In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, earlier this week, the president of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari wrote an op-ed in The New York Times urging India and Pakistan to work together to battle terrorism. He argued that terrorists are out to destroy Pakistan and that India and Pakistan have a shared interest in combating terrorism. That is an argument hard to argue with.
In the op-ed, Zardari however makes the claim, often repeated by Pakistani leaders, that terrorism was brought into Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s. Zardari writes:
These militants did not arise from whole cloth. Pakistan was an ally of the West throughout the cold war. The world worked to exploit religion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by empowering the most fanatic extremists as an instrument of destruction of a superpower. The strategy worked, but its legacy was the creation of an extremist militia with its own dynamic.
Zardari makes the same false claim that his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf, has made numerous times in trying to point the finger at the West for a terrorism problem that is very much homegrown in Pakistan. Zardari, the son-in-law of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, should know better (and certainly does).
It is often argued that terrorists have support of “rogue” elements of Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It is often argued that the ISI is a “state within a state”. The argument is that these terrorists are acting outside of the control of their masters in the ISI. However, it is clear from a look at Pakistani history that for most of the past half century the Pakistani government has used Islamists as an extension of the Pakistan military. Islamists, and terrorism, has been a government sanctioned component of Pakistani military doctrine since the inception of the Pakistani state. In every military conflict Pakistan has been engaged in since its inception, the Pakistani government has employed Islamists alongside its regular military forces to wage war.
In August 1965, the Pakistani military launched “Operation Gibraltar“. Pakistani army soldiers, special forces units, and Islamist “mujahideen” infiltrated Indian-held Kashmir in an attempt to incite an insurgency by Kashmiri Muslims against India. The plan failed miserably. The Kashmiri Muslims did not rise up against the Indian government and no large-scale guerilla warfare took place to “liberate” Kashmir. In its counterattack, India launched a full scale war on Pakistan in what has become known as the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
In many ways, the Pakistani military’s attempt to incorporate Islamists into war planning was met with failure in 1965. By 1971, however, the military and the Islamists had learnt to work together as a more cohesive and successful killing machine.
On the night of March 25, 1971, in the name of “God and a United Pakistan“, the Pakistan army, with Islamist support, launched “Operation Searchlight” in East Pakistan to crush Bengali nationalism by force. By the end of the night, 7000 Bengalis lay dead in the city of Dhaka. This was the beginning of nine months of war and genocide that would see the emergence of the nation of Bangladesh.
During the nine months of 1971, the Pakistan military formed local “Peace Committees” and paramilitary forces from the student organizations of the Islamists parties Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pakistan Muslim League. The paramilitary forces, known as the Razakars, were grouped into two wings – the al-Badr and the al-Shams. The al-Badr were fighters drawn mainly from the Jamaat-e-Islami while the al-Shams were drawn from the Muslim League. The “Peace Committees” consisted mainly of political leaders of the Islamist parties. The “Peace Committees” pushed out much of the propaganda, of “jihad” and also reported on the activities of local Bengalis, especially Hindus – the committees gathered vital intelligence for the Pakistan army. The Razakars carried out much of the unsavory work of the genocide. The Islamists were fighting for “the establishment of Islamic society” and “to save Muslims from Un-Islamic influences”. Together, the Pakistan military and their Islamist allies killed up to 3 million people in 9 months.
To make the relationship between the military and the Islamists official, the Pakistan Government passed the “East Pakistan Razakars Ordinance” in Summer of 1971 to formally create the Razakar force. The Islamists who fought as Razakars were paid by the Pakistani government. For their efforts, in December 1971 the Pakistan government raised their salaries: an Islamist working as a Razakar would get a salary of Rs. 120 per month, a Razakar platoon commander would get Rs. 180 a month, and a Razakar company commander would get Rs. 300 a month. In addition to receiving a salary, the Razakars also received formal military training from the Pakistan army.
Though successful at terrorizing the population and mass killings, the Pakistan army strategy resulted in unconditional surrender to India on December 16, 1971 – two weeks after India intervened to stop the genocide in Bangladesh.
Since 1971, the relationship between the Pakistani military and the Islamists has continued. The Islamists in Pakistan got a significant boost when in 1979 the Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Huq promulgated the Hudood Ordinance bringing Sharia law to Pakistan. After losing East Pakistan in 1971, the Pakistan military has continued to cultivate Islamist militants in its proxy war over Kashmir.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Pakistan army already had a ready-made relationship with Islamist fighters. Augmented by American weapons, CIA training and Arab fighters, the Pakistani Islamists joined with Afghan fighters to form the Afghan Mujahideen. However it was not the Aghan war that radicalized Pakistani Islamists – that radicalization was homegrown and battle tested in at least two major wars prior to the Afghan war.
Today, when the Pakistani president protests that militants on Pakistani territory are “non-state actors”, it is a difficult claim to accept. The Pakistani military has a well-documented history of arming, training, paying and fighting alongside Islamist militants. Just as in 1965 with “Operation Gibraltar”, the Pakistan military, with the assistance of Islamist militants, launched a similar attack in 1999 on Kashmir that resulted in the Kargil War with India. Since then, Pakistan based militants have continued to launch high-profile attacks inside India. Given the history of Pakistani military support, it is hard to argue that these Islamist militants are rogue actors.
So, Asif Ali Zardari is right. These militants did not arise from whole cloth. These militants were born with the idea of Pakistan as the “land of the pure”, they were nurtured by the Pakistan military, and they have been a prominent part of Pakistani military doctrine. Islamist terrorism is a homegrown Pakistani problem. It is time for the Pakistan government to clean its own house.
Mashuqur Rahman [http://www.docstrangelove.com] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.