General Asim Saleem Bajwa, then DG ISPR
This article was originally published by The Nation on June 28, 2016
During his recent tour of Germany, where he was accompanying the Chief of Army Staff, the Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) gave an interesting interview to Deutsche Welle (DW). In the sixteen minutes interview, the DG was posed a range of questions including the overall response to terrorism, banned outfits, Zarb-e-Azb, IDPs, the Haqqani Network, drone attacks, Mulla Akhter Mansour’s killing, relations with India, Balochistan, peace talks with Afghan Taliban and civil-military relations at home.
Quite a wide canvass that the DG was made to stroke his brush onwithin few minutes. With his signature brilliance, he let the fog stay and made it appear pretty as well.It would take several dispatches to present counter narrative on a host of things he said on all the topics mentioned above. For the paucity of space however, I’d like to focus on his first few sentences complaining how the world has left Pakistan alone to deal with terrorism.
Notwithstanding his straight responses overlooking multiple nuances of the issue, his was a welcome statement reiterating Pakistan’s changed – one really hopes – position on the use of proxies. Use of proxies, by the way, is neither a seminal work of Pakistan nor is Pakistan’s copyright. From KautallyaChanakkeya and Machiavelli to the present times, and even before, this fine art has been used liberally by the military strategists in order to, as they say, ‘avoid all out war’. It’s just that the way we used it was far more lethal for ourselves than any perceived enemy.
That subtle griping tonearguing about the world having left Pakistan alone to deal with the menace without understanding Pakistan’s perspective is quite familiar these days. We keep telling the world how thankless it has been towards us for fighting others’ wars on our soil. Others’ wars they were indeed. But didn’t we get anything for playing that role? Think again.
Let’s start from the jihad days of 1980s. Oh wait, why 1980s, didn’t we start it much earlier than that? America didn’t come to us in 1973 when we started trying to plant coups on the nascent government of Sardar Daud Khan in Afghanistan. All right, the Afghans were not completely innocent either. Hosting and feeding our nationalist rebels in the name of Pakhtunistan movement while letting India finance and equip them for instigating uprisings aimed at disintegration of Pakistan’s boundaries. No state would tolerate it. But some would behave prudently, while the others would show suicidal tendencies like us.
Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s administration, Pakistan did everything to further disenchant the already estranged communities. Just like we had done in East Pakistan that became Bangladesh with India’s active support later. Anyone having even a basic background of our history of relationship with India would be surprised if India had not and would not take advantage of our own idiocies and would not fan the flames of disturbances and unrest in Pakistan. The best way to prevent Kulbhushans thus might not be the pressers and badly made foolish videos, but to make sure that our fault lines do not become an opportunity for the enemies. How far are we doing it is anyone’s guess.
While trying to appear battered and cheated by the world, let’s take a stock of what we accomplished for ourselves and how did we manage to earn the mess we are in. Throughout the early and mid 1970s, we kept reaching out to worst of the worst actors in Afghanistan, supporting and training them to attack the interests of Daud led Afghan government. Today’s young Afghan might not know what horror was brought to our Ikhwan and other proxies in Afghanistan. Panjsher attack was just one example. The progressive fabric of society that Daud government had introduced (he himself went back on it latter) and taken forward by Tarakai, Amin and Karmal administrations, had to see its death with our supported Islamic fundamentalist, extremist and obscurantist groups.
These groups did not only destroy any prospects of progressive polity in Kabul, they adversely affected our own society especially the tribal areas as well as the mainland Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP in those days). The institution of Mullah got unprecedented influence. So much so that it became difficult for the Maliks and Khans – the predominant power center within Pakhtun society – to exercise influence in order to protect the basic sanity.
The mantra, again, about the world leaving us alone needs a bit more thinking. Go back to the Geneva Accord days in 1989-90 and honestly wonder if we were alone. Despite brokering this instrument of peace, neither the US nor us showed a shred of commitment to the Accord. The rabid terrorist groups (eulogized globally as Mujahideen Tanzeemaat in those days) kept getting support from the USA through us.
By 1992, the US had found other interests but it still kept appointing Special Envoys to the Mujahideen (believe it or not, the US had Ambassador level appointments for the Muj). Edmund McWilliams and Peter Thompson to name two. Alongside, the UN was still here trying to pacify Najib government and the Tanzeemaat. My memory also echoes the name of Benon Sevan, the Senior Political Adviser to the Representative of the Secretary-General. The guy was shuttling between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan every week trying to convince all the parties adhere to the Geneva Accord.
Too bad was the fact that the UN could not monitor the implementation of Geneva Accord and latter the five-point Peace Plan of Javier Perez de Cuellar. Even worse was that the US could not keep its word to stop the support of Tanzeemaat in violation of 1988’s Accord. Iran could not stop either. USA’s main excuse was the reported war equipment worth $1 billion that Russia had apparently left in Afghanistan.
But what was worst of all that dirty business was Pakistan’s continued support to mujahideen organisations to hold terror activities and disruption in Afghanistan even when Najib announced his readiness to share power with these groups. As if the fiasco at Jalalabad (the Mujahideen groups were supported for an all out attack on the city) led by former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul was not enough, we supported failed attempts of violent coups in 1989 and 1990 (Najib’s Minister Tanai was used for it).
The history, sir, will not be quiet on how we left no stone unturned to destroy our options in Afghanistan in those days by resorting to war and bloodshed. And we certainly were not alone. After holding a massive attack on Kabul Airport killing dozens of women and children, the Muj were given a photo op at White House and 10 Downing Street.
Come 2001 and we were not alone even then. We still receive some bucks for slaying the menace we always choose to keep safe. Wonder why. But I would agree with you on how the world accompanied rather supported us, in bringing out this havoc ever since. There is little reason to feel alone. And there’s little reason to continue with the follies. If the entire world including the good terrorists does not understand our perspective, there must be something wrong with our communication skills. Or may be with the message itself.