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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Afghan imbroglio - will it ever end?

Jonathan Power

Six years ago after we had talked about all manner of jihadists for an hour-jihadists in Kashmir attacking India, jihadists in Afghanistan attacking America, jihadists infiltrating India and jihadists in Pakistan attempting to kill President Pervez Musharraf-I asked the American ambassador in Islamabad, "don't you feel that you spend all your time just picking up the pieces for the wrongheaded policies when the West supported the jihadists as a tool against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan?" He sighed, nodded and replied, "That's right".

Driving away from that conversation I was convinced more than ever that the various terrorist movements unleashed in this corner of the world over the last 20 years have their origins in the policies of Jimmy Carter, that most pacific of all post war American presidents who, prodded by his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided to undermine and repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979, by any means necessary, including the funding, training and arming of Islamic militants who burned with anti-communist zealotry much as they burn against the Western or Indian 'infidel' today.

Indeed, later evidence provided by Brzezinski seems to demonstrate that the US actually wanted the Soviet army to invade Afghanistan. "We did not push the Russians into invading", he is quoted as saying in an article in Lahore's Daily Times. "We knowingly increased the probability that they would". The secret operation was an excellent idea. The effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap."

Once the Soviets were in Afghanistan the US then whipped up the West and the Islamic world into joint leadership of a UN majority that went into overdrive to diplomatically and militarily undermine the Soviet Union. Arming the jihads, among whom lurked Osama bin Laden, was one part of it, and many of the major Western powers and Saudi Arabia cooperated on this. Another was to strike fear in the Middle East by attempting to show that the Soviet army's real long-term ambition, if it could quell the Afghani resistance, was to reach a warm water port. The Soviet legions would move down through Iran to the Arabian Sea, and from there seize Iran's oil-laden ships, at that time backbone to the Western economies.

Needless to say, if the Soviets had nurtured that unlikely ambition the last thing they needed to do was to detour through the often impassable, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

If only the Soviets had been left alone to face what would have been a long war of attrition by local forces armed with their own more elementary weaponry, we would probably have never have seen the rise of Al Qaeda from its protected redoubt in Afghanistan. Nor would Pakistan's conflict with India over Kashmir have become so difficult to halt. Pakistan would not have been allowed to become a nuclear weapons' state. Nor would Pakistan be so often on the abyss of political disintegration, undermined by Islamic militancy within. Critics of Pakistan's present day embrace of militant Islam forget that it all began when the then president Ziaul Haq, facing domestic resistance from the secular parties to his alliance with the US, forged an alliance with Sunni extremist groups. This led to the steady Islamisation of many facets of Pakistani life, not least the distortion of Pakistan's legal system and provided militant clergy with unprecedented access to political power.

The worst mistake of all was Carter's policy somersault on Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons. In April 1979, the US administration convinced that Pakistan was secretly building bomb, suspended military aid. In December, after the Soviet invasion, it reversed its decision and persuaded Congress to authorise a large arms aid program. For the next decade Washington puts its telescope to its blind eye.

Not until 1990, the Cold War with the Soviet Union over, did President George Bush Sr. end the annual White House lie of giving assurances to Congress that all was well in Pakistan's nuclear laboratories.

Military sales were terminated. But by then Pakistan was only a turn of the screwdriver away from having its bomb and its chief nuclear weapons' scientist was already deep into secret deals selling his country's sophisticated knowledge and equipment to the likes of Libya, North Korea and Iran.

The West's obsessive anti-Soviet policies during the Cold War meant that the Afghanis, the Pakistanis, the Indians (and the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Angolans, Somalis and the Central Americans et al) paid a high price in war and carnage, whilst we in the West got on with our economic growth and social development.

But now the mistakes of the pro-jihadist, Cold War, warriors, "parents" of the Taleban with their subsequent rapid growth, have come to haunt us all. Are we any more ready than we were then to stop the myopic policies of today's decision-makers breaking the glass for the next generation to have to pick up?

Source: The New Nation - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

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