With NATO Strike Crisis, U.S. Should Act Now in Pakistan

At the Daily Beast, I share my recommendations for what steps the U.S. should take after the deadly NATO raid on a Pakistani border post near Afghanistan. Read it here.

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Pakistan and the United States: Frenemies in Need Can Be Friends Indeed

Senior Pakistani and U.S. officials met today in Washington to start what’s being billed as the third in a series of high-level “strategic dialogues” between the two war on terror partners.

Over the remainder of this week, thirteen working groups on a wide variety of issues, ranging from energy to women’s empowerment, will finalize their recommendations for enhancing cooperation and furthering objectives that are said to be mutually shared. A few major transactions, including a new $2 billion military aid package, will reportedly be announced. But the pomp, circumstance, and scale of the pledges belie the reality that Islamabad and Washington are as much strategic competitors as they are partners.

Glaringly, the two governments are pursuing separate and largely antagonistic endgames to the Afghan war. Recent press reports claim that NATO is facilitating peace talks between the Karzai government and Afghan insurgents, including the infamous Haqqani network that the Pakistani military allegedly sponsors to purge Afghanistan of arch-rival India’s influence.

General David Petraeus is promoting (or wants us to believe he is) a peace process in Afghanistan sans Pakistan but with the very groups that the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus has urged the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reach out to. Yet, at the same time, the United States is asking Pakistan to smack the hornets’ nest in the North Waziristan tribal area, home to the Haqqani network.

Why would Pakistan create bad blood with an entity that could very well be integrated into the Afghan power structure in the coming years in a U.S.-endorsed reconciliation process? So its own Taliban-style insurgencies can live on even after the Afghan war comes to an end?

Unlike the United States, Pakistan cannot engage in a front-loaded withdrawal from the region. Barring a dramatic subcontinental drift, Pakistan and Afghanistan are — in Karzai’s words — “conjoined twins.” What goes on in Afghanistan doesn’t always stay in Afghanistan — it often bleeds into Pakistan. The thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personnel killed since 9/11 are case in point.

Pakistan and the United States can continue their transactional relationship. But no amount of money will induce Pakistan to commit strategic suicide. And no American president can be indifferent toward a safe haven in Pakistan where terrorist plots against the United States have been and continue to be plotted.

Maintenance of the status quo will not produce a lasting peace in Afghanistan, which is essential to the security of both Pakistan and the United States. Only a joint effort by the United States, (the predominant occupying force in Afghanistan) and Pakistan (the entity with the most leverage over Afghan insurgents) can end the thirty-year conflict in Afghanistan once and for all, and thereby seriously weaken regional and transnational militants in Pakistan’s border areas, such as al-Qaeda, that have thrived off of instability and foreign occupation across the Durand Line.

Pakistan, as the glue holding together a peace deal between the many Afghan factions and armed with a potent counterinsurgency force to man its frontier with Afghanistan, can serve as the guarantor for an enduring Afghan peace. But for this formula to even be fathomable requires adjustment by both Pakistan and the United States. Pakistan needs to take more seriously the threat posed to the United States and Western Europe by al-Qaeda and its affiliates inside its border regions with Afghanistan. And the United States will have to accommodate Pakistan’s legitimate fear that rising Indian influence in Afghanistan will result in it being strategically encircled by an emerging superpower on a $50 billion dollar military spending spree with which it’s fought three wars.

Peace in Afghanistan and containment or defeat of al-Qaeda are not possible if Pakistan and the United States work at cross-purposes. And so if the status quo continues, it will remain mission unaccomplished for both countries.

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Pakistan to America: What have you done for us lately

My latest blog post, a ForeignPolicy.com, is available here.

An excerpt is below:

“Next week, senior U.S. and Pakistani officials will meet in Washington for the first ever strategic dialogue between the two countries. The Pakistani delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but make no mistake: at least when it comes to the Pakistani side, this will be the Gen. Ashfaq Kayani show….”

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Pakistani-U.S. Raid Nabs Mullah Baradar: Kayani Doctrine in Full Effect

The New York Times reveals this evening that the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, was arrested in Karachi on Thursday in a joint raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  The move is clear demonstration that the Pakistan Army, under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has a more flexible approach toward Afghanistan, guided by the realization that it has permanent interests, not permanent allies in its neighbor to the northwest.

In a recent briefing to foreign correspondents, Kayani said that Pakistan seeks a friendly government, stability, and ”strategic depth” (meaning, at the very least, that Kabul is not allied with New Delhi) in Afghanistan.  The Pakistan Army is willing to play by more conventional rules and begin to engage so-called good actors to secure these goals in Afghanistan.  Toward this, Kayani offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  Having denied India a strategic pivot into Central Asia and northwestern/western Pakistan via Afghanistan (note India’s minimal role in the London talks and absence from the Istanbul talks), the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment feels more secure to broaden its ties in Afghanistan and engage the current Afghan leadership.

In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so.  In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.  Pakistan has an opportunity to come in from the cold and project its regional influence through more conventional and “legitimate” means.  In doing so, it can secure its interests and the respect and trust of others, while also containing the Taliban contagion infesting its border areas with Afghanistan.

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Pakistan’s Army Heads into the Belly of the Beast

Here’s a link to my latest blog post at ForeignPolicy.com’s Af-Pak Channel. It’s on the Pakistan Army’s upcoming ground operations in South Waziristan.

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When ‘Assets’ Become Liabilities

The kidnapping of a young American soldier by the Jalaluddin/Sirajuddin Haqqani network puts Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment in a difficult position, especially if the soldier is being held in North Waziristan.  Rawalpindi could face the choice of having to permit a U.S. ground incursion into Pakistan’s tribal areas or conducting a raid against the Haqqani network itself.


The Pakistan military has had ties with a handful of Afghan Muslim militant leaders and groups since the 1970s, which have been proven to be fairly useful in attempts to shape developments in the weak, yet often antagonistic neighboring state.

Since that time period, relations with a variety of actors have changed or fluctuated.  The network of the late Younus Khalis, now led by his son, Anwarul Haq Mujahid, has turned against the Pakistan military.  In its current form, the Tora Bora Mujahideen, it is allied with al-Qaeda as well as the Tehreek-e Taliban of Swat.  Anwarul Haq was recently arrested in Peshawar; also, he sent forces into Swat to support Fazlullah’s insurgency.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the blue-eyed boy of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) till the mid-1990s, was ditched once the Taliban proved to be a viable force that could break the stalemate in Kabul.  Hekmatyar at one point was receiving support from two competing states, Iran and Pakistan, and later fell solely into Tehran’s camp, especially after September 11.  But Hekmatyar was soon pushed out of Iran and, according to press accounts, has maintained a more cooperative relationship with the Pakistan military since then.

In contrast to the Khalis and Hekmatyar networks, there appears to have been far less volatility in Pakistan military-intelligence establishment relationship’s with the network of Jalaluddin Haqqani.  The Haqqani network, now primarily run by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin, seems to serve at least two functions for Rawalpindi:  one, it helps stunt growing Afghan-Indian economic and security ties (by ensuring there are costs to their advance); two, it provides intelligence on the other Afghan and Pakistani militant groups in the area, particularly Baitullah Mehsud’s group.


Now that seemingly cooperative relationship could be in jeopardy as it clashes more overtly now than ever with Pakistan’s alliance with the United States.

Concerns over the ISI’s contacts with the Haqqani network have been expressed by Washington off the record for at least a year, and on the record, since April.  There is no indication of the ISI facilitating attacks against U.S. forces, but there are reports that it aided in the Haqqani network’s attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

With the significant possibility that the American soldier kidnapped by the Haqqani network is being held in North Waziristan, Pakistan could be compelled to make a choice between the Haqqanis and Washington.

Naturally, the U.S. military seeks the return of its soldier alive and by whatever reasonable means necessary.  If the U.S. soldier is in Pakistan, then a possible demand from Washington to Rawalpindi could be: get us the soldier back or we’ll do it ourselves.  Granted, Washington will not push for a drastic solution that would result in more harm than good, but there is likely a sense of urgency.

Since the hostage is military, the United States is — again, assuming the soldier is in North Waziristan — reeled into the Haqqani’s purported safe haven.  There is less incentive for the Haqqani network to hold on to him for a prolonged period of time, since that would increase the risk of the protective Durand Line ‘wall’ being breached by U.S. forces.  The Haqqani network’s demands for the U.S. to stop operations in Ghazni and Paktika are unrealistic.  As a result, an execution, which would be valuable for the Haqqani network’s propaganda, is likely and that is a scenario Washington would like to avoid.

As Rawalpindi is pressed to make a choice between the Haqqani network and Washington, there are possible indications that its relationship with the former have deteriorated.

The Pakistan military-intelligence establishment’s attempts to isolate Baitullah Mehsud from neighboring militants have faced difficulty and Haqqani does not seem to have played the intended role.  The North Waziristan-based Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is close to the Haqqanis, has partnered with Mehsud and attacked the Pakistan Army, despite the latter’s attempts to avoid hostilities.  Also, Maulana Sangeen, a major Haqqani network commander, was, according to one report, at the same funeral in which Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain were reportedly attacked.  However, Sangeen later denied he was present at the funeral, telling The News he has nothing to do with the internal fighting Pakistan. At the very least, a key Haqqani commander is publicly trying to avoid the impression of hostilities with the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.

It’s certainly possible the Haqqani network has kept the soldier in Afghanistan.  The group has a strong presence inside Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces in areas that are no-go for Afghan and U.S.-led coalition soldiers.  If the soldier is in these areas, Pakistan would avoid having to make a difficult choice.


But let’s assume the Haqqanis are now leaning against the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment or at least entertaining the thought.  Why would that be the case? I’ll answer the question with another question.  What do the Haqqanis, Mehsud, Gul Bahadur, and Maulvi Nazir all have in common (besides being Pakistani/Afghani Pashtun militants  nominally loyal to Mullah Omar, supported now or previously by Pakistan’s intelligence services, and linked to transnational jihadists)?  They are the targets of U.S. drone attacks.

At least in the case of Gul Bahadur, Mehsud, and Nazir, the drone attacks, besides eliminating some high-value targets with increasing precision (though the civilian casualties are often either underestimated or overestimated), are also pushing them toward increased cooperation.  They are all threatened by U.S. drone attacks abetted by the Pakistani state.  The Haqqani network shares a similar predicament as the aforementioned trio.  Will it fully

While Pakistan should ultimately disentangle itself from a scenario in which it is connected to a group that is causing harm an ally, it cannot presently afford an all-out confrontation from a grand alliance of militants.  Pakistan declaring an all-out war against jihadis would push these groups into the arms of al-Qaeda and create an unprecedented convergence of rural, urban, and tribal militants inside the country.

And so, even if the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment would like to abandon the distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, the costs of doing so right now would be far too much. Pakistan would actualize the words of Ayman al-Zawahiri and make itself at the “heart” of a struggle between the West and jihadist forces.

Update: The interregator in the hostage video claims that the solider is in Kandahar.

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U.S. Personnel Inside Pakistan ‘Securing’ Nuclear Weapons

Weeks ago, I wrote that the extent of the U.S. presence inside Pakistan is often underestimated.  Days after that, Sen. Diane Feinstein [re-]revealed that the Predator and Reaper drones are launched from a base inside Pakistan.

Here comes another bombshell from Richard Sale:

“…under the terms of secret [U.S.-Pakistan] agreements, U.S. personnel have been stationed in Pakistan whose sole function is to guarantee and secure the safety of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal and keep it out of the hands of terrorists, according to several serving and former U.S. officials.

Some of the American technicians have had direct access to the nuclear weapons themselves, these sources said….

The United States then used Special Forces ‘snatch teams’ to kidnap Pakistani scientists who were peddling Pakistan’s nuclear technology or knowledge of it to undesirables. For example, a group of such scientists abruptly disappeared while traveling in Burma, these sources said.

Under U.S. pressure, within two days of the [9/11] attacks, Pakistan’s military began to secretly relocate critical nuclear weapons components to six new secret locations, U.S. sources said…”

Playing dumb, I ask, “Why are all these revelations coming out now?”

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The Line of Control

On Monday, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani visited Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. It was his second publicized visit to the line of control since assuming leadership of Pakistan’s army.


Both visits occurred after controversial statements from President Asif Ali Zardari regarding the Kashmir conflict.  On both occasions, Gen. Kayani asserted the existence of a “national consensus” in Pakistan on Kashmir.

The national consensus on Kashmir Gen. Kayani refers to can be seen as a euphemism for the military-intelligence establishment’s viewpoint.  But this also converges with a broad spectrum of public opinion in Pakistan.

There is strong public support in Pakistan for a just resolution to the 61 year conflict over the disputed region.  Pakistanis share historic, cultural, and blood linkages with the people of Kashmir, particularly with those in the currently restive valley.

Strategically, water, road, and trade linkages with Kashmir are essential to Pakistan’s future.  Their importance will increase radically in the coming decades when climate change and resource scarcity are expected to hit South Asia hard. Kashmir is the source of all of the region’s major waterways.

In recent years, Pakistanis have demonstrated their ability to be pragmatic and flexible regarding the Kashmir dispute.  But their concessions were not reciprocated by the Indians, who never fail to miss an opportunity to resolve the conflict.

India has had the luxury to defer final status discussions — only until recently.  Kashmir has gained little traction as an international issue.  But this is of little concern to the Muslim Kashmiris.  In their massive rallies — protesters number in the hundreds of thousands — they have made their voice clear.  They have asked for azaadi or freedom.   While some protesters have called for independence, others have called for a union with Pakistan.  Regardless, their desire to be free of India is clear.  Meanwhile, the rise of Hindu chauvinism in India has moved India’s center to the right and pushed Indians further away from compromise with Muslim Kashmiris.  Last month, a leading right wing Times of India columnist called for the permanent settling of Indian troops in Kashmir, tilting the demographic balance.  Conversely, many leading Indian commentators have called for letting the Kashmir valley go.  This is the cost of taking Musharraf for granted.


That, combined with what is seen as the strategic encirclement of Pakistan, has made Pakistanis realize that former President Pervez Musharraf made one concession too many in respect to core security issues.  His compromises, in the eyes of the Pakistani public, have yielded little of permanent value.  Whatever benefits they produced are quickly vanishing after his departure.

Neither the Pakistani public nor its security establishment will accept compromise on Kashmir in a context of weakness.  Gen. Kayani has spoken of “peace through strength.”


In this context, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s calls for the “reform” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence will hit a brick wall.  The civilian government is, in effect, being thrown at this wall, i.e. the army, and will bear the direct consequences of such action.  This is something Zardari must consider out of both self and national interest.

Moreover, the idea of reform presupposes the existence of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this realm.  Intelligence agencies by nature operate in an amoral universe.  They are tasked with doing the government’s dirty work clandestinely and non-conventionally.  Their sole task is to serve the national interest, unconstrained not by conventional bounds but simply by capability and risk.  Criticizing one agency on moral grounds makes little sense — they all play the same game by the same (lack of) rules.  There is not a conflict of morals, but of interests.  These can only be dealt with by clandestine competition or dialogue and compromise at a conventional level.  The latter is the more prudent path.

The first target of ISI “reform” would seemingly be the organization’s director general, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj.  Indeed, some in Washington are pressing for civilian control of the ISI.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Zardari’s earlier attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control failed.  After another attempt, he’ll find himself sitting out on the pavement outside of the presidential palace.  Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military.  While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISI’s political role, there is no support for tying the organization’s hands in other matters.  If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess.  Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).

And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistan’s national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters.  He has, however, drawn a line in the sand.  The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain.  Given Zardari’s consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistan’s history.

FYI: Zardari’s visit to Britain — described in the Pakistani press as a “summoning” — resulted in the indefinite postponement of his scheduled visit to China, which is seen as Pakistan’s staunchest ally.  Pakistani rightists and even those in the center believe that Zardari’s closest advisors are trying to push Pakistan away from China.  Interestingly, Gen. Kayani will embark on a 5-day visit of China next week.  The smoking man speaks.

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Joe Biden Obama’s VP Nominee? Implications for U.S.-Pakistan Relations

The Democratic National Convention is less than a week away and that means Barack Obama will probably announce his running mate by this weekend.

The talking heads in Washington presently favor Joe Biden, though there are other heavily mentioned alternatives as well as the chance of a surprise pick.

But, if Biden is selected, the implications for U.S.-Pakistan would be many.  I’ll discuss four — two on the presidential campaign and two if Obama & Biden win in November.


One, an Obama-Biden ticket would bring together two individuals with a strong track record of supporting democracy and development in Pakistan. Both Obama and Biden have consistently argued that Pakistan’s democratization and cooperation in the war on terror are interconnected.  The responses of both Obama and Biden to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination reflected this belief.  In contrast, John McCain framed her death in the context of a battle between “moderates” and proponents of “violent Islamic extremism.” Biden has also proposed a massive increase in non-military assistance to Pakistan, which has been well-received there.

Two, the selection of Biden puts added pressure on McCain to re-vamp his Pakistan policy.  McCain’s Pakistan policy, at this point, is anchorless and hollow.  He hedged his bets on Pervez Musharraf, who is now discredited and out of the scene. Obama and Biden, in contrast, have come out hard on Musharraf for quite some time; they look prescient from Musharraf’s downfall.  In fact, Obama criticized McCain today for supporting Musharraf, stating that his opponent “spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.”

In this sense, Obama’s advantage on Pakistan (and Afghanistan) mirrors McCain’s on Iraq.  The latter’s gamble on the surge has paid out; Obama has had to re-adjust and gingerly embrace the surge’s fruits.  One should expect the McCain campaign to make adjustments to a post-Musharraf Pakistan.  McCain, afterall, had to adopt the Obama proposal to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

But it’s unclear as to how far he will embrace the democratic set-up in Pakistan.  At this point, the likelihood is low — despite the fact that McCain has called for a “League of Democracies.” McCain’s response to Musharraf’s resignation, like his previous statements, emphasizes “stability” and a battle against “violent Islamic extremism.”

Stability, however, requires anchors and Pakistan’s cooperation in war requires local allies; McCain is unclear as to who those individuals/institutions are.  It’s a vulnerability for McCain that will be utilized in the presidential (and vice-presidential) debates.  Expect Biden to bring up his Pakistan plan a lot.  And I imagine McCain’s rejoinders to Obama would accuse the latter of threatening to violate the sovereignty of an ally.  But, as I have written earlier, Obama’s threats are consistent with the Bush administration’s policy.  The debate is, therefore, superficial.


An Obama-Biden administration would, one, likely mean that the vice president’s office will play an active, if not dominant, role in shaping U.S. policy toward Pakistan. This would represent some continuity with the Bush-Cheney administration, in which the vice president has been the major force shaping Washington’s relations with Islamabad.  Like Cheney, a Vice President Biden could be the go-to-guy when it comes to Pakistan.

But Biden lacks the unique (and disturbing) personalities traits of Cheney and will likely be more transparent in his dealings. Still, intra-administration turf wars are likely to come about.  They exist are natural to such entities.  Presently, there are tensions between the vice president’s office and the State Department on Pakistan.  While Biden would likely carve out elements of U.S. foreign policy as his own niche/turf (and some of his present Senatorial staffers might prove important), he would have to share space with other foreign policy influencers in the administration, who will likely include Susan Rice and Bruce Riedel.  Moreover, Obama’s intelligence and personality lend toward a hands on style of governance. So you won’t find the president hiding in the corner while Mommy and Daddy fight.

Two, Biden, as vice president can provide leverage to have the Biden-Lugar bill passed in the Congress next year.  The bill, mentioned above, calls for tripling non-military assistance to Pakistan.  Both Obama and Biden have called for building comprehensive, long-term ties with Pakistan  — a “Pakistan policy” as opposed to a “Musharraf policy.”  The passage of such a bill would mark an early foreign policy achievement for the young administration — though there is a chance it could be conditionalized to the extent that it would be useless.


Forecasting the next administration’s policy toward Pakistan is of questionable utility.  Pakistan’s present volatility suggests that U.S.-Pakistan relations could be more shaped by the ground realities in Pakistan than in the United States.  When campaign promises and track records meet present exigencies and the burden of responsibility, the latter two take precedence.

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The ‘Push on Pakistan’

Almost a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Lahore’s Daily Times discussing an intensifying phenomenon I described as the “push on Pakistan.”  [The paper's editors took out the word "on" and made a 'liberal' (pun intended) edit or two.]

But, in light of the heightened pressure on Pakistan from Washington and the increased role of the Pakistan-Afghanistan conflict in the U.S. presidential campaign, here’s a link to that piece.  Some points I made were particularly prescient.  Others not so — but we can forget about those:-)

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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