Sunday, December 20, 2015

Modeling ISIS chances in your country..

This is just a random thought. I just wondered if more capable people may comment on this:

Can we construct a simple model using only 2 variables (yes, many other variable are relevant; the whole point is, can we still make a good guess based on just these two):

1. Strength of affiliation of Muslim population with Sunni classcial shariah (determined by polling results?)
2. Strength of state security institutions (determines by ??)

This model to predict whether a serious ISIS threat is coming to country X in the near future.

e.g. Malaysian Muslims are very strongly in favor of classical Sunni Shariah. But Malaysia is also a strong state, with effective institutions of law enforcement, intelligence, internal security, what have you. So, maybe not a serious ISIS threat. In the short term.

Azeri Muslims do not have a very strong Shariahist affiliation. Also pretty strong state security institutions. So low threat.

Pakistan has strong shariah affiliation in the population, and areas where the state is very weak (and security institutions are compromised by infiltrators?), so a serious threat.

Bangladesh has moderately strong shariah affiliation, moderately weak security institutions. High risk or moderate risk?

Iran has no Sunnis to speak of, and strong institutions. So very low risk..

Egypt has strong shariah affiliation, and areas where the state is weak, so high risk?

Saudi Arabia has VERY strong shariah affiliation, but also strong security institutions. So risk is still lower than Egypt?

And so on.

Are there some other "two variable models" that do better?

Just a random thought (and yes, I put no numbers out there, so hardly a mathematical model. But can it be one??)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Roger Scruton on the Postmodern Turn

Even if we do not have a very deep connection with Scruton's own loyalties and ideals, this essay has some excellent insights. Excerpts:
"..And reflecting on this I noticed certain peculiar and recurring features of all the literature that I have mentioned. First it is literature directed at an enemy. All of it is devoted to describing the ruses and machinations that maintain the existing order in being, and also to describing that order as oppressive, machine-like, and in some deep sense alien. Secondly, the nonsense, although it cannot be deciphered intellectually, in terms of the true and the false or the valid and the invalid, can be easily deciphered politically. It is directed nonsense, and it is directed at the enemy. It is not just the existence of the enemy that is under attack. The assault is aimed primarily at the language through which the enemy lays claim to the world, the language that we know as rational argument and the pursuit of truth. 'The love of truth,' declared Jacques Lacan, 'is the love of this weakness whose veil we have lifted; it is the love of what truth hides, which is called castration.'[6] The love of truth, therefore, has no independent validity, being merely a disguise worn by the weaker party. There is no real commodity at issue save power: the enemy shoots out words, and so do we. And victory is brought by the magic wand, the square root of minus one which, waved in the face of the enemy, reveals that he has no balls.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Saudi TV Host and Islamic Militant

Watch this and note that the Saudi host has no logical argument against the articulate Jihadi sitting in front of him. Once you accept the basic Wahabi ideology (which is really just classical Sunni Islam taken to its logical conclusions without compromise of any sort), it is very hard to see why the militant is wrong and the host is right.

Indian Islamist Zakir Naik is by no means unique in thinking grave worship is wrong. You do not have to be a wahabi to think that. But they do take it to its logical conclusion.
Logic is the enemy. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Story from 1971

The following story was narrated by a dear friend and he didnt want to use the captain's name. I felt it should be preserved, even if without names. So here is my friend's verbatim account, with names and punjabi curses redacted:

I met a retired army officer (let's call him captain X) while stationed in a small town in Punjab in the 1990s. People said he had been traumatized by 1971 and it had changed his life, but he didnt like to talk about it. As we became better acquainted, I asked him about that period. At first he wouldn't talk about it, but one day after chatting about many things, he agreed to tell me his story:

The retired captain was a young army officer in early 1971 when he was informed that he was being posted to East Pakistan. His father was a retired (senior) army officer and a coursemate of General Z, who was a two-star general in Dhaka. He called General Z and mentioned that his son was coming over and to "take care of him". General Z said "I will do more than that for you old friend, I will put him on my staff, he will be totally safe".

Captain X arrived and joined Generaz Zs staff in Dhaka. His main job was to manage General Z's various appointments and to arrange an endless series of lunches and dinners for the senior officers at Dhaka garrison. In the course of these duties, he became very familiar with the catering staff at Dhaka Intercontinental hotel. Life was easy and pleasant until December 1971, when bombing began in earnest and the war finally reached Dhaka. On the 16th of December, Eastern command surrendered to the Indian army and like everyone else in the Pakistani army, young captain X was depressed, sad and angry; but like everyone else, he gave up his side arm and became a POW. Initially the Indians were very disciplined and well behaved and the young officers were simply put under guard in their own officers mess. The General meanwhile had shifted to the Intercontinental hotel.

1971: From East Pakistan to Bangladesh

This excellent article was written in 2002 by the redoubtable Dr Hamid Hussain. Still relevant.

Demons of December —
Road from East Pakistan to Bangladesh

Columnist Hamid Hussain makes an excellent analysis of events leading to 1971.


Great blunders are often made, like large ropes, of a multitude of fibres. 
Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable

December is the anniversary month of the independence of Bangladesh and break up of Pakistan. The memories of that critical period of the history of the two countries are very painful for everyone who was affected in one way or the other. There has been very little attempt to dispassionately and critically analyze various aspects of that period. Most of the writings have been limited to accusations and counter-accusations and mud slinging. In the absence of a serious government or academic inquiry, most of the facts have been clouded in only opinionated rhetoric. Some have picked up on one person and blamed him for the whole disaster. Others have tried to defend their favourite and passed the buck to someone else. Various individuals have played an important role during that critical time period and everybody had their share in the outcome. Most of the discussion has been limited to the last act of the play, which was played in 1971, ignoring the whole historical context. At the end stage of a crisis when the powerful currents of history are in full swing, as one commentator has correctly pointed that an individual cannot alter the movement of historical forces, which are far stronger than any individual actor.1

Peshawar: Massacre of the Innocents.

This post was originally posted last year the day after the massacre. What parts are now irrelevant and what remain unchanged? judge for yourself.

 ہے زلزلہ زمیں کو گہن میں ہے آفتاب / بارش ہے خون کی چشم فلک اشکبار ہے 
 ہے عنقریب پھونکے سرافیل صور کو / بس حکم کبریا کا فقط انتظار ہے

The Earth is shaking, the sun eclipsed, the sky is raining blood
The time is nigh when Israfeel will blow his trumpet (to end the world). 
All that is awaited is a signal from God... (Mir Anis)

I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.
My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.
I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.
When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire.
She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.
(a surviving student's account)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trial by Trump: Testing Times for the Republican Party

Wouldn’t you know it, Donald Trump has finally done said something that everyoneexcept his few million supporters – finds morally reprehensible, unhinged, un-American, deeply bigoted, fascistic, contrary to our values, against everything we stand for, &c, as well as disqualifying, racist and unconstitutional. His dramatic call to keep Muslims from entering the United States undermines national security, puts our soldiers and diplomats in danger, alienates the Muslim communities we need to work with to defeat terrorists, and plays into the hands of ISIS. All this is apt and accurate as far as it goes, and it is good to see quite a bit of it coming from Republicans who have been complicit in enabling their party’s slide past the rightmost fringe of reality. However, this is a moment far more profound than a few tweets or statements can address. For the Republican Party, it is a test of character. Is the party of Lincoln still willing to accept Donald Trump as its Presidential nominee if he prevails through the primary process? Republican leaders and Presidential candidates have repeatedly been asked the question, and have either answered in the affirmative (Ryan and McConnell) or simply scurried away (e.g., Priebus and Cruz). But the question will not go away. If Trump is indeed a fascist, as the quickly developing consensus from Stephanopoulos to Krauthammer seems to indicate, is the Republican Party willing to own him, and therefore become the first major fascist party in American history? It is an issue of character over politics. The Party has only two choices at this point: Either disown Trump based on his views now and save the Party, or let him go on and risk the f-label. The “strategy” seems to be to let him go on for now and hope that he will disappear of his own accord. That is probably a vain hope, and the consequence of this denial may well be an infinitely worse situation in a few months, with brickbats flying at the Republican convention in Cleveland, plus incalculable damage to the Party’s image. However, disowning Trump now will almost certainly result in the Republicans losing the 2016 Presidential election. Most likely, a jilted Trump will run as an independent and siphon away the most energized part of the Republican voter base. Or he may sulk off in a huff, leaving behind millions of furious supporters who will not vote in 2016 out of anger. Both scenarios spell disaster for the Republicans, but which path will they take?

In spite of my utter lack of faith in the character of the modern Republican Party, I believe they that will eventually cut Trump off – perhaps sooner rather than later. If it isn’t his latest remark about excluding Muslims, it will be his next remark that will be even more outrageous. And if anyone thinks that Trump has reached the limit of his outrageousness now, I have a tall tower at 725 5th Ave, New York, NY to sell you! The pressure on Reince Priebus and co. from the media and other Republicans running in 2016 will grow so much that they will be forced to dissociate the Party from Trump – with the aforementioned consequences. If Trump does run an independent campaign, he will lose, as will the Republican nominee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton will return in triumph to the White House. The only scenario in which Trump could actually win is if other Farooks and Tashfeens decide to perpetrate fresh horrors against innocent people. Then all bets are off. Perhaps that’s what Trump is counting on.

It is good to remember that the Democratic Party too faced a similar moment once on an even more important issue – equal rights for African-Americans. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending Jim Crow laws in the South, he famously – though perhaps apocryphally – said that this would cause the Democratic Party to lose the South for a generation. But Johnson did not let this political calculation keep him from doing what was right. In 2015, as Democrats still remain locked out of political power in the South because of that fateful choice in 1964, one may ask if it was the right one. All decent people – and history – would answer with a famous quote from another recent Republican icon, “Ya betcha!”

Let’s see if the Republican Party meets its test of character.

East Pakistan to Bangladesh, some comments

An op-ed from Brigadier Samson Sharaf published in "The Nation", with some comments from regular contributor Dr Hamid Hussain. Well worth a read

(The comments in red italics are from Dr Hussain. Samson Sharaf's op-ed is Pakstudies-lite/Jinnah-Institutish, so it is mostly of interest if you are curious about how a Pakistani army officer who is not totally nuts or Islamist works this out )

REVISTING 1906-1971
Samson Simon Sharaf


As West Pakistan nears the end of its 44th year of separation from the East, suffice to comment that lessons if any were ignored by the elastic conscience and political opportunism of leaders. The people absolved themselves by viewing it a fait accompli by unrepresentative ruling elites. In military terms there was no debriefing and therefore lessons not learnt are being repeated. Losing more than half the population never result in introspection. Despite this political culture and insensitivity, what remains of Pakistan holds together due to geographical contiguity that did not exist in case of East Pakistan. Pakistan’s corrupt political and socio-economic systems continue to overrule the aspirations of the people whose majority is either too lethargic or disconnected from nationhood to exercise the power of ballot. The realization and national urge for a closure and way forward thereof is missing. The style of politics adopted by politicians of the west has worsened by time. The fact that Pakistan has survived owes much to its small cadre of hardy people, geopolitics and armed forces.

Here is the debate. If from 1906 till 1947, the east and west were part of the same struggle in which the east provided the platform, intellectual inputs and direction, why they parted ways after the battle was won? In West Pakistan, this question became a taboo for far too long, while the separatist (if we call Awami Leaguers so) in Bangladesh that comprised only 24% of the electorate chose a violet route. For West, the question that this tragedy set aside the idea of a united Pakistan rots in the trash of inventive history.

As the sole self-proclaimed custodians of ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ created by a dictator, West Pakistanis cannot eclipse historical facts. After the partition of Bengal and Muslim Majority self-rule, the idea of separation came predominantly from the Muslims of East Bengal. Muhammadan Education Conference of the Aligarh modernity school changed to All India Muslim League at Dacca in 1906. The first convener was Nawab Sir Khawaja Salimullah of Dacca who mentored two stalwarts; A. K. Fazlul Haq who wrote the first Creed of the League and Choudhury Khaliquzzaman.

The thesis of separation mostly advocated by Bengali leaders with the obvious experience of history was ignored till Allama Iqbal as President of Punjab Muslim League reflected the concept in his famous Allahabad address. Though he met the Bengali leaders many times, his address referred only to India’s North West Muslim provinces and ignored East Bengal. The reason was that the league was seeking autonomy within the Indian Union and Punjabi/UP leaders resigned Bengali leaders to fight their own struggle. The fact that Pakistan’s inventive history credits Allama Iqbal more than the founders of this idea is an historical distortion. These frustrations are reflected in the many twists and turns Bengali leaders they took thereafter, and recorded in many dissenting notes and speeches of A. K. Fazlul Haq, the Sher-e-Bangla. Knowing that North West that comprised NWFP and Punjab was dominated by Unionists and Congress sympathizers (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), Bengalis continued to provide the impetus for a Muslim Identity. At that point of time, Old Balochistan and the State of Khairpur in Sindh were out of contention. Punjab centrism with a shadow of the UP lobby caused irreparable damage to the federation of Pakistan; yet these are the unfortunate lines on which the West Pakistani narrative was built. (There is a historical context to the discussion. In later part of nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, several important Muslim leaders advocated division of India on the basis of separate Muslim identity. The prejudice against Bengali Muslims was so prevalent and widespread, that nobody cared about them and did not consider them as part of Indian Muslim community. In fifty years, about 15 such schemes were proposed but not even a single one mentioned Bengal or Bengali Muslims. Sir Muhammad Iqbal who proposed the idea of Pakistan in his famous Allahabad address in 1930 did not include Bengali Muslims in his scheme. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali who coined the word ' Pakistan ' for his new country did not bother to fit the majority population of future Pakistan in his name. Generally speaking, Muslims of northern India considered themselves superior and more pure blood and despised Bengali Muslims, which they seem to equate more with Hindus rather than accepting them as brothers in faith. The Bengali leader, Fazlul Haq who presented the Pakistan Resolution in 1940 was forced to resign from Muslim League in September 1941. The Muslim League leadership never trusted Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, who was the elected Chief Minister of United Bengal . He was not given a seat at Working Committee of All India Muslim League.)

A. K. Fazlul Haq, the Chief Minister of Bengal and Choudhury Khaliquzzaman with reluctant support from Sikandar Hayat Khan of Punjab (a Unionist whose buck stopped short of separation) managed to push through the Lahore Resolution on 24 March 1940. The final interpretation of the Resolution was left to a committee that ignored the question of States within a Union. Obviously, it was to keep Sikandar quiet. After the impromptu Cabinet Mission Plan that Congress rejected, the League pushed for a single Pakistan with two wings. This partition of India was pursued in haste to the chagrin of Bengali leaders, leaving many questions of autonomy under federalism unaddressed. The result was that within the first few years of independence, intransience on part of the west accounted for wiping away support of the League in East Pakistan. As early as 1954, the East was vying for greater autonomy within the federation. Once the 1956 constitution ignored the questions of federation, the separatist movement was a question of time.

By August 1947, differences between leaders of East Bengal and those from UP and Punjab widened. There was serious dissent in East Pakistani leaders over adoption of Urdu as the national language, Objective Resolution and non-federal constitution of 1956. Bengali leaders were particularly sensitive about relegation of religious minorities that comprised more than 15% population of East Pakistan. These were mostly Dalit who under the leadership of Jogendra Nath Mandal (Pakistan’s first law minister) had thrown their lot with Pakistan. Though after partition, Muslim League managed to form the first government; by 1954 it was edged to insignificance by United Front, Communist Party and the Awami League. The United Front ruled the province till imposition of Martial Law in 1958. (Things as they stood at the time of emergence of Pakistan in 1947: In 1947, when the new state of Pakistan emerged, there was a very unique and difficult dilemma facing the new nation. More than 1000 miles of hostile territory of India separated the two wings. East Pakistan contained more than half of the population but only one-sixth of the land. In Eastern wing, population was more homogenous ethnically and linguistically while Western wing had five clearly diverse groups (Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluch, Pushtuns and newly immigrated Muslims from India called Muhajirs). In eastern wing, the non-Muslim population was 23% while in western wing only 3 . Peasant proprietors dominated agriculture sector in Bengal compared to large feudal estates in West Pakistan . Bengalis were the most politically conscious group of Pakistan . In addition, there was a long tradition of strong leftist presence in Bengal . Literacy rate was 30% in East compared to 20% in West Pakistan . In 1950, East Bengal Provincial legislature passed a landmark bill called East Bengal State Land Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950. This law abolished the permanent settlement, which ended the Zamindari system that supported the landed elite. The land holding was limited to 100 Bighas (about 33 acres) which affected both Hindu and Muslim landlords. In my view this little known single piece of legislation was a crucial factor which would impact the future course of relationship between the two wings. This law rang the alarm bells in West Pakistani ruling elite, which was dominated by the landed aristocracy.)

Because leaders in West Pakistan looked at Hindus within the construct of India, Bengali leaders and prime ministers were viewed with suspicion. Due to this divergent stance East Pakistani leaders were perceived less patriotic. The conspiracy theory of the west that Hindu presence diluted the Ideology of Pakistan in the East was accepted without logic and reason. It also downgraded the famous speech of Qaid e Azam Muhaammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 on political inclusivism. While these fissures widened and League’s support in East Pakistan waned, the Governor-General of Pakistan dismissed A. K. Fazlul Haq from public office on charges of inciting secession. Later, Ayub Khan banned him from politics. Ever since, this suppression of the east and the progressive left has marred genuine political reforms in Pakistan. No lessons have ever been learnt. (Every dissent is viewed through a self righteous lens. The Punjabi Governor of East Pakistan, Sir Firoz Khan Noon described the Bengali voice of dissent as a conspiracy of 'clever politicians and disruptionists from within the Muslim community and caste Hindus and communists from Calcutta as well as from outside Pakistan '. This was in 1950s and look at the statements about Baluchs today. Read the following sentences written in Intelligence Bureau (IB) report dated July 1961 about the feelings of Bengali population: 'The people in this province will not be satisfied unless the Constitution ensures them in reality equal and effective participation in the management of the affairs of the country, equal share of development resources and, in particular, full control over the administration of this province. The intelligentsia would also like to see a directive principle in the Constitution to increase speedily East Pakistan's share in the defense services as well as equal representation of East Pakistanis in the central service’. A mid-level police official of IB was more farsighted than the rulers of the country.)

While the West dominated the events after 1947, there was no effort or narrative to counter the political humiliation and alienation caused to leaders of the East. It was only a matter of time that the inevitable happened. Free and fair elections under a military dictator in 1970 exposed the hidden cracks. No single party emerged as a symbol of federation. Awami League (a breakaway faction of Muslim League) in the East led by Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman and Pakistan People’s Party led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the West emerged as two irreconcilable belligerents. Imprisoned Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman was flexible and insisted autonomy but not division. Bhutto’s politics were exclusive and inflexible. Exploiting the ignorance on part of the military regime and lack of communications amongst Pakistani politicians, India inserted its narrative into the void. Armed forces fell into the trap and became the fall guy. (The last sentence is a bit disingenuous. Army was in full control of the country from 1958 right up to the day of surrender in 1971. If there was a trap, it was weaved meticulously by army leadership. Just as a backgrounder of the saga to highlight how domestic and international factors coalesced in the context of East Pakistan. A complex set of factors including domestic, personal and class interests, regional and international interests came into play which impacted the nascent democratic process of the new nation. The Muslim League leadership in East Pakistan consisted of landed elite and cosmopolitans from Calcutta . Later, vernacular leadership (Fazlul Haq and Maulana Abdul Hameed Bhashani) based on support from rural masses came to limelight. 1954 provincial elections were a watershed in the history of Pakistan . The United Front (consisting of Fazlul Haq's Krishak Sramik Party and Suharwardy's Awami League) swept the elections. United Front won 223 of the 237 Muslim seats and had many allies among the 72 non-Muslim elected members. Muslim League was wiped out of the East Bengal during this election. West Pakistani ruling elite's apprehensions about the new Bengali leadership were re-enforced by the international politics and Pakistan 's attempts to join U.S. sponsored military pacts against the Communism. When the defense treaty with United States was announced in February 1954, there was a general protest in East Bengal . Several demonstrations were held and newly elected assembly members signed a protest statement. This signature proved to be the death sentence of the provincial assembly. The ruling group in Karachi (Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, C-in-C General Ayub Khan and Defence Secretary Sikander Mirza) saw this situation as a grave threat to their vision for the country and future relationship with US, which would be a foundation stone of this policy. They concluded that to show to Washington that Pakistan was a serious ally and in full control of its house, East Pakistan 's political process had to be checked. On May 19, 1954 , the mutual defense agreement was signed in Karachi between US and Pakistan and eleven days later, Governor General dismissed East Bengal Provincial Assembly on the flimsy charge that Fazlul Haq had uttered separatist words to Indian media. One day before the dismissal of the assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister while confiding with the US Charge, told him that Governor rule was planned for East Pakistan to route the communists. He revealed that the matter was not even discussed with the cabinet or Chief Ministers as information may be leaked to Peking and Moscow via Fazlul Haq. The plan was not for a short- term scuttling of the political process but a long-term as General Ayub Khan confided with US ambassador that, 'it would be necessary to keep military rule in effect in East Pakistan for a considerable length of time'. Remember this he was saying in 1954, four years before the 1958 coup. Pakistani decision makers always feel more at home with foreigners rather than with their fellow countrymen. Those who want a good dose should read Wiki Leaks cables of Pakistani civil and military leaders.

To my knowledge, no one has looked at the contribution of defense policy towards Bengali alienation. Pakistan adopted the most preposterous defense concept and publicly announced it stating that ‘the defense of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan. All defense resources were concentrated in West Pakistan calling it the heartland. Bengalis surrounded on three sides by hostile India were told that in case of war, West Pakistan will try to conquer as much Indian territory on western border and India allowed to walk over East Pakistan. Then at negotiation table Pakistan would be able to extract concessions and get East Pakistani land back. I don’t know whether many Pakistani know the facts that for the first few years after independence, Pakistan allotted a grand total of two infantry battalions (8/12 FFR and 2/8 Punjab Regiment) for the defense of whole East Pakistan. It was not until 1950 that two infantry brigades were provided for East Pakistan. No armored regiment was thought worthy to be sent there. Pakistan Air Force stationed its sole permanent fighter jet squadron in East Pakistan in 1962. In military matters, it is normal to allocate resources depending on threat perception. However, citizens of a part of the country cannot be simply told that they are dispensable. One cannot call one region heart and soul of the country worth defending while another region as periphery and not worth defending. Even if military policy dictates such a course then two elements are essential; first the ‘periphery’ population’s representatives are involved in decision making process and second armed forces should have adequate representation from the ‘periphery’ population. This reassures them that they are equal citizens and following an agreed policy which may have some risks involved for their lands. In my view 1965 war convinced even otherwise patriotic Bengalis that their future was not with united Pakistan. They saw that country’s leadership had embarked on a major conflict with a larger India for few lakh Kashmiris and endangered the survival of half of the country’s Bengali population. To add insult to injury no one had the courtesy even to ask for Bengali opinion as they were not in the decision making process. Bengalis had no interest in Pakistan’s major quarrel with India over Kashmir.

“Great blunders are often made, like large ropes, of a multitude of fibers.” Victor Hugo's Les Miserable

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: The Last Warlord

Book Review – The Last Warlord
By Dr Hamid Hussain

 The Last Warlord by Brian Glyn Williams is the life story of Abdul Rashid Dostum; a former Afghan warlord and current First Vice President of Afghanistan. Dostum is an excellent case study specimen for any researcher who wants to understand the sanguine history of Afghanistan of the last three decades. No actor has performed so many roles even in movies which Dostum has done in real life. A plumber, oil and gas rig worker, wrestler, meteoric rise from a petty local militia commander to a general commanding a Corps, warlord, deputy defense minister, presidential candidate, chief of staff to President of Afghanistan and now First Vice President of Afghanistan.

 Brian’s work gives a friendly account of Dostum’s life and author admits that ‘he might be able to help Dostum get his story out’. Many exaggerated stories about the venality of Dostum are given a thorough scrubbing. The final story which emerges presents Dostum as a moderate secular leader who is trying to get fair share for his ethnic Uzbek community in Afghanistan. This is only partly true and there are hundred shades of grey.

Dostum started his career as oil and gas worker and later joined Afghan army. He was affiliated with the Parcham (Banner) faction of Afghan Communists. He served with 444 Commando unit. In 1970s and 80s, Dostum fought against rebels (Mujahedeen) as local militia commander. He was a successful commander and soon his command rapidly expanded from a battalion (kandak) to a division (53rd Division) and finally a Corps (7th Corps). He led his tough Uzbek fighters called Jowzjani Militia (called Gilamjam or carpet thieves by adversaries) from the front in battlefields all over Afghanistan. Dostum was sent to every front when fighting got tough and he proved to be an able commander in countless battles. He was known for frontal assaults that resulted in heavy casualties and in the long run caused war weariness among his fellow Uzbeks.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

San Bernadino Terror Attack

First published at

On December 2nd 2015 Syed Farooq Malik, a young American of Pakistani origin (born in Illinois) was attending his workplace holiday party in San Bernadino. He left the party early (it is not clear if there was an argument of some sort before he left) and then returned with his wife, Pakistani-American Tashfeen Malik, and the couple opened fire on his coworkers and left after 4 minutes.  14 people were killed, 21 injured. It has since emerged that the couple had 2 assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammo and several pipe bombs. They had also rented a Ford Expedition SUV a few days before the attack and used it for the attack as well as in the subsequent chase and confrontation with the police. Though they managed to escape the scene of the crime, they were eventually shot dead after an exchange of fire with the police. They had left their 6 month old baby girl with her grandmother on the morning of the attack. Sometime after the shooting, Tashfeen Malik also reportedly posted a “pledge of allegiance to ISIS” on her facebook page. 

It has since emerged that Farooq Malik had a "normally religious" upbringing but had become “more religious” in the last two years. According to his (estranged) dad, he was obsessed with Israel and “shared the ideology of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi”.  And it seems that his wife was brought up in far more Islamist fashion than he was.  Her father is a Pakistani who works in Saudi Arabia and supposedly became “more religious” there. She lived in both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and was a full-time niqabi when she attended Bahauddin Zakariya University’s pharmacy department.  After marriage, she did not show her face even to her father-in-law and her brother-in-law and stayed in seclusion in her California apartment. She did not attend the baby shower thrown by her husband’s coworkers  (the same people the couple later went to shoot) and it is very likely that she was more “radical” than her husband.  It seems likely that the two of them decided to kill people because they wanted to strike a blow for their version of Islam, but the actual choice of target (i.e. where a group of people  would be murdered) may still have involved some “workplace grievance” (though no convincing grievance has yet been revealed).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Over the Tightrope

PS: the book is free to download on kindle on Monday and Tuesday 11-23 and 11-24

Asif Ismaeel's debut novel mixes dystopian science fiction, sufism, politics, humor and Salafist Islam to create a stunning and unexpected joy-ride through post-apocalyptic (or is it pre-apocalypse?) Pakistan in 2050. Of course it is now called Al-Bakistan, since the blessed Arabic language does not have the letter P, and it is ruled by a Khalifa who established law and order after the proletariat rose in revolt and decapitated the ruling elite in a paroxysm of rioting and holy war a few years earlier.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why do Muslims Blow Stuff Up?

Indian secular commentator Harbir Singh Nain has a nice piece in the Nation (a Lahore newspaper that has shifted from jingoistic Islamism to hosting the most "free-thinking" blog posts of any major Pakistani paper; there is probably a story in there somewhere). The entire piece is here, but a few excerpts give you the flavor:

Again I hear talk everywhere that Islamist terrorism is a reaction to Western imperialism.  It’s supposedly got nothing to do with radical Islamists.  I have to wonder if why Korea and Vietnam didn't start pumping terrorists into the world as an aftermath of the horrendous wars there, why oil producers in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa didn't start pumping terrorists into the world in reaction to western meddling there.

The cause is Saudi Arabia, which has used its oil revenues to drive fundamentalist radicalization of Muslim societies all over the world, infesting them with mosques and seminaries that disseminate Saudi scripted fundamentalist, hateful perspectives. Every major Muslim terrorist organization in the world is connected to a web in the center of which sits Saudi Arabia..

The West is not without fault. But it is dishonest to assert that the Islamist terrorism is merely a backlash to Western foreign policy.  The other party at the table is radical, oil fed fundamentalist Islamism.

In the West, after every instance of slaughter by a crazed Islamist, liberals run to call for tolerance towards ordinary Muslims innocent of the crime. It is the West that welcomes immigrants from Muslim countries and guarantees their freedom to practice their faith and to live their lives without persecution. It is the West that makes peace with its former enemies at the first opportunity. See the relations of Germany, Japan, Italy, Vietnam, and South Korea with the US. The West welcomes immigrants en mass from enemies, both former (Russians flooded into the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and present (so many Iranian students in the US). It is the West that takes in Muslim refugees escaping from slaughter by Muslims as has been seen by the flow of Syrians into Europe.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have not opened their own borders to the faithful fleeing the slaughter.  There is no call in the Middle East for understanding and tolerance towards the West and non-Muslims. There is no voice allowed to call for moderation of Islamist hatemongering, to curtail the raging hatred that constantly spews out against the West...

These are actually fairly common sentiments among liberal Muslims and Hindus (and presumably, many others). I don't have time for a full post, but a few comments came to mind:

South Americans, as colonial settler nations with a history of conquering Native Americans and owning more slaves than the United States, are not exactly in line for the honor of being oppressed subjects of the West. (though good branding and anti-Yankee propaganda has pretty much cleared their elites of their colonial/slave-owning past, especially amongst distant observers).

Korea was not colonized by the US. South Korea was saved from Stalinist North Korean invasion by the US and its allies. They are not exactly grateful (more anti-American than the Vietnamese, for complicated reasons) but still they are hardly expected to be in the "lets bomb America now" section.

Vietnamese holds pride of place in Desi Leftist minds as victims of America (with some justification), but the Vietnamese themselves include (and always included) significant pro-American factions, and since the Americans left, their priorities are very different from the kind of unrelenting anti-Americanism that Desis sometimes feel they should have... Details complicated, I know.

But here is the point I really wanted to make:
I heard (more than 10 years ago) from an Islamist historian (PhD U Chicago) that the correct way of looking at lack of Hindu or African Pagan blowback is to regard them as weaker civilizations, unable/unwilling to contend for world-beater status (Hindutvadis are trying, with limited success, to alter this perception btw). His point was that Islamists sending terrorists and throwing bombs maybe wrong (in his opinion, it was wrong) because it may be tactically harmful to their cause or it may be morally unsound (he was not in favor of indiscriminate slaughter), but on the general point of fighting against the West, he thought the crucial difference is that the Islamic world represents real civiliazational competition; challengers who think they can and SHOULD fight in the big leagues...while Hindus and Africans are just waiting to be converted to more successful ideologies and are "not even invited to the party".
In short, that Muslims are different, but not in the way you think: they are not different in being more bloodthirsty (he believed, as a historian, that ALL great powers and dominant civilizations have been blood thirsty) but in thinking of themselves as a potential world power, not just "subalterns". 

I think he was wrong (i.e. the world is not best described by the kind of clash of civilizations he subscribed to, and the Muslim world is in no position to challenge as some sort of outsider civilization, distinct from what Naipaul famously dubbed "our universal civilization").

But one should not think that sophisticated Islamists themselves have no such ambition.

Finally, the oil-kingdom and wahabiism are indeed proximate causes of the Jihadi upsurge, but they succeeded not just because they paid people (the US has paid billions for "counter-jihadist" propaganda, with little noticeable impact) but because their ideology could be presented as the logical culmination of classical Islamic themes. Which is why educated (therefore more susceptible to "logic" and rational argument) believing Muslims in Pakistan so frequently gravitate to Maudoodi-like figures, even if their own families were Barelvi/Sufi/grave-worshipping/Indian-inflected "moderate Muslims" just one generation ago.

I hope to write more later to expand on this point.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, Islam, ISIS and Sykes-Picot. Random Thoughts

The latest Islamist-terrorist atrocity hit the news on Friday with a Mumbai-style attack on the city of Paris. The same group (ISIS) has recently bombed Ankara, a Russian aircraft and a civilian neighborhood in Beirut. But as expected, the strike in Paris got the most attention (not inappropriately so, in my opinion). It was a typically brutal operation. Ordinary civilians going about their pleasure in one of the world's great cities were targeted in Restaurants, outside a football stadium (when the suicide bombers could not get in), on the streets and, most cruelly, while watching a death-metal concert. Most of the casualties occurred in the concert hall, where the terrorists managed to get into a location with a large number of innocents gathered in a confined space. They shot and killed calmly and ruthlessly and without any hint of pity or common humanity. When the police burst in, the killers blew up their suicide belts to shower those around them with ball bearings in one last atrocity before they departed to what they no doubt expect will be a land of milk and honey, suitably supplied with virgins so fair and delicate that their bone marrow will be visible. It takes all kinds.

Several interactions on twitter (@omarali50) revealed a few common themes and I thought I would expand on some of those brief comments and get some feedback. It's one way to learn.

Is the Islamic State Islamic? by Charles Cameron

[ by Charles Cameron , original at zenpundit— both answers are true in different contexts — IMO a significant point that previous discussion has tended to overlook ]

Were (are) the Khawarij Muslim? That’s the question I keep thinking of when discussion of whether IS (or AQ) is Islamic comes up. From a Muslim perspective, they were heretics. Joas Wagemakers identified the central distinctive opinion of the Khawarij thus:

The first of these is the Khawarij’s belief that revolt against Muslim rulers was allowed if they were deemed insufficiently pious. When ‘Ali accepted arbitration with Mu‘awiya, the people later known as Khawarij reportedly shouted ‘judgement is God’s alone’ (la hukm illa li-llah). In the context of that event, this referred to their belief that only God had the authority to arbitrate, not human beings, and that ‘Ali should not have accepted Mu‘awiya’s offer. The slogan later came to represent their broader view that all judgements and rulings should be left to God, thus applying Qur’anic rulings so strictly that they expelled Muslims guilty of major sins from their community and fought them. Because they believed sinful Muslims to be unbelievers (kuffar, singular: kafir), they directly applied passages from the Qur’an pertaining to jihad against non-Muslims to those of their co-religionists who were less than perfectly pious.

From the perspective of what I’m going to call “ongoing Islam” they were heretics — the very name Khawarij indicates those who have gone out, ie left the religion of Islam — and yet their heresy was that of “fundamentalizing” Islam, being, if you like, excessively Islamic.

Consider: according to a hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

As a student of religions might say, their use of the Qur’an marks them as clearly Islamic, and as a Muslim theologian might say, they have clearly departed the religion, in truth “they have nothing to do with it.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hamid Hussain: Remembering Colonel Shuja Khanzada

Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada (28 August 1943 – 16 August 2015)
Hamid Hussain


Shuja Khanzada as a young cavalry officer.

On August 16, 2015, Punjab Home Minister Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide attack in his hometown of Shadi Khan in Attock.  He belonged to a military family and several family members served in British Indian army and junior civil service.  His grandfather Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Ajaib Khan had served in British Indian army.  Ajaib Khan was Subedar Major of 76th Punjabis (later 3rd Battalion of Ist Punjab Regiment and now 3rd Punjab Regiment of Pakistan army).  He was with his battalion during First World War in Mesopotemia and won Indian Order of Merit (IOM) in an action.  On May 15, 1915, Ajab stormed a fort in Khafajiyah with six other soldiers.  In this action, his orderly Sepoy Burhan Ali was killed in action and awarded posthumous IOM.  Ajaib retired after a long service and was awarded OBE and OBI.

Ajaib’s one brother served in Indian Medical Service while three other brothers served in civil service in Hong Kong.  Hashim Khan spent his whole career in post office department, Sardar Khan was chief clerk of harbor office and Khawas Khan was clerk at Supreme Court.  Shuja’s uncle Captain ® Taj Muhammad Khanzada was one of the most decorated officer of Indian army.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hamid Hussain Reviews Cloughley's Book about the Pakistan Army

A History of the Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley

Dear All,

Some questions came my way about Brian Cloughley’s good book about Pakistan army. I put them in an unconventional book review. Regards, Hamid.

Book Review by Hamid Hussain

A History of Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley, Fourth Edition. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 588

Brian Cloughley’s A History of Pakistan Army is the fourth edition of a book, which was originally written in 1999. Fourth edition adds many new chapters especially tenures of General Pervez Mussharraf and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Author is one of few foreigners with long association with some senior Pakistani officers going back to early 1980s. This gives the author an advantage to draw on his personal associations.

Book is a comprehensive review of history of Pakistan army starting from 1947 when country gained independence. It documents journey of Pakistan army over six decades.

On page 29 author commenting about Ayub’s actions after becoming C-in-C states that “He examined the Military Secretary’s records of every senior officer and, if in doubt about someone’s competence, he sacked them”. This needs clarification and understanding of the context. The issue was not much about competence but about reliability. In March 1951, only about two months after General Muhammad Ayub Khan took over command of Pakistan army, a conspiracy was unearthed by the local police where a group of army officers were planning to overthrow the civilian government. The leader was then Chief of General Staff (CGS) Major General Muhammad Akbar Khan. Many officers involved in the conspiracy were left leaning and avowed leftist and famous poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was also involved peripherally. After the arrest of main culprits, Ayub used this opportunity to ease out all officers with leftist leanings. For Ayub, the issue was reliability of officers and proper orientation rather than competence. Many officers promoted by Ayub to senior ranks will never pass a competency test in any decent army.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No Water from Mosque for Christians

btw, the Sikh Guru invocation is a thing now. Apparently the meme has spread in the Christian community..
I have also noticed that in conversations if you compare Christians in Pakistan to Blacks in the old South, it makes the message clearer to modern liberals. Try it..

Omar Ali

Link to news story here.

Thirsty Christian Accused of Blasphemy for Drinking Water from Mosque

  • Saturday, October 10, 2015
  • by Wilson Chowdhry

Bashiran Bibi forced to live alone since her son Aftab Gill was accused of blasphemy

A Christian family accused of blasphemy narrowly escaped an extra-judicial killing after a Muslim lynch mob assembled to murder them.

Aftab Gill, 40, lived in Railway Colony in Wazirabad, Distt Gujranwala, and worked as a master tailor. He has five children, three sons and two daughters. Their house is near a local mosque and, like many other local people, they regularly drew water from the water tap outside the mosque as no other clean water mechanism is available in the community. The water was paid for as per the Mosque policy.

The Mosque tap where water can be bought.

On 14th August 2015, a young Muslim man named Zain Shah (18 years) from the neighbouring village told Aftab Gill's sons, Akash (12 years) and Adnan (5 years) to convert to Islam, but they refused. On the same day, whilst Aftab was taking water from the water tap at the local mosque, the same man shouted at Aftab and said:

"You Christians are not allowed to take water from the mosque. If you want to drink our water you must embrace Islam and pray regularly inside the mosque. Otherwise evil infidels defile our water taps."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is Jeremy Corbyn a Tory pawn to annihilate the Labour Party forever?

When I put my part deux (or is it trois) of JC insulting the Queen, it soon turned into his comments about Osama Bin Laden's assassination being a "tragedy."

The reason why Jeremy Corbyn is going to lose, and lose badly, while David Cameron busily plans the coronation his best friend George Osborn for a 20year Tory reign, well.

  1. Winning elections is actually very easy. There are two votes that really matter, middle class middle England and working class urban England. Both are white not very diverse, not racist but don't like immigrants, not classist but don't like posh people. Both are of course very fond of the richest immigrants out there, the Royal Family. 
  2. If you run on an anti-immigrant (light touch no one wants to be a Nazi about it) and anti-rich people (again light touch no one in these two electoral banks support welfare street or heavy taxes, it all about a fair chance) then you've got a chance.
  3. Jeremy Corbyn is the candidate that is almost perfectly designed by the Metropolitan Left. His appeal to Middle England is probably non existent.
Winning an election is easy; pick a 100 marginal seats, find what the swing voters care about and campaign like crazy there. Corbyn has been making so many own goals recently that he's looking control of his initially very well-crafted slogan, "the politics of austerity."

The SNP annihilated Labour because it cleverly disassociated the link between voting for SNP and voting for Independence (a failed cause, much like Catalonia).

The Labour party will soon shrink to it's original base, Tory-Haters.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Letter from Former ISI DG Javed Qazi (and comments from Dr Hussain)

What follows is Dr Hamid Hussain's comments regarding General Javed Ashraf Qazi's long letter about the role of the army in creating the current Jihadi mess. Hamid sahib's comments are in red.
The original is on Major Amin's website.

Dear Sir;

Thanks for forwarding Lt. General Javed Ashraf Qazi’s bird’s eye view of ‘witch’s brew’ that is perfected over three decades of fermentation. My two cent worth in respected officer’s main text in red.  In private conversations, I’m more candid with officers who had/have front row seat to the ‘horror show’ and obviously that limits what I can say in an open forum.  I’m just finishing excellent biography of Auckinleck by John Connell and most quotes are from that book.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Joseph Conrad, the Modern World, Yemen; Random Thoughts

This post was triggered by an an excellent piece about the great Joseph Conrad in Prospect magazine. (Though I do think "anticipating terrorism" is too narrow a title, he was anticipating much more). I am posting a couple of excerpts, a piece about Yemen and my copied and pasted remarks from Facebook. Followed by a few random quotes that just came to mind in connection with this. It is an impressionistic post, please don't connect too many dots :)

Conrad gets bad press in some narcissistic pigmy circles these days (who doesn't?) but he is truly one of the greats. "Under Western Eyes", for example, should be assigned reading for anyone starting their study of the Russian revolution and much that followed.

From the Clive James piece:

"..They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. 

...As the collision between bliss and destruction gets closer, the reader will spend at least a hundred pages praying that Heyst has a gun hidden away somewhere. The first big slaughterhouse battles of the First World War had already been fought while Conrad was publishing the novel, but there is not a hint of pacifism. Conrad knew that unarmed goodwill is useless against armed malice. It was to be a lesson that the coming century would teach over and over, and so on into the present century: peace is not a principle, it is only a desirable state of affairs, and can’t be obtained without a capacity for violence at least equal to the violence of the threat. Conrad didn’t want to reach this conclusion any more than we do, but his artistic instincts were proof against the slightest tinge of mystical spiritual solace, and so should ours be. Our age of massacres has also been an age of the intellectual charlatan, when people claiming to interpret events can barely be relied upon to give a straightforward account of what actually happened. Conrad was the writer who reached political adulthood before any of the other writers of his time, and when they did, they reached only to his knee.

...Conrad should have made his heroes as intelligent as himself, the better to illustrate his thematic concern with how the historic forces that crush the naive will do the same to the wise, if they do not prepare to fight back. Finally, he tends to reinforce our wishful thought that cultivation—gained, for example, from reading the novels of Conrad—might be enough to ward off barbarism. But barbarism doesn’t care if we are cultivated or not.

Then I saw (via Ali Minai)  a tangentially related piece in the daily Beast, about Yemen. Worth a read.

"..And, most tragic, is the loss of life and the irreversible disruption of the lives of Yemeni people who display a deep love of family and extend their warmth and generosity to visitors. I feel diminished that this remarkable country can no longer be discovered by others and that violence is destroying its historic beauty and threatening its extraordinary people."

My comment on this was typically obsessed with my personal obsessions, but I do think there is a point in there somewhere: There is no escaping the modern world. The technology gap means no premodern society can ever hope to survive unmolested unless they are thousands of miles from anything anyone modern may want. So the real trick is find a way to survive in the modern world (of states and armies and schools) without losing everything you hold dear. This seems difficult, but not impossible. But it seems to be specially hard in the Muslim world because we have our own "almost modern" "primitive-culture-destroying" myth and it makes things just the tiniest bit extra-hard. The shsit could have hit a smallish fan in Yemen just because different groups wanted to fight over it...nothing new about that. And not impossible to survive. But the state ideal does not seem to have enough legitimacy to really settle down (and make the necessary compromises and deals with more advanced countries) in the core Muslim world at this time. It will be a long night in Yemen.

“Heaven and earth are not merciful. To them, men are as straw dogs, destined for sacrifice.”– Lao Tzu

Could man be drunk for ever
  With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
  And lief lie down at nights.

But men at whiles are sober
  And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
  Their hands upon their hearts.

(AE Houseman)

It takes the Navy three years to build a ship. It will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. The evacuation will continue.. (Admiral Cunningham ordering the Royal Navy to continue the evacuation of Crete in the face of heavy German air attacks)

"With two thousand years of examples behind us, we have no excuses when fighting for not fighting well." T. E. Lawrence

Once war has been undertaken, no peace is made by pretending there is no war.
---- Duryodhana (and look what happened to him)

He is a fool that practises truth without knowing the difference between truth and falsehood.
-- Krishna to Arjuna

The unique architecture of the Unesco World Heritage City of Sanaa at sunset Yemen

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