Charlie Rose & Tom Friedman – Read Maureen Dowd & Robert Kaplan on the Indo-Afghan Continuum

The Charlie Rose Show calls its host Charlie Rose an “acclaimed interviewer and broadcast journalist who engages America’s best thinkers, writers …in one-one interviews”. To his credit, the Tom Friedman website does not describe him in any grandiose words. But most people would agree that Tom Friedman is generally considered to be one of America’s better thinkers, writers.

In this Blog, we have expressed our view that the vast majority of American Journalists are uneducated about the non-European world and so they tend to get tone deaf among other things. This is neither a pejorative or a diminutive. It is simply factual.

This came home to us again when we watched Charlie Rose and Tom Friedman discuss President Obama’s trip to India.  We refer to the question Mr. Rose asked Mr. Friedman at minute 06:46 of the interview:

  • How does the United States get India to look at Pakistan with a better perspective?
Initially we did not believe our ears and then it was like what else is new.  First our emotional response:

  • Would Charlie Rose ever ask “How do we get America to look at Iran and Ahmadinejad with a better perspective?”
  • Would Charlie Rose ever ask “How do we get America to look at Al-Qaeda with a better perspective?”
Charlie Rose would never dare ask these questions in public even if he wonders so in private. So we ask him,

  • What is the difference between the terrorism of Pakistan against India and the terrorism of Al-Qaeda against America?
Both these entities are artificial and nurtured by semi-nihilistic philosophies. Both these entities spend every living hour planning new terrorist attacks against India & America. Both these entities export their ideology and spread their virus to India, Middle East, Europe and America. Both these regimes have a far worse track record than Ahmadinejad’s Iran.

So why doesn’t Charlie Rose ever ask his own question about America’s perspective towards Al-Qaeda? This was essentially the question a young college student asked President Obama in his town hall meeting in Mumbai. This was a question heard around the world and heads nodded around the world. President Obama understood the impact of the question. He had to quell the response and that is why he spoke so strongly about the terrorist camps inside Pakistan in his speech to India’s parliament.

President Obama understood but it seems neither Charlie Rose nor Tom Friedman understood. Perhaps they feel, like many American liberals, that lives of Indians and so many other nationalities around the world just don’t matter. Perhaps to Charlie Rose and Tom Friedman, only lives of European descent matter. That is the stark message Charlie Rose and Tom Friedman sent to the world in their interview on November 8, 2010. We got it.

Now that the emotional response is behind us, let us look at the question and answer analytically.

First we point to welcoming signs that some in the American media are beginning to get the utter stupidity of American “perspective” in Afghanistan. We speak of Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Read what she wrote in The Great Game Imposter in the New York Times:

  • Though we’re pouring billions into intelligence in Afghanistan, we can’t even tell the difference between a no-name faker and a senior member of the Taliban. The tragedy of Afghanistan has descended into farce.
  • Indeed, sometimes it feels as if the entire region is taking us for a ride. Everybody is lining up for Western cash, treating America, the British and NATO like suckers…..And the Taliban and the Pakistan intelligence service are playing us as well.
  • America is stomping around the moonscape of Afghanistan trying to do the right thing, but we can’t because we’re clueless about the culture to the point where we can be faked out by an imposter masquerading as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a high-level Taliban commander. (emphasis ours).

Maureen Dowd is beginning to get the consequences of the cultural and historical ignorance of the American establishment in Afghanistan. We remind readers that she quoted Ambassador Robert Blackvill in her July 27, 2010 column Lost in a Maze , “He (Blackvill) said that the administration doesn’t appreciate the extent to which this is a Pushtun nationalist uprising.” 

Maureen Dowd is angry but she is not arrogant enough to suggest she has the answers. But then she is not Tom Friedman. Unlike Ms. Dowd, Mr. Friedman has no doubts about his view of his own intelligence. Watch Tom Friedman answer the question by Charlie Rose or read his answer below:

  • Well, you are right Charlie. Talk to any Indian officials, which kind of reminds me of talking to Israelis years ago about Yasser Arafat and the PLO, when they are talking about Pakistan, the Indian Officials – So it is a deep neuralgic relationship, it is centered in the dispute on Jammu & Kashmir and unfortunately India views it as an entirely Indian issue and has therefore never invited or allowed the kind of external mediation we have done in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And what we have been nudging India and what President Obama did on this trip, is to try to take a more forward leaning stance in resolving, finding some kind of resolution on Kashmir with Pakistan in the hopes of relieving some of the Pakistani anxiety so Pakistan won’t look at Afghanistan and wonder about its strategic depth in its next war with India because it is something very harmful to American Foreign Policy  right now or debilitating, the fact that Pakistan is so obsessed with India that it looks at Afghanistan as its necessary rearguard that its got to protect & control, therefore it supports the Taleban, therefore X, Y & Z.
Watch the face of Tom Friedman to see how utterly sure he is of himself. Unfortunately, his words are pure cliches that have bedeviled American Policy for the past 9 years. But we have to hand it to Mr. Friedman. No one else can seem so intellectual while dishing out utter drivel. Sorry readers, the emotion lingers.

Let us look at Friedman’s answer analytically. Osama Bin Laden has always maintained that he only wants American troops out of Muslim lands. He defines Al-Qaeda tactics as legitimate in the struggle against American occupation. So would Tom Friedman ask America to negotiate with Al-Qaeda to withdraw from Saudi Arabia, from Iraq, from the Middle East in general and of course from Afghanistan? Would Tom Friedman suggest external mediation from the UN, Asia, Latin America to get Israel to relieve some Iranian & Al-Qaeda anxiety by relinquishing Jerusalem and a good part of Israel? After all, Israel’s policies have been described as harmful to American Foreign Policy interests. Tom Friedman would never dream of saying so openly. 

We don’t blame Mr. Friedman for his ignorance. We do blame him for his arrogance and his passing off his wholesale adoption of colonial British viewpoints as his own. Our first suggestion is that Tom Friedman should speak to Maureen Dowd and read her articles. He may learn something about the art of thinking straight and making points subtly, deftly.

Our second suggestion is that Tom Friedman should read Robert Kaplan’s monograph South Asia’s Geography of Conflict. Though not perfect, this work that has gone farther than any other work by any European-America writer. In this monograph, Kaplan notes:

  • “Pakistan,” writes George Friedman, the founder of STRATFOR, is the modern-day remnant of Muslim rule over medieval India,”
This was also the point made by a “moderate” scholar in a Pakistani University. This “scholar” told the New York Times that Muslims ruled India before the British and the British should have handed over India to the Muslims when they left. The “scholar” added that the war with India will continue until Muslim rule is reestablished over India. This is not an isolated view. Look at the footage of Muslim riots in India & newly created Pakistan just after the partition of India. The mobs shouted “Hanske liya Pakistan, Ladke lege Hindustan” or “laughingly we took Pakistan, we will take Hindustan with war”.

This is similar to the rage expressed by Iraqi Sunnis when the majority Shias took over power in Iraq. At least that was recent. The Muslim Mughals lost power in the 1730s and since then no Muslim ruler has been in power in India.

The current dispute over Jammu & Kashmir is a fig leaf to cover the deep anger of the Pakistani Muslim Army elite who feel disgraced and disenfranchised. This is similar to what Osama-Bin-Ladenites felt after the First Gulf War and feel today. Every day, the Pakistani Generals see their own regime and people fall into a hopeless state of poverty and misery. They see India rising with a strong vibrant economy and their rage grows just as the Al-Qaeda rage grows about increasing adoption of American economic practices in the Middle East.

Pakistan is a huge intended accident, a mistake by a few people in London. Read what Kaplan writes:

  • Had the British Cabinet made different decisions in the 1940s, prior to the partition of Indian subcontinent, and had the Soviet Politburo made different decisions in the late 1970s, prior to its invasion of Afghanistan, a modern Indian super-state may have emerged able to better integrate what would have been peacable northwestern borderlands (between today’s Pakistan & Afghanistan)
Well put by Robert Kaplan, we think. But we would add one more “Had”:

  • Had the Nixon Adminstration allowed India to recapture Pakistani-occupied-Kashmir after the liberation of Bangla Desh, the Kashmir issue would have been solved forever. The Indian Army would have been on the border of Afghanistan and prevented the Taleban from capturing Afghanistan in the late 1980s. Had the Nixon Administration done so in 1971, the attacks on 9/11/2001 would never have happened and America would not need to be in Afghanistan today.
Later in the monograph, Kaplan makes the following critical point:

  • For, as we know, the border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan is largely a mirage, both today and in history. Even at the official Khyber border post, tens of thousands of ethnic Pushtuns pass through weekly without showing identity papers, while hundreds of jingle trucks pass daily uninspected. The lack of procedures attests not only to the same tribes on both sides of the frontier, but also to the artificial nature of the Afghan and Pakistani states themselves, the ultimate cause of which is their lack of geographical coherence as the heart of the Indo-Islamic and Indo-Persianate continuums through which it is nearly impossible to draw lines.(emphasis ours)
The main point is that India & Afghanistan have been a part of an Indo-Afghan continuum since the beginning of known time. The solution to America’s problem in Afghanistan is to understand it and perhaps restore it. The British broke this continuum in 1947 and the region has been in bloody conflict since then. The gap in the continuum could have been bridged in 1971. But Nixon-Kissinger stepped in to keep the gap open for their short term imperatives. In the process, they doomed America to a failed, ever increasing engagement in Af-Pak for the past 30 years.

And so today, America finds itself in the Afghanistan quagmire that is getting deeper. But even today, Tom Friedman & Charlie Rose choose dumb, short term, colonial British views over a long term strategy for America.

That is the tragedy of today’s American Journalistic mainstream.

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