No more proxy wars

Mansoor Akbar Kundi

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan in his speech on the eve of Defence Day (6th September) categorically stated that Pakistan, at no cost, would engage itself in proxy wars. It was a bold and sweeping statement with a hope that our civilian and military leadership will abide by the principle.
Jan Edmund Osmañczyk refers to a proxy war as a situation where a nation-state(s) or non state actor(s) is/are engaged in a war like situation at the instigation of two super or regional powers. The war is not their own but they assume it as theirs for one way or another. Those instigating them can be engaged in cold war, propaganda, and even deployment of troops and skirmishing, but do not intend to go for hot war, no matter it might look inevitable. The Afghan War (1979-88) in which Pakistan engaged itself at the instigation of United States is a glaring example. The war continued for 9 years without the two power blocs being actually confronted, but taking the things in zero-sum term assuming one’s gains as other’s losses. The {erstwhile}Soviet Union in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 got involved in hot war, while America and its western allies needed a nation-state in proxy to pursue their interests through economic and military aid.
The situation for US today is more or less the same in Afghanistan where since 2001 its and NATO forces have failed to achieve their target of restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan at huge losses. In a reliable analysis, expenses for the US since 2001 including the military, transportation, economic, communication and financial support for Afghan government have been varying from $ 35 to 45 billion a year. Being desperate US throws its wrath on Pakistan by “Doing More” or “Not Doing Enough”. They both are the same version of American policy for engaging Pakistan in a proxy situation without actually realizing that they have lost the war they wrongly pursued in 2001. Pakistan has suffered enormous economic, military and human losses since war on terrorism began after 9/11. Pakistan is a country which has helped US probably more than any other country in the world. But in return America has treated it on a core-periphery relationship basis.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was the beginning of the proxy war for Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was a global event which disturbed the equilibrium in international politics between the two rival (communist and western) blocs. The Soviet Union having close relations with Afghanistan had backed the 1978 coup against President Daoud as a result of which People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) stepped into power. The rapid policy of reformation by the PDPA regime and social resistance in return was the ultimate result of the Soviet aggression on the patterns it had shown in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The invasion, a flagrant violation of international law and morality by a super power, led to the emergence of two paradigms of resistance and condemnation for nation-states. The one was of non-aligned and the other of Jihad or armed resistance
The non-aligned paradigm believed in the condemnation of the invasion as an aggression of the sovereignty of a nation-state. It supported the UN resolutions, important world and regional forums’ convictions condemning the Soviet invasion and sought moral and economic support for resistance and refugees. It included the boycott of Soviet Olympics in 1980. Iran as a neighbouring country was very vocal and supportive of the condemnation. It hosted during the 9 years of armed resistance approximately 2.5 million Afghan refugees but did not engage itself militarily. India condemned the invasion but continued close trade and military relations with the Soviet Union. It abstained from voting in UN Security Council condemning the invasion on different occasions.
A large number of Western countries condemned the invasion and supported military and economic sanctions against the Soviet Union. They were active in diplomatic, economic and military support for resistance groups but in proxy. Countries from communist bloc in large adapted silence policy. Cuba, Romania, Bulgaria and East Germany supported the invasion. Cuba and East Germany even sent military personnel in Afghanistan.
The other paradigm was of Jihad or armed resistance against the Soviet Union. America and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and Gulf Sheikhdoms were active in its support. The Afghan resistance was declared as a “struggle against infidels for the consolidation of Islamic solidarity”. The US Administration took it as an ideal situation to entangle Soviet forces in the rough and tough Afghan terrain to equal its revenge of losing a war in Vietnam. Afghan resistance was declared as one of leading models of Jihad in the 20th century. Propaganda against the Soviet aggression and tactics was raising suspicion in Muslim countries as be wary of Soviet designs. It was believed that soon communist influence would spillover into the neighbouring provinces of Balochistan and NWFP if not countered by Islamic Resistance (holy Jihad). The praetorian rulers in Pakistan supported the Jihad paradigm. Zia ul Haq regime assumed the situation as an ideal opportunity to secure American moral and political support to strength and prolong his rule. Pakistan became the focus of Jihad with seven resistance groups being trained and equipped on FATA and Balochistan soil against Soviet forces. Different low war intensity tactics were taught them, including rocket launching and night combats. Those trained included foreign Arab and Afghan elements entered Pakistan area for Jihad.
The war started in Afghanistan in 1979 is without an end today at cost of huge bloodshed, destruction and instability. America is struck into the quagmire of war with similar fate the previous two superpowers met on Afghan soil in 19th and 20th centuries. Pakistan is also one of the countries having suffered due to 39 year war. It cannot afford a proxy war any more.
— The writer is Professor, Dept of Politics & International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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