Imran Khan, during his September visit to America, said: “Pakistan, by joining the US after 9/11, committed one of the biggest blunders. 70,000 Pakistanis died in this. Some economists say we lost $150 billion, some say $200 billion. On top of it, we were blamed by the US for not winning in Afghanistan.” He was replying to former US Secretary of Defence James Mattis’s statement that Pakistan was the most dangerous country in the world. Khan said, “They (the insurgent groups) were indoctrinated into fighting foreign occupation [by the Soviet Union] as jihad. But now when the US arrived in Afghanistan, it was supposed to be terrorism”.
After the Soviet invasion, America thought it could end the rule of the Communist Party in the USSR by cornering the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Muslim “warriors” arrived from all over the Islamic world, funded by the US and Saudi Arabia jointly. And Pakistan was dishing out hospitality and raking in “assistance” for its wobbly economy then.
Prime Minister Khan said he was opposed to Pakistan joining the international war in Afghanistan “from day one”. Yet for General Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan, the Soviets were from “the other side” — against America and its allies, including Pakistan. For him, the Soviet invasion meant entry of India nextdoor as part of its “encirclement” strategy. Pakistan had tasted its last defeat at the hands of India in 1971.
Pakistan was bothered by the Moscow-supported Kabul government that leaned on India to complete the “strategic nutcracker” that would make Pakistan forget Kashmir. The Durand Line was challenged and propaganda unleashed to indoctrinate “unhappy” Pakistani elements in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas. The warriors arriving in Pakistan carried an Islamic consensus of jihad against the “godless” Soviet Union. There was no way an “Islamic” Pakistan could avoid joining the American war against the Soviet Union.
On September 11 2001, the “Islamic warriors”, headed by Osama bin Laden, thought they could also liberate the world from American hegemony that raised Israel above the entire Islamic world through wars the Arabs kept losing. The plot to attack New York was conceived in Karachi by al Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Muhammad; and the 19 warriors chosen were made to meet bin Laden for which they had to travel through Pakistan. But al Qaeda was not only foreign warriors in the long run; a majority of them were finally Afghans and Pakhtuns, many trained by the ISI’s Colonel Imam inside Afghanistan. He was killed by Pakistani Taliban in 2010.
Pakistan could not have wanted it but it was the “host” country where the “warriors” serving America had made their headquarters. Pakistan should have stayed out of what happened after 9/11. But could it really?
UN Security Council resolution 1373, that made it possible to attack the Taliban government in Kabul, was adopted on September 28, 2001 by the Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. General Musharraf knew what a Chapter 7 resolution meant; it was not like the Security Council resolution on Kashmir that was merely “advisory” because it was under Chapter 6. Had Imran Khan been in power, he couldn’t have defied it. However, there was another “unavoidable” reason.
For an Islamic, worry-beads-in-hand, Imran Khan, the Islamisation of Pakistan would have been irresistible. Pakistan’s jihad was inspired by the founder of al Qaeda, Abdullah Azzam (d. 1989), who also established the Islamic University of Islamabad and brought the concept of “terrorist” jihad into the heart of the Pakistani state.
Sectarianism also came with jihad. Shia leader Allama Ariful Hussaini was murdered in August 1988. Within a fortnight of Hussaini’s murder, President Zia died in an air crash in Bahawalpur amid rumours of Shia involvement in his assassination. The NWFP governor, General Fazle Haq, whom the Shia accused of complicity in the murder of Allama Hussaini, was ambushed and killed in 1991.
Sectarianism affected relations with Iran. In 1998, Pakistan’s anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba, riding together with Taliban, killed eight Iranian “diplomats” inside the Iranian consulate. That brought Iran and India closer; and once again India was threatening Pakistan on the western border.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 5, 2019 under the title ‘What Pakistan won, and lost’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.