Epicentre of terror-By Zafar Iqbal

IT all started about 30 years ago when the Russians decided to occupy Afghanistan. President Carter offered some assistance to Gen Ziaul Haq. Without trying to be witty the general said the aid was peanuts and not acceptable.

Subsequently, with the change of regime in the US, a combination of Pakistanis and Saudi Arabians with substantial US assistance decided to help the Afghans get rid of the Russians.

It is difficult to say who decided to call it jihad against the godless communists but it was wholeheartedly supported by the Saudis and Gen Zia. The US also decided that it was not a bad idea. In actual fact, it was probably unnecessary. The Afghans would have tried to get rid of the Russians anyway.

The US provision of Stinger missiles made Russian occupation exceedingly difficult. Finally, the Russians decided to quit. Unfortunately, when they left, the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Masood, occupied Kabul. This upset the Pakhtuns, including their counterparts in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Pakhtun establishment and the government decided that the best Pakhtun fighters were the Taliban, and supported them. However, they were unable to capture Kabul. The Taliban requested Al Qaeda to help them against Ahmed Shah Masood. Al Qaeda arranged to get a suicide squad from Algeria requesting Ahmed Shah Masood for a television interview. They managed to assassinate him. The Taliban subsequently managed to capture Kabul.

It seems that Al Qaeda, having thrown world superpower No. 2 out of Afghanistan, felt they could also try and throw out world superpower No. 1 from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. For some reason it also included Britain. Osama bin Laden emerged as their great leader. There is also an element of the ‘clash of civilisations’.

It climaxed in the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, the most sensational terrorist event at the beginning of the 21st century. Whether Osama bin Laden sitting in the wilds of Afghanistan supervised it is not known but the US had to apprehend a known leader and Osama bin Laden was the obvious target. Mullah Omar, in accordance with Pakhtun tribal custom, refused to hand him over.

In order to conform to the US demand Pakistan had to reverse its policy against the Taliban. As happens, when Afghans are confronting western military attacks they are quickly defeated as they were in the Afghan wars waged by Britain.

After the first Afghan war in the 1830s the British decided to occupy Kabul. Some time later, the Afghans attacked the British. Since movement was not quick in those days, while military intervention was being organised by the British the entire occupying force was destroyed and only one doctor managed to escape. The British subsequently defeated the Afghans, changed the ruler and withdrew their forces from Afghanistan. The same policy was followed in the second and third Afghan wars.

In the present Afghan war the Americans have decided to stay. Guerilla warfare was inevitable: the Pashtun fighters have a substantial presence on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line from where they are operating. Musharraf, having agreed to fight the tribals, faced serious attempts on his life. He probably decided to come to an agreement. To promote this he managed to get a mullah government elected in the NWFP.

Unfortunately, the agreements didn’t work. The army walked into Waziristan in an overconfident manner, and many soldiers were killed. Because army action was not taken seriously, agreements with the Taliban leaders became ineffective. As a matter of fact they demonstrated their power through terrorist attacks killing many people in Pakistan.

Currently, the army is much more serious in taking on the militants. It is a difficult job because it is not easy to separate the militants from the non-militants. Today’s tribal can become tomorrow’s Taliban and vice versa. An agreement with the inhabitants of such areas would help as long as they are convinced that the army would take serious action in case of any breach.

A lot more people have been killed in Pakistan than in the terrorist attack in Mumbai. It is considered our fault without the realisation that we are still trying to work out how to stop this.

The British, at partition, were pro-Indian. Mountbatten made Pakistan into a moth-eaten creation. He hurried the process of granting independence by the middle of 1947, instead of the middle of 1948. The result: India had a full-fledged central government structure while Pakistan was in the wilderness trying to create one.

To show Britain’s great approval, Kashmir was handed over to India by changing the Radcliffe award. People thought that it was Nehru’s emotional involvement which caused this. Most probably he was more realistic and realised that it would give India greater control over the Indus basin. Subsequent developments are history.

The US has also always wanted to have a special relationship with India. George Bush and Manmohan Singh have managed it. The recent Mumbai terrorist attack was most unfortunate for Pakistan as it had sent its foreign minister to promote the peace process. It would hardly be in Pakistan’s interest to subvert this.

It is a bit unbelievable how only 10 terrorists could hold out for 60 hours and cause so much havoc and that Hemant Karkare and two of his colleagues were somehow immediately killed. Investigating the Malegaon blasts in October 2008 he had arrested various Hindus including Lt Col Purohit, a serving officer of the Indian army. They are supposed to belong to a Hindu supremacist group, Abhinav Bharat. The arrests made L.K. Advani very angry.

There is little doubt that Pakistan has to try and stop terrorist activity. We have suffered much more than India. What we are facing is an incipient civil war. As it progresses, we are likely to have increasing terrorist activity inside Pakistan. We have to make up our minds whether we are going to be forward-looking or backward in our views. There is room for compromise but not too much room.

India has been advised by the West and The Economist has reflected this by suggesting that they should sound tough with Pakistan. Indian leaders are following this advice. Besides, many Indian politicians and members of the bureaucracy think that by putting the peace process on hold they have converted India’s pain into India’s gain.



1 thought on “Epicentre of terror-By Zafar Iqbal”

  1. Are you the Zafar Iqbal who received a Master’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago in circa 1964 and lived with the Anschuetz family in South Bend, Indiana for a month? Zafar Iqbal was sponsored at that time by the Experiment In International Living, Pustney, Vermont.

    In our dotage, Mary and I often think most fondly
    about Zafar.

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