Category Archives: Afghanistan

Lessons to Learn from the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” in Pakistan

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

March 19, 2011

I am no fan of Pakistan’s ruling elite or their rampant corruption or their inability to meet the basic needs of their people. And I certainly do not like their influence over events in Afghanistan.

But the recent strain in U.S.-Pakistani relations has demonstrated the Pakistani elite’s impossible bind: They have to balance American and Western efforts to marginalize the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the region with a Pakistani public opinion completely fed-up with the nearly-ten-year-old “war on terror.”

The “Raymond Allen Davis affair,” which sheds much light on the Pakistani public’s hatred for the West, went roughly like this: On January 27, 2011, “Raymond Allen Davis” (that may or may not be his real name), an American working for the U.S. consulate in Lahore, shot two armed motorcyclists who were allegedly trying to rob him (an alternative explanation is that the two men were working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence). “Mr. Davis” left Pakistani custody on March 16 after the U.S. government agreed to pay diyya (blood money) to the relatives of the deceased. Along the way, several details came to light:

1- If “Mr. Davis” is not our protagonist’s real name, then he must have obtained a Pakistani visa using a fake passport. And that means he couldn’t have had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

2- Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who stepped down as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan in early February, may have lost his job for refusing to retroactively confer full diplomatic immunity to “Mr. Davis” under the Vienna Convention.

3- “Mr. Davis” had served in the U.S. Special Forces for 10 years from 1993 until 2003. After his military service, he started a private security company and was contracted by the CIA to work in Pakistan. Upon the Obama administration’s request, the U.S. media kept the CIA connection a secret for almost a month.

4- Before being apprehended by Pakistani police on January 27, “Mr. Davis” had alerted two consular employees to come to his help. On the way, the two employees steered their 4×4 over the median curb of the road and drove against oncoming traffic. They eventually ran over and killed another motorcyclist.

Although the incident and reports of protests in Pakistan may seem “business as usual,” the episode actually offers two very important lessons:

The most offensive part of the “Raymond Allen Davis Affair” wasn’t really the killing of the two motorcyclists (there isn’t much in the press about the two men’s exact intent). It was the other two Americans driving on the wrong side of the road and then killing an innocent motorcyclist. Frankly, if foreigners are in Pakistan (and Afghanistan, for that matter) to really help with establishing law and order, they should set an example by respecting that country’s laws and regulations – including traffic laws.

This is not a simplistic point. In 2010, many Afghans that I had talked to had complained about foreigners’ driving habits; especially their driving on the wrong side of the road in order to bypass heavy traffic. Worse, Afghans drew connections between foreigners’ lack of respect to traffic laws and their potential disrespect toward Afghan people. (Never mind the fact that not many Afghans respect those laws.)

It wouldn’t be too surprising if similar feelings are taking over Pakistanis these days.

A more important lesson to learn is that using private contractors instead of professional spies knowledgeable in regional customs and languages is ultimately going to undermine the CIA’s contribution to the war on terror. It is a truism that you go to war with whatever assets you have. But 10 years have passed since the United States became involved in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s more than enough time to recruit and train the types of agents who don’t expose their identities and the agency’s work in such mishaps. 

 

 

“Raymond Allen Davis” surrounded by Pakistani police – Images of this sort will hurt U.S. efforts much more than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (Courtesy of AP Photo/Hamza Ahmed, File)

In the final analysis, American policy-makers should remember that tragedies and “accidents” like the “Raymond Allen Davis affair” in Lahore may cause popular tensions in Afghanistan and Pakistan to boil over and completely derail U.S. and NATO efforts in the two countries. Some Pakistanis are already questioning their ruling elite’s inability to stand up for their country. Down the road, they might take matters into their own hands – which will likely benefit the Taliban and Al-Qaeda rather than the United States and the international community.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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“Yoktur Ruh İçin Daha Büyük Hastalık”: Türkiye ve İran Arasındaki “Mevlana” Savaşının Saçmalığı

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

9 Mart 2011

[Click here for the English version of this article.]

İki hafta once Kültür ve Turizm Bakanı Ertuğrul Günay, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi’nin “Türk” olduğunu söyledi. “Rumi” (yani “Romalı”), “Türki” Orta Asya’da doğmuş ve o sırada Türkler’in kontrolünde olan eski “Rum” topraklarına (yani Anadolu’ya) göç etmişti. Bakana göre bu sebeplerden ötürü Mevlana’nın Türk olması normaldi.

Sayın Günay’ın iddiaları birçok İranlı’yı sinirlendirdi. Bir kısmını da Facebook’ta “Molavi (Rumi) is a Persian poet, not Turkish!” (“Mevlana Türk değil Persli bir şairdir!”) adlı bir grup açmaya sevketti. Daha da iyisi, İran’ın yarı-resmi Mehr Haber Ajansı konuyu açıklığa kavuşturması için bir uzmana (!) danıştı: Sadeq Maleki isimli bu uzman, Mevlana’nın şiirlerini Farsça yazdığını, bunun da onun Pers “milliyetine” ait olduğunu gösterdiğini söyledi.

Ve hem Sayın Günay hem de Sayın Maleki – birçok Türk ve İranlı gibi – Mevlana’yla ilgili asıl noktayı kaçırdı. Aslında Mevlana’nın felsefesi ve şiirleri “milliyet” gibi basit bir kavrama sıkıştırılamayacak kadar muazzam.

Batı’da “Rumi,” İran’da ve Afganistan’da “Molana,” Türkiye’de de “Mevlana” olarak bilinen büyük insan 1207 yılında bugün Afganistan sınırları içinde kalan Belh şehrinde dünyaya geldi. (Bugün olduğu gibi o gün de Belh birçok etnik grubun ve dilin karıştığı bir yerdi.) 1210’lu yılların sonuna doğru yaklaşmakta olan Moğol istilasında kaçan aile önce Bağdat’a yerleşti, ardından da Mekke’ye Hacc’a gittiler. Sonra da da Konya’ya yerleştiler.

Mevlana ilk önce babasının Konya’daki medresesinde dersler verdi ve özellikle felsefe üzerine çalışmalar yaptı. Ancak daha sonra Şems-i Tebrizi isimli gezgin bir dervişle tanışması onun hayatının dönüm noktası oldu. Şems’in kitabiliğe olan ilgisizliği fakat bunun yanında ortaya koyduğu müthiş bilgelik Mevlana’yı derinden etkiledi ve onu hayatın gerçek anlamını aramaya itti. Ardından da şiirleri geldi.

Mevlana, Yunus Emre, Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli ve İbn-i Arabi gibi büyük mutasavvufların çağdaşıydı. Ve o birikimin şu güzel mesajı Mevlana’nın Konya’daki kabrini ziyareti görev addeden dindar insanlar kadar dinle alakası olmayanları da kendine çeker:

Gel, gel, kim olursan ol yine gel.

İster kafir, ister mecusi, ister puta tapan ol yine gel!

Yüz kere tövbeni bozmuş olsan da yine gel.

Bizim dergahımız, umitsizlik dergahı değildir,

İşte bundan ötürü Mevlana – Abraham Lincoln, Erasmus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Pindar, Plutarch, Rabindranath Tagore, Socrates, ve Sofokles – gibi diğer büyük hümanistlerle birlikte tarihte özel bir yere sahiptir.

Tam da insanlığın Mevlana’nın barış, sevgi ve birlik mesajını gerçekten hayata geçirmesi gerektiği bir dönemde onun mirasına “güya” sahip çıkanların bu büyük insanın “milliyetini” tartışıyor olmaları trajikomiktir.

Bunun yerine, Türkler ve İranlılar Mevlana’nın eserlerini okuyup bunlar üzerinde ciddi şekilde düşünmeliler. Zira,

Yoktur ruh için daha büyük hastalık

Ey bu mükemmellik yalanına batan

Siz kibirli insanlar.

Barın Kayaoğlu, Amerika’da Virginia Üniversitesi’nde Tarih Bölümü’nde doktora adayıdır ve her türlü yoruma, soruya ve fikir alışverişine açıktır. Kendisiyle bağlantıya geçmek için buraya tıklayın.

Ayrıca kendisini Twitter’dan (@barinkayaoglu) ve Facebook’tan (BarınKayaoğlu.com) da takip edebilirsiniz.

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“There is No Worse Sickness for the Soul”: The Stupidity of the “Mevlana War” Between Turkey and Iran

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

March 3, 2011

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın.]

Last week, Ertuğrul Günay, the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, called the Sufi mystic, poet, philosopher, and humanist Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi “Turkish.” After all, Rumi (meaning “of Rome”) was born in “Turkic” Central Asia and had immigrated to “Roman” (i.e., Byzantine) lands under Turkish control (i.e., Anatolia). Thus, the minister concluded, it is only logical that Rumi was Turkish.

Mr. Günay’s comments infuriated many Iranians and prompted a few to start a group on Facebook to let the world know that “Molavi (Rumi) is a Persian poet, not Turkish!” Better yet, the semi-official Mehr News Agency interviewed an expert (!) to set the record straight: A scholar by the name of Sadeq Maleki pointed out that Mevlana wrote his poetry in Persian, which attests to his Persian “nationality.”

And both Mr. Günay and Mr. Maleki – just like many of their countrymen – missed the big point about Mevlana. Mevlana’s philosophy and poetry are too grandiose to be restrained by something as simplistic as “nationality.”

The man known in the West as “Rumi,” as “Maulana” in Iran and Afghanistan, and as “Mevlana” in Turkey was born into a highly respected family of religious scholars in the town of Balkh in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan. (Then as today, Balkh was a medley of ethnicities and languages.) In the face of the incoming Mongol invasion in the late 1210s, the family first moved to Baghdad, then performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and finally settled down in the town of Konya in present-day Turkey.

Mevlana initially taught at his father’s school in Konya. But his encounter with a traveling dervish named Shams (Shams-e Tabrizi) changed his life forever. Impressed with Shams’s indifference to scholarly erudition and his immense wisdom, Mevlana began searching the real meaning of life. Thus came his poetry.

Mevlana was a contemporary of other great Sufi thinkers, such as Yunus Emre, Hacı Bektaş-i Veli, and Ibn-Arabi. And that tradition culminated in the following message, which continues to  attract a wide range of people from the pious who see a visit to Mevlana’s grave in Konya as a religious duty to secular admirers of his poetry:

Come, come, whoever you are.

Heathen, fire worshipper, or idolatrous, come!

Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,

Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.

Therefore, Mevlana deserves a special place together with other great humanists in history: Abraham Lincoln, Erasmus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Pindar, Plutarch, Rabindranath Tagore, Socrates, and Sophocles.

So it’s tragicomical that, at a time when mankind needs to really implement Mevlana’s message of peace, love, and harmony, his supposed followers fight over the great man’s “nationality.” Maybe Turks and Iranians need to read Mevlana’s works and think about them seriously because

There is no worse sickness for the soul,

O you who are proud, than this pretense of perfection.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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The Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com). 

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After One Year, Obama Surge in Afghanistan Has Mixed Results and Mixed Future

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 20, 2010

A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances. General George S. Patton

The Obama administration’s new “Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review” is remarkably optimistic when compared to the conditions on the ground.

In his speech at West Point Academy on December 1, 2009, President Obama had defined the situation in Afghanistan quite dramatically: “What’s at stake,” Mr. Obama had said, “is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the entire world.” To that end, the American president outlined the three core elements of his “surge”: “a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

The Obama administration’s new report claims that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas,” admitting, however, that “these gains remain fragile and reversible.”

Indeed, the “Obama surge” in Afghanistan has been a mixture of success and failure. The additional 30,000 troops sent in 2010 and adopting new tactics have given Afghan and international forces a fresh respite. Actually securing Afghanistan, however, has remained an elusive accomplishment: Insurgent attacks are on an all-time high; failure to resolve the allegations of fraud in last September’s parliamentary elections is shaking the already unstable foundation’s of Afghan democracy; and, in the aftermath of last summer’s floods, Islamabad’s already limited will to clamp down on Taliban strongholds within Pakistan has ground to a halt.

We can reach several conclusions from Mr. Obama’s stance on Afghanistan. First of all, the people of Afghanistan and their government will have to assume greater responsibility for their security – and a lot sooner than the target date of late 2014. America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

More important, we need to see that Afghan security forces, the United States, and NATO allies are fighting more than an organization or a network of myriad groups – they’re actually fighting decades of misery borne out of foreign meddling, occupation, and underdevelopment. Virtually every Afghan official and private citizen will tell you that “90%” of Taliban militants join the group out of economic deprivation and lack of a “meaningful future.” Thus, without building a viable economic order in Afghanistan, all security gains will remain reversible.

The problem is that America’s economic prospects also look bleak. As the veteran American journalist Leslie Gelb pointed out last week, “continuing the war [in Afghanistan] tears at our own nation’s very vitals. How on earth can the [Obama] administration justify spending billions to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan when America’s physical and intellectual infrastructure is simply collapsing?” “Of course, I feel for the Afghans;” Mr. Gelb continued, “but I feel far, far more for Americans.”

When Mr. Obama runs for re-election in 2012, he will face just that criticism – from friend and foe – that he has to focus on “America first.” As such, he will probably begin a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next summer in order to strengthen his hand at home. It will be wise for Afghan and international leaders to take note of that fact.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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