|Our Afghan Policy|
In order to ensure the survival of Afghanistan as an independent entity and a buffer between two rival empires, Amir Abdul Rehman had crafted a foreign policy aimed at keeping a certain balance between his two mighty neighbours: British and Russian empires. It was a rational, consistent policy dictated by geopolitical realities, the constant of which was the preservation of Afghan independence. With the departure of the British from Asia, that balance was upset. No other outside power ventured meaningfully to replace Britain. Pakistan was too weak to play a meaningful role in the affairs of Afghanistan.
Afghans are no strangers to foreign military interventions in their country. On the eve of the First Afghan War, Burnes, Lord Auckland’s special envoy, wrote: “The British government have only to send Shuja-ul-Mulk to Peshawar with an agent and two of its own regiments, as an honorary escort and an avowal to the Afghans that we have taken up his cause to ensure his being fixed forever on his throne”. Leaning on this statement, Lord Auckland set forth on his perilous Afghan journey.
In the autumn of 1839, Britain’s army of the Indus marched into the heart of Afghanistan, entered Kabul in triumph and installed Shah Shuja, their favorite candidate, on the throne of Kabul as the ruler of Afghanistan. For two years the conquerors lived in a fool’s paradise, they sent for their wives and children and servants, set up cricket and polo fields. The Afghans bided their time. Then suddenly struck. Burnes was slain horribly, and the entire band of invaders - troops, families, camp followers – was compelled to set out for India, through 100 miles of mountain defiles in the depth of the Afghan winter. Seven days later, one bruised and weary horseman (Dr. Brydon) arrived at a British garrison (Jalalabad) 90 miles away.
140 years later, on Christmas Eve, the Soviets followed the British example, invaded Afghanistan and assassinated Hafeez Ullah Amin. In the early hours following Amin’s death, Kabul radio broadcast a message from Babrak Karmal announcing the formation of a new government under his leadership. After 9 years of occupation, the Soviets realized that occupation was too costly and decided to quit. The last Red Army soldier left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.
21 years of unremitting war, including nine years of Soviet occupation, had left Afghanistan, a country of ruined cities, disabled war veterans, amputees, young widows, orphaned children, torn-up roads and hungry, starving people. Taliban, an ideological militia, who ruled 90% of the country, were desperately trying to restore law and order and consolidate their conquest. Since their dramatic appearance at the end of 1994, they had brought relative peace and security to the country. Their capture of Kabul in 1996 virtually terminated the civil war in which over 50,000 people had lost their lives. More than 10,000 buildings were destroyed in Kabul alone. They removed all roadblocks erected by warlords between Torkham and Kabul on one side and Chaman and Kandhar on the other. They opened up lines of communication. Trade and commerce began to flow freely. The irony is that, despite all these achievements, only three countries, namely, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan recognized Taliban rule. The rest shunned Taliban government because it was politically unacceptable to them. The wrong side had emerged victorious in the tussle for power.
Robert McNamara, the brilliant Secretary of defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, helped lead America into Vietnam. McNamara believed that the fight against communism in Asia was worth the sacrifice of American lives, and yet he eventually came to believe that America had stumbled into a war - in which it had lost over 58,000 men and women - that was, infact, unnecessary and unwinnable. “I want”, McNamara wrote, “Americans to understand why we made the mistakes we did, and learn from them… The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote, “the reward of suffering is experience”. Let this be the lasting legacy of Vietnam”. Their hindsight was better than their foresight. With painful candor and a heavy heart, McNamara concedes that the adage applied to him and his generation of American leadership. American had learnt nothing from Vietnam and blundered into the war against Afghanistan. How all the best and all the brightest in America went wrong, horribly wrong.
After a decade of total neglect, Americans re-discovered Afghanistan. On the eve of Barbarossa, Hitler told Marshall Runsted that, “all they had to do was to kick in the door and the entire rotten, superstructure will come crashing down”. Bush committed the same mistake and blundered into a war with Afghanistan.
With the Soviets gone, it was now their turn to intervene. On October 7, 2001, the United States launched a powerful attack on Afghanistan in retaliation against the suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Talibans had not met US demands to turn over Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaida militants. Taliban were prepared to handover Osama bin Laden to any Muslim ruler but not America. President Bush declared “the Talibans will pay a price. We are supported by the collective will of the world. We will not falter. We will not fail”. Bush said this 20 years ago. Subsequent events showed how wrong he was. But as Hegel said long ago, “Man learns nothing from history except that man learns nothing from history”.
How will history judge American military involvement in Afghanistan, a most devastated, ravaged, country of demolished cities, starving and hungry people? Americans are, once again, on the wrong side of history. It reflects their profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of Afghanistan and the complex personalities and motivations of their leaders. Americans failed once again, to recognize the futility of trying to wage a modern war on an ancient civilization that formed its identity by repelling invaders. They failed once again to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, in confronting unconventional, highly motivated Islamic religious movements.
I felt myself torn between a sense of cowardly relief and shame. Never in my life did I feel so ashamed, so hurt, so small, so humiliated, so nauseated as I did when we offered, almost at gun point, "unstinted cooperation" and logistic support to the Americans in their war against a friendly, neighbouring Muslim country and its poor, hungry, starving, war-ravaged people.
The Afghans did not stab us in the back when we were at war with India. No Afghan government was as friendly to Pakistan as the incumbent Taliban government. By allowing Americans to use our territory as a platform for bombing Afghanistan, we have antagonized the Talibans forever and irretrievably lost their friendship. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, we have laid the foundation of permanent enmity with the people of Afghanistan.
With no organized army, no air force, no navy and the whole world against them, Taliban have defeated a super power in a war lasting for more than 20 years. Today, Americans are pleading with the Talibans to open talks with the incumbent Afghan government. Like the red army, the American army is leaving Afghanistan with the blood of innocent men, women and children on their hands.
The future of Afghanistan is now in the hands of Talibans. Talibans alone fought the war against the American invaders and liberated their country. They are determined not to lose what they gained on the battlefield. They have made it abundantly clear, that they will never accept the statuesquo. They reject the election held when the country was under foreign occupation. They reject the Constitution imported from America. They will never compromise on Shariat.
Talibans are our neighbours. Pakistan must make amends for the wrong we have done to Afghanistan and the Afghan people under American pressure. We must not antagonize the Talibans who have emerged as the victors. Pakistan must go all out to help the new Afghan government in the reconstruction of their war-ravaged country.
We have enough trouble on our eastern border. It is bad enough to have a hostile neighbour on our eastern border. It would be disastrous to alienate the Talibans on our Western border and turn them into enemies. Afghans are very good friends but they are also very bad enemies. They do not forget and they do not forgive.
From the very inception of Pakistan, we played into Indian hands by treating Afghans as our enemies and their leaders as Indian or Soviet stooges. We failed to analyse our assumptions critically with the result that the foundations of our decision-making were seriously flawed. Imran has reversed this policy.
There has been noticeable difference in the country’s foreign policy direction since Prime Minister Imran came to power. With Imran now at the helm, Pakistan stands tall among the comity of nations. Pakistan will never be used as a launching pad for military operations against neighbouring Muslims countries. Pakistan will never be drawn into somebody else’s war. Imran dared to say what others avoided saying. He never supported the American war in Afghanistan. At a time when friends and foes alike shunned Talibans, Imran came out openly in support of dialogue with Talibans. Subsequent events have vindicated Imran.