The Viewpoint online has raised the above question for comments. The roots of the current wave of terrorism in Pakistan are to be found in what can be called Yankee-Bin Laden Jihad, instigated by the United States in the late 1970s, and supported financially and militarily by the Saudi monarchy and Pakistani dictatorship of Gen Zia. I explained this in an earlier paper in some detail and will draw upon the same in my comments that follow.
In April 1978 I was teaching a couple of anthropology courses at Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad when the Saur revolution broke out in Afghanistan. Gul Khan, one of my Pushtun students active in the Left politics of Pakistan was in Kabul at the time. On his return he was ecstatic in his narration of the details of what he had seen. Apparently, thousands of people had been marching around the Presidential Palace in Kabul for several days to protest the assassination of a prominent labor leader and subsequent arrest of main leftist leaders by the regime of Muhammad Daud Khan. When the army was called in to quell the protest, the soldiers turned their guns at the palace and killed Daud Khan himself, who had in 1973 deposed his cousin King Zaher Shah and sent him into exile in Italy. Daud regime was replaced by Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), mainly a coalition of two communist factions, the Khalq and the Parcham.
Gul Khan, as many others on the Left in Pakistan, was very optimistic that Afghanistan under communist rule had nowhere to go but forward on the road to progress and social justice. King Zaher Shah, a well traveled man had already taken some measured steps to open his long isolated mountain kingdom to the world. A process of modernization and capitalist development had begun since the Second World War. A modern university was functioning in Kabul since 1946, staffed by internationally qualified faculty. A liberal constitution was in place since 1964 recognizing freedom of press and expression in principle. Women could appear in public without the veil, even dress in Western skirt suits, and run for public office. Young and idealistic Gul Khan could hardly see a more appropriate moment for the communists to have stepped in with their agenda of revolutionizing the Afghan society on principles of scientific socialism.
But in retrospect one can clearly see the heavy odds that were against the fulfillment of Gul khan’s hopes. To begin with, the internal resistances and contradictions militating against a radical change in Afghanistan were enormous. As Karl Marx himself had cautioned, “the higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society[i].” The economic development and social freedoms of the Kabul society had hardly touched the vast countryside of Afghanistan where tribal and feudal relations of production held sway. Much of Afghanistan outside the capital Kabul and some provincial cities consisted of more or less autonomous communities where tribal and ethnic loyalties were far too strong to allow even the emergence of a collective sense of belonging to the nation state since its final boundaries had been drawn by Czarist Russia and Imperial Britain in 1893
The PDPA government was soon to become painfully aware of this disjunction between its ideas of socialist reform, and the local structures of power rooted in entrenched custom. For example, in their attempts to redistribute land, the revolutionaries not only ran into fierce opposition from the landlords and tribal chiefs but also felt rebuffed by the peasants who often declined to accept titles to the land under their cultivation considering it a theft from the rightful owners (khayanat). To make matters worse, the PDPA itself fell victim to deadly factionalism on ideological and personal grounds. The Parcham faction, which had briefly cooperated earlier with the Daud regime to bring about some social reforms, wanted as a first step to forge a broad national democratic front to lead the way to change, while Khalq, the larger of the two factions, insisted on maintaining a hard line working class base to implement the revolutionary agenda.
History tells us that any Third World country that has ventured on the path of socialism or tried to break its ties with the Western imperialist powers has immediately attracted the attention of the United States for special dispensation. Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1953, Cuba in 1961-62, Congo (zaire) in 1961-62, Vietnam in 1961-73, Chile in 1973, Nicaragua in 1981-92 and Grenada in 1983 are only a few recent examples. Afghanistan was not going to be an exception. In fact the scheme this time was much grandiose. It was not only intended to thwart any revolutionary change in Afghanistan but also to use this opportunity to break up the Soviet Union by extending the anti-communist crusade into Muslim-majority Soviet republics of Central Asia. In the coming years this plan was to unfold in the shape of a global jihad against the “godless Soviet Communism” as its prime target. That this might also devastate Afghanistan in the long run and spread terrorism around the world was the least concern. The people of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan were simply the pawns in this great scheme.
The masterminded behind all these maneuvers was Zbigniew Brgzezinski, a virulent anti-communist and National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Brgzezinski in fact admits that it was the covert operation organized by him which drew the Soviet Union into the “Afghan trap,” and gave the “USSR its Vietnam war.[ii]” It was by no means an easy scheme to put into effect without enlisting the immediate support of the two Muslim countries, namely Pakistan, the next-door neighbor of Afghanistan with its brand new military dictator, and Saudi Arabia the authoritative seat of salafi Islam with its royal family’s oil wealth readily available to fund anti-leftist imperial projects.
The United States fully exploited the geopolitical position of Pakistan to destabilize the pro-Soviet PDPA government in Afghanistan. Its physical proximity and porous border with that country, inhabited on both sides by Pushtun tribes, was logistically well suited for channeling military supplies and training the rebels soon to be elevated to the position of mujahideen or holy warriors of Islam. Pakistan was also harboring a number of Afghan Islamists so backward in their thinking that they could not even accept the social reforms of the Daud era. Now these men were ready and willing to carry the banner of jihad back into Afghanistan in order to fight the communists with the blessings of the Pakistani dictator Zia. The Zia regime had of course now become the centre of United States’ attention, rewarded with $3.5 billion aid as soon as Ronald Reagan stepped into the presidential office.
Saudi Arabia was the other country that played a key role in fomenting the jihad in Afghanistan. The generous use of its oil money by CIA facilitated the recruitment of a steady stream of fighters from all corners of the Muslim world to participate in the Yankee jihad in Afghanistan.
Osama bin Laden was among these thousands of holy warriors recruited abroad who were destined to leave mark on the global politics of jihad and terrorism. His services for the Yankee jihad in Afghanistan were acquired by Prince Turki al-Faisal, manager of the Saudi Secret Service, working in close contact with the CIA. Arriving in Afghanistan shortly after the Soviet intervention in 1979, bin Laden organized the Arab contingent for guerrilla attacks on the Red Army units present in the country, and also supervised the construction of roads, and cave complexes to facilitate the storage and movement of CIA procured heavy armaments to be used in guerrilla operations against the Soviet troops.
After a decade of battling this biggest guerrilla war machine ever put together in history, the Soviets called it quits. Having described this engagement as his country’s “bleeding wound,” Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew his army from Afghanistan in February 1989 under the terms of Geneva Accords. These Accords were signed under the UN auspices by Afghanistan and Pakistan as principal parties in April 1988. The main clauses of the agreement stipulated non-interference by the parties in each other’s internal affairs, voluntary return of Afghan refugees camped in Pakistan, withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan and monitoring of the agreement by the United Nations. The Soviet Union and the United States also signed the Accords as guarantors. But unfortunately, the only clause of the agreement honored was the one pertaining to the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The Soviets went home to nurse their collective wound but Afghanistan and its people were kept bleeding due to non-compliance on the part of Pakistan and its US backers.
Pakistan was still under the Zia rule when the Geneva Accords were signed and the government in Kabul was headed by Dr. Mohammad Najibullah who was trying his best to assert his faith in Islam and reach out to the refugees and the mujahideen for conciliation since taking over from Babrak Karmal as President in 1986. Zia died in the mysterious mid-air explosion of his military plane shortly after the Accords were signed and the onus of their implementation from the Pakistani side fell upon the newly elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Prior to her election Benazir and her party had campaigned for recognizing the PDPA government in Kabul and seeking a political settlement of the Afghanistan conflict.
But all that changed when Benazir paid her maiden visit to Washington in June of 1989 and later to London as Prime Minister of Pakistan. After her “very cordial” meeting with George Bush (senior), Benazir announced her total agreement with the US president that Najibullah must resign as a precondition for any political settlement with Afghanistan. In London Benazir was bluntly told by Margaret Thatcher that war in Afghanistan will continue until complete “military victory” was achieved.[iii] Thus the Yankee jihad continued even after the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, as did terror, death and destruction in Afghanistan.
Finally, in April 1992 Kabul fell to the mujahideen and Najebullah was forced to seek refuge in the United Nation’s compound. That was the end of the days when girls could still go to school and women to work under normal circumstances. For the United States and its allies this was the moment of triumph, the complete “military victory” over communism. But within days, Afghanistan predictably plunged into a bloody civil war. The mujahideen leaders of an interim Afghan government cobbled together by Pakistan’s military establishment promptly resorted to heavy gun battles over power sharing disputes. It was during these battles that Hikmatyar’s heavy artillery destroyed much of Kabul and more Afghan civilians were killed than had ever died during the entire period of anti-Soviet guerrilla war.
For the next four years Afghanistan suffered a total collapse of its civil institutions. The fall of the PDPA government left the people totally at the mercy of predatory mujahideen warlords. The country was emptied of its well educated population and professional cadres. Much of the country’s agricultural lands were destroyed by years of war. The local mujahideen commanders began to force the farmers to put the rest under poppy cultivation as a cash crop, making Afghanistan one of the world’s biggest opium producers. Heroin factories began to mushroom on both side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Drug production and trade in smuggled goods became the mainstay of the economy. Rival warlords, the only overseers of this economy, exacted taxes from the traders and tolls at the road checkpoints from smugglers accumulating wealth and entertaining themselves by raping women and boys. Modern education came to a halt and the cultural heritage of the country in museums and art collections plundered.
Neither did Pakistan escape the bitter legacy of its deep involvement in Afghanistan’s prolonged and bloody strife. The power of the Islamic political parties increased tremendously breeding religious intolerance and sectarian violence. Allowed to operate freely these parties began to raise their own militias, lashkars, and terrorist squads perpetrating murderous attacks on rival Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities. The massive infusion of sophisticated weapons into Afghanistan spilled back across the border and into private hands, producing a dramatic increase in armed robberies, sectarian murders, political killings and blatant public displays of automatic weapons as status symbols – the so called “Kalashnikov culture.” Drug running became a new menace. While in 1978, the word heroin was hardly known in Pakistan, by mid-1990s the country became a major supplier of world heroin market and millions of its own people turned into heroin edicts
Out of this anarchic situation on both sides of the border was born yet another sinister political force in the name of religion, soon to be known as Taliban. Around 1994, a new militia appeared in the Southeastern Afghan city of Kandahar under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar himself one of the ex-mujahideen fighters. Mullah Omar soon gathered a large following of young Pushtuns recruited from the refugee camps of Pakistan who had been sheltered and taught in the madrasas run by Pakistan’s Islamist parties (therefore the name Taliban, meaning students). Other than learning the Qur’an by root, these students were drilled in unquestioning acceptance of an austere and misogynist code of conduct enshrined in the Salafi Islamic doctrine of Saudi origin.
By this time the Pakistan military establishment was also disillusioned with the warring mujahideen groups installed as the interim government in Kabul and decided to throw its weight behind the Taliban. It handed over to the Taliban a huge cache of arms and ammunition that it had secretly stored in Kandahar for use against the PDPA government. Reinforced with all this support the Taliban militia overran the mujahideen warlord strongholds and checkpoints in and around Kandahar, captured Herat in 1995 and Kabul in 1996 chasing Ahmed Shah Masood, the star of the anti-Soviet jihad, out of the capital along with the interim president Burhanuddin Rabbani. The Taliban also dragged out Najibullah from the United Nation’s compound, tortured him to death and left his corps dangling by a lamp post in the city’s main thoroughfare, with his genitals stuffed in his mouth. Within two years that saw the worst massacres of civilians since the start of the Yankee jihad, the Taliban established their control over most of Afghanistan, except a small area in the North commanded by the Northern Alliance, a shaky coalition of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
Having consolidated their control over Kabul, the Taliban settled down to rule the country as a theocracy more or less according to the Salafi sharia laws of Saudi Arabia with the pathological zeal of their cadres and semi-literate mullahs, many of them raised as orphans, bearing the mental and physical scars of the prolonged Yankee jihad and the ensuing civil war. As is well known now, they deprived women of their jobs confining them in their homes and burqas (veils), banned education of girls, massacred Shia Hazaras and ethnic groups of Tajiks and Uzbeks, and as a final act of misplaced contempt for anything un-Islamic blasted with cannon fire the rare giant Buddha sculptures of Bamiyan.
Unfortunately, this new wave of misery and destruction unleashed on the people touched no humanitarian impulse among those who had set out in 1979 and earlier to save Afghanistan from the tyranny of “godless communism.” Pakistan recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan immediately after their capture of Kabul, followed by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirate. The United States too welcomed the establishment of Taliban rule, although remained short of giving it official recognition. For Washington the rise of Taliban was thought to be an asset in facilitating access to the vast Central Asian oil and gas reserves through Afghanistan.
What the US establishment missed in its calculations was the new force of global terrorism it had unleashed on the world stage. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the thousands of mujahideen, holy warriors, who had drifted back to their homelands, could boast of having defeated one of the world’s two superpowers. With their expertise in guerrilla warfare, making and handling of explosives and indoctrination in the hard line Salafi Islam of Saudi Arabia, they constituted a floating army of God’s soldiers ready to take on any power imagined to be the enemy of their faith. But their presence on the world scene was of little concern to an equally arrogant United States. Asked if he regretted having supported and armed future terrorists, Brzezinsky snapped back, “what is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?[iv]”
One of these very “stirred up Muslims” was Osama bin Laden. On his return to Saudi Arabia he declared his erstwhile patrons as enemies of Islam and the new targets of his jihad. The Saudis forthwith stripped him of his citizenship, and he was back in Afghanistan via Sudan. Soon after returning to his familiar bunkers of holy war in Afghanistan, bin Laden allegedly planned several terrorist attacks on US citizens and installations in the Middle East and East Africa. In fact the last decade of the 20th century was bin Laden’s decade of gaining notoriety as head of al-Qaeda making all too frequent headlines in the media as perpetrator of terrorist attacks around the world in the name of Islam. In 1998 when the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed President Bill Clinton retaliated by lobbing over 70 of his military arsenal’s very expensive, state of the art cruse missiles on Sudan and eastern Afghanistan. The Sudan strikes destroyed the country’s only pharmaceutical factory depriving the people of some badly needed life saving medicines. The Afghanistan strikes launched from Pakistan’s territorial waters of the Indian Ocean hit some militant training camps killing a number of Pakistani, Arab and Afghan Islamist militants but if Osama the terrorist was the target, he walked away safely to continue his work.
The Clinton strikes were really not an act of war. They can more appropriately be described as act of terrorism in retaliation to similar acts that had taken place elsewhere. But the talk of terrorism and the incidents defined as terrorist began to proliferate after the fateful incident that took place on September 11, 2001 in the United States commonly known as 9/11 during the presidency of George W. Bush who reacted by promptly and unilaterally announcing his country’s “war on terror,” and putting the world on notice that “if you are not with us, you are against us.” The brunt of the war was borne by the luckless people of Afghanistan. On October 7 the US B 52 bombers and cruise missiles unleashed a new wave of death and destruction on Afghanistan. Tragically all this suffering was being cased in the jargon of President Bush to “smoke them (Osama and his al-Qaeda) out of their holes.
What is important in this regard is to keep in mind that 9/11 did not take place in a vacuum. George Bush, his NATO partners and the Western mainstream media all hold Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization responsible for 9/11. On that account only, 9/11 has to be seen as an integral link in the chain of events that started with the enlisting of Osama’s services in the Yankee Jihad in Afghanistan some 33 years ago and has culminated in the military occupation of the country for the last decade.
There is not much to be gained either by trying to cover up the antecedents of 9/11 in the history of US intervention in the affairs of Afghanistan. In fact what is needed is for the United States and its allies to frankly admit that it was wrong to instigate what we have described above as the Yankee Jihad in Afghanistan, and it was wrong to unleash a war of occupation in Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11, and drag the neighboring country of Pakistan in it.
In other words the United States has to admit that its actions in Afghanistan dating back to 33 years are the root cause of global terrorism that is being witnessed today. It is only after that admission that the United Stated will be able to see clearly that the brutal and illegal occupation of Afghanistan, intervention and attempts to effect regime changes in other countries, the Guantanano Bay and other prisons, water boarding of suspects, Drone attacks, blaming of other countries such as Pakistan for being the epicenters of terrorism, and similar coercive measures will not work to end global terrorism. The willingness of the United States to admit its role in causing the current global terrorism is the first step towards the solution to this gigantic problem.
[i]Karl Marx, Selected Works, Moscow, Progress Books, 1968, 189.
[ii]Interview, Le Noviel Observateur, Paris, January 15-21, 1998.
[iii]Manchester Guardian, Weekly, July 16, 1989.
[iv]Interview, op.cit., 1998.
|Hassan Gardezi is Professor Emeritus of sociology, a previous chair of sociology department, Punjab University, Lahore, now living in Canada. He writes regularly on Pakistan and South Asian affairs.|