The strategy that served the purpose of forcing the former Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan was foolishly perpetuated to serve the narrowly defined designs of our hawkish security structures on both the eastern and western fronts
Now the holiest shrine of the most revered saint Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh in the heart of Lahore has been sacrilegiously bombed by the ideologically motivated terrorists of Pakistani origin. This is not a lone and unimagined ghastly act, as some people in Punjab may assume, but a continuation of a mad drive against all spiritual, cultural, democratic and material values by those who out of their megalomaniac and barbaric misconception of Islam are bent upon pushing Pakistan and the Muslim world into the bloody degeneration of a contemporary inquisition. Everyday terrorist assaults on the innocent people by these self-appointed warriors of (anti-)Islam warrant an unambiguous and resolute collective response at the ideological, social, political and military levels.
Yet there are those apologists of terrorism, and they are plenty, who shamelessly and hypocritically shift the blame on to some “foreign hand” or somebody who is “alien to Islam”. Out of their own ideological perversion and hatred for the west and western civilisation and/or India, they are not ready to accept it as the handiwork of a Muslim or Pakistani. They irrationally find lame excuses and concoct cover-ups for the jihadis by citing the reaction to the numerous injustices committed by the west or infidels against the Muslim world without realising the fact that they are only eulogising a suicidal course at the expense of their own country and the Muslim world. The most convenient way for the incompetent or compromised investigating agencies and a section of the media wired to the powers-that-be or obsessed with conspiracy theories, is to shift the blame on the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’, RAW and Blackwater in particular. So far, not a single terrorist case in Punjab has been established against RAW and despite the arrests of many culprits, the investigations have moved nowhere. Even if they have found some credible leads in some cases, they have not been able to lay hands on the real perpetrators of the suicide bombings.
Most glaring is the view of the so-called security and defence experts, who are as many as you can imagine, who consider the disparate terrorist outfits, especially those fighting in Kashmir or in Afghanistan, as a reserve or ‘strategic asset’. Not long ago we were told that almost all of them were Pakistan’s ‘strategic assets’, but gradually it was revealed that most of them have turned hostile and joined the jihadi internationalist solidarity front. Terrorism and terrorist outfits as a tool of national security policy have been central to the twin strategic designs of an India-centric policy and ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. The roots of this counter-productive strategic paradigm are rooted in General Zia’s and President Regan’s crusade against the former Soviet Union which, after the exit of the Soviet Union, was to serve the purpose of keeping Afghanistan as a surrogate of Pakistan and, subsequently, its extension to Indian-administered Kashmir.
The strategy that served the purpose of forcing the former Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan was foolishly perpetuated to serve the narrowly defined designs of our hawkish security structures on both the eastern and western fronts. No lessons were drawn despite the ‘betrayal’ of almost all Afghan surrogates who turned Afghanistan into a chaotic ground for an internecine conflict among the brutal warlords called Afghan Mujahideen. The same policy continued and the Taliban were created and brought into power, who went berserk and put Pakistan in an unenviable position. It was only after 9/11 that under General Musharraf the military establishment had to beat a reluctant and partial retreat.
But the institutional constraints and his own interests kept Musharraf on the road of duplicity and he continued to cling to the Mullah-Military alliance, resulting in the loss of almost all agencies in FATA to the Pakistani Taliban, who were allowed to turn into a monster challenging the writ of the state. Benefitting from the revival of US client status, the Musharraf administration exploited its ‘disadvantages’, as seen by the international community, such as on terrorism, nuclear proliferation and drug trafficking, to its ‘advantage’. Not only General Musharraf but also others developed the art of calculatingly using these ‘assets’ of national disadvantages and incrementally cashing them in as an advantage. And this zero-sum-game continues to this day without realising the strategic disadvantages and extremely destabilising fallouts of continuing to harbour one proxy or the other, who are now targeting everything in their way to turn Pakistan into yet another Afghanistan.
Everybody wants the back of the US and its allies in Afghanistan — some out of hate for the US, others for “national liberation” or “Islamic glory” against foreign occupation and still others for regaining strategic (soft or hard) depth. What is not realised is the vexing question of who will fill the void created by the exit of the real world powers? Indeed, the masters of our security are still too keen to have a foothold in the treacherous, costly and dangerous quagmire of Afghanistan. Could an economically, nationally and institutionally fragile underdeveloped country hold together a critical mass of instability as its strategic depth against an emerging big power on our east, an enterprise that could not be tackled by the two superpowers in succession?
The NATO allies, especially the US, are only interested in the neutralisation of al Qaeda or those with international terrorist reach. If the Taliban and others break their links with Osama and company, the US will have no problem in doing business with the Taliban while closing their eyes to what havoc a resurgent Taliban will bring to the region, especially Pakistan and Central Asia. The victory we are pursuing in Afghanistan and being facilitated by the US stupidities and inconsistencies may result in such a great anarchy that may consume the whole of Pakistan and Central Asia with a variety of sectarian warriors killing each other in every street and village of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For the civilian and also other Pakistan, the Taliban and the militants of all varieties are a real threat. Who has the intellectual or strategic guts to convert them into our strategic depth? And those powerful sections who are still pursuing the goal of bringing the Pakhtun Taliban back in power in Kabul are only digging the grave of a democratic Pakistan. By building an ‘excessively’ Pakistani nationhood on the ideological basis of Islam while Islamists continue to reject nationhood or nation building as repugnant to the theoretical world of the Ummah, we are paying the heavy price of growing sectarian extremism and jihadi terrorism that is going to tear us apart as a people and as a nation, if we are one. Time has already run out and we are yet to wake up to a threat that may leave nothing to defend or relish.
Imtiaz Alam is Editor South Asian Journal.