Collapse of a nation  

  Vol II : issue 5

  Pete Seeger
  S.K. Singh
  Vladislava Gordic
  N.S. Madhavan
Nida Fazli
  Vinay Lal

  Only in Print

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S.K. Singh

India Photowalla

The nineteenth century Afghan ruler Amir Abdul Rahman Khan (1880-1901) usually referred to the Pushtoon belt of the eastern half of his country — comprising Herat, Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni and Kabul — as Yaghistan. This translates into English as ‘the land of the unruly and insolent’. And etymologically, the word Afghan derives from the Persian word ‘fughan’, meaning a person who is noisy and constantly wailing. The word is also used for cry-babies.

Throughout his history, the Afghan has refused to be either urbanised or dehumanised. The insolence of the Afghan reflects the harsh freedom he has always enjoyed in his rough mountains and deserts. His unruliness stems from his courage and an uncompromising sense of equality. Until the late seventies of the twentieth century — when Soviet ideology tried without success to enter the Afghan country, and a little later successfully sent in Soviet troops — it was a country of free-wheeling Islamic tolerance in which the Jew, the Ismaili, the Qadiani, the European, the Hindu and the Sikh, in addition to the local ethnicities of Pushtoons, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen, were all able to live together in peace and genuine acceptance of each other, in an atmosphere of good humour and tolerance. The Sunni Pushtoon and the Shia Hazaras, Tajiks and Heratis cheerfully shared their strengths and weaknesses without much hostility, carping or bickering.

All foreigners and outsiders, however, were suspect in everybody’s eyes. The entire Afghan society was unashamedly xenophobic and proudly opposed every foreigner entering their land. This continues even today. All of us know how bitterly and fiercely they resisted the Soviet troops. Soon, the Afghan countryside was alive with thousands of Mujahideen fighters who hailed from various regions of Afghanistan, irrespective of ethnicity, sect or religion. During the war against the Soviets that ensued, Pushtoons, Hazaras and Uzbeks instinctively clung to one another and fought the foreigners. They continued to maintain their respect for their tribal elders. Traditions were maintained as well, even cherished.

However, the Americans and the Pakistanis, who were supporting the Mujahideen, consciously helped blur the difference between patriotism and pride in their religion, Islam. In the course of time, the concepts of Islam, jihad, nationalism and xenophobia — all got mixed up and became a complex melange. The Pakistanis deliberately accentuated Islam as the strongest motivation for the Afghan fighters and Mujahideen. The traditional hold of the tribal elders over Afghan society was relaxed and loosened. With some success, Pakistan tried to establish strategic depth or strategic space as their reward for helping the Afghans. In the process, the psychological complexes which usually afflict all colonial settlers anywhere in the world came to impact the Pakistani mind. Also, the Pakistanis deliberately tried to please and flatter the Americans and Saudis who were, in the context of the Cold War, trying to motivate Afghans to fight the godless Communists in the name of Islam.

By the time the Soviet troops withdrew under a negotiated settlement, ending the Afghan war, the Pakistanis had more or less established themselves as brothers in Islam and valiant fighters for the Mujahideen cause, and under certain pretexts become the de facto power protecting Afghanistan. Pakistanis, through their role as the conduit for the supply of American arms, money and other resources to the Mujahideen, made a lot of money themselves and also made their Afghan comrades thoroughly knowledgeable about greed and corruption. The profit-making instincts of the Afghan provided the Pakistanis an unprecedented opportunity to corrupt Afghanistan.

Despite all this, when the Pakistanis tried to suggest to the Mujahideen leaders that the post-Soviet administration in Kabul should not ignore either the sacrifices made by Pakistan for their cause or the interests of Pakistan, they faced enormous resistance. The Afghans did not wish to bow to the new master, Pakistan. The Pakistanis, too, realised that their common religion was not likely to entitle them to be treated as part of the home team, and that as foreigners they would always be treated as outsiders. In fact, if they persisted in their obstinacy the Afghans might see them as a colonial power. Pakistan was determined not to permit a government in Kabul that could ignore Pakistan’s interests, advice, ideas and suggestions. The Mujahideen Afghan leaders no longer saw the Pakistanis as team-mates, but rather as neighbours. There was a stand-off between the two sides. In this situation, Pakistan decided to avoid and bypass this psychology by creating a new pro-Pakistani force in Afghanistan. That force was the Taliban.

Pakistani personnel alone were used in the Afghani-Taliban machinery of defence. Thus field guns, armour, artillery, the air force and radars were all held tightly in Pakistani hands. The Taliban’s political relationship with the outside world, too, was handed over to Pakistani intermediacy, and its day-to-day functioning was handled by the ISI

These were Talibs (an abbreviation of the term Talib-e-Ilm, or students), young teenagers aged sixteen to nineteen, the majority of them orphans from the Afghan refugee camps, who had grown up on Pakistani soil. Youngsters born and brought up in indescribable squalor, educated by Pakistani mullahs in Pakistani madrassas; members of the Afghan underclass who had no concept or experience of the traditional ethos based on honour, or the leadership of the tribal Khans, traditionally referred to in Afghanistan as the ‘White beards’, or Reesh-safids.

These unfortunate lads were mostly unacquainted with the softening influence of families, of mothers, sisters and cousins, aunts or any other feminine influences. The cruel and squalid world in which the Taliban grew up provided them neither the discipline and code of honour born of living with tribal elders, nor the warmth and sanity which surrounds children living with their parents. Their young lives were dominated by obsessive devotion and austerity demanded by a bunch of fanatics who taught them to hate and loathe anything and everything that could be condemned as un-Islamic. The main obsession they were gifted was the courage to attain martyrdom in the cause of their fanaticism and faith. Guns and explosives became their playthings. Of course, they also learnt the rudiments of Koranic dogma; and also got acquainted with the culture of Kalashnikovs, grenades, jihad and lunatic dreams of dying in battle in order to become ghazis. They were innocent of any knowledge of the political or democratic functioning of a modern society, nor were they acquainted with the functioning of the broader human society. Their lives were circumscribed by their idealisation of the Koranic, Islamic austerity of the desert life of the Bedouins of more than twelve hundred years ago.

This was the group that Pakistan encouraged and propped up to rule Afghanistan under the guidance of its military intelligence apparatus, the ISI, so as to ensure that the nation would always be mindful of functioning under Pakistani advice and assistance. As regards the maintenance and repair of technologically sophisticated weapons systems, Pakistani personnel alone were used in the Afghani-Taliban machinery of defence. Thus field guns, armour, artillery, the air force and radars were all held tightly in Pakistani hands. The Taliban’s political relationship with the outside world, too, was handed over to Pakistani intermediacy, and its day-to-day functioning was handled by the ISI. The Pakistanis were also exclusively flying their air force planes and helicopters and maintaining armoured personnel carriers and modern field guns and tanks.

The only technology in which Afghans found service was that connected with the labs to produce and refine narcotics. The mechanistic aspects of warfighting were all in the hands of Pakistani military personnel, ex-servicemen or serving instructors.

Pakistan brought western and American resources, especially money and arms, into Afghanistan. The wealthy and glamorous hero who has made himself the austere Islamic warrior, Osama bin Laden — the Saudi millionaire who hated the control exercised by the ungodly Americans over his holy motherland, Saudi Arabia — was injected by Pakistan into an Afghanistan ruled by their proteges, the Taliban. Osama was an Arab who hated Jews without loving the Palestinians; who admired Pakistan for having acquired and tested the first ever Islamic bomb, the ultimate weapon of war. Pakistan, too, repaid this admiration in full measure by making Osama look larger than life to all its peoples. Even after having joined the global coalition against terrorism, Pakistan had the gall to suggest to the Americans that they should get Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, before they pursued Osama. And in the process, many forgot the perfidious greed displayed by the Pakistanis. They had sought and used American money to first create the Taliban and are now demanding more money from the same source to destroy the Taliban.

The Pakistanis also ensured that both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban emulated Pakistan in hating India. This resulted in the Taliban willingly sending their fighters into Kashmir along with Osama’s Arab warriors of the Al-Qaeda, to cause mayhem in the Valley of Kashmir. In fact, one of the motivations for Pakistan seeking strategic space and strategic depth within Afghanistan was to create the leverage to engineer greater mischief in Kashmir.

S.K. Singh is former Foreign Secretary of India and has also been
Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He lives in Delhi