Islamic Terror And American Dualism
The other day I went to the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, with which I am associated as a “Distinguished Fellow”, to hear Professor Stephen P Cohen, the leading American expert on the Indian subcontinent in strategic matters, on the post-2014 Afghanistan minus the US-led NATO troops. Will the nascent democracy survive in the country? Will the Afghan women retain their rights to study and work freely? Will the Afghan people in general, 73 per cent of whom are now under 25 years, be able to build a better future for themselves, unrestrained by Islamic fundamentalism? All these questions are very relevant given the likelihood of the Taliban returning to power, something that the Americans are promoting under the catchy concepts of coexistence and co-sharing of power with those who believe in democracy and its associated values.
Of course, these are very difficult questions to answer. If one goes by strategic experts, there is no unanimity of views. While some present a very gloomy picture of Afghanistan after 2014 and warn of its possible disintegration on ethnic basis (resumption of a series of civil wars—some supported by Pakistan, some by India, some by the Afghans, and some by the Iranians), some argue that a better future awaits the Afghans as the country over the last 10 years has urbanised considerably and the young, educated and urbanised will not tolerate anything that is extreme and divisive.
Surprisingly, Cohen played safe by not venturing into provide any answer on the subject. Saying repeatedly that “I am no expert on Afghanistan”, he said that Afghanistan would be really stable if India and Pakistan on the one hand, and the United States and Iran on the other, pursue a shared approach towards Kabul. But then, is such an approach realistic? “It is problematic but highly desirable”, said Cohen. According to him, one of the reasons why India and Pakistan are after each other in the subcontinent is that they share the same strategic legacy of the British Raj, and so both compete in the same space, including Afghanistan. The British had the same problem and the Mughals also fought for the same strategic space.
“India and Pakistan share the British legacy in Afghanistan. Both India and Pakistan see Afghanistan as their strategic space. That means they compete with each other. Nobody has proposed—and I think America should have done—that the two countries sign an agreement to cooperate. An attempt should be made to bring them together in Kabul”, Cohen says. “Both can join to train Afghan soldiers and police. India has been doing a great job in helping in civil economic reconstruction and training of security forces of Afghanistan. But by training security forces, India is competing with Pakistan which is supporting the Taliban.”
Cohen is emphatic that If India and Pakistan find a way to cooperate in Afghanistan it would be a win-win situation for all stakeholders, including the United States and Iran. He is clear that the Americans have no stomach to continue fighting in Afghanistan, or for that matter in any part of West Asia, given the rising unpopularity of American military involvement in the region within the United States itself. It may be noted in this context that in his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offers a harsh assessment of President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan. While Gates describes Obama as “a man of personal integrity,” he notes that the President was uncomfortable with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, writing that Obama “eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered [in 2009],” and that he was “skeptical, if not outright convinced it would fail”. For Obama, it was “all about getting out”.
The Americans came to Afghanistan in 2002 after 9/11(attack on World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2002 by the Al-Qaida). Since then they have been fighting the Al-Qaida and its client Taliban. What have they achieved? Al-Qaida is down not out, even though American troops conducted the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. But the Taliban is very much live and kicking. Now, Americans think that there are “good Taliban” and the power in Kabul can (or should) be shared with them. In other words, Americans have “failed to win in Afghanistan” and that they will be leaving the country somewhat “defeated”. But, what is equally important, if the withdrawal from Afghanistan is seen in the larger regional context of West Asia, one can also say that the Americans have conceded defeat to the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.
However, my take is little different. I do not think that the US ever wanted to fight against the Islamic fundamentalism and the associated terrorism as such. Some scholars could cite the usual factor of “inconsistency” in American foreign or strategic policy for the non-fulfillment of its objectives. However, in my considered view, “duality”, instead of “inconsistency”, is a better word to explain the American behaviour. Let me explain my position.
It is an open secret that it was the American CIA that created the Taliban when the then Soviet Union was in Afghanistan. That was the period of the Cold War. The CIA financed the Taliban, encouraged drug trafficking and supported Pakistan (Taliban’s base) wholeheartedly in its nuclear weapon programme. In their book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, Adrain Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, award-winning investigative journalists , have provided details how AQ Khan stole, with full American knowledge, nuclear material and technologies from the Western countries, including the US. Be it Ronald Reagan or George Bush (father) or Bill Clinton or George Bush (son)—every American President and his officials not only concealed but also helped Pakistan in making and improving the bomb. Reagan deceived the world as he “ignored” when Pakistan cold-tested the bomb in 1983 and hot-tested it in 1984 in the Chinese soil with the Chinese help. Bush Sr. and Clinton suppressed and punished the officials who wanted to tell the world this entire story.
And finally, Bush Jr. forgave all the sins of Pakistan and AQ Khan, despite the fact that “a mountain of incredibly precise intelligence portrayed Pakistan as the epicenter of global instability: a host and patron for Islamist terrorism, ruled by a military clique that was raising capital and political influence by selling weapons of mass destruction”. All this is evident from the shocking story of Rich Barlow, superbly described by the two authors. He was the CIA’s expert on Pakistan’s nuclear secrets, but Barlow was thrown out and disgraced when he blew the whistle on a US cover-up. His career and marriage already destroyed, he is now spending his days in the American courts to seek justice.
Pakistan’s nuclear bombs are intrinsically linked with Islamic fundamentalism, because Pakistan sought financial assistance and got it from the Arab countries, particularly from Saudi Arabia, under the pretext that it was making “Islamic Bomb”. But then the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been the closest ally of the United States in the region. Besides, investigating reports suggest that Saudi Arabia has funded nearly $1 billion to Al-Qaida and similar rebel groups over the past 40 years. The Saudi Royal family members may not be fundamentalists of the same ilk as bin Laden, but they are not very far off the extreme radicalism.
In fact, if the US wants to defeat the global terrorism, which, in turn, emanates mostly from the Islamic fundamentalism, then the easiest way to do is to impose unbearable pressure on two countries—Saudi Arabia (source of money) and Pakistan (place for training and planning). But these are two countries that happen to be America’s close allies.
Even otherwise, the US, while fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, has been allowing at the same time arms and material to flow to radical opposition groups fighting common US enemies in Iraq, Libya and now Syria. The biggest supporter of the radical Islamists in Egypt, who are waging in armed violence in various parts of that country, happens to be the United States. Nearer home, see the way the Americans are shedding tears for the fundamentalists and their supporters in Bangladesh who are hell bent on murdering democracy in that country and eliminating non-Muslims from its soil. In fact, one is getting increasingly convinced that the US is the real supporter and promoter of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. One may remember in this context the investigating report appearing in the Washington Post some years ago how the US spent millions of dollars producing fanatical school books, which were then transshipped and distributed in Afghanistan and other countries of West Asia! “The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then [i.e., since the violent destruction of the Afghan secular government in the early 1990s] as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books…” the Washington Post reported.
How does one explain the American duplicity? In my considered opinion, the duplicity could be in line with the long-term American strategic goal of containing Russia, China and India, the three countries that could challenge the US global hegemony in the long run. Just see how each of these countries is now facing neighbours that are coming under the increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism. And here, a post-2014 Afghanistan could aggravate their problems. There could well be a new domino theory—with the “victory” in Afghanistan, Islamic terrorism spreads from one Muslim country to another in Central Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia, not to speak of West Asia.
By Prakash Nanda