“Orientalism” in Afghanistan and Pakistan

October 22, 2010

dust storm twoIn his must-read essay on the debate about the state of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Amil Khan has one of the best opening lines I’ve seen for a while: ”Much is said about Pakistan, but I’m constantly saddened that so many innocent pixels are lost without good cause.”

Much the same can be said about the recent flurry of stories on the war in Afghanistan, from upbeat assessments of the U.S.-led military offensive in Kandahar to renewed interest in the prospects for a peace deal with Afghan insurgents.

There is a shade of “Orientalism” in all this, a modern-day equivalent of Edward Said’s 1978 argument that the collective understanding of the Middle East, South Asia and Islam was skewed by the vested interests of European colonial powers.

Scroll forward to the 21st century and we have the United States keen to end a war that is increasingly unpopular at home, with a president who has committed to starting to bring home troops by July 2011.   That framework would be best suited by military success in Afghanistan, peace talks which would begin to show fruit by – let’s choose a random date, July 2011 – and a willingness by Pakistan to stick to the U.S. timetable when it comes to tackling militants on its own territory.

Hence the “received wisdom” in the media – or perhaps more precisely, the consensus you would find if you averaged out all the stories on Google News – tends to fit neatly into that framework. 

The problem is that just as Said complained the “Orientalist” world view distorted the facts to suit European interests, the current U.S.-inspired narrative tends to overlook the very real people and countries which get in the way of its own deadlines.

Start with Afghanistan.  We have heard from non-U.S. sources that all insurgent groups are engaged in tentative “talks about talks” to try to agree the ground rules under which all Afghan factions could be brought together into “reconciliation” talks. The United States and NATO have meanwhile been talking up a separate effort  to win over individual insurgent fighters or commanders through “reintegration”.

It is not even clear that these two processes – reconciliation and reintegration - can work alongside each other. Arguably an aggressive drive to break the insurgency through reintegration undermines any chances of reconciliation by increasing mistrust.

But more to the point – at least on the subject of this post – why is anyone assuming the Afghans – insurgents or otherwise – will stick to the U.S. timetable? Afghans have a reputation for being fiercely independent; negotiations have a history of being long and protracted, and undercut by broken promises on all sides.  “Let’s get this sorted out by July 2011,” may be boardroom language, but it is not a sentence you would expect to hear about Afghanistan. Or as one Afghan-watcher said to me: “We should avoid writing Afghan history to suit our convenience.”

Then there is Pakistan – a country of nearly 180 million people who on the whole are somewhat reluctant to follow the American narrative.

As Amil Khan writes: ”Pakistan’s problems with extremism will not end with the U.S.-led involvement in Afghanistan because the problem did not start with 9/11.”  Regardless of any peace deal in Afghanistan, the United States still has to figure out how to manage its relationship with Pakistan to ensure Islamist militants no longer pose a threat either to the outside world or to Pakistan itself.

The country has been struggling to work out its identity, and the role of Islam, not just since independence in 1947, but even before, when the idea of a separate nation for South Asian Muslims was first raised.  Tackling the many issues that confront Pakistan will be a complex and lengthy process, and not one that can be answered by the simplistic narrative (and I’m doing a Google consensus here) that it just needs to send its army into North Waziristan and all will be well.  Sending the military into North Waziristan to destroy a safe base for al Qaeda and Afghan militants may help the United States stabilise Afghanistan, but many Pakistanis argue – rightly or wrongly – that it will not help Pakistan stabilise Pakistan.

And finally there is India, which increasingly hates to be hyphenated with Pakistan as it pursues its own trajectory as a growing economic power, but  which is also intimately bound up in Pakistan’s idea of itself. 

No Western leader, with a struggling economy at home, can afford to ignore India’s economic potential – as British Prime Minister David Cameron made clear in his visit to India in July. The administration of President Barack Obama – who according to Rob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” was very clear about the centrality of the India-Pakistan relationship in determining the outcome in Afghanistan - very early on dropped the idea, under Indian pressure, of appointing a special envoy for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India/Kashmir.

Yet how much of our understanding of the relationship between Pakistan and India is “true” in some kind of objective sense, and how much is it influenced by the changing attitude of Western countries in their enthusiasm for tapping into Indian economic growth – so much so that they dare not even utter the word “Kashmir”?

I should wrap up now and end with two more questions. What will the 21st century equivalent of Edward Said tell us about the period between 9/11 and July 2011 that we should have understood but did not see? And at what points did that blindness undermine policy decisions?

Comments

@Ganesh Prasad
I have no intention to cause offence, I should not have used the word non-believer. I did not want to use non-muslim, non christian or non jews, who believe in the scriptures. The scientology also believes in ethics and human values, so they say, but are no longer recognised as a religion in germany. I certainly have no intention to evaluate your ethics and other values or cause any offence, and consider your additional commentry on privileges as unnecessary.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Ganesh Prasad
Free for all might be the essence of democracy in India, but not in Europe. There are laws in each country and all the citizens have to abide them, men and women and regardless of their sexual orientation!
Mrs merkel was an elite communist and have studied in former east germany and Moscow universities. She is fully integrated with the values of democracy now and believes in freedom of speach. The gay community, mostly in opposition parties, are opting for a multicultured society and the majority in the christian democratic party prefer a fully integrated society based on christian and jewish values. The president of the republic says that Islam is now part of the German republic. I as aeuropean have no special preference as long as the laws of the land are adhered to and the immigrant community from Turkey and the asylum seekers from arab and the east try to integrate and not create separate ghettos in the land.
Now tell me what had your questions any relationship with the article” Orientalism” in Afghaistan and Pakistan?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Daraindia
Thank you.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Dara

Thanks for the info to Rex. That saved my time.
Rehmat

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rex Minor
“Is this true that one million bengalis were killed by the Pakistan military? How come it did not get reported in Europe…. know about the massacre of sikhs by the Indian military, the sikh community seeking asylum narrated the stories, but I have never heard from the bengalis also seeking asylum, the scale of this horror, one million lives! O’h my God, I simply do not believe this…….I need a break!”
***I am thinking if I were in your place I will dig the cyber world for my own peace of my mind. I hope you do research on your own and find out what happened. It is not a matter of scoring points but knowing the truth. I hope you read my intentions positively.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rex:

Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report (PAKISTAN JUDICIARY SAYING)
The War Inquiry Commission was appointed by the President of Pakistan in December 1971. In its secret report, never made public in Pakistan the commission, headed by then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Hamoodur Rahman, held widespread atrocities, other abuses of power by Pakistani generals and a complete failure in civilian and martial-law leadership responsible for the loss of East Pakistan.
A QUOTE FROM THE REPORT:
“The excesses committed by the Pakistani Army fall into the following categories:- a) Excessive use of force and fire power in Dacca during the night of the 25th and 26th of March 1971 when the military operation was launched. b) Senseless and wanton arson and killings in the countryside during the course of the “sweeping operations” following the military action. c) Killing of intellectuals and professionals like doctors, engineers, etc and burying them in mass graves not only during early phases of the military action but also during the critical days of the war in December 1971. d) Killing of Bengali Officers and men of the units of the East Bengal Regiment, East Pakistan Rifles and the East Pakistan Police Force in the process of disarming them, or on pretence of quelling their rebellion. e) Killing of East Pakistani civilian officers, businessmen and industrialists, or their mysterious disappearance from their homes by or at the instance of Army Officers performing Martial Law duties. f) Raping of a large number of East Pakistani women by the officers and men of the Pakistan army as a deliberate act of revenge, retaliation and torture. g) Deliberate killing of members of the Hindu minority.”

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 
 

Rex:

Sorry about multiple posts. It was not being uploaded as one.

The number of those killed in genocide are as large as those killed in Iraq by the USA. This is no conspiracy this is all real.

I hope you soak this information and reshape your opinion.

Rehmat

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rex:

I said: The number of those killed in genocide are as large as those killed in Iraq by the USA. This is no conspiracy this is all real.

—Let me correct myself. The # in 1971 is more although in wars and genocide the # is not easy to assess. I have read enough on Iraq to say this.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Myra, do you see a soultion in the US pulling out all of a sudden, will making them independent and responsible for thier actions be an option? will the Taliban take control again, if there is training given to the present army and then there is a pull out of the united forces, will that be sucessful? what if the Taliban is able to defeat the army, should US completely wipe out the Taliban, is that possible, remember the USSR too failed at this, if weakening Taliban is an objective, am not seeing light at the end of this tunnel for the next 10 years

Posted by pereiraarvindin | Report as abusive
 

Another Pakistani “non-state actor” caught indulging in mischief.

“Man charged with D.C. area subway bomb plot”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39872773/ns/ us_news-security/

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive
 

Myra

“I should wrap up now and end with two more questions. What will the 21st century equivalent of Edward Said tell us about the period between 9/11 and July 2011 that we should have understood but did not see? And at what points did that blindness undermine policy decisions?”

***Myra this is a good article. The questions you asked are of academic value NOW. There are always officials in US govt who have expertise in understanding the people. WE can think it in another way: The gap between what happened on ground in last decade and the available knowledge to US/Europe is not this huge that it should have led to this stage. My view is that people with RIGHT knowledge have been ignored.

I am not a pessimist by nature but there is no reason to believe why this will not happen in future.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rehmat said:

> What will the 21st century equivalent of Edward Said tell us about the period between 9/11 and July 2011 that we should have understood but did not see? [...] The gap between what happened on ground in last decade and the available knowledge to US/Europe is not this huge that it should have led to this stage.

It’s always hard to confront one’s allies and do a policy about-face because of the need to maintain consistency and continuity in foreign policy. There are also powerful vested interests that prevent this.

The trail after 9/11 clearly led to Saudi Arabia and Af-Pak. Swift retribution aimed at those countries (two of whom were nominal “allies”) would have done the trick, and the world would have applauded, even contributed forces like in the first Gulf war. Instead, we have today’s mess. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are *still* considered American allies, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And yes, such mistakes will happen again and again. Inertia and vested interests are powerful things.

Regards,
Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive
 

Dulce belum inexpertis! War is sweet to the inexperience.
Sept. 11 was not the beginning, Bill Clinton fired the first shot at the wrong target in Afghanistan! And July 2011 would not be the end. Wars have their own dynamics.

Rex Minor

PS
Saudi Arabia is not an ally but the God- father for the USA and AF-Pak.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Rex Minor: “Sept. 11 was not the beginning, Bill Clinton fired the first shot at the wrong target in Afghanistan! And July 2011 would not be the end. Wars have their own dynamics.”

Sept 11 was not the beginning. It began much before that. It was called cold war that polarized the world. Much like Pakistan which has built its cohesiveness on India-phobia, the US and the USSR built each other’s cohesiveness by mutual apprehensions. Each would have destroyed the other if it could. But they kept building technological fortifications that did not let them go directly at each other. So they resorted to proxy wars, where third world countries became their battle fields. Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, African nations, Central America etc became war zones. Parasitic powers like UK, France on one side and China, India etc on the other side became involved. Many countries fell apart in the bargain – Congo, North Africa, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia etc were destroyed by this cold war. Many secessionism based civil wars had their roots in the cold war geo-politics – Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Kashmir etc are examples.

Cold war ended with the disappearance of the USSR. But the momentum gained destroyed some nations even more – Yugoslavia splintered, Afghanistan underwent further destruction. Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, Taliban, LeT and radical Islamists have emerged as the outcome of the past era cold war reactions. 9/11 was the onset of another battle. That’s all. One cannot point a precise finger at who started it all. The world’s powers have been fighting each other off for dominance over resources since time immemorial.

And this kind of war will keep on going. The players will change. But war will go on.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive
 

@Ganesh

“The trail after 9/11 clearly led to Saudi Arabia and Af-Pak. Swift retribution aimed at those countries (two of whom were nominal “allies”) would have done the trick, and the world would have applauded, even contributed forces like in the first Gulf war. Instead, we have today’s mess. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are *still* considered American allies, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

***Countries which are militarily weak (read lack of nukes) or with low geopolitical importance are the easier targets. That is why North Korea and Pakistan will continue to remain untouched by wars from superpowers. All this is a big enough reason for nuclear proliferation and more countries arming themselves with nukes. The worse thing in “war on terrorism” was invasion of Iraq, which was a senseless act.

“Muslim world” would not have applauded retribution against Saudi Arabia even if it was possible for US to do so. It was not possible for the reasons you gave. It is not as if royal family is involved in the 9/11 attack.

Larger question is would a similar military action against the those who REALLY mattered would have achieved the goal. My answer is NO. Despite positive changes made by man [and woman :-) ]we are still evolutionary backward and continue to use war as a solution for issues that really need MOSTLY diplomatic solutions with MINIMAL use of armed forces.

The money spent on wars is so huge, one wonders can that money when used properly solve the problems. But that is not how men in board room think or worse, perhaps they know but won’t do the right thing.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Let us recall Chairman Mao’s speach on real tigers and paper tigers:

On paper tigers we should build our strategic thinking, on real tigers we should build our tactical thinking.
US imperialism has not yet been overthrown and it has the atomic bomb. I believe it also will be overthrown. It too is a paper tiger.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

http://www.faithfreedom.org/articles/op- ed/pakistan-and-islamization-stoning-wom en-to-death-for-allah/

This is one person’s opinion on the Indo-Pak region. Some of you may or may not agree with some or all of the article.

None the less, some parts of it are thought provoking. I disagree with any parts that are blasphemous, but readers can make up their own mind and don’t need to be told what to think.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive
 

“The world’s powers have been fighting each other off for dominance over resources since time immemorial.

And this kind of war will keep on going. The players will change. But war will go on.”

–>At times, it feels that there is an all pervasive, invisible, godless creed creating enmity and butcher between cultures, countries and other humans. This war is as old as empire and humans will continue to butcher each other, unless they wake up and realize that the invisible hands operate on all sides of the conflict to enable people to butcher each other.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive
 

Rex
“US imperialism has not yet been overthrown and it has the atomic bomb. I believe it also will be overthrown. It too is a paper tiger.”

***I would like to know your views on 1971 genocide by Pakistan in East Pakistan. Hope you browsed through the articles.

NOW:
1. Could you explain me how USA is a paper tiger?
2. Could you explain bit more what exactly do you mean by “overthrown”? Do you want USA govt policies to change or would you be happy only if US sinks? Do you think America as a country has done something worthwhile for the world?

Thanks

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

@Rehmat

1971 genocide; ANIMAL IMPLUME BIPES= A human
Plato words came into my mind.
my initial reaction was of revulsion and sickness; I have not yet traced the so called paper which was presented to mr Bhutto by the commission. It is not very easy to read easily the crimes of a military and civilians against fellow humans, I shall take my time. To set police or military on civilians is the biggest crime of our times. I shudder to tghink equaly about the Indian military who is now in Kashmir; Are we going to learn about their atrocities in ten to twenty years? it is madness, it is not acceptable and yet it is not stoppable?

Paper Tiger; I was quoting chairman Mao’s words, you need to read his explanations in the internet. What we are witnessing was so accurately explained by Chairman Mao. You have any dobts then please tell us why?

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@GW
your comments about barbarians of this world.
We have seen the drama in the underdeveloped societies as well as among the so called most advance society which is built on lies.

Let us hope that the UN criminal court have additional independent investigators( like Jimmy Carter, the ex president of the USA) who can prosecute the crimanals from all parts of the world and not only from Africa.

The question of our times is that crimes committed by the States are seldom brought to light in time to stop them and there are countries like the big brother USA who do not recognise the International criminal court.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Rex

“I have not yet traced the so called paper which was presented to mr Bhutto by the commission”
***Good that you are taking time and reading. Do not hang on to that paper alone.

“I shudder to tghink equaly about the Indian military who is now in Kashmir..”
***WE know that one. To shudder or not to shudder over 1971 genocide in E.Pakistan is the question.

“It is not very easy to read easily the crimes of a military and civilians against fellow humans, I shall take my time.”
***what we definitely can do is put a blame on who did 1971 genocide: is it Pakistan, India or they killed each other? take your research to its logical conclusion or may be that not enough evidence to blame anyone.

As I said earlier Pakistan Press knows this and has written articles on this. I think it has even apologized (if i am not wrong) to Bangladesh. Numbers killed are hard to tell. It may not be 3million, it could 10times less.

All I can say is that if you know what has been happening in Kashmir and how many killed/year in Kashmir by Indian military, 1971 genocide by Pakistan and the numbers died in such a short time would give you sleepless nights. Go with open mind and the information given is for helping you, rest you can find on you own.

The word genocide is not associated with Kashmir killings by Indian Military, the word used is oppression. In 1971 it was genocide. My intention is not to make Pakistan look like a demon but to call spade a spade and that we should not walk around with wrong information.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

@Rahmat
Piero Scarufi has lidted 300,000 deaths/killed against general Yahya for the genocide which was carried out during the 1971 military campaign. It would be of interest for records to know about the people who carried it out on ground. The results of the military campaign in Kashmir would become known once the military is out. Logic does not equal truth. There can be no logic in killings of innocent civilians!
Who am I to judge, ” Though shall not judge, for though shall be judged”.
I wonder what the Indian military interrogators found out from the Pakistan military who were with India as prisoners of war for a very long time.
Those countries who commit military against civilians are condemned by God, they do not need our condemnation.

Rex Minor
Ps Thanks for the info.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Rex

“It would be of interest for records to know about the people who carried it out on ground. The results of the military campaign in Kashmir would become known once the military is out. Logic does not equal truth.”
***You are a fervent critic of Indian Military action in Kashmir even before the military is out.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rex

“It would be of interest for records to know about the people who carried it out on ground. The results of the military campaign in Kashmir would become known once the military is out. Logic does not equal truth.”
***You are a fervent critic of Indian Military action in Kashmir even before the military is out.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

Rex
Ignore earlier 2 posts. i did not mean to post them.

“Who am I to judge, ” Though shall not judge, for though shall be judged”.
“I wonder what the Indian military interrogators found out from the Pakistan military who were with India as prisoners of war for a very long time”
***these nice words become mumbo jumbo if not followed. You say who are you to judge and still judging. By your own logic, you should stop criticizing Indian military. why don;t I see that?

In any matter, I think the only person who can convince you is your own conscious.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

@Rehmat
Sometimes, I ask my self where have I landed?

I repeat God almighty’s words, WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE, and you call them mumbo jumbo.

I shall criticise any military which is set against the civilians, for sooner than later it ends up in a genocide. It is upto the criminal courts of a country or the United Nations to pass the judgement. If I were an Indian citizen I shall not only criticise the military but the civilian Govts. as well and demonstrate for the human rights of the Kashmiris and support their resistance.

We have left the so called 20th century of countries and terrotories. Today we are, more than in the past, concerned with the people, the real people of the human specie. Kashmiris are no longer the part of Indian empire and the Bengalis are no longer part of the so called Pakistan territory. If this message has not been understood by the educated intelligent citizens of India and Pakistan, then they are still living in the 20th century and are one century behind Europe.
I trust that my language is more clearer now and is no longer mumbo jumbo.
Have a peaceful day.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

@Rex
“I repeat God almighty’s words, WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE, and you call them mumbo jumbo”

Your English is real bad. Read again what rehmat said.
“these nice words become mumbo jumbo [if not followed]”

Do you get now?? He is saying that you have made God almighty’s words a mumbo jumbo by not following them yourself. In short you disgraced the God yourself. But then your head is too narrow to understand anything that God said.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive
 

@777
The believers know that God’s words are the commandments of God. They do not become mumbo jumbo wheather followed by humans or not!
A blasphemy, I was careful not to use these words for Rehmat!
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive
 

Rex:

I am not getting into marathon of discussion on man’s usage of GOD’s words.

I really do not have that kind of time that I make new threads out of an going discussion. The original topic was to tell you that it is Pakistan’s Army that did 1971 and that is not even an argument. I have heard you on this. Thanks

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

typo: out of an [ON]going discussion.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive
 

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