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The year 1979 and its impact

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Daily DAWN June 30, 2009

The current situation is rooted in the events of 1979 but the remedy will have to come from within.

THE turmoil following allegations of fraud in the Iranian presidential election seems to be gradually subsiding. But the violent riots and street demonstrations revived memories of the political upheaval before and with the arrival of Imam Khomeini to Iran in early 1979. The country seems to have come full circle in three decades.

The year 1979 also reminds us of another tumultuous event in another neighbouring country, Afghanistan, which was occupied by the Soviets in December that year, and the ensuing US-led response to it. Both events influenced Pakistan — directly and indirectly — to the extent that three decades down the road, this country is being seen on the brink.

In fact, much of the recent and current turmoil in Pakistan has its roots in the seismic events of 1979 and the policies taken in response to them. This turmoil is as tragic as it is worrisome. Since January 2008, Pakistan, 75 per cent of whose 170 million inhabitants live off less than two dollars a day, has been rocked by more than 100 suicide bombings conducted by groups opposed to the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. During this period, hundreds of explosions and ambushes have taken close to 2,000 lives.

In fact, in April 2009 things had turned ugly to the extent that the international community began talking and thinking aloud of “Pakistan’s disintegration in the face of mounting Islamist insurgency ¯ the mortal threat”. Since early May 2009, military operations in Pakistan’s border regions against Islamists, including elements of the Afghan jihad, have resulted in the displacement of nearly 2.5 million people.

Besides the army, the US has been the other common element that has influenced Pakistan’s political development in the last three decades. In Iran, the American influence waned while in Afghanistan, the US mounted a methodical proxy war. In both American foreign policy experiments, Pakistan served as the laboratory.

Let’s take the Afghanistan case. While the Americans left Pakistan to its own devices after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, the Bush administration renewed its interest in Pakistan soon after 9/11 ¯ but this time with a few words of regret and an expression of determination never again to leave the country in a lurch.

In May this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also apologised for what the Americans had done to Pakistan in the late 1990s. Pakistanis had been bearing the brunt of “incoherent US polices for the past 30 years,” she admitted.

The US practice of expediency combined with the self-serving policies of Pakistan’s military dictators increased the state’s reliance on extremist non-state ac tors who are now eating into the very vitals of the state of Pakistan. Unless neutralised ¯ a task that will be neither quick nor easy to accomplish ¯ these groups will continue to threaten the peace and stability not only of Pakistan but of the entire region.

This context obviously gives birth to the conspiracy theory that revolves around America’s perceived “ill intentions” regarding Pakistan. Little do the proponents of this thinking realise that the problem lies with a leadership that lives off the taxpayers’ hard-earned money, a leadership that gives sermons to its citizens on the virtues of human rights but that itself lives regally and is largely insensitive to the fundamental issues of governance and security.

Simultaneously, an alliance with and reliance on non-state actors has proved disastrous. Reliance on such elements amounts to an expression of inability when it comes to achieving core objectives. This is what happened in the case of the Afghan Mujahideen, when the US-led international community cobbled together groups of them to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

That is why the entire socio-political system is leaking and creaking. If somebody takes advantage of this, it is only to be expected. The real fault lies within. If we can correct ourselves, outside forces would have little leverage to destablise us to the extent of raising global speculation regarding the country’s survival. It is the nexus of misgovernance, the failure of governance and the duplicity of an insensitive and insincere ruling elite that threatens the country. This situation is rooted in the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 but the remedy will have to come from within as soon as possible.

The impact of that tumultuous year on Pakistan has been destructive; because, one, of the expedience of the United States, two, the self-serving policies of military dictators, and three, the mindless pursuit of a policy that increased the state’s reliance on those non-state actors who were part of the Godzilla created by the US and others. Smaller Godzillas are now eating into the very vitals of the state of Pakistan. As said earlier, unless neutralised, they will keep threatening the peace and stability not only of Pakistan but of the entire region.

The writer is head of the Centre for Research and Security Studies. Email: imtiaz@crss.pk