By Sankar Ray
Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has stirred a hornet’s nest with his ingenuous statement that Pakistan not only erred in having been an American proxy in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, but it was “a collective sin or mistake “. Refusing to accept the entire blame for the rise of extremism and terrorism, Asif stated at the Asia Society Forum in New York with a sense of atonement,”It was a proxy war. We were used and discarded.”
The Pak minister’s statement, ’Scapegoating Pakistan for all the Afghan ills is neither fair nor accurate’ is a shot in the arm for peaceniks in Pakistan for the latter’s consistent assertion that antagonistic stand towards India can only harm Pakistan and its endeavour for ridding the economy of backwardness and increasing social inequity.
Erstwhile Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has to pay the political price for his peace efforts with India, Asif observed, while defining the Haqqani network and Jamat-ud-Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed as liabilities for Pakistan. He appealed to Washington to help Pakistan get rid of them in a time frame.
Asif showed the guts to criticise the US ruling class while in USA, as he banteringly termed ‘terrorists’ as ‘darlings’ of the White House. “Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis [the Haqqani Network] and don’t blame us for the Hafiz Saeeds (obviously meaning head of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa). These were the people who were your darlings just 20 to 30 years back. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say ‘go to hell Pakistanis because you are nurturing these people’.”, Asif quipped. He took note of “the strong desire in the US to bring the ‘long war’ in Afghanistan to an end,” adding “We support this objective wholeheartedly and are ready to help in any way we can to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
Significantly, Dawn, Pakistan’s secular and anti-war daily, praised Asif in a lead editorial. The foreign minister’s “critique of Pakistan’s embrace of non-state actors decades ago began with a familiar attack against the US for encouraging jihad in the region in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That is undeniably true and too few US policymakers are willing to acknowledge that choices made under the umbrella of the Cold War changed the course of history in this region. History has shown that the fear of the Soviets seeking access to a warm water port through Afghanistan and Pakistan was overblown, but the Pakistani state, controlled by a military dictator, found the combination of that fear and US-financed plans to wage war against the Soviets in Afghanistan irresistible”
Little wonder, Asif drew adverse reactions from Opposition parties, especially Imran Khan’s. Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which has sought an explanation through an adjournment motion in the National Assembly, accusing the minister for “extremely controversial remarks” during his US tour.
PTI MNA Murad Saeed moved the motion under Rule 109 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly. “The routine business of the House should be adjourned to make the minister explain (why) he took a position contrary to the national policy dealing with terrorism.”
The small but firm group of intellectuals, including some army officers, have warmed up to the minister’s unequivocal self-critique of Islamabad’s partnering with the ‘US imperialism and CIA’ in the proxy war against the erstwhile USSR in Afghanistan. Dawn remarks that “nearly four decades since the start of asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan, championing the cause of jihad in the region is a historic wrong that rivals the mistakes that led to the break-up of Pakistan.”
Asif rakes up the historic interview by the late Zbignew Brezezinsky, National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, in October 1998 admitting, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahedeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention”. Previously, even seasoned strategic experts blamed the Russians for invading Afghanistan, instigating the CIA to buck up the Mujahedeens. Defending the secret operation of pushing in the Islamic militants with the support of President Zia-ul Haq, now the most hated of all Pak military dictators, Brezezinsky said, it “had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralisation and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”
Bluntly supporting the ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and Talibans, Carter’s NSA replied to a question, “What is most important to the history of the world: the Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
The interview was not carried in the American edition of the Paris weekly. The irony of history is that, said a leading Lahore-based activist of Pakistan-India Forum for Peace and Democracy on conditions of anonymity, “India has turned pro-US even during the dangerous Trump era while even a section of ruling class not only steps forward towards an anti-US position on question of peace and stability in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, unlike in the past”. No less important is Islamabad’s regret in being a US bully against the now-defunct Soviet Union.