An­other re­minder

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Rauf K. Khat­tak

AFGHANISTAN is an un­for­tu­nate coun­try in two re­spects. It is di­vided cul­tur­ally, lin­guis­ti­cally and more im­por­tant po­lit­i­cally. The tribes - par­tic­u­larly the Pakhtun tribes - never fully sur­ren­dered their au­ton­omy to the cen­tral govern­ment. Their loy­alty has to be bought on a per-day, per-month and per-year ba­sis, de­pend­ing on the na­ture of the bar­gain. There is/was no one­time pay­ment or set­tle­ment un­less sanc­tioned by the Loya Jirga.

Then, the Afghans jok­ingly say that when God cre­ated the uni­verse, He threw all the de­bris of cre­ation on their land. Be­cause of the poverty of the land, Afghan kings and rulers could not mar­tial in­dige­nous re­sources to build strong forces to es­tab­lish a proper state by over­pow­er­ing the tribes. The rulers al­ways looked to for­eign pow­ers to bankroll them and keep them on the shaky throne of Kabul. It opened the way for for­eign med­dling in their affairs.

In­dia and Pak­istan are play­ing the mod­ern ver­sion of the Great Game. How­ever, Afghans vis­cer­ally op­pose for­eign-spon­sored ini­tia­tives and in­ter­fer­ence. No mat­ter how much in­flu­ence you may try to buy there, at the end of the day they will make their own de­ci­sions and choices. An Afghan is no­body's man: he will deal with both In­dia and Pak­istan on their own merit. In­dia has re­port­edly spent $1.3 bil­lion to build roads, power lines and the Afghan par­lia­ment. It has raised the ire of Pak­istan. It is peanuts com­pared to what other pow­ers spent there to no avail.

In the mid-19th cen­tury, the Bri­tish got them­selves en­tan­gled in Barakzai-Sadozai fam­ily ri­val­ries. They thought they had found a pup­pet in Shah Shuja Sadozai to do their bid­ding. They placed him on the throne of Kabul at the head of the army of the In­dus in Au­gust 1839. Sixty thou­sand Bri­tish troops went to Afghanistan, at a point when the Bri­tish con­trolled more of the world econ­omy than they would ever do. Afghan op­po­si­tion to the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion and for­eign-im­posed Shah Shuja built steadily through­out 1840 and 1841. By 1841 the com­bined ex­penses of the oc­cu­pa­tion were amount­ing to £2 mil­lion a year (in 1841 terms), far more than the prof­its of East In­dia Com­pany's opium and tea trade could sup­port.

When the Kabul theatre started heat­ing up, the oc­cu­py­ing force started clam­our­ing for more and more money. Lord Auck­land was in­formed that at that rate Cal­cutta would go broke. Af­ter the har­row­ing slaugh­ter of the oc­cu­py­ing force in Kabul, some 16,000 Bri­tish and In­dian troops and fol­low­ers be­gan a death march to Pe­shawar on Jan 6, 1842. All per­ished on the way ex­cept one. In the mid-20th cen­tury, the Soviet Union started to in­vest heav­ily in Afghanistan. Their pen­e­tra­tion was me­thod­i­cal and deep within the Afghan econ­omy, in­tel­li­gentsia and armed forces. In April 1978 they suc­ceeded in in­stalling the first com­mu­nist govern­ment in Afghanistan. The Afghan forces and econ­omy were to­tally de­pen­dent on the trea­sure of Moscow.

The Afghan com­mu­nist party (PDPA) soon got into the Afghans' favourite pas­time of in­ter-party and in­ter-tribal blood­shed. De­spite hold­ing all the purse strings, Moscow could not bridge the Par­chamKhalq split. See­ing their decades of in­vest­ment go­ing down the drain, they in­vaded Afghanistan in late De­cem­ber 1979. Their oc­cu­pa­tion cost them 15,000 lives. They never dis­closed their fi­nan­cial losses but they were big enough to con­trib­ute to the dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet em­pire.

With Pak­istan in the lead, a grand Mu­jahideen al­liance was cob­bled to­gether with Amer­i­can arms, along with Saudi and Amer­i­can dol­lars, from 1980 till April 1992, when Na­jibul­lah be­came his­tory. Pe­shawar and Quetta be­came the most in­ter­est­ing places in the world with spies throng­ing them, suit­cases and sacks full of dol­lars chang­ing hands ev­ery day, and awash with arms. Af­ter the fall of Na­jibul­lah, Pak­istani geo-strate­gists saw their best op­por­tu­nity to shape Afghanistan in their own mould. This was the legacy of Gen Zia. A made-in-Pak­istan Afghan In­terim Govern­ment (AIG) was formed in 1992. It com­prised of the heads of the seven-par­ties al­liance.

It was a house di­vided from the word go and to­tally un­ac­cept­able to the gen­eral peo­ple of Afghanistan. Pak­istan was not so much in­ter­ested in the AIG as it was in the for­tunes of Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar. A rad­i­cal Is­lamist, he was their man who would be king. This choice led to ter­ri­ble mis­takes and blood­shed.

Amer­ica aban­doned Afghanistan but re-en­tered it af­ter 9/11. Ever since, it is wan­der­ing in that in­tractable wilder­ness.

Three recog­nised su­per­pow­ers at the height of their glory could not bend the Afghans to their will. Yet Pak­istan, a poor coun­try with abysmal so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tis­tics, has not aban­doned its im­pe­rial dreams in that coun­try. En­throne Haqqani or Hek­mat­yar or Mul­lah Man­soor or Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah; each one will do what is in the best in­ter­est of Afghanistan and not In­dia or Pak­istan. Our fol­lies have caused acrid blow­back to us, not to men­tion rivers of Afghan blood.

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