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A bit of cricket in the
Afghanistan debate



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

Comments directly to

December 1, 2010

I sometimes wonder if the Americans don’t understand the most perceptive, clean and honest politician in Pakistan because they don’t play cricket. Imran Khan, when captain of the Pakistan team, was feted round the cricketing world. Even here in India, 9 years after he “retired” he remains a hero. No other Pakistani has more reach into Indian affections than Imran Khan.

Not so long ago I sat next to him at a private dinner party in Islamabad. For over an hour we talked about the ins and outs of volatile and ultra destructive Pakistani politics. Head of his own small political party he made no effort to browbeat me with his youthful charisma. Instead, I found a careful, lucid, almost ordinary guy, showing me the way to cut through the labyrinth of Pakistan’s often destructive, sometimes deadly, political minefields.

He could never be accused of being Anti-American or Anti-European. Yet what he said last Monday was right on the ball.  He said that the Taliban and terrorism are “not the same thing” and that it would be a lie to call all Taliban terrorists. Khan said he believes that Pakistan should tell the US it will opt for dialogue with the Taliban and not use arms anymore against them.

That the obvious should be regarded by the Western powers as far out reflects on their misjudgements, not Khan’s. Centrist, educated Pakistani public opinion, remembers how and why the Muslim fundamentalists of their country were radicalised. Before the war began in Afghanistan the fundamentalist parties at best won 10% of the vote in honest elections - usually it was nearer 5%. It is the war that has dangerously widenened their appeal. And it was the decision under President George W. Bush, without Pakistani permission, to broaden the war to inside Pakistan that has radicalised the old religious parties and increased sharply the level of recruiting by the Taliban and other violent movements.

Today, even a member of the cabinet in Pakistan, can offer support for the Taliban without being dismissed. The tourism minister, Maulana Attaur Rehman, said last week that “The Taliban are true followers of Islamic ideology and America is the biggest terrorist of the world.”

The same goes for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which these days is implementing Pakistan’s two faced policy - aiding the US and Nato on one side of its mouth; on the other building links with the Taliban in Afghanistan so that Pakistan is well positioned if the West throws in the towel. Five years ago the ISI people were drawing in their horns - pulling out of supporting the armed resistance to Indian rule in the Indian half of Kashmir and playing it softly in Afghanistan. No longer. The ISI too has been radicalised by the war.

A newly released report by the Pentagon records that violence in Afghanistan has reached an all time high and that the insurgency has become increasingly sophisticated and is expanding across the country. Violent incidents from April until the end of September this year increased by 300%.

Obama’s response to this, browbeaten publicly by his own generals, seems to be to give the generals the extra three or more years they believe will be necessary to win the war, although he had made it clear a year ago that US soldiers would start to leave next year.

The US is happy that Russia has all but joined the war, becoming a major supply line for American military equipment and recently on one occasion joining the fray alongside American troops. A year and a half ago I fell into argument with one of President Dimitri Medvedev’s senior advisors because he openly told me he hadn’t read much on the war apart from Time magazine and yet felt intellectually secure enough to advocate deeper Russian involvement while cheering Nato on.

But if, as Imran Khan argues, the Taliban and terrorism are not the same thing it is not necessary to deploy an army but to concentrate on talking to the Taliban. Part of the conversation must be about how to isolate the terrorists - which the Taliban and the tight knitted Pathan society, from whence they mainly came, if left on their own, would gradually do.

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As the US famously was advised to do in Vietnam by an American senator, it should declare victory and go home. Otherwise, within the three or four years the generals have demanded, the US will be driven out, leaving behind the bitterest of all tastes in Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan ruled by the fundamentalists.

President Barack Obama and your team mates in Afghanistan, Britain’s David Cameron, the rest of Nato, and now Russia’s Dimitri Medvedev - you have been bowled. Imran Kahn has hit your wicket centre stump! (Cameron, please translate to the others.)


Copyright © 2010 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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