“Afghanistan First” Policy

Is it a coincidence that within a few days after three Uzbek / Tajik-looking terrorists attacked a Imambargah in Quetta, killing 50 and injuring scores of others seriously, the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul was ransacked by an armed mob of a thousand or so who turned up “spontaneously” in trucks and buses for what clearly was an “officially sponsored” riot? His belated regrets notwithstanding, one is used to Abdullah Abdullah, the Tajik é origin Afghan Foreign Minister, and his constant “companion” Omar Samad, spouting anti-Pakistan vituperatives at every international forum conceivable, is it also a coincidence that Hamid Karzai has only recently embarked on a scurrilous campaign to blame Pakistan for his own government’s increasing failure at extending the Afghan Government’s authority in any meaningful manner beyond Kabul? And even while tendering his government’s apology, Karzai had some cheek asking Musharraf to explain why the President remarked recently that Karzai’s authority did not extend beyond Kabul, are we to understand that warlords Ismail Khan in Herat and Rashid Dostum in Mazar-I-Sharif are very much in Karzai’s control? For that matter, does Qanooni, the Advisor-in-charge of Home Affairs, or Gen Fahim, Afghan Defence Minister, really answer to his authority? When recently Karzai tried to rein in Dostum by appointing him to an “advisory post” in Kabul, Dostum very publicly declined. If it hadn’t been for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul and the significant US military presence in and around Kandahar and other Pashtun areas bordering Pakistan, Karzai would not be able to enter Kabul, even with his US Government-supplied bodyguard detail. Karzai should take Chou En Lai’s advice to Kissinger in 1971, “do not forget the bridge (meaning Pakistan) you have used once, you may have to use it again”. Karzai’s family members still reside in Quetta where they took refugee in the 80s, take my word, on the “revolving door” concept he will also be back!.

Despite a very benevolent policy towards Afghanistan, Pakistan has been very badly treated reciprocally. During the Afghanistan war we were host to over 3 million refugees, about 500000 are permanently settled in Pakistani urban areas and will never go back. Nearly 2 million Afghan refugees are still present in some permanent refugee camps / settlements in NWFP and Balochistan. The Kalashinkov and drug culture symbolized our support in the Afghan war, they have now become lesser evils in the face of terrorism that has become synonymous with the image of Pakistan abroad. Our religiously idealistic young men went to fight the Soviets in great numbers, these were fresh recruits from the Madrassahs motivated by their religious leaders to go to the help of Afghans, not out of love of money but out of love for their brethren in Islam. And what did they get in return? The Afghan element among the Talibaan force defending Kabul melted away at the approach of Northern Alliance (mostly Tajik) troops, leaving a screen of Pakistanis within Kabul. Almost to a man these Pakistanis were murdered cold in blood by the Tajiks. In many cases the poor Pakistanis were made to lie down in drains and than shot dead like dogs. Worse happened in Konduz, where a force of 8000 Talibaan led by Mullah Dadullah negotiated a surrender to “General” Rashid Dostum commanding the “Jumbish Milli”, and Mullah Atta Mohammad of the Northern Alliance. About a 1000 or so hardened fighters refused to surrender and broke out, about 6000 (a majority of them Pakistanis) were tricked into surrendering to Dostum by their leader Mullah Dadullah. There is a Indian canard picked up by some in Pakistan that 6000 Pakistanis were airlifted from Konduz overnight, even the US with all its aviation resources would not be able to evacuate 300 in one night from the Konduz airstrip in those circumstances. Almost all the Afghans, including Mullah Dadullah, were given food and water (it was the month of Ramzan) by Dostum and allowed to go off into the night. The Pakistanis paid the price for their (Afghans) freedom. Arabs, Chechen and (mostly) Pakistanis were packed into container trucks. On November 29, 2001 the first convoy of 13 trucks (each packed with about 150 prisoners) set out from Qala Zeini for Shebergan. The next day another convoy of trucks came to Shebergan. According to Newsweek’s eyewitness accounts, most were tied up like cattle, this fate was specially reserved for Pakistanis. Many had already died due to dehydration and suffocation, more than a 100 dead in some containers, only 20 or 30 surviving. For 10 days containers with the dead and dying kept coming to Shebergan from Konduz. The international Red Cross representatives applied to see the “Qila Jangi” prison on Nov 29 but were not given permission till Dec 10, 2001. On Nov 25 the famous “Qila Jangi revolt” had taken place and the Dostum’s men did not want prying eyes roaming around the area. Dostum’s militia blocked off an area close to Shebergan called “Dasht-e-Lilli”, a half mile of so from the village “Lab-e-Jar”. The dead were buried there, some say close to 1500, mostly Pakistanis. With friends like these, who needs enemies? We need to say “Fateha” in the Assemblies for the innocent misguided Pakistanis lying dead and buried without trace in the desolate northern Afghan plains.

Most of the terrorism today started during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the 80s decade when the KGB-controlled Afghan intelligence agency KHAD (alongwith a great deal of help from Indian RAW) exploded as many as 3000 bombs in the cities of Pakistan, over 1000 in Karachi alone. Fugitives from Pakistan openly lived in Afghanistan, well into Talibaan rule. Notorious killer Riaz Basra was an honored guest till the Talibaan regime fell, despite many requests (and even entreaties) by our Government he remained in gilded exile.  Once Kabul came under control of Tajiks, Qanooni exceeded all civilized bounds when he airlifted about 125 Pakistani prisoners to New Delhi, some of them (duly killed) have been used as “evidence” of terrorists attacking people / places in India e.g. the December 13 attack on Indian Parliament. Somehow none of the so-called “Jihadis” ever survive to “tell the tale”.

We must take a few concrete steps with respect to terminate the “black hole” that is Afghanistan viz (1) close down all existing refugees camps / settlements by the end of this year, let the international community funds camps within Afghanistan. (2) weed out all Afghans who have settled in Pakistan in the urban areas and. send them back to Afghanistan (3) no transit trade direct for Afghanistan through Pakistan. All transit trade to be routed to our tribal areas from where traders (tribals only) may open L/Cs in US dollars / Euros for import of goods without payment of duty from abroad. They can re-send these to Afghanistan against hard currency and a minimal import / export tax (as in Dubai). Tribals must not re-ship these goods within Pakistan, this way they can have permanent means of legitimate income by making money out of trading with Afghanistan, not be forced into smuggling as a livelihood (4) no Afghan vehicles to ply within Pakistan (5) no Afghan leader to be allowed to keep his family in Pakistan and  (6) move our regular troops out of tribal territories and give back the protection of the Durand Line to the tribals as the Quaid had promised. This gives us a “buffer” of sorts and at the same time assuages Iran’s suspicions of our long-term intentions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not yet a country, it presently remains a cruel apology of a nation propped up by the west. Afghanistan is also another example of our convoluted “Pakistan Last” foreign policy. Afghans are conceivably the most ungrateful people in the world. Simply put, we do not need Afghanistan or Karzai, they and he needs us, in whatever order. It is high time we really put Pakistan’s interest above all, a real ” Pakistan First” policy as the President has committed.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).