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Friday, December 31, 2010

Afghanistan: A response to Musharraf — I

The writer (Ejaz Haider)was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Studies Programme

Former General-President Pervez Musharraf’s article “What should be done in Afghanistan” (December 14) in this newspaper presents a selective narrative. He gives a historical background to position his thoughts on what can be done now and opens the story in 1979, “with the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union”. But the story goes further back in time and has, as its central themes, the non-acceptance by Afghanistan of the Durand Line, claiming the irredenta west of Attock, and its closeness to India.

It is important to note this because Pakistan’s response to developments after former Afghan president Daud Khan’s coup and later, after the Saur Revolution and the subsequent Soviet invasion, was informed by these concerns.

Daud wrested power from King Zahir Shah in July 1973, declared Afghanistan a republic and embarked on a reforms programme. He tried to put down religious elements, brought Afghanistan closer to the Soviet Union, started a massive military modernisation programme and began actively supporting Pashtun nationalism in Pakistan.

Back in 1961, when Daud was prime minister, he had tried to pursue an aggressive policy of supporting Greater Pakhtunistan. The crisis had led Pakistan to close the border with Afghanistan. In 1962, Daud sent a military probe into the Bajaur Agency of Pakistan which was routed. The crisis ended in March 1963, when Daud was asked by Zahir Shah to step down.

Much before the Soviets crossed the Amu Darya, leaders of the jihad had arrived in Peshawar to avoid capture after Daud’s takeover. Those dissidents, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Masoud, Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf et al, were put on the Frontier Corp’s (FC) aquittance roll by then inspector-general of the FC Brig Naseerullah Babar. Babar also presented a paper to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government on how to use anti-Daud sentiment to Pakistan’s advantage. It was nothing more than some money and Lee Enfield rifles but gave a foretaste of what was to come.

Fast forward: In an historical irony, Daud fell when he came round to having better relations with Pakistan, Iran and the US, trying to get out of the Soviet influence. The Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) had entrenched itself and the fillip came with the killing of its Parchami ideologue, Mir Akbar Khyber. His funeral got the PDPA to take to the streets and it blamed Daud for the killing and refused to believe the official version that Khyber was killed by Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Daud moved in against the PDPA but by then it was too late. On April 28, 1978, a day after the PDPA-led coup had begun, he was killed along with his family members.

The PDPA regime also faced the rising tide of popular unrest which the Soviets thought was being exploited by the US. In walked the Soviets. That’s the point at which Musharraf’s narrative begins. But the reasons for what Pakistan did, and why it did it, went further back and were related both to Afghanistan and India — the perceived threats and responses and, today, the consequences of that policy.

The US was witnessing a debate between US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; Vance didn’t think the Soviets were in Afghanistan for any reason bigger than stabilising the PDPA government; Brzezinski argued it was part of a thrust towards the Gulf waters and the Arabian Sea. The latter won and the US mounted the massive effort that ended later with President Ronald Reagan’s rollback policy.

Islamabad found the situation conducive to multiple strategic objectives: exploiting Afghan insurgency to stave off the Pakhtunistan problem; getting military aid to strengthen itself against India; cash inflows to sustain the economy; moving fast-track on its nuclear programme while America looked the other way; getting Kabul at some point to accept the Durand Line; and, if and when the Soviets withdrew, to have a friendly government in Kabul.

Until the Soviets were in Afghanistan, the US-Pakistan interests converged. When they left, some interests diverged. The first break came in 1989, when President George Bush indicated to Islamabad that he would not be able to certify next year that Pakistan was clean on the nuclear front. In 1990, the Pressler Amendment kicked in. Pakistan had specifically asked for Pressler to circumvent the more circuitous Glenn-Symington Amendment. But when Pressler was applied, Islamabad said it had been short-changed.

This is the thrust of Musharraf’s piece: the US left us high and dry. The fact is, the rules of the game related to realpolitik. Pakistan knew it and played the same game. And in Afghanistan, it got more and more involved for its own perceived strategic reasons. The worst part of the strategy, dominated by the army-ISI combine, was the attempt to play kingmaker in that country.

Another dimension was added to the Afghan policy when Indian-held Kashmir suddenly exploded in December 1989. That connection is too well-known to bear repeating. The point is that it is disingenuous to say that Pakistan was left holding the baby.

Internal developments were no less troubling with General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation drive. Over time, the Islamist proxies that Islamabad was relying on began finding a corresponding streak within Pakistani society. The policy that wanted to reject Afghanistan’s irredentism by getting Kabul to accept the Durand Line ended up creating an Islamist bloc on both sides with deep linkages and rejection of the idea of national boundaries.

The penetration became complete with the Taliban policy, pursued from 1994 onwards, to open up the southern route to Turkmenistan. Again, Pakistan signalled to other players that it was the dominant actor. Musharraf argues that the world should have recognised the Taliban regime because that would have given the world leverage over the Taliban and “we could have saved the Bamiyan Buddha statues and even untangled the Osama bin Laden dispute”.

My question is: we had recognised the Taliban, were supporting them to the hilt and it was in our interest to get them to fall in line; why did we fail to either save the Buddha statues or “untangle the Bin Laden dispute”? Not just that, we couldn’t even get the Taliban to accept the Durand Line! And what Mullah Omar did to Prince Turki al Feisal is already a recorded incident.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.

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