Kabul-Lahore – Stratfor & Friedman vs. Brookings & Dalrymple – Vision & Reality vs. Myopia & Blinders?

As today’s unquestioned superpower, America’s writ runs large, larger than that of any empire in world history. America is globally predominant in military might, financial hegemony and “soft” or intellectual power. Yet this great power, the greatest in world history, is now admitting its failure to win in Afghanistan against a bunch of lightly armed uneducated mountain fighters. This is a colossal defeat which can only be compared to America’s defeat in Vietnam against a bunch of uneducated jungle fighters. What’s the reason?


1. Root Cause of America’s Failure in Afghanistan & Stratfor’s wisdom

The answer is the theme we have discussed for years:

  • We believe that lack of education breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds cultural racism. This may be the hidden factor behind media’s portrayal of the Afghanistan situation. The French used to look down on the Vietnamese as primitive and unintelligent. The French Generals were proud of being the country of Napoleon and they underestimated Ho Chi Minh. The results are well documented in history. Many American pandits think of the Taleban as primitive. They do not understand English, they live in caves and they seem primitive in their behavior.”

This cultural supremacism is the principal reason for America’s colossal failure in Afghanistan. What are the roots of this cultural supremacism?

  • We have consistently argued that America’s framework for understanding Af-Pak has been a carry forward of the British colonial framework for Afghanistan. We have also pointed out that the entire American Establishment is overwhelmingly European in its education and orientation. This includes American Diplomats, American Military, American Pandits and American Media. Cultural Supremacism is a natural consequence of such intense one-sided education and experience.
  • With their European blinders, the analysts and strategists of the American establishment invariably drew upon the lessons of the two European ventures in Afghanistan, the Soviet experience in 1979 and the British experience in the late 19th century. … Every American decision, we argued, has been derived from the British colonial mindset. Naturally, these decisions have been unsuccessful.

This week, we heard another voice, a deeply respected veteran voice, echo our theme. That voice is of Dr. George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor. In his article titled The Reality of Afghanistan, Dr. Friedman writes:

  • “… this brings us to one of the most serious U.S. failures in Afghanistan: a cultural contempt for the Taliban. As it did in Vietnam, Washington failed to understand that the absence of U.S.-style bureaucracy and technology didn’t mean that the enemy could not identify opportunities or that it lacked the will to take advantage of them.”

Kudos to Dr. Friedman for this admission. But such admissions are absolutely critical to clear one’s vision. So how does Washington now see the Taleban? Dr. Friedman writes:

  • “In many ways, the United States is more comfortable with the Taliban than with the other tribes in the country because secret negotiations have left Washington with a better understanding of the Taliban. But Washington’s main objective is to leave. It would like to do so gracefully, but graceful or not, it’s happening. However, I would argue that the United States believes the Taliban have sufficient coalition partners to wield the most influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan.”
  • “Washington
    understands that the Taliban are the single-most powerful force in
    Afghanistan but also that there are other factions that could block
    them. However, the United States is not prepared to plunge into the
    complexities of Afghan politics
    . Its failures leading up to this moment
    have left it with no confidence in its ability to do so — and with no
    interest in trying
    .”

So what is the reality in Afghanistan according to Dr. Friedman?

  • “The United States is on its way out. In this negotiation, Karzai is a military cripple. The Taliban are weaker than they were but stronger and more coherent than anyone else in the country. And there are other factions. This is the reality in Afghanistan.”

What is likely to come next? Stratfor discussed that in their May 2nd article titled The Coming Afghan-Pakistan Cross-Border Conflict:

  • “There is a consensus that the civil war within Afghanistan will
    intensify. Not enough attention is being paid, however, to a complex
    cross-border conflict
    that has the potential to destabilize not just
    Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well
    .”

2. A Straight Line, not a Triangle

While Stratfor & George Friedman have come a long way, they have not yet come all the way to the root cause of America’s failure in Afghanistan. That root cause America’s inability & refusal to understand that the central reason for the war inside Afghanistan is the reunification of Pashtuns homelands.

Remember the conflict in Vietnam ended when North Vietnam & South Vietnam were reunited. The conflict inside both halves of Afghanistan will end when the Pashtuns of North Afghanistan will unite in a homeland with the Pashtuns in South Afghanistan (the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa region), currently occupied by Panjabis of Lahore & Rawalpindi. 

America failed in both Afghanistan and Vietnam because it got caught on the wrong side of those conflicts, against the people who were fighting for their freedom & for their homelands. The failures in Vietnam and Afghanistan were the direct result of America’s European colonial mindset, inherited from the French in Vietnam and from the British in Afghanistan.

In this context, it is easy to see that the Pashtuns who fought Russians on their soil, who then fought Americans on their soil are NOT going to tolerate Panjabi occupation of their Pashtun soil. So the conflict will continue this time in a straight line between Kabul and Lahore, the two traditional centers of power. There is no triangle involved here. Just the conflict that comes down in a straight line through the Khyber pass to Attock and then on to Lahore. This Pashtun-Panjabi conflict has been waged since 1,000 CE when Mahmoud of Ghazni came down to conquer Panjab. Why would any one think it will stop now?

American military will exit Afghanistan in the near future. But American foreign policy will have to remain engaged in this region for a long time. This too might fail and fail just as badly if American policy remains anchored to its British inheritance. 

The success or failure of American foreign policy will depend on whether it follows the realism and vision of Stratfor or the myopia and colonial blinders of Brookings.

3. British Colonial Mindset & Brookings

This week Brookings published an essay by novelist William Dalrymple titled A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. His claim to understanding Afghanistan is his recent novel about a failed British invasion in Afghanistan in 1839-1842. Dalrymple is essentially a British storyteller who adores the Mughal period in India. He is reputed to be an engaging story teller who weaves facts to fit his narrative.

In the true story telling style, Dalrymple takes 5 sections and 50 pages to put forth 3 points:

  1. “The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan,”
  2. “Mutual antipathy to Pakistan quickly brought India and Afghanistan together as natural allies”,
  3. “The continuation of clashes between India and Pakistan in-and-over Afghanistan after the U.S. Withdrawal is dangerous for all countries in the region and for the world.”

This is just dumb. Doesn’t Dalrymple know the history of the last 33 odd years?

  1. The modern conflict in Afghanistan began with the Russian invasion & occupation of North Afghanistan in 1979. The Pashtuns living in South Afghanistan (occupied & controlled by Rawalpindi) began their fight against the Russians with massive American support.
  2. After the Russians left, the Pashtuns in South Afghanistan created the Taleban in the 1990s with support of the Panjabi army in Rawalpindi and went on to win North Afghanistan.
  3. Then Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda moved in to Afghanistan. They attacked New York City on September 11, 2011. 
  4. America attacked Afghanistan in November 2011 and installed Hamid Karzai as the new President with timely help from Iran.
  5. The Taleban fled back to South Afghanistan and began their war against American forces in North Afghanistan.

The Pashtun Taleban have been fighting Russians & Americans for the past 33 years because of the hostility between India and Pakistan?

Hats off to William Dalrymple for his creativity. His story reminds us of the many stories that are still prevalent in the Indian subcontinent,

  1. that Britain’s Shakespeare was really a Muslim religious man called Sheikh Peer, or
  2. that Alexander of Macedon was really an Iranian Muslim conqueror named Sikandar and, of course,
  3. the tale that is still the rage in the Indian subcontinent –  that the 9/11 attacks on New York were really the work of the American CIA, Israeli Mossad or both.

It seems evident that Dalrymple has totally imbibed the cool-aid that flows through the whispering alleys of the Indian Subcontinent. Now he is selling it to America’s liberal brain trust.

His first sale and most important sale has been to Strobe Talbott, the President of Brookings. 


4. If there is a Triangle, it is Here

The absolute reality is that India will be almost irrelevant in post-America Afghanistan. Having accepted Pakistan’s (& now China’s partial) occupation of Northwestern Kashmir, India is without direct land or air access to landlocked Afghanistan. The only access India may have is via sea to Iran and then up through Iran to Afghanistan, a tortuous access that is useless for any real effort. And India will not go to war against Pakistan to get access to Afghanistan. So it is utterly dumb to talk about an India, Pakistan, Afghanistan triangle after America exits Afghanistan.

But there is another triangle that might come into play. Anyone who knows anything about history knows that Afghanistan has been a buffer state between Iran and old India or today’s Pakistan for at least 2,500 years. Ahmed Shah Abdali, the founder of modern Afghanistan, was a commander in the Persian Army of Nader Shah. After the death of Nader Shah, Abdali broke away to become the chosen leader of the Afghans. He then marched south to Panjab and conquered it.

The history of Afghanistan for the last 1,000 years is largely based in the triangle of Isfahan-Kabul-Lahore, the region of Northeastern Iran, Afghanistan and Panjab. So is there is a triangle, it is now between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Once America exits, Iran is very likely to step into Herat and the northwestern regions of Afghanistan which are primarily non-Pashtun. Russia is already talking about basing troops along the northern border of Tajikistan & Afghanistan, the non-Pashtun area with Tajik & Uzbek inhabitants. This is why Ambassador Blackwill wrote two years ago about a de facto partition of Afghanistan between Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik regions.

This leads to the question below that no one can answer today. Once America leaves, will the Pashtuns, whether Talebani and/or non-Talebani,

  • will seek to gain control over the non-Pashtun areas of North Afghanistan as they did in the 1990s, Or
  • will they prefer to go south to control the Pashtun areas of South Afghanistan, now occupied by the Panjabi army of Pakistan?

This is why the triangle between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan might be the real question rather than a fanciful blurb of a triangle involving India.

5. The Intellectual Spirit & Capability at Brookings

We confess to being disappointed with Strobe Talbott. He has an excellent track record in the Indian Subcontinent, principally because of his work in the Kargil conflict between Indian army and intruding Pakistani Special forces. He is reportedly a good friend of President Clinton, a brilliantly intelligent man.

Despite all this experience, Strobe Talbott fell for the storytelling of William Dalrymple and fell hard. He not only published Dalrymple’s essay on Brookings.edu but tweet-marketed it to everybody he knew including Secretary Hillary Clinton.

This is sad because it demonstrates the weakness of the American establishment – its magnificent obsession with British colonial history and its continuing inability to remove British colonial blinders when looking at Asia.

America’s founding father really understood Britain and put in ample safeguards to prevent their new land from thinking & acting like colonial Britain. Realists like George Friedman of Stratfor are among the few to recognize this. Unfortunately, much of America’s brain trust, especially those who call themselves liberal, cannot resist the lure of reveling in the colonial British mindset.  

Until that changes, American foreign policy in Asia and especially in the Indian Subcontinent will continue to be a failure.

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