Asif Haroon Raja
Afghan Jihad against the Soviets
Pakistan under Gen Ziaul Haq was sucked into the Afghan Jihad as a result of forcible occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Red Army in Dec 1979. The Soviet intervention displaced 6 million Afghans, out of which 5 million were accommodated by Pakistan. About 3 million refugees are still residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and other parts of the country.
The Afghan Mujahideen and tribesmen from FATA and Malakand Division took part in the Jihad.
Once the US came forward in support of the resistance war against the Soviet forces in June 1981, Jihad was glorified by the West and the Mujahideen were given the name of holy warriors. 1.3 million Afghans lost their lives in fighting the godless Soviet Empire.
The war culminated in victory of the Afghan Mujahideen and Pakistan in 1989, but the ten-year war had spillover effects on Pakistan and on Afghanistan that have still not been overcome. Cause of instability in the Af-Pak region was the sudden departure of the USA leaving the seven Mujahideen groups and Pakistan to fend for themselves.
Uprising in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK)
Fed up of suppressive policies of India and fake elections in IOK, inaction of the UNSC and lackluster support of Pakistan, disappointed the indolent Kashmiris. The Islamic revolution in Iran followed by Palestinian intifada and victory of the Afghan Mujahideen in Afghanistan broke their inertia, and they decided to launch an armed resistance against the occupying forces in Oct 1989 to free their land. The situation in Afghanistan being fluid, sudden flare up in IOK took Pakistan’s government under Benazir Bhutto by surprise.
Had Gen Ziaul Haq been alive, he would have welcomed this development to settle old scores with India, but Benazir neither had much interest in Afghanistan nor in Kashmir and wanted friendly ties with India ruled by her Oxford buddy Rajiv Gandhi.
No plans made to tackle fallout effects
Instead of taking the worsening situation in Afghanistan seriously where a civil war had erupted in 1992, and the deteriorating situation in IOK where 7 lacs Indian forces had unleashed a brutal campaign and were using rape and torture as weapons to quell the uprising, successive regimes in Pakistan from 1988 onwards paid little attention to the fallout effects of the two turbulent fronts.
It had radicalized Pakistani society, upped religious extremism and sectarianism duly fueled by Saudi Arabia and Iran, brought in Kalashnikov and drug cultures, and stimulated Jihadism. The two mainstream parties PPP and PML-N wasted energies in fighting political battles, disparaging each other and taking greater interest in making big money than in safeguarding national interests.
Downslide of Pakistan’s economy
Political instability together with bomb blasts in mosques and Imambargahs by militant groups of Shia-Sunni sects, instability in Afghanistan and India’s jingoism disturbed law and order and security situation, enfeebled the economy and surged up debt burden.
Another reason for the economic slump was the US leaving Pakistan in a lurch in 1990, imposing harsh economic and military sanctions and choosing to become a strategic partner of India. The US also declared the holy warriors including the CIA created Al-Qaeda as terrorists.
Uprising in IOK gave birth to six Jihadi groups in AJK. The US supported India’s narrative of cross border terrorism and threatened to declare Pakistan a terrorist state if it was found abetting terrorism in IOK.
Pakistan made no plans on how to deal with the altogether changed outlook of the US, how to support the uprising in IOK, to tackle rising religious intolerance and senseless political infighting.
In 1987, Pak currency was stronger than all other South Asian countries. Pakistan’s economy was ahead of all other economies of the regional countries till 1990, but it began to decline and became dependent upon the loans given by the World Bank and the IMF during the 1990s. It eroded the moral integrity and sovereignty of the nation. Four governments were sacked by the President using Article 58-2B of the Constitution on charges of corruption and poor governance.
Situation in Pakistan in Sept 2001
When 9/11 occurred, nuclear Pakistan under Gen Musharraf was a strong and peaceful country. India had been thrashed in the Kargil conflict in 1999 and it was on the defensive seeking peace. There were no suicide attacks or use of explosive laden vehicles. Notwithstanding the existence of MQM’s no-go areas in Karachi, the concept of safe havens of terrorists was unheard of.
Terrorism was blown up out of all proportions after 9/11 terror attacks and used by the USA as a justification to invade Muslim countries. New terrorism laws helped Israel and India to bracket Palestinian and Kashmiri freedom movements with terrorism. 47 countries of the world including 28 of NATO led by the US waged a relentless war on terror in Afghanistan which was chosen as the first target.
After the deposition of the Taliban regime in Nov 2001, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda withdrew to FATA and Pashtun belt of Baluchistan. The tribesmen governed by the spirit of Pashtunwali, welcomed their blood relatives and provided them houses. Both these regions were peaceful and its inhabitants highly patriotic and loyal to Pakistan.
Pakistan was coerced to send regular troops into Tirah Valley and next to South Waziristan (SW) to flush out Al-Qaeda and those who harbored them. In reaction to search and destroy operations, Pakistani Taliban emerged in SW in 2003. The TTP under Baitullah Mehsud came into existence in Dec 2006 after the drone attack on a religious seminary in Oct that year killing 80 students. Gen Musharraf owed it, dubbing the Madrassa a terrorist haven.
Reaction came upon a training army camp at Dargai where a suicide bomber killed dozens of army recruits. Botched up operation against Lal Masjid in Jul 2007 gave birth to Punjabi Taliban and triggered suicide attacks in Islamabad and major urban centres of Punjab. In 2008, the TTP leaders pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar as their Ameerul Momeneen.
In Baluchistan, a military operation was launched in reaction to the insurgency of Marri-Bugti-Mengal Baloch tribes in 2004; and by 2006 it morphed into a separatist movement. Baloch rebel groups – BLA, BRA, BSO and BLUF fought the state forces.
Expanding sway of TTP
Pak security forces kept chasing and fighting the foreign paid proxies in FATA that were funded, trained and equipped by CIA, RAW and NDS, at the bidding of the US.
Do more policy was not discarded even when it was ascertained that the Indo-US-Israel-Afghan nexus was bent upon denuclearizing Pakistan and making it a compliant state.
Taking advantage of Pakistan’s policy of appeasement, it was repeatedly accused of being an accomplice with militant groups. Not only the war bled Pak security forces and civilians extensively and impacted its economy, the government and the army also earned eternal enmity of the militant groups.
The TTP became so strong that it brought 19 administrative units in the northwest under its sway and it was feared that its militants would soon reach the outskirts of Islamabad from Buner. In Baluchistan, the interior had come under the strong influence of the rebels, and Quetta was frequently attacked with rockets. The majority of settlers had migrated to other provinces.
The well over 3 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan since Dec 1979 became a national security threat. Apart from becoming a socio-economic burden, the refugees got involved in mega and petty crimes, and a segment on the payroll of foreign agencies provided refuge to the terrorists, facilitated them and acted as informers.
About one million reside in Peshawar and the surrounding country. A stage came when repeated attacks by Lashkar-e-Islam in Hayatabad locality, and TTP chapter under Afridi in Dara Adam Khel in suburbs of Peshawar forced the elite of Peshawar to migrate.
Till recently, about 40,000 Afghans crossed the border at Torkham and Chaman daily with no documents or identification. This was criminal disregard for public safety and security, which is a vital function of the state security apparatus.
Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani proved more hostile than India and caused more problems to Pakistan than India.
Recovery of lost spaces
The Army under Gen Kayani recovered lost spaces in 2009/10 in a series of military operations and re-established writ of the government, but a heavy price was paid.
Left with little ammunition to degrade Pakistan, it was subjected to highly injurious offensive acts in 2011 such as the Raymond Davis incident, stealth helicopters attack in Abbottabad to kill sick Osama Bin Laden, Memogate scandal and Apaches attack on a military post in Mohmand Agency.
Haqqani Network (HN)
Emphasis was shifted upon the Jalaluddin Haqqani group. Jalaluddin’s family had migrated from Khost to North Waziristan (NW) in the early 1980s during the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet forces. He was the favorite blue-eyed boy of the CIA and he was among the few Afghan Mujahideen leaders who had supped with Ronald Reagan in the White House.
This group had joined the Tehreek-Taliban-Afghanistan (TTA) in 1994/95 and accepted its head Mullah Omar as the Ameerul Momineen. They fell from the grace of Washington after NW based Sirajuddin, elder son of Jalaluddin rejected the offer made by the CIA in 2012 to break ties with the TTA and to share power with Hamid Karzai regime.
The group was targeted and named as HN when it expanded its sway in almost the whole of eastern Afghanistan. Several leaders of HN were blacklisted.
After the deadly attack in Kabul in 2013, the then US CJCSC Admiral Mike Mullen dubbed HN as the veritable arm of the ISI. Pressure was mounted on Pakistan to clear the safe haven of HN in NW. Drone war was stepped up in both parts of Waziristan.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in the last and strongest bastion of TTP in NW in June 2014 and in 2015 it was cleared of all militant groups including the TTP, HN, IMU, ETIM and Asian Tigers. These groups shifted to Afghanistan. MQM’s urban terrorism in Karachi-Hyderabad was crumpled by 2016. 85% terrorism was eliminated and the scale of terror attacks plunged.
Highly prejudiced behavior of USA
Notwithstanding best results produced by the Pakistan security forces and also suffering the most while fighting and defeating the foreign paid proxies, Pakistan was mistrusted and mistreated by the USA.
The unprecedented covert war launched by RAW-NDS from the Afghan soil duly backed by the two puppet regimes in Kabul couldn’t have remained hidden from CIA, MI-6, NATO. They overlooked the safe havens provided to Pakistani terrorist groups in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Khost, Spin Boldak, and also in Iran’s Sistan province bordering Baluchistan. Activities of Chahbahar based Indian spy Kalbushan in Baluchistan and Karachi from 2003 onwards couldn’t have remained off their radars.
Pakistan was repeatedly pressed by the US and the Kabul regime to either confront the Afghan Taliban-HN, or to force them to cease fire and arrive at a political settlement acceptable to them.
Washington forced Islamabad to extend full support to the anti-Pakistan Kabul regime at the cost of annoying the Taliban who never fired a shot against Pakistan.
To cover up its follies and failures in Afghanistan, Pakistan was unjustly blamed. India, Afghanistan and the US in unison kept giving slurring names to malign and discredit Pakistan, which became a convenient scapegoat and a football to kick around. Each pat of appreciation was followed with three vicious kicks.
On one hand Pakistan was accused by the double-dealing USA of being in collusion with the Afghan Taliban and responsible for the instability in Afghanistan, and on the other hand it disrupted peace talks arranged by Pakistan, and also coerced it to compel the Taliban to lay down arms, negotiate and arrive at a political settlement, which should be to the liking of Washington and Kabul.
Criminally, the CIA fired 480 hellfire missiles using Reaper drones in FATA, mostly killing innocent elderly people, women and children.
CIA-NATO- MI-6 coordinated and supervised the biggest covert war and hybrid war conducted by RAW-NDS to fragment Pakistan. The perpetrators pretended to be innocent and victims of terrorism abetted by Pakistan, and callously indulged in lies and deceit. It was unparalleled that a non-NATO ally and a frontline state was treated so shamelessly and that too without remorse.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan. [email protected]