TRUMP’S CLUELESS WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

TRUMP’S CLUELESS WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

By: Lawrence Sellin, Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve
11/30/2018

Yes, it is President Trump’s war now, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. The bad news is: neither do those advising him.

So, the Trump administration has chosen to prolong the stalemate by continuing an expensive, exhaustive and entirely inappropriate counterinsurgency strategy in the desperate hope that the Taliban will be encouraged to join a peace process and agree to terms that will permit the United States to withdraw without the appearance of a humiliating American defeat.

Good luck with that.

The Trump Afghanistan policy remains the same as the two previous administrations: “Our primary mission remains to protect the homeland by preventing Afghanistan from being used again as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States or our allies.”

The success of that mission has always been predicated on a single proposition, to buy enough time so that Afghan security forces can successfully take the lead against the Taliban or any other terrorist entity who planned to use Afghanistan as a training or operational base.

In 2010, after serving at ISAF Joint Command (IJC) in Afghanistan, I wrote about our advise and train program in Afghanistan:

Last autumn [2009] the U.S. government announced that after eight years and $27 billion, the results of the Afghan Army and Police training program were so bad that it was declared a failure. If the effectiveness of the training was ever questioned internally, it had no obvious effect.

It was a program on automatic pilot, where everyone was being reassured that everything was going according to plan and ‘progress was being made.’ Despite the fact that symptoms of failure were already appearing in the press years earlier, no one in the chain of command spoke up and hence, no one should be surprised. The pressure to conform is enormous.

Like Afghanistan, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam depended upon a similar proposition: “American ground forces in Vietnam would be reduced through the policy of Vietnamization and the war turned over to an improved ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] and government capable of defending its territory and its people.”

As we know, that never happened in Vietnam, and it still hasn’t happened in Afghanistan after 17 years.

To paraphrase Clausewitz, we have misunderstood the war we are fighting, turning it into something that is alien to its nature, a conclusion that can offer some clues to the Trump administration.

The war in Afghanistan is not an insurgency. It is a proxy war orchestrated by Pakistan and executed by the Taliban, an extremist group created and supported by Pakistan and composed primarily of Pakistani nationals.

The U.S. military policy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is untenable because Pakistan, through its proxies, regulates the operational tempo of the conflict and, because Afghanistan is landlocked, Pakistan also controls the supply of our troops. Pakistan has effectively used those levers to inhibit the United States from attacking Taliban safe havens and command and control infrastructure inside Pakistan.

Pakistan is an ally of China, not the United States. Pakistan’s aims in Afghanistan are completely different from those of the United States. To view Pakistan as a reliable partner in any resolution of the Afghanistan conflict on terms favorable to the United States is a fool’s errand.

Islamic extremism is endemic in South Asia, largely due to a toleration for or the promotion of that ideology by nation states. That is a regional reality and a U.S. “presence” in Afghanistan will not change it, but merely remain a target of it. Burden shifting is a more sensible approach.

U.S. leverage in achieving a satisfactory resolution to the Afghan war resides less with our presence or our military action in Afghanistan than in managing, to our advantage, the vested interests of nation states.

Financial carrots and sticks have had only a negligible effect on Pakistan’s support of the Taliban because the potential benefits to Pakistan supplied by the Taliban outweigh any measures previously employed by the United States to discourage that support. More effective measures are needed.

Ethnic separatism is Pakistan’s pain point, an existential rather than a financial threat. Greater U.S. leverage, both short and long-term, can be achieved by recognizing and supporting the ongoing efforts by groups such as the Baloch and Pashtuns movements for self-determination, located precisely in the staging areas in Pakistan from which the Taliban operate.

Ethnic separatism in Pakistan is also a threat to China’s investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The disruption of CPEC would be a major geopolitical setback for Chinese economic and military expansionism.

Instead of our current policy, a recipe for stalemate, the Trump Administration should aim higher at the vested interests of those nation states who benefit from the service the Taliban proxies provide.

The United States cannot succeed operating under strategic conditions favorable to our adversaries. Instability can cut both ways. We should learn to manage it.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.

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ATTACK ON THE CHINESE CONSULATE IN KARACHI IS A GAME-CHANGER

 

 

It’s Not Seven Years in Tibet.

ATTACK ON THE CHINESE CONSULATE IN KARACHI IS A GAME-CHANGER

By Lawrence Sellin, Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)

Armed separatists of the Balochistan [Pakistan] Liberation Army (BLA) stormed the Chinese Consulate in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Friday, triggering an intense hour-long shootout during which two Pakistani civilians, two police officers and three insurgents died.

Although there have been numerous isolated attacks on Chinese personnel working in Pakistan conducted by the BLA and other insurgent groups like the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), this is the first assault on a major Chinese government facility in Pakistan.

Despite its relative smaller scale, some in the region compare its psychological effect to that of the 1968 Tet Offensive, which convinced many in the American media that the Vietnam war was unwinnable.

Balochistan — a traditionally secular and tolerant province — has also been the home of a festering ethnic insurgency since the partition of India in 1947, when the region was forcibly incorporated into Pakistan.

Despite its mineral wealth, the Baloch have been intentionally kept underdeveloped by the Pakistan government, which has been a cause for sporadic uprisings, along with oppression and alleged extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military. Since the late 1970s, the Pakistani government has subjected Balochistan to an intensive “Islamization” program to reduce ethnic identification.

The BLA views Chinese investment in western Pakistan, represented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as a form of colonization. It is.

CPEC is the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s blueprint for global domination. It is a development plan, a program of infrastructure projects and a network of commercial agreements designed to link the world directly to the Chinese economy through inter-connected land-based and maritime routes.

The CPEC transportation route, meant to connect China to the Arabian Sea through the ports of Karachi and Gwadar, runs through Balochistan. The success of CPEC also depends upon China’s exploitation of Balochistan’s estimated $1 trillion in gold, copper, oil, precious stones, coal, chromite and natural gas.

CPEC calls for the influx of up to 500,000 Chinese professionals into Gwadar for port and naval facility development, as well as expansion of the international airport to handle heavy cargo flights.

The Chinese have visited and bought land in Sonmiani, which houses Pakistan’s spaceport and space research center as well as the site for a planned liquid natural gas terminal. In addition, Balochistan’s Arabian Sea coast will become dotted with Chinese military bases, from which Beijing will dominate the vital sea lanes leading to the Persian Gulf and provide a link to the Chinese base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal — both strategic choke points.

It is easy to see that an escalation in the Baloch insurgency would be of deep concern to Beijing and Islamabad. If CPEC fails, BRI collapses as does China’s plans for global hegemony. Pakistan, now heavily indebted to China through near reckless amounts of accrued cumulative loans, would face financial ruin.

An independent Balochistan would change the strategic dynamics of South Asia. It could significantly reduce Pakistan’s unhealthy influence on Afghanistan, eliminate the Taliban main headquarters in Quetta and its extensive infrastructure sustaining the war in Afghanistan.

An independent Balochistan could provide a direct and stable sea link to that landlocked and beleaguered country. Baloch self-determination may encourage the large Baloch population in the southeast Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan to challenge the authoritarian theocracy in Tehran.

If Balochistan would be restored to its secular and tolerant roots, it would drive a stake into the heart of radical Islam.

The current Trump administration policy in Afghanistan centers on measures designed to encourage the Taliban to seek a negotiated settlement. In that effort, the United States has few cards to play.

Although attacking the Taliban inside Afghanistan seems to be its main element, a more effective approach may be to press Pakistan’s pain point, ethnic separatism, specifically the Baloch independence and Pashtun Protection (Tahafuz) movements. It also provides a foundation for a longer-term strategy to thwart Chinese hegemony in South Asia.

The BLA may have just exposed a card to play.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.

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TRUMP IS RIGHT ABOUT PAKISTAN

 

 

TRUMP IS RIGHT ABOUT PAKISTAN

By: Lawrence Sellin, Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)

 

During an interview with Fox News, President Trump stated that Pakistan has done little to curtail Islamic extremism — even sheltering al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — despite accepting billions in aid from the United States.

The president implied what many have come to believe: that Pakistan is responsible for prolonging the Afghan war, has nurtured Islamic extremism and, like Iran, has incorporated it as an element of its foreign policy.

That terrorist-reinforced foreign policy includes the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, that killed more than 160 including 6 Americans. It was conducted by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terror gang enjoying the support of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, and al Qaeda.

It is widely recognized that Pakistan created, supported and has given safe haven to the Taliban. Less well known is the role played by Pakistanis in the development and planning of the 9/11 attack.

Although the perpetrators were Saudis, the planners were Pakistani and not initially members of al Qaeda, but the Muslim Brotherhood. It was largely a family affair.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), son of a Deobandi cleric and often referred to as the “architect” of the 9/11 attacks is Pakistani and was born in Balochistan.

Ramzi Yousef is KSM’s nephew and one of the main perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434. He was a co-conspirator with KSM in the Bojinka plot, which included assassinating Pope John Paul II while he visited the Philippines and planting bombs inside twelve United and Delta Air Lines flights out of Bangkok.

Although he was born in Kuwait, Ramzi Yousef is Pakistani. His father was from Balochistan and his mother is KSM’s sister.

Adel Anonn, aka Adel Bani, who had an Iraqi passport and believed to be Ramzi Yousef’s twin brother, was arrested in the Philippines in 1995 as part of a suspected terrorist cell.

Abdul Qadir Mehmood, Ramzi Yousef’s older brother, is wanted in connection with a 2015 terror attack that killed 45 people traveling on a bus from the Safoora Chowk area of Karachi, Pakistan.

Best known as a provider of financial and material support for terrorist attacks, Abdul Qadir has reportedly switched allegiance from al Qaeda to the Islamic State (IS) and is hiding in Wadh, Balochistan, presumably under the protection of IS leader, Shafiq Mengal, a former Pakistani intelligence asset.

Ammar Al-Baluchi, cousin of Ramzi Yousef and maternal nephew of KSM, is a Pakistani citizen in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Charges against him include facilitating the 9/11 attackers, acting as a courier for Bin Laden and plotting to crash a plane packed with explosives into the US consulate in Karachi.

Al-Baluchi’s former wife, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani militant, was convicted of shooting at US soldiers and is incarcerated in the U.S.

Over the years, tens of thousands of Pakistani nationals, a conservative estimate, were trained and fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan. That has never stopped.

During the August 2018 attack in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, 70 of the 400 Taliban killed were Pakistani nationals, whose bodies were returned to Pakistan.

Afghan army chief of staff, General Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was behind the five-day siege of Ghazni. He also said many members of Lashkar-e-Taiba were among those killed in Ghazni province.

It is then no coincidence that all five Taliban representatives to the recent U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar; Mullah Shahabuddin Dilawar, Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Dr. Mohammad Naeem Wardak and Abdul Salam Hanafi, carried Pakistani passports and flew out of Pakistan.

The war in Afghanistan is not an insurgency, it is a proxy war being orchestrated by Pakistan.

President Trump was wise to reduce aid to Pakistan. He should not support yet another International Monetary Fund bailout of Pakistan, its thirteenth, money from which will likely go directly to China to repay those debts.

The most effective leverage against Pakistan, however, is not financial but existential. That is, ethnic separatism: erasing the Durand Line and supporting the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and Balochistan independence groups.

That, Mr. President, is something Pakistan will recognize, a taste of its own medicine, so to speak.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. 

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How realistic is regime change in Iran? How and when Can it happen?

 

How realistic is regime change in Iran? How and when Can it happen?

Released by the Stand Up America US Foundation

 

November 15, 2018

 

By

MG Paul Vallely, US Army (Ret)

 

 

We have a President and Secretary of State, Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo who are committed to regime change in Tehran, Iran, sooner rather than later!

If any of the preconditions for regime change are in place, is the time right in the near future? To this, the answer is yes, if, a realistic strategy and foreign policy are developed. And it will certainly require a well-organized and funded coalition that can draw from all supporters inside and outside of Iran for a new, free democratic Iran.

Without underestimating the power in the hands of the mullahs, the truth is that Iran today is passing through “the deepest crisis the nation has experienced in decades” and is further isolating the country from its neighbors and other nations. A new future must come into being for the younger generations as well as the older generations of Iranians. Policies since the late 70s have produced nothing but grief for much of Iran’s population. A number of protests took place recently in Iran that received almost no attention anywhere other than inside the country itself. These events occurred in peripheral cities that suffer from rising unemployment, lack of infrastructure, increases in the cost of living, extreme climatic conditions, and air pollution. These cities are marginalized in Iran’s public discourse, which is reflected in an allocation of resources that is not commensurate with the needs of the residents – most of whom are classified as “ethnic minorities”. In those residents’ eyes, government policy is negligent and inattentive to their distress. Large-scale violent demonstrations took place recently in the Iranian city of Kazerun, which is under the jurisdiction of the Fars Province. They were the collective response of residents to the publication of a plan for a new administrative division of Fars that intends to remove two densely populated areas from the jurisdiction of the Kazerun municipality and grant them independent status (a sub-province called Koh-Chenar). Underlying the protests is the plight of many residents of the province who have long suffered from difficult working and living conditions. The administrative partition proposal served as a spark that ignited flames of frustration over government neglect.

In addition, the fall in the value of the Iranian currency—despite rising oil revenues—and the massive increase in the rate of unemployment over the past decade signal an economic crisis already heralded by double-digit inflation. In some cases, the government has been unable to pay its employees—including over 600,000 teachers—on time. We understand that there is a great transfer of money out of Iran, much of it coming to the US and other countries. Money laundering in South America has been validated. So, the question is, “What is happening in Iran? At the start of the new Iranian year, it was having difficulty financing over half of its projects, forcing hundreds of private contractors into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, fear of an international crisis over the nuclear issue, and the possibility of new sanctions imposed by the U.S. have put a damper on the Iranian economy.

Pompeo left open the possibility of a new deal, but one based on 12 conditions—including a full halt to all uranium enrichment, withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria, and an end to support for groups like Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq—that the current regime would never support. The idea may seem to be that the U.S. will simply continue to ramp up the pressure until the regime capitulates. Any plan must not follow, and be close to, the neoconservative impulses of the George W. Bush administration people. Or for that manner, follow any of the Obama failed policies that had no specific strategy to assist the Iranian people in their quest for freedom and democracy.

Pompeo argued that recent economic protests in Iran are evidence of public anger at a regime that “reaps a harvest of suffering and death in the Middle East at the expense of its own people.”

In a brief question-and-answer postlude with Heritage Foundation President Kay Cole James, Pompeo came even closer to calling for an uprising, saying, “At the end of the day, the Iranian people will decide the timeline. At the end of the day, the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful. If they choose not to do so, we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes that I set forward today.” Given that there’s almost no chance of Iran meeting the Trump administration’s conditions, the hope seems to be that the Iranian people will take matters into their own hands. This is an enormously risky strategy. Many Iranians who are highly critical of their government’s policies are also resistant to foreign interference in their domestic politics. The regime already depicts anti-government demonstrations as American-inspired regime-change efforts. Pompeo just endorsed that depiction.

Why does the Islamic Republic behave as it does? The answer is that, as the spearhead of a revolutionary cause, it can do no other. The Islamic Republic is unlike any of the regimes in its environment, or indeed anywhere in the world. Either it will become like them—i.e., a nation-state—or it will force them to become like itself. As a normal nation-state, Iran would have few major problems with its neighbors or with others. As the embodiment of the Islamic Revolution, it is genetically programmed to clash not only with those of its neighbors who do not wish to emulate its political system but also with other powers as Iran continues as a threat to regional stability and world peace.

As the Islamic Republic continues to behave as it does it will be impossible for others, including the United States, to consider it a partner, let alone a friend or ally. This does not exclude talks, or even periods of relative détente, as happened with the USSR during the cold war. But just as the Soviet Union remained an enemy of the free world right up to the end, so the Islamic Republic will remain an enemy until it once more becomes a responsible nation-state.

How, then, should one deal with Iran in its current phase? There are several options. The most obvious is to do nothing. Among the attractions of this option is that, at least theoretically, it would deny the Islamic Republic the chance to cast itself as the grand defender of Islam against the depredations of the “infidel” camp led by the United States. It would also allow internal tensions in Iran to come to the forefront.

A robust and coordinated American posture on the economic, diplomatic, political, and moral fronts is creating forceful pressure on the current leadership and inspire new courage in its opponents, this coalition being an example. There is no denying that the mechanics of regime change are a delicate and often highly chancy matter and that the historical record offers examples of failure as well as of success. But there is also no denying that the game is worth the candle. Accelerating the collapse and replacement of this aberrant tyranny, a curse to the Iranian people and to the world, will strike a blow against anti-Western and anti-democratic forces all over the globe, safeguard America’s strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond, and add another radiant page to the Almanac of American support for the cause of freedom.

But the risk in the do-nothing option is clear. Interpreting it yet another sign of weakness on the part of its adversaries, the Islamic Republic may hasten its program to “export the revolution” around the Middle East and, more importantly, develop a credible arsenal of nuclear weapons. The result would be an even bigger challenge to the regional balance of power and to the world.

An alternative to the do-nothing option is the one favored, today as yesterday, by the apostles of dialogue: namely, to reach an accommodation with the Islamic Republic on its terms, in the hope that this will somehow, in time, help to modify its behavior. What matters, they say, is to engage the Islamic Republic as a partner in an international arrangement that, over an unspecified period, will end up imposing restraints on its overall behavior.

The risk here is equally obvious. Having won an initial concession from the “infidels,” the leadership would instantly and reflexively demand more. After all, dreams of conquering the world in the name of Islam, just as Hitler aimed to do in the name of the Aryan master race and the USSR in the name of Communism.

Proponents of “dialogue” like to cite the “Nixon in China” moment as a model for dealing with the Islamic Republic. But they forget two facts. The first is that, during Nixon’s presidency, the initiative for normalizing relations came not from the United States but from China, which was then trying to recast itself as a nation-state among nation-states. The Islamic Republic is not in that position, or anywhere near it. In fact, precisely because it bases its legitimacy as a revolutionary power on the teachings of Islam, something it does not fully control in doctrinal terms, it cannot abandon its revolutionary pretensions as easily as did the Maoists in Beijing, who “owned” their own ideology and could alter it at will.

There remains another option: regime change. The very mention of this term drives some people up the wall, inspiring images of an American invasion, a native insurgency, suicide bombers, and worse. But military intervention and pre-emptive war are not the only means of achieving regime change. Covert, information warfare or as I like to call it, strategic Psychological operations and intelligence operations will be critical.

What matters is to be intellectually clear about the issue at hand. The U.S. and the Middle East will not be safe if Iran, a key country in a region of vital importance to the world economy and to international stability, remains the embodiment of the Khomeini’s cause. Nor can the U.S. allow the Khomeini’s movement, itself a version of global Islamism, to achieve further political or diplomatic gains at the expense of the Western democracies.

The most immediate action by Tehran would be to strengthen the mullahs and demoralize all those inside Iran who have a different vision of their country’s future and an active desire to bring it about. In 1937 and 1938, many professional army officers in Germany, realizing that Hitler was leading their nation to disaster, had begun to discuss possible ways of getting rid of him. But the Munich “peace” accords negotiated by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain handed Hitler a diplomatic triumph and, with it, a degree of international legitimacy that, from then on, any would-be putschists could hardly ignore.

In the Middle East, this story has been repeated many times. The West helped Gamal Abdel Nasser transform the Suez fiasco into a political triumph, thereby encouraging an even bigger and, for Egypt, more disastrous, the war in 1967. The 1991 ceasefire that allowed Saddam Hussein to remain in power in Baghdad, interpreted by him as a signal of American weakness, emboldened him quickly to eliminate his domestic opponents and to begin preparations for a bigger war against the “infidel.” After the first al-Qaeda attack on New York’s World Trade Center in 1993, President Clinton dispatched a string of envoys to Afghanistan to strike a bargain with Mullah Muhammad Omar and the Taliban. Not only, to quote the Taliban foreign minister, was this seen as “a sign of weakness by the Crusader-Zionists,” and one that immensely enhanced the prestige of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but it discouraged the anti-Taliban forces, many of whom concluded there was no point in fighting a foe backed by the world’s only superpower. That is the effect that reaching an accommodation with the regime will have on Iran’s own democrats and reformers. And it will have the same weakening effect on the growing democratic movement elsewhere in the Middle East. Some signs of this are already visible. For example, the fragile consensus belatedly formed around the idea of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians is under pressure from a new “one-state” formula propagated by the “defiance front” led by Iran and including Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Libya, and Sudan. In Lebanon, Hezbollah and its allies have been encouraged by Tehran to pursue a systematic bullying of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. In Syria, the pro-reform camp has been defeated, and the Baathist regime, a vicious menace, has entered into an unprecedented dependence on Tehran. Even major powers like Russia, China, France, and Germany calibrate their relations with the Islamic Republic with reference to how they suspect Washington will, or will not, be acting.

By contrast, in opting for regime change, the U.S. would send a strong signal to the democratic movement inside Iran, as well as throughout the Middle East, that the Bush Doctrine remains intact and that the movement is doomed. Such a policy would also encourage Iran’s neighbors, and other powers concerned about aggressive Khomeini’s, to resist the political and diplomatic demarches of the Islamic Republic without fear of being caught out by a surprise deal between Tehran and Washington.

At home in the United States, a policy and strategy of regime change vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic would have the immense advantage of moral and political clarity. If backed by the requisite political will, it could open the way for a truly bipartisan approach toward dealing with a regime now identified as the United States’ most determined and potentially dangerous adversary in the region. For it is hard to imagine a democratic and pro-Western the Middle East being built without Iran, the largest piece in any emerging jigsaw puzzle.

Abroad, a U.S. policy of regime change would give heart to all those rightly worried by the alliance that Ahmadinejad was trying to build with thugs and lunatics like North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and the Castro brothers in Cuba. Even today, Tehran is the ideological capital of international terrorism, with more than 60 groups from all continents gathering there each February for a global terror-fest. A triumphant Iran, armed with nuclear weapons, would only boost the international terrorist movement, thus further undermining the security of the United States and its allies. That alone is a powerful argument for regime change.

The short answer to the question is yes. Without underestimating the power still held by the mullahs over the Iranian people, let alone their ability to wreak devastating havoc in places near and far, several factors suggest that like other revolutionary regimes before them, their condition is more fragile than may at first appear.

One sign is the loss of regime legitimacy. The Islamic Republic owed its initial legitimacy to the revolution of 1979. Since then, successive Khomeini’s administrations have systematically dismantled the vast, multiform coalition that made the revolution possible. The Khomeini’s have massacred their former leftist allies, driven their nationalist partners into exile, and purged even many Islamists from positions of power, leaving their own base fractured and attenuated.

The regime’s early legitimacy also derived from referendums and elections held regularly since 1979. In the past two decades, however, each new election has been more “arranged” than the last, while the authoritarian habit of approving candidates in advance has become a routine part of the exercise. Many Iranians saw in the 2009 presidential election, in which Ahmadinejad was declared a surprise winner, as the last straw: credited with just 12 percent of the electorate’s vote in the first round, he ended up being named the winner in the second round with an incredible 60 percent of the vote.

Still another source of the regime’s legitimacy was its message of “social justice” and its promise to improve the life of the poor. This, too, has been subverted by reality. Today, more than 40 percent of Iran’s 70 million people live below the poverty line, compared with 27 percent before the Khomeini’s seized power. In 1977, Iran’s GDP per head per annum was the same as Spain’s. Today, Spain’s GDP is four times higher than Iran’s in real dollar terms. As the gap between rich and poor has widened to an unprecedented degree, the corruption of the ruling mullahs and their ostentatious way of life have made a mockery of slogans like “Islamic solidarity.”

A second sign is the presence of a major split within the ruling establishment itself. The list of former Khomeini’s who have distanced themselves from today’s regime reads like a who’s who of the original revolutionary elite. It includes former “student” leaders who raided the U.S. embassy in 1979, former commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and dozens of former cabinet ministers and members of the Islamic Majlis (parliament). Most have adopted a passive stance vis-à-vis the regime, but a surprising number have clearly switched sides, becoming active dissidents and thereby risking imprisonment, exile, or even death. Any decline in the regime’s international stature could deepen this split within the establishment, helping to isolate the most hardline Khomeini’s.

A third harbinger is that the regime’s coercive forces have become increasingly reluctant to defend it against the people. Since 2002, the regular army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the professional police have refused to crush workers’ strikes, student demonstrations, and other manifestations of anti-regime protest. In many instances, the mullahs have been forced to deploy other, often unofficial, means, including the so-called Ansar Hezbollah (“Supporters of the Party of God”) and the Based Butadiene (“Mobilization of the Dispossessed”).

A fourth sign is the emergence of alternative sources of moral authority in Iranian society. Even in religious matters, more and more Iranians look for guidance to non-official or even anti-official mullahs, including the clergy in Iraq. (Admittedly, this is partly since the present “Supreme Guide,” Ali Khamenei, is a mid-ranking mullah who would never be accepted by senior Shiite clergy as a first among equals.)

As for non-religious matters, there was a time when the regime enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of Iran’s “creators of culture.” Today, not a single prominent Iranian poet, writer, filmmaker, composer, or artist endorses the Khomeinis; most have become dissidents whose work is either censored or banned. Opposition intellectuals, clerics, trade-union leaders, feminists, and students are emerging as new sources of moral authority.

Finally, there are at least the outlines, although no more than the outlines, of a strategic, political alternative. Like nature, society abhors a vacuum. In the case of Iran, that vacuum cannot be filled by the dozen or so groups in exile, although each could have a role in shaping a broad national alternative. What is still needed is an internal political opposition that can act as the nucleus of a future government.

Unfortunately, such a nucleus cannot be created so long as the fear exists that the U.S. and its allies might reach an accommodation with the regime and leave Iranian dissidents in the lurch. And that fear has roots. In the years 1999-2000, President Khatami succeeded in splitting the opposition by boasting of the terms of his forthcoming “grand bargain” with President Clinton. His message was ingeniously twofold: the deal would help solve the nation’s economic problems and open the way for less repressive measures in social life and culture, but it would include a stipulation that America would never help opponents of the Khomeini’s regime. Although, as we have seen, the “grand bargain” itself came to naught, the message and its implications have hardly been forgotten.

With a clear compass, the litmus test for any policy toward Iran will likewise be clear: does this activity, program, or initiative help or hinder regime change? Under that general guideline, any number of specific policies can be envisioned, some of them already in place. For instance, the adoption of a regime-change strategy does not preclude American participation in diplomatic initiatives focused on issues, such as the current efforts to engage the Islamic Republic in the matter of its nuclear ambitions. But the crucial criterion is that the process must not be allowed to become a substitute for policy. In the hope of winning concessions from the mullahs, Germany, France, and the UK, the three EU partners in the talks, have chosen to ignore the question of the sanctions already envisaged under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty for the regime’s repeated violations of its provisions; the U.S., by contrast, can and should press for their application.

Above all, the United States should be, as the President stated in his address to the UN, resolutely on the side of the Iranian people. Programmatically, two things are needed here: assuring Iranians in no uncertain terms that the U.S. will never endorse or grant legitimacy to the current despotic regime, and helping to expose the Islamic Republic’s repressive policies, human-rights violations, rampant corruption, and wanton subsidization of some of the worst terror groups on the face of the earth. Funding Iranian opposition groups, if needed, is one way to accomplish this. More important and ultimately perhaps more effective is for the U.S. to use its immense bully pulpit to publicize the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom.

A more robust and coordinated American posture on the economic, diplomatic, political, and moral fronts would create forceful pressure on the current leadership and inspire new courage in its opponents. There is no denying that the mechanics of regime change are a delicate and often highly chancy matter and that the historical record offers examples of failure as well as of success. But there is also no denying that the game is worth the candle. Accelerating the collapse and replacement of this aberrant tyranny, a curse to the Iranian people and to the world, will strike a blow against anti-Western and anti-democratic forces all over the globe, safeguard America’s strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond, and add another radiant page to the Almanac of American support for the cause of freedom.

The regime is dying and no resuscitation is possible so it will be up to the Iranian people to make this happen. You need to be active….All of you need to unite!

 

    “Water eventually finds it’s path”
     – Persian Proverb

The Cure for Radical Islam Is Nationalism

 

The Cure for Radical Islam Is Nationalism

By Lawrence Sellin, Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)

For too long, many presumed experts have attempted to solve the problem of radical Islam by dissecting religious texts or recommending the support of so-called “moderate” Islamic factions.

It is a fool’s errand.

The problem with radical Islam, like other forms of political extremism, is that it is hegemonistic and totalitarian. In a world where democratic institutions remain fragile, national security options are often imperfect and contesting monolithic threats short of war may be best executed by navigating or leveraging inherent geopolitical strata and fractures.

The single, most relevant impediment to radical Islam is ethnic and cultural nationalism.

Tribal, ethnic, cultural and linguistic characteristics are primordial, traditionally hereditary and often the default forms of social identification that predate organized religion. It is only when religious practices were incorporated into those forms of identity that religion became a significant factor or sometimes a substitute for traditional identity.

That is, when religion goes beyond individual or group spiritual beliefs and begins to have not just social, but also political influence, it reaches, or is promoted as, a form of hereditary identification.

Nevertheless, tribal, ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity remain fault lines even in societies where Islam is the dominant religion. Kurdish nationalism in regions where radical Islam is an ever-present menace is an example most familiar to Americans.

Nowhere, however, are fault lines more consequential for U.S. policy than in Pakistan, the Yugoslavia of South Asia.

Yugoslavia was established in the aftermath of World War I as a pan-Slavic solution to the political volatility many blamed for the outbreak of the war. It was cobbled together as a federation of six republics with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines, most of which were remnants of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Ethnic separatism eventually overcame the presumed unifying concept of pan-Slavism and Yugoslavia did not survive the century in which it was created.

Likewise, Pakistan is an artificial state created by the British during the partition of India, based on the ideology of Islam and composed of ethnic groups that never interacted in any significant way. Pakistan’s Sunni “Islamization” program, begun by President Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), which involved the proliferation of Islamic schools “madrasas” and the promotion of Islamic law “Sharia,” was specifically designed to create national unity by suppressing ethnic separatism and religious diversity. As a result, radical Islamic groups, including the Taliban, have proliferated in Pakistan, becoming increasingly more extreme.

Traditionally secular and tolerant, Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan has been the home of a festering ethnic insurgency since 1948, when it was deprived of independence and forcibly incorporated into Pakistan. Despite its mineral wealth, the Baloch have been intentionally kept underdeveloped by the Pakistan government, and have been subjected to extensive Islamization, oppression and alleged extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military.

As a result of both official neglect and intent, the Pakistani province of Balochistan now possesses all the elements of instability, including political corruption, criminal gangs, drug trafficking, a plethora of Islamic extremist groups and an extensive Taliban infrastructure along its common border with Afghanistan.

A secular and independent Balochistan would drive a stake into the heart of radical Islam and change the strategic dynamics in a region, where U.S. influence is rapidly shrinking.

The Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) is a campaign for Pashtun human rights based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the Balochistan provinces of Pakistan. The Pakistani government views the PTM as an ethnic separatist movement and has made efforts to suppress it. Those efforts include alleged government-inspired attacks conducted by the Taliban on the PTM and the incorporation of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The latter was ostensibly designed to dilute the influence of the PTM as a substrate for ethnic self-determination and the potential for the PTM to loosen the Taliban’s grip on the Pashtuns, both of which might interfere with Pakistan’s plans for Afghanistan, and, indirectly, China’s regional ambitions.

How does ethnic and cultural nationalism translate into strategic options for the United States?

Other than a “presence,” the U.S. has little negotiating leverage in Afghanistan, even for a graceful exit.

There are simple explanations for why the U.S. has not succeeded in Afghanistan after 17 years. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and Pakistan does not share the same aspirations for Afghanistan as the United States. Pakistan has stymied U.S. efforts in Afghanistan by controlling the operational tempo through its support of the Taliban and Haqqani network and by maintaining a stranglehold on the supply of our troops.

Blackmail largely restrains the United States from attacking insurgent safe havens in Pakistan because, by doing so, there is a risk that further destabilization of Pakistan would allow terrorists to obtain nuclear weapons. So the stalemate continues and the Pentagon’s fallback strategy — more counterinsurgency and nation building — remains the status quo.

Changing the geopolitical dynamics of the Afghanistan conflict by exploiting ethnic nationalism could provide both short-term leverage in peace negotiations and long-term strategic influence.

It doesn’t take a strategic genius to conclude that Balochistan is a regional center of gravity.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the majority of which runs through Balochistan, is the linchpin of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a collection of infrastructure projects and a transportation route that connects China to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi on the Arabian Sea. Without the CPEC, the Belt and Road Initiative — China’s blueprint for global domination — is dead in the water.

You get to the Taliban through Pakistan and you get to Pakistan through China. Ethnic separatism is Pakistan’s pressure point, but it is China that will ultimately feel the pain.

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Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.