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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Strategic Dimension of the Afghan Jihad

The war in Afghanistan had provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of soldiers of fortune and created a black economy worth billions of dollars in the entire region. We cannot say if the planners of the Afghan resistance were aware of the consequences of creating militias that would subsequently become mavericks, writes Saleem Akhtar Malik, an Army Veteran.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on the Christmas Eve of 1979. Pakistan, the country which was going to be in the eye of the storm for the next nine years, remained silent, at pains to comprehend the situation before evolving an appropriate response. The United States and its allies initially reacted stoically as, according to their reasoning, Afghanistan, since long, had been considered a country within the Soviet sphere of influence. Intellectuals and diplomats in the West considered the invasion as yet another step towards the fruition of the centuries-old Russian dream of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Peter the Great died fifty-one years before the birth of the United States. In his much talked about will: Le Testament de Pierre le Grand, Peter advised his successors to

Approach as near as possible to Constantinople and India. Whoever governs there will be the true sovereign of the world. Consequently, excite continual wars, not only in Turkey, but also in Persia and, in the decadence of Persia, penetrate through the Persian Gulf as far as India.

Read more: Looking back at the US politics in Afghanistan

Understanding the matter better

When Peter the Great was referring to India, he, even as Alexander the Great, his generals, and the ancient Greek historians, had in mind the land which now constitutes Pakistan. It is alleged that the testament was a forgery made in the late 1700s by a Polish general, and published in 1812 in Napoleonic France to portray Russia as an expansionist power. Despite having been declared a forgery, the testament was widely quoted in the West, particularly in the aftermath of the Soviet advance into Afghanistan. What had instigated the gerontocracy, which ruled in the Kremlin, to disturb the hornet’s nest in Afghanistan?

Zia had seized power in July 1977 by toppling the Bhutto regime. On 4th April 1979, he executed Bhutto on charges of masterminding the murder of a political opponent. The intended victim of the murder had survived, though, and his father was killed instead. Zia’s action had provoked worldwide condemnation. The world had not accepted Zia’s coup against Bhutto’s popularly elected government.

His government was facing the problem of political legitimacy. By hanging Bhutto, Zia had further isolated himself in the world. Moreover, the country he governed was in danger of being squeezed out of existence by India and the Soviet Union. As a result of the invasion, refugees, along with Soviet and Khad agents, had started pouring into Pakistan, further aggravating the already precarious security and economic situation.

Read more: Last of the Afghan Sikhs torn over leaving and staying in Afghanistan

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a windfall for Zia’s martial law regime

If somehow he could rally support from the world, particularly the United States, he would have access to the much-needed borrowed power he was desperately in need of. He needed the borrowed power both for his survival as well as for Pakistan, which was threatened simultaneously by India to the east, and the Soviet Union along its western border.

It was in this backdrop that Zia accepted Reagan’s offer of military and economic assistance to Pakistan. It was some months before the U.S assistance would be made available. During the intervening period Pakistan, particularly its armed forces, would have to deal with batteries of American delegations which descended upon the army formation headquarters and thence on the fighting units to get, what they called, first-hand information about our war preparedness. During such visits, the guests were given demonstrations on various aspects of training and taken around the kotes, mechanical transport parks, and firing ranges.

The author remembers one such visit to his unit where the head of the delegation remarked that whereas the Pakistan Army was thoroughly professional, it was constrained to devote a disproportionately longer time to maintaining and keeping its equipment fit for war. This, he observed, was done at the cost of training. The Americans behaved as if they were deeply concerned about the Pakistan Army’s lack of modern equipment. In retrospect, one realizes that the main purpose of such visits was not so much their concern about obsolete equipment than to fathom the willingness of the Pakistan Army’s rank and file to take on the Russian bear.

Through GHQ, a U.S. Army general service publication (GSP) on the Soviet Army was circulated to the formations. It was an interesting read which gave in detail the tables of organization and equipment down to the unit level. It also discussed the Soviet Army’s doctrines and tactics. Presentations on the GSP were arranged by the junior formations and units and it was very exciting to discuss the motor rifle divisions (MRDs) and FROG (Free Rocket over Ground) regiments. The GSP painted an awesome picture of the Soviet Army, particularly its mobility and firepower. Besides the official U.S. publications, the American gossip depicted the Soviet soldier as a thoroughly indoctrinated and motivated person, an embodiment of “The New Soviet Man”, ready to spill his blood for the motherland.

Read more: Iran’s policy towards evolving situation in Afghanistan

Zia had started with Afghanistan, added held Kashmir in his scheme of things, and later expanded his canvas by including Central Asia. Perhaps only he knew how he would achieve his objectives. However, he had overstretched his ambitions. In 1987 the stakes had become almost insurmountable for him. Throughout the Afghan War, Americans had tried their best to keep Zia pliable and use him as a tool for the accomplishment of their strategic objectives in Afghanistan. While he was a thorn in the flesh of the Soviet Union and India, nothing irked the Americans more than Zia’s independence. We will not waste time here discussing, for the umpteenth time, the conspiracy theories behind Zia’s death.

The war in Afghanistan had provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of soldiers of fortune and created a black economy worth billions of dollars in the entire region. We cannot say if the planners of the Afghan resistance were aware of the consequences of creating militias that would subsequently become mavericks. In retrospect, we can speculate that the Americans cared two hoots about what happened after the war as they were only interested in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. As for Zia, either he was ignorant or, like the Americans, did not care.

“What is more important — the demise of the Soviet Union or a few stirred up Muslims? ……There is only a small window when America can grab control of the center of the Eurasian continent. Once we pull the strings in the strategic center (also the home of the world’s second-largest oil reserves) we must then playoff Europe against the Orient. This will assure that even a reunited Japan and China will not be powerful enough to evict America from long-term control of the planet’s prime landmass.”


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.