Large swathes of the sovereign territory of our country have been taken through force by bands of violent insurgents fighting the authority of the Pakistan state. As things stand, despite an apparently spirited counter-insurgency mounted by the post-Musharraf armed forces, the insurgents have held their own and, in fact, have gained considerable ground
With the restorations of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif to their respective rightful positions, the political circus calling itself a ‘soft revolution’ is over. As the jugglers, tightrope walkers and trapeze artists slouch towards their tents and the clowns begin to remove the paint from their faces, we of the public emerge, blinking into the glare of real life, into the light of bomb flashes and the noise of gunfire.
Yes, ours is a country at war. And the assertions of our Foreign Office that Pakistan is a ‘frontline ally’ are clearly inane when anyone can see that we are not a frontline anything: we are the actual battleground!
Oh, but this is not ‘our’ war, as is continually being averred by the talking heads of certain media pundits, former ambassadors, retired generals, admirals and other sundry ‘analysts’. Pakistani citizens and members of our armed forces are being blown up, shot and killed in a variety of dramatic ways and the sovereignty of Pakistan is disappearing from more and more of our national territory.
But it is not our war, according to these ‘analysts’.
Let’s be clear. As this scribe earlier pointed out in these pages, there are three linked wars going on at the moment. For one, there is a war between the Al Qaeda organisation of Osama bin Laden and the US and its allies. This is mostly an air war. Al Qaeda destroyed buildings and killed citizens in America in a series of spectacular air attacks using civilian aircraft. The US, having driven Al Qaeda from its Afghanistan base, is presently targeting this organisation with deadly accurate Hellfire missiles fired from unmanned drones.
The overarching US goal has been to prevent further attacks by al Qaeda in the United States. According to George Friedman of the on-line think tank Stratfor, “Washington has used two means toward this end. One was defensive, aimed at increasing the difficulty of Al Qaeda operatives to penetrate and operate within the United States. The second was to attack and destroy Al Qaeda prime, the group around Osama bin Laden that organised and executed 9/11 and other attacks in Europe.”
The US strategy has not been without success. Al Qaeda is boxed in to its tribal shelters, unable so far to strike back on European or American targets, while a withering (if slow and piecemeal) process of attrition decimates its peripheral and core groups.
The connection of this particular war to Pakistan lies only in that Al Qaeda is now located on Pakistani soil in the South Waziristan and Kurram agencies.
A second, simultaneous war is in process in Afghanistan, where the government of that country, with the help of ISAF, is fighting an insurgency by the Afghan Taliban. This war is a continuation of over the thirty years of conflict in this region that has assumed different forms and engaged different countries at various times.
The connection of Pakistan to this second war lies in, first, that these Afghan Taliban operate out of military bases and ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan (particularly in Bajaur and Waziristan) and, second, that their leader Mullah Umar and his ‘shura’ are said to be headquartered in or near Quetta. The lack of success of NATO and the Afghan government forces against the Taliban is attributed to this Pakistan connection.
And thus we come to yet a third war. This is the war of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against Pakistan. Large swathes of the sovereign territory of our country have been taken through force by bands of violent insurgents fighting the authority of the Pakistan state. As things stand, despite an apparently spirited counter-insurgency mounted by the post-Musharraf armed forces, the insurgents have held their own and, in fact, have gained considerable ground.
Worse, the civilian government of the NWFP has completely lost heart and the will to resist these violent primitives. Elsewhere in the country, too, public opinion towards the insurgents is at best ambivalent. And neither has the government, locked in its Islamabad ivory tower, nor the political parties, preoccupied with their power games, sought to educate public opinion about this menace or attempted to win the hearts and minds of the people.
The point is that this third war, with its attendant campaign of terror attacks in Pakistan’s cities, is unquestionably and solely Pakistan’s war. In fact, Pakistan’s very existence on the world map is threatened by the TTP and its associates. And we are losing this war, while continuing to stupidly deny the frightful danger to our very being.
But allow me to go a stage deeper in this analysis by looking at the common origin of these three present-day conflicts. Let us wind the clock back to the early 1970s, when Pakistan began to ‘repay’ Afghanistan’s bad neighbourly policies, such as its promotion of the ‘Pakhtunistan’ idea. When Sardar Daud overthrew King Zahir Shah and took over as president, one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty he declared was Gulbadin Hekmatyar. Previously a student of engineering at Kabul University who was said to have sprayed sulphuric acid on the faces of unveiled girl students, Hekmatyar had been imprisoned for alleged involvement in the murder of a leftist student. After his release, he moved to Pakistan, where in time he was to become the most controversial of the Mujahideen leaders.
Hekmatyar was recruited as an ‘asset’ by the Pakistani intelligence services. Other Islamist figures, including Haqqani, Massoud, Rabbani and Sayyaf, were also taken up as intelligence ‘assets’ at about this time. Periodic Mujahideen raids into Afghanistan commenced in due course and became a regular occurrence.
President Daud was overthrown by the Parcham faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, a cover-name for the Communist Party, in 1978. The Parchamis were later overthrown by the more doctrinaire Khalq faction, whose extreme leftist policies alienated the tribals and others. These now began to support the Mujahideen. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979, ostensibly on the invitation of the PDPA government.
The Mujahideen were financed, armed and trained by the CIA and Zia-ul Haq’s military regime in Pakistan. The Pakistani ISI was the intermediating agent in the majority of these activities. The events of the subsequent ‘jihad’ against the USSR need not be recounted here.
After the nose-bloodied Soviet forces pulled out of the conflict in the late 1980s, the Mujahideen fought each other in the subsequent Afghan Civil War. As their different factions battled over the spoils, a new force, one that had played no part in the anti-Soviet ‘Jihad’, entered the fray. These were the Taliban, nurtured in Pakistani madrassas from among Afghan refugee youth. In a relatively short period of time, the Taliban — with the full backing of the Pakistani armed forces and government, in search of a bizarre ‘strategic depth’ beyond our national territory — took over Afghanistan.
What began as guerrilla incursions into Afghanistan as a riposte to Sardar Daud’s aggressive Pakhtunistan policies came into conflict with the adventurism of the Afghan Communists who overthrew Daud. This conflict stimulated the Soviet invasion, countered by the CIA/ISI authored ‘jihad’. The subsequent events have seen the ‘Made-in-Pakistan’ Taliban tsunami that carried Mullah Umar into power, establishment of the Al Qaeda headquarters under Mullah Omar’s protection, the US carpet bombings and the political and military victory of the Northern Alliance in Kabul. The consequent evolution of the three wars mentioned here has followed.
Thus, the genesis of all these events lies back in the late 1970s, when Pakistan took over the Mujahideen warriors as military ‘assets’ and struck back into Afghanistan, compounding matters still further in the 1980s with the breeding and unleashing of the Taliban. Whose war is it, anyhow? (Daily Times)
The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet