No Good Men Among The Living-3

Author -Anand Gopal

In my last two blogs , we waded through the muddy terrains of Afghanistan with Author Anand Gopal trying to make sense of the two decades long war and finally an abrupt ,shocking anticlimax with American Troop withdrawl

Author invested four years of his life and lived in Afghanistan as local and interviewed thousands of Afghans .Hence the book is an authentic collection of first hand accounts of those people whose every day life became nightmare , as their destiny changed with change of power at the “Power Nodes “

After Taliban was decimated and Al -Qaeda flew out of Afghanistan in late 2001 and early 2002 ,Author often wondered in hindsight ,that may be that was the right time for Troop withdrawl for the USA but then again , Who should have been the power transferred to ?

“The Talibans “- who were Afghan centric and did not mind , minding their own business and had a strong hold in Southern Afghanistan but at an insurmountable cost of pushing the country to the back gear .

OR

The forward centric , prowestern ,representing a tiny slice of the population , totally dependant on foreign powers ,easy to topple governments

The ” MIDDLE MEN “, another wrought in the system ,who had amassed wealth and power at the USA’s expense , the only liason between the Afghan people and the USA also played a strategic role in catalyzing the war to go wrong .Anybody from any faction could be branded as Taliban or Terrorist by these middle men, even to settle their own personnel rivalry and that person could be targeted ,tortured ,imprisoned or sent to Guantanamo prison

In the process ,as early as 2005 ,people of the country were weary and hopeless and Taliban resurgency started .They regrouped themselves by tacit support of ISI , Pakistan and Al-Qaeda and by 2007 they had regained control of half of rural Pashtun territory and interestingly author found out that people lived in peace in those areas .Crime had vanished but islamic justices were met with no jobs or development .

Author reported that as a nation ,Afghanistan always had to piggy back on foreign powers for its development and which further divided the nation into an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle .

US’s intent was always well meaning and Afghanistan toking its baby steps towards development , women empowerment and hence Nation Building

BUT

Intelligence failure ,language barriers , rampant corruption , betrayals led the USA towards one misstep to another and some where lost the holding power of the Nation

Author revisited his protagonists in Afghanistan in 2010 and found out the “Ex- Taliban commander , had landed in Bagram prison ; The Pro Karzai commander was shot dead and Heela , the urban turned rural housewife ,became a senator

Author gave us an authentic account of the state of Afgahnistan and it felt after reading the book that not only the country but the US had also exhausted all its options and troop withdrawl was a foregone conclusion

In Today’s Afghanistan ,there is a humanitarian crisis going on and calls for help are intense and we only hope that we as “Humans Of The World “could figure out some solution and do not discard the Country as “Basket Case”

Wishing you all a very safe week ahead

Hoping to be with you all soon

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NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING -2

Author – Anand Gopal

In our last blog ,in the book review of “NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING” ,BY AUTHOR ANAND GOPAL , we talked about how interestingly ,Taliban, a group of fanatical students came together to bring law and order to the Afghan society and they were a success to a certain extent except for pushing the country back to medevial times

AL -QAEDA

As per protagonist , Mullah Cable ,the Taliban commander , a bad stroke of luck , brought the Arabs of Al-Qaeda to Afghanistan . They had a distinctly different culture , spoke a different language and their goals were entirely different .Al -Qaeda wanted to displace US supremacy but Talibans were Afghan centric .They wanted diplomatic recognition as long as they wer left to their own ways .But at the time of World Trade Center attack in 2001 ,unfortunately ,Al-Qaeda was operating from the soils of Afghanistan.

The U-TURN

After the October , 7 2001 American attack on Afghanistan ,author reported ,Talibans were decimated and Al-qaeda retreated unconditionally .Talibans even agreed to support the US backed Afghan government and Hamid Karzai.This REBRANDING , was nothing new in Afghan politics .This was survival .The losing party either fled ,retired or submitted to the victorious .

But for Americans ,this was all alien

Allegiance is supposed to be for life .Changing colors like a chameleon was unacceptable and the” Foe ” even if packaged differently ,continues to be an enemy

So America continued its war against it’s “Invisible Enemy” and they were never offered a seat on the table in any of the reconciliatory efforts in the initial years .

HAMID KARZAI

Why Hamid Karzai?Author pondered !

Karzai was no different than any other Afghan leader, who survived on foreign power .He was a former humanitarian worker ,Scion of an elite Kandhar Family and with Tribal elders and former antisoviet commanders formed SOUTHERN ALLIANCE with headquarters in a Pakistan CIty

But he was smart enough to be at the right time and at the right place and Americans’plans aligned with his .

Karzai hated Taliban and Americans wanted a man who was from Pashtun ,Background[Tribal background] to head the government .

The Ghost Enemy

At the end of 2001 and early 2002 ,Talibans were dismanteled and Al-Qaeda had fled to the safe Havens . So author wondered who were the Americans fighting the war against?

Entered the Middle men and the frst missteps were taken , when the war started going wrong These” Middle men “understood the meaning of “American power and Money ” and enemies were recreated .

Author named Sherzai as one of them ,who ran the intelligence network for the Americans and reaped enormous rewards .Villas ,Business empires and power in Southern Afghanisatn ,to name a few

Unless you were a part of these PRO MIDDLE MEN OR PRO KARZAI groups .you were targeted by e ither taken into custody ,tortured or sent to Guantanamo prison

No amount of assurances from the rest of Afghans ,who at different times of their lives had belonged to different groups ,either Mujahideens ,Talibans or regular Afghans could convince Americans that like Americans they wanted to build their nation and aimed for peace

So the war , took a new turn and it was called “Counter -terrorism” and the peace efforts were called “Nation building “ but all within the precints of these “Middle Men” and the Victors ,The Americans ,themselves became victims of Afghan Strongmen

We will take forward this review in the concluding blog .

Till then ,

Wishing you all a safe and a Happy New Year , 2022 , in advance

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No Good Men Among The Living

America , The Taliban, And the war through American Eyes

Author – Anand Gopal

Historical perspective

The World was in disbelief and shock when US army left the reins of the country to the same foes ,who they had fought for 20 years .The promise of Women empowerment ,Development ,universal education , Peace ,justice seemed ephemeral and the country was sliding back to the Dark ages

To those of us , whose investment in Afghanistan is merely through News Channels and Print media ,its chaotic socio- political history has always left us wondering , that when would an organized society , emerge out of this upheaval ?

Why Economic stability and self empowerment still eludes this part of the world?

Author Anand Gopal’s book gave us quite a few of those answers ,

In 2008 ,he not only moved to Afghanistan for four years but also learnt their languages and lived as one of them and in the process , interviewed thousands of Afghans and got a close view of actual happenings there

Anand Gopal, as a journalist covers , dangerous and disturbed terrians ,the likes of Afghanistan ,Egypt , Syria and contributes regularly to the renowned magazines ,Wall Street Journal,The New Yorker , to name a few

His new book’s title – NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING – comes from Pashto proverb [,a language spoken in Afghanistan] .

The title seemed very appropriate to him , reflecting present state of mind of Afghan people ,when they realized that none of the sides of the conflicting parties can help them anymore.

Excerpt

His three protagonists one an insurgent Taliban ,another a member of US backed Afghan government and the third a urban turned rural housewife , a civilian ,one from each echelon of society ,belonging to the different warring sides bounce us around through the turbulent years of the country

In order to get a better perspective , we need to delve deeper into the history

GROUND ZERO

To unravel the grand puzzle of Afghanistan , author moves us back almost four decades to 1979 when Soviet Union invaded the country ,that’s the year protagonists felt , was the beginning of it all .

Afghanistan ,those days ,was a largely peaceful country .Though monarchy was overthrown by the then President , Daud Khan ,in 1973 for a one party AUTOCRATIC RULE ,urban part of the country was progressive .Women wore western attires and were allowed education , veils were optional and movie theatres were there

As compared , the countryside was the paradox , ruled by tribal leaders and tribal laws prevailed .

Over the course of time ,urban population was inspired by communism and embraced it and Daud Khan was overthrown and killed

Country saw urban development and women empowerment but to suppress rebellion ,communists also killed tribal leaders ,land lords and religious fighters . A million afghan were killed and 5 million became refugees

These were the times of COLD WAR and Communist influence had to be counteracted .

With the help of CIA money and ISI [Inter service Intelligence] , Pakistan Spy Agency ,Rural Afghanistan saw the making of Mujahideen commanders or War Lords .They were young men from the tribal areas who were trained and armed against the urban elites .Not only violence ,but also a violent version of islam was propagated in their religious seminaries

With the impending collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 , peace deal was signed with Afghan Government in 1989 and the proxy war gave way to CIVIL WAR ,1992-1996 . Horrendous atrocities were committed by the various factions of Mujahideens on each others as well as on the civil society

TALIBAN

A fanatical band of religious students , in 1994 ,came together under the leadership of Mullah Omar to bring a certain law and order to the country .Most of them were from country side ,with minimal formal education but believed in practicing a pure version of Islam .

As per author ,almost 90% of the country was brought under control but it came with a price tag .Music ,films ,photography was banned as it was considered roadways to sin .Women empowerment and education was stalled , and women were incarcerated to their households.

We will continue this interesting conversation in our next blog

Wishing you all a happy weekend

Stay Safe

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Ten Lessons For a Post Pandemic World -3

Conclusions

As we come to the last part of this brilliantly written book ,author draws a profound conclusion that ” Nothing is Written

He opined that though we live in an “Open . Fast and Unstable “ World , we have the “Human Agency “at our disposal and we have the ability to choose the right lanes

The book has numerous historical anecdotes where right decisions have reaped enormous benefits ,beginning with examples from World Wars through Cold Wars to Pandemic managements

The Three Great Crises of the present century [9/11,political ],Financial Crash and Covid -19 , [natural] had temporarily upended us but they were great water shed moments

For staving off any crisis , the power of international collaboration and cooperation should never be underestimated . Truly, we cannot change the existing order completely but can steer ourselves towards an informed decision .Globalization and Diversity is a reality of the present world and there has been structural transformation of our societies secondary to that .Accepting and utilizing those changes ,such as younger and more diverse popu;ation as strength ,would always work to our benefit

As human beings , we are renowned for our flexibility and resilience only if we set our minds to it

Agreed, Economic development may be at its peak now but rampant inequality needs to be addressed with an empathic approach and there should be better redistribution of wealth amongst the underperformers.

Science is not “VOODOO” and experts need to be relied upon as besides economic security we need safe practices for a better tomorrow

Wet Markets “ may be a necessity for poorer nations but they need to be better regulated as three quarters of the present century human diseases such as “AIDS , EBOLA,SARS ,MERS,Bird Flu,Swine Flu and most likely Corona virus , all have animal origins

Preventative Health Care needs to be stressed enough as morbidity and mortality definitely worsens with premorbid conditions

Climate change is for” Real ” and all regualtory steps need to be taken world wide “ASAP” .”Carbon tax ” will soon have to take place for a “Greener Earth”

Rise Of Rest Of the World may be a threat to America’s “Sole SuperPower “ role but there are certain” Pros “ in it too .Responsibility for” World Peace “ and Development needs to be shared by other “Equal Partners

Nothing is Written

On a lighter note , he ends by citing an example from the movie “Lawrence of Arabia “ .Lawrence , the leader of a band of Bedouin Warriers ,risks his own life and saves an Arab Soldier “Gasim” under hopeless situations but when Gasim is found to be a murderer of another tribe member ,he imparts justice and kills Gasim

As Fareed Zakaria’s columns ,podcasts , books ,and his hugely popular CNN show , Global Public Square , currently running 14 th season ,this book is seeped in sensibility , rational arguments and relevance .

Today on his show , he added the “Eleventh Lesson “ , the lesson of “Eastern Wisdom ” , that one needs to spend time , energy and money towards” Inner Engineering “ and if you cannot change the world around you “Change yourself ”

Author concludes that no” Expert “ can give us the guide map of our future .Its always the informed choices that we make along the way

Its a must read and I hope you all enjoy, as I did

Hope you all have a peaceful rest of the week

Will connect soon

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The Post American World – Book Review – Author Fareed Zakaria

This blog should have been one of my first blogs as the source of inspiration is not the book but the author .But the inertia lasted longer than I expected as fictions had caught my attention lately .

I am not left out with many hours in a day  after my job as a physician and CNN is my constant background companion during my chores at home .On one of these days ,by serendipity , I discovered Fareed Zakaria on Global Public square on  CNN   in 2012 and since then I have not missed out on  a single episode intentionally .

I was simply awestruck by his layman version presentation  of the most complex political issues in Global Public square episodes  . Oblivious of the twitter storms or Facebook comments  his episodes  are anything  but candor , conviction and courage about his world views  .The subjects are truly global . contemporary and well researched

Fareed Zakaria was a bright star since his student days in Yale  and Harvard and is considered one of the best analyst of foreign policy, economics and cultural affairs .

“Global public square” is Emmy nominated and he was  ex editor of  “TIME” .Presently he is columnist at Washington Post and best selling author of “The Post American World ” and “The Future of Freedom” . His last publication was “In Defence of a liberal education “. His books as his episodes are lucid , succinct and purposeful.

The  book we are going to touch upon is “The Post American World  which is  a best seller and was initially published in 2008 . I said touch upon as today the book might seem a bit dated but it is an interesting read as you compare notes in retrospect about the last decade ,its prophecies ,its successes and its failures .The book has many historical anecdotes and reference points which gives an insight about present day affairs .The chapters on India and China  are  an indepth depiction of its then socio political and economic milieu and how these counties are trying to gain back it’s lost glory .

Post American World was published when America was in the midst of a deep economic recession  and the  Unipolar world had  started taking note of the rest of the world including the rising stars , BRICS with China spearheading it .

The Wars in Afghanistan and Iran had left a bad taste in mouth and America still   had an expensive military presence in Middle east  with peace not in sight .Unemployment rate was high in the US and outsourcing was a big woe though it left MNCs with a fair share of profit .Middle and secondary education had gaping holes and higher education was leaving a big dent in the financial future of Americans  .Middle America was the worst hit with  no easy solution in sight .

As per author ,Great Britain was the only historical reference of the past centuries for the US of twentieth century, as far as  economic success story and political supremacy goes .The US with its sheer size ,its strong technological base ,stress on meritocracy and unusual strength in turning abstract theory into practical products [Fareed Zakaria] was always way ahead than its counterparts and had emerged as the uncontested Super power, staunch believer of democratic values with stress on free speech . US was the peacekeeper and moderator who the nations of the world  could rely on .

The book ended on a positive note  in which author was optimistic about this Great nation. As per author, though  US is a worrier and this was the fourth wave of concern since 1945, Zakaria was sure this would pass as American system is flexible , resourceful and resilient and it can correct its course on its way if needed .

And America did emerge from this longest lasting recession .

Author did not touch upon President Obama’s presidency and its after math and we are expectant that there would be another best seller on President Obama and after.

President Obama was elected  during this longest lasting recession and for the next eight years right economic policies were implemented and country did buoy out

But the expectations  of the American people were not met .

And the America that emerged Post Obama  was  almost surreal , unimaginable . Everything that was deplored in the past was becoming the new normal

This was the Post Obama America

America felt that the world has not been fair to it .Alliances, trade deals ,Defence deals  did not mean much to it anymore  .It pulled out of NAFTA .Universal health Care which was so painstakingly put together is being dismantled .Iran deal was unilaterally broken with no rational reasons and allies left in a lurch . Land of immigrants were now hating the immigrants and building a wall to stop them from coming . Fair speech is  now unfair and there is  a new kind of fact called “alternative fact “.People are suffering the “Gun Law” and greed is overpowering the need

America was hit so hard by the recession of 2007 that every thing wrong in the past is right in this post traumatic America  .Moral  bankruptcy is at its peak and  an adversary  country is allowed to  interfere in it’s  elections and may have  funded it’s  elections . Simply unimaginable

Economic recession of the US  is fading away but no one knows what to do with this political and moral  recession !  One does get amnesic when times are good but the next decade would bear the brunt of today’s policies

In his book  ” In Defense of a liberal Education ” he debates the virtues of liberal arts which I was not very convinced to begin with . No doubt technology and skill based education leads to better prospects and quicker results  in life but as we trudge along the trajectory of life ,as mentioned by Zakaria ,we try to find “meaning , fulfillment and happiness “, when  futility of the  transient world looms large on the horizon

World of literature always enticed me from afar but the pull was not strong enough to think about long term goals . I do not know the transition to another career will ever happen or not and I am  till now , pretty much fence sitting, but even the journey this far has been joyous and we know unpredictability is the new norm

Would talk to you all soon