The spate of attacks by Pakistani militants in recent days has prompted Islamabad to hurl accusations at Kabul while the fragile Afghan coalition government of President Ashraf Ghani has already been lambasting Pakistan for its support to the Afghan Taliban who unleashed a reign of terror since news of Mullah Omar’s death became public in July 2015. But would it not be better if the two countries did some soul-searching instead of trading allegations?
Not everything that happens in Afghanistan can be blamed on Islamabad. Unlike Pakistan that inherited a state infrastructure, Afghanistan remained an independent country, skipping the phase of state-building.
Antonio Giustozzi of the London School of Economics claims that some sort of regular army was established in Afghanistan in the 1860s and 1870s. According to him, serious attempts were also made during the 1920s and 1930s to establish an army and by 1938 the country had 90,000 soldiers. This continued till the 1970s. During the same decade, the Afghan Constabulary was also set up – numbering 28,000 for around 36,000 villages – but the armed presence of the state was resented by villagers.
Although Daud’s irredentist approach alarmed Pakistan in the 1950s, we did not meddle with the affairs of that country until the late 1970s. Had we done so earlier, the revolt of 1975 would not have failed miserably. Naturally Islamabad cannot be blamed for the infighting of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan which witnessed fissures in 1978 and split into two factions – Khalq and Parcham.
The Khalqs further divided into the Amin and Taraki camps. The assassination of the latter and the purges from the Amin camp triggered a desertion of around 48,000 soldiers. Russian support for Parcham intensified the rivalry between the Khalq and Parcham factions within the army, leading to a situation where the state was in the hand of the Khalqs and the government in the hands of the Parchams. Finally, Babrak Karmal was removed and Najibullah’s regime started, which offered material incentives to warlords – by appointing them governors with innumerable powers – to switch loyalties. All this scuppered the chances of state-building in Afghanistan to a great extent, plunging the state into a civil war that led to the ruthless rule of the Taliban.
Pakistan did lend support to the cloistered group of the Afghan Taliban during their repressive rule but can it be blamed for the squandering of more than $113 billion that the US pumped into the war-ravaged country after dislodging the Taliban? Is it fair to hold the ISI responsible for the whopping $850 million fraud in Kabul Bank, described as the biggest per capita financial scam? Can Pakistani intelligence agencies be blamed for the surge in poppy cultivation? Did the Pakistani establishment advise Kabul to induct 41 percent Tajiks, who constitute 25 percent of the population, into the army besides stuffing the civil bureaucracy and police with non-Pakhtuns – creating a sense of marginalisation among the largest ethnic community that has ruled Kabul for centuries? Did Islamabad ask Transparency International to rank Afghanistan the 8th most corrupt country in the world?
This is not meant to exonerate Islamabad, which had extended blanket support to the obscurantist forces of Afghanistan who revolted against Najib’s progressive legislation, land reforms, ban on child marriage, steps to promote education and even the abolition of the interest system in villages. These holy warriors turned Kabul into ruins in the early 1990s after making solemn promises in Saudi Arabia to work together. Their internecine war led to a far more ruthless force that slapped a number of bans on women, carried out massacres of sectarian minorities. They also gave shelter to Pakistani terrorist outfits which unleashed a reign of terror inside Pakistan in the 1990s but we chose to turn a blind for the noble mission of strategic depth. The monster that we had pampered came to haunt us with its full force after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
It is the Afghan Taliban who introduced harsh punishments in Afghanistan, turning the country into a pariah state. But it is our clerics who proudly claim to have mentored half of their cabinet. The Afghan Taliban believed in punishing those who loved music, art, films and drama in their tribal kingdom. But do we not have clerics in our modern urban areas who advocate the same? Did we not see the transformation of our cricket team and a dramatic change in the lives of our celebrities? Are there not clerics on our TV channels propagating obscurantist ideas? Did our intellectuals and columnists not heap eulogies on these retrogressive forces? Is there a dearth of clerics who refuse to accept a DNA test as primary evidence in rape cases?
Before making vitriolic attacks on Kabul for everything that happens here, we need to ask ourselves whether Baitullah, Hakeemullah, Qari Husain, Fazlullah and a number of other Taliban leaders are Pakistanis or not? Where were we when Fazlullah was openly challenging the state through his famous radio speeches? Do law-enforcement agencies need special government permission to nab anybody speaking against the state or challenging its writ? During the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto, the state crushed Sufi Mohammad’s movement within no time when the ageing cleric challenged the state. Why did we not do the same to crush the TTP?
Did our respected interior minister wail over the killing of the TTP chief at the behest of Kabul? Was the Afghan intelligence instrumental in issuing the statement of the JI chief who refused to declare as martyrs those Pakistani soldiers who were fighting extremists? Is there any evidence that suggests that Karzai or Ashraf Ghani stopped us from taking action against a madressah whose students openly invited Isis to come to the land of the pure? Will our liberal N League and progressive PPP blame Abdullah Abdullah for striking clandestine deals with sectarian outfits in a bid to win more than 30 seats in the national and provincial assemblies in the last two polls?
Kabul and Islamabad need to stop this blame game. Our Afghan brothers must understand that any modern state will be alarmed if it is encircled from two sides. For hundreds of years the US did not allow any power in the western hemisphere and threatened to wage a nuclear war over the presence of a bunch of red revolutionaries in its backyard. Angola went to the extent of inviting Cuban troops when sandwiched from its northern and southern borders. Why would Pakistan tolerate the presence of a hostile power in its backyard, allowing itself to be squeezed from two sides?
Islamabad should also not be lured into believing that fire from a neighbour’s house will not cross boundaries. Our disastrous policies have already cost us more than 40,000 lives and staggering losses to our infrastructure and economy. If the ideological fathers of the Afghan Taliban can contest polls and be a part of the democratic system, why can we not use our leverage, if we have any at all, to persuade the Afghan Taliban to be a part of the democratic system? Our geographical contiguity cannot be altered. We must realise this truth sooner than later.
The writer is a Karachi-based freelance journalist.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgAbdul Sattar, "Blame game," The News. 2017-02-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Afghan intelligence , Democratic system , Politics-Pakistan , Terrorism , Taliban , Minorities , Extremists , President Ashraf Ghani , Mullah Omar , Afghanistan , Pakistan , TTP , JI , PPP