Clinton’s candid “admission of guilt” largely went unnoticed in the flood of information revolving around America’s current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. This also merits a look-back in to how the US empire has kept expanding its influence, imposing its will on nations and countries it considers crucial to its own interests.
Soon after the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in December 1979, the United States responded with money and military hardware for several Afghan opposition leaders – who were to become the blued-eyed boys of Washington. Pakistan, through its Inter-Services’ Intelligence (ISI) played as the local facilitator for what became universally known as jihad.
The CIA-ISI led “jihad” ran through to February 1989, when the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, saw the last of his troops walk out of Afghanistan after a decade of humiliation. From then onwards, the United States disengaged from Pakistan, and in October President George Bush (senior) slapped sanctions on Islamabad for possessing nuclear devices.
The United States turned to Pakistan again for help and lifted the sanctions when terrorists brought down the symbol of American might – the twin towers of the World Trade Center, New York on 9/11, 2001.
But what happened in-between to the socio-political fabric of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a story of shame and pain; the response to the Soviet Union in the 1980s was not confined to the tactical guerilla warfare field only; a massive anti-Russia propaganda campaign was accompanied by efforts to instill the “spirit of jihad” into the hearts and minds of Afghan children and teenagers alike. Millions of dollars and riyals (Saudi Arabian currency) were spent on the “jihadisation” of the Afghan primary and middle school curricula.
Then, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) commissioned the Center for Afghanistan Studies (CAS), University of Nebraska, Omaha, to review the Afghan curricula and mould it in line with the anti-Russian policy objectives of the US-led jihad. Under a $43 million USAID-financed project, around 4-dozen University of Nebraska faculty and staff members worked overtime to produce more than 15 million textbooks in Pashto and Dari (two primary languages in Afghanistan) for distribution among children, largely living in the refugee camps set up in Pakistan – and partially in Iran.
Along with a chain of jihadi madrasahs in the Pak-Afghan border regions, the CIA contrived – with the active support from the ISI- to harvest a militarized civil society that would furnish physical sustenance in addition to providing ideological support to jihadis raised at madrasahs
Before listing some of the changes in the Afghan curricula let us fast-forward to the post 9/11 US reaction and the policy resulting from it.
Immediately after the Bonn conference in December 2001, members of the Coalition against terrorism agreed on a transitional Afghan government, led by Hamid Karzai. With this a new massive socio-economic effort also got underway to help Afghanistan. Reviewing the curricula also constituted the broad list of initiatives meant for “fixing” the Afghan problem.
Once again, the USAID sprung into action and commissioned the University of Nebraska, Omaha to undertake a review of the primary textbooks on a war-footing. The review began in January with the stated objective of “removing objectionable content that “promoted violence, hatred and war” from the Afghan curriculum in February 2002.”
“In February 2002 we removed all references to violence, and changed the alphabet chart which had references to weaponry, for example: T is for Tank, R is for Rocket, K for Kalashnikov, M for Mujahid, J for jihad, ” a USAID official told me in November 2009, seven years after his involvement in the revision process which had taken him to Peshawar to oversee the entire exercise.
“We also removed any messaging that promoted bad feelings towards minorities, etc. However, a complete curriculum overhaul was not done at that time,” the official explained, saying the work was done on an emergency basis since the deadline for delivering 10.5 million textbooks all over Afghanistan was middle of March, 2002, to coincide with Afghanistan’s New Year and the beginning of the new academic year in the third week of that month.
USAID funded this project with $6.5 million, practically cleansing the books of materials it had funded in the early 1980s to be included in the textbooks. This “intellectual subversion “found its way into the Pakistani text books as well.
A Pakistani journalist recalled his meeting with an elderly Afghan teacher at the Kacha Garhi refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar. The old man, Ayaz Khan told me, was one of the dozens of academics tasked with revising the Afghan primary school curricula in the early 2002.
Pashto and dari textbooks surrounded the old man, squatting in a corner of the USAID hang-out inside the camp, and he was scribbling on a big register.
“We are now removing what we had inserted into these books 20 years ago,” the old man responded when asked about his mission. His response, reminisces Khan, still echoes in my ears as a reflection of how systematically the US intervention in the Afghan curricula led to the “jihadisation” of the society in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a hitherto the least explored dimension of the US-led Jihad’s degeneration into militant Islam and terrorism.
It is a sad story of Pakistan’s decline from a front-line citadel of Islamist US-led Jihad against “infidels” to an embattled state, facing the consequences of that jihad.
Strangely, over three decades of failures of Pakistan’s military and political elite notwithstanding, the United States stands out as the single source of a) putting Pakistan on the way to jihad for its own narrow-ended foreign policy objectives in the early 1980s, and b) using Pakistan again in the post 9/11 response to fight the forces that had grown from the womb of the CIA-ISI sponsored anti-Soviet Russian jihad.
And this instrumentalisation of proxies – countries, groups or individuals – for foreign policy objectives is nothing new.
“The United state spent decades cultivating Islamists, manipulating and double crossing them, cynically using and misusing them as Cold War allies, only to find that it spawned a force that turned against its sponsor, and with a vengeance. Like monsters imbued with artificial life, radical imams, mullahs, and ayatollahs stalk the landscape, thundering not only against the United States but against freedom of thought, against secular science, against nationalism and the left, against women’s rights. Some are terrorists, but far more are medieval-minded religious fanatics who want to turn the calendar back to seventh century,” Robert Dreyfuss writes in the introduction of his book “Devil’s Game,” that illustrates what he calls “over six decades of America’s empire-building project in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan”.
This disastrous approach had other witnesses too; on December 6, 2009, I stumbled into a senior European diplomat in Islamabad. I would not name him since he requested so but the ambassador narrated a fascinating tale of a meeting that he attended as a junior officer with state department officials in Washington in October 1988 – over 20 years ago.
Afghanistan was one of the subjects under discussion between the two delegations. Once they touched on the issue of the Afghan resistance – the seven mujahideen commanders – the head of delegation from this small but important European country asked curiously about the possible impact of the western support for religious fundamentalist groups.
“Don’t worry, they are Sunnis and not Shia fundamentalists, they are our allies,” was the response the European delegation got from the State Department counterparts who were then dealing with south and southwest Asia.
I was stunned by the expedience inherent in this answer, wondering what shape these parties – instilled with the spirit of jihad – might take a few years down the lane, reminisced the special envoy while discussing the fall-out of the short-sighted US political expedience that also resulted in mistrust vis-à-vis Washington. The mistrust that ensued since the US sanctions on Pakistan is all pervasive even today, something that Hilary Clinton also discerned during her late October 2009 Pakistan visit.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. And the author of a recent Penguin publication “The Al-Qaeda Connection – Taliban and Terror in Tribal Areas.”