Existential crisis | Najam Sethi


There we were again, in the PM’s address to the General Assembly, doling out wisdom to Afghanistan: that the way to peace lay in talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban. Afghans of almost every persuasion are sick and tired of us. They hate the very name Pakistan and, rightly or wrongly, attribute all their problems to us. But we can’t resist the temptation of speaking down to them, and earning more Afghan hatred in the process.

What business is it of ours to dole out gratuitous advice to them? We should leave Afghanistan alone. How the Afghans settle their problems is their business. If they want to talk to each other, fine. If they want to go some other route, it is up to them. We have received no thanks for whatever we have done for Afghanistan. We will get no thanks in future. What will it take for us to come to this realisation?

So when the PM waded into the problems of Afghanistan was he doing so on his own, giving vent to his own considered opinion, or was he reading out from a script written by others? And when we say ‘others’ we all know what that means. Thirty five odd years of Afghan involvement should have taught us something. But influenced by Allah knows what malign star we refuse to learn the appropriate lessons…and keep getting egg on our faces.

Please, please, leave the Afghans to sort out their own mess; leave them to their own devices. And get rid of those twin incubuses – the Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis. Tell them that even if we are devastated by their departure, it’s time for them to head for home. Tell them that we love them. But remind them of this timeless piece of cynicism: ‘Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away.’ The Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis are two loved ones we can now do without.

Let their Excellencies Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah fight their own battles. Let them do what they deem fit. Let us wash our hands of this business. But to do so the guardians of the national flame, the protectors of ideology and similar nebulous and dimly understood concepts, will have to unlearn some of their education. GHQ, ISI, MI, National Defence University and Army Staff College must go through a collective baptism of disavowal, pledging their faith on whatever they consider sacred, that Pakistani strategy ends where the Afghan border – even if unrecognised – begins.

Having done this, we can then, with unencumbered and clear conscience, tell our American friends to settle Afghanistan’s problems themselves. And having taken care of the twin incubuses, if any American military commander or diplomat starts with the name Haqqani we should show him the door.

The reference to Afghanistan in the PM’s speech was unnecessary and wrong. We should have wished the people of Afghanistan well and left it at that.

This was the western front. As regards the eastern front, if the guardians of the flame can bring themselves to do only two things half our Indian problems would disappear. The first is for a high-powered delegation to wait upon His Holiness Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and persuade him to become the head of all relief organisations in Pakistan.

The Jamaat-ud-Dawaah has built up an enviable record in relief work. Floods or earthquakes happen and its activists/volunteers are the first to reach the scenes of these tragedies. And along with such organisations as Al-Khidmat – about which the only thing wrong is that it is affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami – it organises relief efforts far better than any state organisation.

Times have changed and the era of jihad is over, and much as some of us may desire it, the liberation of Kashmir from Indian bondage will not happen because of anything done by organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawaah.

Hafiz Saeed’s love for Pakistan is beyond question. There is no greater favour that he can now do Pakistan than to take on the mantle of czar of all relief work. But the pre-requisite is that the guardians of the flame have the imagination to make him such an offer.

This leaves us with Pakistan’s Che Guevara and Vo Nguyen Giap rolled into one, Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Muhammad. His courage and commitment to the cause he has made his life’s mission is again beyond question. When he spent time in Tihar Jail it’s a fair bet that he must have endured rough treatment at the hands of Indian authorities. The Kandahar hijacking was the means which sprung him from Indian confinement. He has thus gone through the mill and has inscribed his name in the annals of jihad.

But just as times have changed for others, the times have changed for him. The era of such jihad of which he has been a prime exponent and practitioner is over…no longer tenable or feasible. Let us not go into the genesis of this phenomenon. Suffice it to say that the ideology of jihad was honed and brought to perfection not so much by our guardians of the flame – ISI and the Hamid Guls – as by our American friends. Osama bin Laden was just a storm-trooper of jihad…not its inventor or originator. That distinction, that singular honour, belongs to our American friends – those of the CIA in particular – who cheered jihad and its foot soldiers, the mujahideen, the loudest.

The CIA provided the funding and the Stinger missiles. We were just the bag-carriers and facilitators. Our fault lay in the circumstance that we got carried away by the enthusiasm of those anti-Soviet times and started believing in the whole baloney of jihad, going to the extent of claiming credit for the entire circus.

One result of this misplaced passion was that when the CIA and our American friends in general, after having successfully bled the Soviets, walked away from the Afghan mess, we couldn’t make the same pragmatic transition and remained stuck, mentally and physically, in jihad and the claptrap associated with it. Maulana Masood Azhar’s great emotional commitment is with the Indian front, not the Afghan front. But the spirit he brings to the task is a holdover from the Afghan front.

Now it is time to tell him that the old obsessions are no longer workable. Warfare and the sounds of battle are still in the air. The old animosities are still alive. But the old methods are no longer viable. His experience, however, should not be wasted. It should be taken up as a serious proposition to induct him and his partisans into the special forces. Come to think of it, even Syed Salahuddin and the Hizbul Mujahideen should be offered the same option.

If only they could do something about their beard problem. Their beards are much too long.

Tito’s partisans became part of the Yugoslav army. Castro’s guerrillas became the new Cuban army. The People’s Liberation Army was formed not after the success of the Chinese revolution but during the Long March. Our jihadis of the eastern front are battle-tested veterans. The Pakistan Army needs to open no front against them. It has enough on its plate already. It can make use of their experience…and wean them away from the ideologies in which they were nurtured – ideologies now past their sell-by dates.

Pakistan’s ship is overloaded. It needs to lighten its load and jettison the baggage of the past. This should better enable it to face its newest challenges.