Khawaja Asif’s poor recall of history


Shahid M Amin

WHILE giving a policy statement in the National Assembly on March 9, 2018, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that Pakistan would not serve as a proxy for USA in any war. He said that in the past, Pakistani rulers had compromised the country’s sovereignty only to protect their own rule and interests, and fought a “fake jihad” for the defence of USA. “That was one of the biggest mistakes that we have committed. Pakistan fought a made-in-America jihad against Russia in Afghanistan. We committed the same mistake after 9/11.” Showing a deep anti-American bias, Khawaja Asif said “everyone knew who had taken the militant Islamic State from Iraq to Afghanistan.” He claimed that Iraq, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries had been destabilized under a conspiracy against the Ummah.
In making the above statement, it seems that our present Foreign Minister has shown a disregard for historical facts, mainly, to score a political point. He is against military rulers of Pakistan —Generals Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf—and he accuses them of compromising the country’s national interests to protect their own rule, whereas he suggests that things are very different under democracy, upheld by his PML(N) party under Nawaz Sharif. Evidently, he thinks that public memory is always short and he can rewrite history to suit his own predilections. The facts are that Nawaz Sharif was a creation of Ziaul Haq (who ruled from 1977 to 1988) and came out of nowhere in 1981 to be appointed by the military government as Finance Minister of Punjab and later as its Chief Minister in 1985. In fact, he became the blue-eyed boy of Ziaul Haq. When Ziaul Haq died in an air crash in 1988, Nawaz Sharif was one of the principal mourners at his funeral and was profuse in praising the “Mard-i-Momin” and his historical role in the Afghan Jehad. Like his mentor, Nawaz Sharif was an enthusiastic supporter of the Afghan jihad and had close links with Afghan Mujahidin leaders. He was a principal intermediary in negotiations held with them in the post-Soviet withdrawal period. Khawaja Asif wants us to believe that his party boss was against Ziaul Haq and against the Afghan jihad, but historical facts cannot be denied.
Let us next examine Asif’s claim that the anti-Soviet fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s was a made-in-America jihad. The facts are that in April 1978, the miniscule Afghan communist party seized power in Kabul in a military coup staged with Soviet support. The seizure of power by Communists in the deeply religious Afghan society was immediately opposed by the people who began a resistance against the regime. Afghan refugees started to arrive in Pakistan, where not only Ziaul Haq but nearly all parties (excepting ANP of Wali Khan) opposed the Communist takeover, which was viewed as the handiwork of the Soviets. Ziaul Haq started to extend support to Afghan Mujahidin, not only out of Islamic sympathy but also to protect Pakistan’s national interests. USA and UK tended to see the new rulers in Afghanistan as radical reformers. The US was involved in negotiations with the Taraki government in Kabul. As Acting Ambassador of Pakistan in London, I found the British Government of Labor Party unresponsive to our perception that the takeover in Afghanistan was Soviet-inspired and was part of Soviet Communist expansionism.
In this period, US sanctions had been imposed on Pakistan by President Carter, on the ground that there was a military takeover and that Pakistan was secretly working on making a nuclear bomb. It was only after the Soviet Union sent its forces in Afghanistan in December 1979 that the US changed its stance towards Pakistan. Carter offered economic assistance to Pakistan which Ziaul Haq dismissed as “mere peanuts.” The historical fact was that Pakistan had been helping the Afghan Mujahidin at least two years before the US came out in their support. In his policy statement, Khwaja Asif has also ignored that Afghan jihad against Soviet military occupation was supported by nearly all countries in the world, outside the Soviet bloc. To dub it as “made-in-America jihad’ is to insult the sacrifices of the Afghan people and to disregard world opinion. Similarly, after 9/11, the ground reality was that the US was determined to invade Afghanistan to punish Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime. The US action was supported by nearly all countries, including Russia and China, as well as by Pakistan’s close friends like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Opposing the US under such circumstances would have totally isolated Pakistan and it risked being dubbed as a terrorist state. The US had even threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the stone age”. Opposing the US would have worked to India’s advantage, imperiling our national security. We were faced with a Hobson’s choice. Probably any regime in Pakistan would have done what Pervez Musharraf actually did, viz to support the US/NATO military operation in Afghanistan. Where Musharraf went wrong was that he should have negotiated much better terms for our support of the US/NATO military operations.
Similarly, it is nonsense to claim that the US has brought the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) to Afghanistan. The US is bitterly opposed to IS, which is hated by nearly everyone else. The emergence of fanatical Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda and IS has its own religious and political background. Similarly, developments in Iraq and Libya each had their own background and cannot be painted by the same brush. Khwaja Asif needs to be better briefed by our Foreign Office before he makes some more such misstatements.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.