By Dr Mohammad Taqi
April 16, 2015
None other than the Saudi monarchy and the UAE have been bankrolling Pakistan's jihadist misadventures in Afghanistan and at home
“I am alright doctor sahib,” said veteran Pashtun progressive-nationalist leader Lateef Afridi over the phone, adding immediately, “How are the family and children?” Lateef Lala — as he is lovingly known throughout the Pashtun lands — had narrowly escaped an improvised explosive device planted outside his house in the Peshawar suburb of Hayatabad earlier this week. The Awami National Party (ANP) leader was even more stoic than when I had found him after a near-lethal ambush in 1991.
Several operations may be going on against the Taliban in Pakistan but there seems to be no respite in vicious attacks on ANP leaders and cadres. The entire leadership, from Asfandyar Wali Khan, Afzal Khan Lala, Afrasiab Khattak, Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Mian Iftikhar Hussain and the late Bashir Bilour, has either been attacked or has sustained personal loss over the last several years. Lateef Lala is no ordinary leader, however. He is the man who coined, along with our late and much lamented comrade Sarfaraz Mahmood, the Pashtun nationalist creed khpala khawra, khpal ikhtiyar (our soil, our sovereignty) around which hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns have rallied. When some of the Pashtun progressive leadership, like the late Ajmal Khattak and Afrasiab Khattak, were forced into exile, Lateef Lala held the fort at home. To me, however, Lateef Lala is now not just a friend, comrade and mentor of about 30-year standing — he is family. He is not a mere statistic or “collateral damage” as the former Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DG ISI) General (retired) Asad Durrani would want us to believe that the victims of jihadist terrorism are.
It was with sheer disbelief that one listened to the utterly distasteful remarks by General Asad Durrani in a debate held at the Oxford Union in which he described the brutal slaughter of the hundreds of children at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar as “collateral damage”. I have mentioned the over a month-old debate in this column before but it was really difficult to overcome the revulsion to the general’s callous remarks televised on Al Jazeera English television where he described the tactics his outfit used and its heartrending, bloody blowback, i.e. attacks like the one on the APS as something that was “not for the weak-hearted”. Durrani explained the devastating impact of his former outfit patronising jihadist terror, including potentially harbouring Osama bin Laden, with a cold, calculated glee. He had the impunity to even sneeringly say, “The least that I expect from an audience like this is to give the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan a big applause.” One had to hold one’s nose to watch through the rest of the event. Durrani said that states, unlike individuals, could not be held to a certain standard of morality. He was perhaps quoting Dr Henry Kissinger verbatim, without actually acknowledging that ragged old practitioner of realpolitik.
In fact, it is quite common for certain elements of the Pakistani security establishment to justify their use of jihadist proxies citing the use of non-state actors by other spy outfits. What General Asad Durrani’s ilk conveniently glosses over, however, is that no other intelligence agency in modern history has raised such vicious outfits to prosecute not just foreign policy but attain domestic goals as well with a blatant disregard for the devastating fallout at home. One is hard-pressed to find any example from the CIA, the KGB or the general’s former outfit’s nemesis, RAW, which shows those agencies poisoning their own waters. Durrani called it the cost of war — a high-stakes game in which his outfit presumably evicted superpower(s) from Afghanistan — but for us in the Pashtun lands it has meant the loss of dozens of our loved ones while many of them have had to hunker down as General Durrani’s protégés unleashed havoc and continue to do so like against our very dear Lateef Lala.
The cost of doing business with unscrupulous men like the Taliban is far, far greater than General Asad Durrani would ever muster the nerve to concede. Over the last four decades such actions have effectively made Pakistan an international pariah dependent on handouts from its two Arab patrons, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, and, on a transactional basis, the US. None other than the Saudi monarchy and the UAE have been bankrolling Pakistan’s jihadist misadventures in Afghanistan and at home. Yes, the civilian political leadership has had a significant personal and business relationship with the Arab monarchies and principalities of the Persian Gulf but it truly is the bill for the toys for the khaki boys that these sheikhs have been footing, which has made Pakistan beholden to them to the extent that a junior minister of the UAE and a lowly Saudi advisor had the audacity to ridicule the joint resolution of the Pakistani parliament pledging neutrality in the Yemen conflict. In fact, the editor-in-chief of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news outlet had the gall to chide Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over his measured statement on Yemen, in which the Pakistani chief executive had emphasised pursuing a diplomatic solution for the Yemen quagmire that the Saudis want to drag Pakistan into. Someone must have promised something militarily — not politically or monetarily — huge to the Gulf monarchs in lieu of their largesse, reneging on which has really ruffled their feathers to the extent that they have unleashed their minions on Pakistan’s civil and military leadership with a vengeance.
It is the state of utter denial a la General Asad Durrani about the presumed success of their deceptive policies and proxy wars financed by petrodollars that have brought the country to the brink of ridicule and disgrace from the Gulf’s geopolitical upstarts. The cost of such misadventures that the ex-spymaster tends to downplay is actually exponential with our kin still being attacked on a daily basis by the monsters imbued with a virulent jihadist ideology. Decades of consorting with sheikhdoms and monarchies have brought nothing but profound grief to Pakistan, its citizens and its neighbours. Two generations of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lost to the destruction that General Durrani describes as “statecraft”. While the relationship with the Gulf countries could not be and should not be severed cold turkey, hopefully the current military brass does not share General Durrani’s state of denial and will stick to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif’s pledge to defer to parliament any decision to commit forces in aid of the Saudis.