As Trump comes down hard on its duplicity, a flashback to the time when it all began
Aasha Khosa | January 16, 2018
Pakistan’s duplicity in fighting terrorism has now been exposed and rebuffed by its long-time ally, the USA. This duplicity has its roots in the illusions of grandiosity that Pakistan’s deep state – the military and the Inter Services Agency (ISI) – seemed to have acquired after forcing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in February 1989. For a chronicle and analysis of those eventful days, the best source might be the late Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, The Daughter of the East.
Bhutto had come to power nearly a year before the last Soviet soldier was leaving Afghanistan. The erstwhile USSR had lost the war to a motley group of Mujahideen armed by the US and guided by Pakistan’s military and government for ten years. Having barely finished her education in the US and the UK, the 24-year-old Benazir had inherited her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s political legacy under tragic circumstances. Though an elected leader, he had been dismissed by military dictator, general Zia-ul-Haq, and later hanged on the orders of the supreme court in 1979 in a rather controversial case. For the next nine years, she had to suffer incarceration for political defiance of the martial law.
So when she won a landslide victory in 1988 and by this time Zia had died in a mysterious air crash, Benazir wasn’t exactly the leader the deep state of Pakistan was looking to deal with. She was under influence of the western and secular education, and thus a thorn in the eyes of jihadi generals who had been indoctrinated in Zia’s regime.
In her autobiography, she writes that during her interaction with military leaders after the Soviets were leaving Kabul, she came away with impression that the army leaders were coming too much under the influence of general Hameed Gul, who was to later become ISI chief, and who had supervised the Mujahideen’s jihad against the Soviets.
“They had grandiose and messianic visions and did not seem to appreciate that Soviets were defeated by US Stinger missiles, international finance, diplomacy and politics, not just by the battle cries of the jihadists. I was not prepared to fall for flattering stories of glory which I felt would bring ignominy to my country,” she writes.
Pakistan’s deep state actually believed they had defeated the global superpower and ended the cold war. When the USSR split into independent countries, the Pakistani army generals would claim they were saviours of the free world.
Intoxicated with this inflated sense of superiority, the then army chief Mohammad Aslam Beg had approached Bhutto with a proposal that Pakistan usurp Afghanistan. At that time, the former warlords were barely able to keep the country together as they had cobbled a ragtag Afghan Interim government (AIG) to give a semblance of control in the war-ravaged and virtually headless country.
Beg told Bhutto that if she gave her nod, it would take just a day for him to get the AIG to sign the agreement for a Pak-Afghanistan confederation. The generals believed the Afghan rulers were still under their control even after ISI chief Hameed Gul’s plans of having the interim government packed with pro-Pak warlords like Jalaluddin Haqqani had miserably failed in the face of resistance by different groups at the time of its formation.
Interestingly, the same Haqqani group continues to be ISI’s lynchpin for carrying out its game plan in Afghanistan even today. That is what US president Donald Trump referred to in his New Year tweet: “The US had foolishly given Pakistan more the 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but the lies & deceit. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” This has led to the suspension of almost $2 billion US aid to Pakistan.
Beg had told Bhutto that usurping Afghanistan made sense. “After all we are two Islamic nations; why have the border?” she recounts the general telling her.
Benazir writes that she was appalled at this idea. She told Beg that such an arrangement would bring indignation to Pakistan and the world would see it as an aggressor. Besides, she said, it would not be acceptable to the Afghan people, who had closer ties with India rather than Pakistan and a section of them – Pashtuns or Pathans – had even opposed the idea of Pakistan.
She told Beg that it would give an impression to the world that Pakistan had wanted to gobble up Afghanistan. Also, it would give a legitimate cause to India to intervene in Afghanistan. She told Beg that she didn’t want a war with India at this point. Beg also wanted her nod to allow the march of about 10,000 Mujahideen fighters to Kashmir under official patronage of the army. She claims to have vetoed it.
Her prime ministerial term was interrupted for obvious reasons; she didn’t enjoy a cosy relationship with the deep state. The army and ISI were simply used to unflinching political support from the Zia administration in its jihadi ventures, be it in Afghanistan or in Kashmir. She survived assassination attempts, a campaign by generals and clerics to get an edict from a Saudi cleric that a woman was not allowed to head an Islamic state, and even a coup d’etat by an army officer. This officer was caught with a written speech in his pocket of the address to the nation after completion of his mission.
Her government had completed barely 20 months when it was dismissed by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
Bhutto’s party the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) again won a landslide in the 1993 election. However, she continued to see the unfazed military men still basking under the glory and illusions of the grandiosity of having changed the course of mankind by bringing an end to the bipolar world.
In her second term, general Pervez Musharraf, director general of military operation (DGMO) who later took over as a military dictator from her successor Nawaz Sharif, came to Benazir with a proposal: she must order the Pakistan army to march into Srinagar. Musharraf and his peers at the army and ISI believed that Kashmiri Muslims would accord the Pakistani troops a grand reception.
Benazir writes that after Musharraf concluded his briefing she asked him, “And what next?” The general replied, “A ceasefire would be in place and Pakistan in control of Srinagar.” The PM further asked, “And what next?” Musharraf was apparently not expecting such intense questioning. He replied, “The flag of Pakistan will fly in Srinagar’s parliament.” The PM persisted: “And what next?”
“You will go to the United Nations and tell them that Srinagar is under Pakistan’s control… and you would tell them to change the map of the world taking into consideration the new geographical realities.”
“And you know what the United Nations will tell me?” Benazir looked straight into Musharraf’s eye, as the army chief sat silently, and said, “They will pass a resolution in the Security Council condemning us and demanding that we unilaterally withdraw from Srinagar and we will have nothing for our efforts but humiliation and isolation.” She abruptly concluded the meeting.
(The column appears in the January 31, 2018 issue)
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