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Obscure Dimensions of the Afghan War:
Fought at the climax of the Cold War, the battle between the Soviet-supported leftist and the US and Western supported political Islamists in Afghanistan was supposed to be the ‘mother of all ideological battle’. The whole world was led to believe by both sides that they were fighting to defend their lofty principles symbolized by the ‘revolutionaries’ and the ‘mujs’, an affectionate nickname given to Mujahideen by the by the western press at that time. Couched in very high-sounding ideological concepts, the powerful propaganda of the big powers dominated the minds of most of the people. It was only during the post-Cold War developments in international politics that some of the inlaid dimensions of the Afghan war have come to light, enabling many people to reconsider the history of the Afghan war in a more objective way. A huge body of literature has appeared in a various countries regarding the devastating armed conflict in Afghanistan in recent years, providing new insights about the actual objectives,
II motives, and strategic interests of different regional and international players in the conflict, beyond their official rhetoric. For example, there is hardly anything secret anymore about the formation and execution of the Soviet policy in Afghanistan, as most of the previously secret material has been declassified and published by various authors, including some of the senior military officers who had actually conducted the war. Minutes of the meeting of Political Bureau of the Soviet Communist Party, in which the decision to send the Red Army into Afghanistan was made, are not only published in Russian; their Pashto translation has also been available for quite some time. This is also the case with the US and other Western countries, where a number of publications have laid bare the actual chain of events that had remained behind the screen. Among others, books like Unholy Wars by John. K. Cooly, Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, and Ghost Wasrs by Steve Coll present a graphic pictures of the real motives and roles of different institutions and individuals not exactly corresponding with the pious noises that they had been making during the war. It is very interesting to note, however, that there is very little in terms of research about the role of Pakistan, which happened to be the most important regional player in the Afghan conflict. Some foreign authors have discussed the part played by Pakistan in the Afghan war, but there is not much available in terms of indigenous research on the subject. Apart from the wellknown book Taliban, by the reputed independent author Ahmad
III Rashid, most of the other books published on the subject represent the official version. By now it is quite well known that Pakistan’s Afghan policy has remained the sole domain of Pakistan Army and the country’s premier intelligence agency, Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), which played a fundamental role in shaping and executing the said policy; that is why it has remained by and large a clandestine affair. Even the country’s civilian Chief Executives in the 80s and 90s had no say in formulating our Afghan policy. The situation has not changed even today. Therefore, there has been no meaningful or informed public debate on the country’s policy towards Afghanistan. The experience of the last few years has decisively proved that Pakistan’s Afghan policy is fundamentally flawed and counterproductive, as it has turned the country into a hub of international terrorism, religious extremism, and the drug trade, and has filled Pakistan with dangerous weapons in private possession, apart from brining Pakistan on the wrong side of Afghan national sentiments. But how can any government reform the aforementioned policy and take corrective measures with out first critically analyzing it and holding a public debate on it? In this context, the publication of the present research work, From Muhajir to Mujahid by well-known scholar and Afghanologist Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat, is a welcome development. This important work is expected to go a long way to shed light on some dimensions of Pakistan’s Afghan policy that
IV had so far remained obscure. The research methodology adopted by Dr. Marwat is impressive. He substantiates his thesis with reasonable proof, and authenticates his statements with credible documents and dependable sources. With a great deal of laborious and meticulous work, he pieces together bits of information into a tangible and coherent picture, exposing the deceptions fed to the public by the ruling circles of the country. Looking at the issues in question through the prism of the refugee problem, Dr. Marwat builds a very convincing and damning case against the manipulation of various regional and international players, in efforts the exploit the situation for promoting their own agendas at the cost of the hapless Afghan refugees. He has the unique advantage of having had a first hand experience in dealing with Afghan refugees, first as a government functionary working in Afghan Refugees Commissionerate, and later as research scholar continuously working on the Afghan problem. He has been personally a witness to the process of turning the ‘Muhajir (refugee) into the ‘Mujahid’ (the holy warrior), and the tactics which were used by intelligences for this purpose. Dr. Marwat has rightly pointed out that Afghan refugees were welcomed or even ‘pulled’ on the basis of religious faith which, along with the leverage of the material assistance, made their transformation into religious fighters easier. What he has failed to mention is the fact that since Pakistan is not signatory to either the 1951 Geneva Convention of Refugees or 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, the then Government of Pakistan could prevent any
V scrutiny or monitoring of the refugee situation. Isn’t it high time that Pakistan accedes to the aforementioned international convention to prevent the repetition of the events that took place in 1980s? His information on the functioning of the secretive Afghan Cell and the Afghan Refugees Commissionerate is very valuable, as is his insight on the performance of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in collaboration with CIA and other western agencies. HE has referred to the massive corruption and misappropriations in billion of dollars, and the petro-dollars that were poured into Afghan Jehad from abroad. It was by siphoning off fabulous amounts of this money that General Zia-ul-Haq and General Akhtar Abdur Rahman could become billionaires in dollars. The corruption also had a trickle-down effect, and along with the drug trade and gunrunning, it led to the dramatic strength of the black economy that still plagues the country’s social and political life. The conclusion drawn by Dr. Marwat from his analyses of the whole situation is also very important. He is illuminating in tracing the present problems of religious extremism and militancy to the policies adopted by the country’s rulers during the Afghan war. He has convincingly and factually pointed out in detail the evolution of the relationships of militant organizations in the two countries. This insight is indispensable for any government in Pakistan if it is serious in adopting reforms or corrective measures to check the menace of terrorism in an effective manner.
VI Unfortunately, some powerful circles with influences on the governance of the country have demonstrated an amazing capacity to live in unreality. However, the country’s interest in the dramatically changing situation can hardly afford this myopia. It is high time that Pakistan adopts a brand new Afghan policy based on the ground reality; the Afghanistan is slowly but surely and steadily growing out of the post-conflict situation with the adoption of a constitution and the successful elections of the President. There is great potential for growth of cooperation between the two countries in almost every field. Pakistan has to grow out of ridiculous theories such as attaining ‘military depth’ in Afghanistan, or creating a client government in Kabul. The Government of Pakistan has to remove the discrepancy between its word and actions. This is a prerequisite for a fresh and successful start in regional cooperation.
(Afrasiab Khattak) University Town, Peshawar, October 24, 2004.
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