No Afghan Policy Worth the Name

Ziaul Haq
For Pakistan, as for Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan resulted in the immediate escalation of the Afghan refugee influx, putting a strain on the social and economic fabric of the two front line provinces, the NWFP and Baluchistan. An Afghan Cell had been created in the Foreign Office in 1973 but had become dormant. It was revived in 1978. As Secretary Interior, I was a member of the Cell. At the beginning, discussions were quite open and frank. Very soon we realized that Cell meetings were called to discuss peripheral matters only. More sensitive issues were discussed in restricted meetings. The security implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for Pakistan were discussed threadbare in the Afghan Cell meetings.

What were the Soviet objectives? The majority view was the ultimate objective was to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and that aggression against Pakistan was inevitable and only a question of time. General Zia’s view was that, after crushing Afghan resistance, the Soviets would turn their attention toward Pakistan. It was his assessment that it would take the Soviets about two years to control the situation in Afghanistan, before continuing their march to the Arabian Sea. He told us that the pot must therefore be kept boiling for at least two years so that he could set things in order and prepare himself for the inevitable blow. The Soviet Ambassador, in one of his informal discussions with me, dismissed the theory, saying that the Soviet Union had plenty of warm waters of its own and was not interested in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
Little did Zia know that on 13 November 1986, the Soviet leadership had decided, for internal reasons, that the war must be ended within one to two years and the troops brought back home. ‘You had better be ready,’ Gorbachev told Najibullah, ‘in twelve months because we will be going whether you are ready or not.’ When the decision became known in the fall of 1987, Zia was caught unprepared with no contingency plan for the fast-changing situation. Zia and all his advisers proceeded on the assumption that since the Soviets had not given up territorial acquisition under military challenge since the Second World War; the question of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan except on terms favourable to the Soviets simply did not arise. ‘What the bear has eaten,’ so says a Chinese saying, ‘he never spits out.’ All our plans were based on this wrong assumption.
Zia made another wrong assumption while assessing the post withdrawal situation in Afghanistan. He thought, as did everybody else, that Najib would not survive after the Soviet withdrawal. They all thought that he would flee Afghanistan, on the first available Soviet helicopter. They were in for a rude shock. Subsequent events showed how we had completely misjudged Najib and overestimated the power of the mujahideen (or Muj, as the Americans called them). However, the fatal error Zia and (in fairness to him) all his advisers committed was to view the Afghan conflict not as a nationalistic movement, as it largely appears in hindsight, but as evidence of a major communist drive for access to warm waters and for hegemony in South Asia. We badly misread Soviet objectives. We did not realize that Soviet leadership was sharply divided and that the decision to intervene did not have the support of the entire leadership. What is worse, we branded all the Afghan leaders as Soviet stooges. We saw them first as communist and only second as Afghan nationalists. We did not realize that Afghans are Afghans first and Afghans last. We misjudged Daoud, Hafeezullah Amin, Taraki and Dr.Najib. We did not know – or did not want to know – that they were desperately struggling to secure their release from the Bear’s embrace. We did know that Daoud had clashed with Brezhnev on 12 April 1977 during his Moscow visit which led to the tragic events which followed. Recalling this encounter, Abdul Samad Ghaus, then Deputy Foreign Minister and Daoud’s long-time confidant, writes that the Soviet leader objected to what he called a ‘considerable increase’ in the number of experts from NATO countries working in Afghanistan. In the past, Brezhnev said, the Afghan Government did not allow experts from NATO experts to be stationed in the northern part of the country, but this practice was no longer followed. The Soviet Union took a grim view of these developments and wanted the Afghan government to get rid of these experts who were nothing more than spies.
‘A chill fell in the room. Some of the Russians seemed visibly embarrassed. In a cold, unemotional voice Daoud told Brezhnev that what was just said could never be accepted by Afghans who viewed his statement as a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan—Dauod said, and I remembered clearly his words: we will never allow you to dictate to us how to run our country and whom to employ in Afghanistan. How and where we employ the foreign experts will remain the exclusive prerogative of the Afghan state. Afghanistan shall remain poor, if necessary, but free in its acts and decisions.’ After saying this, Ghaus concludes, Daoud and all other Afghans present abruptly stood up and were starting to walk out when Brezhnev, ‘rising from his chair with some difficulty,’ hurried after him. Reminding Daoud of his request for a private conversation, the Soviet leader offered to meet, ‘whenever convenient to you,’ whereupon Daoud replied, in a clear loud voice for all to hear, ‘I wish to inform Your Excellency that there is no longer any need for that meeting.’ This episode sealed Daoud’s fate, but we did not know it and we did nothing to help him. Hafeezullah Amin met the same fate for standing up to the Soviets but we refused to do business with him.
From the very inception of Pakistan, we played into hands by treating Afghans as our enemies and their leaders as Indian or Soviet stooges. We failed to analyze our assumptions critically with the result that the foundations of our decision-making were seriously flawed. Is it, therefore, surprising that Afghanistan today is in a mess and Pakistan has no Afghan policy worth the name?

Courtesy: Pakistan—A Dream Gone Sour by Roedad Khan, Oxford University Press Karachi 1998.

Political Succession and the Islamic Challenge

One of the principal causes of the instability of Muslim rule, past and present, all over the world, including Pakistan, is the absence of a law of political succession in Islam, which has inevitably led to uncertainty, civil wars, wars of succession, etc. After the demise of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who did not nominate his successor, it was considered necessary to have the institution of the caliphate for the preservation of the religion and the administration of temporal affairs. An Imam was required to be appointed by the consensus of the community, but no machinery was evolved at that stage by which the votes of millions of Muslims could be taken as often as the rulers changed or had to be changed.

Abu Bakr Siddiq was elected by a majority but some believed that the Prophet (pbuh) would have wanted Ali Ibn Abu Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, to be his successor. Ali himself accepted Abu Bakr’s leadership, but during the next few years he seems to have been the focus of the loyalty of dissidents who disapproved of the policies of the first three caliphs. Ali became the fourth caliph in AD 656, but the Shias would eventually call him the first Imam or Leader of the Ummah. The Shian-i-Ali (those of the party of Ali), led by the Prophet’s grandson, refused to accept the Ummayyads who had seized the caliphate after the death of his father Ali Ibn Abu Talib.

‘With the advent of the Omayyads to power, the elective aspect of the Caliphate disappeared altogether and the Caliphs began to nominate their successors on dynastic considerations.’ The people were required to take oath of allegiance to the successor-designate during the lifetime of the reigning Caliph. The oath of allegiance had to be renewed at the time of succession of the new caliph. More importance was attached to the oath of allegiance by a handful of important personalities like the army generals and the qazis. The choice used to be made long before such an assembly was held. Since Islam does not recognize monarchy, or the hereditary right of succession, in practice no Muslim was disqualified unless he suffered from physical infirmities. His title to rule was as good as that of anybody else and was in direct proportion to the length of his sword and the sharpness of its blade.

With the introduction of the Turkish elements in the army, the generals assumed the role of the caliph-makers. That the Turkish generals had become the virtual masters of the caliphs can well be illustrated by a story related by Ibn at-Tiqtaqa, the author of Kitab Al-Fakhri, who says: ‘when Mu’tazz was appointed as Caliph, his courtiers held a meeting and summoning the astrologers asked them how long he (the Caliph) would live and how long he would retain his Caliphate. A wit present in the gathering said, ‘I know this better than the astrologers.’ Being asked to specify the time, he replied ‘So long as the Turks please,’ and everyone present laughed. Soon thereafter, the Turkish Army dragged the Caliph Mu’tazz (AD 853/855—866/869) by the feet and , stripping off his shirt, exposed him to the burning sun. Oppressed by the severe heat, he lifted his feet alternately and the Turks slapped him with their hands. Finally, they put him to death (cf. Tabari p.1710). This tradition survives till today and manifests itself in different forms in different Muslim countries.

Pakistan faces the same problem of orderly succession today. Since independence, it has experimented with Constitution, government, and the structure of the state. The military has seized power three times since 1947, ruling directly and indirectly for more than half the life of the country. Pakistan does have a law of political succession enshrined in the Constitution, but it is honoured more in the breach than in observance. It is abrogated or held in abeyance whenever it suits le pouvoir. Elected governments are sacked and restored to power at will. We have an elected government today but nobody knows when the axe will fall on it and, when it does fall, no tears will be shed because it is thoroughly corrupt, and the people are sick and tired of fake democracy; commitment to the democratic process in any case is quite weak, if not nonexistent. Pakistan has swung between democracy and dictatorship several times in the past and it does not look as if the pendulum will ever stop swinging from one extreme to the other. Meanwhile, the country remains gripped by fear, uncertainty, and confusion. Development is slowed down and the people suffer. The future of democracy—in fact, the future of Pakistan itself—will depend on the future role of the army in the political history of the country and how the problem of political succession is resolved.

In the 1991 book Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, Donald Kagan, a professor of classics at Yale, propounds a principle that is valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. Democratic governance, he writes, relies on three conditions: ‘the first is to have a set of good institutions; the second is to have a body of citizens who possess a good understanding of the principles of democracy, or who have developed a character consistent with the democratic way of life; and the third is to have a high quality of leadership, at least at critical moments.’ Are any of these three conditions present in today’s Pakistan?

Today, Pakistan is a democratic country but in the strictly formal sense of the term only. Theoretically, it meets all the criteria for liberal democracy of periodic multi-party elections and guarantees basic rights; but very few Pakistanis will disagree that people have lost faith in the impartiality of the electoral machinery, the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law, in fact the entire democratic process. In a situation like this and in a largely illiterate society and the sword of martial law hanging over its head, it is hard to imagine liberal democracy, or, for that matter, any democracy working properly or surviving for long.

To those who bluff themselves, referring to this country as a “democracy,” my questions are:
• Can a democracy afford not to have a census for sixteen years thus rendering every (repeat every) statistic—fiscal, commercial or constituency-wise or otherwise—incorrect?
• In what sort of democracy do known robbers, pillagers, looters of public wealth, breachers of trust, misappropriators of widows’ and orphans’ Baitul Maal, Zakat and Iqra funds, contest elections to its parliament?
• In what sort of a democracy does a chief of army staff publicly accept crores of rupees from a corrupt banker (later jailed) and preside over its dubious expedient disbursement to politicians?
• In what sort of democracy would a chief of naval staff give away the entire seafront of a naval base to the crony of a political bigwig, ostensibly to develop a tourist resort?
• In what sort of a democracy would the president, prime and other minister and senior bureaucrats fly a thousand miles (some on special flights) at the people’s expense to attend the wedding of an offspring of the country’s naval chief?’

Ardeshir Cowasjee in the daily Dawn, 3 Jan 1997.

To borrow the final questioning death-cry of Ken-Saro-Wiwa, ‘what sort of nation is this? What sort of a nation that permits this? What sort of a nation is this, within which I take my definition?’ Is it any wonder that democracy, in its twisted, uniquely Pakistani incarnation, has inspired no passion in the Pakistan body politic? Today, the number of choices that are available in Pakistan in determining how it will organize itself politically or economically are fast diminishing.

As in the rest of the Islamic world, with nearly one-fifth of the world’s population, in Pakistan also, Islam with its own code of egalitarianism, morality, concepts of political, economic and social justice is emerging as a challenge to liberal democracy, narrow nationalism, and other forms of government. Both liberal democracy and military dictatorship have been tried in different Muslim countries and found wanting.

Islam – not the scholastic, institutionalized, fossilized Islam co-opted by corrupt rulers – but the true, dynamic, pristine, revolutionary Islam of its early years with its emphasis on egalitarianism, social justice, and accountability, is perceived by the elite as the greatest threat to the established order. There is a yearning among the people, especially the poor, for a true Islamic society, a haven in the words of Shariati, for the disinherited who are plundered, tortured, oppressed, and discriminated against. Therein lies the portent of danger.

Between 1958 and 1997, a period of volatile and oscillating political fortunes, Pakistan has changed its Constitution and its rulers several times with disastrous consequences for its poor and downtrodden people. Within a few decades, we have witnessed the glorious period of Mr. Jinnah, the subsequent sickening political rivalries and palace intrigues, the horrors of successive martial law governments, the tragedy of East Pakistan, the false hopes generated by Bhutto’s failed promises, the loot and plunder and extravagant court of Benazir and her spouse. And to borrow Balzac’s description of France in the nineteenth century, which aptly describes the plight of millions of people in Pakistan today, ‘ we have liberty to die of hunger, equality in misery, the fraternity of the street-corners.’ I have no prescription to offer but, if we are to preserve the honour of our country, is it not time to devise and institute a form, a just, egalitarian, and durable system of rule so that the person, property, honour of its citizens—in short all the fortunes of Pakistan—are not periodically imperiled?

In April 1943 the Quaid had given expression to his views on social justice and economic equality in the Pakistan of his dream. ‘Here I should like to give a warning to the landlords and capitalists. The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lesson of Islam. Do you visualize that millions have been exploited and cannot get one meal a day? If this is the idea of Pakistan, I would not have it.’ The hands of the nation’s clock stopped the day the heart of the Quaid stopped beating. If the nation is to live, its resuscitation must commence where its heart first stopped beating.

Pakistan—A Dream Gone Sour by Roedad Khan, Oxford University Press Karachi 1998.