Speaking a few days ago at the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) in Islamabad, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Gen (r) Nasir Khan Janjua had made some interesting assertions regarding the Afghan War of the 1980s.
If quoted rightly and within context, Gen (r) Janjua’s assertions seem somewhat contradictory, hence needing to be deconstructed.
The NSA had claimed that Pakistan “didn’t take part in the Soviet-Afghan war, nor was it behind the 9/11 attacks, yet it still bore the brunt of the damage” done by these events. This assertion is only partly true.
As far as 9/11 attacks are concerned, the NSA has rightly pointed out that Pakistan had nothing to do with them and yet it suffered the consequences. However, his claim that ‘Pakistan didn’t take part in the Soviet-Afghan War’ makes sense only if we recognise that the Pakistanis were not taken on board before their state became a proxy in the Afghan War. It was General Ziaul Haq’s regime that had led Pakistan into the Afghan War.
Zia had peddled the Anglo-American ‘Great-Game’ narrative (a reference to historic Russian ambitions to reach warm waters) to the Pakistani nation, even though the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and the US-sponsored jihad against the former had different reasons. Russian historians have explained Moscow’s military intervention in Afghanistan as a ‘tactical move’ or ‘limited-regional-action’, aimed at bolstering the failing regime in the country. While others have linked Soviet intervention in Afghanistan to the latter’s domestic affairs and to the growing anxiety in Moscow surrounding American influence in Kabul’s affairs. Against this backdrop, many have suggested that Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan was a defensive move aimed at protecting its security interests. Yet there are others who have argued that the intervention was prompted by factional infighting between Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin.
Likewise, there are number of perspectives on the US sponsored ‘jihad’ against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Some historians have argued that the Americans used the Great-Game narrative to: a) kill détente (peaceful coexistence) between the US and the Soviet Union; b) end the ‘stock-still’ (nuclear non-proliferation) policy of the US, and c) undertake the biggest military build-up in the US history.
The Afghan ‘jihad’ enabled hawkish warmongers in Carter and Reagan administrations, especially those sponsored by the military contractors, to justify an exponential increase in the defence budget or military spending. Some academics have stated that the US wanted to forget Vietnam by humiliating and bleeding the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Irrespective of the above mentioned reasons or interpretation, General Zia had stuck to the Great Game narrative. He had introduced his ideological rhetoric of ‘Islamisation’ into the strategic environment of Pakistan. Projecting Pakistan as an outward-looking Islamic state which was to be the harbinger of the independence of Muslim states in Asia and Africa, General Zia had crafted the ‘front-line’ role for Pakistan in the Anglo-American Great Game against the Soviet Union. Therefore, we can safely assert that under General Zia’s dictatorial regime Pakistan had participated in the Afghan War or the US-sponsored Afghan jihad against the so-called godless Russians.
So when Gen (r) Nasir Janjua asks, “had we not supported Afghanistan back then, would the country still be standing?”, he is effectively echoing General Zia’s ideology.
Our leaders’ penchant for claims that Pakistan has been a saviour of Afghanistan will only further undermine state-level endeavours to construct the right narrative — a narrative that should condemn General Zia’s decision to radicalise Pak-Afghan geopolitics.
So instead of claiming that Pakistan had supported Afghanistan back then, Gen (r) Nasir Janjua should be asking himself if Pakistan would be in the mess it is right now had General Zia not supported the American geopolitics of jihad against the Soviet-backed socialist regime in Kabul.
Besides, the NSA’sassertion that America may not have been “the only superpower” in the world today” if Pakistan had provided Russia with a “passageway” is an admission of guilt on having helped the Americans establish their world hegemony. In fact, the Americans would not be behaving like a bull in a china shop today, had we given the Russians the ‘passageway’ then. Today, Pakistan is not only a full member of Chinese and Russian dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), but it is also willing to further deepen its strategic partnership with the Russians. We are eager to see an active Russian participation in the CPEC and, as ironic as it may seem, we want to give them the ‘passageway’ to reach warm waters. We must openly admit that our region has suffered enough as a result of the unipolar world order.
It is time to construct the right narrative for Pakistan.
The write is a Research Associate at the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, University of Lahore