Weekly Letter to President Obama
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INAUGURATION,   January 20, 2009

Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape

To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.

The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.

Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.

--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
---  Native American proverb
May 6, 2011

Mr. President:   A half-century ago, President Truman was noted for taking a
morning walk on the streets outside the White House bantering occasionally
with reporters.  Now, the people's house is a fortress and the President lives
in a security 'bubble' -- the term used in your appearance on the Oprah
Winfrey show this week.  One wonders what can be said then about the
progress of civilization.  Or perhaps, it is testimony to our often lone voice
against the world in matters of justice and injustice; perhaps, even, the
natural consequence of a used-up democracy catering to entrenched
financially powerful interests against the welfare of the majority.

This week the score with Osama bin Laden was settled.  Should it not be
easier now to exit Afghanistan? -- the mess out there will never be
otherwise.  The fact is the Northern Alliance,  our ally, represents a minority
of Afghans.  The largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, are largely absent from
the Afghan army and administrative organs and strongly resent the current
government.  While not particularly enamored of the Taliban, Pashtuns
support them against a detested government and foreign occupation.  Had
they been left to their own devices, more moderate representation might
well have emerged.  But after ten years, the Taliban have seriously undercut
the power of the traditional tribal elders and Maliks.  Afghanistan is a mess
that will take Afghans years to sort out.

The British forays into Afghanistan in 1842 and 1880 proved also disastrous.  
At the time, armchair theorists saw all kinds of dangers in leaving:  from a
gateway for Russia to chaos following departure -- not too different from the
present.  Fortunately the British General (Frederick Roberts) on the ground,
in advocating withdrawal, observed with greater clarity "... the less the
Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us."

Some Members of Congress now want to cut aid to Pakistan because they
accept a narrative advanced by some commentators accusing Pakistani
authorities of being complicit in hiding bin Laden.  It would take a
schizophrenic government to do so for his allies tried to assassinate
General Musharraf, then the head of the military and the civilian
government; they routinely carry out bombings against civilians in Pakistan,
a phenomenon new to Pakistan and the direct result of allying itself with the
U.S.; it has fought the fundamentalists directly in the border areas and Swat
where they had wrested control from legitimate authorities; and, lastly, the
effort has Pakistan fighting its own people resulting in over ten thousand
dead, a number rising daily.

There is anger on both sides:  the polls in Pakistan show public sentiment
strongly against U.S. policy.  However, it is an indisputable fact that both
countries need each other.  Pakistan needs the aid to support its devastated
economy resulting from the war and natural disasters.  The U.S. needs
Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan and, vitally, in negotiations to
conclude the war and bring them home.

We can but hope saner heads prevail in both countries.