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Is Carlotta Gall Right About Pakistan's Role In International Jihad?

21/02/2016 9:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain believes Valentine's Day celebrations have "no connection with our culture." The expensive suits and ties both he and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif don with pride are, of course, standout symbols of Islamic society and have nothing to do with our colonial hangover.

It would have been far more presidential of Hussain as the keynote speaker at an event marking Pakistan Movement leader Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar's death anniversary to passionately rebut Carlotta Gall's recent New York Times (NYT) op-ed titled "Pakistan's Hand in the Rise of International Jihad." Gall's incendiary prose herein posits a strong link between Pakistan's "deep state" and the rise of Islamic State militants (ISIS) among other "international mujahideen forces."

No surprises here. Gall, after all, penned "The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014," a tome that rationalized Washington's failures in Afghanistan as the direct result of Pakistan's duplicity. She argued that US forces should have kept marching east after felling Kabul instead of invading Iraq. Why? Because without Pakistan's patronage, neither the Taliban nor Al-Qaeda could ever have bloomed in the region.

The ISIS analogy, to me, is where Gall's narrative creeps into foggy, conspiratorial territory because she offers no motive.

Her logic, however well constructed, distorts events that marked and followed the anti-Soviet jihad. It also completely absolves Washington of blame in the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Not only is the Union Oil Company of California's (UNOCAL) Taliban connection immortalized in newspaper articles from 1997, but copious details of the CIA-run Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan also litter the internet.

That said, Gall makes some compelling arguments in the op-ed though her conclusions can veer off course. Let me start with what I find agreeable. There is little doubt that Pakistan, at certain points in history, pursued an Afghan policy that was both counterintuitive and bereft of the long view on consequences.

We now have close to 50,000 dead civilians as a result of former "assets" chewing through the leash and going rogue. The Army Public School (APS) massacre in December 2014 made clear to Pakistan's establishment, we hope, that further delusions of a good and bad Taliban were unacceptable.

Unfortunately, question marks still dog the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) a year later, crucial madrassah reforms are stuck in limbo and known rabble-rousers like Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Abdul Aziz continue to roam free courtesy of legal loopholes. The army added torque to Operation Zarb-e-Azb after the APS attack, but scolds the Sharif government for not moving in lockstep.

If the "deep state" has ever sponsored Islamist groups outside of US diktats, it has been to counter India in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The ISIS analogy, to me, is where Gall's narrative creeps into foggy, conspiratorial territory because she offers no motive. Surely Gall remembers from her own book that Pakistan's geostrategy orbits around its seven-decades-old rivalry with India. Managing this relationship to Pakistan's advantage is the sole purpose of "strategic depth." If the "deep state" has ever sponsored Islamist groups outside of US diktats, it has been to counter India in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Surely Gall remembers from her own book that Pakistan's geostrategy orbits around its seven-decades-old rivalry with India.

Pakistan, of course, also has bilateral issues with Afghanistan dating back to 1947. The latter was the only UN member to oppose Pakistan's entry into the world body, a result of misplaced anger at the British Raj's partition plan. Its Republican-era rulers also fueled Pashtun nationalism inside Pakistan as payback, tacitly supporting a secessional movement. Perhaps beset with territorial insecurity, Islamabad then used Islamist dissidents as a counterweight, though Kabul's deepening ties with New Delhi may have catalyzed the process.

Gall may also recall that noninterference never was Washington's forte in its own backyard, especially when neighboring governments ran contrary to perceived national interests. Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz became the first victim of CIA-instigated coups in 1954 when he attempted land reforms that threatened US business interests.

President Salvador Allende of Chile was similarly sent packing in 1973 for being a socialist. Both countries fell prey to murderous juntas for decades afterwards. Later came the infamous Iran-Contra Affair of 1985, when the Reagan White House authorized arms sales to sworn enemy Iran to fund rebels in Nicaragua. The list goes on.

Although Gall's piece is a hit-and-miss affair in my opinion, Pakistan clearly has a huge PR problem. If Washington is still unsure of Islamabad's loyalty 14 years into Operation Enduring Freedom, as statements yo-yoing between praise and criticism indicate, then it is time for the Sharif government to either hire new lobbyists or do some serious soul-searching about this persistent trust deficit.

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