Revisionist History of Pakistan’s Afghan Policy
Hamid Hussain: August 18, 2007
Recent few articles in national newspapers by former senior army officers about Afghanistan are an attempt to write a revisionist history. Pakistan has been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Afghanistan for over two decades. The irony is that majority of Pakistanis are not aware of the history of this involvement. There are two reasons for this ignorance. First, major Pakistani players in Afghanistan are country’s military intelligence personnel and second Pakistan’s policy was presented to general public in an ideological package. There was no attempt of serious discussion about benefits and risks of any given policy even among senior military and intelligence officers.
These Pakistani officers are rightly proud of providing support to Afghan resistance during Soviet occupation. However, they simply ignore the fact that after departure of the last Soviet soldier from Afghan soil in 1989, Pakistan was one of the parties directly involved in the civil war of Afghanistan. Pakistan supported one or other faction in a brutal civil war which resulted in death of hundreds of thousands of both combatants and civilians. This also resulted in complete destruction of Afghan civil society. Using religious symbols and euphemisms can not hide this simple fact. A large number of Afghans hold Pakistan responsible for destruction of their country to fulfill its own genuine and delusional national security interests. It is the right of Pakistani officers to defend their policies but they also need to acknowledge the other perspective whether they agree with it or not.
Former army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg is now seeing conspiracies and grand conspiracies everywhere. In late 2001, when U.S. was in the final stage of the routing of Taliban, Beg cried wolf. He argued that U.S. was planning to divide Afghanistan. He conveniently forgot to tell the audience that Pakistan’s exclusive support of its own Pushtun proxies put all non-Puhstun groups including Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazara in the opposite camp. Pakistan’s short sighted policies not only widened the Afghan fault lines but also sent majority of non-Puhstun leaders into the arms of India. He is now seeing intelligence agencies of every country sitting in the dark corners of Afghanistan to settle scores with Pakistan. However, he fails to mention the fact that this art was perfected by Pakistan long before any spook dreamed of having a stint in a war ravaged Afghanistan. Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officials were making and breaking alliances with their Afghan proxies. Weapons were pumped to everybody who was willing to jump in the bed without any serious thought about the consequences. ISI officers were working in Pakistani embassy in Kabul and Pakistani consulates in Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar Sharif in 1990s. In this capacity, they coordinated with their own proxies in the civil war of Afghanistan. Pakistan picked and dumped its Afghan proxies with a breathtaking speed. One could easily imagine the feelings of Afghans who were on the receiving end. Off course, all blame can not be put on Pakistan’s door. Afghans of call ethnicities willingly played the part in destruction of their own country. Iran, Russia and India supported their own proxies with money and weapons. It was a power struggle among the wolves which was presented as a ‘holy war’.
Pakistani intelligence brass not comprehending the rapidly changing local, regional and international currents failed to calibrate its polices and paid a heavy price. 1990s saw the gradual shift in Washington regarding Afghan operation after the departure of Soviet troops. This was the time when Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was in retreat while Congress and State Department bureaucrats were getting restless and wanted to manage Afghan policy. A new interagency Afghan group (headed by Peter Tomsen; other members included Chief of Near East division of CIA Thomas Twetten, Richard Haas from National Security Council and delegates from Pentagon and sections of State Department) decided to directly deal with Afghan commanders inside Afghanistan. Afghan players engaged in the power struggle especially those who were not happy with ISI Colonels were euphoric about opening of a new direct channel of money and guns. They were showing signs of independence and two meetings of National Commanders Shura in Paktia and Kunar alarmed ISI which saw this as an effort to outflank them. Pakistan’s nemesis Ahmad Shah Masud was behind these maneuvers. ISI got alarmed and tried to break away some of these commanders and encouraged their subordinates to rebel by providing weapons and money while at the same time invited Massoud to Islamabad for a meeting. Later, ISI opened channels of negotiations with Najib and former King Zahir Shah. When Lieutenant General Javed Nasir took over as Director General (DG) of ISI, he closed down all contacts with Afghan government stating that he was not going to negotiate with ‘communists’, ‘atheists’ and ‘infidels’. Afghan game became dirtier during this time and further fractured Afghan resistance. In addition, Pakistan’s policy became haphazard with no serious long term planning.
Those who contend that Pakistan’s Afghan policy in 1990s was in the country’s best interest should give rational and logical arguments about the soundness of their policy. Using religious rhetoric and simply referring to real and imaginary conspiracies of outsiders is not going to convince people that right course was adopted. Majority of intelligence officers involved in Afghan adventure blame every one including U.S. Russia, Iran, India, Pakistani politicians and foreign office of their own country for the Afghan mess.
Limited intellectual horizon of officer corps, simplistic world view, paranoia, total disregard of facts which are contrary to one’s opinion and lack of perception is quite evident from the statements and writings of many senior officers. Difference of opinion about any given policy is an accepted norm and contending parties present their point of view in a cogent and rational way to support their point of view. Some retired senior Pakistani officers are mixing policy issues with their own biases, dreams and delusions totally oblivious to facts. They are trying to explain a policy through the prism of an ill defined ideology, pan-Islamic ideas, anti-American rhetoric and anti-Indian sentiment which is resulting in further confusion rather than clarification of a policy.
Pakistan army is a large organization of about half a million personnel with thousands of officers of all ranks. These officers are a small minority among a large group. It should also be remembered that most of these officers have been accused of many acts of omission and commission including allegations of political intrigues and improper use of national exchequer while wearing the uniform. A number of them have been removed from army by military’s own leadership. It is expected that these officers will present a point of view which exonerates them of all wrongdoing. In the absence of reasonably independent investigative journalism or serious academic research, many aspects of Pakistan’s Afghan policy are still shrouded in mystery. The view of a small minority of officers is the only version available to Pakistani audience. However, in this effort, these officers are damaging the work of professional intelligence officers mainly mid level (Majors & Colonels) who gave their best to perform the job assigned to them. They risked their lives and worked ethically and professionally. Many of these officers whose names will never be known presented their views candidly which ran against the conventional wisdom of their seniors to the detriment of their own careers. These are the unsung heroes of the much maligned Pakistani intelligence. People like General Mirza Aslam Beg, former heads of ISI including Hamid Gul, Asad Durrani and Javed Nasir have their fair share in some of the short sighted policies which proved more dangerous to the country than any adversary’s move. Rational analysis with new information and acknowledging any mistake to learn lessons is not a trait of Pakistani senior brass. Majority of them who have not fought any battle are walking a fine line between dreams and delusions causing more confusion rather than bringing clarity.