Mumbai Terror’s Afghan Roots
After early speculation that the recent Mumbai attacks were linked to Pakistan, a former U.S. Defense Department official now asserts that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) had a hand in training the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists.
Earlier this year Afghan president Hamid Karzai blamed Pakistan for a brazen assassination attempt from which he barely escaped, and U.S. officials contend that the July 7, 2008 bombing of India’s Kabul Embassy, which claimed 41 lives, had also been aided by the ISI.
The roots of the Pakistani military’s complicity in acts of terror in both India and Afghanistan go back many decades. In 1981 for CBS News we interviewed a Soviet- sponsored Afghan president Babrak Karmal, who assured us that Soviet troops would leave Afghanistan if the U.S. and China stopped the war from Pakistan. Today, a U.S.- sponsored Afghan president Hamid Karzai faces a similar fate.
But efforts to pressure Pakistan’s military into dissolving its terror linkage to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and a dozen other terrorist groups will consistently fail, until Washington redresses its own role in fueling Pakistan’s extremist-connected military, while constructing a viable conceptual framework for engagement that favors the interests of both the Afghan and Pakistani people.
The United States owes its policy framework in Central Asia to failed nineteenth-century policy objectives left over from the British Empire. Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was created by British Major General R. Cawthorne who stayed on after partition in order to help Pakistan wage a more effective terrorist war against India.
The CIA itself was modeled after British India’s Political and Secret Service from the days of the empire (the Raj). In the 1980s, Britain’s foremost military historian, Sir John Keegan, would compare it in nineteenth-century-Kiplingesque terms as having “assumed the mantle once worn by Kim’s masters, as if it were a seamless garment.” In addition to the mantle, the CIA would adapt a century-old British political strategy for putting pressure on the Russian empire’s southern flank. Applied to Afghanistan, that strategy soon found the U.S. aligning itself with Pakistan’s British-trained military establishment, which was by 1948 emulating Britain’s aggressive “Forward Policy” of Afghan destabilization in the Northwest Frontier Province.
Britain’s bias towards Pakistan was reflected in the 1950s by Secretary of State Allen Dulles, who in 1953 delivered Afghanistan’s Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud into Soviet arms by denying Daoud the military modernization necessary for maintaining order in the tribal areas bordering Pakistan. That unstable border would eventually provide Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States with the resources needed to conduct a secret war against the Afghan government and lure the Soviet Union into their own Vietnam.
But the war would also destroy any semblance of a cohesive Afghan state while empowering an extreme Islamist movement bent on a historic conquest of Asia. Enthusiastically embraced by Pakistan’s military establishment as part of its ongoing war with India, this Pakistan-ISI-terrorist “monster” now threatens to fulfill that promise. But unless the U.S. can establish itself as a force for progress and change, there is little doubt that Mumbai will only be a sample of what is to come.
The U.S. cannot hope to serve western commercial interests, pacify Afghanistan, and secure peace in Pakistan by resurrecting Cold War policy goals or dreaming up new ways to rekindle nineteenth-century British and Russian imperialist games for the “soft underbelly” of Eurasia.
In a sign that things are changing, U.S. officials have reportedly asked the United Nations Security Council to place four former ISI officials, including former ISI chief Major-General Hamid Gul on its international terrorist list. Gul has a long history of supporting the Islamists’ radical agenda while heaping praise on the Taliban.
But neutralizing four aging ISI officials will have little effect unless the CIA is willing to relinquish some of its Anglo-Saxon bias. As former U.S. ambassador Leon B. Poullada once wrote describing the overthrow of Afghan King Amanullah in 1929, “Some British officials saw a modernizing of Afghanistan as a threat to British rule in India since it offered an example of the kind of progress free Asians could achieve. . . . This was especially true among the British military.”
If the United States wishes to free itself from the growing terrorist threat, it can begin by freeing itself from Central Asia’s colonial past.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of "Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story," which will be published in January by City Lights.