By S. Mubashir Noor, New Age Islam
16 February 2016
Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain
believes Valentine's Day celebrations have "no connection with our
culture." The expensive suits and ties both he and Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif don with pride are, of course, standout symbols of Islamic society and
have nothing to do with our colonial hangover.
It would have been far more presidential of
Hussain as the keynote speaker at an event marking Pakistan Movement leader
Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar's death anniversary to passionately rebut Carlotta
Gall's recent New York Times (NYT) op-ed titled "Pakistan's Hand in the
Rise of International Jihad." Gall's incendiary prose herein posits a
strong link between Pakistan's "deep state" and the rise of Islamic
State militants (ISIS) among other "international Mujahideen forces."
No surprises here. Gall, after all, penned
"The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014," a tome that
rationalized Washington's failures in Afghanistan as the direct result of
Pakistan's duplicity. She argued that US forces should have kept marching east
after felling Kabul instead of invading Iraq. Why? Because without Pakistan's
patronage, neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda could ever have bloomed in the
Her logic, however well constructed,
distorts events that marked and followed the anti-Soviet jihad. It also
completely absolves Washington of blame in the rise of the Taliban and Osama
bin Laden. Not only is the Union Oil Company of California's (UNOCAL) Taliban
connection immortalized in newspaper articles from 1997, but copious details of
the CIA-run Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan also litter the internet.
That said, Gall makes some compelling
arguments in the op-ed though her conclusions can veer off course. Let me start
with what I find agreeable. There is little doubt that Pakistan, at certain
points in history, pursued an Afghan policy that was both counterintuitive and
bereft of the long view on consequences.
We now have close to 50,000 dead civilians
as a result of former "assets" chewing through the leash and going
rogue. The Army Public School (APS) massacre in December 2014 made clear to
Pakistan's establishment, we hope that further delusions of a good and bad
Taliban were unacceptable.
Unfortunately, question marks still dog the
National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) a year later, crucial madrasa
reforms are stuck in limbo and known rabble-rousers like Hafiz Saeed and
Maulana Abdul Aziz continue to roam free courtesy of legal loopholes. The army
added torque to Operation Zarb-e-Azb after the APS attack, but scolds the
Sharif government for not moving in lockstep.
The ISIS analogy, to me, is where Gall's
narrative creeps into foggy, conspiratorial territory because she offers no
motive. Surely Gall remembers from her own book that Pakistan's geostrategy
orbits around its seven-decade old rivalry with India. Managing this
relationship to Pakistan's advantage is the sole purpose of "strategic
depth." If the "deep state" has ever sponsored Islamist groups
outside of US diktats, it has been to counter India in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Pakistan, of course, also has bilateral
issues with Afghanistan dating back to 1947. The latter was the only UN member
to oppose Pakistan's entry into the world body, a result of misplaced anger at
the British Raj's partition plan. Its Republican-era rulers also fuelled
Pashtun nationalism inside Pakistan as payback, tacitly supporting a
secessional movement. Perhaps beset with territorial insecurity, Islamabad then
used Islamist dissidents as a counterweight, though Kabul's deepening ties with
New Delhi may have catalyzed the process.
Gall may also recall that non-interference
never was Washington's forte in its own backyard, especially when neighboring
governments ran contrary to perceived national interests. Guatemalan President
Jacobo Arbenz became the first victim of CIA-instigated coups in 1954 when he
attempted land reforms that threatened US business interests.
President Salvador Allende of Chile was
similarly sent packing in 1973 for being a socialist. Both countries fell prey
to murderous juntas for decades afterwards. Later came the infamous Iran-Contra
Affair of 1985, when the Reagan White House authorized arms sales to sworn enemy
Iran to fund rebels in Nicaragua. The list goes on.
Although Gall's piece is a hit-and-miss
affair in my opinion, Pakistan clearly has a huge PR problem. If Washington is
still unsure of Islamabad's loyalty 14 years into Operation Enduring Freedom,
as statements yo-yoing between praise and criticism indicate, then it is time
for the Sharif government to either hire new lobbyists or do some serious
soul-searching about this persistent trust deficit.
S. Mubashir Noor is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan