Predictions Fail as Afghans Come Into Their Own


September 6 was celebrated as the “Day of the Martyrs,” to commemorate those who offered the ultimate sacrifice for the motherland. These tales of valour inspire those who stand on guard to protect the nation. The occasion was celebrated with dignity and honour in Rawalpindi and around the country. “Shahadat” and “Jehad fi Sabilillah” are the guiding principles for men and women-in-uniform. Their devotion to duty and professionalism provide a sense of security and pride to Pakistanis.
September 6, 1965, is etched across my memory. I remember as a teenager in Lyallpur when my family huddled around the radio to listen to the speech of President Ayub Khan. By today’s standards, it was short, but it inspired the whole nation. Patriotism reached levels never witnessed before. Family elders likened it to the national fervour seen in 1947. Pakistan was under attack by a neighbour five times our size. The spirit of defiance against the Indian aggression was unparalleled. Citizens were willing to sacrifice everything to safeguard the motherland.
Indian jets had strafed Lyallpur airport runway near Risalawala on Jhang Road. Word got out that volunteers were needed to help repair the damage. Passionate and charged, our group of friends congregated at the factory of our buddy Sheikh Rafaqat located near the airport. He had arranged shovels and prepared food to take along. When we reached the airport, it was already swarming with thousands of volunteers. We were turned back politely by a young captain. His explanation was convincing. Such huge crowds could attract further attacks!
I have a treasure trove of memories that could fill pages. Moving on, this misadventure left the aggressors with a bloody nose in West Pakistan. Nevertheless, it sowed seeds of discontent in East Pakistan. The entire focus was to defend the Western borders with few forces deployed on the Eastern front. The feeling of vulnerability by East Pakistanis was exploited by anti-Pakistan forces, which led to the next confrontation between India and Pakistan in 1971. At that point, I was in Punjab University heading the Students’ Union.
December 1971 was an extremely traumatic month in our history. We felt humiliated and Indians were jubilant. Half of the country was severed, leading to the turmoil that took us years to recover. India had started a proxy war, which morphed into an open invasion. It left us licking our wounds under incompetent leadership.
50 years on, we have now experienced some sort of redemption. The snickers of 1971 by the Indian media and their leadership have been replaced by the wailing and howling in 2021. Just view their TV channels or social media. It unveils desperate attempts to taint the realities unfolding in Afghanistan. Their spokespersons and anchors either dwell in fantasyland or they have sources no other country in the world has!
They claim Pakistani fighter jets bombed the Panjshir rebellion into submission aided by Special Forces. There is absolutely no independent corroboration from any other source. Indian media is desperately seeking to promote it as a huge conflict. It is not. Panjshiris are brave fighters. This time around, are they resisting because they are free-spirited or to protect their control on lucrative emerald mines? The realities of their terrain require reinforcements and supplies for a sustained resistance. They flow through the rugged mountain passes encircling the valley. During the Russian resistance, their supply line was fed by Pakistanis. When resisting the Taliban, it was provided by NATO.
None of that is happening now. Hence, the imbecile anger of the Indian media. Emerald supplies that fed their huge gem market will stop. Adding fuel to fire, Pakistan’s ISI chief landed in Kabul at the invitation of the Taliban. Wide-ranging discussions on matters of security of both countries were discussed. A routine matter amongst nations wanting to work together. The CIA chief just concluded his trip to India followed by a visit to Pakistan. In the evolving and fluid situation in the region, such meetings are expected. Labelling it as a huge conspiracy or Pakistan’s efforts to dominate the Afghans is nothing but a figment of their imagination.
Pakistani leadership has, repeatedly, stated that they will be bound by the will of the Afghans. The relationship with the Taliban government is of mutual respect amongst equals. 20 years of resolute struggle against the combined forces of Western powers have matured Taliban leadership to improve the ways they tackle adversity. While keeping their principles, their worldview is pragmatic and their priorities are clear. After facing seven decades of multiple hostile regimes in Afghanistan, there are strong possibilities that Pakistan can have friendly neighbours to our West.
It augurs well for the entire region. Reduced tensions, greater security and improved trade and commerce benefit everyone. Then what is India’s problem? Despite dominating the Afghan intelligence for twenty years they could hardly muster a handful of demonstrators in Kabul shouting “Death to Pakistan”.
That is not the best way forward for India. Pakistanis harbour no ill-will against Indians. In fact, I have many close friends amongst them. The Indian Government needs to re-think their hostility towards Pakistan. It will benefit the common people on both sides. The change in Afghanistan must register with them. It is imperative sooner than later that they resolve the simmering issue of Kashmir according to the will of the Kashmiris. Barrel of a gun does not resolve disputes; it is through discussions around a table with the stakeholders.