On the ideas that follow us, one decade to the next….

Detente’s greatest achievement was the opening of consistent contact between the United States and the USSR in the early 1970s—a gradually intensifying engagement on many levels and in many areas that, as it grew over the years, would slowly but widely open the Soviet Union to information, contacts, and ideas from the West and would facilitate an ongoing East-West dialogue that would influence the thinking of many Soviet officials and citizens.

From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert M. Gates. (I am currently reading this book).

Indeed Washington’s on-again off-again attention to the region, driven by relatively short term developments like the Soviet-Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the war against terror, makes Iranian and Chinese overtures appealing to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

A Sino-Persian grab for the Indian Ocean? by Jamsheed K. Choksy (Small Wars Journal)

Earlier this month the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, twisted his mouth into the shape of a pretzel to explain why it was okay for the U.S. to support Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but not okay to support North Korea’s arsenal and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He also saw no problem with the United States as much declaring war on India when he sympathized with Pakistan’s need to use nuclear weapons against India in order to feel safe.
Then Americans wonder why Pyongyang and Tehran laugh at Washington’s lectures on nuclear proliferation. The leaders of both regimes have been doing clandestine nuke business with Pakistan for decades. They know Pakistan is the biggest nuclear weapons proliferator on the planet — and so does Mullen, who is the highest ranking military officer in the USA and as such is the principal military advisor to the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.
That’s not the half of the double standard America has practiced with regard to Pakistan. Barely a day goes by that the American news media doesn’t warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran because of the regime’s end-of-time religious views, which American news analyst John Batchelor has termed “hallucinatory.”
It doesn’t get more hallucinatory than the views of Pakistani media mogul, Majeed Nizami, the owner of the Nawa-i-Waqt, The Nation, and Waqt TV channel. During a recent speech at a function given in his honor he declared that Pakistan’s missiles and nuclear bombs were superior to “India’s ghosts,” and that unleashing nuclear war against India was imperative. “Don’t worry if a couple of our cities are also destroyed in the process.”
That would be the same Nation newspaper that cites the United States government as being behind every terrorist incident in the world, including the Times Square attack.
If you think Nizami is an isolated nut case, you don’t know much about him, or Pakistan. He is the true face of the most powerful factions in Pakistan including its military leaders.
But in the view of the U.S. government and news media it’s okay for Pakistan’s military to hold hallucinatory views whereas it’s not okay for Iran’s leaders because, well, because.
It’s the same for anti-Semitic views that abound in Pakistan. In the same article that discussed Nizami’s view that nuclear Armageddon was the ticket to peace in South Asia, Pakistani journalist Shakil Chaudhary reported on a June 18 column in Nizami’s Nawa-i-Waqt paper in which Lt. Gen. Abdul Qayyum (ret), former chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills, approvingly quoted Adolph Hitler as saying: “I could have annihilated all the Jews in the world, but I left some of them so that you can know why I was killing them.”

He ain’t heavy, he’s my genocidal, hallucinatory, two-faced ‘ally’ by blogger Pundita.

Why do you suppose certain factions in DC appear so adamant on retaining Pakistan as a “strategic asset” post 9-11 and post Abbottabad? CBz blogger Joseph Fouche recently posted a nice piece about the tendency for some to see patterns and intrigues when mere muddle may well explain reality. Sadly, I am prone to this….

So what exactly is our muddle? Is what I’ve posted above overstated and alarmist? State and USAID want to keep its various lucrative aid programs? The Pentagon/DOD want to keep its favorite “proxy” Army for future use against any kind of “sino-islamic” alliance – or Russia or Iran? Tons of money (supposedly….take all of this with a grain of salt) sloshing around DC from various foreign entities, such as the Saudis or the Pak Mil/ISI? Plain old strategic “incompetence” typical of a big, energetic and free-wheeling democracy?

What other rationales might be keeping warring DC factions up at night? Placating the Saudis and keeping the oil flowing? Monitoring Pakistani nukes? (Okay, this one for sure). Preventing even more proliferation via Pakistani-Saudi transfers?

The world is three dimensional and complicated with various currents pulling our policy makers in different directions. I’d be delighted to hear creative thinking on any of these topics by one of the Republican presidential candidates. Your thoughts? Opinions? Relevent anecdotes, articles, films, or books?

Help a gal out, people.

“AfPak 2020: A Symposium”

We asked four experts what US policy in the AfPak theater would yield in the next ten years—and what, if anything, Washington might do differently. Military historian Victor Davis Hanson begins by offering a contemporary context for American efforts; New York Times Magazine writer James Traub envisions what a partition might look like; Ann Marlowe, returning from her latest trip to the region, suggests that demography will play a more important role than we might think; and Matthieu Aikins reports from Kandahar on the need to spend less, talk more, and shed the illusion of “victory.”

World Affairs Journal

I haven’t had a chance to do more than quickly skim the above article, so I’m not sure how to compare the entries to the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable. I do have one quick comment on Victor Davis Hanson’s interesting contribution to the World Affairs Journal Symposium: Afghanistan is not Iraq, and some critics of the current counterinsurgency doctrine (we provide development aid, the population turns on the Taliban) don’t want to leave full-stop – and never have. We want a plan more tailored to the Afghanistan environment. But the good Dr. Hanson has forgotten more about things military than I’ll ever know, so we shall see how our current efforts are faring in the spring, summer, and fall. Bing West did say in his talk at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that the Obama Administration will declare victory this summer. “You can count on it.”


Anyone who has been watching the war in Afghanistan for the past two years knows that ISAF, having focused on southern Afghanistan for the past 18 months, now aspires to shift its focus to Afghanistan’s east, where the war has been underresourced and where, in contrast to southern Afghanistan, the Taliban has been gaining momentum. Speak to any commanders on the ground, and they will tell you that if they have their way (and on account of its complexity), eastern Afghanistan will be the last place from which conventional western forces will withdraw in 2013 and 2014.

Abu Muqawama

Wherein Lex takes issue with Seydlitz89

Our Roundtable colleague Seydlitz89 has a post up which discusses the recent Glen Beck posts, and also my Afghanistan Roundtable wrap-up post.

His post is here.

I have several problems with his post. I tried to post a few responses as a comment, but it did not work for some reason. If you are interested in this sort of inter-blog argument, please read his post, and see my responses, below the fold.

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Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable Summing-Up

[Other contributors who wish to post any follow-up or further thoughts are welcome to do so.]

I. Moral Clarity

I am posting this on September 11, 2010. We attacked the Taliban regime because they supported and granted havens to America’s enemies. That initial invasion was just.

The Taliban are one of the most vicious and evil enemies America’s soldiers have ever faced. Killing them is just. Our soldiers are on the correct side of the moral equation in this struggle. The Taliban murdered hundreds of thousands of people in the decade they controlled Afghanistan. Destroying their rule was a just cause. Destroying them forever may be beyond our power. But it would be worth doing if it could be done at tolerable cost.

No one else mentioned this moral dimension except me, in the post that began the Roundtable. And I only did so in an update, after an email exchange with our friend Nate, who is actually serving over there.

Whatever the wisdom of our strategy, whatever the outcome of our effort, whatever the ultimate fate of Afghanistan, the enemy was mightily worth killing. Our warriors can have pride in their effort and their cause.

If anyone digs back in 40 years and considers the moral issue, that will still be the correct conclusion.

II. The Roundtable Posts

I initiated this effort because I wanted to think-through the current effort in Afghanistan and I was spinning my wheels. I was seeing all kinds of immediately relevant granularity and not much big-picture thinking. For example, within days of announcing it Gen. McChrystal resigned, an event that dominated the headlines for a few days, but is unlikely to even be a footnote in four decades. For me, personally, the RT was a success. I enjoyed the posts, all of which were good, and some of which were excellent. I believe the whole is superior to the sum of its parts. The RT has given me a better idea of the big picture, and I see that others are thinking along similar lines. I hope the rest of our participants and readers also found it valuable or interesting.

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Afghanistan 2050

You Westerners have your watches, but we Taliban have time.
I am delighted to contribute to the Afghanistan 2050 discussion here on Chicago Boyz, back in 2010.

I was in fact briefly in Afghanistan myself in the early ’70s, almost 40 years ago, before the Russian invasion and long after the “Empire” Brits had left, on something of an informal global pilgrimage. I have fond memories of visiting the great standing Buddha of Bamiyan, climbing the stairs behind him and looking out across the valley from atop his head. I had been reading the poet Jalaluddin Rumi in AJ Arberry’s translations for several years, and was aware that Balkh was Rumi’s birthplace — so Afghanistan already had a niche of sacred affection in my heart. And from that visit, brief as it was, I recall particularly a tiny white mosque by a spring in the middle of miles of desert somewhere east of Herat, with its luscious yet tiny garden, I remember the worn faces of old men in Kandahar and Kabul – I have in short, fond memories of the place, and therefore a sense both that some things change there, and some things stay the same.

According to Islamic belief, Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, the last in the series — and what is left to those of us who wish to foresee Afghanistan or the world in 2050 is therefore “the long view”, guesswork, scenario planning, futurism, perhaps even science fiction. I have worn the “futurist” hat myself in the past — and even the science fiction beret, very briefly and without much success. From my POV here in 2010 and without even the benefit of 2020 vision, I see Afghanistan 2050 obscured by what Nassim Nicholas Taleb might call a veil of black swans – unexpected events leading to future world-lines we cannot as yet even imagine. Forty years ago, I had never even heard of a computer game. A version of Microsoft Flight Simulator was found in a Taliban safe house eight or ten years ago… and there are now US Army training games, jihadist games, and games of peace…

Let me clothe my speculations, then, in science fiction, openly presented as such, about “branching world-lines” and the ways in which possible futures branch out from the experienced present and often ill-remembered past… I’ll take Everett’s “Many-Worlds” theory as my framework, and throw in a very slight shift of the long pendulum – I see us backing away from the intensive cultivation of material goods and values which has characterized the last few centuries, and very gradually turning towards a more introspective, contemplative sense of the world and our place in it.

Oh – and I will use the names of some of my own mentors in place of the future thinkers whose work I quote, in a quiet tip of the hat to some previous exponents of the ideas I propose…


Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

Gupta’s 2024 dissertation at the revived Nalanda University suggesting that “morality decisioning” (a horrible phrase, now thankfully forgotten) was the key to shifting from more suffering-dense, competitive and warlike to less suffering-dense, more collaborative and peaceable world-lines was quickly followed by the recognitions that meditative (Snyder, 2025) and liturgical (Hopkins, 2025) practices were among the most powerful methodologies, certainly complementing and perhaps even surpassing “good works” by considerable margins in widely repeated tests of “world-hopping” as the practice of side-stepping from one line to another came to be called.

By 2030, “play” (Hesse, Huizinga) and “dream” (Bateson, Rheingold) were understood to be crucial to culture and peacemaking respectively, and the process of revaluing human “progress” in light of “moral branching world-line theory” (mBWT) was well under way. It was not, however, until 2037 that Niebuhr and Arendt’s proposal of a method for the cross-pollination of world-lines gave scientific legitimacy to the notion of a sacrificial (“bodhisattvic”) choice to cross over from low-suffering pasts into more suffering-dense futures — with a view to “seeding” those more suffering-dense world-lines with hints of “liberation or salvation via moral and contemplative change”.

Afghanistan 2050

On those world-lines which derive from this “low-suffering / high liberation” end of the spectrum, therefore, a contemplative “immediacy in the moment” has given rise to a lowering of the sense of linguistic distinctions and analytic dominance over “what is” – and therefore such distinctions as the drawing of lines on maps have less sway than was previously the case – the Durand Line dividing “Afghanistan” from “Pakistan” being a case in point. It is now understood by most parties on these timelines that such administrative distinctions have an honorable and colorful place in the way the world works, but in no way trump the generosity of spirit that kin feels for kin. Thus we have Pashtun and Baloch spheres that cross Afghan and Pakistan borders (with similar cross weavings at other borders from Iran to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even China).

The popular religion of the area still has strands of Deoband and even the influence of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, but affection for the Sufi poets and philosophers — for Ansari of Herat, Rumi of Balkh, and Rahman Baba — has grown or re-grown, along with increased interest in other religious and meditative traditions, the scholarly and tolerant Islam of al-Andalus and the Buddhism which was once native to Afghanistan not least among them.

Politics and sport are much the same as ever – and deeply intertwined. Buzkashi is still the national game and model for politics, horsemanship the mark of inherent nobility, and soccer the subtle international sport at which young boys in Afghanistan and the world over learn contest, collaboration, and respect for the skilled opponent.

There are, of course, other, darker world-lines, and daring souls who travel them, teaching peace in its many guises – as good business, good Islam, good Christianity, even good mental health. It is not easy for our historians to access them, for martyrdom of one kind or another, voluntarily chosen or egregiously inflicted, decimates those who would travel the realms of inflamed hatred. And there are even world-lines in which the world has already ended, not infrequently in some conflagration triggered by fervent believers that the end of time was overdue – self-fulfilling prophecy as maladaptive strategy. These world-lines cannot even be reached by historians – only inferred.

We, however, remain. Our futures are ours to make — and history, the arts and the sciences between them have shown us that a turning towards the good, the generous, the noble, the beautiful, and the true is possible.

And still our present branches into possible futures. And still with hearts and minds, we choose.


Charles Cameron is former Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and specializes in forensic theology with a particular interest in millennial, eschatological and apocalyptic religious sects of all stripes. He has also published poetry, professed anthropology and literature, and designed a family of games for lateral and creative thinkers. He presently guest-blogs almost regularly on Zenpundit. You can contact him as “hipbone” with the ISP “earthlink.net”.