From March ’88 to Feb 29

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

I remember that it was March 1988 when multi- faceted process was initiated to reversing events of far-reaching consequences that finally culminated in Doha accord of February 29, 2020 to bring to an end one of the most useless wars in human history.

Obviously its first casualty was Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo who had with the backing of the Americans, prepared grounds for signing the Geneva accord with Moscow for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. A confident Prime Minister Junejo after having full support from White House, convened an All Parties Conference where his emphasis was to have PP Chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto on board besides Wali Khan and others and to seek their blessings for signing the withdrawal accord.

Bibi, being a democratic leader, she summoned an informal meeting of selected senior PP stalwarts to seek views on whether to attend All-Parties Conference or not. Being a privy to that meeting held at Hotel Marriott in Karachi, I was witness to a historic decision. Consensus  was that she should attend the APC but Junejo be asked to ensure that President Ziaul Haq would have noting to do with it and that APC’s view would not be subjected to Zia’s approval.

Prior to that meeting Minister of State for Foreign Affairs late Zain Noorani who had played a key role in Geneva accord after his assumption of office following Sahibzada Yaqub Khan’s resignation—did lot of lobbying. I was personally told by him how angry General Zia was to holding of APC and going ahead on his own for Geneva Accord. Once Gen Zia burst out to his confidantes that ‘he has had enough of Junejo. Even he has started walking tall like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’.

Had Junejo followed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s advice then that part of Geneva Accord be setting up of an interim government to replace the Soviet backed Afghan President Najeebullah to avoid sure tribal fratricidal conflict among various chiefs who would seek their pound of flesh. It did not happen and ever since there had been a war between Taliban, American propped up Afghan government and the allied forces notwithstanding Pakistan’s role in it when its Generals looked at Afghanistan as Pakistan’s strategic depth. Now historic Doha Accord has been signed. However, much similar remain are the apprehensions that Benazir Bhutto had expressed in1988 APC that Geneva accord without an effective interim government in Kabul would lead to fratricidal consequences in a society that has always been wary of a centralised authority over riding the tribal compulsions.

With Washington backing him to the hilt, PM Junejo being an astute though an unassuming politician, very cleverly nibbled General Zia’s powers. By exercising his authority to appoint General Mirza Aslam Beg as Vice Army Chief of Staff without taking his President and Supreme Commander in confidence, he conveyed it to Zia indirectly that his days as Army Chief were about to be over. An inquiry committee appointed by him headed by veteran PML politician Aslam Khattak to probe into Ohjiri Arms Depot scam was designed to expose the conspiracy behind it all, indicting generals involved in it.

The Ohjiri Commission report—though a secret till until now, privately disclosed by Aslam Khattak, had revealed the whole sordid affair that led to massive destruction of American supplied arms included stringer missiles  and killings of hundreds of civilians and army personnel including PML-N minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi’s father Khaqqan Abbasi and his brother. It was found to be an operation to cover up massive embezzlement of American arms by some of the top military brass. The report had identified the culprits. Prime Minister Junejo was to make public the findings of the Ohjiri Commission report on his return from South Asian tour when a panicked General Zia sacked him to save himself and his colleagues from exposure in perhaps one of the biggest scam.

Incidentally Junejo was packed up soon after signing of Geneva accord and Soviet agreement to withdrawal, it is said that Americans reached the conclusion that all that they needed was done, so there was no utility any more left of Zia hence he and his senior colleagues got killed in C-130 crash described by cynics as change of government by divine intervention. The conspiracy to kill Zia seemed more of a proxy job, a handiwork of allegedly some of his colleagues since the moment he departed from Islamabad to Bahawalpur desert where he was to witness demonstration of American tank Abraham at the invitation of Divisional Commander Major General Mehmood Durrani who had painstakingly convinced Zia to leave the federal capital for a day for that purpose when during that period Zia either had premonition of his death or was aware of something cooking to dispose him off. He used to avoid leaving Islamabad. Since his day-long visit for tank demonstration was entirely an army affair from the start of his helicopter’s take off to the end leaves nothing much to conclude as to who wanted Zia bumped off much like mysterious orders from General Pervez Musharraf to instantly hose wash the scene of fatal attack on Benazir Bhutto by using fire tenders that destroyed any chances of recovering incriminatory evidence that would have led to the real identification of killers and their master mind. 

Erstwhile American President George W. Bush Jr. believed in sustaining his power by creating geo-political uncertainties. He was responsible for a worst possible conflict in Iraq on the fabricated, sexed up dossier of Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction followed by attack on Afghanistan to take revenge from Taliban regime in Kabul that had nothing to do with the suicide bombing of New York’s Twin Towers. Bush wanted to teach Afghan rulers a lesson for saying no to American bid for gas pipe line.

After Bush successive American Presidents have tried to make efforts to pull out of Afghanistan to save American troops on great public pressure and their electoral commitment to leave Afghanistan. President Trump after his assumption of power in White House set himself in pursuit of his electoral commitment. Notwithstanding his initial policy of blowing hot and cold against Pakistan to have Islamabad to implement his desire to facilitate American withdrawal from Afghanistan and ‘do more’ against Taliban terrorism, a bit of engineering conducive for this objective was necessary as such whole of Pakistan’s political and military chessboard had to be rearranged to help Washington conduct meaningful negotiations that would not have been possible without Islamabad’s active overt and covert support.

Daily Times in its editorial of March 2, 2020 has hit the nail right on the head when it concludes about Doha deal as something ‘like a marketing project aiming to attract customers from afar and ignoring the indigenous population. Months of deliberations in Doha following the release of Afghan Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar and American Representative Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have finally singed the accord that obliges Taliban by American decision to pull out its troops from Afghan soil. It must be noted as significant that for about two decades since invasion of Afghanistan by Americans and its NATO allies, Taliban had never agreed to sit with any Afghan government. .

Taste of pudding is in eating it. Though a major achievement Doha is, what has to be seen whether Mulla Baradar and his group can deliver by continuing the reconciliation process with the current Afghan government and as well survive against the radicals hostile to have any truck with President Ashraf Ghani’s regime. It must also be underscored that Doha has definitely made much ingress to resolve the issue; one should not be complacent of other factors sill remaining with their geo-strategic interests in the region.

And finally, much would still be needed to be ensured that Taliban don’t resort to their oppressive and bigoted state management that reduced women into slaves, denied education to children and rendered human rights into a joke. Last but not the least, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan should no more be proxy to American interests. Rather, expedient diplomacy is required not only for helping in the reconstruction of Afghanistan but also Pakistan that has suffered immensely in both human lives, its economy and topsy turvying of socio-economic fabric of the entire country.

Conclusively, for once Americans should pay heed to the sane advice given by senior British statesman Lord Chris Paton that stability in Afghanistan would always depend on a strong and vibrant democratic Pakistan with no Praetorian role in politics.

 (Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)