Post-Kristof Monday Links

24 February 2014, 0500 EST

Good morning Ducks, here are your links from South Asia… (I am not even going to pretend I know what’s going on in the Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, or Venezuela.  I’ll stick to what I sort of know…).

  • Redhead Duck and offspring. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

    Vasundhara Sirnate at The Hindu writes passionately in defence of the offensive. While Indian liberals will (rightfully) continue to be upset at Penguin India’s capitulation to the so called “offended” feelings of a small and obscure group of Hindu fanatics, the liberals fail to realize that the increasing pressure to censor and protect the sentiments of various religious communities is actually just an extension of the dominant state ideology, what Manjari Chatterjee Miller labelled as “Post-Imperial Ideology” in her recent book Wronged by Empire.  Miller argues that Indian prickliness (in international relations) toward perceived slights in status and Indians’ desire to consistently frame relations in terms of victimizers and victims is a major legacy of the trauma of colonialism.   So perhaps it should not surprise us that in the domestic arena, the work of a brilliant (foreign) scholar of Hinduism can be painted as little more than an attempt to humiliate and offend pious Hindus.  India will need to change more than its censorship policies (which are actually pointless in a digital age), it will need to change its hegemonic ideology — which is of course highly unlikely.  In the meantime, the lesson for foreign scholars and foreign diplomats is clear: speaking boldly in India will result in little more than squabbles in which the foreigner is accused of deliberately seeking to humiliate the Indian state or people.

  • Arwin Rahi at the Diplomat argues that Afghanistan must recognize the Durand Line as its permanent border with Pakistan.  Rahi is at least correct that Afghanistan needs to come to terms with this boundary — because for better or worse South Asia has inherited Westphalian definitions of statehood, but if anyone thinks that Afghan recognition of the border will end Pakistani efforts at influencing the character of the regime in Afghanistan, they are forgetting the broader strategic orientation of the Pakistani military.
  • Javid Husain at the Nation (Pakistan) calls for national reconciliation in Afghanistan to avoid a civil war. Unsurprisingly, he claims that the Afghan Constitution should be modified to meet the “reasonable” demands of the Taliban. Umm… right.  Moving on…  He also says that Karzai has displayed a “belated eagerness” to reach a deal with the Taliban, which indicates that the author was mentally on hiatus for the last decade.   Despite the howlers, the article may indicate that there is at least a faction in Pakistan that would settle for using the Taliban as a kind of veto player (as opposed to seeking outright hegemony) in post-Karzai Afghanistan.

  • HuffPo interviewed Farid Mazdak, a former PDPA (Communist) Parcham-faction activist.  His fears and hopes for his country’s future are worth reading.  But when he claims that the process of building a modern state in Afghanistan has just begun, most readers will probably be unaware that Afghanistan’s “modernization” push actually began under King Amanullah about a century ago.  Another important detail not mentioned in the interview is the fact that the Parcham faction of the PDPA ran Afghanistan from 1979-1992 under Hafizuallah Amin and Mohammad Najibullah.  Moreover, it was the radical implementation of “modernization” initiatives in the countryside by the Khalq faction of the PDPA in 1978, including co-education for women, that sparked a nationwide revolt which precipitated the Soviet invasion.  The PDPA Parcham became the Watan Party toward the end of the Soviet occupation.  (All of these historical details were well explained to general audiences in Olivier Roy’s Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan and Gilles Doronsoro’s Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present.)
  • Speaking of Najibullah…. last week Al Jazeera interviewed Heela Najibullah, the daughter of the late Soviet puppet.  You remember Dr. Najibullah, don’t you?  He was that ousted former Afghan leader who sought shelter in a UN compound in Kabul as the Taliban took the city in 1996.  Of course, he was captured, tortured, castrated, and hanged from a traffic light.  (The US feigned mild regret at this egregious violation of international norms and urged “national reconciliation” in response because at the time it had decided to back the Taliban.)  Well, a lot of time has passed and Afghans now seem to remember the former secret police director and Soviet puppet more fondly.  I wonder what this says about Karzai’s prospects…  Maybe after the next Afghan civil war, even the former American puppet will be remembered fondly.
  • Retired General John Allen has urged Americans not to repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union.  (The article appeared in USA Today, a newspaper that I would ordinarily ignore, but it is the third largest newspaper by circulation in the US.)   The article (unsurprisingly) incorrectly explains the timing and rationale of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and fails to discuss the strategy of “positive symmetry” (for a better explanation read Barnett Rubin’s The Search for Peace in Afghanistan).  General Allen also fails to explain (at least in this news report) the fact that the Mujahideen were unable to transition from a militia into a coordinated military despite Pakistani assistance.  The lesson of the Battle of Jalalabad (1989) was that Soviet weaponry helped (e.g. SCUD missiles) but the factionalized Mujahideen were probably their own worst enemy.  Kabul ultimately fell because Iran was able to force Dostum, Masoud, and Hezb-i Wahdat to work together.  The general point that the government in Kabul will need foreign assistance to survive is not disputed, but some of its survival will depend on the level of organization of its opponents and the role of external powers.
  • Javid Ahmad and Ahmad K. Majidyar at CNN’s GPS blog cite an Asia Foundation Survey to say that 57% of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction.  I have some serious reservations about any opinion survey conducted in an area experiencing a decade long insurgency.  But even if we take the survey as accurate, it clear that outside of Central/Kabul region, nearly a third of the population has “a little” or “a lot” of sympathy with the armed opposition groups.  In the Southwest region that number climbs to almost 49%.  This is not exactly a sign that the democratic regime has strong legitimacy.  The post by Ahmad and Majidyar focuses heavily on the size of the Taliban but ignores the persistence of other armed groups and warlords.  The authors also argue that the Taliban is largely confined to pockets in the south and east, a statement which is simply not accurate.  The report also rehearses old claims that the Soviets were interested to use Afghanistan as a corridor to South Asia and the Middle East, this is also probably inaccurate.  The Soviets most likely viewed their intervention in Afghanistan from a defensive perspective (i.e. protecting a new satellite state) and limited the autonomy of the client state mainly because the PDPA refused to take advice about not inciting an uprising by pushing the pace of reforms too rapidly.

Okay, that’s enough real world analysis… I’ll be back in my Ivory Tower if you need me…