The Indian Express – Afghan envoy visits ancestor’s grave in Sirhind: We feel at home, with a king of Afghanistan buried here

He found the tomb in a miserable state, with its walls scribbled-over and the floor covered with bird droppings

Adil Akhzer

Sirhind-Panjab-India, 24 November 2017. On a three-day tour in Punjab to “revitalise old relationship” with Afghanistan, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, was pained to see the shabby and dilapidated condition of his ancestor’s grave at Sirhind in Fatehgarh Sahib district.

Shaida concluded his three-day tour of holding discussions with the government of Punjab and various business communities of the state on Thursday.

It was for the first time that he visited the grave of his ancestor, Zaman Shah Durrani, a former king of Afghanistan, now buried at a Dargah at Sirhind. He found the tomb in a miserable state, with its walls scribbled-over and the floor covered with bird droppings.

“I am really saddened to see the condition of the tomb, of very beloved king of Afghanistan (Zaman Shah),” Abdali told The Indian Express after offering prayers at an adjacent grave of a Sufi saint.

He said he was “overwhelmed” by the visit, and that he would make efforts to improve the tomb’s state. “This tomb belongs to Afghanistan… I am going to think about how to rebuild the tomb and will discuss with the relevant institutions or the authorities for that.”

Zaman, who died in Punjab in the eighteenth century, had taken asylum in the country. Abdali said India felt like a second home to Afghans. “My family is rooted to this place…We feel at home with even a king of Afghanistan being buried in Sirhind,” he said.

About wanting better relations with Punjab, he said: “Punjab and Afghanistan had old relationships in all respects. From trade to culture to all kinds of relationship including the Sirhind one…”

Soon, Abdali said, an MoU will be signed between Afghanistan and Punjab. “We are starting with the air trade corridor… an MOU is being signed for that. Amritsar is being connected to Afghanistan for business and travel,” he said.


The Hindustan Times – Ports, airports alerted to check ‘radicalised’ Indians returning from IS strongholds in Syria, Iraq

Indian agencies are constantly in touch with their Iraqi, Syrian, Russian and American counterparts to ensure that each of these radicalised mercenary Indians is accounted for and not let loose in the society at large.

Shishir Gupta

New Delhi, 28 October 2017. With the fall of Raqqa, the so-called Islamic State capital, on October 17, security agencies have alerted all airports and ports to guard against radicalised Indian fighters returning from the fallen Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The instructions are clear that Indian fighters are to be heavily screened and arrested on arrival.

Top intelligence sources said that available data indicates that 91 Indians joined the IS in Iraq and Syria, and Khorasan in Afghanistan. Of them, 67 went to fight in Syria and another 24 from Kerala joined the IS in Afghanistan.
According to counter-terror specialists, 11 Indians have returned to India, but it is not clear whether they returned from fighting in Syria or some of them were turned back from the Turkish border.

While reports of the total number of Indians killed in fighting range from 7 to 15, there is no confirmation on any of the deceased.

Indian agencies are constantly in touch with their Iraqi, Syrian, Russian and American counterparts to ensure that each of these radicalised mercenary Indians is accounted for and not let loose in the society at large.

A detailed plan has been put into place by counter-terrorism specialists, so that all the returning Indians are profiled with their families and understood how they got radicalised in the first place.

Although there is no word on the remnants of UP born Indian Mujahideen terrorists, who moved to Syria from Pakistan under guidance of one Yousof Al Hindi, a large number of these fighters are from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

The Indian intelligence assessment is that foreign fighters returning from Syria will find home in restive Afghanistan, south-east Asia or Africa.

Already, there are reports of IS joining hands with al-Qaeda or the Haqqani network to launch action on the Durand Line (Afghanistan-Pakistan border). Indian agencies, however, suspect the role of Pakistan in order to further destabilise Afghanistan.

Although there is a genuine concern that these mercenaries will launch attacks in India later to keep the IS ideology alive, security agencies are constantly in touch with state police and associate agencies to avoid such incidents.

Dawn – US will eradicate terrorism, with or without Pakistan: Tillerson

Anwar Iqbal

Washington, 28 October 2017. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that he did not visit Islamabad earlier this week to lecture or coerce Pakistanis but he did tell them that Washington is determined to eradicate terrorism from the region with their support or “in a different way”.

“And that’s not a threat. It’s just a matter of fact. We have to deal with the conditions on the ground. And as you know, the entire South Asia strategy is a conditions-based strategy,” he said.

Mr Tillerson said the message he delivered to Pakistan during the visit was: “Here’s what we need for Pakistan to do. We’re asking you to do this; we’re not demanding anything. You’re a sovereign country. You’ll decide what you want to do.”

On Thursday evening, Secretary Tillerson reviewed his seven-day visit to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia with the State Department press corps from Geneva, also highlighting key points of his talks in Islamabad on Tuesday.

He said he had offered to help Pakistan resolve its disputes with India, a suggestion that may irk New Delhi, which opposes any third-party mediations with Pakistan.

“That would be a complete mischaracterisation of the meeting,” said the top US diplomat when a journalist asked him if it would be accurate to say that he received a message of defiance from the Pakistanis who told him, “We will not be coerced”.

But he acknowledged that he told them Washington would implement its new strategy with or without Islamabad because “this is what we think is necessary. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t feel you can do it, we’ll adjust our tactics and our strategies to achieve the same objective a different way”.

Says he offered to help Pakistan resolve its disputes with India

Secretary Tillerson said he viewed USA-Pakistan ties as “a respectful relationship” but, “we have some very legitimate tasks, some very legitimate concerns that we need their help addressing.

I said to them, ‘You can do it or you can decide not to do it. And if you decide you don’t want to do it, just let us know. We’ll adjust our plans accordingly and we’ll deal with it ourselves’ ”.

Another journalist referred to Indian media reports that Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed was not on a list of 75 terrorists that the US team handed over to Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Tuesday.

The journalist also referred to a Pakistani media report that none of the 75 terrorists on the US list were Pakistanis and asked Secretary Tillerson to comment on both reports.

The secretary ignored the two points, saying instead that he had “a very healthy exchange of information on terrorists” with the Pakistanis.

“We have provided them specific asks, beyond just names of individuals. We’ve provided them specific asks,” he said. “But we’ve also invited greater sharing from them as well. So we expect to receive information from them that will be useful.”

The United States, he said, was mainly interested in specific information about the location and movements of these terrorists, instead of indulging in the dispute whether they were based in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

“As you know, the Pakistan-Afghan border is quite porous; in fact, it’s ill-defined. And so we’re less concerned about are they in Pakistani territory, in Afghanistan territory, or as we are obtaining information so that we can eliminate them,” he said.

Mr Tillerson said he also explained President Donald Trump’s new strategy for South Asia in his discussions with Afghans, Pakistanis and Indian leaders, which requires the involvement of regional players, particularly India and Pakistan, for restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan is a key partner for the stability of the region. We have a long history of positive partnership with Pakistan, but Pakistan must do more to eradicate militants and terrorists operating within its country,” he said.

“The people of Pakistan have much to gain from a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, and a region that denies safe haven to terrorists. This was my principal message to Prime Minister (Shahid Khaqan) Abbasi, Chief of Army Staff (Gen Qamar) Bajwa, and the Pakistani leadership.”

He rejected the suggestion that he was lecturing Islamabad from Delhi and Kabul, which irritated Pakistanis. “I would not have characterised my direct discussions with them as lecturing at all. It was a very good and open exchange,” he said.

“In fact, we probably listened 80 per cent of the time and we talked 20 per cent. And it was important to me, because I have not engaged with Pakistani leadership previously. And so my objective was to listen a lot, to hear their perspective.”

The meetings in Islamabad, he added, provided both sides to share their views.

“We put our points forward. We put our expectations forward in no uncertain terms. There has been significant engagement prior to my visit, and there’ll be further engagement in the future, as we work through how we want to… exchange information and achieve the objective of eliminating these terrorist organisations, wherever they may be located.”

Dawn – Caitlan Coleman breaks silence on captivity, says ‘was in Pakistan for more than a year’

Toronto-Ontario-Canada, 24 October 2017. Disputing claims about her rescue, the recently recovered Caitlan Coleman has said that she was in Pakistan for at least a year before she was “rescued” by Pakistan Army in an operation near the Pakistan-Afghan border earlier this month.

While speaking to the Toronto Star in her first interview since her recovery, Coleman said: “Right now, everybody’s shunting blame and making claims. Pakistan says no, they were never in Pakistan until the end. The US says, no they were always in Pakistan; it was Pakistan’s responsibility. But neither of those are true”.

She also said that she is certain that they were held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We were not crossing into Pakistan that day. We had been in Pakistan for more than a year at that point.”

Coleman, an American national, revealed in the interview, published on Monday, that the couple was moved to Pakistan immediately after being kidnapped in Afghanistan.

“They first took us out of Afghanistan; it was several days’ drive,” said Coleman, who still wears a hijab after being released. She refused to comment on whether the couple has converted to Islam.

She said that her kidnappers took them to Miramshah in North Waziristan where they were kept for almost a year, adding that they knew where they were because her husband, Joshua Boyle, could understand some Farsi.

“It was very bad. My husband and I were separated at that time. He wasn’t allowed to see Najaeshi or spend any time with us.”

Najaeshi Jonah is their oldest son.

“Then we were moved to the north of Miramshah, to the house of a man who said he was called Mahmoud. He was very nice to Najaeshi and would provide us with amenities [that] we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she told the Toronto Star. “He would take Najaeshi out to get him sunlight and nobody else did that at any other point.”

She does not exactly remember the events around her rescue but does recall a gun battle while she was in the trunk of a car.

“Our first fear, why we were not poking our heads up and yelling for help, was that it was another gang trying to kidnap us. Possibly just part of the Haqqani network fighting with another part. They’re all just bandits,” she said about her rescue.

“You’re a prisoner for so long, you’re so suspicious. I was still thinking we don’t know these people, we don’t know where they’re taking us.”

Of her reaction on realising it was the Pakistani forces and not another group of captors, she said: “I think I was mostly just in shock”.

While revealing details of the rescue, Pakistan Army had said that the family had been moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan the day the operation took place, not earlier.

‘Captors killed child because Joshua refused to join them’

Backing her husband’s earlier claims of Coleman being raped in captivity and the forced abortion of their child, she said that the assault on her happened because they wanted the couple to stop contacting people who were not their guards or captors.

The Taliban had refuted the claims, saying that the child had died naturally and that the woman had not been raped in captivity.

They named their unborn child “Martyr”, she said, who was killed because the captors were angry at Boyle for not joining them.

They killed the child using using high amounts of estrogen in their food and boasted of what they had done, she told the daily.

Her next two pregnancies were kept secret and the babies were delivered by Boyle using a flashlight.

“We had a pen they didn’t know about and we were taking little scraps of paper and trying to hand out notes to anyone and everyone that wasn’t one of the guards or commanders involved in killing Martyr,” she said regarding the alleged assault against her.

“But then they took us, separated us, and beat us and that was when the assault on me happened because they wanted us to stop.”

Naming houses in Afghanistan, Pakistan

The couple and children were frequently moved between Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to Coleman. They were usually drugged and kept in the trunk whenever they were moved, she said.

From their house north of Miramshah, they were then taken to Spin Ghar in Afghanistan. Coleman also shared lighter moments they had in captivity, including naming the places they were kept in.

They called one “Cat Hotel” because it looked like a hotel to them. She claimed they could see the Pakistan-Afghan border from there. The kidnappers acquired a Pakistani-styled “jingle truck” from there, told Coleman, and moved them to an area between Kohat and Bannu.

Their last “home” was named “Dar Al Musa”, she said.

“Outside everyday they were doing some training or something was going on, and some guy was shouting and we laughed because whoever Musa was, he was not doing a good job,” she said.

“He was always yelling, ‘No, no, no, Musa Musa.'”

They were there since November 2016, she said, and were then transferred to the “Mud House” just two days before their recovery.

Decision to have children in captivity

Speaking on the couple’s decision to have two children in captivity, she said that, among other things, she wanted a large family and they did not know when they would be released.

“It was a decision we made. We did think about it […] it’s difficult to explain all the reasons, but, for me, a large part was the fact that it has always been important to me to have a large family,” she said.

“This took our life away from us, this captivity with no end in sight. And so I felt that it was our best choice at that time. We didn’t know if we would have that opportunity when we came back. We didn’t know how long it would be. It was already unprecedented, so we couldn’t say, ‘Oh, we’ll only be here a year or six months.'”

The Asian Age – Trump’s Afghan/Pakistan mess: A ‘rebalancing’ is needed

K C Singh

Op/Ed, 19 October 2017. America’s President Donald Trump announced his new Afghan policy on August 21, after an in-depth review. He changed three elements in his predecessor Barack Obama’s doctrine. One was a limited surge of 3,000 additional troops, taking the total to around 11,000.

He also took timelines off the table, which common sense and military leaders had anyway demanded as withdrawal dates allow the Taliban to, in sporting terms, run out the clock and avoid negotiations. Finally, Mr Trump loosened the rules of engagement, thus liberating field commanders from constraints on the manner and place of deployment.

What caused the real regional churn was his threatening message for Pakistan, seeking more action against terrorists and their sanctuaries while inviting India to increase its development footprint in Afghanistan. This caused sinking morale and ire in Pakistan.

In New Delhi, it seemed as if Diwali had come early, and ruling party spokespersons preened on television, using harsh and condemnatory language about Pakistan. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj took the same line as she turned her UN General Assembly address into a Pakistan-bashing session.

The global Indian vision had been subsumed in a vitriolic Pakistan policy. Pakistan adopted its time-tested methods of mixing ire with self-pity, bemoaning its sacrifices in combating terrorism. The onus for bringing the Taliban to heel was gradually shifted to Afghans or others, claiming it had diminishing influence on the group.

Links to the deadly Haqqani Network were denied, but by a magic trick Pakistan got released from the same group the Canadian-US Boyle family abducted since 2012. Mr Trump’s subsequent adulatory tweet saying he looked forward to working with Pakistan caused some discomfort in Delhi.

Even Rahul Gandhi hit his target sarcastically, asking whether it was not time for PM Narendra Modi to go hug Mr Trump once again.

In the process, the US objective has been largely lost. Senator John McCain, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, asked appropriately that he would freeze confirmation of new defence appointees until he gets “a more detailed strategy for war in Afghanistan”. Some contours of the new US approach are visible already, though many ambiguities remain.

The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) met in Muscat, Oman, on October 16. When a senior US official was asked by me why only China was in that group out of the regional powers, besides the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the answer was that it was one of many groupings to enable finding a regional consensus on stabilising Afghanistan.

That is easier said than done as President Trump’s refusal to certify that Iran was abiding by the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal, and dubbing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation is likely to drive Iran to oppose the US’ Afghan policy.

It is conjectured both Iran and Russia have been lately offering the Taliban aid and sanctuaries. Thus US-Iran dissonance will breed Iranian non-cooperation or even hostility as the US moves to stabilise Afghanistan. Pakistan is partially right that other regional players are guardians of some elements of the Taliban, thus diminishing Pakistani influence.

Similarly, the Saudi Arabia-led pillorying of Qatar, which is being opposed by Iran and Turkey, will play out in Afghanistan. The only formal Taliban office overseas is in Doha, Qatar. It is now difficult to travel to Doha from many aviation hubs in the Gulf, making contact with Taliban leaders more difficult.

Apparently Saudi Arabia and UAE have opened their own channels to the Taliban leadership to remain in play. Thus the Iran-led Shia alliance rubbing against the Sunni alliance led by Saudi Arabia in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen will get reflected in their roles in Afghanistan.

However, a shared concern is the resurfacing of ISIS (Daesh) fighters, ejected from their strongholds in Syria and Iraq, in Afghanistan and even Pakistan. They are without a state sponsor as yet and threaten all regional powers. Hopefully no one will start using them in the “Great Game” in the region. Can all regional powers sink their differences to counter them?

India-Pakistan relations remain bogged in mutual recrimination. The Narendra Modi-Ajit Doval doctrine of no dialogue till support to terror ends is unrealistic. At best, Pakistan should be held accountable for attacks traceable to its state agencies. Otherwise the veto on India-Pakistan relations passes into the hands of any single jihadi who is willing to die.

Unfortunately, popularly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been decapitated by judicial writ. Pakistan is already in electoral mode with parliamentary elections due next year.

Mr Modi faces a crucial Gujarat Assembly election soon, and may even be forced to call early Lok Sabha elections if the economy does not rebound or a bad monsoon is anticipated.

Thus, bilateral ties in the foreseeable future will be run by hawks on both sides. Afghanistan can be the greatest confidence-builder between the two nations, or the theatre of extreme offshore rivalry.

The Trump administration will soon realise that no Afghan/Pakistan policy will work unless all regional powers honestly cooperate. The US President’s next visit abroad is to China, Japan and Republic of Korea, with its focus likely to be on containing North Korea with its nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump needs to rebalance his approach to South and West Asia if his Afghan policy has to work. Otherwise, ironically, the creator of radical Islamist forces to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan will find the roles reversed, with the Russians using the Taliban to undermine the US in Afghanistan.

The Indians may act likewise if they see Pakistan gaining control over the new US Afghan doctrine. The moral is that while tweets can entertain or provoke, they cannot really resolve geostrategic riddles.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry
He tweets at @ambkcsingh

Dawn – ‘Missing’ journalist Zeenat Shahzadi recovered after more than 2 years

Lahore, 20 October 2017. Zeenat Shahzadi, the journalist who went missing in Lahore in 2015, has been recovered by security forces, officials said on Friday.

Retired Justice Javed Iqbal, head of the missing persons commission, confirmed Shahzadi’s return while speaking to BBC Urdu. She was recovered on Wednesday night from near the Pakistan-Afghan border, Iqbal said.

The newly appointed National Accountability Bureau chief said that some non-state actors and enemy agencies had kidnapped her and she was recovered from them, adding that tribal elders in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played an important role in her recovery.

Shahzadi’s family has yet to issue a statement.

Shahzadi, who raised her voice for victims of disappearance, went missing in August 2015 while on the trail of an Indian citizen Hamid Ansari reported to have been caught by Pakistani agencies. She had filed an application with the Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell on behalf of Fauzia Ansari, Hamid’s mother.

According to one version, Hamid was pursuing a Pakistani woman whom he had befriended on the Internet.

The application was accepted and forwarded to the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.

A few months later, news surfaced in a section of the media, saying that Hamid had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage. According to some rights campaigners, Hamid has served his sentence and ought to be set free now.

Human rights activist Hina Jillani, in a 2016 interview with BBC Urdu, alleged that Shahzadi had once told her family that she had been “forcibly taken away by security agencies”, detained for four hours and questioned about Hamid.

The disappearance of Shahzadi hit headlines once again in 2016 when her brother, Saddam Hussain, committed suicide in March that year. His elder brother, Salman, had told Dawn that the teenage boy was emotionally attached to his missing sister and very much disturbed by her mysterious disappearance.

The Hindu – A day in Delhi for Ghani and Tillerson

The visits will provide India opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues

Special Correspondent

New Delhi. 20 October 2017. Continuing with close bilateral consultation, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will visit India on October 24. The official confirmation about the visit came even as the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated India’s commitment to ‘rule-based international order’, setting the stage for the visit of USA Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the capital on the same day.

The visit by President Ghani comes within days of a visit to Kabul by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Thursday’s Taliban attack on the Afghan National Army base in Kandahar province that killed at least fifty-eight security personnel.

When asked about the details of the Afghan leader’s agenda, an MEA official source said that the visit was being “worked upon” and a statement on the agenda would be made soon.

Mr Ghani’s visit, which is likely to last for half-a-day, is significant as it comes two-months after USA President Donald Trump announced his government’s new Afghanistan policy for which he has urged India to do more.

Crucial talks

The visits of Mr Ghani and Mr Tillerson to Delhi indicate that they will provide all three, the USA, Afghanistan and India, the opportunity to hold talks on crucial regional and security-related issues.

Indicating at India’s stance to Mr Tillerson’s visit, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We appreciate his positive evaluation of the relationship and share his optimism about its future directions. We look forward to welcoming him in India next week for detailed discussions on further strengthening of our partnership.”

The Ministry’s statement was a response to Mr Tillerson’s October 18 comments at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC, where he highlighted his two decades-long personal ties with India and said:

Centre of gravity

“The world’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of the Indo-Pacific. The USA and India, with our shared goals of peace, security, freedom of navigation, and a free and open architecture, must serve as the eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr Tillerson had also pointed out that China’s rise as an international power had been “less peaceful”. The Asia-Pacific component of the visit will unfold soon after the latest congress of the Communist Party of China which led to the consolidation of power of President Xi Jinping and his re-election for one more term.

Dawn – Hostage family held in Pakistan for five years: CIA

Washington DC, 20 October 2017. The CIA head said on Thursday that the US-Canadian couple kidnapped by the militants in Afghanistan were held inside Pakistan for five years before being freed last week.

“We had a great outcome last week when we were able to get back four US citizens who had been held for five years inside of Pakistan,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank in Washington.

Mr Pompeo’s remarks appeared to be the first time a US official has publicly stated that the family spent their captivity in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military and government indicated that US citizen Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their children were rescued shortly after entering Pakistan from Afghanistan.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the hostages were probably held by the Haqqani militant group in or near its headquarters in northwestern Pakistan the entire time.

Dawn – Ghosts from Vietnam

Irfan Husain

Op/Ed, 14 October 2017. Readers of my generation will no doubt recall the horrors of the Vietnam War in which countless lives were lost in a pointless conflict.

I was in my early 20s when the Tet Offensive of 1968 shattered American illusions that the Vietcong were on the verge of defeat. I remember all too well the anger many of us felt over the merciless American bombing of unarmed civilians in North and South Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia.

Watching the 10-part documentary about the war directed by Ken Loach and Lynn Novick, I relived those bleak times as harrowing images from old newsreels showed the unceasing American assault on Vietnam. In terms of archival research, this is a cinematographic tour de force.

Spread over 18 hours of news reports and interviews, it overwhelms the viewer with its unrelenting coverage of events on the shifting battlefields, as well as in Washington, Hanoi and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).

By weaving together factual coverage and a vast range of personal interviews, the documentary underlines the horrors and sacrifices on both sides.

In particular, the implacable determination of the North Vietnamese communist leadership, and its willingness to commit hundreds of thousands of men and women to the cause, comes through as an immovable force.

Facing them were the mounting numbers of Americans in uniform: at one point there were nearly half a million US troops in South Vietnam. Almost 60,000 were killed. More bombs were dropped by the US on Indochina than on Germany and Korea combined.

The US is still bogged down in Afghanistan

Seen on paper, these statistics do not move us as does the testimony of a 15-year-old North Vietnamese girl who volunteers to join a unit that hauls supplies to the south through the jungle. Known as the Ho Chi Minh trail, this network of paths was constantly bombed by US planes. Napalm was commonly used, and casualties were heavy.

Through the documentary (I have watched the first six episodes) runs one constant refrain: as casualties mount and success remains elusive, general after American general asks for more troops. The Pentagon keeps assuring president Lyndon Johnson that if field commanders were given extra troops, the enemy’s defeat would be assured.

Inside the US, the daily TV coverage of the war made it increasingly unpopular, fuelling a significant anti-war movement. When four demonstrating students at Kent State University were shot dead by the National Guard, protests erupted across the US. Large demonstrations broke out in London, Paris and other capitals.

Finally, following the 1973 Paris peace talks, the Americans withdrew from Vietnam, leaving behind the abiding image of a helicopter taking off from the US embassy in Saigon, with people clinging to its landing gear. Thus ended a needless war that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Sadly, no lessons appear to have been learned. The Americans are still bogged down in Afghanistan after 16 years of war. And the generals are still calling for more troops and promising victory. But additional forces have done nothing to cow the Afghan Taliban into submission.

As in South Vietnam, the US enjoys control of the air, and has artillery and armour. And yet an outgunned, dirt-poor foe has fought the mighty war machine to a halt.

With their focus on ‘body count’ and PowerPoint presentations, US generals have not factored in ideology and nationalism as force multipliers. Given the fact that American politicians are ultimately answerable to voters, they cannot afford an unending number of body bags.

One reason there is so little interest in America about the Afghan conflict is that the class composition of US forces has changed since the Vietnam War. In the latter period, soldiers were conscripted into the armed forces, forcing many young, educated middle-class men to fight.

Now, the Americans have an all-volunteer military, and most foot soldiers are from the working class. They have a lower social profile, and get little sympathy or attention. There is thus far less media coverage of the Afghan war than Vietnam received.

But the larger question to be asked is why Americans have not applied the lessons of Vietnam to Afghanistan? After all, in both conflicts they faced poorly armed but highly motivated foes, and both the Vietcong and the Taliban had contiguous territory they could shelter in.

A retired Russian general, interviewed during the height of the fighting in Afghanistan, said he was amazed to see the Americans repeating the Red Army’s mistakes. Why, he wondered, had they not spoken to him and his ex-colleagues to benefit from their experience?

Why indeed? Obviously, hubris prevents US generals from learning from history, or the knowledge of others. They think their superior arms can win easy victories, but as the Vietcong and Taliban have shown, asymmetrical warfare depends more on resolve and a willingness to sacrifice.

The Hindustan Times – Trump sends lieutenants to ‘agents of chaos’ Pakistan with tough message from USA

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

7 October 2017. President Donald Trump will dispatch his top diplomatic and military advisors to Pakistan in the coming weeks, turning up the heat on a nuclear-armed ally accused of harbouring terror groups.

Weeks after Trump angrily accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to “agents of chaos,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to depart for Pakistan late this month.

He will be followed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, according to US and Pakistani sources.

The one-two punch is designed to drill home Trump’s message that Pakistani state support for jihadist groups has to end, according to officials briefed on the visits.

Washington has long been frustrated by Pakistan’s willingness to offer cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed jihadist groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.

The relationship reached the breaking point in 2011, when president Barack Obama sent commandos into Pakistan in 2011 to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a military garrison town.

With little change since then, Trump came to office indicating that Washington’s frustration had reached the point where something had to give.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said in an August address.

But in the six weeks since Trump signalled that tougher tone, there have been precious few signs that the calculus in South Asia has changed.

Mattis told Congress this week that he will try “one more time” to “see if we can make this work.”

Not acceptable

“To this point, we have not seen any impact on military-to-military relations,” said one Pentagon official, suggesting any change would not happen after Mattis’s visit.

Visiting Washington, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif appeared unwavering.

He lashed out at “hollow allegations” about Pakistan harboring terrorists as “not acceptable.”

“That is not the way you talk to 70-year-old friends,” Asif said bitterly.

“Instead of accusations and threats we should cooperate with each other for peace in the region,” he added in confirming Tillerson’s visit.

While professing anger in public, Pakistani officials in private complain about receiving no concrete requests to target the Haqqani network or other groups.

US officials have been reticent to share some intelligence for fear of tipping off targets with links inside Pakistan’s government.

Earlier this month, a US drone killed three suspected militants in an attack on a compound in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Pakistani officials also complain of receiving mixed messages from the Trump administration, which is still struggling to find its feet under a mercurial commander-in-chief.

A September meeting in New York between Vice President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was said to be cordial, despite Trump’s fire and brimstone rhetoric.

“It was a very good meeting with the vice president,” said Asif.

After that, Pakistan officials said, they were surprised at a tougher tone outlined in public by Mattis and in private by Trump’s National Security Advisor H R McMaster.

Call Pakistan’s bluff

Some optimists point to a visit by Pakistan’s army chief to Kabul as evidence that Islamabad is moderating, after years of support propping up the Taliban.

But many, having watched this debate for decades, are less convinced.

The Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, they argue, remain a potent tool in the hands of Pakistani intelligence.

“Of course they don’t get the message” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University.

“Pakistan is not going to do anything different than its already doing unless the administration can figure out a way to do what no administration has previously done.”

“That is basically to call Pakistan’s bluff and impose some meaningful punishment.”

Trump has warned that military aid, which was halved between 2012 and 2016, could be cut further, a move that Fair dismisses as insufficient.

“It’s basically saying that we’re going to cut back the money the US taxpayer is giving to Pakistan,” she said.

“That’s not punishment. Pakistan is not entitled to our money. What they are really talking about is giving Pakistan less of an allowance.”

Policymakers have considered revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, with deep symbolic but limited practical impact.

Punitive economic sanctions, that could force Pakistan closer to China, Russia or Turkey, seem a long way off.

And Pakistan remains vital for the United States as a route to resupply its forces in Afghanistan and for supplying the Afghan army.