Pakistan recently announced to shut down more than 20 NGOs, which included the notorious George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, thus evoking memories of the time the CIA utilized a polio vaccinations programme almost a decade ago run by international NGOs to spy around Pakistan’s tribal areas apparently looking for Osama bin Laden. The increasingly pro-India US continues to express its opposition to the country’s much needed strategic shift toward Russia and, even more so, Iran. For Pakistanis who’ve been paying attention to history and how it connects to the crises Pakistan has dealt with and helped create in more recent times, this can only mean that the country is showing signs of actually learning from its failures. It must not, however, distract us from the fact that we are at a crucial phase in history, with a chaotic series of events expected to take place in our region which demand an advanced Pakistani narrative, cognizant of the nature of geopolitics, borne out of genuine introspection on our historical failures. Such has always been missing from the Pakistani media, the intelligentsia and most importantly, the leaders. The key area of focus is our relationship with the USA and our history of ‘working’ with it, why it has been continuously disastrous for us and why it seems our nationalistic crowd fails to diagnose the issue accurately.
Pakistan’s modern day circumstances can be traced back to the deepening of its engagement with the USA during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 1980s and the period that began for the countries since then has consistently been an awful one. Grasping the reasons behind Pakistan’s turmoil – mainly pertaining to terrorism – seems not to be anyone’s strong suit and represents a seemingly widespread naivety among the populace regarding grand regional imperialist strategies and designs. While everyone loves to condemn the US, it seems policymakers and the populace alike seem unable to use an ample pool of known content and information to properly indict the destructive regime. Suffice to say, with the coming war against CPEC, the entire nation requires a serious look into how it got into the politically, economically and strategically weak position it finds itself slowly escaping from at last with its foreign policy tilt. Weak discourse and empty narratives must be discarded as useless baggage and better ones adopted.
As regurgitated by the country’s National Security Advisor, retired Lietenant General Nasir Janjua, at a speech in a seminar on 18 December 2017 organized by the Centre of Global and Strategic Studies in Islamabad, the USA was ‘failing to achieve peace’. It was not ‘recognizing Pakistan’s contribution to its war against the USSR’ and had created problems for Pakistan by ‘abandoning’ Pakistan at the end of the USSR war. It had callously ignored Pakistan’s ‘services in triggering the end of the bipolar world and the fall of the Berlin Wall’. The rest contained the usual and unfortunate‘we are peaceful mantra’ and a view of the bonuses of ‘regional cooperation’ and Chinese Belt and Road Initiative as a conduit to peace.
In studying the speech by the senior government official, one can easily spot out a number of glaring issues with how Pakistani policymakers weigh the benefits and downfalls of who we choose to cast our lot with or work with. Without opening the Pandora’s box of hardcore evidence regarding the true nature of US foreign policy around the world, notably the Middle East, one can easily label the ‘mistakes’ and ‘failure to achieve peace’ narrative as too fraudulent for anyone to still be using. Even while making direct reference to the USA’s stubborn approach toward diplomacy with the Afghan Taliban, the NSA seemed unwilling to call out the war in Afghanistan for what it was. There was, quite obviously, no mention in the speech of the Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the communist regime in Afghanistan in 1978 that mandated Soviet military intervention in the country to protect its ally. Doing so would, after all, lead to the ‘uncomfortable’ territory of highlighting the USA’s intentional baiting of the USSR into the war as opposed to the US/Pakistani propaganda of ‘saving Afghans from the invaders’. The communist regime was violent, as was any regime in the history of Afghanistan, yet its overthrow did not necessarily make the brewing of an ideal situation for massive chaos worth it.
While these statements may be attributed to a heavy reliance on clichés and dusty old narratives that have become procedural, the ensuing equation of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (who have murdered in excess of 50 000 Pakistani civilians) with the Afghan Taliban by the NSA was beyond self sabotaging and suicidal for a number of reasons. The reason behind this would be clear only to those who valued the strength of discourse and matching hostile propaganda narratives; it has been longstanding US and Indian propaganda to portray Pakistan as a lunatic state financing those who murder its own people. That too, for the hope that they would attack the US or India! Mullah Omar, founder and chief of the Afghan Taliban until his death a few years ago, had distanced himself from the TTP to avoid conflict with Pakistan in 2007 as reported in researcher Antonio Giustozzi’s (Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit) book ‘Decoding the new Taliban: insights into the Afghan field’.(Giustozzi, 2009) Why the guilt? Was it ever required of Pakistan to be overly concerned with the welfare of the Afghans, whose attempts to antagonize it had been continuous since 1947 including even a failed invasion of our tribal areas in 1962? The soft stance Pakistan has shown toward Afghanistan may simply be ignorance of history and delusions of how well religion can bridge the gaps between the neighbours.
The NSA could have made mention of the need for Pakistan to maintain ties with the Afghan Taliban as would be any country’s right when made target of a proxy war by its enemies using Afghanistan as a base. Even making mention of the grand regional designs against CPEC did not seem to allow a connecting of the dots and recognizing the need for proactive involvement in hybrid warfare as everyone else seems to be doing these days.
Are Pakistani strategic circles even capable of forging the right narrative and address the US for what it is? A look back at the USSR war in Afghanistan and how the Pakistani role is perceived there by our people would be adequate. How do those Pakistani leaders who participated in the war against the USSR view the event? As a ‘Jihad’, or as the time our country was used as a launch pad for chaos in the region? To get an idea of the significance of Pakistan’s region, one may take a passage out of the famous Henry Kissinger’s 1982 book, Years of Upheaval:
“The southern rim of Asia — Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan — is a region of the world that may seem remote and strange to Americans, and yet it is a pivot of the world’s security. Within a few years of my 1973 journey, it became an area of upheaval. From the Iranian Revolution to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the Iran-Iraq war, events dramatized the vulnerability of the Persian Gulf — the lifeline of the West’s oil supply. The vital importance of that region had been one of the themes of the shrewd strategic analysts I was to visit next: Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.”(Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 1982)
That’s quite an important placement Pakistan has. Have the country’s policymakers ever been appreciative of this fact in the pre-Belt and Road era? Or do they continue to grasp only a small part of it, given Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal’s odd comment at a public speaking event in Islamabad on 19 December that the ‘era of geopolitics is over and that of geoeconomics has started’? Salvation from the naivety lies quite obviously in deciphering which policies in the past still contribute to suffering for the nation today, and the Soviet-Afghan war remains the best case study.
Anyone who listens to the ‘analyses’ offered up by Pakistani proponents of the ‘Jihad’ narrative, unwilling to admit that the poisoning of the Af-Pak region and serving of a wider imperialist agenda for no real gains to Pakistan, will know very well their obliviousness regarding the strategy that the US had in place for the region. The fact their position as ideologues of the Pakistani right wing and thus opponents of foreign hegemony over Pakistan makes their romanticization of the USSR war ironic and self contradictory. Reading Zaid Hamid’s book ‘from Indus to Oxus’ on the USSR war, in which he participated and still heavily promotes, one gets an accurate summing up of the geopolitical naivety that still seems to plague us; the author lavishes praise on the ‘Afghan Mujahideen’ and General Zia ul Haq.(Hamid, From Indux to Oxus, 2012) He entertains the almost insane delusion that an army bolstered by the influx of extremists from throughout the world (opportunistic dumping by Arab states of their criminals and terrorists, in truth, to Afghanistan) would be able to form a ‘unity government of Mujahideen’ after the USSR withdrawal. Religious extremism brought into the region and the well was perpetually poisoned. To think that ethnic strife already present in Afghanistan would not be compounded by adding layers of extremism on top of it means that proponents of the ‘Jihad’ narrative are unable to come to grips with the actual purpose the war against the USSR had served.
The late General Hameed Gul, the vehemently anti-US former ISI chief who directed the siege of Jalalabad in 1989 by Pakistan-backed factions in Afghanistan, had always demonstrated love for the Afghan Taliban in various interviews with foreign and local media. Romanticizing their horrid governance as ‘Islamic rule’ can only be seen as bizarre. The late Colonel Imam, an iconic figure for Pakistani nationalists and prominent military trainer of Afghan rebels since the 1970s, offered a more nuanced view of the Afghan war (as well as of the ideological ambiguity of the Taliban and thus potential persuasion to moderation compared to radical Salafist groups) yet still insisted on idea of an ‘Islamic government’. Based on whose belief system? Does this not represent misplaced priorities? Or is it part of a pattern of cognitive dissonance and inability to admit the imperial agenda Pakistan served as a pawn for? While not doubting the patriotism of such men, we must critique their sudden turn toward suspicion of the US as being too late and too little. Indeed, in a 2009 interview, Imam expressed surprise at the US’ lack of interest in securing an acceptable settlement to the Afghan situation at the end of the war despite clearly holding a consistent belief in the untrustworthiness of the US.(Imam, 2009)
Similar to the humanitarian lipstick plastered across Western interventionism after the start of the 21st century was the appeal to the fascination the Pakistani establishment had with ‘Jihad’ and Islam by Brzezinski in 1979:
“We know of their deep belief in god – that they’re confident that their struggle will succeed. – That land over-there is yours – and you’ll go back to it some day, because your fight will prevail, and you’ll have your homes, your mosques, back again, because your cause is right, and god is on your side.”(Brzezinski, 1979)
It is all too easy to bait into subservience a country which pays no heed to who it deals with and for what purpose it deals with them.
To raise a few eyebrows among our military elite today whose discourse still revolves around words such as ‘cooperation’ and ‘stability’, one may present a passage from a 1998 interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski with Le Nouvel Observateur:
“And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?”
“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.”(Brzezinski, 1998)
The intentional poisoning of the precious ‘Jihad’ effort using already-available radical elements from the Arab world, as the MSNBC reported in 1998, was always going to happen:
“The CIA, concerned about the factionalism of Afghanistan … found that Arab zealots who flocked to aid the Afghans were easier to “read” than the rivalry-ridden natives. While the Arab volunteers might well prove troublesome later, the agency reasoned, they at least were one-dimensionally anti-Soviet for now. So bin Laden, along with a small group of Islamic militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestinian refugee camps all over the Middle East, became the “reliable” partners of the CIA in its war against Moscow.”(MSNBC, 1998)
Anyone with a basic grip on history – which apparently means none of the military personnel from Pakistan who eagerly embraced Operation Cyclone and shook hands with Brzezinski – would be well aware of US opposition to secular, effective governments in the Muslim world and usage of radical groups to oppose them. The Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al Nusra, the list goes on and on and the circumstances for their strategic utilization seem to persist continuously.
Brigadier Mohammad Yousuf, working for the ISI during the Soviet-Afghan war, makes no mention of Brzezinski or the overarching US stratagem for the region in his famous book ‘Afghanistan, the bear trap: the defeat of a superpower’ either.
To pontificate about how the US ‘abandoned’ Pakistan after the USSR war is almost juvenile and epitomizes the chronic short sightedness of the country’s policymakers. What should be dwelled upon is why we did not see the ‘abandonment’ coming, why we expected better from a criminal US administration whose character was laid bare in the 1980s with the Nicaraguan Contras affair and why we still continue to bring this up time and time again.
One can be sure that the US-Indian alliance is going to throw the kitchen sink at Pakistan just as the NATO/Israel and Gulf alliance threw it at Syria. Let us recognize the urgency of the situation that is brewing and alter our tone and the quality of our discourse. To still be unable to have a national consensus on the extent to which we were used during the 1980s by a criminal US administration led by strategists of mass violence is a sad state of affairs for the country.
Brzezinski, Z. (1979). Retrieved from http://imperiya.by/video/uKjQ3oTczBp/Zbigniew-Brzezinski-Taliban-Pakistan-Afghanistan-pep-talk-1979.html
Brzezinski, Z. (1998). (P. Le Nouvel Observateur, Interviewer)
Giustozzi, A. (2009). Decoding the new Taliban: insights into the Afghan field.
Hamid, Z. (2012). From Indux to Oxus.
Imam, C. (2009). (I. Ahmad, Interviewer)
Kissinger, H. (1982). Years of Upheaval.