By General Mirza Aslam Beg (ret) for Veterans Today and Opinion Maker
former Chief of Staff, Army of Pakistan.
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 boththe 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 the Afghans. 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. The attack on the NATO supply convey near Islamabad and the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan to disrupt the daily supply of over forty five thousand liters of oil daily from the Manas air base, is meant to check-mate the occupation forces. Who is responsible for these acts? Certainly, not the Taliban from Afghanistan or the American haters of Pakistan! Not difficult to make a fair guess!!
The Americans and the allies have to take a bold decision in Afghanistan, same as years earlier, wisdom demanded that timely intervention in Bosnia was necessary to check the spread of jehadism in Europe. In Afghanistan, the Americans themselves have become part of the problem, yet it is not too late to intercede now. Jehadism is a phenomenon by itself, which needs to be understood. It has special message for the believers in the ideology of Islam: “Nothing should stop the believers from reaching out to protect the helpless men, women and children being brutalized, who are crying for help to Allah, to send the redeemers.” The redeemers who converged on to Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya, Palestine and Kashmir, will return to their hearth and home, only when brutality comes to an end. Jehadis pose no threat to other ideologies, civilizations or culture. And yet there is the element of Terrorism, growing out of this movement, over the years, which is the common threat for all, but will gradually fade away, as occupation, oppression and injustice come to their logical end.
The momentous decision, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, now have to jointly take, is a comprehensive strategy to revitalize the war ravaged Afghanistan. The occupation forces have no option but to exit, creating a power vacuum, which they will try to fill with the proxy power, like India. This must be prevented at all cost, as our joint responsibility, ensuring that:
- Afghanistan returns to their people, to let them govern the country as it suits them.
- Help the Afghans, establish peace, as the prelude to regional stability.
- Demand from the Americans, their allies and the Russians, to pay for the war damages to the Afghans.
- Join the world community to rebuild Afghanistan’s basic infrastructures for speedier economic recovery.
At this juncture, Pakistan’s hands are full, dealing with insurgency along the borders with Afghanistan and the turmoil within, between the judiciary and the executive, while the democratic order struggles to find its right bearing. Very challenging times indeed, to carve-out a destiny for the nation. The pressures from USA are mounting to undertake operations in North Waziristan and having failed in their effort, they now have made the crude attempt of blaming the President of Pakistan to have secretly met the Taliban leaders in custody and a charge sheet has been framed against Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, for providing ‘extensive support to the Afghan Taliban.’
These are lame excuses, which betray their frustrations, as they continue to suffer losses at the hands of the Taliban. Defeat is staring in their face. General Petraeus, the hero of Iraq, who was tasked to turn the tide on the Taliban, collapsed and fainted, while briefing the Defence Committee of the Senate, last Tuesday. The Peace Jirga held at Kabul last week also suggested reconciliation with the Taliban, because military defeat cannot be averted. The best option, therefore is to follow the Soviet example – make a clean break and withdraw. The Taliban and Pakistan will provide the safe exit, as they did in 1989-90. And leave Afghanistan to the Afghans, who will take care of themselves. The proxy forces – India or any other cannot withstand Afghan’s absolute love for total freedom.
The year 2010 is a momentous period of opportunity and action, which has occurred after twenty two years since 1988, when conditions were ripe for Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, to form an Alliance, (PIAA), to secure national security interests and to repel aggression. This alliance was to emerge on the basis of strategic consensus, forging unity as the main element of ‘Strategic Depth’ of security interests of the three countries. In 1988, the obtaining conditions were ideal.
Pakistan had returned to democracy after eleven years of military rule; Iran has emerged victorious after eight years of brutal Iraqi war; Afghanistan was free, after eight years of Soviet occupation. The dawn of freedom and democracy thus provided an opportunity to PIAA countries to forge unity, but Alas! it was not to be. The idea of alliance, seeking Strategic Depth was ridiculed by foreign proxy scholars and some of our own. The argument was twisted to mean, that Pakistan needed territorial depth of Afghanistan, to retreat in case of Indian aggression. This was a preposterous and naïve notion because Pakistan’s military strategy envisages no such withdrawal or retreat. Our mission is very clear. “While defending the territories of Pakistan, armed forces will contain the offensive, and carry the war into the enemy territory, to capture and hold vital areas, so as to enable the government to negotiate peace from a position of strength.”
Pakistan has won the war on our territory, turned on it by the occupation forces in Afghanistan. Thus the scourge of terror that we faced from the north-west is relatively under control, and soon will be eliminated as the occupation forces leave Afghanistan, because foreign occupation is the “cause of all evil.” For the last thirty years, the Afghans have been fighting for their freedom and have defeated two super powers. As winners, they have been cheated twice in 1990 and 2001, by denying them power-sharing in their country. They cannot be hoodwinked again, and as winners, it is they who would lay down the conditions for peace in Afghanistan. The Iranians, since 1979, have faced foreign aggression, military and economic intimidation, embargos and sanctions, but have triumphed, through national unity, over all such machinations. The very fact that, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project has been signed and sealed, serves as a rebuff to the powers wanting to forestall this deal.
The destiny repeatedly points towards gravitation of PIAA, to build a climate of trust and forge unity, fortifying their resolve and resilience, to deter and defeat aggression and establish peace in the region. Afghanistan has been badly ravished. Two generations have lost their youth and civilized living. They have seen only war, death and destruction. It is our fault that we failed to provide the protective shield to them. The greed-oriented nations with imperial mindset may now be converging on Afghanistan to seize their mineral deposits, worth trillions of dollars. This wealth belongs to the Afghans and is to be exploited for the good of Afghans and shared with the rest of the world. The dynamics of time demand that we honour our shared responsibility to protect ourselves, against aggression, exploitation and hegemony.
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief of Army Staff who has been deputy to General Zia and assumed the command after General Zia’s death. He is the founding Chairman of FRIENDS, a Think Tank established in Rawalpindi. He has a complete grasp over the situation in the region and reads the situation well. He is called upon by various TV Channels both Pakistani and Foreign for his expert views.