World View: Lahore Pakistan Turns into War Zone Between Muslims, Christians

This morning's key headlines from

  • Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under fire for hugging Hugo Chávez's mother
  • U.S. rift with Afghanistan throws withdrawal strategy into doubt
  • Withdrawal plans from Afghanistan's Wardak province in limbo
  • Lahore Pakistan turns into a war zone between Muslims and Christians

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under fire for hugging Hugo Chávez's mother

Ahmadinejad hugs Chávez's mother, Elena Frias, during funeral services on Friday (Reuters)
Ahmadinejad hugs Chávez's mother, Elena Frias, during funeral services on Friday (Reuters)

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under criticism in Iran because he hugged Hugo Chávez's mother, Elena Frias, to console her at Chávez's funeral on Friday. According to Islamic rules imposed by Iran's hardline Great Islamic Revolution survivors, unrelated men and women are not permitted to touch each other. Frias and Ahmadinejad held hands. She appeared to be leaning on Ahmadinejad and crying. In the bitter political climate of Iran, and the personal enmity between Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a photo of the embrace is taking on a life of its own.

The hug comes a couple of days after a number of controversial remarks by Ahmadinejad in his eulogy of Chávez, where he said:

"I have no doubt that he [Chávez] will return alongside Jesus Christ and the Mahdi [the Hidden Imam] to establish peace and justice in the world."

Ahmadinejad is a devout believer in the Mahdaviat -- the Shia Muslim belief that the Mahdi (or "the 12'th Imam" or "the Hidden Imam") is coming to save mankind. (See "28-Sep-12 World View -- At U.N., Abbas and Netanyahu are combative, while Ahmadinejad invokes the Mahdi") This belief is roughly equivalent to the Christian belief in the second coming of Christ, or the Buddhist belief in the Maitreya -- that a new Buddha is to appear on earth, and will achieve complete enlightenment. In 2011, Ahmadinejad used his belief in the Mahdi to justify disobeying the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In Iran, Ahmadinejad frequently refers to the imminent return of the Hidden Imam for political purposes. Doing so again has drawn criticism from Tehran clerics. According to Ayatollah Khatami, "Logically, our president should express his condolences. But I think it is not appropriate to make it ideological." RFE/RL and RFE/RL

U.S. rift with Afghanistan throws withdrawal strategy into doubt

Both the Taliban and Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai handed U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stinging rebukes in the latter's first visit to Afghanistan, forcing the cancellation of a scheduled news conference by Karzai and Hagel.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for two coordinated suicide bombings in the cities of Kabul and Khost on Saturday morning. A Taliban spokesman said that the Kabul attack was "a message to Hagel," to show that insurgents could strike even in one of the most heavily guarded parts of the capital, a neighborhood of government buildings and military bases with numerous checkpoints and blast walls.

However, the bitterly angry Karzai blamed the suicide bombings on America, in cooperation with the Taliban:

"Taliban are every day in talks with America, but in Kabul and Khost they set off bombs to show strength to America. They were in the service of the United States. They were in the service of the rhetoric of '2014'. It was meant to scare us, [to show] if they [foreign forces] are not here, 'we will not leave you alone'. ..

Senior leaders of the Taliban and the Americans are engaged in talks in the Gulf state [of Qatar] on a daily basis."

I understand Karzai's convoluted logic to be the following: He's saying that America and the Taliban have been meeting secretly and conspiring against him (Karzai), and that the Taliban launched the suicide bombings so that American troops would have a reason to remain in Afghanistan beyond the planned withdrawal date next year.

Hagel denied collusion with the Taliban. The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, said:

"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage. ...

I'll let others judge whether [Karzai's accusation] is particularly helpful or not at the political level."


Withdrawal plans from Afghanistan's Wardak province in limbo

Two weeks ago, we reported that an angry Hamid Karzai had ordered that U.S. special forces immediately end all operations in Wardak province, the province adjacent to the capital city Kabul. The reason for the demands was that Afghan forces under the command of the American special forces have been conducting tortures and murders in the region. Today (Monday) is the deadline for withdrawal, but the withdrawal is in limbo, suspended in negotiations. The Wardak situation was to be discussed between Hagel and Karzai, but the meeting was canceled.

President Obama initiated the "surge" into Afghanistan in 2009 with the intent of duplicating the success of President Bush's "surge" strategy into Iraq in 2007. However, as I've written several times in the past, the generational situation in Afghanistan is very different than in Iraq, and there are significant differences that will prevent the surge strategy from working there. (See "2-Sep-12 World View -- U.S. decision on Haqqani Network will affect Pakistan relations")

The Taliban are Sunni Pashtun militants. Even if they are inclined to live peacefully in Afghanistan after the Americans leave, the Sunni Pashtun Taliban just across the border in Pakistan will not let them.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the biggest and most important difference between Iraq and Afghanistan is that Iraq's last generational crisis war was an external war (the Iran/Iraq war, 1980-88), while Afghanistan's last generational crisis war was a bloody, genocidal civil war (1991-96). That's why the "surge" could work in Iraq, but not in Afghanistan: No negotiations will heal the animosity between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras, who tortured, mutilated, raped and killed each other less than 20 years ago.

It appears increasingly to me that Hamid Karzai, who is a Pashtun himself, is in total denial about what's going to happen to him and to Afghanistan after the Americans pull out. Inter Press Services News Agency

Lahore Pakistan turns into a war zone between Muslims and Christians

Police arrested 27 Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, on Sunday, after mobs of Christian demonstrators battled police with stones, burnt tires, and smashed car windows. The Christians were protesting a horrific incident on Saturday, when hundreds of Muslims ransacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, and torched dozens of home, after hearing a report that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Mohammed. Blasphemy has become the touchstone for generational attitudes and clashes in Pakistan that triggers the same kind of fury and violence that the Nazis had for the Jews. (See "3-Sep-12 World View -- Pakistan girl to be freed after bizarre twist in blasphemy case" from September of last year.) On Saturday, the mob was armed with hammers and steel rods and broke into Christian houses, ransacked two churches and burned Bibles and crosses. Accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it's extremely difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers. Speaking out against the blasphemy laws can put people in danger. Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law. The killer of one of the politicians was hailed as a hero, and lawyers at his legal appearances showered him with rose petals. Independent (London) and The News International (Pakistan)

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