Helene Cooper’s Article About USA-Pakistan – Emblematic of America’s Blinders in Af-Pak?

A couple of years ago, we saw a history textbook in the hands of a teenager in a New York City subway. He let us look through his book. To our surprise, we saw a detailed multi-page description of the Maurya Empire from Chandra-Gupt Maurya to the Great Ashok, one of the greatest emperors in history.

We were reminded of this when we read Helene Cooper’s article in the New York Times about Afghanistan. Near the end of this article, Ms. Cooper wrote “Of course, Alexander the Great managed to conquer the Gordian knot. But we shall leave musings of how well he did in Afghanistan for a later article.”

Had Helene Cooper read the NYC high school text book that we saw in the subway, she would not have made such a ridiculous statement. Alexander’s campaign in the Indus Valley was as successful and memorable as Napoleon’s campaign in Russia. As Alexander was moving through the Indus valley, Chandra-Gupt (or Sandro-Cotus as Greeks called him) was establishing the Maurya Empire at that time. After consolidating his rule in Northeastern India, Chandra-Gupt marched to the Indus valley, defeated Selecus and established Mauryan rule all the way to Persia. His grandson, the Great Ashok, expanded the empire and spread Buddhism from the boundaries of Persia to the far corners of South East Asia. 

Today’s Afghanistan became Buddhist and a couple of hundred years later, today’s Peshawar became the seat of the great Buddhist empire of Kanishka. The Kanishka empire included Kashmir, Tibet, Afghanistan and all of today’s Pakistan. Helene Cooper would not dream of bringing up the influence of Buddhism or Kanishka in discussing today’s Afghanistan. But she has no difficulty in somehow creating a reference to Alexander.

Don’t get us wrong. We actually like Helene Cooper and think she is much better than the majority of her journalistic colleagues about Afghanistan. And she may not be wholly to blame for her comments. Her writing demonstrates our basic point that American Journalists are uneducated and therefore ignorant about non-European history. Our tenet is that lack of education leads to ignorance and racism is just one short step away from ignorance. Here you have the tacit racism of Helene Cooper who blithely writes about European Alexander and ignores the last 2,200 plus years of history of today’s Afghanistan.

As a practical matter, when American Journalists think about other countries, it is natural for them in their insularity to fall back on the colonial European point of view. This is exactly what American Journalists did during the Vietnam War. The entire American Establishment bought the French colonial point of view, hook, line and sinker. This is why America got on the wrong side of history in Vietnam right from the start.

In Af-Pak, American Journalists have fallen into the same trap. Reporters like Helene Cooper have bought into the Colonial British point of view, hook, line and sinker. Their thinking revolves entirely around the entity called Pakistan rather than the people who are at the core of the Afghan war, the Pakhtuns or Pashtuns. She does not pause to examine the fact that since its artificial creation in 1947, the entity called Pakistan has wandered from one crisis to another in trying to assert Panjabi dominance over the three other ethnic groups that were forced to into the entity.

The British created this entity called Pakistan to ensure India does not dominate the Indian Subcontinent. America followed the British framework and spent the past 60 plus years in supporting Pakistan’s blind, self-destructive hatred of India. What America got in exchange was September 11, 2001 and a nine year stupid, expensive and utterly ineffective conflict.

In this framework, Helene Cooper raises the point that Pakistan may call itself an Ally of America but its goals are very different. Her article is better than most we have read but we got to ask, Where were you for all these years, Ms. Cooper? Any child in Pashtunistan would have told you years ago what you wrote this week.

We think Helene Cooper was actually trying to write a balanced article that questions Pakistan’s true intentions. That is why she spent a good part of her article on the Haqqani network and how Pakistan’s support of the Haqqani network is in stark conflict with America’s war with that network. Then she got to the crux of the problem ” When it comes to Afghanistan, America and Pakistan have very different national security interests:

  • President Obama defines American national security interests in South Asia as revolving around the need to prevent the region from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States and American allies.
  • But, Pakistan, for its part, defines its national security interests as revolving around India, its nemesis in a tangle of disputes that have proven intractable for six decades. Every step that the Pakistani government takes is seen through that prism.”

All very true but why did it take Ms. Cooper nine years to come to this trivially simple conclusion? The entity called Pakistan was created artificially by breaking away 4 different ethnic groups out of India on the pretext of a homeland for Muslims of India. The fact that more Muslims remained in India than lived in the breakaway entity was conveniently forgotten.

The reality is that if the Panjabi rulers of the entity called Pakistan ever make peace with India, there would be no reason for Pakistan’s existence. For the Panjabi-Pakistani Military, the conflict with India has to go on whether it is financed by American money or Chinese military support. The fact that the people living in Pakistan are mired in hopeless misery, the fact that religious violence is escalating through all the provinces and the fact that the entity is close to utter breakdown is completely insignificant to the Panjabi-Pakistani Military.

They know that America is critically dependent on them both for continuing the war and for a figleaf that could cover the American exit from Afghanistan. So they are trying to do everything they can to put their terrorist cronies in power in Afghanistan to continue their fight.   

The situation in Pakistan is so bad that one Pakistani Journalist asked in an interview on Indian Television “What will India do when 5 million Pakistanis come knocking on your border begging to be let into India?”

Well, Pakistani Journalists know this but unfortunately, American Journalists like Helene Cooper don’t. That may be because she seeks out sources like Christine Fair and Shuja Nawaz. Fair seems to be an acknowledged supporter of Pakistani Military and asking Shuja Nawaz is like asking an appointee of Hugo Chavez to opine on USA’s role in Latin America.

Faced with this dilemma, Helene Cooper wonders about Alexander! We have a simple suggestion for Ms. Cooper. Rather than going back 2,300 years, she should go back 117 years and look at the 1893 Durand Treaty that partitioned Afghanistan. The simplest solution to Afghanistan is to unite the two parts of Afghanistan. The real neighbors of Afghanistan, India, Iran and Russia, would all support such a united Afghanistan and it would be a great monument to America’s core values as well as a real victory.

But this requires learning Afghan history. Would her European insularity allow Helene Cooper stoop to that level? If she does, she might help America get on the right side of history in Afghanistan .

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