Originally Published 2008-03-15 00:00:00 Published on Mar 15, 2008
On the eve of the February 18 elections, no two people in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi were agreed on the certainty of elections taking place. Elections cannot take place, it was argued then, because the establishment will not risk an open-ended process which might produce inconvenient results. In the Pakistani context, the establishment has always meant the Army, the bureaucracy, big landlords and the United States.
Does the War on Terror Strengthen the Idea of Pakhtoonistan?
After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Pakistani real estate was priceless for the West. The US drew up the plans, the Saudis coughed up the money and Zia ul-Haq undertook the execution of the plan which was to have a principal and a subsidiary target: the building up of the Mujahideen to oust the Soviets and, to give the Saudis their money’s worth, stabilize an Arabized, Wahabized Islam in Afghanistan as a bulwark against Iran’s Shia Islam.
As a result of these machinations, the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Indeed, the Soviet Union collapsed. Amazingly, the US had no post-Soviet gameplan in Afghanistan. The blowback from the first Afghan conflict began to gnaw at Pakistan from the NWFP to Karachi.
The spare Jehadi talent left over from the anti-Soviet conflict was redirected to Kashmir (among other places). The departure of the Soviets from Afghanistan and the incremental rise in militancy in Kashmir can be traced to the same year – 1989.
From 1989 to 1999, Pakistan went through two Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, each in various degrees involved in Kashmir and Afghanistan. In February 1999, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee undertook a bus journey to Lahore. Since by this time both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers, the bus journey was in some small measure designed for two nuclear neighbours to reach some sort of an entente.
After seizing power in 1999, Musharraf kept up an ambivalent policy towards Kashmir (India) and Afghanistan. It was in this mood of ambivalence that Musharraf turned up for the Agra Summit in July 2001. The summit collapsed.
Then came 9/11. Musharraf made a deft u-turn on the issue of terror. He would join the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan but with one caveat: the Jehad in Kashmir would continue because the Pakistani establishment would not be able to cushion the backlash, nor contain the implosion, if Pakistan were to turn its back on both the militancies. Quite remarkably, the US bought this line. Ambassador Robert Blackwill told his Indian guests around his famous round table (dinners at Roosevelt House were seminars with the Ambassador as the anchor) that what Pakistan was fighting was a global war on terror. According to him, the militancy in Kashmir directed by Pakistan was the continuation of an old regional conflict.
Musharraf joined the US led-war on terror because he was left with no alternative by the Americans. Double dealing was built into his about-turn. Since Zia ul-Haq’s days, a huge machinery had been built up by the ISI, the Army and the bureaucracy in Afghanistan and all along the border inside Pakistan, stretching from Balochistan to the end of North West Frontier Province. Some of this reservoir was coming in handy for sustaining a low-cost conflict with India in Kashmir. It could be argued that an on-going conflict was also a requirement to keep such high voltage Islam from imploding. At any rate, there was never any incentive to dismantle the Islamist furniture on both sides of the border. Rather, once an Islamic institution had been set up, it became impossible to retreat from it for fear of inviting a religious backlash.
The paradox of Musharraf’s war on terror soon began to catch up with him. How does he, in the name of fighting terror, attack folks nurtured and trained by the ISI into exactly the sort of militant, Islamic fighting machine the US in its post 9/11 rage was out to exterminate?
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