Confronting Popular Narrative about the Taliban — II

This appeared as my weekly column BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday October 17, 2011. The first part of this article can be seen here. This blogpost corrects the two names erroneously misquoted in the printed version; One: it was Jalaluddin Haqqani, not Mulla Omar who took Khost and Two: it was Peter Henning not Peter Jennings who filmed Charlie Wilson while raising Allah-o-Akbar slogans with the Mujahideen after the victory in Kabul over Red Army. The errors are regretted.

Pakistan’s strategic culture follows a bizarrely predictable course: develop a hypothetical security situation, make an internationally unpopular policy decision responding to it but officially say things opposite to it, start mythmaking at public level to generate a popular demand for the decision you have already made, tell the world it is not your fault, it is the stupidity of the people who want that decision. Pakistan’s strategic elite has been following the same course in building popular sympathy, if not support, in order to legitimise the Taliban in the name of our ‘strategic interest’ in Afghanistan.

This mythmaking factory has been working overtime for many years now. The impact can be seen in unquestioned mythical assertions and popular belief that the ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ are mutually exclusive and Pakistan’s long-term interest rests in helping or at least not offending the former. In this process, little has been realised that this brutal murder of historical facts and simple reason would only result in spilling over chaos into Pakistan itself.

When in the war of narratives, Pakistani right wing media habitually asserts that it was the US that made these jihadis in the first place, and then stopped supporting them once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, there is no one to challenge the underlying mendacity. When they say that Islam had better chances to spread under the Taliban and that is why the US disengaged itself for its sheer hatred of Islam, there is no one to confront it. This potpourri of brazen falsehoods keeps growing and influencing public opinion (another fictional term used frequently to legitimise an untruth) in the absence of a counter-narrative that sets the record straight. In order to do that, someone needs to remind them what happened during and after the Afghan ‘jihad’ to bring the windmill of trickeries and fabrications to a halt.

One needs to remind Pakistan’s strategic elite, who keep fuelling public emotion against everybody antagonistic to the Taliban, that just because the US stopped disbursing money using the ISI tarmac does not mean Afghanistan was left alone. If memory serves, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia, Iran and India kept pouring money into the Afghan civil war and Pakistan continued brokering Saudi and American support alongside providing the mainly Pakhtun warlords with logistic support. If Saudi and American money is put together, the Muj (affectionate name given to the mujahideen by the Americans) got half a billion dollars in the second year of the civil war, which is exclusive of Russian, Indian and Iranian money flowing to the ‘renegade’ non-Pakhtun Muj factions. Historians must record how this kaleidoscope of international interests turned Afghanistan into a permanent theatre of war and bloodshed. Just when the Americans were celebrating the capture of Khost by CIA’s favorite and ISI’s beloved, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as their victory against pro-Soviet Dr Najibullah, no one realised how Pakistan had defeated all the competing states in Afghanistan.

When Charlie Wilson was raising the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) with his Muj boys in Kabul after the withdrawal of the Red Army in the wake of the Geneva Accord only to be filmed by Peter Henning, little did the Americans realise that all they have been trapped in to contribute all through the jihad years was percolating the latent ambition of global political Islam. None at the seventh floor of a Langley building ever realised that 30,000 non-Afghan, non-Pakistani men from around the Muslim world and thousands of Pakistanis that General Hamid Gul proudly boasted to have trained would redirect CIA’s Afghanistan programme towards hitting the World Trade Centre.

Despite Charlie’s Allah-o-Akbar, the ISI’s Afghan wing had never had any love lost with the CIA or the Yankees in general. During the jihad years, the Afghan wing continued to keep the Americans from direct contact with the Muj. The hatred of an ‘exploitative’ and ‘anti-Islam’ Christian America — ironically — permeated silently and smoothly from the trainers to the young students from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the network of seminaries and training schools in Pakistan’s northwest. Langley got a shock when tamed kids like Gulbuddin and Sayyaf stood against the US as soon as the Gulf War started. The CIA, in close collaboration with the Saudis, was still running the Afghan programme and had $ 400 million sanctioned in 1992 while hiding a secret appropriation in a $ 298 billion defence bill the same year with $ 200 million earmarked for Afghanistan, records George Crile. And that is just a year before the first attack on the World Trade Centre.

The meshwork of regional and American vested interest went all wrong when the dormant pan-Islamist ambition simmered into a full-blown war against the US. Once the ‘goodness personified’ — Jalaluddin Haqqani in partnership with other ISI-supported Muj kept on capturing one after the other point in Afghanistan, it was, to oversimplify it, an ISI proxy winning the war through American weapons and Saudi money over the boys carrying Soviet, Iranian and Indian money. Victory made the ISI infamous, not the ideology, for none of the providers of that war had any moral ground to play with Afghan blood. The ultimate loser was neither the US nor any other contributor. The sole loser was none other than a Pakistani who had lost any value of her/his life in the eyes of each and every stakeholder as well as its own security establishment. When over a hundred people of Islamabad died in the Ojhri ‘accident’ at the tail end of the jihad, Pakistan’s president called his ambassador in Washington to get the Americans to replace every single weapon wasted during the Ojhri camp incident.

Callousness has run so deep among the Pakistanis that they have heightened their threshold to tolerate loss of life to the level of insensitivity. The figure of 3,000 dead bodies for the Americans is worth fighting a trillion dollars war for over a decade while a figure of 160 dead bodies is enough for the Indians to want to jeopardise ‘peace’ with Pakistan — if there is any. But as high a figure as 35,000 Pakistani lives lost is not big enough to raise a single eyebrow. Not even our own security elite who only use this figure to get more concessions from the world and regional powers to play its games.

Someone needs to tell the mythmakers that their argument that the Afghan jihad was necessary to save Pakistan from a pre-emptive attack by a ‘godless’ Soviet Union is rubbish. During one of my Twitter scuffles in 2010 with Ijazul Haq, son of General Ziaul Haq — infamous dictator and Pakistan’s man behind the Afghan jihad — he told me that had Pakistan not decided to be a part of the Afghan jihad, my name would have been Marvi Sirmedov — implying that the Soviets would have converted Pakistanis to atheism. No one is there to remind them of the real reason behind supporting and training the Taliban even after the fall of the Soviet Union when there was no threat of atheism to spread to the land of the pure.

When the Americans were going to bed with a dream of being the sole superpower, the Saudis were dreaming of heading global Wahabi imperialism, Iran and India were focusing on more of existential concerns of survival among hostile actors, Afghan warlords imagining Kabul — their homeland — to be under their own control, and trainers and students in FATA were fascinated with a global caliphate of Islam, while laying down the lives of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans. Now go figure, who wins.