Fast changing global and regional dynamics

By Asif Haroon RajaSouth Asia Conflict Map

When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and took over power, Indian influence in Afghanistan waned. Consequently, India in league with Iran and Russia started supporting Northern Alliance (NA) comprising Afghan Uzbeks, Afghan Tajiks and Afghan Hazaras, which retained control over Panjsher Valley in the north. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognized the Taliban regime while the US maintained friendly ties with the new rulers. Taliban fell from the grace of the US when the former refused to accept UNICOL pipeline deal on its terms in 1997 and thereon adopted a highly hostile posture. Afghanistan was put under harsh economic sanctions and subjected to vicious propaganda. Major theme of propaganda revolved on usurpation of women rights, medievalism and freedom of speech.

Iran which enjoyed considerable influence in western, central and northern Afghanistan felt deeply perturbed over the imposition of Sunni Shariah in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime and its closeness with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. Considering it as a threat to Shiaism in Afghanistan, Iranian military carried out massive deployment of its forces along the Iran-Afghan border and threatened to wage a war. Mullah Omar’s stern warning that the invaders would sink in the glue of Afghanistan restrained Iran from undertaking a military adventure and it pulled back its forces. Taking advantage of Iran-Afghanistan ideological hostility, Indian military undertook training and equipment of NA forces. Iran that had given refuge to all the NA leaders provided requisite facilities to the Indian trainers to launch fighters inside Afghanistan. It was owing to Indo-Russo-Iran all out support that NA forces were able to hold on to 8% of Afghan territory.

Pakistan had been ditched by the US in 1989 after its objectives were achieved in Afghanistan and it was put under tough sanctions. Pak-US relations remained strained till the occurrence of 9/11. Pakistan’s assistance was needed to enable the US and its allies to capture Afghanistan. The US pretended that its flame of love for Pakistan had rekindled and assured that it would not leave Pakistan in a lurch again. Gen Musharraf badly needing legitimacy of the west caved in to the US pressure and willingly fell into the US lap. He readily accepted all its seven demands on a phone call. Thereon Pakistan was taken for granted.

It was during his eight year one-man rule that the US influence for the first time penetrated into each and every department of Pakistan enabling Washington to micro-manage Pakistan’s internal and external affairs. Governed by the nauseating mantra of ‘do more’, Pakistani leadership complied with each and every demand of Washington slavishly. Pakistan was turned into a compliant State, and some called it the 51st State of USA. Despite Pakistan suffering the most in fighting the US dictated war on terror, the US gave it a raw deal. Rubbing salt on its wounds, the US kept feeding its arch rival India with all its material needs. Pakistan has mercifully survived and retained its integrity despite concerted efforts of CIA to snatch its nukes and make it subservient to India.

The neo-cons in USA under George W Bush had devised a comprehensive plan to neo-colonize the Muslim world and steal its resources. It is widely believed that 9/11 was an in-house drama stage-managed to give shape to the sinister plan. Future unfolding of events in quick succession lend weight to the argument that 9/11 was engineered to be able to justify military action against radical Muslim States, viewed as threat to capitalism and US monopoly. Doctrines of pre-emption and shock and awe and new laws on terrorism were devised to clobber the so-called Muslim irreconcilables. This can be gauged from the fact that the whole brunt of so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) was solely confined to the Muslim world only. Ironically, the governments of Muslim countries including Pakistan were roped in to fight the Muslim extremists.

Afghanistan was chosen as the first target for devastation on the excuse that Mullah Omar and his Shura had sheltered Osama bin Laden (OBL) and his fighters allegedly involved in 9/11 and Omar had refused to hand over OBL unless proof of his involvement in 9/11 attacks was furnished. After occupying Afghanistan and ousting Mullah Omar led Taliban regime from power in November 2001 with the assistance of Pakistan and installing a puppet regime of Northern Alliance (NA) under string-puppet Hamid Karzai, the occupied country was made into a US military base. Biggest intelligence centre was established at Sehra Naward, north of Kabul for launching covert war against Russia, China, Central Asia, Pakistan, Iran and Middle East. CIA assisted by RAW, Mosad, MI-6, BND and RAAM embarked upon the biggest clandestine operations ever undertaken in the world history. Afghanistan was turned into the world’s leading narcotic State so as to generate funds for the covert war.

RAW was made in-charge of Pakistan front and tasked to destabilize, denuclearize, de-Islamize and Balkanize it. For the achievement of this aim, the two extreme flanks, FATA in the northwest and Balochistan in the southwest were chosen to subvert Pakistan. CIA led the assault by opening outposts in FATA and creating Spider Web outfit in 2002 under the garb of eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives. The real purpose was to eliminate pro-Pakistan tribal Maliks and clerics and create space for anti-Pakistan elements disguised as Pakistani Taliban. Over 600 pro-Pakistan tribal elders were killed.

Likewise the Sardars of Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes in Balochistan were taken on board and instigated to start an insurgency against the State. In order to give fillip to the two insurgencies, while Gen Musharraf was coerced to launch military operations in South Waziristan in 2004, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Sardar Khair Bux Marri were prompted to start an insurgency in the same year in interior Balochistan on the pretext of socio-politico-economic grievances and to resist mega projects like development of Gawadar. Terrorist outfits like BLA, BRA, BLF, BLUF and Baloch Lashkar emerged from nowhere. They started blowing up gas pipelines, electricity grid stations and pylons, railways and other installations and attacked convoys/check posts of security forces. Capital city of Quetta was frequently rocketed. Settlers, especially Punjabis became the chief targets of target killers.

An Army operation in Dera Bugti forced Nawab Akbar to flee to the mountains where he ultimately died in August 2006. His death gave a good reason to the schemers to further heat up Baloch nationalism and to convert insurgency into a separatist movement. The movement was controlled first by Balach Marri in exile in Kandahar and after his death by Brahamdagh Bugti duly supported by foreign powers. In Balochistan where the separatists fully supported by external powers are being effectively contained by the Frontier Corps and the Army has taken up a back seat, the nationalists led provincial government under Dr Abdul Malik is determined to redress grievances of the Baloch and bring the misled back into the mainstream of Pakistan’s political culture. He has called an All Parties Conference on Balochistan.

In FATA, Pakistani Taliban under Baitullah Mehsud were helped to form TTP in December 2007. The two extreme flanks of Pakistan were then systematically stoked to intensify the scale and level of insurgency. Series of major operations in 2009 helped the Army in wresting initiative from the TTP and gaining an upper hand. Pak government and TTP are poised to hold peace talks and hopefully arrive at a political settlement. Situation across the Durand Line is however different where Afghan Taliban have gained an edge over ISAF, forcing it to plan its exit by December 2014.

After Afghanistan, the US led forces then ravaged and captured Iraq with the assistance of Iraqi Shias and Iraqi Kurds and with the blessing of Arab neighbors. Although the US-NATO troops abandoned Iraq in 2010, the country is engulfed in sectarian war and hardly a day passes peacefully without a bomb blast or suicide attack claiming several lives. Islamic State of Iraq & Levant (ISIL) linked with al-Qaeda has become very active while Iran has increased its influence over Iraqi Shias and so has Syria. Kurds in the north are also creating trouble for the Nurul Maliki regime.

In the largest Muslim State of Sudan, insurgency by SPLA under Col John Garang in oil rich and Christian/Animist heavy South Sudan was instigated by the West in 1983 and assisted by Ethiopia. Gen Jaafar Nimeiry’s only fault was that he had imposed Shariah in Sudan that year and his successors Sadiq al-Mahdi and Gen Omar al-Bashir followed suit. Bashir negotiated an end to one of the longest and deadliest wars of the 20th century by granting limited autonomy to South Sudan in 2005 for six years followed by a referendum. No sooner this front started to subside, western province Darfur heated up because of interference by French oil companies working in Chad. South Sudan became an independent Christian State in 2011 because of heavy intervention of the UN, US and the West. Bashir is the first sitting President to be indicted by International Court of Justice on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

The US arrogance and policy of interventionism together with US backed Israel’s cruelties against Palestinians and passivity of Arab leaders led to Arab Spring. The first revolt occurred in Tunisia in December 2010 which ousted the regime of Zainul Abedine. Soon after, the entire Middle East and part of Africa got infected. Emulating the example of the uprising in Tunisia, it took the secular-liberal protestors assembled in Tahrir Square of Cairo on January 25, 18 days to bring down Hosni Mubarak led autocratic regime on February 12, 2011. The leaderless people’s revolution was however hijacked by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and it captured power through fair and free elections in June 2012 and elected Muhammad Morsi as the President.

This change came as a surprise to Egyptian military, seculars and Coptic. Within one year of takeover by the Islamist government, another assemblage of seculars and Coptic at Tahrir Square was engineered by CIA-Mosad and Egyptian military under Field Marshal Fattah al- Sissi and supported by the judiciary and secular parties on 01 July 2013. Two days later, Morsi and his regime was deposed and put behind bars. Martial law was imposed and an interim setup put in place. It sparked large scale protests in reaction to which three protesters were shot dead on 5 July and 51 Islamists massacred by Army soldiers on July 8. Ever since members of MB, Salafist al-Nur Party and a new Islamist group called Ansar-al-Shariah are being hounded and persecuted while the latter have started an insurgency against the military in Sinai Peninsula. Sissi supported by the west and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is all set to take over as elected President.

Northerners and Southerners in Yemen are at war with each other since 1962. In the 1962-1970 civil war in the north, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser had sent 70,000 troops to support rebellious Republicans. KSA and Jordon supported the Royalists. Yemen was united for the first time in 1990 by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Arab uprising in 2011 infected Yemen as well and protests started in January 2011 to bring down Saleh. Al-Qaeda added fuel to fire by making Yemen its HQ for Arab Peninsula. Mansural-Hadi took over but the change has not lessened the antagonism between the warring tribes. Shia Houthi rebels in the north wish separation.

Next in the firing line was Libya. Disgruntled Libyans in exile were instigated by CIA to revolt against Qaddafi regime. Thereon, NATO fully aided the rebels by carpet bombing the government forces, defence infrastructure, Benghazi and Tripoli and within months the regime was toppled and the leader lynched to death. Although the regime has been changed in Libya and US-western companies have taken control over Libyan oil, the country is wracked in turmoil and is likely to remain restive for a considerable length of time. Islamists are gradually gaining strength.

Encouraged by the outcome of its Libyan venture, CIA embarked upon another undertaking in Syria in early 2011 to overthrow Bashar al-Asad regime, which is anti-Israel and pro-Iran and also allied with Hezbollah. Syria’s Sunnis which are in majority were instigated to wage a war against Shiite government forces and were promised all out support. KSA, Qatar, some Gulf States and Turkey also pledged support to get rid of Shia minority regime. Unlike Libya to which no country came to its rescue, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah stoically stood behind Asad. Once the military balance started to tilt in favor of government forces, the US threatened to employ force.

Russia got a wind of gun running operation organized by the US Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi to assist Syrian rebels in toppling Assad regime. CIA had opened a control room close to the US Embassy to manage gun running operation. Moscow saw it as a direct threat to Russia’s security interests. It is believed that Russia’s FSS (successor of KGB) planned the terror attack on US Embassy in Benghazi in which Steve was killed. Obama was blamed by his opponents in USA for not dispatching rescue team, and for mishandling the Benghazi planned attack by Russia.

NATO deployed cruising missiles and was ready to target the Syrian defence infrastructure so as to weaken the Syrian military, but before the military action could be undertaken, Russia defused the highly volatile situation by making an offer that Damascus would destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons. With its hands full in the Afghan misadventure and its economy in tailspin, Obama agreed to call off strikes in Syria and thus averted the crisis. Notwithstanding NATO’s withdrawal, CIA’s support to Sunni rebels is continuing. Civil war of late has taken a new turn because of the involvement of ISIL along with al-Qaeda which is pitched against rebel forces in northern Syria. Syrian internal strife has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon where Lebanese Sunnis aligned with al-Qaeda and supported by CIA and Mosad are pitched against Hezbollah.

Iran was isolated and put under four rounds of economic sanctions to force it to abandon its nuclear program. The US-UK navies kept harassing Iran by deploying aircraft carriers and warships closer to the Persian Gulf and threatening to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities through aerial strikes. The country was also subjected to massive covert war, which ultimately succeeded in affecting a regime change in June 2013. The new leader Hasan Rouhani is US friendly and has struck a nuclear deal in November 2013, agreeing to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing some of the sanctions. The deal has ended 34 years old Iran-US hostility and has paved the way for warmer relationship in the future.

Obama’s backing off from striking Syria and warming up with Iran has offended KSA and brought frostiness in their relations. Yet another development is dilution of Qatar’s extraordinary warm relations with KSA, Bahrain and UAE since it has refused to desist from supporting MB in Egypt and elsewhere. This will cause further fissures in the already divided Arab League, much to the delight of Israel. Fast changing security environment in the Middle East impels KSA to lean heavily upon Pakistan for its security. Grant of $1.5 billion by Riyadh to Islamabad without strings is a proof that KSA has always come to Pakistan’s aid in difficult times. Besides Afghanistan and Syria, Ukraine is turning into another flashpoint which may re-ignite US-Russia cold war.

It is encouraging that Pakistan is fast coming out of the woods because of constructive policies of the government. It has broken its isolation and is today in great demand. All economic indicators are steadying, which is a good sign. However, real progress can be achieved once the insane war on terror comes to an early end.  PML-N – PTI close alignment backed by the Army and Ulema can achieve the breakthrough. On the external front, Pakistan should stay clear of internal strife of Arab States and Arab-Iran rivalry and strive to maintain cordial relations with all.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist, researcher and author of several books.

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