South Asian Saga
Eddie J. Girdner
Dilip Hiro, Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists In South Asia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012. 355 pages.
Dilip Hiro has been writing books on South Asia and nearby areas for more than thirty-five years. I first read Inside India Today (1976) shortly after it was published. A truly insightful analysis of Indian politics. Since, the author has written more than thirty books on the Middle East and Central Asia.
This book traces the roots of jihadist movements in South Asia since 1978. It is simply the best book I have read to put it all into context and link together the political developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and India in the last three decades.
After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Islam came to be a basis for a political ideology, Islamism, for which Islamists struggle. This is a form of jihad, in that it is a political struggle against unbelievers. The book traces developments from the l978 leftist coup in Afghanistan. Zbigniew Brzezinsky, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, saw the opportunity in l979 to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and give the USSR its own Vietnam.
US President Jimmy Carter authorized secret actions against the Kabul Government in July 1979. The Soviet Union took the bait and invaded in December 1979. The Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan made the mistake of pushing for radical reform in socially conservative Afghanistan.
Pakistan then became a front-line state in the Cold War. The US supported the Islamist warlords (mujahideen) to drive out the Soviets. The head of the US CIA, William Casey, supported zealots like warlord Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, as it was thought he could penetrate into Soviet Tajikistan and undermine the Communist system. The warlords were funded by the US through the Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistan Military. This went on until the Soviets withdrew in l989.
This had a great impact in Pakistan with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in power. With the aid of the USA, Zia carried out both Islamization of the country and his nuclear program, of which the Reagan Administration was fully aware, but hid from Congress. Zia perished in a military plane crash in l988, along with the American Ambassador. But some ten-thousand madrassas had been established, a quarter of the schools in parts of the country.
With the Soviets gone, the ISI turned its attention to establishing a proxy regime in Afghanistan, for strategic depth against India and the liberation of Kashmir from New Delhi. The regime of Muhammad Najibullah fell in l992, leading to renewed warfare between the warlords, the major division being the Pashtuns in the South and East and the Tajiks in the North, supported by India. The Pakistan ISI assisted Mullah Mohammed Omar to put the Taliban into power, bring peace to most of Afghanistan, and establish a pro-Pakistan proxy regime.
The ISI turned the mujahideen fighters to Kashmir, from training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, linked to al-Qaeda. With the Indian repression of Moslems in Kashmir, the insurgency spread in the l990s. India put down the rebellion with brutal force. Pakistan set up jihadist groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba to infiltrate India. This led to the establishment of another jihadist group, the Indian Mujahideen in India. In December 2001, the Indian Parliament in Delhi was attacked. Bombings were carried out across India in major cities. Then came the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
Another significant development was the establishment of closer relations between India and Israel, especially during the time of the Bharatiya Janata Party Government (1998-2004). India obtained technology to deal with jihadist activity and shared an anti-Islamist thrust with Israel. Diplomatic relations with Israel were normalized in 1992.
After 9/11, Pakistan found itself in a bind with its policy of support of the Taliban. Washington demanded that it reverse this policy. General Pervez Musharraf went along with the US but only to a limited extent, playing a double game. Pakistan had their jihadists and the Haqqani Network in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and the Taliban in Afghanistan were considered to be strategic assets.
After the collapse of the Taliban Government in 2001, al-Qaeda fighters were allowed to filter into the western areas of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden and other Taliban leaders were able to live in the region. This eventually led to Pakistan’s own blowback, when some Jihadists groups turned against Musharraf and the Pakistan Military. One of these was Nek Muhammed, leader of the Pakistan Taliban who used his militia to kill Pakistani soldiers in Waziristan. The US began to bring in hundreds of CIA agents into the country under cover. They did not trust the ISI in the search for bin-Laden.
With the US military bogged down in Iraq, the ISI was able to revive and strengthen the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US was failing with the corrupt and incompetent government of Hamid Karzai. Warlords were being funded and enriched by road tolls and drug trafficking.
When Obama became President in 2009, he saw the war in Afghanistan as the “good war.” The surge of US troops began, but the more troops came, the stronger the Taliban grew. The US began its drone warfare alienating both Afghanis and Pakistanis. The US had succeeded in giving the Soviets their Vietnam, but in the end, gave themselves a second Vietnam, which at this point is far from over.
Western intervention in South Asia has not had a bright past. It does not seem to have a bright future either. Pakistan is a nearly-failed state, unable to provide basic services to its population, but possessing a nuclear stockpile. In India there is the Hindu Nationalist Sangh Parivar, including such militant groups as the Bajrang Dal. Linked to the BJP Party, these groups have flourished in the increasingly inequitable neoliberal policies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Kashmir remains unsettled.
US policy makers have finally come to realize that they are not going to get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan and must negotiate the future. The American people are fed up with wars. Many have lost their homes and many are broke and out of work. The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan want the US out.
Dilip Hiro suggests that a better approach is a regional solution, involving the powers of the region. For all interested in the recent political events in South Asia, this in depth book is essential reading.
May 28, 2013