Rebutting Blatant Falsehoods

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Ikram Sehgal

My article “Evaluating the Lessons of the Afghan War” evoked anger among some born Pakistani-haters, they could be of Indian origin or they could be disgruntled Pakistanis with a grouse either against the Army or me, personally. An American friend–someone who I have always admired and cherished for nearly five decades–sent me the person’s frustrated rant and asked, “What say you?”
If a person making such nasty and snide comments thinks that I was deliberately dishonest in my article, he probably should not have read it. I have been subjected to a good amount of critique (which is welcome when it has substance) for over 40 years, but calling me a liar is going beyond the pale. This person claimed I avoided mentioning Pakistan’s past disastrous Afghan policy. Pakistan has, certainly, played a sorry part in the Afghan situation and has also suffered because of it. Having learnt their lessons, the current government and the Pakistani military are trying their best to not repeat former mistakes. I have often mentioned these mistakes in previous articles. Among them was the idea of “Strategic depth.” Over the years, I have repeatedly written that Afghanistan gives us a “strategic headache.” This has been set aside as a bankrupt policy for nearly two decades was very much in keeping with the moron who said, “the defence of the east lies in the west.”
People make mistakes and the important thing is to recognise them and learn lessons. While for historical and security reasons, the army keeps, and will keep playing, an important role for the foreseeable future in Pakistan, we will not likely ever see a military government again. As for me supporting “Bonapartism”, among my articles, please do read, “Why do Martial Laws Fail?” (June 29, 1995); “The End of Martial Laws?” (August 6, 2009), “Why Martial Laws Go Horribly Wrong?” (September 2, 2010). The world is changing and so are we. Only people with a static instead of a dynamic view of things refuse to realise that.
Putting all the blame for the Afghan situation solely on Pakistan is certainly wrong. While we have made our share of mistakes, we did lose over 6000 soldiers killed and 25000 wounded. This not counting 100000 civilians killed and 300000 injured. The US and NATO have to shoulder their much bigger share in the miserable failure of their nation-building efforts and their loss in the War in Afghanistan. Despite trillions of US dollars spent, Biden’s decision to cut American losses and withdraw troops from a warzone that cost the American people and economy dearly was correct, once Trump had given a definite date for the exit. It is the consequence of war that was already tacitly lost in 2018 when the US entered into a Doha Dialogue and subsequently a Doha Accord. Leaked in 2010, Afghan War documents disclosed 11 years ago the grim reality of the war for the population and the US and NATO’s failure. The Guardian called the material ” a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents…” Last month, a new batch of documents was declassified by the National Security Archive claimed the same.
This person stated that Pakistan has been all too willing to yield to American pressure about its Afghan policy. That has been right in the past (even though the US has let us down umpteen times over the decades). China has been what in newspaper language has been called an “all-weather friend” and the CPEC surely reinvigorates this bond. But it is not a one-way street. With the foundation of SCO, a chance has been created to put international relations on a different footing, one of egalite and friendship as has been referred to in the recent Dushanbe Declaration of the SCO that refers to the “Shanghai Spirit,” which embodies mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultation, respect for the diversity of cultures and the pursuit of common development. If you carefully watch Pakistani foreign policy in the last few years, Pakistan has been underlining the readiness to have good relations based on mutual benefit with all countries, including the US, the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics again points towards lessons learnt.
Another of this person’s allegations was my supposed India-phobia. India has been causing harm to Pakistan many a time, starting in 1947, then in 1971 (I as an undeclared POW can testify to that personally.). What were the Indians doing having a POW Camp in April 1971 housing many Pakistani POWs when the actual war had started in Dec 1971? They have been using Afghanistan as a platform to fight a proxy war against Pakistan while stirring anti-state movements in Balochistan. Since the early 80s using Soviet money, power and lives and then in the 21st century using American money, power and lives. All this time, Afghanistan was being destroyed. One could also mention the blatantly anti-Muslim policies of the current Indian government. What about the torture and excess in Kashmir? Considering India an enemy of Pakistan or at least no friend of ours has certainly its merits. Nevertheless, I have many Indian friends and have worked with them in multiple international organisations of which I happen to be a member.
This person accuses Pakistan of “boxing well above its weight” internationally. Well, notice that while Pakistan has been kind of a pariah in the eyes of many (including obviously in this person’s) the change in Pakistani policies has led to a change in our international standing, not only about Afghanistan but beyond. Of course, many like this person have clung to old notions. I don’t want to say that all is hunky-dory now in Pakistan but in my view, the “weight” of Pakistan in international affairs has now grown. This is not only due to changed policies but also due to our geographical location, which puts us right in the middle of where things happen these days. This person can’t see this. I am sorry for this person’s frustrations. It is on stark display. The pivot of history is shifting towards Asia, towards Eurasia to be concise and Pakistan is playing an important part in this shift. With TTP sweeping back into our tribal areas and a more than unfriendly India on our eastern border, we need our Armed Forces to be ready and fit.
As to this person’s remark about the “Wahabization” of moderate Barelvi Pakistan, it is a kind of orientalist belief that Barelvi interpretation of Islam that forms the majority of Muslims in Pakistan are “moderate.” Indeed, scriptural Deobandi Islam prevalent in urban surroundings and promoted over decades by Ziaul Haq and madrassahs like the Haqqania and others have led to a strict and oppressive understanding of Islam so that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are mainly Deobandis today. But you should not forget that there is an important difference between Deobandi Islam and Wahabism, namely that Deobandis have a strong element of Sufism in them and Wahabis don’t. That makes the difference between the Taliban and the IS. The Taliban are not takfiris!
For reasons that cannot be explained here, there has been a radicalisation of societies worldwide, including religious communities (Christian, Islamic even Buddhist). For political reasons that radicalisation has been promoted and financed by Western interests which led to the creation of OBL and takfiris. In the course of this development radicalisation and militancy have reached even former peaceful Barelvi groups. Governor Salman Taseer was killed by Mumtaz Qadri: a follower of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam. Another example is Tehrik-e Labbaik Pakistan, another Barelvi movement with radical and militant leanings.
There is no doubt in my mind that the radicalisation of Islam is a dangerous phenomenon that Pakistan and other Muslim countries have to deal with. The radicalisation of Hinduism though in India is no less dangerous. Let us not use polemics when dealing with these dangerous developments that do not spare a single place in the world including the US, India and even Europe.

The writer is a defence and security analyst, Chairman (Karachi Council of Foreign Affairs) and Vice-Chairman (Board of Management, Institute of Nation Building, Quaid-e-Azam House Museum).