The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

NGOs in a conflict environment

The following musings are on a subject which seems to arouse strong feelings in certain quarters. The role of NGOs in a conflict environment is a complex issue, one which is more deserving of a thesis than a blog post. However, I merely want to touch on the issue of NGO neutrality as this was discussed at some length in a forum I attended recently.

Since that forum was conducted under Chatham House rules, I won't give too many details. Suffice to say that the round-table was chaired by a western government official and attended by representatives of many different humanitarian NGOs, some well known and some less well known, as well as government and military personnel. The theme was ostensibly the 'humanitarian space' in a specific conflict environment and the intersection of NGO and military development activities in the areas where both work. However, the discussion was quickly monopolised by the issue of NGO neutrality.

I could understand the NGOs' complaint that government/military stabilisation contractors asked them for ideas but then expected the NGOs to implement those ideas on their behalf. However, I cannot quite get my head round their seemingly pathological fixation with neutrality, especially when it would seem to call into question what they actually hope to achieve through their work.

For example, the NGOs at the round-table explained that they shied away from stabilisation activities, which they defined as strengthening the government and therefore making them party to the conflict.

That may be true but it makes me wonder exactly what they hope to achieve. There may very well be clear theoretical differences - even practical differences - between stabilisation on the one hand and 'pure' development activities on the other. However, what happens if stabilisation fails and a government falls? Will development be possible in the ensuing chaos? NGOs may have preserved their neutrality during all this but if in the long-run they aren't able to bring sustainable development (not stabilisation but 'real' development) to the people they hoped to help then what was the point?

I freely admit I have no experience of working in an NGO but that is one question - perhaps even a contradiction - regarding their self-proclaimed neutrality that I just cannot get my head round.

On top of that, I read a rather more cutting assessment of NGO neutrality in Punishment of Virtue by Sarah Chayes, drawn from her observations in and around Kandahar from 2001 to 2005. The basic premise is that whereas neutrality may have been a valid concept in Bosnia or Rwanda, it is not valid in the honour culture of southern Afghanistan.

Chayes argues that in Afghanistan, or at least in the Pashtun belt, it is better to belong to one side and advertise your affiliations. The reason? That side can take revenge if harm is done to you and that fact affords a certain amount of protection. In short, Mutually Assured Destruction is a valid concept there.

However, Chayes essentially accuses many aid organisations of not recognising the reality of their surroundings and the society they were working in. Many aid workers simply took their own good intentions for granted and expected others to do the same, regarding their self-proclaimed neutrality as their power and their safe conduct. When some aid workers were killed, it was regarded as either an accident or an abberation caused by the US military presence in Afghanistan which they regarded as an inherent part of the problem.

In the context of a clash of civilisations, this rationale doesn't stand up. We may not accept the clash of civilisations thesis but the point is that the Taliban and certainly al Qaida do. Consequently there is little or no difference between a US soldier and a western aid worker and, in fact, the latter may be even more threatening as they extend olive branches by building schools, hospitals, bridges etc.

Put together, those two questions make me wonder about the role of NGOs in a conflict environment, more specifically what they can look to achieve long-term if their attachment to neutrality might actually work against them.

What really makes me wonder is that when the chairperson of the round-table repeatedly asked what governments and/or militaries could do to operationally create a greater or better humanitarian space for NGOs, the NGOs present were unable to provide a single concrete answer.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The UK's SDR

This week the UK revealed its Strategic Defence Review (SDR), a much anticipated document due to the inevitable defence cuts it would contain. As expected, it received mixed reviews.

This isn't an attempt, on my part, to comment on the merits and weaknesses of the SDR, but I do want to draw people's attention to the arguments that have been made on both sides. For more of an insider's view (given that he has to sell it in Washington), this Foreign Policy article from Sir Nigel Sheinwald - British Ambassador to the US - advocates the merits of the document. On the opposite side (and from an American no less) see Max Boot's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Although you can't hide from the fact that parts of the Review are a little embarrassing - aircraft carriers with no aircraft for ten years being a case in point - you also can't hide from the fact that these cuts were necessary. A document like this has to predict the future while dealing with today's realities; not an easy task. Only time will tell if it leaves the U.K. military in a position to deal with tomorrow's security challenges.

Chechnya's creeping Islamism

Chechnya is rarely headline news nowadays, but an attack last week shows that the province's problems are far from over.

In a coordinated attack on the parliament, Ministry of Agriculture, and office of the Parliamentary Speaker, gunmen managed to kill six people and injure another seventeen. Those behind it are Islamic insurgents who in recent years have largely operated in the neighbouring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Although Chechnya is synonymous with North Caucasian violence, it has been one of the region's quieter republics since the current president, Ramzan Kadyrov, was installed in 2007. The dictatorial way in which he's ruled, and the crack-down on militants that he's orchestrated, has suppressed much of the insurgency and pushed it into Dagestan and Ingushetia. Russia's Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev, sought to promote this perception by claiming "The situation we saw today is extremely rare. Here, there is stability and security." Nurgaliyev then went on to say:

"The leadership of the insurgent underground has practically been taken out. A significant portion of its arms supplies and financial resources have been cut off. The work of emissaries from foreign terrorist centers has been contained."

This may be true, to a large extent, but at what cost? It certainly hasn't been done by winning the hearts and minds of the Chechen population. In what can be considered a paradox between a government that crushes fundamentalism while encouraging creeping Islamism, Kadyrov himself appears to be backing a crack-down on women dressed "provocatively" in public. This raises some interesting questions about the way in which Kadyrov is ruling Chechnya. For instance, will backing more puritanical Islamic customs help him win support from young males that may otherwise join fundamentalist militant groups? Or will it store up more trouble for the future if Moscow ever decides to throw Kadyrov over-board? It's very difficult to say but today's Chechnya certainly offers an interesting case study in counter-insurgency and the type of political model required to contain militant populations.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

PTSD in Afghanistan

This story from the AFP deserves comment - it states that some 60% of the population of Afghanistan suffers from some kind of mental health problem.

The WHO notes that there is a particularly high number of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. In her book Punishment of Virtue, Sarah Chayes stated that the whole of Afghan society suffers from PTSD, a legacy of the Soviet occupation and the terror this brought above all to rural areas of Afghanistan.

Chayes identified some of the symptoms of PTSD as being commonplace in her dealings with the people of Kandahar during her time there. These include an inability to bond emotionally, an inability to plan for the future, an inability to think beyond one's own needs for the collective good and excessive guile.

This subject would be worthy of some in-depth research by real experts in this field. That being said, it seems impossible to think that the thirty years of conflict in Afghanistan would not have had profound psychological effects on the people involved.

The question today is how much is this a factor in their behaviour towards ISAF, the broader international community and their own government (and looking at the symptoms Chayes highlights one might be inclined to say it is a real factor). More importantly, has any one stopped for a moment to consider this and factor it into our strategy for building governance and development in Afghanistan today?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Reclaiming hearts and minds in Pakistan

The BBC tells the story of Dr Mohammad Farooq Khan, who was shot dead by the Taliban in Swat last week. Dr Farooq ran a school - or more accurately a rehabilitation centre - for teenage boys who had previously served (voluntarily or otherwise) with the Taliban. See also this obituary and video tribute in the New York Times, also featuring Dr Farooq's mission statement in his own words.

Well worth reading and also worth asking the question - how many similar centres exist in Pakistan and Afghanistan and what is the international community doing to help them?

PS: See also this story about the Turi tribe in Kurram who expelled the Taliban from their small corner of the FATA.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

British Troops vs. British Nukes

The title is taken from this New York Times editorial, which suggests the UK should scale-back its plans for a like-for-like Trident replacement in order to maintain current troop numbers. Swingeing cuts mean something in the MoD has got to give, but what should it be?

The ongoing Strategic Defence and Security Review (to be completed by October 20th) will certainly inform cuts to the U.K. defence budget. One outcome may be along the lines of the NYT article above, in which the U.K. security and defence establishment concludes that current threats require maintaining troop levels. This may mean scaling-back the Trident replacement. Another argument is that scaling-back Trident would mean planning for the future on the basis of today's threats. Tomorrow's threat could be a nuclear Iran. How can these two arguments be reconciled? One suggestion is that defence be ring-fenced, just like overseas aid.

There is a real argument to be made for cutting the Trident replacement to three submarines instead of four. The question is how much money this will actually save. A great deal of the cost in developing a new fleet of submarines is at the research and design phase. It's also basic economies-of-scale that the more vessels you build the cheaper each will be. So although there is a saving to be made in going to three, it's unlikely to be 25%.

So what else can be cut? A big problem the UK faces is that so many procurement projects have been bunched together into a relatively short period. These include the purchase of Typhoon aircraft, two new aircraft carriers, 135 F-35 strike fighters (for the aircraft carriers), and seven new Astute-class submarines. This is on top of the Trident replacement, which will cost around £20 billion. Something clearly has to give. It may be that they decide to cut the Trident replacement to three submarines in combination with the purchase of a reduced number of F-35s and Astute submarines. Another possibility is scrapping the aircraft carriers, but the amount of money already spent, coupled with how far along they are with construction, makes that unlikely.

So although the NYT article raises an interesting question, it's simply too simplistic to paint the argument as 'Troops vs. Trident'. Doing so ignores the delicate balance that needs to be found between fighting today's war and ensuring you are prepared for tomorrows, whatever it may be.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Measuring success in Afghanistan

That's the real question after all - how do we measure success in Afghanistan? The Rand Corporation have provided a tool to do just that in the shape of an in-depth report on sources of success in counterinsurgency campaigns, entitled Victory has a Thousand Fathers.

Among the key findings, as summarised on the US Army and US Marine Corps COIN blog, are the following:
- The balance of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ practices perfectly predicts outcomes.
- Repression wins phases of a campaign, but usually not the campaign itself.
- Tangible support trumps popular support.
- Poor beginnings do not necessarily lead to poor endings.

As the USA/USMC blog states, the Rand report is not a completely infallible tool but it does add a degree of scientific analysis to the existing body of knowledge on COIN - which as a subject and, above all, as a practice is notoriously difficult to quantify in anything like a scientific manner.

That being the case, purely out of intellectual curiousity I have conducted a little experiment. The very last page of the report shows a scorecard of Good vs Bad COIN practices and factors and I have graded the current campaign in Afghanistan using that scorecard.

I have done so without fully reading the report and using only my own knowledge and perceptions (professional, anecdotal and random) of the current situation in Afghanistan. In other words, I am using the scorecard to quantify my perception of the war in Afghanistan. At a later stage, I will repeat the exercise having actually thoroughly read the report and having fully researched each individual point in order to confirm (or not) my assessment of each criterion named in the scorecard.

The objective right now is, I repeat, to measure my perception of the campaign because, as we all know, perception is reality and public support for the ISAF mission will stand or fall based on people's perceptions and not the reality.

So, without further ado...


Good factors

1. COIN force realizes at least two strategic communication factors
(Score 1 if sum of a through g is at least 2 positive responses)
a. COIN force and government actions consistent with messages (delivering on promises) NO
b. COIN force maintains credibility with population in the area of conflict (includes expectation management) ??
c. Messages/themes coherent with overall COIN approach ??
d. COIN force avoids creating unattainable expectations NO
e. Themes and messages coordinated for all involved government agencies NO
f. Earnest IO/PSYOP/strategic communication/messaging effort NO
g. Unity of effort/unity of command maintained NO

2. COIN force reduces at least three tangible support factors
(Score 1 if sum of a through j is at least 3 positive responses)
a. Flow of cross-border insurgent support significantly decreased, remains dramatically reduced, or largely absent ??
b. Important external support to insurgents significantly reduced ??
c. Important internal support to insurgents significantly reduced ??
d. Insurgents’ ability to replenish resources significantly diminished YES
e. Insurgents unable to maintain or grow force size NO
f. COIN force efforts resulting in increased costs for insurgent processes ??
g. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent recruiting ??
h. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent materiel acquisition YES
i. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent intelligence YES
j. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent financing ??

3. Government realizes at least two government legitimacy factors
(Score 1 if sum of a through e is at least 2 positive responses)
a. Government corruption reduced/good governance increased since onset of conflict NO
b. Government leaders selected in a manner considered just and fair by majority of population in area of conflict NO
c. Majority of citizens in the area of conflict view government as legitimate NO
d. Government provides better governance than insurgents in area of conflict NO
e. COIN force provides or ensures provision of basic services in areas it controls or claims to control NO

4. Government realizes at least one democracy factor
(Score 1 if sum of a through d is at least 1 positive response)
a .Government a functional democracy NO
b. Government a partial or transitional democracy YES
c. Free and fair elections held NO
d. Government respects human rights and allows free press YES

5. COIN force realizes at least one intelligence factor
(Score 1 if at least 1 positive response)
a. Intelligence adequate to support kill/capture or engagements on COIN force’s terms YES
b. Intelligence adequate to allow COIN force to disrupt insurgent processes or operations YES

6. COIN force of sufficient strength to force insurgents to fight as guerrillas (Score 1 if YES) YES

7. Government/state is competent NO

8. COIN force avoids excessive collateral damage, disproportionate use of force, or other illegitimate applications of force ??

9. COIN force seeks to engage and establish positive relations with population in area of conflict YES

10. Short-term investments, improvements in infrastructure/development, or property reform in area of conflict controlled or claimed by COIN force YES

11. Majority of population in area of conflict supports/favors COIN forces ??

12. COIN force establishes and then expands secure areas YES

13. COIN force has and uses uncontested air dominance YES

14. COIN force provides or ensures provision of basic services in areas it controls or claims to control ??

15. Perception of security created or maintained among population in areas COIN force claims to control ??

Total positive score (Sum of 1–15) 8 points

So far, not a bad score for ISAF although what this shows us is that the military side is fine but the civilian side - above all strategic communications and the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Afghan government - still presents enormous challenges as little progress would appear to have been made. So basically we haven't learned anything new here.

Bad Factors

1. COIN force uses both collective punishment and escalating repression
(Score 1 if at least 1 positive response)
a. COIN force employs escalating repression NO
b. COIN force employs collective punishment NO

2. Primary COIN force is an external occupier YES

3. COIN force or government actions contribute to substantial new grievances claimed by insurgents YES

4. Militias work at cross-purposes with COIN force/government NO

5. COIN force resettles/removes civilian populations for population control NO

6. COIN force collateral damage perceived by population in area of conflict as worse than insurgents’ NO

7. In area of conflict, COIN force perceived as worse than insurgents NO

8. COIN force fails to adapt to changes in adversary strategy, operations, or tactics NO

9. COIN force engages in more coercion/intimidation than insurgents NO

10. Insurgent force individually superior to COIN force by being either more professional or better motivated NO

11. COIN force or allies rely on looting for sustainment NO

12. COIN force and government have different goals/level of commitment YES

Total negative score (Sum of 1–12) 3 points

FINAL SCORE (Good minus Bad) 8 - 3 = 5 points

Total > 5 = History says, “You are on the path to victory.”
Total < 0 = History says, “You are in trouble.”
Total between 0 and 5 = History is equivocal: “Do you feel lucky?”

Conclusion: History says ISAF is almost on the path to victory, at least based on my assessments of each specific criterion and I'm sure many people would challenge these. Interestingly, I have arrived at essentially the same conclusion that I had before beginning the exercise, a conclusion (or an opinion) which my many previous posts on Afghanistan have outlined in some detail.

However, while the results would seem to give cause for optimism, I would add some caveats to this scorecard.

Firstly, the large number of question marks is due to the fact that I was simply unable to answer some questions. The two reasons for this were i/ that I do not have access to intelligence on, for example, insurgent financing and external support (and if I did I wouldn't reveal it, this blog is not Wikileaks); and ii/ I think it is simply impossible to establish the real views of the Afghan population, for example on the credibility of the Kabul government. Opinion polls are never completely accurate, even less so if the people responding risk their lives by speaking out against the Taliban. On top of that, the very concept of government (as we know it) barely exists in some remote areas of Afghanistan so the question is too generic (and too western) to be truly useful in an Afghan context.

A second caveat would be that I have tried to lean towards the worst-case scenario and be very miserly in handing out positive responses (I accept that here I'm slightly undermining the original intention to base this scorecard on perception and not reality). So for example, although the government does provide better governance than insurgents in some areas of the conflict, this is not the case in all areas. So no points here. By the same token, I don't believe ISAF contributes to substantial new grievances and although the Afghan government has done so on occasions and in certain places, this is not a universal picture. However, neither ISAF nor the Afghan government have fully resolved old grievances so, for that reason, they don't win any points.

In other words, where the question requires a black or white response I have chosen black. This is important because it could be that the score is actually better than I have made out.

A third caveat would be that this scorecard is a study of COIN based on a great many examples, whereas I'm specifically looking at Afghanistan. I doubt whether many Afghans, especially in rural areas, are really concerned about whether or not the government allows a free press. So although that counts as a positive on the scorecard, it may not count as a positive in reality.

Fourth and final caveat: history may be leaning in favour of an ISAF victory but, again, the report is not Afghanistan-specific. The evidence is drawn from around 30 case studies of insurgencies from all over the world. The three case studies from Afghanistan all registered as a victory for insurgents. In other words, there is a difference between world history and Afghan history.

In summary, the war in Afghanistan is not the disaster that many people believe it to be. It would seem to be going in the right direction - according to the criteria used here - and it could be that ISAF is very close to taking a decisive grip on the initiative, at least tactically, if the numerous question marks can be converted into points gained - although those specific criteria (ie. governance) are probably the hardest to achieve.

However, in addition to the caveats I outlined, I have to identify what I perceive to be actual problems with the study bearing in mind that I have deliberately not yet read it.

Firstly, I have referred to the so-called reconciliation process in Afghanistan on several previous occasions but the scorecard makes no mention of anything along these lines, any kind of criteria for a political settlement between the government and/or COIN force and their insurgent opponents. I find this to be a glaring omission given that the received wisdom is that there is no such thing as a decisive conventional victory in a COIN scenario and, therefore, some kind of political settlement with the insurgency must be reached.

Secondly, the scorecard suggests that the military aspect of the ISAF campaign is going fine but that the governance side is not. Of course we knew this already but we also know that victory - I mean a real victory, not a PR victory - is not possible unless achieved on all fronts. The study does not take this into account: instead, the COIN force wins simply by amassing a total of more than 5 points. In reality, or at least in Afghanistan, the COIN force must not just reach a certain amount of points but must score them across all categories.

I would therefore take issue with Rand's first key finding, that 'the balance of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ practices perfectly predicts outcomes', as I think there's more to it than simple arithmetic. Perhaps this finding makes sense in most of the other case studies but in Afghanistan today the picture is of ISAF scoring many points against insurgents but none with the Karzai government and that just isn't good enough.

Finally, most of the criteria in the scorecard are from the tactical level. This kind of methodology makes it very easy to conclude that we're winning because we're scoring tactical points, all the while losing sight of the bigger strategic and political picture. It is fashionable these days to quote Sun Tzu (especially among people who haven't actually read his book - myself included) and one of his most famous maxims is applicable here: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

In conclusion, I have tried to apply the scorecard to the current COIN campaign in Afghanistan which is much larger in scale and in geostrategic importance than all of the case studies in the report... except of course the Soviet Union's COIN campaign in Afghanistan. Even though I cannot claim to have learned anything new or had my perceptions changed in any way, I find the scorecard to be a semi-useful tool in highlighting certain strengths and weaknesses of a COIN campaign and certainly a very interesting intellectual exercise.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Arms control and political capital in the U.S.

As the U.S Senate moves closer to a vote on the new START agreement with Russia, many observers are beginning to ask questions about where this leaves the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT was voted down by the Senate in 1999, towards the end of the Clinton Administration, and has been in a state of limbo ever since. Although President Obama says he will seek ratification of the treaty during his presidency, a vote before the 2012 election is looking increasingly unlikely. This raises a number of questions concerning political capital, choice of battles, and limiting the number of fronts on which you fight them.

For those who are unaware, the new-START treaty limits U.S. and Russian deployed strategic weapons to 1,550 warheads and 700 active nuclear delivery vehicles. These are modest numbers considering the previous limit was 2,200 warheads by 2012. However, ratification of the treaty has been a harder fought affair than many had expected. Sceptics make two main arguments against ratification 1) that it may limit deployment of U.S. missile defence systems and 2) not enough money is being invested in ensuring the safety and reliability of the existing U.S. stockpile. These are weak arguments considering the treaty contains only a fleeting mention of the link between offensive and defensive arms and the Obama Administration has provided the NNSA with a substantial increase in budget to ensure effective stockpile stewardship.

Nevertheless, countering these arguments has made START ratification difficult, and the more difficult it becomes, the harder it will be to put CTBT back on the legislative agenda. One thing the Obama Administration wants to avoid, at all costs, is seeking ratification of the CTBT only to have it rejected for the second time, which could kill the treaty.

The difficulty in ratifying START shows just how challenging the Obama arms control and disarmament agenda is. His 2009 Prague speech laid out ambitious goals and created high metrics for success, but it may be that overall success is now judged on his ability to ratify CTBT. That is not to say Obama did the wrong thing in seeking ratification of START first, the old START agreement expired in December of last year and negotiations have formed part of a relatively successful re-set policy with Russia.

The problem, however, is that political capital is everything in the United States and there is only so much to go around. This means that a trade-off between the two treaties is virtually inevitable (at least in the short-term), which raises the question of whether Obama should have gone further to limit expectations in order to avoid eventual international disappointment and condemnation.

That's a difficult question to answer. His disarmamnet agenda needed to be clear in order to avoid complete meltdown of the nonproliferation regime. But what is clear, is that the U.S. Senate needs to take responsibility and ensure the meltdown has not simply been delayed. That will require it to look beyond party politics. Something that is easier said than done.

Germany pays off WWI debt

It may seem incredible but Germany has only just finished paying off the war debt imposed on it after its defeat in the First World War. This week-end will see a final payment of €70m - from an original demand of 269bn gold marks (or 100,000 tonnes of gold).

Of course Germany has not continually paid reparations during the 89 years since the sum was fixed in 1921. The original sum of 269bn gold marks was later to reduced to 112bn by the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan during the 1920s. At various stages during the 1920s the Weimar government was not able to pay and during the 1930s Hitler was flat out not willing to pay - although the same was true of the Weimar government. In 1953 the London Treaty suspended payments until Germany was reunited, at which point a reduced amount of payments was reactivated.

John Maynard Keynes was among the many prominent voices criticising the Treaty of Versailles, arguing that it would not achieve its objectives and, needless to say, he was proved absolutely right. At least the Allies made a better fist of it twenty years later.
"After WWII they decided to hang the leaders and not to punish the nation but in WWI it was the other way around." ... "The lesson was learned eventually. Unfortunately, it required another 20 or so million people to be killed."
NB: It's a little strange that this story does not seem to have been reported very widely. Aside from the BBC, a cursory search via Google News reveals not much more than this report on (US) National Public Radio.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Talking to the Taliban

Asia Times reports once again on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, which at the moment appears to be little more than back-channel negotiations between the US and the Taliban through Saudi and Pakistani mediators.

If true, the assertions made by the Asia Times would appear to justify concerns previously expounded on this blog about the notion of talking to the Taliban.
"Taliban sources in the southern regions of Pakistan confirmed to Asia Times Online that while different Taliban groups had been approached, the Americans would prefer to talk to one of the major anti-US forces in Afghanistan, the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) led by former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The HIA is likely to strike a deal with the Americans before the Taliban... In the Taliban camp, the activity in the HIA camp is viewed as a bid to divide the resistance."
In other words, there are many different factions and it appears very difficult to ascertain if any of them would be able to secure buy-in from all or most of the others if an agreement was reached. The Taliban can be forgiven for thinking this is an attempt at divide-and-conquer... as they are very probably right.

In the meantime, President Karzai has set up his own High Peace Council but since it is far from clear where they fit in to the US/Saudi/Pakistani process, he in turn can be forgiven for thinking that his position is being undermined once again.