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Seeds of terror

Publication Date : 27-10-2012


Although the militant threat is cause for immense alarm, none of us should be surprised there is so much confusion in Pakistan on how to deal with it.

Critical security decisions in the country’s history have been made mostly by military rulers. They were either so arrogant that they didn’t think it necessary to seek popular approval or thought their decisions were so appalling that they would never get public endorsement so didn’t bother.

There is no point in going back to Ayub Khan’s Seato and Cento agreements, where Pakistan allowed itself to be drawn and locked into a Cold War camp, even as our democratic neighbour India, while maintaining its non-aligned status, was able to enjoy both the worlds.

With the left fragmented, hunted and hounded and the right-wing religious parties firmly behind the US-GHQ (general headquarters) alliance, there was no more than token resistance to the decision. Ayub Khan saw himself as a saviour so sharing any rationale for his decisions with the people wouldn’t even occur to him.

The less said the better about the decisions made by Ayub’s successor. Gen Yahya Khan’s regime used the media to keep the West Pakistanis in the dark about events in the eastern wing and perpetuated myths and lies till the truth exploded to the fore in the country’s break-up.

A brief democratic interlude followed. Then Gen Ziaul Haq overthrew the elected government after a general election some of whose results were disputed by the opposition. A coup was staged as the two were nearing agreement on by-elections to the disputed seats.

This was 1977. Two years later Zia refused to stay the execution of the man he had overthrown, after a sham trial on murder charges. The dictator’s luck was endless. As international opprobrium at Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder gathered pace, the Soviet Red Army marched into Afghanistan.

The man who was fast heading to the top of the international pariahs’ list suddenly became the darling of the "free world".

Recruited and rewarded to lead the most decisive fight of the Cold War history, Zia did his patrons proud.

I have often detected hostility from some bright and well-meaning members of the post-Zia generation who rubbish all criticism of the dictator by saying that it is pointless to blame him as so very little has been done since he perished in that 1988 air crash.

That may be true but the seeds of the disaster we reap today were planted unquestionably by Zia and hence the biggest blame shall remain his. And then the CIA’s. Both decided along with their Saudi allies that the "godless, communist" Soviets could only be countered via jihad.

Its ideological inspiration and part funding was to come from Saudi Arabia. The rest was funded by the US with the CIA providing the special warfare technical expertise and weaponry. Pakistan’s ISI (premier intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence) was the conduit for most of the funds and weapons and the CIA’s training partner.

You must be wondering what’s the point here of recalling this history that everyone probably knows anyway. Well everyone may well know all these facts but they aren’t recalled often enough to explain where we are today.

This jihad proved so effective that the Red Army didn’t only have to leave Afghanistan after failing to secure its objectives.

Many believe that the setback was so severe that it pushed the Soviet Union over the edge and it started to unravel.

After the exit of the Soviet Union, Zia and his military commanders were so inspired by this low-cost war, where a conglomerate of international jihadis had been used to bleed the Soviets to near-death, that they developed other ambitions.

What could humble the mighty Soviets would also enable the GHQ to finally force to its knees the eternal and numerically superior enemy which somehow managed to get the upper hand in each of the mutual conflagrations despite not having the "right faith" on its side.

And bleed the enemy they did. Look at Indian-held Kashmir’s history since those rigged elections in the early 1980s led to an indigenous uprising. This was soon to be overtaken by foreign jihadis of every description taking the violence to hitherto unknown levels.

What if in the process Bulleh Shah and Shah Latif’s Pakistan ceased to be? What if Kashmir valley’s cherished faith espoused by the Sufis was obliterated? A violent, repressive, misogynistic, intolerant, often sectarian state-backed ideology was ready to supplant all shades. And it did.

The cost to Pakistani society notwithstanding, this course was pursued. The post-Soviet Afghanistan was riven with chaos and led to the birth of the Taliban. The ISI, which had grown in influence and power enormously through the Afghan war, gleefully went into partnership with the group.

Arab, Uzbek, Chechens — you name them and jihadis of every description were present in Afghanistan. The Arabs provided the ideological rallying cry and money for the jihad while instructors of different origins taught the zealots guerrilla warfare and terror tactics.

Pakistan was using some of these Arabs for its own purposes so missed their agenda as they planned and carried out 9/11. This was around the time Gen Musharraf received that famous phone call from Washington seeking his support and warning of consequences in the event of a refusal.

Given how close Pakistan was to some of the international jihadis and more so with their Afghan protectors, the attack on the US mainland targets instilled fear in the heart of the military ruler who openly went from garrison to garrison explaining his rationale for agreeing to back Washington.

Similar vigour was needed to explain the decision to the people of Pakistan but this didn’t happen. Instead, the Musharraf regime deployed lies and deception to placate them and this policy backfired badly.

Columnists and opinion-writers are often slammed for focusing endlessly on the state of play but offering little in terms of solutions. Let’s reflect this week. Next week perhaps we’ll try and think if there is a way out of the mess we are in.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


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