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Archive for August, 1992

The guns of August

What many analysts had been predicting for over a decade has finally come true, having forced the ouster of the Soviets and their surrogates the Afghan guerilla alliance has now disintegrated along ethnic lines, the former allies are engaged in a total war against each other. The decade-old war in Afghanistan, which had swirled around Kabul with an occasional rocket barrage and an intermittent raid, has finally arrived in the city with a vengeance. Bitter street fighting has resulted in thousands of casualties, devastated complete residential blocks and has created a new wave of refugees. In a bizarre scene, the refugees fleeing from the battle for Kabul crossed a batch of refugees incoming from Pakistan, so predominant is the confusion.

The Peshawar Accord was a complex but workable document provided the signatories were sincere about implementing it in letter and spirit. A clause that would have forbidden any of the parties from using Pakistani territory as a base for any activity against the central government in Kabul was excluded by our Foreign Office experts despite the advice of the ISI, that exclusion is now a potential for future mayhem. The parties concerned want justice for themselves to the exclusion of others, a rather imperfect basis for any lasting Accord. Added to this is the basic lack of toleration of each other, held together previously by the glue of hatred for the Soviets and their surrogates. To quote Walter Lippman, “Whereas each man claims his freedom as a matter of right, the freedom he accords to other man is a matter of toleration.”!

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Central Asia The great game continues!

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 set off a chain reaction that had a most unexpected backlash for the perpetrators, the disintegration of the Soviet empire. The solitary dishevelled Afghan armed with an obsolete Lee Enfield rifle symbolized the start of the resistance to the Soviets, by the end of the next decade he was still unkempt but now equipped with the ultimate in weaponry sophistication, a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile, the American-made Stinger, a perfect anti-dote to the marauding armoured HIND helicopters gunships that almost broke the back of the Afghan guerilla campaign. The human toll enacted by the Afghans was far less than that inflicted on them but along with economic mismanagement the cumulative effect snowballed into an unmitigated disaster for the communists. The US and Pakistani common aim was the expulsion of the Russian invaders, though striving for widely differing objectives. Having a predator Superpower on its doorstep declaring common cause with a traditional and implacable enemy on the eastern side was not exactly a comfortable sandwich for Pakistan, not the least of the problems being host to 3 million plus refugees. Since the Russians came perilously close to a region of vital US interest, the Middle East (plus its oil), the US saw a chance to reverse Vietnam on the Soviets, making them bleed militarily and economically by making Pakistan a conduit for material and moral aid to the Afghan resistance. By the end of the 80s decade, the Russians were wishing that they had never heard of Afghanistan and were only too happy to pull out, the Geneva Accords gave them a face-saving out. Within months thereafter, the Soviet Union entered a paroxysm of self-destruction, the major policy perceptions of the US and Pakistan, the nominal victors, became sharply divergent thereafter. Pakistan now sees Afghanistan as a historic stepping stone to the opening to Central Asia, western analysts perceive a feared Islamic resurgence change from a crescent of apprehension to almost a full moon of trouble.

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Silent war, deafening peace

Vietnam was the first real war of the electronic age, the images of battle and destruction flitting daily across the media screens. The fierce patriotism among the US public eventually softened because of the demands of humanity and an anti-war movement snowballed. Percentage-wise, the death and destruction factor in Afghanistan far exceeded the slaughter and devastation in Vietnam but in contrast actual combat in Afghanistan was seldom recorded as in Vietnam by either side. The horrifying war was thus mostly engraved in the mass psyche by the endless columns of refugees pouring into Pakistan and the bloodily wounded, mostly the extremely young or the very old, innocent non-combatants either caught in the deadly crossfire of a free-fire battle zone or the trap of mines and booby traps spread indiscriminately along the escape routes. The many towns and villages destroyed and the gaping wounds of the maimed are silent witnesses of the carnage inflicted by the Soviets and their surrogate Afghan allies, the graves of the many dead standing as quiet sentinels, articulating the brutal realities of war without quarter.

Economically weakened and diplomatically isolated Pakistan stood alone in 1989, a solitary ideological obstacle to the age-old Tsarist warm water dreams, the Indian Ocean only an assault-force helicopter ride away. As the flotsam of war floated across the porous international borders, Pakistan had to cope with a multi-faceted political, economic and military crisis. In the first desperate months, the primary military mission was to lay the foundation of a long unrelenting guerilla campaign, to contain, re-group and organise the Afghan groups and factions whose revulsion for each other mostly was only exceeded by their hatred for the intruders. With the political hierarchy of Pakistan out in the cold because of martial law, the Armed Forces hardly equipped economically or diplomatically to handle the crisis, the resistance within Afghanistan had to be perforce Pakistan’s first line of defence. The free world’s initial response was half-hearted and lukewarm, symbolized by US President Carter offer of a paltry US $ 300 million in aid to cope with the economic and military fallout of the Soviet incursion (“peanuts”, to quote late Gen Zia). In an ab-initio stage of preparation when events overtook nascent plans, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency was mandated by the Government of Pakistan (GOP) to cope with military operations in the field, for the sake of diplomatic nuances, ISI’s conduct of the guerilla war was not to be officially publicised or accepted.

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Pak-BD economic equation

History’s finest experiment in the concept of nationhood split in twain in December 1971, a victim of a series of man-made blunders that overcame the religious affinity and kindred spirit that had held two countries together in one nation despite the geographical cleavage of over a thousand miles of hostile enemy territory. Doing a post-mortem two decades later of an episode that should best be dead and forgotten would be counter-productive, if only for the sake of the future and a more pragmatic genuine association thereof. One should look forward to new vistas of cooperation that will ensure that the complementary issues of geo-politics and economics have a mutual flow of natural acceptance, each country jealously safeguarding its own independence and sovereignty.

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Defence as an economic asset

Conventional wisdom is on the side of liberal minded analysts who love to generalize that the money spent on the Defence Services is mostly wasted and trot out considerable statistics to support their argument that countries like Pakistan spend an inordinate amount relative to their Gross National Product (GNP). This not only tends to ride roughshod over geo-political realities (and having a strong deterrence thereof) but tends to minimize the direct and indirect economic benefits accruing from manpower employment and material utilisation.

It is true that much more money is spent on Defence than what Pakistan can afford but that is the price one pays for freedom from Indian hegemony. Skeptics may study the recent example of Sri Lanka which was bullied into inviting Indian interference. At the moment the allocations for Defence Services are almost at par with Debt Servicing, together they eat up almost all the Current Revenues of the Government of Pakistan (GOP). It is also true that we do not give enough to Defence to maintain the relative parity necessary to deter possible Indian aggression, that material gap is covered by the credibility of superior motivation. To cope with these extremes, successive GOP regimes have adopted a pragmatic course that makes compromises but keeps faith with the principle that we cannot depend upon anyone else for succour and are ourselves the best guarantor of our freedom.

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