zenpundit.com » Afghanistan

Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Borders, limina and unity

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — bulldozers and trains, more ]
.

Watersheds are natural divisions of landmasses, long predating human presence upon the earth. Borders by contrast are a human invention — a fact that is nowhere more evident than in the borders known as the Durand Line, separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of influence. Durand, Sykes and Picot were respectively British, British and French gentlemen. In fact, make that a DoubleQuote (mini):

And while Pakistan recognizes the Durand line as an international border, Afghanistan does not. ISIS, disliked the Sykes-Picot line dividing Iraq and Syria enough to bulldoze it (upper panel, below)..

And then there’s the Haskell Free Library and Opera House (lower panel, above)..

**

The Haskell Library straddles the US-Canadian border, and has served as a meeting place for Iranians in the US and their relatives, hoping to visit them from the Canadian side..

The library is a relic of a time when Americans and Canadians, residents say, could cross the border with simply a nod and a wave at border agents. It was the gift of a local family in the early 1900s to serve the nearby Canadian and American communities.

“What we are so proud of is that we do have a library that is accessed by one single door,” said Susan Granfors, a former library board member. “You don’t need your passport. You park on your side, I’ll park on my side, but we’re all going to walk in the same door.”

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the northern border hardened, and the law enforcement presence in the area is immediately visible. And in September, a Canadian man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for smuggling more than 100 guns into Canada, some of them through the Haskell library.

Still, inside the building itself — decorated with wood paneling, stained-glass windows and, on the Canadian side, a moose head — the old ways mostly prevail. Patrons and staff freely cross the international boundary, marked with a thin, flaking black line extending across the brightly decorated children’s reading room and the main hallway.

The Library — and Opera House!! — then, erases a border more or less, in a friendly manner, while ISIS erasesd another with force. In bith cases, we can sense a distrust of or distaste for artificial separations.

**

Those who are willing to make creative leaps from political geography to the wisdom of the far Orient will recognize the imagery of Pu, the Uncarved Block in Lao Tze‘s Tao Te Ching — representing wood in its natural, uncarved state, end thus the whole, of which all entities are seeming parts, separated only by naming.

G Spencer Brown addresses the same distinction in his book, The Laws of Form — described appropriately enough by Wikipedia as “straddles the boundary between mathematics and philosophy” — between what Brown terms the Unmarked state, “which is simply nothing, the void, or the un-expressable infinite represented by a blank space.. No distinction has been made”, and the Marked State, in which one or more distinctions (Marks) have been made:

In Spencer-Brown’s inimitable and enigmatic fashion, the Mark symbolizes the root of cognition, i.e., the dualistic Mark indicates the capability of differentiating a “this” from “everything else but this.”

Spencer Brown notes that a Mark denotes the drawing of a “distinction”, and can be thought of as signifying the following, all at once:

  • The act of drawing a boundary around something, thus separating it from everything else;
  • That which becomes distinct from everything by drawing the boundary;
  • Crossing from one side of the boundary to the other.
  • .
    All three ways imply an action on the part of the cognitive entity (e.g., person) making the distinction.

    Brown notes, wryly perhaps

    As LoF puts it:

    “The first command:

  • Draw a distinction
  • can well be expressed in such ways as:

  • Let there be a distinction,
  • Find a distinction,See a distinction,
  • Describe a distinction,
  • Define a distinction,<
  • Or:

  • Let a distinction be drawn.”
  • **

    My own DoubleQuotes format both draws distinctions (being binary) and erases them by asserting parallelisms between them (unifying or uncarving, unmarking them).

    All Spencer Brown quotes above are via Wikipedia.

    **

    Okay, now there’s news of another diplomatically significant border crossing:

    That’s good — and it gives us yet another DQ:

    Connecting a prosperous free South with a totalitarian North across a border is a liminal matter, and thus inherently sacred — see my post, Liminality II: the serious part

    As we saw with the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, it is possible and maybe Trump and Pompeo — with a little help from Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in? — can pull it off.

    Or maybe, Dennis Rodman?

    **

    Sources, some of ’em:

  • The Guardian, Railway diplomacy
  • PRI, For some Iranian families separated by the travel ban
  • NYRB, The Map ISIS Hates — hey, this by Malise Ruthven
  • Asia Times, Afghanistan takes center stage
  • **

    Oh, ah, another couple of parallelisms, btw:

    **

    What’s the cyber border between the US and Russia?
    .

    Luttwak on Steve Coll’s Book and War in Afghanistan

    Saturday, June 30th, 2018

    [mark safranski / “zen”]

    I’m a fan of strategist Ed Luttwak who, like Ralph Peters, is known for his bombastic and shibboleth-breaking analysis. I saw this book review by Luttwak in the Times Literary Supplement posted on a listserv to which I subscribe.

    War of error

    On April 14, 2011, at a meeting in The Hague, I was much impressed by the impassioned speech of Amrullah Saleh, a former Head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and a future government minister. His chief message was that Afghanistan, being poorer, deserved Europe’s help not by way of charity but out of solidarity, because both faced the same struggle against jihadi violence. As it happened, I was sitting immediately to his left on the speakers’ stage, and when it was my turn to speak I reached for his left hand to hold up his gold Rolex watch, declaring my readiness to swap it for my steel Timex, in the name of solidarity. He declined the offer.That is one important thing that readers will encounter in Steve Coll’s Directorate S; money, and lots of it; a torrent from the arrival of the first CIA team in the Panjshir Valley on September 26, 2001 carrying $10 million in cash, which was handed out in bundles “like candy on Halloween”. That 10 million was followed by hundreds of millions and then tens of billions and then hundreds of billions – cash that made a millionaire of every Afghan official you have ever heard of, and often of his brothers, sons and nephews too, in a country where the official minimum wage reserved for those with coveted public sector jobs is $72 – per month. So assuming that Saleh’s gold Rolex was the very cheapest model, he was wearing five or six years of wages on his left wrist.

    As it happens, Coll’s book starts in the summer of 2001 with Saleh, not as a symbol of the all-contaminating corruption that appears to doom any American undertaking in Afghanistan but the opposite, as a selflessly dedicated intelligence aide of Ahmed Shah Massoud, whose stalwart resistance in the Panjshir river valley that runs in a north-easterly direction from Kabul was all that prevented the complete domination of Afghanistan by the Taliban, with their highly visible al-Qaeda subordinates, on behalf of their thinly disguised masters, the Pakistani army.

    ….The diplomatic price the Pakistani army exacted for allowing truck convoys via Quetta or Peshawar was and is immense: the toleration of its nuclear weapons programme and – until Trump came along – the flourishing of its terrorist networks that operate in Afghanistan as well as India. Thus to defend the Afghan government, the US has been funding its deadly enemies via the money given to Pakistan and its army, thereby incidentally solving Pakistan’s religious dilemma, because its conversion to Islamic extremism (in a country that celebrated Ahmadi war heroes in 1965, and as late as 1993 promoted a Catholic to major-general), only prohibits a sincere alliance with non-Muslims. As for the Central Asian routes, across Turkmenistan to Herat, or across Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif, or via Tajikistan to Kunduz, they require Russian consent in practice, even if in theory containers could bypass Russia via the Black Sea to Georgia’s ports and then from Baku to Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan via Caspian ferries.

    That is why the United States should never have stayed to fight for Afghanistan after quickly breaking up the al-Qaeda infrastructure in the country very soon after September 11; and that is why it is a very great pity that Trump frittered away his authority before he could order the full and immediate withdrawal he had wanted.

    Read the rest here.

    In fairness, there are more reasons than mere geography, Afghan corruption and Pakistani perfidy for our lost war in Afghanistan continuing into it’s second generation and nearly all of them are of our own making. If the Taliban went away and Pakistan turned into Switzerland we might continue the war anyway given the degree to which victory and defeat there have become politically irrelevant to our prosecution of the war.

    Break it Down Show – Dr. Richard Ledet on Female Empowerment in COIN

    Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

    [mark safranski / “zen”]

    See the source image Richard Ledet

    ” We were very unprepared…..There were gender gaps in Pashto [culture] that we only had a surface level understanding of….”

    – Dr. Richard Ledet

    Pete and Jon at The Break it Down Show discuss the theory, practice and ground truth of female engagement policy and tactics in conflict zones with Dr. Richard Ledet of Troy University. I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to Dr. Ledet speak at Quantico during a Boyd Conference on another subject some years ago.

    Tune in and listen here.

    279 – Dr. Richard Ledet
    5/29/2018 

    Female Empowerment – Today we feature some of Pete and Dr. Rich’s work from their overseas time. Today they discuss their academic paper about the ethical pitfalls of female engagement in conflict zones. If you’re interested in the paper, here is an early draft they presented at a conference at Ft. Leavenworth, KS.

    The peer-reviewed article will publish in the Journal of Military Ethics in 2018. These things take time, we’ll do our best to update the show notes when the article is officially published.  In the meantime, enjoy Dr. Rich and Pete talking about the pitfalls of working to empower females in conflict zones.

    Surveillance

    Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — gift horse, Trojan horse, back door — take your pick ]
    .

    DoubleQuote!

    **

    Liz Sly, reporting from Beirut:

    U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging

    An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

    The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity.

    Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. [..]

    In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around. [..]

    The Pentagon has encouraged the use of Fitbits among military personnel and in 2013 distributed 2,500 of them as part of a pilot program to battle obesity.

    Unanticipated consequences..

    **

    Amira El Masait, from Rabat:

    After Building New AU Headquarters, China Spies on Addis Ababa Facility By Amira El Masaiti

    In 2012, the Chinese government “graciously offered” African States a gift and constructed the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa. The act of soft diplomacy proved to be a rather self-serving maneuver to spy on the activities and discussions being conducted by leaders of the exclusive continental group.

    In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

    According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

    Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

    The glass tower $200 million complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

    Shoulda looked that gift horse in the mouth..

    “Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.

    But at least, “The Chinese have nothing to listen to. They have never colonized us. They have supported the struggles of independence on the continent and help us economically today,” an AU official told Le Monde anonymously.

    Another official believes that, “They are not alone.” In fact, the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the British intelligence agencies (GCHQ) have had their share of surveillance on the AU building, according to documents which were extracted by Le Monde, in collaboration with The Intercept.

    Aaah!

    Grief and joy in shoes at mosque and church

    Thursday, August 31st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — part for whole, what’s that called, synechdoche in Kabul, Houston ]
    .

    Shoes outside places of worship tell two very different tales in these two recent news photos.

    Afghanistan

    The shoes here are those left behind by worshippers who entered the Shiite mosque in Khair Khana area of Kabul, Afghanistan, which was blown up by ISIS. The death toll was 43 as I am writing this.

    As day follows night follows day…

    Houston, Texas:

    This picture is of shoes donated for those in need of them at Joel Osteen‘s Lakewood Church, which had taken something of a PR beating after Osteen said it hadn’t been opened as a shelter because the authorities hadsn’t requested it — whereas many Houston area mosques were openws without any official request begind given.

    Buzzfeed reported on the resentment of OSteen that may lie behind the criticisms leveled against him on this occasion:

    The speed, tone, and volume of criticisms leveled against Osteen and Lakewood Church speak to the seriousness of the flooding crisis in Houston, but also to a larger powder keg of resentment directed at a particular strain of American Christianity — Osteen’s pro-wealth prosperity gospel, and the larger evangelical movement it’s associated with — that many see as failing to be charitable to people who are truly in need.

    That’s worth pondering — the backlash in itself is a significant “marker” in the sociology of American religion.

    WWJD? — Matthew 6.19-21, anyone? Where’s Osteen’s treasure?

    **

    Sources:

  • TRTWorld, At least 43 dead in Daesh-led attack on Shia mosque in Kabul
  • Buzzfeed News, The Joel Osteen Fiasco Says A Lot About American Christianity
  • ShiaWaves, Dozens of Houston Area Mosques are 24/7 Shelters without being Asked

  • Switch to our mobile site