…are condemned to repeat it…

Post by Takhalus:

Talat Hussain’s latest shows on the situation in Bajaur are quite interesting.

While his interview with the head of the FC is noted for the generals excessive bravado he does make valid points when he says how the militants establish a hold on the local society. Essentially virtual unknowns are empowered with guns and money and then target the local elite. Once the local elite are sidelined the militants establish a de facto administration. The sophistication of the way the insurgents/militants behaved surprised me.

The show in itself is a credit to Talat for being informative and well researched, but the general’s comments reminded me of an article i read some years back in the New Yorker — the archived link for it is available here where it discusses the writers interview with Asfandyar Wali Khan and the difficult time his party faced during Zia ul-Haqs time in opposing the Afghan “Jihad”

“You can’t imagine what we went through, trying to keep it going, as the United States was funding the jihad. I remember sitting with a cousin in a bank when a man came in to cash a check for twelve and a half million dollars. This was the kind of man you would never have shaken hands with. How could I fight that kind of money?”
He recalled how marginal figures were changed overnight into powerful politicians. “Like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” he said. Hekmatyar was a radical Afghan Islamist who was picked by Zia’s I.S.I. agents, and the C.I.A., to help lead the new holy war. “When Hekmatyar was made a leader, he had scarcely one bicycle and one bedroom to his name,” Asfundiyar said. He mentioned Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, another mujahideen patronized by the I.S.I. “Sayyaf used to sell socks out of a basket in the bazaar. Suddenly, he and all these other leaders had Land Cruisers and Pajeros. None of them had a political organization inside Afghanistan. They had private armies, built in Peshawar with American dollars.”

Isn’t that exactly what General Tariq described?

Myths about radio jamming

The Taliban are thought to be operating weak mobile transmitters. A mobile transmitter that can be carried on a bicycle or motorcycle will have to be very weak. It will need to run off of batteries and also have a low antenna (low antennas limit transmission range since the signal is more likely to be blocked by obstacles such as trees, hills, houses, and buildings). So realistically, the Taliban’s mobile transmitters will be limited to below 1kW almost definitely and most likely below 500W (especially for the bicycle version). It simply cannot compete with a large, stationary transmitter with a dedicated diesel generator acting as a power supply. A small radio station can easily output 100kW of effective power (a term for the combination of the true transmitter power and the gain from the antenna), and its very tall antenna will make sure that signal reaches just about every receiver in the area without being blocked. Army equipment, which is not artificially limited by government regulations, can easily surpass this.

Some common claims about the “impossibility” of jamming the Swati Taliban’s radio station and why they are incorrect

1. The Taliban are using mobile transmitters so they can’t be tracked, let alone jammed effectively.
This is a basic misunderstanding of how jamming works. When you jam a signal, you do not do anything to the transmitter itself. There is no high power beam that you shine on the transmitter that somehow makes it stop. Instead, radio jamming works by sending a competing signal to the receivers you are interested in (in this case, home radios). The stronger signal will win and the other signal will be silenced. FM radio, in particular, is very easy to jam due to something called the capture effect. FM radio receivers used in homes and cars are designed to eliminate noise and interference by locking onto the strongest signal available and suppressing weaker signals. This allows a clear, static free broadcast even when neighboring radio stations accidentally overlap on the same frequency (or nearby frequencies). An AM radio, on the other hand, does not distinguish noise and interference from the true signal, so you end up with static or even several voices talking over each other.

As a consequence, jamming an AM source requires lots of power and the resulting reception will be unintelligible because you have to completely drown out the competing signal with a uniformly loud tone (otherwise you could hear the original signal during the quiet moments). However, jamming an FM signal requires only marginally more power than what your opponent is delivering and you can deliver a coherent signal such as an alternative broadcast or even silence.

2. The radios can’t be jammed because they constantly switch frequencies.

Frequency switching is a defense against jamming only when the receivers are also programmed to switch frequencies. By switching between dozens of frequencies every second, it becomes very difficult to jam because you have to send a strong jamming signal for each of those frequencies. This multiplies your cost (in terms of equipment and power) by as many frequencies as your opponent is using. However, home and car radios are not programmed to switch frequencies in conjunction with other devices. If the Taliban transmitted on 50 different frequencies the broadcast would be unintelligible to a home listener because they would only receive 1/50 of the data. FM works by transmitting on one primary frequency called the carrier and a very small neighborhood of frequencies around it, which contains the actual sound information. When you tune your radio to 88.1, that is actually locking the receiver into the 88.1MHz frequency range plus or minus 100kHz for the sound data. If the Taliban switched from 88.1MHz to 96.3MHz, your radio would go silent until you also switched.

The Taliban may be using advanced frequency hopping for their own strategic communications — there are commercially available walkie-talkies that do this — but they could not possibly be using that technology to broadcast their programs to the public because regular FM radios do not support it.

3. The military can’t jam the FM radio without also jamming their own radio communications, in effect harming more than helping.

This suggestion is just silly. While FM can be broadcast on any frequency, consumer radios are only designed to receive FM transmissions in a certain range of frequencies — typically from around 85MHz to 110MHz (though in most regions the range is smaller). The military uses frequencies outside this band to avoid interference to and from civilian FM transmissions. The entire FM radio range could be jammed with absolutely no effect on military communications — or indeed, cell phones, television reception, wireless networks, or anything else. Frequencies are distinct and broadcasting or jamming one range of frequencies doesn’t impact other ranges.

As you can see, jamming a weak transmitter is almost trivial, whether it’s mobile or not, and no matter where it’s located in your target region. You will never be able to jam it 100% since it will always dominate a small area around it, but you can quite limit that area of dominance to a tiny area that makes it insignificant and prevents your opponent from achieving their information goals.

Another technique that could be used by the army which would be more direct is simply using a direction finder and then physically finding and shutting down the transmitters. An FM broadcast is a notoriously easy signal to track because it makes absolutely no effort to hide itself (such as by employing frequency hopping as noted above), unlike military communications. Free plans for building an FM signal locator can be found with a quick google search. The army even has a special type of missile called an anti-radiation missile that has such direction finding hardware built in. From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-radiation_missile:

“An anti-radiation missile (ARM) is a missile which is designed to detect and home in on an enemy radio emission source. Typically these are designed for use against an enemy radar, although jammers and even radios used for communication can also be targeted in this manner.”

ARM missiles are expensive so this would not be an effective use of resources. However, in principle, the army could use basic direction finding equipment to track the signal from a helicopter, fly near the location, visually spot the transmitter, and disable it with a machine gun.

A brief overview of radio broadcasting Continue reading

Swat: local issue?

This episode of Kal Tak about the agreement with TNSM is essential watching to understand why no secular parties will ever be able to challenge the combination of religious parties (who ostensibly are opposed to the Taliban, yeah right!), right-wing media, and the Taliban.

The host Javed Chauhdry talks at length about this being a local issue, transitioning directly from the abolition of the princely state of Swat to the TNSM movement (Javed Chaudhry doesn’t mention PATA regulation directly, all he says is that the people of Swat were not used to “English” laws and couldn’t adjust, and then the TNSM movement started). Rahat Hussain, the JUI-F senator, pretty much follows the same line, emphasizing that this is a local movement.

Then Muslim Khan, TNSM spokesman, calls in and contradicts everything Javed Chaudhry and Rahat Hussain said by explicitly saying that their movement is not just for Swat, not just for Pakistan, but for the whole world.

Marvi Memon (PML-Q MNA) starts talking and makes two points: 1. Pakistan already follows Shariah because of clause in the constitution about no laws in Pakistan going against Islam, and 2) even if Shariah was to be brought to the rest of Pakistan, there are “thousands” of ways to establish it. Rahat Hussain immediately debunks these arguments by saying that there is theory (constitution) and practice (penal code) and that having that clause in the constitution does not mean that Pakistani law is, in practice, Shariah. No one can say anything to oppose that. Infuriatingly, after making this unassailable argument for Shariah in the whole country, Rahat Hussain immediately transitions into talking about the issue being local to Swat.

Ayaz Amir II

Back in 1999, at the very beginning of the Kargil crisis, this is what sensible, pro-democracy, anti-extremist Ayaz Amir had to say about the Kargil fighters:

SETTING aside the threat of war, it is instructive and not a little inspiring to consider the courage and skill of the fighters who are challenging the might of the Indian army and air force along the cruel heights of Drass and Kargil in Indian-held Kashmir. Risking a battle in which the chances of death outweigh those of remaining alive requires motivation of a high order. Whatever the Indian side may say, these fighters have a better right than most to call themselves mujahideen, those who fight in the way of Allah.

Whether any or most of these fighters acquired their combat skills in Afghanistan is a matter of detail. What is important is that their spiritual outlook has been shaped by the Afghan experience which they, and a goodly part of the religious and military establishment in Pakistan, considers to have been a true jehad. It was the spirit of jehad which drove the Soviet army from Afghanistan. It is the spirit of jehad which can drive the Indian army from Kashmir. The various schools who subscribe to this thinking consider it an article of faith that the seeds of the break-up of the Soviet Union were sown in Afghanistan. Might not the same happen in Kashmir with similar consequences for India?

And in the same column, this absolute gem:

How can the liberation of Kashmir by force of arms be considered an unjust cause? But it does mean that if we are to sustain this policy it must become the common property not only of madrassa students, great as their contribution is, but of all Pakistanis, including those from the affluent classes. Why must only the poor go to Kargil? Why not others? Who provides the volunteers for such organizations as Lashkar-I-Tayyaba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, etc? Is mainstream Pakistan represented in them? If not, this represents a serious fissure in society, a divide which has affected our polity already – by weakening the foundations of democracy and giving free rein to social extremism and bigotry – and which can be expected to affect it more as time passes.

There is another contradiction brought to the fore by the spirit of jehad in Kashmir. Can righteous wars be waged by corrupt emperors? Let us liberate Kashmir by all means but let us first look within ourselves a bit. Blundering leaders have taken the country to disaster before. The people of Pakistan deserve better than to be led into further disasters by a ruling coterie which does not pay taxes, defaults on loans, amasses flats in London and uses power for personal enrichment.

Let us, therefore, have the sense to decide what we want. If a liberation war in Kashmir, so be it. But let us break our begging bowl first.

And in those quotes we have Ayaz Amir’s entire, forever-dissatisfied worldview in which the brave freedom fighters are the heroes, the affluent class (which includes our generals) with the begging bowl to the West is to be despised, and the connection between the two is to be to ignored.

Imran Khan

Is a perfect representative of the “Shariah for them, but never for me” school of hypocrisy.

Ayaz Amir

From Ayaz Amir’s column in The News:

But Pakistani Talibanism, as represented by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, is a slightly different phenomenon. It may have originated as a side-effect of the Afghan war but it has now mutated into something with a personality of its own. With all its primitive and even barbaric permutations — the bombing of schools, the insistence on what amounts to female segregation, the slitting of throats — it is a revolt against the Pakistani state. Or rather a revolt against the dysfunctional nature of this state.


But why should anyone be attracted to the Taliban? Don’t we know what they stand for? Why should Punjab, of all places, ever afford them a foothold? There’s no simple answer to these questions.

But an obvious fact should stare any observer in the face. There is a stratum of privileged people in Pakistan, a middle class which also lives comfortably or gets by reasonably well, and then an entire population of have-nots, with no stake in the existing order of things, whose existence may not be short but it is nasty and brutish all the same.

Which are the elements flocking to Mahsud’s banner in Waziristan and Fazlullah’s in Swat? Not the big Khans or Maliks but the have-nots. Beware Punjab’s huge under-class which will be fodder and recruiting ground for the Taliban if the revolt in the north-west, escaping the best ability of the Pakistan military establishment to suppress it, snakes its way into the adjoining districts of Punjab.

Every Punjab town, large and small, has a mosque, if not more than one, sympathetic to the Taliban brand of Islam. So at least there is a handy network — a Ho Chi Minh Trail, so to speak — down which the ideology of the Taliban can travel, whether we like this ideology or abhor it being a separate issue altogether.

If this were Nepal this would be a Maoist uprising. If this were a Latin American country it would be a peasant or a Guevarist uprising. Since it is Pakistan, the revolt assaulting the bastions of the established order comes with an Islamic colouring, Islam reduced to its most literal and unimaginative interpretations at the hands of those leading the Taliban revolt.

But then we know that with our Pakhtoon brothers there are no halfway measures. They are given to extremes. No wonder then if evangelicalism in their hands has descended to primitivism and barbarism.

More Inaction

Why does the government seem completely impotent at a time like this? The foreign minister keeps making unbelievably naive statements like “we have not received confirmation of the Polish Geologist’s death yet”. The army seems to be in sleep mode, waiting for the situation to get even worse. Why is the military establishment doing this? Maybe it’s not the monolithic, homogeneous , disciplined force we are made to believe it is. Maybe there are many different agendas and players enforcing different policies. Some may want to control the problem while some may want to fan the flames. Could it be that the army wants to show the citizenry and the members of the non-military establishment that it alone holds the keys to Pakistan’s preservation and protection?

Stephen Phillip Cohen in his book “The Idea of Pakistan” says the army will likely always keep the Islamist threat alive simply to show those within (and also outside) our borders that it is the only institution that can hold the threat of Talebanization back. He says this is not the ideal way to hold power in Pakistan, but it is the only way the army knows how. In the past,  the threat of India was kept alive with instigated insurgencies in Kashmir and provoked wars and now the army has found a new way to hold the country for ransom. It has always been in its interest to show the politicians as inept and corrupt. Public opinion is Pakistan is quick to forget the mistakes and crimes of the past. Already there are letters being published on certain websites begging Kayani to take over the reigns of power (one recently posted very enthusiatically by Ahmed Quraishi). How ironic that the people who can be credited with creating and then harboring the jihadis are now being viewed as the only ones able to protect us from them! I think the army knows this and knows how to use this fact to it’s full advantage. The scary bit, for me, is that I think the army has always overestimated the control it wields over these people. They are already out of control. This article brings up some good points. Why does the government not extend more direct support to the tribal forces who want to protect their communities againt the Taleban? It is essentially pushing these communities into the arms of the militants by it’s inaction.

Strategic errors by Pakistan in Indian Kashmir

All patriotic Pakistanis recently celebrated Kashmir day. Some did so by staying at home, others by attending the local demonstration by a political party of their choice, and yet others with a round of golf or a picnic. In the elitist English speaking circles of Pakistan, one comes across the cockney speaking Hizb supporter and the avowed secularist, with a technicolor range of Islamic green in between. Barring a few, no one will say that Pakistan has been wrong on Kashmir. Barring a few, no one has ever done anything for Kashmir either. But do we at least not owe it to the thousands of Pakistanis dead in Indian Kashmir to at least examine why we did what we did and whether it was worth it?

No one can deny that Pakistan was presented with a golden opportunity in 1989. Regardless of what Indian apologists will say, the uprising that occurred in 1989 was a localized phenomenon. It can be safely construed that the movement was Muslim, in the sense there was not a Hindu or Buddhist presence. It can also be safely said that the movement was not Islamist, not at least in 1989.  One thing on which Pakistani nationalists and Islamists can agree is that Pakistani support for the Kashmiri cause was absolutely a legitimate cause, borne by a territorial dispute as well as a history of animosity between the two nations. The anti-Indian sentiment was, and remains, a legitimate component of the valley’s citizens. Though Indians may celebrate the turnout of the recent provonicial election, let them not ignore the fact that the turnout remained in the low teens in Srinagar as well as other urban area. Keeping in mind that revolution and political fermentation usually takes place in urban areas, it is that low turnout in SRINAGAR that is more a legitimate political expression, relative to a rural village voting for a feudal elder.

Keeping in mind therefore the conducive political environment that existed in 1989, where exactly did Pakistan go wrong?

First and foremost, Pakistan’s error was to not countenance the independence of Kashmir, but rather actively move against that while giving support to Pro-Pakistan elements. In hindsight, the pro-independence movement would have resonated strongly not just in Kashmir valley, but also in other international capitals around the world. Whereas today Pakistan ineffectively tries to label the Kashmiri movement as self-determination, it should be realized that no such labelling needed to be done. Self determination was the legitimate demand of the majority of Kashmiris and the JKLF was it’s cutting edge. Yet, thanks to Pakistani direction, the Hizb and the JKLF went to war. In 1984, more JKLF member were killed by Hizb, compared to the number killed by the Indian Army. The Hizb was later sidelined in favor of the Lashkar eTaiba, and the metastizing of that phenomenon is now visible in Swat.

The second major strategic error was the utilization of Pakistani citizens as Jihadis infiltratng in Kashmir. Typically, the Pakistani liberal will speak up against this policy but that will be done on the basis of “Blowback”, where the local Pakistani population get’s radicalized. That may well be true, but the bigger issue is the strategic implication of using Pakistanis versus local Kashmiris. As Punjabi speakers started to infiltrate, essentially, Kashmiris started looking to the Lashkar as saviours – the people who will deliver Aazadi on a platter.  India has supported Mukti in East Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but in both cases, they have taken care to keep the conflict localized and have not allowed recruitment and training of their own citizens. Pakistan on the other hand encouraged local “talent” and so, after 9/11, Kashmir was seen as a territorial dispute and not a desire for human expression in the form of self-expression. Pakistan was thus placed in a situation where it had to brand it’s own patriots as so called terrorists, and overtly stop providing any material support.

Where does Kashmir go now? The obvious answer is that the war for self-determination must go on. Pakistan should and can revert to it’s historic policy of providing moral support. But more importantly, Pakistan should take advantage of the Obama administration’s desire to “solve Kashmir” by offering a grand bargain in the style of Saudi Arabia vis a vis Palestine. A comprehensive rejection of any territorial ambition, accompanied by a holistic solution that trifurcates Indian Kashmir and allows for freedom for a joint entity. If nothing else, it will at least change the paradigm of the conversation and force the world to at least acknowledge the legitimacy of the Kashmir issue.

Piotr Stanczak

Listen to the “analyst” Haroon ul Rasheed apologizing for the Pakistani right-wing viewpoint over this video of a man minutes away from being beheaded. He doesn’t skip a beat. One of the most indescribably surreal moments from a media full of travesties and looking the other way.

I wish the video showed this brave and unfortunate man’s beheading. Not because I want to disrespect him in any way, but because the standard international media line of shying away from showing actual beheadings is actually a subtle way of excusing this behavior and apologizing for it. Of letting us know that it’s OK. Well, it’s not. These people are not animals who emerged in some kind of social vacuum. They are human beings, and more than that they are Muslims and they are Pakistanis. They saw off people’s heads while they recite the same thing that all Muslims recite in their prayers 5 times a day. Why should anyone spare us the discomfort of seeing what they do?