Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Pakistan Army 2014-15

Mr Hamid Hussein, one of the best and most well-informed commentators on the Pakistan army (and the British Indian army and it's other daughter armies) has sent in this piece:

Year in Review and Year Ahead– Pakistan Army in 2014-15
Hamid Hussain

“A general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing the disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service to his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”          Sun Tzu      

General Raheel Sharif was appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in November 2013.  He decided to work with the existing team of senior officers and didn’t embark on  a major re-shuffle right after assuming charge.  The responsibilities of COAS of Pakistan army are not limited to the army and he invariably gets involved in domestic politics as well as foreign relations.  The argument whether  the COAS pushes the door or politicians through their own incompetence opens doors as well as  the windows for him to enter the corridors of power is as old as  the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state in 1947.

In 2014, General Sharif worked to take control of his own institution, gently pushing civilians on some areas of interest of the army and mediated among quarrelling politicians.  This trend will likely continue in 2015.  General Sharif opted for a different approach and decided to work with  the senior brass put in place by his predecessor, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani rather than bringing about a new team immediately. This meant that he was first among the equals at the decision making table.  I was not expecting forceful decisions from General Sharif, but I was pleasantly surprised when he took  the decision about launching operation in North Waziristan quite early in his tenure.
In the last ten years, there has been a gradual shift in the thought processes of  the officer corps.  Earlier there was debate amongst the senior brass regarding  the balance between negotiations and military operations.  In recent years, there has been a decisive shift towards clearing all the swamps.  In the last year of General Kayani’s tenure,  the majority opinion among the inner core was in favor of clearing North Waziristan.   The army had completed all their preparations but General Kayani demurred due to reasons best known to him (since his retirement, many are now critical on many of  his decisions during his extended tenure).  Now with a new COAS, the consensus amongst the existing team and  the new chief being first among the equals at the table made the decision about  the operation easy.

In 2014, General Sharif used  the normal retirement process to bring about a new team.  This prevents friction amongst the senior brass and was  the correct approach.  Newly promoted officers were appointed to important command and staff positions, that included four Corps commanders.  General Sharif will be now be presiding at conferences where other members around the table are quite junior to him.  This will enable him to carry the team easily with him.

In 2014, there were three main areas of friction with   the new civilian government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif;  the decision on a military operation in North Waziristan,  the trial of former army chief General Pervez Musharraf and  the large scale demonstrations in the capital by a cleric, Tahir ul Qadri and recently empowered political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan with  the clear goal of ousting the elected government.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sights & sounds of Cambodia

 I just tweeted a few photos of Angkor Wat-

It really is a spectacular complex and the Khmer are the ultimate originators of the Indo-Chinese South Eastern Asian Hindu-Buddhist-Muslim sub-culture that is both very hybridised but also very distinctive.

I find interesting to note that Cambodia (Kampuchea's) name ultimately derives from an Iranian tribe (The Kambojas) mentioned in the Vedas who ruled over parts of India (I could be wrong but the pallavas - Parthians- were also prominent in the South).

Iran, Turan & India go back a very long way prefigured by this intermingling even among the ancients.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Management of Savagery

 Ahmed Humayun, an analyst at the "Institute of Social Policy and Understanding" has a post up about the "management of savagery", a central text in the Islamist militant movement.

Read the whole thing here (at 3quarksdaily).


Yet it also outlines a clear, coherent worldview, a theory of geopolitical change, and, when it is not recycling superficial clichés about Western decadence, offers penetrating insight into how terrorist tactics can succeed, even when they appear to fail. It is a call to action that outlines a series of concrete, often diabolically clever steps that have been followed by a wide range of militant groups. -

..Such a transitional state prevails in the Muslim world today. Militant groups should therefore seek to 'vex' and 'exhaust' the enemy- the regimes ruling their societies, or their Western allies. This will catalyze the breakout of chaos - the weakening of political authority across the land, creating opportunities for militants to 'manage the savagery' successfully, so that the ultimate goal, an Islamic state, may be realized. -

..Finally, the West can try to live up to its values. The militants correctly identify that concepts like freedom, liberty, and justice resonate in Muslim majority societies, and see them as competing with the ideology they seek to implement. But when we unflinchingly back autocrats in Muslim majority societies instead of defending our stated values, when we support the stultifying status quo instead of encouraging critical political reform, we shrink the space for progressive ideas to emerge and expand opportunities for militant notions. We will never persuade the militants, of course but we might be able to persuade others if we tried. -

See the whole thing at 3qd. It is worth a read. I had the following "off the top of my head" comment on it:

I would add a few minor notes to this excellent analysis of the "management of savagery":

1. The authors of the Islamist narrative are not self-sufficient in their creation of this narrative. They rely on Islamicate tradition for a lot of their cherry-picked theological quotes and for historical references about events like the early Arab invasion and colonization of the “near East”, the crusades, the invasions of Europe and even the sea-jihad of the Barbary pirates, ..interestingly the Pakistani ones at least seem to make more references to the conquest and loss of Spain and the subsequent centuries of conflict in the Western Mediterranean region than to the Ottoman conquests and subsequent losses in South-Eastern Europe, reflecting perhaps the relative value of the two regions in the eyes of Islamists and in the eyes of broader contemporary audiences; Spain, France and Italy being worthy prizes and the Balkans being mostly a nameless mess. They (surprisingly) do not seem to use a lot of Islamic source material for their polemic about early 20th century European interventions. A lot of THAT narrative is lifted straight from Robert Fisk and other Western writers. SOAS seems to have contributed more to that story than the Ulama and authors of the blessed dar-ul-Islam. This is an interesting sidelight and worth at least one good PhD thesis someday.

2. The author’s final prescriptions (“But when we unflinchingly back autocrats in Muslim majority societies instead of defending our stated values, when we support the stultifying status quo instead of encouraging critical political reform, we shrink the space for progressive ideas to emerge and expand opportunities for militant notions. We will never persuade the militants, of course but we might be able to persuade others if we tried”) are boiler-plate left-liberal talking points, but depending on what actual steps the author has in mind, may be even more unrealistic than the Islamist’s dream of utopia-after-savagery. Of course, the author may have specifics in mind that are far different from what I have heard from other progressive friends. This is always the risk when one imagines details based on a few brief lines of text. But we all rely on such heuristic devices and I get nervous when I hear “progressive ideas” and American foreign policy mentioned in one paragraph. I may be completely misreading the author (and I apologize in advance if I am clubbing him unfairly with people who occasionally read Arundhati Roy as if she is a serious analyst), but these days, I get nervous easily :) ... I am afraid that the neo-cons half-baked, ahistorical, poorly thought out creation of neo-liberal Iraq was not far enough from “progressive ideas” for us to feel safe. American support for “progressive ideas” may turn out to be no more helpful than American support of the “stultifying status quo” if it is based on equally superficial notions of history and of the origins of states and of modern society (for better and for worse).   Just a thought…

3. There is no single correct thing to do everywhere and at all times and the answer (as always) is “it depends”, but the author’s desire that the US avoid militarily invading far away countries (to save them, or to destroy them) is one we can all agree with and say “Amen”.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blasphemy, blasphemy laws, Pakistan, Charlie Hebdo..

I just picked this out of a past post about the cruel blasphemy execution (by being burned alive) of a Christian couple in Pakistan. I am posting this here because blasphemy is in the news again and I cannot count the number of times someone has managed to say "colonial era blasphemy laws in Pakistan" in a misleading manner. I wanted to have a post handy where I could direct them, so here it is, a quick overview of the blasphemy issue in Pakistan (some thoughts about the Hebdo events are at the end of this post, you can jump to that if all this familiar to you):

A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295.. It was not a bad law at all and the lazy habit of blaming it for later blasphemy law crap in the Indian subcontinent is just that: a lazy habit. 
Here is section 295 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860: 
 Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defile­ment as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The aim of the law was to prevent/punish things like someone throwing a dead pig into a mosque or a cow's head into a temple. An actual physical desecration is to be punished. 
This seems like an eminently sensible law  and cannot really be blamed for all the evils that came later. But in the 1920s there was a famous case in Lahore where a Hindu publisher was arrested by the colonial authorities after Muslims agitated against him for having published a book called Rangila Rasul ("merry prophet"). The British colonial authorities tried to prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, but the high court in Lahore (quite properly) found him innocent because there was no law on the books against just publishing a book, no matter how offensive it may be to some religious group. Fearing future communal discord from such provocations, the British then had the legislative assembly add section 295A to the law in order to criminalize deliberate attempts to "outrage the religious feelings of any community". This section states: 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Slaughter of blonde Muslims

"So, in Bosnia, the case was there were white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Muslims who were being slaughtered and identified as Muslims. That really touched me."

The great brown hope for every British Pakistan, local Essex lad Maajid Nawaz, talks about how Animal Farm turned him away from extremism (he needs to join a post-apocalyptic book club).