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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 38, September 7, 2013

Who Sows the Wind? And who Reaps the Whirlwind?

Sunday 8 September 2013, by Apratim Mukarji


How does one explain the widespread trepidation that prevails in many countries over the fast-approaching date (end-2014) for the withdrawal of the NATO troops and Inter-national Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan? Principally, it is Afghanistan and regional countries, such as, Iran, India, Pakistan, the Central Asian Republics, China and Russia which are visibly perturbed over the probable consequences of the intended withdrawal of the foreign forces from direct ground-level military operations.

One of the major questions being asked against this backdrop are: Since it would not be a simple case of withdrawal of foreign forces leaving the country to the care of the Afghan National Army and Police with a resurgent Afghan Taliban being regularly aggressive, should not there be some sort of an international guarantee to maintain substantive support to the Afghan forces in maintaining law and order and peace in the country?

A major factor in the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban has been the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border and the permanent bases available to the terrorist group and foreign fighters on Pakistani soil to train, equip and regroup themselves for fresh attacks back in the country engaged in reconstruction. All efforts by Afghanistan, the regional powers and the United States to persuade Pakistan to curtail, not to speak of refusing, this hospitality to the terrorists have understandably failed to yield the desired results. Pakistan has been quite sincere in fighting the Pakistani Taliban and equally insincere in even appearing to be restraining Afghan and foreign terrorists from attacking Afghanistan and pro-Kabul interests such as those of India and the United States. In this scenario, it is only normal to expect a further escalation of anti-government activities in the post-2014 Afghanistan after the foreign forces’ withdrawal. Perhaps the most difficult question to answer is: how does one go about ensuring once and for all that the Afghan Taliban and foreign fighters are rendered incapable of exploiting the hospitable Pakistani soil for their purposes?

Thirdly, is there any way to safeguard the massive investments various countries have already made in order to reconstruct and develop Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario? How would the international community ensure that parliamentary democracy and the presidential form of government established in the country would not only survive but also continue to strengthen overall democracy?

There are many other questions, and there is little likelihood that any of these stands a good chance of being satisfactorily answered. To appreciate this rather bleak situation, one may learn profitably from recent history.

To turn a phrase on its head, one can begin by posing this question: who sows the wind (in Afghanistan)? And who reaps the whirlwind (in Afghanistan)? For surprisingly, the two entities involved in the questions are different.

History shows that the United States sowed the wind in the 1980s because of its totally unscrupulous determination to drive the Soviet occupation force, which was surely universally hated in Afghanistan, out of the country. But to the complete surprise and annoyance of the world, the United States chose to forget about the country after the Soviet Army had left its borders. The consequences of this deliberately selfish and immoral act of abandoning the country to its fate are not only continuing to this day but are also leading to a far more complex and uncertain future. Thus, while the United States sowed the wind in the 1980s, Afghanistan and the world are now being forced to reap the whirlwind.

All authoritative analysts of Afghanistan (Barnett Rubin, Olivier Roy, John K. Cooley, Ahmed Rashid, among others) agree on the following conclusions: that the Afghan jihad (against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan) was in reality an American jihad but its American parentage was fully established (as Mahmood Mamdani puts it in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim:America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror, 2004) when the Reagan Administration began. In March 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Security Decision Directive 166 authorising stepped-up covert military aid to the mujahideen, and it made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action and encourage a Soviet withdrawal.

This was followed by further three measures. One was to convince the Congress to step up American involvement by providing the mujahideen with American advisers and American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Another was to expand the Islamic guerrilla war from Afghanistan into the Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (but this was reversed when the USSR threatened to attack Pakistan in retaliation). The third step was to accelerate recruiting radical Islamists from around the world to come for training in Pakistan and fight alongside the Afghan mujahideen. Thus, the United States bears the direct responsibility for sowing the seeds for the future worldwide Islamist terrorist wars that the world has been witnessing for years.

To quote Mamdani again, “The second and third (measures) intensified the ideological character of the war as a religious war against infidels everywhere. Even more than Nicaragua, Afghanistan was to be an ideological battlefield.” The Afghan jihad was transformed into an international jihad. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was the main US vehicle to implement Washington D.C.’s Afghanistan policy, was also responsible for choosing Osama bin Laden to lead the jihad. The CIA had originally planned to recruit a Saudi Arabian prince for the role but, having failed to do so, decided to choose the leader from an illustrious family closely connected to the Saudi royal family. Mamdani notes that Bin Laden was recruited with US approval “at the highest level” by the then head of the Saudi intelligence.

Some analysts believe that a far more potentially damaging legacy that the CIA left behind, apart from providing arms and funds to the mujahideen, was to privatise technical and scientific information about “producing and spreading violence”, the very essence of international terrorism in the world today. This explains why the original Afghan mujahideen led the way to the formation of international mujahideen and eventually morphed into dangerously euipped and trained terrorist groups spread across the world.

“The team of Los Angeles Times reporters who carried out an investigation into the aftermath of the Afghan War over four continents found that the key leaders of every major terrorist attack, from New York to France to Saudi Arabia, inevitably turned out to have been veterans of the Afghan War,” Mamdani notes.

The Americans also established the route of financing the jihad through the drug trade, a connection which continues to be a boon to international terrorists today. It is important to note that there was no local production of heroin in Afghanistan before the anti-Soviet jihad was launched. Opium was traditionally cultivated in the country and the produce was sold in rural and regional markets. However, the deleterious effect of the US-sponsored jihad proved to be so virulently malignant that by the time it was over, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had grown into the world’s leading producers of both opium and heroin, Today, there is simply no feasible way to curtail, not to speak of eradicating, the flourishing opium and heroin production, the British having failed miserably in trying to do so in Helmand province, and country after country westward beyond the Central Asian Republics continue to pay the price for this deliberate American folly.

The myriad culpability of the CIA, while organising and running the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad (by necessarily funding the expenditures, apart of course from providing military training and equipments, etc.) included the avenue of banking through which drug money and various other funds would be canalised. For well-known reasons, the name of Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the enormously successful Pakistani bank, comes to the fore in this respect. Set up in 1972, the bank collapsed in 1991 almost coinciding with the end of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and thus marking its close relationship with the Afghan jihad, the civil war and the emergence and eventual rule of the rabid Islamist force. Investigations revealed that nearly $ 9.5 billion of depositors’ money could not be accounted for. The Congressional sub-committee investigating the bank’s affairs found the CIA and the venerable Bank of England obfuscating in order to obstruct its work. It concluded that “the CIA knew more about the BCCI’s goals and intentions concerning the US banking system than anyone else in government” and yet “it failed to provide the critical information it had gathered to the correct users of the information—the Federal Reserve and the Justice Department”. Worse still, the CIA continued to use both the BCCI and First American, the BCCI’s secretly held US subsidiary, even “after the CIA knew that the BCCI as an institution was a fundamentally corrupt criminal enterprise”. (Mamdani) The BCCI scandal led to a full exposure of the history of funding the Afghan jihad and its aftermath in its international context.

All the destabilising players in the Pakistani state today, including the primacy of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, can be traced to the incredibly negative penetration the CIA was able to accomplish in the country while organising the Afghan jihad. As far as the rise of the ISI was concerned, the initiatives of President Zia-ul-Haq were successfully manipulated culminating in the extensive Islamisation of the Pakistani state and society. In another manifestation, the Afghan jihad was eventually linked to the jihad in Indian Kashmir. The American role, which began with efforts to force the Soviets leave Afghanistan, thus morphed into the Frankenstein spreading Islamist terrorism throughout the world, singing in the process the two most immediate countries, Pakistan and India. It was only the might of the Soviet Republic and China which could stem the tide in Central Asia though the remnants of the jihad continue to irritate both Russia and China.

Truly, while the USA sowed the wind in the 1970s, the world continues to reap the whirlwind in the 2010s onward.

The author is an analyst of South and Central Asian affairs.

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