Gen Mirza Aslam Beg
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 – Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are passing through a very historic moment, as their future is being challenged by forces of aggression, attempting to weaken their commitment to their “value system”, and “national purpose”. Their struggle against the forces of evil, for the last thirty years in particular, has determined the threshold of their tolerance and resistance against such threats. They have made great sacrifices, now culminating into a new era, which promises a bright future for them. A few incidents of the recent past would explain the point.
In 1979 encouraged by the West, Iraq invaded Iran, to defeat the Islamic Revolution. General Zia called an emergent meeting of the cabinet, to formulate Pakistan’s foreign policy options. I was called to attend the meeting, to represent GHQ, in my capacity as the Chief of the General Staff. The discussion lasted for over three hours and general consensus emerged that: ‘Iraqi armed forces would sweep across Iran, defeating the resistance and the Islamic Revolution, in a matter of days, and therefore Pakistan should be prepared to deploy a peace keeping force in Iran, under the UN mandate.’ I had not spoken by then, and sought the permission of the chair to put forward my argument. I said: “The war is not going to end in a matter of days or weeks, rather it would be a long protracted war, lasting over several years, with Iran emerging as the victor, and the Revolution would consolidate. The famous Chinese saying will prove right: “Never take-on the revolutionaries unless you have an ideology stronger than theirs.” And there is no ideology stronger than the ideology of Islam. “Historically, the Iranians have always stood united against foreign aggression. No doubt Raza Shah’s armed forces have been dismantled and are locked-up in their barracks, but they will rise, as one, to defend the country, supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, who would avail the opportunity to consolidate the Revolution.
“The Iraqi armed forces, no doubt, have a modern military machine, but their higher military leadership, lacks the professional ability of the German General Staff, to launch breakthrough battles and blitzkrieg operations deep into the enemy territory. The boggy areas in the South and the mountainous region in the north would restrict deep maneuvers. Thus there would be no major gains or losses and only slow slogging series of battles causing heavy casualties. “In the first few days of war, Iraqi armed forces will lose sight of the main objective of war, i.e., to defeat the Iranians, while the Iranians will continue to fight with greater resolve and on a high moral ground, i.e., to defeat the aggressor. Ultimately the Iranians would emerge victorious. I therefore submit that, we formulate our policy for both the options, i.e., a short war ending into Iraq’s victory and a long war, with Iran emerging as the victor.”
General Zia listened to my arguments attentively, gave a broad smile and said: “I agree with you. We prepare for both the eventualities.” And there was ‘the silence of the lamb’. No one spoke and the meeting ended. Eight years later, Iranian armed forces crossed Shatt-el-Arab and as they concentrated in the Fao peninsula, poised for offensive towards Basra, Saddam attacked with chemical weapons, provided by the civilized West. Iran suffered heavy casualties and having no defense against this weapon, called for seize fire. Ever since, Iran has remained under great pressure on one issue or the other. Now the UNSC has imposed sanctions, for the fourth time, testing the national resilience of Iran. The Israelis are provoking Iran, by deploying their nuclear submarine in the region. This provocation resembles the Indian nuclear intimidation of 1974 and 1998, which left no option for Pakistan, but to prepare for retaliation with overt posture. What are the options for Iran now?
September 2001, General Musharraf succumbed to Richard Armitage’s undiplomatic warning and sheepishly accepted all the conditionalities to join the American war on Afghanistan. Having taken this decision, he decided to call the politicians, scholars, media men and diplomats in groups, to explain and justify the decision. I was invited, with one such group for the 22 September 2001 meeting. His monologue and the discussion lasted for over four hours. I had not spoken. He invited my comments. I said: “You have taken the decision and therefore there is no point in justifying it now. The critical issue is, of joining the war, having no moral or ethical ground.
The Afghans have never done any harm to us, nor do we have a defense pact with America to join them. We have to see how far we can go, so that the red line is not crossed to harm our national interests.” “In a matter of weeks, the invading forces will occupy Afghanistan and the Taliban will fall back to the line – Jalalabad – Kandahar, from where they had started in 1996, and would link-up with their support bases in Pakistan. Ultimately they will regroup, forming an alliance with the old Mujahideen and supported by the new grown up lot from Pakistan and other countries, will build-up a formidable resistance against the occupation forces.”
“As the resistance develops, the conflict zone would expand to our border region, reversing the war on Pakistan. This would be a difficult period for Pakistan, facing a two-front war.” “No doubt the Americans and their allies will take full control of Afghanistan in a matter of weeks but ultimately it will turn into Vietnam for them. They cannot win. They will lose the war.” “The Afghans, Pakistani jihadis and many freedom fighters, from many countries of the world, have embraced Shahadat for the Afghan cause. For Pakistan to join the American war in Afghanistan, would amount to compromising and bartering away the blood and sacrifices of the martyrs (Shuhada) – an unforgivable sin and God knows, how to punish the sinner.”
On hearing my comments, General Musharraf’s face turned pale. He mumbled something which I could not comprehend. The meeting ended, abruptly. That was my last meeting with him. We never met again, as we were two poles apart. The Afghan freedom movement now has reached a point where the occupation forces are suffering from failure of nerves, inducting more troops only to reinforce their defeat. The irony is that the occupation forces, which stand defeated, are trying to lay down the conditions for peace, which is the privilege of the Taliban, who have emerged as winners. It would, therefore be proper to focus on Afghanistan, the people, their culture, their national ethos, their sense of honour and value system, which lend resilience to the cause of freedom.
The occupation forces must accept the reality that they have failed to read the complex tribal and societal relationship of theAfghans. They must not repeat the mistakes of 1990 and 2001, of denying the fruits of victory to the Afghans, i.e., to share power and form a government. There will be no peace, if any other course is adopted. Taliban are now strong enough to snatch away their freedom, which they have won with such a great sacrifice. The people know the predicament of the occupation forces and the tenuousness of the routes of supply to Afghanistan. —To be continued.
—The writer is former COAS, Pakistan.