn’t true. The reason hundreds of millions of Indian children will sleep hungry and die illiterate is that the state has no money. But India and Pakistan nurture their nuclear weapons of vanity. Beggars flashing trinkets.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.

Afghan war ‘harder’ than anticipated: CIA chief

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WASHINGTON – The Afghan war is tougher than anticipated, the head of the CIA admitted Sunday, insisting progress was being made despite rising Taliban attacks and the sacking of the top US commander.

A US soldier of the 97th MP Battalion stands in the mobile gun position of a Mine Resistant Armoured …

“There are some serious problems here,” Leon Panetta, installed last year as President Barack Obama’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, told the ABC network’s “This Week” program.

“We’re dealing with a tribal society. We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency.

“We are making progress. It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated.”

Emboldened perhaps by divisions in the US war effort exposed by the sacking this week of Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal, Taliban attacks are on the rise — a fact Panetta did not attempt to hide.

“I think the Taliban obviously is engaged in greater violence right now. They’re doing more on IED’s (improvised explosive devices). They’re going after our troops. There’s no question about that.”

Obama says his strategy will be unaffected by the shock departure of McChrystal, whose remarks to a magazine about top Obama administration figures betrayed the toxic ties between the commander and his civilian counterparts.

Panetta insisted Obama’s surge strategy — to put 150,000 pairs of boots on the ground by the end of August — is the right one.

“That’s a pretty significant force, combined with the Afghans,” he said.

“I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability.

“If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after.”

Asked for signs of progress, Panetta pointed to Marjah — a southern town long under the control of Taliban which 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops stormed in February, driving out the insurgents and local drug traffickers.

“I think that what we’re seeing even in a place like Marjah, where there’s been a lot of attention… agriculture, commerce is moving back to some degree of normality. The violence is down from a year ago.”

There are 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number set to peak at 150,000 by August in the hope of forcing an end to the insurgency by ramping up efforts in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland.

Panetta said the “fundamental goal” of the US mission in Afghanistan was to rid the country of Al-Qaeda.

“Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al-Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al-Qaeda,” he said.

“That’s really the measure of success for the United States. Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that Al-Qaeda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country.”