President Obama has spoken. The Presidential Strategic Review is finally over and President has agreed to send troops, thousands of them, to Afghanistan. In the classic politico-speak, he said he is sending them now to bring everyone back earlier. In short, he wanted to appeal to everyone, particularly those in the middle. But, by doing that, he demonstrated, yet again, why the compulsions of democratic governance are hindrances, not help, in solving problems like Afghanistan.
The President finally agreed that a surge will work in Afghanistan. More troops and we will make Taliban bleed in their eyeballs, as a British general said it. Get in big now and come out early, the President has said. All clear, popular analogies. Just that most of those metaphors do not work and simply not true in the context of Afghanistan.
Taliban isn't a person. It is a political movement, with some extreme ideologies. But, like Naxalites in India or Maoists in Nepal, it is hard to say who Taliban is. They are not the usual terrorists or German soldiers that you can kill easily in a Hollywood movie. This is a movement deeply entrenched within a people. The battle in Afghanistan is almost the battle between the nation-state as we know it and an alternative sense of identity based on religion. It is difficult to kill or capture Taliban, though one may end up killing a few card-carrying members.
There are two kinds of battle being fought in Afghanistan. One is for territory. This is the way we understand battles, this is where our metaphors work. This worked perfectly in the initial campaign in Afghanistan, when the Americans helped the Northern troops push the Taliban out from Kabul. The other battle, however, is for people. This is the battle Taliban is waging, silently, under the radar. It is for those people who may not be able to hold a bazooka and fire at the troops, but who will silently lend their home for an wounded fighter, deliver a message in Pushtu, and let a few guns be hidden under the cart-load.
American strategy so far was successful in the first kind of battle. But military does not understand the second kind. Yes, they did succeed in Iraq somewhat, but they fought a different battle there. People in Iraq was far more secular than those in Afghanistan, and hence, the battle was less about ideas than about the booty. American strategists understand that kind of battle. They can copy a strategy or two from the old Colonial manual of governance and divide a people rather easily. That strategy is unlikely to work in Afghanistan.
The other challenge of Afghanistan, which baffled all the occupiers through its history, is its terrain. Mountains provide many strategic angles to fight for, and armed by mountains, a small sleepy village can suddenly become a strategic stronghold. Yes, Satellite surveillance and air power sure helps, but those methods are effective in the battle for territory but counter-productive in the battle for people.
America can not even win the battle for territory because the territory is not defined here. Taliban isn't fighting a traditional nation-state war and they are not after territory. They can move back and forth into Pakistan [and possibly into some parts of Iran] and come back in. They know America is not indefatigable. Drag it for another few years and Americans will leave, but it is their country and they can wait for ever. Besides, they know that Americans are too proud to look beyond the Military solutions and they will continue to fight the wrong war, wrongly.
The 'permanent' solution in Afghanistan does not lie in propping Hamid Karzai and his cronies safely in Kabul, with a ring of protection provided by international contractors. This is what Barack Obama is hoping for. It lies in creating a stable state of Afghanistan, by making all parties, Uzbeks, Kazakis, Pushtuns and other tribes, on table, backed by Pakistan, India, Iran and China [and possibly Russia]. It would have involved setting aside past differences, and also geopolitical interests that shaped all strategic considerations for many centuries. This will, in short, involve shifting the paradigm from nation-state based territory thinking to people and ideas based strategic thinking. Which, as President Obama's speech indicates, we are not yet ready to do.
But, this looks like the shape of the future, more than anything else. With a sort of nuclear balance is setting in, a shift towards regionalism is inevitable. Twenty years into a post-cold war era, it is time that we shade the old ideas and try shift into a new world. It is time we let Prince Metternich sleep and start defining the world in terms of cooperation and freedom for all people.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.