By Ahmad Masoud
General Qamar Javed Bajwa the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, according to some media reports, has recently said to a group of some Pakistani parliamentarians that the [Pakistan] army would be “the first” to recognise the Taliban should they come to power. His stand was later on supported by some of the religious party’s parliamentarians.
One of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Maulana Fazlur Rehman party parliamentarian in his address to the parliament in mid-July 2021 said that in comparison to the current Afghan government, the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban is in the best interest of Pakistan, because Taliban fighters are heroes of Pakistan and make sacrifice for the defence of Pakistan. Whatever the Taliban do is of great significance for Pakistan. “Taliban are like strong barrier walls for Pakistan,” he said and added that the Taliban safeguard the Pakistan border with Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recent interview with PBS NewsHour denied that Pakistani fighters have crossed the border into Afghanistan to aid the Taliban in its fight against the Afghan government. “This is absolute nonsense,” Khan stated in his interview with the PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff.
Pakistan’s civilian government denial policy with regard to Afghanistan steams out of the fact that the army always keeps the civilian authorities out of the picture in important matters such as supporting, arming and sending the Taliban to Afghanistan to fight against the legitimate Afghan government forces. Neither Prime Minister Imran Khan nor his government is more popular and stronger than what was former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her government which was kept in dark by the military.
Shahla Haeri in her book, The Unforgettable Queens of Islam, Succession, Authority, Gender, quotes Senator Aitzaz Ahsan as saying: “Look! We need to make an important distinction here: we were in government but not in power,”
President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who himself was a Pashtun, the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the ISI Director General Gen. Hamid Gul and a number of other senior officers were of “the view that after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan there would be a golden opportunity for Pakistan to “literally occupy Afghanistan”.
The Soviet Union forces, according to the Geneva accord, were going to leave Afghanistan by 10 February 1989 and this was concurring with the inception of the first term of Benazir Bhutto the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Haeri demonstrates in her book that by the time Benazir’s government took the helm, the Pakistani military had already hatched a plan to “fill the vacuum after the Soviet withdrawal.”
“Pakistan army and military troops would be received with garlands and welcoming cheers from the crowd,” Haeri quotes Ahsan in her book, “The army’s strategy was to first take over Jalalabad, the town closest to Pakistan, and so the plan came to be known as the Jalalabad Operation.”
Haeri states that Benazir Bhutto’s government was kept in the dark, but when she became aware of the plan, she opposed it. She insisted that the parliament and the National Assembly be informed of the decision, because “we thought if we were to be a party to such a major decision, the parliament would hold us accountable one day.” Bhutto and her government challenged the “vacuum” theory”; they believed that what the Soviet would leave behind was “fortresses” in every big town and that there would be no possibility of overrunning these fortresses.
“On January 28, 1989, the National Assembly met and presented and debated the views of the three factions: the civilian government opposing the plan, Hamid Gul and the ISI advocating it; and the National security adviser listening in: Hamid Gul’s message was that we take Jalalabad in a month, Kabul in the next three months, and God’s grace we would be on the banks of the Oxus within a year! At that point the opposition and we had a large opposition started shouting Allah u Akbar yes, it is true! And the PM and I knew that we have lost the argument; that we should not be able to stand in the way of the Jalalabad Operation. But we had put down our dissent in black and white and had discussed our reservations elaborately, explicitly, and unambiguously they are still on the record.
The Jalalabad Operation began in mid-March, less than a month after the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989. By April it became clear that the operation was a failure. Too many dead bodies were being brought back, and by the end of May there was a clear realization – and, finally, an acknowledgement – of defeat. How did Hamid Gul justify his military operations? He didn’t, Ahsan told me: he felt he owed no explanation to the public. He was committed to the cause of Islam! Hamid Gul passionately believed in “Afghan jihad” and tried to have a direct say in Afghan policy beyond his ISI years (Nasir 2015),” Haeri writes.
What General Bajwa, Imran Khan and the Jamat Ulema-e Pakistan parliamentarian have recently said do not only reflect the same old narratives their predecessors have unsuccessfully tried decades ago, but they also contradict on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan and the region. A decade ago, the nationalist and other opposition parties in Pakistan were not in such a strong position to openly criticise and express their hatred against the Pakistan military and intelligence services as they do today.
In response to the Jamiat Ulema-e Pakistan parliamentarian, Muhsin Dawar, a parliamentarian from North Waziristan, asked: “If you like the Taliban so much, why do not you hand over Islamabad to them?”
“Terrorists are organised in the Pakistan soil and sent to fight in Afghanistan, and this is a shame for the government of Pakistan,” Dawar said and added: “The other day body of a Taliban commander was brought to Peshawar. There was his funeral, and they were shouting slogans against the Afghan government and this is a shame. The Pakistani media, round the clock, publish fake news about the Taliban victories and it is clear that our media is under the control of the army, and the Pakistani intelligence once again think about destroying Afghanistan.”
The Pashtun and Baluch opposition leaders raise their voice to the Pakistani authorities at the cost of their lives. Usman Khan Kakar, an outspoken former senator and a strong critic of the Pakistan army and intelligence, was brutally attacked by unidentified people at his home in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, and then he succumbed to his wounds at a hospital in Karachi on 21 June 2021. Meanwhile, Sardar Arif Wazir, a member of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a non-violent civil rights movement established in January 2018, was murdered by unknown people in May 2020 in Wana in South Waziristan. He was accused of delivering an anti-Pakistan speech when he visited Afghanistan weeks before he was killed.
Muhsin Dawar in a tweet said: “Arif Wazir was killed by good terrorists. Our struggle against their masters will continue.” By “good terrorists” he meant pro-Pakistan militants who operate in Waziristan. According to some media reports, Wazir was the 18th member of his family to have been killed since 2003.
Since 2001, about 2,000 prominent Pashtun tribal leaders or their family members, according to media reports, have been killed for opposing Pakistan military. PTM leaders put the finger of blame at the Pakistan intelligence while the Pakistan officials accuse PTM of receiving funds from Afghanistan and the Indian intelligence agencies.
Pakistan cannot afford anymore to continue with slaughtering their own people to silence the voice of its unassailable oppositions who are progressively getting stronger. The emergence and popularity of the PTM in a short period of time is a clear reflection of the level of public hatred against the Pakistani authorities, particularly against its powerful army and establishments.
Fighting indigenous opposition groups within Pakistan and sponsoring terrorist proxies to fight a poxy war in its neighbouring countries has not only isolated Pakistan at regional and international levels, but it has also adversely affected Pakistan’s economic growth. Despite having huge natural resources, Pakistan has remained one of the poorest countries in South Asia.
According to a recent World Bank report, Pakistan’s annual per capita growth has averaged only 2 percent, less than half of the South Asia average, partly due to inconsistent macroeconomic policies and an under-reliance on investment and export to drive economic growth. Moreover, 40 percent of households suffered from moderate to severe food insecurity.
“Although based on a constitutional and representational polity, the Pakistan state has remained weak the political elite struggle to build or to fortify its democratic institutions,” writes Haeri in her book published last year: “By and large, the politics of personalities, patronage, and loyalty form the foundation of the state. Presently, at the very core of the political system lies a major divide between a deeply tooted aristocratic feudalism and corporate business, with a military/mullah alliance either supporting or challenging the civilian government as the political situation demands.”
It would be in the best interest of Pakistan, its neighbours and the whole region if Pakistani adopt a realistic policy with regard to Afghanistan and stop its support to those groups who fight a proxy war in Afghanistan.