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Pakistan and Northern Alliance: new 'friends', older adversaries

Pakistan and Northern Alliance: new 'friends', older adversaries

Introduction: Memories of ISI's skewed Afghan policy are still fresh for the Alliance
Author: Shri Khaled Ahmed, The Friday Times
Publications: The Indian Express
Dated: December 4, 2001

The entry of the Northern Alliance into Kabul has unleashed fears in Pakistan. Jamiat Islamabad its allies ruled in Kabul from 1992 to 1996, during which period it killed 50,000 Kabulis and raped and pillaged the hapless population of the city. Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud ordered the bombing of Pakistan embassy in 1996, climaxing his bad relations with Pakistan. Within the year, he had to flee into Panjsher Valley as Pakistan evened the score by seating the Taliban in Kabul.

Why does the Northern Alliance (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Ismailis) hate Pakistan so much? The answer lies buried in the past, much of it in the way the ISI was allowed to handle the Afghan jehad from l979 to l989.

A report in The News quoted an ISI officer as saying: "The previous ISI bosses thought that it was a sin to have contact with the anti-Taliban Afghans. In the business of secret intelligence operations you can never close any windows, but in the past the ISI rebuffed every attempt by the anti-Taliban elements to open a dialogue with it". It suited the ISI and CIA to ignore the Jamiat Islami of Rabbani and Massoud and support Hizb-e-Islami of Hekmatyar. Massoud, locked in a personal vendetta with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, followed a policy of negotiating with the Soviet occupying army.

The ISI and CIA preferred outfits that did their bidding more readily. Saudi Arabia, attracted to wahhabi elements in the Kunar province, followed in their wake, backing ISI's preferential funding of Hizb-Hekmatyar and his Kharuti colleague, Ittehade Islami's Abdur Rasool Sayyaf. Jamiat and Hizb leaders arrived in Peshawar in 1975 after being driven out by the communist allies of President Daud. Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used Hekmatyar to needle Daud through random bombings in Kabul to dissuade him from reviving the Pakhtunistan issue.

When the Afghan war started in 1979 the jehad leaders residing in Peshawar multiplied. Seven jehadi parties were recognised by General Zia and his ally, Jamaat Islami. According to Barnett R. Rubin in The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia subcontracted their dealings with the mujahideen groups to Jamaat Islami which supported Zia's Islamisation programme.

Massoud began to complain about the pro-Hekmatyar policy of Pakistan. He parleyed with the Soviets and obtained for himself a strong position in Panjsher. He told a Norwegian reporter in 1986 that one-third of his income came from booty, another third from the sale of lapis lazuli and emerald which he mined in Panjsher, and only 4.5 percent from Jamiat in Pakistan, while five per cent accrued from the Panjsheris in the Kabul government and businessmen. Because he received very little from ISI, he was less 'controlled' than the other mujahideen Leaders.

Later, the ISI formed a similar one-sided relationship and told Islamabad there was no alterantive to the Taliban policy after the Taliban became defiant. The ISI's tilt towards Hekmatyar foreclosed Pakistan's options with Massoud. The present animus against Pakistan among the Northern Alliance also owes to the ISI's tilt in favour of Osama bin Laden and the latter's assasination of Massoud.

In 1989, the Soviets declared that they would leave Afghanistan. The ISI and General Zia had rejected the Geneva Accords which prime minister Junejo had signed. Thus began the 'tradition' of 'going it alone' within the ISI, a trend that has haunted every ruler in Pakistan down to General Musharraf.

In 1989, ISI thought it should send an interim government of its Peshawar-based mujahideen to 'fill the vacuum' after defeating President Najibullah's government. The ISI blundered by excluding the Shia mujahideen based in Iran - which Tehran was to unite under Hizb-e-Wehdat in 1994. This isolated Pakistan in Afghanistan further after the Taliban's collapse.

Rubin tells the story: "The seven parties appointed all 519 representatives to the shura, excluding all participation by the Kabul regime and the Shia parties. The shura was composed almost entirely of Peshawar-based party officials, mostly Pakhtuns from eastern Afghanistan. The Saudi intelligence service spent 26 million dollars per week during the shura: The ISI chief promised the presidency to Mujaddidi. Sayyaf became prime minister in deference to the Saudis who promised to fund a conventional Islamic Army if their wahhabi sect was adequately represented".

The same year General Hamid Gul's plan to capture Jalalabad as a base for the Islamic Interim Government of Afghanistan failed because the mujahideen, including ISI's favourite Hekmatyar, never seriously took to the field against the PDPA forces. Then, Mujaddidi thought he could take Kunduz but that plan too failed after Hekmatyar's men murdered ten commanders of Massoud's army. Mujaddidi called Hekmatyar a criminal and a terrorist who then stopped attending meetings.

When Najibuilah fell in 1992, the mujahideen hurriedly announced a government under a Peshawar Accord, but without Hekmatyar. The ISI could not support any setup without him, therefore, Nawaz Sharif in 1993 put together another government. He discovered to his dismay that no one among the mujahideen was willing to support Hekmatyar despite the bullying of Jamaat Islami's Qazi Hussain Ahmad. Mujaddidi was left as president but Hekmatyar was included as prime minister, who immediately said he would dismiss Massoud as defence minister. The result: Hekmatyar could not enter Kabul, which was already in the hands of Rabbani and Massoud.

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