In wars as in politics victory is sometimes subjective, which is why history is replete with victories that were at best pyrrhic because of adverse ramifications on the victors. 1812: Napoleon marched triumphantly into Moscow but subsequently lost his Grande Armée and his throne. 3 years later, Czar Alexander I of Russia, the vanquished, became the main powerbroker in European affairs. 1939-45: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s steely resolve against Nazism guaranteed his country’s victory over Germany but Britain lost its empire in the aftermath of the war. 1979 to 1987: U.S support for the Afghan Mujahedeen was instrumental in the defeat of the mighty Soviet army that occupied Afghanistan, but in retrospect U.S policy makers wish they acted differently.
Historians would agree that Afghanistan was the final blow that brought down the Soviet Empire in 1991, but also recognize that the epic event would have happened without this adventure because Soviet communism was terminally ill. In a twist of irony, Washington’s Grand Strategy of weakening the Soviet Union led to the greatest U.S foreign policy blunder whose ramifications have become obvious with its ongoing war with Al-Qaeda/Taliban (2001-?). If, as the experts are predicting, a nuclear device is let loose on U.S soil by a terror group, the dreaded weapon of mass destruction would, in all probability, come from the Pakistani arsenal. In retrospect, what went wrong?
Because confronting Soviet expansionism was the pillar of U.S policy, the Grand Strategy took precedence over the threat of nuclear proliferation. When India, Pakistan’s mortal enemy, tested a nuclear device in 1974, the Pakistanis began working on their own deterrent. Fearing a nuclear arm race in the region, the U.S undertook many steps to prevent Pakistan from acquiring the needed technologies, including coercing the irascible French from delivering an agreed upon plutonium-reprocessing plant to the country. But when Soviet troops invaded neighboring Afghanistan in December of 1979 and Pakistan became a frontline in the U.S Grand Strategy, Washington’s longstanding policy against nuclear proliferation was neglected and the Pakistanis took full advantage of it. More ominously, the U.S turned its back on the region as soon as the Soviets departed from Afghanistan in February of 1987, leaving the Pakistani generals not only with nuclear weapons but also the dream of a Greater Pakistan encompassing part or all of Afghanistan. To that end, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban, a Pashtun-dominated religious movement with its origin in the hundreds of Madrassas (Islamic schools) established under Zia Ul-Haq (Pakistan military ruler from July 1977 to August 1988.)
While subjugating Afghanistan has eluded many of the world’s most powerful empires over the last two centuries, the Pakistani generals’ dream was not totally out of reach for two compelling reasons. Firstly, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group Pashtun is also Pakistan’s second-largest, a legacy of British colonialism that today benefits the more populous Pakistan, which itself was carved out of India. Secondly, the specter of an ever more powerful Shiite Iran dominating or laying claim on Sunni Afghanistan, an ancient province of the Persian Empire, provides the rationale for such union. Needless to say, Pakistan’s own Grand Strategy could have succeeded but the Taliban leaders’ brand of fundamentalist Islam and zealotry proved to be the dream’s worst enemy.
13 years after the Taliban took over much of Afghanistan with the assistance of Pakistan, the group is threatening the very existence of its creator and benefactor. While many may consider a Taliban takeover of Pakistan improbable, the situation should nonetheless be treated as a clear and present danger by the U.S because Pakistan’s military and security forces are infiltrated by Taliban sympathizers and militants. The now-defunct Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network ability to trade nuclear secrets and materials with other countries should be the criteria by which Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is judged unsafe, not the hollow promises of that country’s generals. Unfortunately, the U.S is more concerned with what it wants Pakistan to accomplish in the war than learning and understanding what the Pakistanis are up to, for the current alliance is one of convenience whose ramifications could surpass that of the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan.
It is interesting to know that the Pakistanis are mistrustful of the U.S for cozying up with their archenemy, India. For that reason, milking the U.S treasury not defeating the Al-Qaeda/Taliban insurgency remains the primary motivation behind their support for the war in Afghanistan. The longer the war last, the more financially beneficial it is to cash-starved and Indian-feared Pakistan, hence the incentive for the all-powerful military to act duplicitously with the U.S. The fact that the present civilian government manages to achieve more against terrorism in one year than the generals have accomplished in seven is testament of the military duplicity, because the Pakistani military, not civilian governments, traditionally calls the shots on security matters. Unless the current strategy of closing the Pakistani side of the Afghan border, which would allow U.S and NATO troops to annihilate the Taliban/Al-Qaeda forces succeeds in the brief possible delay, the civilian government’s days are numbered as the wave of bombings orchestrated by the Taliban throughout Pakistan would hasten the return to power of the military. The end result: the U.S would be fighting an open-ended war with the Taliban/Al-Qaeda forces whose aim is tacitly supported by the Pakistani military, Washington’s dubious friend.