Juan Cole: Pakistani Reaganism Must End

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com.]

Leaks to the Indian press by security officials in charge of interrogating the captured terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kamal (or Qasab?) are fleshing out the background of the attack on Mumbai and clarifying the evidence that it was an operation of the Lashkar-e Tayiba [the"Army of the Good"].

The Indian counterpart of the CIA, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), intercepted a cell phone call on November 18 to a number in Lahore, Pakistan, known to be that of a Lashkar-i Tayiba handler, saying that the caller was heading to Mumbai. They later found the phone itself on a hijacked Indian fishing boat, which the attackers had taken over to camouflage their approach to the port.

The sole captured LeT operative, Kamal, is said by the Indian press to be from Faridkot village near Dipalpur Tahsil in Okara District of Pakistani Punjab, southwest of Lahore [I saw one article, which I can no longer retrieve, in which the Indian press mispelled the tahsil or county as Gipalpur]). This is such a remote and little-known place that even Pakistani newspapers were having difficulty tracking it down).

Kamal is said to be telling Indian security that he and the others trained in camps in Pakistani Kashmir. (The original princely state of Kashmir, largely Muslim, is divided, with one third in Pakistani hands and two-thirds in Indian; India joined its portion to largely Hindu Jammu to create the province of Jammu and Kashmir.)

The Kashmir police have gotten good enough at counter-terrorism measures that elements of the LeT may have decided to go after a soft target such as Mumbai instead.

The story begins with the 1977 coup of Gen. Zia ul-Haqq, a Muslim fundamentalist who hanged his boss, PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, after overthrowing him. Zia favored Sunni fundamentalists and introduced discriminatory policies against Pakistani Shiites, secularists, etc.

Then in 1979 the Soviet Red Army came into Afghanistan to prop up a shaky Communist junta. Gen. Zia was suddenly America's man at the front lines of fighting the Soviets, and his Inter-Services Intelligence helped organize Afghan refugees in Pakistan to fight the Soviets. The ISI favored the most radical fundamentalists among the Mujahideen, such as Gulbadin Hikmatyar, who led the Hizb-i Islami. This model, of using private armies funded by black money (generated by illegal arms or drug sales) to"roll back" leftists, was being applied by Reagan in Nicaragua at the same time.

The military dictatorship was taking a lion's share of the Pakistani budget, and to whip up popular passions and make itself popular, it promoted the liberation of the rest of Muslim Kashmir from Hindu India as another major project alongside getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan. (This is the language of the military; actually India is a secular multicultural state, not a formally Hindu one; and in opinion polls Kashmiris do not say they want to join Pakistan, though they would like independence).

A lot of Pakistanis probably did not care so much about Kashmir, having other problems in life (and already worried about having to adopt 3 million Afghan refugees). But the military in Pakistan constantly played on the public's emotions on the issue, as a way of justifying military perquisites. (When British India was partitioned into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India in 1947, Kashmir was the only Muslim-majority province to be successfully grabbed by India; Pakistan insisted it should have gone to the Muslim state; the UN insisted on a referendum, which was never held.)

The model that the Reagan administration pressed on the Pakistani military, of funding rightwing"Islamic" militias to kill Soviets, gradually became standard operating procedure. But then the Pakistani Religious Right began adopting the model for themselves. If it is all right to mobilize death squads in one righteous cause, why not in others?

Emboldened, lower middle class Sunni hate groups grew up in rural areas such as Jhang Siyal, where Shiite Sufi leaders had been given big estates by premodern rulers and so were big landlords. The Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), formed in 1985, was one such organization. It turned to violence, killing Shiites. Revivalist Deobandi clergy were important in its leadership. I don't think Zia much cared if they killed Shiites.

Others, including elements in the Pakistani military began wondering why they should not apply the Reagan Jihad model to Kashmir. And they did. In the late 1980s, Hafiz Muhammad Said (once a professor of engineering at Punjab University) set up the Center for Mission and Guidance (Markaz al-Da'wa wa al-Irshad) in a huge compound at Muridke outside Lahore. The Center soon established the Lashkar-e Tayiba as its paramilitary. With the behind the scenes encouragement of elements in the Pakistani military, the LeT sent guerrillas into Indian Kashmir to attack Indian troops and facilities. The Lashkar prided itself on not killing civilians, on not targeting Shiites, and on keeping its focus on what they thought of as the Indian occupation forces. But they fought alongside Sipah-e Sahaba elements that also took off time from murdering Shiites to infiltrate into Indian Kashmir and stage attacks.

I saw this militarization of Pakistani civil society with my own eyes. I first went to the country in 1981 before you could just buy a Kalashnikov in the bazaar. When I was doing research there in 1988 and then again in 1990, the situation was completely different. Pakistan had never had a drug problem but now there were a million addicts (the US encouraged the Afghan mujahidin to grow poppies for heroin to finance the anti-Soviet struggle, and the drugs spilled into Pakistan). Weapons were freely available. Karachi was having a kind of civil war. I remember that fanatics from the religious right attacked an art exhibition in Lahore, a city of the arts (graven images not allowed & etc.) Political figures were accused of cynically creating Islamic movements for personal and political gain. This deterioration of Pakistan was, in some important part, a direct result of Reagan-Bush policies. They used Pakistan, corrupted it with all those drugs, arms, and radical Muslim militias that they called 'freedom fighters,' and then threw it away when they did not need it any more. Reagan and the Saudis funneled billions to the Pakistani military. What did ordinary Pakistanis have to show for it?

When the Soviets withdrew in 1988-1989 from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen took over, the Pakistani military lost control of its northern neighbor. It therefore funded and promoted the Taliban (expatriate Afghan young men who had been through Deobandi seminaries in northern Pakistan) from 1994, enabling them to take over Afghanistan. The Taliban ran terrorist training camps, at which the Sipah-e Sahaba and the Lashkar-e Tayiba trained for missions in Kashmir. Afghanistan in essence was the boot camp for Pakistani Reaganism.

The SSP and the Lashkar-e Tayiba was joined by other Sunni militias, including the Movement of the Holy Warriors (Harakat ul Mujahidin). In 2000, Mawlana Massoud Azhar broke off from the latter to form the Jaish-e Muhammad or Army of Muhammad, a particularly violent group focusing on Kashmir. All these Pakistani organizations trained their fighters in the Taliban camps, some of which were actually run by al-Qaeda once Bin Laden allied with the latter in 1996. (It is said that the Inter-Services Intelligence made the introduction).

High Dudgeon of Americans directed at the Pakistani military for this activity is the height of hypocrisy. The Reagan administration actively encouraged Islamabad to mount precisely such activities against the leftist government of Afghanistan (which, while dictatorial and brutally oppressive, was busily educating girls, admitting women to professions, spreading literacy, working against the vestiges of landlord feudalism, etc.) From a Pakistani point of view, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir were morally equivalent.

In 2002, under pressure from Washington, military dictator Pervez Musharraf dissolved the Lashkar-e Tayiba and other similar groups and initially arrested many members. They were later released by the Pakistani courts on the grounds that they hadn't broken any Pakistani laws. The dissolution was a bit of a farce, since the groups just took other names. Someone who now has a prominent official position in the Pakistani government once wryly observed to me that the Musharraf government couldn't seem to find the Lashkar-e Tayib headquarters at Muridke just outside Lahore, even though it was huge and a well known landmark at which thousands gathered. And, Lashkar went on raising money, supposedly for civilian relief works in Kashmir.

The Pakistani military is itself now suffering blowback for its past policies. Its name is mud in Pakistan. A Pakistani Taliban has emerged that often declines to be its puppet, and which has killed hundreds of Pakistani troops. The Marriott in Islamabad was blown up by the Pakistani Taliban.

The cell that hit Mumbai was probably a rogue splinter group. They completely disregarded the old Lashkar-e Tayiba concentration on hitting only Indian troops in Kashmir, targeting civilians instead. It is very unlikely that anyone in the Pakistani military put them up specifically to this Mumbai operation. This attack was much more likely to be blowback, when a covert operation produces unexpected consequences or agents that were previously reliable go rogue.

The Mumbai attacks were not the first of this scale on an Indian target by the LeT.

If the Pakistani government does not give up this covert terrorist campaign in Kashmir and does not stop coddling the radical vigilantes who go off to fight there, South Asian terrorism will grow as a problem and very possibly provoke the world's first nuclear war (possible death toll: 20 million).

The civilian government that has recently taken over Pakistan is weak. If it puts too much pressure on the military too quickly, it risks another coup and destabilization. But the training camps in Azad Kashmir must be closed.

India, Pakistan, and the Obama administration need to do some serious diplomacy on Kashmir, and try to settle this major global fault line before the 10.0 earthquake finally hits.

Read entire article at Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole)

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