Monday, June 24, 2013

Of a King and His Return

William Dalrymple has been making waves in India for decades by now.

Sometime back he came out with his new book Return of a King about the British Afghanistan war of nineteenth century.

After their decisive humiliation in Afghanistan the British did manage to subdue India and neutralize Muslim power there but they did give Afghanistan a pass for a century and a half.

But they did not learn their lesson. They did come back to Afghanistan. And now a Scott is showing them the mirror. As he did at other times. The glorious British Empire of erstwhile does look little less glorious when a better perspective, like of Dalrymple, is introduced.

And it is even less glorious if looked upon from a realistic point of view.

Let us do that in the form of a commentary on an article by William Dalrymple in the Deccan Herald.
Comments will be in blue.

Ghosts of Afghanistan's past make striking return

William Dalrymple, April 18, 2013, DHNS:
History never repeats itself exactly, but the events now bear similarity to the war of 1840s

On March 10, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, shocked western leaders by declaring that recent attacks proved that the Taliban “are at the service of America.” The implication was clear: terrorists were colluding with the United States to sow chaos before America’s planned withdrawal in 2014. American and European leaders, mindful of the blood and treasure they’ve expended to defend Karzai’s government, were baffled and offended.
William may we call the American and European leaders as western leaders?
Not because they represent the west as a cultural construct but because they are western.
And that is important.
Because the issue of western materialistic values and eastern  wholistic values is essential to the present discourse.
And yours truly asserts the above east and west construct with a lot of appreciation for your efforts - your efforts in unraveling the British Empire enigma have been very refreshing and heart warming. Thank you a lot.

So if the western leaders are baffled then this merely shows their disconnection with the ground reality.
If they expended blood and treasure to defend Karzai’s government then it was for their own ends.
If they are surprised at their loss then it is understandable but if they think of it in terms of betrayal then a reality check is in order. It helps to keep your thinking and logic straight.

Not that yours truly is fond of American or British, or western, logic. Their logic is subservient to their ends.

The objective of western misadventure in Afghanistan is rather mundane and sort of facile.
Once upon a time there was a person called Osama Bin Laden who was killed by the Americans, his body disposed in unknown manner.
He, O Bin L, called Tim Usman by his enemies pulled a trick on the then mighty British Empire, I mean the American Empire. The trick became known as the 9/11.
And that is at the core of US debacle or British debacle two in Afghanistan.
O Bin L mustered a few kids who managed to dupe the American might.

(No one should bring the civilian casualties of 9/11 and demand apologies left and right. If you have the guts then call them collateral damage. And if you do not have the guts to call that collateral damage then be prepared to tender apology for every civilian Muslim casualty. We shall be demanding that after every sentence you speak.)

And since reality takes the longest route to reach the British, American and western shores it will be appropriate to start the communication now. Here is the info. In the Muslim world people do not hate O Bin L. In fact there are a few Muslims who parrot exactly the same sentiments as done by the American, British or western people but all of these look fake and artificial machines when they indulge in simulating US gratifying sentiments.

Is that clear?
And there is a number, a large one, of Muslims who drool over the western wealth and the sinful pleasures offered by the western way of life.
That is there. A reality of life.
But that too is now tempered by something else - the Gulf. It has enough riches to cater to some of the Muslims inclined towards worldly pleasures.
In fact much of the west drools over the Gulf.
So things are not the same as these used to be till about fifty years back when the west was all that was to be desired.

US devastated the  poor Afghanistan nation because of 9/11.
US had a silly choice. What to do to an extremely poor nation whose guest, O Bin L, had pulled that cheeky trick on them.
US went muscle flexing in one of the poorest regions of the globe.
And id get a taste of their self-respect, bravery, mettle.
To say the least US did not claim victory, just like the USSR not accepting defeat.
Very ironical outcomes both.

But to students of Afghan history, Karzai’s motivation for publicly spurning foreign powers was quite obvious. A Taliban news release on March 18, which received little notice in the western press, declared: “Everyone knows how Karzai was brought to Kabul and how he was seated on the defenceless throne of Shah Shuja,” referring to the exiled Afghan ruler restored to the throne by the British in 1839. “So it is not astonishing that the American soldiers are making fun of him and slapping him on the face because it is the philosophy of invaders that they scorn their stooge at the end ... and in this way punish him for his slavery!”
William makes a reference to western press.
Clearly he knows that east and west is involved in the issue at hand.
That Hamid Karzai is Shah Shuja II is rather mundane observation.
Many of us remember a flag in the anti-American demonstrations where British and USSR tombs were sketched together with an open grave, open for the Americans.
Afghans were mundanely aware of the comparison.
And since William is aware of the metaphor will it not be appropriate to make full use of it?
One simple implication is that Hamid Karzai is an evanescent spook.
He is here today and will be gone tomorrow.

The Taliban inadvertently put their finger on a key factor in understanding Karzai’s psychology. After all, as an elder of the Popalzai tribe, Karzai is the direct tribal descendant of Shah Shuja ul-Mulk, Britain’s handpicked ruler during the first western attempt at regime change in Afghanistan in the mid-19th century.
May we assert that British Divide and Rule thing failed once more in Afghanistan?
It is true that British and US drones and snipers have killed nearly all able bodies Afghans, with help of the rival spies from the same region, but that is a dubious honour.
One, it reminds people of the observation Mussolinian Italian action on Ethiopia - kill as many Ethiopians as you must to get Ethiopia.
Two, world is no more the same as sixty or seventy years ago. Soon people will be asking for accounts.
If the civilian casualties in 9/11 were a concern then so are the casualties in Afghanistan.
You can not decimate the male population of a country and walk away.

Today, Shah Shuja is widely reviled in Afghanistan as a puppet of the west. The man who defeated the British in 1842, Wazir Akbar Khan, and his father, Dost Mohammed, are widely regarded as national heroes. Karzai has lived with that knowledge all his life, making him a difficult ally — always keen to stress the differences between himself and his backers, making him appear to be continually biting the hand that feeds him.
Hand feeding, biting the hand and all these are lame descriptions.
"O my God my puppet has a conscience", is all that the west can exclaim.

In 2001, top Taliban officials asked their young fighters, “Do you want to be remembered as a son of Shah Shuja or as a son of Dost Mohammed?” As he rose to power, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar deliberately modelled himself on Dost Mohammed, and, as he did, removed the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad from its shrine in Kandahar and wrapped himself in it to declare jihad, a deliberate historical re-enactment, the resonance of which all Afghans immediately understood.
Can we shift the spotlight to where it belongs?
It is not the tribal nature of Afghan society.
It is Islam and Muslims.
Let us try not to make the tribalism as the red herring.
Even the Arab society, where Islam was perfected for us, is tribal till today.
So keeping the spotlight on tribalism is not going to reflect much light back.
Bring Islam and Muslims into focus and the analysis will be smooth.
Acknowledge that Muslims are driven by and governed by Islam and the western attempts to wean them away from Islam have failed and you will be on a highway to understand the dynamics.
If the west still insists on ignoring Islam then it will be western responsibility if they look silly.

The parallels between the current war and that of the 1840s are striking. The same tribal rivalries exist and the same battles are being fought in the same places under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities are being garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and they are being attacked from the same hills and high passes.
Agree to a large extent but the focus is not correct - Islam is relevant for deciphering the conundrum.

Not only was Shah Shuja from the same Popalzai sub-tribe as Karzai, his principal opponents were Ghilzais, who today make up the bulk of the Taliban’s foot soldiers. Mullah Omar is a Ghilzai, as was Mohammad Shah Khan, the resistance fighter who supervised the slaughter of the British Army in 1841.
The US/British sniper slaughtering the able bodied Afghans is the relevant detail.

The same moral issues that are chewed over in editorial columns today were discussed in the correspondence of British officials during the First Afghan War. Should foreign troops try to “promote the interests of humanity” and champion social reform by banning traditions like the stoning of adulterous women? Should they try to reform blasphemy laws and introduce western political ideas? Or should they just concentrate on ruling the country without rocking the boat?

British, and their heirs in trickery - the Americans, are adapt at devising ideological issues.
It is not likely to work anymore.

Untried soils
As the great British spymaster Sir Claude Wade warned on the eve of the 1839 invasion, “There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against, I think, than the overweening confidence with which we are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of our own institutions, and the anxiety that we display to introduce them in new and untried soils.” In this early critique of democracy promotion, he concluded, “Such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes, if not to a violent reaction.”

There is an anachronism here. British monarchy was much stronger in those days. There was no democracy talk at that time and in today the invasion of Afghanistan has nothing to do with democracy and nothing to do with the British. British came this time in a shameful capacity as lackey of the US.

Just as Britain’s inability to cope with the Afghan uprising of 1841-2 stemmed from leadership failures and the breakdown of ties between the British envoy and Shah Shuja, the strained and uneasy relationship of Nato leaders with Karzai has been a crucial factor in America’s failures in the latest imbroglio.

US persuaded the NATO and British allies to join Afghan butchering.
9/11 was extraordinary event because of the pygmy size of the undertaking entity - O Bin L and a few kids.
Even US invasion of Afghanistan was not warranted.
It was silly and 9/11 did make US look silly. Period.
That US reacted in a way that it did understandable but not condonable.
Afghans did not implement 9/11.
And that fact can not be changed even if US is joined by NATO and the British.
To kill all able bodied Afghans because their guests pulled a spectacular trick on the US is not justifiable.
And after committing their heinous crimes when they are leaving then it makes them look silly if they expect that the Afghans, including Karzai, should be behaving as desired by the west.

Afghanistan is so poor that the occupation can’t be financed through natural resource wealth or taxation. Today, America is spending more than a $100 billion a year in Afghanistan: it costs more to keep Marine battalions in two districts of Helmand than America is providing to the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance. And then, as now, the decision to withdraw troops has turned on factors with little relevance to Afghanistan, namely the state of the occupier’s troubled economy and the vagaries of politics back home.

And William should be as tough on the Americans as he has been on the British. Americans are the new British and the people at the receiving end are the same, the Muslims, in the theater of absurdity under consideration. Muslims would like to live according to Islam whether America, and the west in general, likes it or not. And if you kill all able bodies men of a Muslim country then we would be interested in justice.

History never repeats itself exactly, and there are some important differences between what is taking place in Afghanistan today and what took place during the 1840s. There is no unifying figure at the centre of the resistance, recognised by all Afghans as a symbol of legitimacy and justice: Mullah Omar is no Dost Mohammed or Wazir Akbar Khan, and the tribes have not united behind a single leader as they did in the 1840s.

It is too soon to write off Mulla Omar. And even if the west manages to take him out then the Muslim world does not come to an end. Personalities are important but not most important. In Muslim life it is Islam that calls the shots.

Moreover, the goals of the conservative, defensive tribal uprising that brought colonial rule to an end were very different from those of today’s Taliban, who wish to reimpose an imported Wahhabi ideology on Afghanistan’s diverse religious cultures. And most important, Karzai has tried to establish a broad-based, democratic government, which, for all its many flaws and prodigious corruption, is still much more representative and popular than the regime of Shah Shuja ever was.

William dabbles in things like Jinn technology, read Sufism with a tint.
And that makes him dub any other view on Islam as Wahhabi.
It is true that Wahhabi and Salafis are doing damage to the image of Islam but all Islam is not Wahhabi and Salafi. And the Sufism dear to William Dalrymple is not the main stream. He is interested in Sufism because of the exotica and that is dead give away.

Karzai is keen to learn the lessons of his forebears’ failures. When my book came out in India in January, he got hold of a copy and read it. “Our so-called current allies behave to us just as the British did to Shah Shuja,” he told me. “They have squandered the opportunity given to them by the Afghan people.”

Silly of Karzai. For the record Afghans did not invite the west. Information starved Karzai can take it from yours truly.

Karzai believes that Shah Shuja didn’t stress his independence enough, and he made clear that in his own last year in office he is going to act in such a way that he will never be remembered as anyone’s puppet.
May we get connected with the reality once again? Karzai is not that important.
With due regards for him as a Muslim.