Samson Simon Sharaf
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto entrusted Major General Naseerullah Babar to create a student dominated resistance in Afghanistan, he ignored a very important lesson of power politics. Hans Joachim Morgenthau in his book, Politics Amongst Nations, had observed: “The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers.” Was this ignorance or deliberate? Determined to create a new Pakistan, Bhutto was riding a wave of diplomatic successes. It seems he decided to taste the forbidden fruit.
Negotiations with India had been successful. The OIC Summit at Lahore ended Pakistan’s international isolation. The Arab oil embargo upset the Western cash flows. Foundations of the nuclear programme were laid and Pakistan was ready to pay any price (also eat grass) for its independence and development. Next, in his calculus of an overbearing India, it was important to eliminate the spectre of a two-front war by resolving the Durand issue. He decided to exploit the fault lines of Parcham and Khalq and force Sardar Daud to a negotiated settlement. The narrative though India specific, insipidly looked beyond; to a Muslim power bloc. It challenged the bipolar international equilibrium.
Afghan youngsters like Ahmad Shah Masood, Hekmatyar, Khalis and Rabbani played their role and Daud did come to the negotiating table. He even initialled the Pakistan-Afghan Joint communiqué for formalisation of Durand Line. Both Bhutto and Daud were waiting for an opportune moment; but then the gods, unhappy with Pakistan’s strategic forays, struck.
Bhutto paid dearly for challenging the dictum of Morgenthau in more than one way. He was removed in a military coup led by his handpicked and most humble general. In subsequent years, Zia despite overtures by Daud, showed no inclination to settle the boundary issue. Daud was killed in a coup.
During the law and order situation created in Afghanistan by the Parchamis, Khaqis and Pakistan sponsored student leaders, Soviet Union finally moved in. For a despot, it was an opportunity for international legitimacy. To satisfy his domestic audience, he could now exploit both the Afghan occupation and Iran’s revolution to create a religious fervour underlined by his Ideology of Islam. He got international support from the West and domestic from the rightist.
Having led the Afghan resistance under the shadow of Charlie Wilson, he too indulged in the cardinal sin. Zia expanded the nuclear programme and began to look beyond Durand to a Pan-Islamic nationhood. For defying the Morgenthau dictum he was blown up in mid air.
What followed is the mayhem in Afghanistan that inevitably spilled to Pakistan. A measure of an acute sectarian and religious bias was visible in Pakistan around places of worship. The genie had morphed into a monster and needed to be controlled. If we blame the USA for abandoning the Afghan mujahideen what are we to say of these home-grown militants? As events prove, we are wrong on both counts.
Michael Springmann, an official of the US consulate in Jeddah Saudi Arabia in 1987-88, reported that CIA had a programme to bring people to the United States for terrorist training in connivance with the host country. The largest branch of Al-Khifa was in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, New York. Other branches were in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere. Similarly, Al-Khifa had a training camp in Connecticut. A number of important Al-Qaeda figures attended the University of Arizona in Tucson or lived in Tucson in the 1980s and early 1990s. One such recruit was Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the alleged mastermind of 9/11 and uncle of Ramzi Yousaf.
The FBI investigation into the later US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 was said to have found that the traces from the explosions came from an American military explosive, of the type of which the CIA had apparently given to the “Arab Afghans” just three years before. Militants of Pakistani descent rather than Arabs, were a new genre created for covert operations elsewhere. A covert operation outside the eyes of Pakistan’s intelligence services was underway.
It appears that after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan during 1988-9, a dual policy emerged between the US State Department and the CIA. While the State Department focused to moderate Afghan factions and undermine the Soviet-installed Najibullah regime, CIA continued military support of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other Islamists. Arabs fighters continued to flow into the region through the recruitment and training programme. Pakistani ones were to be preferred for operations elsewhere.
USA may have abandoned the mujahideen, but never the region. Non-state actors soon became the floating threat of future wars and crosshairs steadily began to shift to Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Meanwhile, Kashmir and India were the only threat narratives of Pakistan’s security establishment.
Such are the vagaries of small nations challenging the equilibrium. Would events have been different if Bhutto was not overthrown?
The subject is like an onion that has to be pealed layer by layer.
The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army and a political economist.