Friday 13 May 2011

Time for white paper on Afghanistan (PO)

M D Nalapat

Both the Indian as well as the Pakistani elites have yet to get over their feelings of inadequacy in confronting international challenges. This lack of self-confidence is what leads both to cling to outside players, rather than activate their own strengths. However, the reality is that either country has the size and capability to ensure that its own interests are protected, although of course, the local elites refuse to acknowledge this.

An example is the way the Pakistan elite has swung into a reactive mode when confronted by daily accusations of complicity in the harbouring of Osama bin Laden since 2002. Rather than wring one’s hands and plead innocence, what is needed is for the Pakistan establishment to come out with a comprehensive White Paper on Afghanistan, that would detail the way in which the CIA and other agencies used the Pakistan establishment for their own purposes. This columnist well remembers the 1990s, a period when US (and EU, and Chinese, and GCC) diplomats in Delhi ceaselessly urged Indian policymakers to concede to the demands being made by the jihadis battling Indian security forces in Kashmir. It was no secret that these elements were in even closer touch with US and EU diplomats in Delhi than they were with the intensely-monitored Pakistan mission. Not only diplomats but media-persons from the US and the EU routinely took the side of the jihadis in their reporting, as did outlets such as CNN and the BBC. It took 9/11 for that to change, some what. The Clinton administration followed the line of oil giant Unocal in seeing the Taliban as a friendly force capable of providing access to Central Asian petro-products via territory controlled by it. Senior US diplomats made several visits to cities in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to liase with the Taliban, even as they lectured Delhi against giving assistance to the Northern Alliance, help that was meagre and intermittent, thanks to US-EU-GCC-China pressure on the side of the Taliban. 

Pakistan has a treasure trove of documents that show the manner in which the US and other countries helped the Taliban, including details of the cash and other payments made by the incoming Bush administration in the weeks preceding the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre by teams formed by “Al-Qaeda”. What is needed is for these documents to get released in the form of annexures to a White Paper that would show the extent to which the US (and other countries) have been complicit in building up the Taliban.

If Mullah Omar was enabled to take control of 85% of Afghanistan by 1996, the reasons for that did not stop in Pakistan, but extended to several other countries. There was a steady flow of cash and technical assistance to the Taliban from countries as diverse as Turkey, the UAE and China. None of these countries acted the way they did because of any pressure from Pakistan. They were simply following the Unocal script of giving assistance to the Taliban in preference to the Northern Alliance. Indeed, Pakistan has numerous documents showing the way several of those still prominent in the US facilitated the Taliban. What is needed is for such information to enter the public domain, so that the world will understand that the Taliban was neither created by Pakistan nor majority sustained by it. Rather, the growth of the militia represented a collaborative effort that spanned the globe. Until Pakistan releases the facts that it has in its possession on the Afghanistan situation in the 1990s, the perception that it alone is responsible for the nightmare in that country will persist.

The publication of a White Paper by Pakistan on the support to the Taliban during the Clinton administration and till 9/11 would be a crucial correction of the narrative that is being widely disseminated internationally, which is that Islamabad is solely responsible for the growth of the Taliban. Of course, this presumes that the Pakistan establishment will find the courage to confront the US side with the truth in such a manner. Let it be admitted that the Indian establishment would never dare to go down the route of transparency, if the same would entail annoying US policymakers with disclosures about their complicity in decisions that adversely affected both regional as well as international security. An example is the pathetic response of the Vajpayee government towards the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi at the close of the last millennium.

Thus far, the Indian side has refrained from exposing the numerous pressures for a soft line on extremists that come from the US and from other countries that in public take a hard line on international terrorism. The UAE allowed the hijacked aircraft to land in its territory and safely take off, only after it was privately requested to do so by the US administration of Bill Clinton, who may be described as the true parent of the Taliban for the manner in which his team created and sustained that militia. Whether it was the December 24,1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 or events such as the interception of a North Korean vessel by India a decade ago that was carrying missile parts, but which was released after secret parleys with the US, there has been a pattern of Washington saying one thing in public and another in private, a behaviour pattern than needs to be made public by its victims. Just as Pakistan needs to make public the manner in which the Taliban was created and sustained by other powers, so too India needs to make known the way in which jihadis have been supported by the US and by other powers that claim to be fighting a War on Terror, but who are complicit in shielding perpetrators who do not directly challenge their own interests.

Even the 2008 Mumbai attack attracted the attention that it did only because nationals of the US and Israel were directly targetted. Had those killed been merely Indian nationals, there would have been no international action and little uproar about the incident.

It is time that elites in India and in Pakistan moved away from the Winston Churchill theorem that the native people of both countries lack the wisdom to understand the truth. For too long have the Indian and the Pakistani establishments concealed the facts from their own people. In the case of India, even the Henderson-Brooks report on the 1962 debacle with China is kept secret, as are numerous other tomes that show the incompetence and worse, culpabilty, of several policymakers in India in events that cost many lives. In the process of protecting themselves, the local elite also protect their foreign patrons, by keeping from their own people the truth. It is time that such veils got removed, and the facts got presented. A beginning can be made by transparency over the events in Afghanistan from 1993 to September 10, 2011. Both India and Pakistan can issue White Papers that give the facts about the policies followed by both countries towards that country during that period. India can further give details of the pressure applied in the 1990s by the US, the UK and other powers for it to go easy on the Taliban and on outfits backed by the Taliban. This columnist has had the privilege of knowing well the Prime Ministers of that period, and has been made personally aware of the gap between what certain countries professed in public and what they urged India to do in private.

The people of India and Pakistan deserve to be told the truth. In view of the regional significance of Afghanistan and the centrality of the 1993-2001 period to what is taking place in that country now, there is need for a White Paper from both India and Pakistan that exposes the facts about Afghan policy during that period. Knowledge of the truth, and of errors made, is the best defense against future policy disasters. “ Hammaam mai sab nanga hai”. All are naked in the bath. The naked truth must be told, and now, during a time when a single country is being excoriated as the sole mischief-maker in the battle against extremism.

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