US Policy, Militancy and Pakistan by Muhammad Ahsan Yatu SignUp
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US Policy, Militancy and Pakistan
by Muhammad Ahsan Yatu Bookmark and Share
Had the US been as serious on the Taliban threat as Russia, China and the Central Asian Republics were, the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, remembered as 9/11, on New York would not have taken place. The US and the UK, rather, warned Russia from acting against the Taliban. The two Anglo-Saxon countries were sticking to a hundred year old regional policy — keep Russia away from Afghanistan and South Asia; and they thought that it could be done with ease by keeping Afghanistan and, beginning 1945, Pakistan primitive.  The World War II was near its end in 1945 and the US had started establishing contacts with the leaders of important countries and the Pakistan movement. Saudi Arabia too became an active partner in this US policy, by providing ideological, financial and manpower support to the Afghan Jihad, the holy Islamic war waged by the Mujahideen (Islamic militants) against the Soviets and Afghan communists.

The Jihad radicalised/ Talibanised the state of Afghanistan and a small section of Afghan society. Radicalisation in Pakistan had/has a much wider reach. It began when Quaid-a-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 delivered before the Constituent Assembly was blocked from press by a pro-US establishment that represented only 30% Pakistanis. The Quaid, the father of nation, was thus made redundant just at the beginning. His speech matter rejected the ‘two nation theory’, separated religion from state and stressed on rule of law. After his death the Objectives Resolution, all laws will be made according to Islamic law, was passed by the Pakistani parliament. Despite this and Bhutto’s Islamic slogans Pakistan remained an almost secular country in practice, if not in theory. The Afghan Jihad changed Pakistan. Since 1979 constant pro-political religion indoctrination radicalised a big majority of urban Pakistanis, particularly Punjabis. The irony is that heavy doses of indoctrination have radicalised not only common Pakistanis but also a big section of our establishment, the affluent groups, media and social scientists. The tragedy is that despite its negative repercussions the indoctrination continues; its recent example is the speeches of General Kayani. The truth is that all of them — be they our civil-military bureaucrats or the outsiders — have been simply enhancing their politico-economic influence by using religion as a political instrument.

The US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia wrote a part of the US history. In Pakistan’s case ‘a part of US history’ wrote most of our history. What may save us from absolute radicalisation is the turn that the US history started taking after 9/11. The military operation in Wana, Zardari’s ascent to presidency and Obama’s entry into the White House were three major events that helped history in taking a 180 degree turn. From 1945 up till 1971 Pakistan’s history was a part of the US history. Onwards and up to 1989 it became part American, part Saudi and Part Pakistani. And from 1989 to 9/11 it was part Saudi, part Pakistani and part American. In 1971 the US aid decreased drastically, Pakistan broke up, and Pakistani establishment became more radical (Islamic); and all this made up a reason for the Saudis’ influencing Pakistani politics. The communists’ capturing power in Afghanistan and the Soviet invasion of 1979 enhanced the Saudi influence in Pakistan further.

In 1989 the Soviets withdrew their forces unilaterally. However, the Afghan communists continue to run the government. What troubles an impartial writer’s mind is that our generals and bureaucrats and also our media analysts and social scientists have been telling a lie on daily basis that the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan. The US withdrew its overt support to the Mujahideen (Islamic militants) after the Soviets were gone, but kept on helping them through its allies on propaganda front, through indirect counselling and financially. With the US taking a seat behind the curtains, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia came forward and replaced the US as the main supporters of the Mujahideen. This is how the support-less communist government of Afghanistan, which stayed for about three more years even after the departure of the Soviets, was ousted by the Mujahideen who were being supported by one hundred plus countries. Soon after, the Islamic militants started fighting each other and eventually the Taliban won Kabul in 1996 with the help of the ISI, Arab agencies, CIA, Al-Qaeda and other US allies. Five years later an Al-Qaeda-Taliban ruled Afghanistan became the reason for the tragedy that is remembered as 9/11.

The 9/11 changed the world, particularly Europe, but not the US. Before, the US wanted continuity of the Taliban rule, though with a moderate face, and even immediately after the 9/11 the Americans did not want to disturb the Taliban rule provided Osama was handed over to them; and that did not happen, because the Arab militants, and not the Taliban, were running the show in Afghanistan. The US had to turn to war under the pressure of its allies and the people. The ‘Taliban’ were ousted and a pro-US government was installed, but the leadership and other cadres of the Taliban and other militant groups were given a safe passage to leave Afghanistan and a safe haven, Pakistan-Afghanistan border belt, to settle in. The Taliban, Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Uygur and other militants availed the opportunity, gladly.

The US wanted to eliminate the Arab militants/ Al-Qaeda only; whereas the other militants were acceptable. About Al-Qaeda perhaps the US thought it would be easy to eliminate it if its leaders remained present in a nearby area. This strategy required cooperation of Pakistan. The US did not calculate that it would not be possible for economically weak Pakistan, which was also under tremendous Saudi influence, to choose which militants are to be killed or spared and when? On the Afghan Taliban the US and Pakistan had same thoughts; they were to be sent back to Afghanistan, and it was done a few month after 9/11.

The other militant groups joined hands under the leadership of Al-Qaeda. Not only that, the Pakistani Taliban also emerged from nowhere, and the warlords, drug and arms traders and human traffickers formed their own militant groups. The menace of militancy spread and influenced one way or the other, almost all cities of Pakistan. What actually happened was that the militancy was not only giving support to the regional strategies of the US, Arabs and Pakistan, but also creating a huge black economy for many of those who were involved.

With so much support for militancy around, the Al-Qaeda grew stronger. Under the Saudi-US sponsored General Musharraf’s rule the religious parties gained political power and the madrassahs (religious schools) grew faster. The great CIA watched it happen, happily; but the effective and affected world, Russia, China, the Central Asian Republics, India, Iran, and Europe became worried and showed strong reaction. This was one of the main reasons that the US finally changed its policy and declared war against all kinds of militancy. The other reasons were, the threat perception that Russia might use low intensity nuclear bombs in the region if militancy was not stopped, the Arabs had again started supporting the Afghan Taliban, the NATO forces were fed up with the weak US input in the war, and all militant groups had established links with each other through Al-Qaeda.

Cooperation of Pakistan was sought in doing the same, to act against all kinds of militancy. This is how the Wana operation started in 2004. It was the first time when history picked up speed to change its course quickly. It was a spectacular shift in the American strategy in the region. Henceforth, both, Pakistan and Afghanistan were to be stabilised. Before, the strategy meant to stabilise Pakistan only and to keep Afghanistan somewhat stable but most of it anarchic, and to leave both countries again on their own – as was done in 1989. Pakistan did not follow the changed American line and remained soft on various militants groups, such as Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Arab extremists and extremist organisations located in Punjab and elsewhere in Pakistan. Pakistani establishment did so due to the US’s past duplicity and Arab influence, and it also thought that no matter how much militancy grew, it could be controlled, and if needed, it could be used against the adversaries. Thus the rift started between Musharraf and the Americans, which became a major cause for Musharraf’s ouster and Zardari’s entry into presidency and, a few months after, that made history to move faster to be on the new course.

Musharraf, for the purpose of keeping the Americans on his side, took many half-hearted actions against the militants. The Americans knew all but they could not do much as the Pakistan army in this respect supported its commander. The Pakistani establishment, however, had objections on Musharraf’s Kashmir policy. He had signed under tremendous pressure, to avoid war, an agreement on cross border terrorism with India; but it appears as if his vision on India too had changed. Governance can transform the rulers. The same had happened before to Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf nearly fulfilled his commitments with India in stopping militancy in Kashmir and forwarded some old suggestions as solution to Kashmir problem. Even this ineffective solution seeking business did not please our anti-India establishment

This is why the Americans and our establishment joined hands to remove Musharraf, though for different purposes. His removal was not an easy job. Entire civil bureaucracy was with him, because he had left it on its own in its nation plundering business. The affluent groups too enjoyed an unthinkable degree of freedom during his rule. He had turned Zia-made mafias into friendly cartels; and also created many more. He had friends in the army among all ranks, because he had closed his eyes to army’s and army officers’ involvement in commercial activities. He also enjoyed backing of the Arabs, the MQM and district governments. Due to his rank and influence, Musharraf could be ousted only through constitutional means. The restored Judiciary could do it, but didn’t, and waited for the politicians to do it. The NRO, joint effort of the Americans, our establishment, the Arabs and Benazir, was the first step towards his removal. The Arabs and Benazir knew not much about what the US and Pakistani establishment were up to. The Arabs got involved because they were sure that Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) would win more seats than of Benazir’s PPP in the forthcoming elections. Benazir was simply looking for a way out. She needed a trouble free environment during elections.

This is how ruling faces changed, but not without a tragedy and surprise. Tragedy, Benazir was not acceptable to many powerful players, inside and outside; she was eliminated. Surprise, most Pakistani political forces joined hands and Asif Ali Zardari superseding the system and the Arab and American strategists became the president. His political approach gave the establishment another surprise. He, just at the beginning of his rule, opted for reconciliation outside as well. He talked about elimination of all kinds of militancy, leaving Kashmir to time, friendship with India and special, more than friendly, relations with the US. It pleased even the Americans who were not earlier pleased with his candidature in the presidential election.

However, the establishment is still opposing his agenda; and that we saw in various statements including the recent one that the Chief of Army Staff gave. General Kayani’s discourse confirms that the army continues to take India as a hostile country and religion as political instrument. Regarding Afghanistan the army does not like pro-American Karazai; whereas Zardari is giving him full support. The pro-establishment propagandists are predicting return of the Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan. It will not happen; the Taliban were never popular with a vast majority of Afghans. What will happen is that Afghanistan will become stable and democratic too, and Pakistan will remain attached to a devastating obsession – strategic depth. Nations that are short of internal harmony, natural resources, intellect and friends do not have much time to waste. Pakistan has reached a point where even seconds count. On economic front we cannot move an inch forward without the help of the Americans. Agreed, we can survive on our own, but that will mean living with the devastating obsessions and the bare minimum; and given our population and capacity, in the Stone Age.

Another shift in the US policy began with Obama’s success whose effects we saw first in the making of AF-PAK strategy and then in the military operations that were launched against militants in Swat and Fata with the support of the people mobilised by the ANP and PPP. Extension of AF-PAK or new US policy on Afghanistan, which was recently given by Obama, means much more. The AF-Pak was the second time history accelerated its momentum to be on the right course. Extension of the AF-PAK is a big development; it is about, how much serious we are in ending our problems? Its summarised expressions we have seen in the Kerry Lugar Law (KLL). Sticking to the counsel given in the KLL would mean that history, in our case too, would be finally on the right path. Taking a different position would mean that we are interested in Kashmir, Afghanistan and institutional interests and not in national interests.

The Americans are going to stay for a long time in Afghanistan. First phase of their stay is for bringing about stability, and second will involve expansion of their economic interests. In this regard they have taken into confidence Russia, the Central Asian States, China, India and even Iran. India with its huge presence is already in Afghanistan, others will follow suit. Where do we stand: going by the bureaucratic book, between two enemies, India and Afghanistan; and going by the ground realties wrapped in self and race based interests? India has been on the right course since independence, Afghanistan is certain to do the same, where is Pakistan going?

That we were a part of the American history was not particular to us only; given its economic and military might the US had/has a great influence, good or bad, over the entire world. In our case its influence has been terribly bad since 1979; we stand ruined as far as economy, social bonds and intellect are concerned. Yet, it is in our interest to change our direction, as the Americans did. Let us take a one hundred eighty degree turn to be on the right course of history. Let us strengthen democracy, make a resolve to eliminate all kinds of militants and engage with the modern world.
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