Extracting Pakistan, bin Laden and its US past

May 11, 2011

We are unlikely to know the full truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan for months, and probably years. So I have decided to retreat into history, where we have more, though still fragile, hope of understanding what really happened.  Here is one version.

General Khalid Mahmud Arif worked closely with Pakistani military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq, the architect of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. His memoirs, ”Khaki Shadows”, show how the internal narrative of the Pakistan Army was constructed at a formative time for the current military leadership. I’ve extracted some details from his chapter on ”The Military under Zia” and leave you to judge which remain relevant today:

* Zia declined an opportunity offered by a former air force chief to move ahead on the golf course, saying this was “against the golf ethics”

* Zia was a graduate of Fort Leavenworth (1964)

* In a posting to Jordan in the late 1960s, Zia helped put down violence by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. “Zia’s successful military performance was disliked by the authorities in Syria and by the PLO, and was a subject he avoided discussing.”

* “He interacted well socially despite being an introvert. He spoke easily, laughed heartily, cracked jokes, was a chain smoker and never took hard drinks.”

* In 1981, Zia was helpful in including General Arif and his wife in an official delegation so that both could afford to attend a family wedding abroad.

* When former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto decided to appoint Zia as army head, thereby ignoring other more senior officers,  “to his (Bhutto’s) mind, Zia was the best choice for the country and for the army, and the safest for him personally.”

* Quote from M.P. Bhandara on Zia: “The more firmly he was in the saddle, the more benign he became.”

* “The military was not involved in the trial of Mr. Z.A. Bhutto…”

* After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the arrival of more than 3 million Afghan refugees, other countries began to provide humanitarian aid. “The assistance was not without strings. The major powers wished to collect intelligence in the garb of providing relief to the uprooted and needy Afghans. Pakistan knew that the undercover world was having a field day. It was a case of evaluating the cost-benefit ratio of the incoming aid.”

* “Pakistan had assessed that despite its seriousness, the Afghan crisis would be diplomatically settled earlier than the Kashmir dispute with India … to avoid facing a two-front scenario, Islamabad initiated a peace offensive with India to isolate this country in the comity of nations and to put it on the defensive. Zia’s visit to Jaipur without a formal invitation, ostensibly watching a cricket test, was an eloquent proof of the General’s innate caution.”

* Pakistan began providing covert military assistance to the Afghan freedom fighters in late 1978, four years before the first US aid package to Pakistan became effective in 1982.

* Between the years 1980-1989, Pakistan’s air space was violated 2,730 times from her Western border, causing 1,355 casualties … the people felt unsafe and blamed the government for not retaliating …

* The Soviet military forces established their writ on Kabul. The local puppet regime … obeyed the dictates of its foreign advisers … The Soviet Union quickly learned that Kabul was not the whole of Afghanistan.

* In the assessment of Pakistan, the combined Soviet-Afghan military effort … was inadequate to commit … (an) offensive operation against Pakistan

* The Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan provided an opportunity to the Zia administration which took advantage of it in the national interest of Pakistan

* (After much debate among Pakistani authorities), “the decision to provide military support to the Afghan freedom fighters was never announced in the meetings, nor made public.  It was confidentially conveyed to all concerned and was kept a hush-hush affair.  The military brass thus always a part of the decision.”

* (after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran) the only access to Afghanistan to the U.S.-led west was through Pakistan.

* (after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) “the western media suddenly discovered that Zia, the dictator, was in fact a ‘good guy’ …. This enabled Zia to consolidate his grip on the country.”

* The Afghan crisis provided fertile ground to foreign intelligence agencies, who were allowed into Pakistan with the approval of the Pakistan government

* The detractors of Zia’s Afghan policies “fail to recognise that in 1979-80, Pakistan did not have any other options”.

* “Most Pakistanis perceive the U.S. as a fair-weather friend rather than a friend in need”.

* Richard Nixon told  Zia not to tell the American president about the double-game. “Let the details be handled by his staff and colleagues.”

* The U.S. interest in working with Pakistan to defeat the Soviet Union “was conceived in Pakistan as a tactical move”. Nonetheless, it allowed Pakistan to negotiate aid and a softening of U.S. opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

* “The CIA-ISI intelligence link became strong and inter-dependent, with advantages and drawbacks to Pakistan.”

* But “Zia suspected that Washington could abandon Pakistan when its aims in Afghanistan had been achieved. The ISI was instructed that all meetings in Pakistan between the U.S. officials and the Afghan leaders would take place in the presence of its representatives.”

* Pakistan trusted the United States not to pull the rug from under its feet when Washington’s aims in Afghanistan were achieved. “The fallacy of this assumption stood exposed … when America closed the aid tap, withdrew political support, and left Pakistan to fend for herself.”

* (After the Soviet withdrawal), “Pakistan could now be sidelined and India wooed, as it promised to be a far bigger market for Indian investment and trade.”

As a postscript. thanks to all the regular readers, as well as others, for joining the live blog the other day.  If you want to continue the discussion you can also find me on Twitter @myraemacdonald

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