By: Brig. Asif Haroon Raja (Retd)
In the aftermath of 1971 Indo-Pak war, many earth shaking geo-political events took place at international and regional levels. India emerged as a major military and nuclear power in the region and Indo-Soviet nexus adopted an active policy to dominate Indian Ocean. Afghanistan became more belligerent and started to propagate Pakhtunistan stunt aggressively. Populist leader Mujibur Rehman who became the first head of state of newly carved secular Bangladesh was assassinated along with his family members in 1974. Gen Ziaur Rahman took over and declared Bangladesh as an Islamic Republic state. USA had to beat a retreat from Vietnam after fighting and massacring Vietnamese for over a decade.
Islamic revolution in Iran ousted Shah of Iran and brought in Imam Khomenei in February March 1979 which impacted the Muslim world and caused consternation to both the super powers. While USA lost an important ally whom it was aspiring to make it into the Persian Gulf policeman, and also suffered the trauma of American hostages in Tehran, Moscow felt concerned for its Muslim Republics of Central Asia.
In December 1979, Soviet troops barged into Afghanistan at the invitation of Parcham Party. In their bid to Sovietise Afghanistan, Soviets unleashed a reign of terror against the Afghan people and installed a puppet regime of their choice at Kabul. Over eight million Afghans were rendered homeless. Pakistan got sucked into Afghan imbroglio when 5 million Afghan refugees trekked into Pakistan and heavily burdened the already dwindling economy. Realising that the big bear would prowl forward in search of warm waters, Pakistan decided to stand up to the challenge. It took the US and other western countries one and a half years to make up their minds and to extend full support to proxy war in close cooperation with Pakistan.
Jihadis were induced by CIA from all over the world, particularly from Middle East and brought to Pakistan which was converted into main base for launching biggest ever covert operations in concert with ISI against Soviet occupied Afghanistan in 1981. In addition to setting up training camps, religious madrassas were lavishly funded, provided arms and ammunition and mandated to motivate and train the youth to wage Jihad in Afghanistan against godless Soviet troops. Mujahideen were pampered and their exploits profusely lauded and projected as holy warriors. Jihad was funded by CIA with the help of drug trade at a large scale.
Notwithstanding ruthless massacre of the Muslim fighters by military machine of USSR, fresh crop of fighters were continuously pushed into the furnace of Afghanistan. For the downtrodden, mostly sustained by madrassas funded by philanthropists and affluent class, which provided them free lodging, food and religious education, it was a new occupation which apart from material and religious benefits had an element of adventure. It gave them a sense of satisfaction and a kick that they were up against a super power and another superpower was at their back. They had a just cause and a base to operate from; hence recruitment never dried irrespective of mass scale casualties.
Pakistan acting as the frontline state had to pay a very heavy price for fighting proxy war. It was subjected to sabotage and subversion by KGB-KHAD-RAW combine together with India-Afghan supported Al-Zulfiqar terrorist outfit. High speed war kept the rulers deeply immersed in trying to deal with threat of Soviet-Afghan forces from our western border, Indian threat from eastern border and internal threat posed by Al-Zulfiqar and RAW agents.
Victory over Soviet forces in 1988 by rag tag Afghan freedom fighters became a genuine cause of celebration. However, death of Gen Zia and senior army officers in a C-130 plane crash in August 1988, which was an act of sabotage, marred the joys. His sudden departure created a vacuum which mercifully got filled up through general elections in November 1988 and PPP led government under Benazir Bhutto coming into power.
Afghan cauldron ultimately proved to be the graveyard of Soviet Union and in 1991 it collapsed from within under the weight of economic disorders. Six Central Asian states and several Latvian states became independent and war of independence erupted in Chechnya. Yugoslavia fragmented into six states because of extreme corruption and weak leadership while Eastern Europe got reabsorbed in Western Europe. Fragmentation of Soviet Empire led to demise of communism and put an end to cold war. In Germany, Berlin wall of belligerence fell and united the two Germanys. These events paved the way for creation of European Union. Much of the world embraced market capitalism and the US under its doctrine of New World Order started to convert the world into a global village.
When the time came for Afghan Mujahideen and Pakistan to get rewarded for the huge sacrifices rendered and for paving the way for USA to emerge as sole super power, USA decided to depart abruptly from this region at a time when its assistance was needed the most. Instead of rewarding, Pakistan was subjected to harsh sanctions under infamous Pressler Amendment in October 1990 due to nuclear factor. It was natural for all Pakistanis to feel deeply vexed and frustrated. To rub salt in their wounds, the US decided to embrace India that had throughout opposed US policies in the region tooth and nail and had sat in the lap of Soviet Union.
The Middle East remained in turmoil due to belligerence of Israel, unsettled Palestinian issue and defiance of PLO under Yasser Arafat. Israel continued to persecute the Palestinians and refused to hand back territories it had captured in 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Its high handed policies and repeated provocations against its neighbours triggered 1973 Arab-Israel war. Breach of unassailable Barlev line across Suez Canal by Egyptian troops became a cause of huge embarrassment for Israel and ultimately led to signing of Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt. Peace with Israel resulted in isolation of Egypt among Arab countries.
Saddam Hussein who took over as president of Iraq in 1979 started dreaming of becoming the leader of Arab world. Taking advantage of fluid state of Islamic revolution in Iran and egged on by Washington and London, Iraq invaded Iran in October 1980 to settle Shatt el Arab dispute but got bogged down for the next eight years without achieving any results. The war gave an opportunity to Israel to destroy Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak in 1983. Iran on the other hand not only succeeded in beating back the aggressor but also completed its cycle of revolution despite being completely isolated. Saddam fell from grace of USA when he prodded by Washington invaded Kuwait in August 1990. It gave an excuse to the US and its western allies to launch 1st Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 and cripple its forces as well as its economy; thus paving the way for Israel to emerge as unchallenged regional power.
In India, several separatist and insurgent movements erupted in number of Indian states and Sikhs in Punjab became assertive. Indian ruthless military operation Blue Star against Sikhs holiest shrine in Amritsar called Golden Temple (3-6 June 1984) was ransacked and almost all its inmates including women and children gunned down. This barbaric act led to assassination of PM Indira Gandhi at the hands of two Sikh bodyguards on 31 October that year which triggered a mad Hindu onslaught against Sikhs mercilessly killing thousands. Most were torched alive and their houses and shops burnt. These gruesome events sparked Khalistan movement demanding their own state in Punjab including Punjabi speaking areas of Rajasthan, Harayana and Himachal Pradesh with Chandigarh as the capital. Sikh movement kept raging for years till it was brutally crushed during Rajiv Gandhi regime in 1989 but its embers could not be extinguished. Over 3.2 million Sikhs have been killed in several genocides. Punjab has been turned into an open jail for Sikhs. Dr. Awatar Singh in exile and many of his Sikh compatriots have kept the Khalistan movement alive.
While India’s hands were full in dealing with Sikh insurgents, eruption of armed freedom movement in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) in 1989 in the wake of rigged state elections came as a bolt from the blue. India pumped in huge number of security forces to quash the movement but when India failed to make any headway it started blaming Pakistan for abetting the freedom fighters. Over seven lacs Indian security forces battled few thousand armed freedom fighters and unleashed a reign of terror that paled Halaku Khan’s atrocities. More than 100,000 Kashmiris have been martyred and rape and torture is used as weapons of war. The civilised world has taken little notice of worst human rights violations.
Indo-US relations warmed up from 1991 onwards and gradually transformed into strategic partnership. Taking advantage of soured Pak-US relations, India stepped up its propaganda campaign to convince Washington to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Pakistan was also accused of manufacturing an Islamic bomb. Bill Clinton Administration laid the foundation of Indo-US strategic alignment which blossomed in March 2000. While USA got busy in reintegrating Europe, our democratic era got locked up in PPP-PML-N deadly clash, each trying to down the other thereby giving lethal blows to democracy.
Jihadis that had taken part in Afghan Jihad having been refused re-entry into their respective countries settled down either in Afghanistan or in FATA since they had developed deep rooted comradeship with people of the two regions. American supplied armaments together with huge arms dumps left behind by withdrawing Soviet forces were taken over by warring factions of Mujahideen and soon war ravaged Afghanistan got sunk in power tussle resulting in internecine war of attrition which raged till 1995. Poppy growing and arms smuggling became sources of income.
Amidst infighting, Taliban emerged as a new force in 1994 and within a span of two years they captured Kabul and restored semblance of order by reigning in warlords, eliminating social vices through imposition of Sharia. Pakistan recognised Taliban regime and soon the two developed strong and fraternal relations.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan became a transit camp for drug and arms smuggling from Afghanistan which had debilitating effects on its society. Sectarian war that started to simmer in Pakistan after Islamic revolution in Iran got heated up during the nineties. Several extremist parties like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Sipah-e-Muhammad, Jaish-e-Muhammad cropped up and attacks on mosques and Imambarghs became common. Foreign powers added fuel to sectarian war. Fallout of Afghan war together with Intifada in Palestine and eruption of freedom struggle by Kashmiris in IHK contributed towards militarization of Pakistani society. Large numbers of jihadi groups both in IHK and in Azad Kashmir surfaced to give boost to Kashmir freedom movement.
RAW was assigned to work upon Sindh on the pattern of erstwhile East Pakistan. It made deep inroads in rural Sindh where nationalist leaders were cultivated and idea of Sindhudesh germinated. Ethnic war in Sindh peaked during late 1980s and throughout 1990s because of rural-urban antagonism and MQM’s fascism to make Karachi its fiefdom. Both Nawaz and Benazir during their respective stints in power ordered operations against MQM in 1992 and 1995 to bridle its militancy but failed. Onus of checkmating ill-effects of Afghan war rested on elected regimes from November 1988 to 1999, which were free of pressures of proxy war, and not that of Zia regime that was deeply involved in the war against next door super power. However due to infighting by two mainstream political parties and premature fall of regimes after every two to three years kept Pakistan politically unstable and economically weak and debt ridden. These factors together with increasing poverty, rising inflation, spiralling price hike and growing unemployment heightened violence.
Conduct of nuclear tests by India in May 1998 and tit for tat response by Pakistan nuclearised South Asia and turned it into a flashpoint but mellowed down jingoism of Indian BJP leaders and prompted Indian PM Vajpayee to undertake a bus ride to Pakistan in February 1999. He was the first Indian leader to acknowledge Kashmir as an unresolved dispute. He visited Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore in a bid to dispel widely held perception that India had not reconciled to the existence of Pakistan. High hopes of possible resolution of Kashmir issue and two neighbours living peacefully were dashed with the onset of Kargil conflict triggered by the then Army chief Gen Musharraf without taking Nawaz government into confidence. The conflict which raged intensely for ten weeks reenergised Indo-Pak antagonism. US intervention defused the explosive situation which had all the potential of getting converted into full scale war with nuclear overtones. However, Kargil paved the way for downfall of heavy mandate Nawaz regime on 12 October 1999 and takeover by Gen Musharraf.
Internationally, Pakistan almost became a Pariah state as was evident from visit of Bill Clinton to India and Pakistan in March 2000 when he doled out huge economic and defence endowments to India and laid the foundation of Indo-US strategic alignment but cold shouldered Pakistan. The military regime under Musharraf took off well under its much publicised seven point agenda and produced impressive economic results. But like his predecessors, it did not take long before he lost direction and adopted self serving policies to prolong his rule.
9/11 transformed the global geo-politics which impacted the Muslim world in particular. Gen Musharraf was castigated for accepting all the seven demands of USA on a phone call and taking a u turn on Afghanistan and agreeing to make Pakistan the frontline state to fight US war on terror at his own and that too without seeking benefits matching what all he surrendered. Although Pakistan gained economic benefits but those proved illusory. Fighting US war on terror had debilitating impact on Pakistan’s social, political and economic life. As against $10.5 billion US aid, Pakistan lost over $35 billion. Micro-management of Pakistan’s domestic affairs by intrusive USA resulted in gradual erosion of sovereignty of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s security compulsions came in conflict with the new Bush Doctrine to see the stability of West Asia and South Asia hegemonised by Israel and India respectively. There was a growing Indo-US axis to complement US-Israeli axis. 9/11 came as a blessing in disguise for India since it helped India achieve what it could never have in normal course. It regained entry in Afghanistan and speedily expanded its influence to be able to encircle Pakistan. India got closer to Iran and China. New rules on global terrorism framed by USA and doctrine of pre-emption and shock and awe conceived by George W. Bush led neo-cons helped India to convert Kashmir freedom struggle into terrorism and to brand Pakistan as an abettor of cross border terrorism and a nuclear proliferating country.
Indo-US-Israeli-British-Afghanistan nexus was formed in Kabul in December 2001 after the occupation of Afghanistan and overthrow of Taliban regime and its replacement with US proxy regime led by Hamid Karzai. Besides other regional objectives, the nexus aimed at destabilizing, denuclearizing and de-Islamising Pakistan and turning it into a vassal state of India so as to accomplish its strategic goals. Since sinister objectives were to be achieved under the garb of friendship, USA facilitated Indo-Pak peace treaty in January 2004. India took full advantage of hypocritical composite dialogue to take the steam out of Kashmir freedom struggle and to quietly launch cultural invasion from the east and covert operations from Afghan soil as well as Iran against Pakistan without giving anything in return.
Induction of Army in South Waziristan in 2002 at the behest of Washington and launching of military operations made the militant tribesmen turn their guns inwards because of which the flames of militancy engulfed whole of FATA, greater part of NWFP and even entered Punjab. Balochistan was also lit up by sowing seeds of separatism among the Baloch. Pak Army thus got engaged in fighting its own people and both sides started to bleed each other as a result of which centre of gravity of terrorism shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Apart from unleashing massive covert operations to foment unrest in Balochistan, FATA and other parts of NWFP, the band of five unleashed sustained vilification campaign against Pakistan to undermine its premier institutions and weaken it from within. Stories of balkanization or breakup of Pakistan were frequently circulated. Maximum pressure was exerted on nuclear program on the plea of its vulnerability and its likelihood of falling in wrong hands.
Musharraf’s popularity graph began to plummet rapidly after his unwise decision to sack chief justice Iftikhar in March 2007, his unwarranted support to MQM for its gory role on 12 May and ill-planned Lal Masjid operation in July. His skewed concept of enlightened moderation to show soft face of Pakistan promoted ultra liberalism which in turn bred religious extremism. These events together with triggering of suicide bombings and lawyers movement shrunk his manoeuvring space and forced him to strike a power sharing deal with Benazir in July 2007. He later issued an unholy NRO on 5 October in return for getting elected for second term.
When the lawyer movement duly joined by civil society started to choke him he was left with no choice but to impose emergency in November 2007 which instead of strengthening him further weakened him. He was thus impelled to shed his hat of army chief and hand over the baton to Gen Ashfaq Kayani and also to announce elections. Murder of Benazir on 27 December was a watershed in the history of Pakistan which made the overall situation volatile and forced Musharraf to advance the election date from 8 January 2008 to 18 February. Her sudden departure paved the way for Zardari to come on the centre stage and become PPP co-chairperson. Much against his and his patrons in Washington hopes of a dream team comprising PPP, PML-Q, MQM coming to power, PML-N upset the plan. PML-Q got consigned to opposition ranks while PML-N formed coalition governments in the centre and in Punjab. PPP-PML-N honey moon lasted for few months because of Nawaz’s serious differences with wavering Zardari who did not stick to his pledge of restoring sacked judges.
Fearing impeachment, Musharraf thought it wise to abdicate in August and thus paved the way for Zardari to occupy his seat. It didn’t take long for Zardari to lose his popularity and credibility owing to his lackadaisical approach, corruption scandals and lack of governance. Instead of making the parliament supreme and abiding by charter of democracy, Zardari chose to arrogate all powers and rendered Gilani led parliament into a rubber stamp. Cronyism, nepotism and corruption have become the hallmark of the democratic government. Load shedding, gas shortage, and acute shortage of essential commodities together with back breaking price spiral have made the lives of the poor and salaried class difficult.
The people have got disillusioned with the democratic government since it has not brought any change in the reviled policies of Musharraf led regime nor given them any relief. New rulers have become more subservient to American dictates. The US influence in Pakistan’s affairs has become too intrusive. War on terror supported by foreign powers based in Kabul has become more menacing. Despite launching series of military operations in NWFP, Malakand Division, Swat, Darra and several agencies of FATA starting June 2008, ‘do more’ mantra is sung by US officials unabatedly. Encouraged by USA, India has adopted an uncompromising and belligerent posture. In its bid to browbeat Pakistan, apart from launching covert operations in Balochistan and FATA at big scale, it is resorting to water terrorism to turn Pakistan’s agriculture lands into wasteland.
Two years of PPP led government has witnessed high spate of suicide and terrorist attacks and drone attacks causing colossal human and material losses. Despite unanimous resolution of parliament and repeated protests to stop this grisly practice, CIA operated drones continue to strike suspected targets in Waziristan in which 98% innocent civilians die. US dictated war on terror which has now become our war has had debilitating impact on Pakistan’s social, political and economic life. Had the Army not turned the tide of terrorism in battles of Swat, South Waziristan and Bajaur, by now situation might have gone from bad to worse. This war will continue to rage as long as US-NATO troops remain in Afghanistan and Indian perverse influence prevails.
Like Zardari, Obama who had promised change is also a disappointment both for the Americans and the Muslim world. Instead of rectifying the wrongs of his predecessor, he is reinforcing failure in Afghanistan by sending additional troops under the vain hope of turning the tide which has gone in favour of Afghan Taliban. Unless the US corrects its course, it will become exceedingly difficult for US-NATO troops to get out of Afghan quagmire with honour. Grant of civil nuclear and defence deals to India by George Bush had disturbed the regional military and nuclear balance which has not been so far corrected by Obama. Under Indian pressure he has backtracked from his commitment to help find an amicable solution to Kashmir dispute. He has so far taken no step towards resolution of Palestine issue. Unresolved issues of Kashmir and Palestine and unjust policies of USA, Israel and India have bred extremism and terrorism.
While the US and western world are quiet over these burning issues, the world at large have become seized with Afghanistan and have arrived at a conclusion that without taking Taliban on board Afghan imbroglio cannot be solved. London conference attended by representatives of 70 countries have endorsed the idea of reconciling with Taliban who till recent were treated as outcasts. It is in this context that Pakistan has figured in US calculus which has been constantly distrusted, maligned and oppressed. This change in thinking has taken place because the US has finally realized that it can neither win the war on terror nor can sustain it because of fast melting economy, declining morale of US-NATO troops and growing home pressure to bring back troops. While the US has become debt ridden, economy of its major foe China has up surged and Russia has become militarily and economically assertive. While North Korea and Iran remain in aggressive mood, Arabian Peninsula has begun to simmer, Iraq is turbulent, large numbers of Latin America states have become rebellious and Al-Qaeda is uncontrollable.
Israel and India, so-called strategic allies of USA are chiefly responsible for its misfortunes but America finds itself utterly helpless. Both are devising plots how to prolong the stay of ISAF or as a minimum, make Washington agree to hand over the baton to India. Outcome of military operations launched in Afghanistan during 2010 will decide the future course of USA. Unless the US manages to depart from Afghanistan with grace, it will not be able to retain its global leadership. This is possible if the US trusts Pakistan and not India.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst.