By Khaled Ahmed
October 26, 2019
It is another cut-and-run moment for America in Afghanistan, this time after the longest war in its history. Will Donald Trump repeat in 2019 what Richard Nixon did to south Vietnam in 1973 — leaving when 1,50,000 men of the north Vietnamese army were in occupation of parts of south Vietnam, where people knew they would be massacred at the hands of the “conquerors”?
Trump will take no “refugees” as Nixon did who got over a million South Vietnamese to settle in the US. Who will get the consequent population spill from Afghanistan?
Of course, Pakistan. It doesn’t even know precisely how many refugees it got over the past 18 years of the Afghan war. It usually says “three million after the Soviet invasion” but hasn’t kept count of those who didn’t live in the refugee camps and were “absorbed”. The Afghan refugees subsequently saw Pakistan succumb to religious terror instead of fighting it. Defeating the Soviet Union meant defeating whatever progress Pakistan had made as a liberal democracy. Today, no one loves Pakistan in Afghanistan, Pakhtuns least of all.
The Soviets never got a chance to “reform” a state destroyed by religion, but the Americans have tried. According to a BBC survey, no girls attended Afghan schools in 2001 but a million boys did, and, by 2012 there were 7.8 million in schools out of which 2.9 million were girls. The Ghani government in Kabul is “reformist” and wants to protect the change of the past 18 years; but it doesn’t get along with Pakistan. It believes its ex-chief spy Amrullah Saleh telling the world that Pakistan actually directs the various Taliban warlords from their hideout in Quetta, and is embroiled in the violence the Taliban perpetrate on innocent Afghans.
Pakistan once thought it could have “strategic depth” in Afghanistan against India. Now, it is uncomfortable about India getting close to Iran and Kabul and building up the resistant-to-Taliban Tajik elements in northern Afghanistan. Pakistan fears not only more refugees coming down from Afghanistan but also fighters who will “reconvert” Pakistan to what it was when the Soviets were in Afghanistan. It is laying a fence along the Durand Line — which Afghanistan historically never accepted — to stop the invaders.
Islamic radicals aligned with al Qaeda want Pakistan to get al Qaeda agent Afiya Siddiqui back from an American prison or face attacks like the attack on Pakistan army’s GHQ in 2009. The fence is thus being opposed and Pakistani troops laying it are killed daily by fire coming in from the Afghan side — all this while India kills Pakistani troops in cross-LoC fire on the eastern border.
Pakistan is vulnerable because some parts of its frontier with Afghanistan simply can’t be secured against infiltration. Its own tribal people, whom it allowed to get mauled by Pakistani Taliban cozy with the Pakistan-hosted Haqqani group, are angry and out of favour in Islamabad these days. Pakistan doesn’t get along with Iran either because of Pakistan’s Arab patrons. It will find Iran siding with India, which has also been the big helper of the Tajik community in the north, traditionally linked to Iran because of shared language.
An economically broken Pakistan is busy facing the challenge of a hostile but economically strong India on the eastern border. It keeps talking dangerously of a nuclear Armageddon which will destroy both countries because it has not yet realised that it has to think laterally about dealing with Delhi. Nationalism bars it from coming to the help of Kashmiris through a “normalisation” of relations with India.
Unfortunately, “bilateral talks” under the Simla Agreement still mean talking about Kashmir, which in turn means endless deadlocks and more hostility. What is needed is normalisation under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, which went in the right direction when Pervez Musharraf ruled in Pakistan and the BJP ruled in India, but then got stuck in Agra in 2001.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan
Original Headline: Pakistan now fears influx of Afghan refugees, as during the Soviet invasion
Source: The Indian Express