The warring lovechildren of Cold War era

Columnist  | Bhopinder Singh

Opinion, Op Ed

Forty years is a long time for covert intrigues and conspiracies to successfully hide the murky truths of the past.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (Photo: AFP)

Forty years is a long time for covert intrigues and conspiracies to successfully hide the murky truths of the past. The AfPak region, dubbed as the most hostile and terror-infested region in the world, is a lasting legacy of the Cold War machinations that involved the United States, its client state Pakistan and the forever-restive Afghanistan — the three nations who are fighting their own creation which has outlived its Cold War era objectives. “Operation Cyclone” is the forgotten code name for the US’ CIA initiative to arm, train and finance the famed Afghan mujahideens against the then USSR and its proxy state in Kabul between 1979 and 1992. The invaluable funnelling of the US support to the landlocked mujahideens was through the infamous Pakistani ISI, by the likes of Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul (known as the “father of the Taliban”), under the overall beneficence of the Machiavellian Pakistani dictator, Gen. Zia-ul Haq. 

The potent combination of circumstances and providential timing of Zia-ul Haq’s own desperation to deflect attention from political parties and legitimise his own military regime, his natural proclivity towards hardline Islam and the multiple carrots offered by the US to undertake its dirty job in Afghanistan led Zia to incubate the latter date, “nurseries of terror”. This jointmanship in the early 1980s saw then US President Ronald Reagan host the mujahideens in the White House. The embarrassing roster of the feted Afghan warlords in the US included Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (“Butcher of Kabul” who was flown to the US by the CIA in 1985), Mohammad Yunus Khalis (who on meeting Reagan famously suggested him to convert to Islam) and unbelievably, Jalaluddin Haqqani (the creator of the dreaded Haqqani network). These conveniently patronised, though lawless zealots, were borne into strife and an existential struggle that saw religion as the sole inspiration and commonality among each other that bound, their otherwise irreconcilable differences like ethnic, tribal and sectarian divides. 

Later, after wearing out the Red Army and achieving the tactical objective of the Cold War era, the US disowned the Afghan mujahideens and the vacuum was filled-in with the continuance of interference by the Pakistani ISI. The subsequent internecine bloodshed for the control of Kabul allowed Pakistan to pull strings and nurture the mutations of the current-day terror organisations like the Taliban, Haqqani network and Khorasan Shura.

Incredulously, time and circumstances have confabulated into both the US and Pakistan naively blaming each other for the trail of deadly destruction that persists at the hands of these lovechildren who were knowingly parented by both the CIA and the ISI. Today, US President Donald Trump says, “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond” while the Pakistani foreign minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif embarrassingly shoots back, “Don’t blame us for Haqqanis or don’t blame us for the Hafiz Saeeds. These were the people who were your darlings just 20-30 years back. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say go to hell Pakistanis because you are nurturing these people!” Basically, the US does not want to publicly accept that it selfishly bolted-out when its own purpose was served in Afghanistan and the Pakistanis do not want to accept that they have selfish ambitions of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. 

Caught in the midst of these competing ambitions is the fledgling government of the Fulbright scholar and academician Ashraf Ghani (the only Afghan leader in the last 40 years who has no history of warlord-ism). He is forced to meander carefully and creatively as he hails the new US-Afghan policy of increased financial support, retention of military wherewithal and additional boots-on-ground, as a “game changer”, whilst, simultaneously signing a peace deal with the despised history-sheeter Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But with his initial patience having worn out, Mr Ghani reserves his unequivocal condemnation for Islamabad’s patent duplicity when he laments, “We cannot understand when Pakistan says it will not allow a group of terrorists to amend its Constitution, Army Act and prepares a National Action Plan against them. Simultaneously, Pakistan tolerates another group which attempts to undermine the government and bring horror, death and destruction to Afghanistan.”

The new US-Afghan policy is posited on convincing the Taliban and their ilk about the futility of militarily taking on the Afghan government, along with its supporting contingents from the US and the other Nato countries. This US recommitment to enhance stakes in Afghanistan should bring some relief to Kabul’s struggling campaign in the face of increased terror attacks, desertions, dipping morale among troops and ground reversals that are specially coming in from the latest transformations in the guise of an Afghan offshoot of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The terror denominations, groupings and alliances in the bloody history of Afghanistan have been most fickle, tactical and unscrupulous — basically the terror industry of today, irrespective of the nomenclatures, owes its genesis to the lovechildren of US-Pakistan affairs of the 1980s. While Zia-ul Haq institutionalised the religio-militancy approach, the civilian politicians like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (who invited Hekmatyar and Rabbani), his daughter 
Benazir (whose interior minister Naseerullah Babar propped the “Taliban” phenomenon) and the Nawaz Sharif governments in recent times have been accused of selectively pandering to terror organisations.

The pernicious ideology that accompanies these regressive forces is increasingly consuming Pakistan, which still believes it can turn on and neutralise the forces inimical to Pakistan (for example, Tehreek-e-Taliban by conducting dedicated operations like Zarb-e-Azb) while still controlling the narrative in Afghanistan by supporting forces like the Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban. This “running with the hare and hunting with the hound” approach is dangerously spinning out of control for Pakistan. However, for Islamabad to call a spade a spade would entail opening up a can of worms, and worse, delegitimising the most powerful institutions in Pakistan (the Pakistani military which is a state within a state).