Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

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Same Old Pakistan, Part I

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf’s government signed a peace treaty with Taliban in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, the world is trying to assess its impact on the ongoing War on Terrorism. Many are of the opinion that the deal amounts to a complete surrender by Islamabad to the Islamic mujahideen. Others think that it is an indication of a strategic change in Islamabad’s policy towards Afghanistan. And in the eyes of still many it is a signal that the nuclear Islamic state doesn’t find itself obliged to continue to follow Washington’s war plan against Al-Qaeda. 

The real story is much more complicated. Pakistan’s reasons in aligning itself with the US in the War on Terror were totally different than those of the US. Islamabad had agreed to side with the US believing that if it didn’t, India would take advantage of the situation and establish its foothold in Afghanistan. Pakistan was also convinced that the US would somehow use India to launch an attack on its strategic assets – nuclear installations. Then there was this question of Kashmir: the Pakistani government thought that by going along with the US, it would win its support against India on this issue. 

On September 19, 2001, Musharraf addressed the people of Pakistan and stated that while he supported the Taliban, unless Pakistan reversed its support, Pakistan risked being endangered by an alliance of India and the USA. He said, “Let us now take a look at the designs of our neighboring country (India). They offered all their military facilities to the United States. They have offered without hesitation, all their facilities, all their bases and full logistic support. They want to enter into any alliance with the Unites States and get Pakistan declared a terrorist state. They want to harm our strategic assets and the Kashmir cause.”  

Trying to explain the Indian motives, General Pervez Musharraf said, “What do the Indians want? They do not have common borders with Afghanistan anywhere. It is totally isolated from Afghanistan. In my view, it would not be surprising, that the Indians want to ensure that if and when the government in Afghanistan changes, it shall be an anti-Pakistan government.”  

It is obvious that by agreeing to support the US in the war on Islamist terror, Pakistan had to stop working on many of its own strategic projects, which were critical in securing a long lasting advantage and leverage in the affairs of its own region of interest – Central Asian Muslim republics, Persian Gulf and South Asia. The Taliban were not a group of strangers that Islamabad was helping. They were a very critical part of Pakistan’s plan to gain the long coveted strategic depth. And they were supposed to open up the Central Asian region for Pakistan’s long-term interests.  

There is no question of surrendering to the Taliban forces by Islamabad as Taliban are not the outsiders – they are Pakistanis. Pakistan armed forces and the Taliban are the two sides of the same coin. Worried and frustrated by the continuing anti-Pakistan policies of Afghanistan, Pakistan had started to create a force like Taliban much before a Communist coup in Afghanistan in 1978.  

Pakistan had established contacts with ultra-religious groups in the northern regions as far back as in 1974 to counter then pro-India Afghanistan government’s moves to encourage Pushtoon separatist groups to demand their own independent state of Pakhtunistan. And it had succeeded in establishing a basic network there. This effort was in line with Pakistan’s plan to create an armed militia that could not be identified with Islamabad so that when they start their insurgencies nobody could point a finger at Islamabad.  

The importance of these mujahideen increased greatly when the Soviet Union imploded and the whole Central Asian Islamic region became independent. Now Pakistan could use these mujahideen in creating a safe and stable corridor to gain access to this energy-rich region: a pro-Pakistan Afghanistan. 

Opening up of the energy-rich Central Asian Muslim states also added to the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan. Policy makers in Islamabad started linking exploitation of the rich energy resources of the region to Pakistan’s economic prosperity and security. That prompted Pakistan to start working on a policy of detaching itself from South Asia and aligning it with the energy-rich Islamic region in the west. Islamabad believed that alignment with the Central Asian Islamic states will not only strengthen its Islamic identity but will also integrate it closely to their economies. Pakistan was one of the first countries to send a delegation to all the Central Asian countries in November-December 1991, led by the then minister of state for economic affairs, Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali. During his visit to the US in 2002, General Musharraf told a group of Pakistani expatriates that Pakistan is a gateway to the landlocked countries of Central Asia. He said that Pakistan working with Afghanistan could help the Central Asian countries in breaking their decades old isolation. 

[ Part II ]

Tomorrow, read about the effects of Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban and what it means for stability and security in Asia, and therefore, for the United States’ strategic interests.


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