In its battle against the "evil empire" of the then USSR, the United States of America created Osama bin Laden and spawned the Afghan mujahideen. In its latest "war against terrorism", America is once again trying to use Afghans against Afghans. Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara Afghans against the Pushtun Afghans. The US and the Northern Alliance, the thugs who ruled Kabul before the Taliban thugs came in, now want to fight the present Afghan regime together. But America's divide and rule policy might just boomerang, and make it a messier, bloodier and longer war.
Riding the tiger has great benefits; getting off it has greater dangers. We Indians have experienced and continue to experience the disasters it brings. It cost us two Prime Ministers.
Mrs Gandhi propped Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale to crush her political opponents in Punjab. He ended up becoming a nightmare that haunted Mrs Gandhi and ultimately caused her death.
Her Sri Lanka policy too suffered from this flaw. Our intelligence agencies and Army supplied arms and trained Vellupillai Prabhakaran's Tigers. The move backfired and she had a problem at hand.
Her son, Rajiv, sent the Indian Army to kill those Tigers. The Indian Peace Keeping Force came back wounded and defeated after another diplomatic turnaround. The hurt Tigers took revenge and in an unprecedented attack on Indian soil, blew up Rajiv Gandhi.
Americans have their own examples. Osama bin Laden is only the most recent. But they refuse to learn from the past. Must history repeat itself?
CIA's crucial role
Here is a bit of recent history. In its Cold War against Russia, America rode the mujahideen of all hues to drive the Russians out of Kabul. It poured arms and greenbacks and the CIA came in to train the Afghan warriors.
The mediator, Pakistan, and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence were flush with cash and arms that they later used to burn Kashmir.
Soon after the Russian invasion in 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave the mujahideen $30 million in used weapons. This covert military aid increased under the Reagan administration. In 1985, the US taxpayers' money diverted to the Afghan war touched $250 million a year.
It peaked to a whopping $700 million by 1988. It did not stop there. The funds flow for the war-ravaged country continued till as late as 1991. The estimated money thrown to the warlords of Afghanistan in that war was between $180 million and US$300 million. In all, the CIA pushed more than $3 billion in a war that was not its own.
Mujahideen versus mujahideen
The Russians left a vacuum in Kabul that the marauding mujahideen rushed to fill. Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Masood, Abdul Rashid Dostum were using those American arms against each other after the Russians had hightailed to Moscow.
They mended fences only to share the power pie by forming an Islamist government. Rabbani became President, Hekmatyar was his Prime Minister and Masood the defence minister in a government that had one purpose: extract a price for fighting the decade long-war with the Russians.
They did not give two hoots for building Afghanistan. The country was being ruled by gangs of trigger-happy warlords owing allegiance to one or the other group in the Kabul coalition. They raped women, killed people, and extorted millions from whoever wanted to sell or buy things in Afghanistan. They sodomised a whole generation of young boys after mock public marriages. They collected obscenely high tolls at every possible point on the few motorable roads the country had.
American weapons, and those left by the fleeing Russians, were killing Afghans. America did not care. The game was over with the Cold War.
ISI pointman Gulbuddin Hekmatyar quit the government and launched an offensive against Rabbani and laid a year-long siege on Kabul. Afghanistan was a dangerous mess left to Afghans and to an extent Pakistan.
For Pakistan a strong, and more important, stable Kabul makes a lot of sense. The Durand Line between the two countries disappears every time there is strife in Afghanistan. Afghans flock to Pakistan and crowd refugee camps along its border. The Pakistani business community in Quetta and Peshawar survive on the trade with Afghanistan.
The post-war civil war forced Pakistan and Pakistani businessmen to back anyone who could end this mess in Kabul. Some 30 students, who had studied together in Pakistani madarsas, formed what was later known as the Taliban movement. A number of mujahideen, disgusted with the way their dream had turned into an unending nightmare, responded to the call of the faith.
The one-eyed Mulla Omar's Taliban ordered a war on Kabul. In days, the Taliban captured all of south and central Afghanistan. Soon they entered Kabul on repaired Russian tanks with Quran in one hand and Kalashnikov in the other. The Taliban was just a byproduct of America's Afghanistan policy.
Till September 11, 2001, the day terrorists, trained or funded by Osama bin Laden, an Arab mujahideen and a guest of the Taliban, razed America's symbols of power and prosperity.
Now in a fit of vengeance, America is once again trying to use Afghans against Afghans. Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara Afghans against the Pushtun Afghans. The US and the Northern Alliance, the thugs who ruled Kabul before the Taliban thugs came in, now want to fight the present Afghan regime together.
Americans will give planes to Rabbani's men, Taliban may bring down these planes with American Stingers. It's the same song again.
After war, what? America has to do a lot of work before feeding Afghans to the fire again. There is a clear and perceptible danger in arming a group of Afghans against another group. The demography of Afghanistan will not allow the Uzbeks or Tajiks to hold on to power for long. Besides, Pakistan now supporting the US in its war against Taliban will ultimately side with the Pathans. Almost half of the Pushtu-speaking Pathans live in Pakistan.
Dostum, Masood and Company killed countless Russians in the gorged ridges of Afghanistan. The same gang has been taking arms and money from the Russians since the Taliban took over. They will accept arms from John Bull, Uncle Sam and Company.
There are dangers in dividing people to rule. The Arab world's hatred for America originates from the hatred for its policy that keeps the Arab world divided and at the Pentagon's mercy. Arabs united pose a threat to America and the oil it runs on. There is already a more than visible streak of hatred across Pakistan for many believe the US has put a Muslim nation against a fellow Muslim nation.
President Bush's war against terrorism may lead to another civil war in Afghanistan and misery for its people. And more hatred for America and a couple of Osama bin Ladens. If you pay for the music, be ready to dance to it.
This Article was published in TheNewsPaperToday.