Brig Asif Haroon Raja

As far as the eye can see, nothing else but graves. How many more?

Pakistan has gone through internal upheavals quite frequently but most were foreign inspired. India played a lead role in instigating fissiparous forces in erstwhile East Pakistan, Sindh, Balochistan and Frontier provinces by inflaming their grievances and injecting in them ideas to resort to agitation and violence. Soon after birth of Pakistan, forceful occupation of Kashmir by Indian forces led to 1948 war. In early 1965, Indian forces occupied certain parts of Pakistan’s territory in Rann of Katch in Sindh which led to a bloody conflict in April 1965 and rout of Indian troops. Soon after, another clash took place in occupied Kashmir in August leading to all out 17-day war in September 1965 in which Pakistan forces gained an upper edge. In East Bengal, after injecting the idea of maximum provincial autonomy and brainwashing the Bengali youth, they were shown the route to independence. The Army had to be employed to quell Indian sponsored insurgency in 1971 which ultimately led to division of Pakistan.

The Army was employed in Balochistan to uproot KGB-KHAD-RAW supported insurgency in mid 1970s which was successfully stemmed in 1978. During the 1980s, when Gen Zia decided to wage a proxy war in Afghanistan against Soviet forces, Pakistan had to pay a heavy price in the form of facing acts of sabotage and subversion in major cities committed by KGB-KHAD-RAW agents as well as by foreign supported Al-Zulfiqar. In June 1984, Indian forces secretly occupied part of Siachen Glacier resulting in fierce clashes. 1987 saw forces of India and Pakistan facing each other because of offensively poised Indian exercise Brass-tacks. The two sides again stood eyeball to eyeball in 1990-91 in Kashmir. In 1998 the two arch rivals became nuclear powers. Kargil conflict with India in summer of 1999 flared up essentially due to Indian provocations and uncompromising attitude to resolve Kashmir dispute.

During the 8-year Afghan war in 1980s, the youth from FATA and Frontier region was indoctrinated, trained and armed to wage Jihad against Soviet forces. Liberal funds were provided to Pakistan by USA, Saudi Arabia and western countries to ensure success. After the defeat of Soviet military by Mujahideen in 1988 the Americans abandoned Afghanistan in haste without reconstructing it and forming a broad based interim government. It led to infighting among Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1995 resulting in huge loss of lives. Turbulence in Afghanistan had adverse impact on Pakistan social structure. Gun running and drug trade from Afghanistan across porous border continued unabated. Had Gen Ziaul Haq been alive and in power, he could have prevailed upon warring factions fighting for power since he was deeply respected by Afghans.

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The period from 1979 to 1995 heightened extremism, sectarianism, and Kalashnikov and drug cultures in Pakistan. This was due to eight-year Afghan Jihad followed by violent power struggle in Afghanistan coupled with presence of 3.5 Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Several extremist Shia and Sunni groups cropped up which fanned sectarianism. Bomb blasts in mosques and Imambarghas and assassinations of notables of both sects became common. Main brunt of sectarian war remained confined to Punjab. Drug money and easy availability of weapons nurtured extremism and xenophobia. This period also witnessed Sindhi-Mohajir ethnic war in Sindh and Karachi turning into a fiefdom of MQM. Foreign agencies played a role in fanning sectarian and ethnic flames. Onus of controlling these harmful trends rested on democratic regimes but the rulers were too engrossed in power politics, intrigues and money games.

Amidst disorderly conditions in Afghanistan because of US mishandling and hasty abandonment, the Taliban under

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Mullah Omar emerged from nowhere in 1994 and succeeded in capturing Kandahar. Omar belonging to Kandahar was a non-entity and none knew him outside his home province. It was after the fall of Kandahar that Pakistan security establishment started to evince interest in Taliban under the hope that they may be able to restore semblance of order in war torn country and stabilize western border.

The Taliban captured power in 1996 and ruled the country under Shariah laws. They succeeded in putting an end to infighting, in curbing social vices including poppy trade,   bridling war lords and lawlessness. Despite extreme lack of resources due to harsh sanctions imposed by world powers, the reins of the state were in firm hands.

9/11 stunned and terrorized American public; the whole world watched the clips on television sets of airplanes hitting twin towers with shock and bewilderment. George W. Bush and others in corridors of power huffed and puffed in anger and hastily finalized plans to teach a lesson of life to the perpetrators who dared to commit most heinous crime on US soil. Terror attacks against twin towers in New York and on the Pentagon building in Washington were described as an attack on USA and the whole blame was pasted on al-Qaeda without having a shred of evidence. Gen Musharraf was haughtily asked on telephone from Washington by Colin Powel; “speak out whether you are with us or against us”. Immediate answer was sought from him in affirmative or otherwise in the middle of the night, leaving no scope of remaining neutral.

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It meant if the answer was “we hpw are with you’, it implied Pakistan would be bound to comply with all the US dictates blindly without caring for own national concerns. Had he expressed his inability to follow US policies running counter to Pakistan’s interests, it would have pushed Pakistan into the camp of enemies of US, thus providing justification to the US to convert Afghanistan and Pakistan into a single battleground, as was done in March 2009 through Af-Pak policy, and to proceed against the two countries simultaneously or in phases. India had strongly advocated for such a course of action and had offered full support, but because of Pakistan’s nuclear capability the US decided to first use Pakistan against Taliban ruled Afghanistan and subsequently at an opportune time proceed against Pakistan with the assistance of India.

Musharraf had already been briefed by his ISI chief Lt Gen Mahmud, who was on an official visit to Washington, about the extreme anger of US leaders and hysteria of American public. Jewish controlled media had created unprecedented hype against Islamists. Negroponte had hinted that any country refusing to cooperate with USA would be treated as enemy and bombed to Stone Age. Musharraf’s arm was twisted and he had no choice but to go limp under pressure. However, his inexcusable offence was that he agreed to all the seven demands promptly at his own rather than asking for time to take others on board and getting back to him on the following day.

He being a military dictator having usurped power and declared a pariah by world powers including USA, such a request was genuine and not out of place. After all, Powel was not standing on his head with a gun pointing at him. Therefore, there was no reason for him to panic and throw in his towel instantly. Twelve hours postponement would have allowed him time to seek the advice of his team of political leaders, technocrats and corps commanders and come out with a better bargaining package in the form of accepting three to four major demands with some modifications and asking for hefty returns like waiving off of external debt and meeting its economic and energy needs.

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. Musharraf justified his unilateral decisions under the plea that if he had brushed aside US demands Pakistan would have been reduced to rubble. 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. Pakistan is faced with worst energy crisis, inflation and price spiral. Micro-management of Pakistan’s domestic affairs by intrusive USA together with drone attacks resulted in gradual erosion of sovereignty of Pakistan.

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Till 2007, the US remained under the illusion that victory in Afghanistan was a forgone conclusion. From 2008 onwards, security situation started to become highly wobbly. Resurgent Taliban began to assert their sway in almost all parts of the country and became a power to reckon with. They could no more be taken for granted and talk of Afghanistan becoming another Vietnam and defeat of coalition forces gained currency. Growing turbulence forced US leadership to consider negotiating with reconcilable Taliban through Saudi mediation. Karzai extended an invitation to runaway leaders of Taliban including Mullah Omar and sought their cooperation to tide over the messy situation. Efforts to woo them didn’t succeed since the parameters of agenda were faulty.

Af-Pak policy framed by Obama administration in March 2009 handed down key role to India in Afghan affairs. Division of Taliban into extremists and moderates and winning the latter to isolate the former was to be undertaken by Karzai administration assisted by USA, India Saudi Arabia and UN. The planners lost sight of the fact that India was acceptable to Northern Alliance led non-Pashtun regime and not to Afghan Pashtuns who are in majority. They forgot that Pashtuns hold both India and Karzai regime partially responsible for their woes and view them as stooges of USA.

Finding that coalition forces were making no headway against resistance forces and performance of Afghan Army was dismal, and Karzai regime was not delivering, the only silver lining the US saw amidst thick clouds of uncertainty and despair was the rapid successes made by Pak Army against militants. Caught up in Afghan swamp up to the neck, the US was left with no option but to look towards mistreated Pakistan to pullout US-NATO forces. It is now to be seen whether Pakistan succeeds or itself gets dragged into the swamp since it is still mopping up pockets of resistance within trouble spots and fight with the militants is far from over. We may throw away our gains if we go by the suggestions of the ones who have failed to deliver but will succeed if our leadership keeps Pakistan interests over and above American interests and bite only that much which we can digest.

The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence analyst. He is Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. Brig Asif is M.Sc. in War Studies, has been Defence Attache to Egypt and Sudan. He is a regular writer for Opinion Maker.