Gen (Retd) Mirza Aslam Beg former Coas Pakistan Army and President FRIENDS, an independent THINK TANK, analyses the collision affects of two revolutions in the same region
past two decades have witnessed historic transformation of great magnitude in the two
neighbouring countries of Pakistan-Iran and Afghanistan. Both have emerged successful
after the revolutions uprooting the power structures and dismantling the age-old systems,
thus producing reverberations across the borders - particularly Pakistan, being in closest
proximity and having filial ties and sharing ideological moorings. It is indeed ironical
that while both Iran and Afghanistan have termed the revolution Islamic but as they belong
to different sects, they in essence are adhering to two different orientations and
perspectives. The cleavage is wide and divisive, pulling them apart and on path of
confrontation. One only hoped that emotional stirrings would subside in time and reason
would prevail to galvanise them into a cohesive force for the greater glory and unity of
To dilate on the dynamics and peculiarities of Islamic revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan, would indeed require elaborate analyses, but without going into the details, it would suffice to say that the Iranian Revolution is unique of its kind in the history of great ideological movements, which totally metamorphosed the traditional system. The Shah of Iran, whose words were a decree, was reduced to a non - entity depriving him of all his glamour and imperialistic majesty and arrogance, and he had to depart from the world unwept and unsung. Such is the fate of tyrants, who remain obsessed with power and nourish a feeling of invincibility.
It is indeed a strange coincidence that while Iran was engaged in a deadly encounter with the enemies of the revolution, Afghanistan became a victim of unabashed aggression by the Soviet forces. USA lost no opportunity of encashing it to serve its national interests, by mobilizing resistance against the Soviet invasion. Pakistan was made to play a pawn in this game, and was fully integrated so that the Soviet forces bleed to death on the soil of Afghanistan - a historical pay off for the humiliation USA suffered in Vietnam. Pakistan while deeply involved into fighting the Soviets, could provide no support to Iran, or perhaps it was refrained to do so. Iran consequently felt dismayed at the cold response on the part of Pakistan. But then it so happened that the relations between Iran and Pakistan took a turn for better and warmth was reciprocally experienced. The enemies sensed it and finding it ominous to their interests, systematically contrived Shia-Sunni riots, all over Pakistan. The mosques and Imambarahs turned into killing fields. The game is still not over, and intermittently sectarian terrorism do tend to erupt.
The underlying motive was to create a wedge between Iran and Pakistan so that antipathy against each other could prohibit reconciliation. Many modalities were harnessed to achieve this end, but what has proved ominous was that, Pakistans relations with Taliban were exaggerated to such an extent that Iran felt quite apprehensive and disturbed about Pakistans intentions. The idea was to sow mistrust so that Iran remains totally alienated and its relations with Pakistan could never improve. An American diplomat Nicholas Burns has recently testified that USA was supporting Taliban for the explicit reason that Irans role and influence in Afghanistan remained circumscribed and was not allowed to grow. He has also revealed that there used to be secret meetings between Americans and the representatives of Taliban and that these meetings were held on the territory of Pakistan for the past two years. Thus the two neighbours continued drifting apart.
Talibans recent offensive against the forces of Northern Alliance, which were being supported by India, Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, has enabled them to gain control over practically the whole of Afghanistan. History testifies that the peoples of Afghanistan are mentally so conditioned that they would rather die fighting to the last soldier and the last ditch but would never surrender to an aggressor. No invader has ever come out victorious on the soil of Afghanistan. Even the empire builders like the British had to eat the humble pie, and the Soviet Union, a formidable super power met its Waterloo in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance, despite having maximum support from outside powers, could not deter the Talibans march to victory. Who knows, nemesis, has ordained a similar fate for USA.
The victory of Taliban against Northern Alliance forces has caused a wave of fear among the neighbouring countries, who feel that the onward march of Taliban would not end at Mazar-e-Sharif and that after consolidating their hold, they would export the Islamic revolution beyond their borders. The Central Asian States are naturally quite perturbed. The Taliban victory is not at all cherished by USA. In order to create a rift between Pakistan and Taliban, USA launched a well planned missile attack on Afghanistan. While it may have been a mission to kill Osama Bin Laden, but the main purpose was to create a dent in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it appears that just as Iran braved all conspiracies, Taliban would also be able to succeed in their mission, and Afghanistans dream of establishing an Islamic State would come to fruition.
The impact of the revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan over Pakistan are deep and profound. The Iranian revolution has created a sense of confidence among the Pakistanis and there is a realization that there is always a way out to fight the repressive forces. It is on this account that the hostile forces are out to destroy that sense of confidence by erecting a wall of distrust between the two countries. No doubt the sectarian clashes have soured relations between the two countries, but the effects would not be too lasting, and the two would sink their differences and lay the foundation of greater cooperation and understanding with each other.
The impact of Afghanistan revolution, are vivid both at political and ideological levels in Pakistan. There is a talk of Islamic revolution in Pakistan on lines similar to that of Taliban, with a new groupings emerging at the political and social fronts. There is an emerging polarization among the Islamic and secular forces, with its attendant hazards. The divide has come to the foreground. The National Awami Party, several nationalistic parties and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), despite their political differences, have converged together and there is an attitudinal conformity between them. PPP, a national party, whose line of thinking transcends regional approaches, by sheer force of an ironical situation, is constrained to make alliance with regional parties, to confront Punjab. On the other hand Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), for its own reasons, has parted company with the ruling party, and it is quite probable that it may soon join this alliance. The situation in Balochistan is also not too encouraging. The regional parties are continuously protesting against the Federation. Akbar Bugtis disenchantment has further complicated the situation.
If one takes a broad view of the political scenario, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a climate of confrontation building up against the monopoly of the Punjab, by the three smaller provinces. Such a situation is always welcome to separatist forces. This will accentuate polarization, reminiscent of what happened in the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1970-71. The Awami League got clear mandate in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and PPP captured majority votes in West Pakistan, which ultimately led to the political divide of the country. When the interests of the political parties clashed, instead of taking recourse to political accommodation, a path of confrontation was chosen, resulting in the Army action, which in turn led to the dismemberment of Pakistan - the most traumatic event in our history.
In the light of the prevailing mood and political climate in the country, the Government ought to have taken cautious steps and should have refrained from touching contentions and sensitive issues. But instead of seeking a path of reconciliation and dialogue, it opted to enforce Shariah. It can not be denied that there are positive aspects of the decision, because Shariah is sacrosanct, but in light of the great ideological and political divide, sagacity demanded that it should have been left untouched so that fuel is not added to the already raging fire. It would have been desirable on the part of the government,not to play with sentiments and accommodate the demands of a limited segment of the society. It should have laid priorities for solving the grave problems confronting the country, e.g., the price - hike, the economic waywardness, unemployment, rampant corruption and lack of justice. But alas! because of the untimely enforcing of Shariah, the country is heading towards a deeper divide.
It is imperative that whatever may be political leanings, of a party the national interest must remain paramount. To forge a national unity is the foremost objective. If the political divide is further augmented by the ideological divide, it would be perilous for the country. It is time to arrest the trend. The intelligentsia and the opinion makers, therefore, have great moral obligation not to let history repeat itself. The greatest problems that we encounter is the security and survival of the country. We are full to the brim with problems, but the situation can be retrieved.
Fortunately, for us, the democratic institutions are intact in the country, and if they are allowed to function as per Constitution, there is every hope that we would gloss over the challenges we face. Unfortunately, under the intoxication with massive mandate, these institutions have been rendered redundant and powerless. There is a cult of over-centralization, with power concentrated in one individual. Sycophancy is at its peak, which is the dissolvent of democracy. In passing the Shariah Bill, there is a marked apprehension of expression of the brute power of the majority, Just as Kalabagh Dam was made controversial, and ultimately made unimplementable, the Shariah Bill, which is essentially sacroscant will also be driven to meet the similar fate. It appears, as if a big conspiracy is being hatched against the integrity of the country and the national interests are being jeopardized.
The nation is at the cross-roads of history demanding that its political will is asserted through its elected representatives in the Parliament and the shackles of the Fourteenth Amendment are broken to lend grace and dignity to the voice of conscience. The Parliament shall thus emerge saviour of Pakistan or else if it succumbs to the dictates of expediency, remains docile and silent expectator to the catastrophe it shall slide into the abyss of oblivion. The need is to strengthen the democratic institutions and not individuals. Consensus is the need of the time. Remember the words of a famous philosopher: Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards.