January 27, 2018
I am often asked how I can spend so much time reading and thinking about issues in some of the world’s most problematic neighborhoods. Today’s news, horrific to be sure, is as good an explanation as any. While those of us in the United States were sleeping, literally and figuratively, some batshit crazy piece of shit stuffed an ambulance full of explosives, drove it to a posh section of Kabul, was stopped before whatever was his truly preferred target, and murdered 95 people (and counting).
Westerners - especially Americans but Westerners in general - almost always treat these events as example of pure, hateful, deranged nihilism. I just as almost always disagree. Partly that’s cause I’m a nihilist, and nihilism has nothing to do with blowing shit up. More importantly, though, treating these events as examples of pure, inexplicable evil allows Westerners to avoid the logic in those attacks. It’s sick, twisted logic, but a logic nevertheless, and once that logic is understood denying our complicity gets a lot tougher
Regarding that logic, let us make two points. One, the target selected. The news stories talk about a hospital being bombed. Hospitals generally aren’t great targets for terror attacks. First, there’s a lot of medical help nearby, by definition, so it keeps your topline body count down. Second, even most terrorists think bombing a hospital is an asshole move. Tough to get your preferred salafist preacher to issue paperwork that murdering doctors and sick people is awesome. A quick google search reveals that the ambulance/bomb was stopped at a couple of checkpoints before it was detonated. It sounds like at the second checkpoint, the driver/bomber got scared he was not going to reach his ‘real’ target, and then set off the bomb early. This has become SOP in Kabul, where bombings are so common that the driver/bombers are taught to take what they can get. Pulling all of that together, the bomber probably had a half dozen potential targets in mind. Embassies and the American University are all close by, so odds are he had a play something like an NFL quarterback has. Get a pre-snap read, then check for the fly route (US embassy) and if that isn’t there look at the dig route closer to you (some other embassy) and if that’s not there then check down to the running back (what the asshole did). Nevertheless, by going to that neighborhood, at that time of day, it was an attack on institutions of the barely functioning Afghan state that have some degree of foreign association, and an attack that would kill a lot of people.
The second thing to look at is why would this happen now. A few weeks ago the United States, for the gazillionth time, threatened Pakistan with various punishments for doing what Pakistan always does, which is play everyone it can against each other and try to nick a couple of kickbacks from the resulting contracts. Right here on Radio Squid Jigger I wrote a calamari story about the ‘Al Queda on the run’ book, and sure enough, that book has a number of quotes from Pakistani generals/spooks/ISI types where they basically admit their geopolitical goal is ‘just enough Al Queda.’ Too much Al Queda and the US actually gets involved militarily and causes all kinds of awful problems for the locals. 9⁄11 and the Madrid bombings were too much Al Queda. But not enough Al Queda means the firehose of US military aid starts to dry up, and then it’s harder to woof at India, which is everyone’s goal in the Pakistani military anyway. Just enough Al Queda is when there’s lots of shiny new American hardware showing up, millions siphoned into offshore accounts, and nobody asking questions. Defining ‘just enough Al Queda’ is a error prone task that involves a lot of blood and gore, and your occasional 9⁄11 style cock-up, but I guess someone has to do it.
Which is why I pay attention to this stuff. The US cuts Pakistani military aid in half, threatens to take away the rest, and then suddenly Kabul gets way, way hotter. Could that be a coincidence? Of course it could, but let’s just say it fits a pattern. And once you see those patterns, and that logic, it makes it a lot more difficult to read stories about pampered Americans who won’t get flu shots and where Nikki Haley spends her free time. First world problems, in the worst sense of the term.