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‘Proxy war’ or combat against invasion and occupation?

By Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta: These days, just turn over pages of newspapers or give your ears and eyes to analysts on TVs and radios, you will come across a frequently-used word.

This frequently used word is, “proxy war”. Many take advantages of the use of this word, both overt and covert. There is no problem with the way they are taking advantage by the use of this word. However, the problem is their intensions.

Using the word of “proxy war” in current political discussions is indebted to two political figures in the region. The first is Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the president of the National Unity Government, who used the word several times including during his speech at the SAARC summit in Katmandu and in opening ceremony of the National Assembly this year. The other political figure is Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan’s military government, who in his interview with the Guardian divided the people of Afghanistan into two parts: The Pashtuns who are pro-Pakistan and non-Pashtun tribes who are pro-India. Musharraf said they trained and armed the Afghan Taliban as pro-Pakistan fighters for conducting “proxy war” against India in Afghanistan. (Here I am putting aside the legal debate of this issue according to international laws). Several politicians and journalists used this word before and after the remarks by Musharraf.

Unfortunately the pro-Taliban media outfits and those media organizations, who usually are the victims of the Taliban’s atrocities, use the word or interested to use it alike. The excessive and irresponsible use of this word may give serious backfires, particularly in Afghanistan.

The problems include elimination of the border between friends and foes, locating victims and criminals in one line and undermining the resistance of Afghan people against the invasion of Pakistan from the first half of 1990s until now. Another biggest backlash would be: “Afghans’ fight for freedom against Pakistan is lost and relegated by intelligence war between India and Pakistan inside Afghanistan. The army of Afghanistan is reduced to be pro-India. Afghan national army is currently busy in a fierce fight against the Taliban. The Taliban are pro-Pakistan. Nevertheless, by the use of word proxies, realities are depicted but in opposite direction.”

The spy agency of Pakistan speaks of India’s proxy war in Afghanistan against Pakistan. I prefer to point out to a number of facts here:

Pakistan has claimed several times that India has 14 consulates in Afghanistan. This claim is totally baseless.

India has four consulates in Afghanistan—the same like Iran and Pakistan. The consulate offices were established ahead of 2002. Now, if ISI’s henchmen inside Afghanistan want the Afghan government to reject the consulates, it is up to them, but the freedom fighters of this country will never give this right to Pakistan to take control of Afghanistan’s foreign policy and press Kabul to tell India to cease its consulates in the country.

They also claim that India helps Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters in Kunar province. They allege the former government of Afghanistan trained and sheltered Pakistani Taliban in collusion with India. This claim is also unfounded. Kunar province had never been in control of Afghan security forces until mid-2014. The US troops had more than 60 small and big military bases in the province. In presence of ISAF troops, neither Afghanistan nor India could establish sanctuaries in the areas or could train the militants there.

Pakistan claims that India helps the Baluchistan freedom movement via Afghanistan. This allegation of Pakistan is also far from reality. The fact is that after the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a Baluch nationalist leader, in 2006, his family members and relatives migrated to Afghanistan, and the then Afghan government gave them refuge purely on humanitarian grounds because then administration informed the UN office and also the embassy of Pakistan in Kabul.  Pakistan blamed Kabul that it has issued Afghan passport to the nephew of Bugti that enabled him to travel to India. First, the allegation looks groundless. Second, suppose it was so, then it is not against any international law, rather Afghanistan has the right to allow a migrant to travel to any country according to the 1951 Geneva Convention on migration and refugees. Till date, Pakistan has not provided any substantial information and evidence about its claim that Baloch freedom fighters had conducted military attacks inside Pakistan from Afghanistan or the claim that they are being trained here. Should Pakistan’s claim be accepted as right, everyone should know that Afghanistan is not the battlefield. Why does not Pakistan fight against India in Kashmir? Or any other place? Why our schoolchildren should be killed in Pakistan’s senseless war?

Pakistan is eying to compel Kabul on scaling back its relations with New Delhi. India provides 1,500 scholarships to Afghan students every year. Moreover, hundreds of Afghan students are receiving vocational training in India. Afghanistan needs these scholarships. Hundreds of India-graduate Afghan students are working in different departments of the government of Afghanistan. Will it be any sane decision to stop sending Afghan students to India?

India has established power transmission line from northern parts of the country to the capital Kabul. Taliban militants—at the behest of Pakistan—exploded these power lines. What is the relation of this issue with “proxy war”?

India constructed the Dilaram-Zaranj Highway in Afghanistan. Construction of this route, excluded Nimroz from being a far flung province, and on the other side created a new port way with Iran that connects Afghanistan with the outer world. I don’t have any clue about it what threat this highway had posed to Pakistan. Pakistan so hell-bent on sabotaging this project that its spy agency killed one Afghan and one Indian in every kilometer of the route.

India started work on Salma Dam project in Herat province. Does construction of any dam poses any direct or indirect threat to any country? Then why did Pakistan send tens of Taliban fighters to explode it?

The National Assembly of Afghanistan holds its sessions in a substandard building. The Indian government is constructing a proper building for the Afghan parliament. Pakistan feels it a threat. How can we convince Pakistan that the building doesn’t pose any security threat to that country?

The historical monument of “Ostoor Palace” inside the yard of the Afghan Foreign Ministry was on the verge of collapse. On the plea of then Afghan government, India agreed to fund the rehabilitation of the historical monument. It is beyond understanding that how the rehabilitation of the palace could threaten the national security of Pakistan.

Afghanistan is an agricultural country. Afghan farmers still pursue traditional ways in their agricultural activities. There are some areas that follow modern agriculture but still they face problems in ways of collecting harvests and using farm lands and orchards due to environmental and agriculture know-how lack. India is building an agriculture university in Kandahar. I don’t know how the agricultural farms of Afghanistan are posing threat to Pakistan’s national security?

Afghanistan signed a transit agreement with Pakistan. Pakistan not only failed on many occasions in its implementation but also kept blockade on Afghanistan because of its landlocked geographical location. That is why Afghanistan faces millions of dollars loss on annual basis.

Pakistan had promised Afghanistan to extend the Jalalabad-Torkham route. This pledge is yet to be implemented.

Pakistan vowed it will extend railway to Chaman and onward to Kandahar. This promise has never been translated into reality.

Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, an ISI-linked militant group, attacked the Indian embassy two times and conducted several attacks on Indian consulates and guest houses where Indians workers lived. Several Indian diplomats and workers and several Afghan citizens were killed and injured in the attacks. Fortunately no Pakistani organization has been attacked in Afghanistan so far.

In a meeting back in 2011, Pakistan’s top leadership pledged that they will convey the message of the Afghan government to the supreme leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar regarding peace and vice versa albeit with the passage of five years Islamabad didn’t do anything in this regard. Even though Pakistan had pledged it will deliver the message within three weeks.  In the meeting, former President Hamid Karzai, former Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rasul, former National Security Advisor, Spanta, former Ambassador in Pakistan, Daudzai, (from Afghanistan) whereas former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Gilani, former Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, Military Chief of Staff Kayani, former ISI chief, General Pasha (from Pakistan) were present.

Instead of delivering the letters and messages of Afghanistan to the Taliban leaders, Pakistan helped assassination of political leaders of this country one after another.

The head of Pakistan’s army and civilian leaders in that country promised me (when I was serving as the National Security Advisor) to carry out military operation against Haqqani Network in Waziristan. A day after my trip to Pakistan, the spokesman for Pakistani army announced that Haqqani Network was one of the targets of operations of the two countries in Waziristan. This is a fact that Pakistan’s spy agency, with the help of Pakistan’s army, transferred the Haqqani family and its key commanders to relatively a safe place, at the same time when it was talking with the Afghan delegation.

I cannot say anything about recent information about Pakistan and its links with militant groups as currently I have no access to information by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), but Afghanistan’s intelligence agency has access to exact documents based on which Pakistan pay money to specific figures of the Taliban, and it carries on this process very brazenly in some cases, as it transfers the money through cash. (I have cognizance of too many other matters as well but I don’t want to share them all here because I don’t want to damage anybody. Bomb making factories, producing explosives, training centers, informers and… Of course my concern about security of a number of figures is not because of Pakistan’s spy agency only).

Pakistan still provokes the Taliban against our people, organized, systematically and target-based. It kills women and children, destroys our schools and hospitals, and destroys roads and bridges. Lashkar-e-Tayyeba conducts terror activities inside Afghanistan. The Afghan intelligence agency and other covert national agencies have access to telephone conversations of Haqqanis and the Taliban with Pakistani officials where Haqqanis are ordered by Pakistan that how to conduct terror attacks and whom they should kill. In a number of cases they have been told that if they are not able to kill any figure alone, they should seek the help of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. This activity is done as much irresponsible as terrorists are ordered to kill ex-Jihadi figures and political leaders in Afghanistan. There is no sign and reason that push us to expect that the 25-year long war of Pakistan against Afghanistan comes to an end.

In above lines, I tried to show that our relations with the Republic of India are based on long-term objectives. Our relations are friendly exactly like our relations with Turkey. Nothing more than it.

Let me say that currently the war in Afghanistan has two sides: One is the people of Afghanistan who are represented by the Afghan security forces in cooperation with international troops and the other side is ISI, the Taliban and al-Qaeda who represent Pakistan and fight against the Afghan security forces.

The fact is that the Afghan forces and their allies are defending the territory of Afghanistan against invasion of Pakistan for safeguarding the independence, protection of the law, and the national integrity of Afghanistan. The other side is the belligerent that fuels conflicts. There is no “proxy war” in Afghanistan. Belief in “proxy war” can only emanate from ISI-struck minds. Hamid Karzai in a meeting with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor in July 2013 told him that: “India and the definition of our relations with India is one of the issues that should be focused on. You can have strategic depth in Afghanistan, but through extended friendship and cooperation, not through anger. Your perception about Afghanistan’s ties with India is incorrect. You think that India uses Afghanistan against your country. This is misunderstanding. Bugti called us for help but I did not respond. Afghanistan will give you any kid of guarantee that no threat will be posed from our side to you. India is ready to talk with you. Even about your concerns regarding our relations with India. Please see your relations with Afghanistan free from your problems with India.”

What is proxy war in real? This word was largely used in political literature and in war and peace researches after the World War II. When the two nuclear blocs were formed—one led by the US under the umbrella of NATO and another one led by then USSR under the umbrella of Warsaw, these blocs started a mad run to dominate the world—bipolar world. In this competition the third party (third world countries) was stampeded.

The two sides while having the support of their allies and the groups that were ideologically interested to them fueled wars but avoided direct fight against each other. The battlegrounds of fighter groups from the two sides were kept fueling. In other words, two ideological groups, capitalism and communism, were pursuing their ideological stability at the cost of destroying the third parties. The death and destruction started through sending weapons, financial and logistic support, and exceptionally through direct interference. The Afghanistan war with the then USSR, America’s war with Vietnam, anti-revolutionary rebellion in Nicaragua, or the Saluda codetta in Chili, Angola war in Africa and so on are few examples of proxy wars.

And finally India has a magic society and pluralistic culture. Integration, calm, tolerance among the different races, democracy full of differences, modern acceptance and tradition, acceptance of different religious beliefs and several other things have made this country a magic magnet. I personally respect this pluralistic society and culture, and I am deeply interested in it. But let me tell the truth that I have never been happy about its debility in its foreign policy and security. Today when I am writing these lines as a civilian, I should say that I cannot hide my deep differences in my viewpoints in regard to Indian policymakers. We submitted our wish list to the Indian officials however our tenure ended before receiving New Delhi’s response. When I traveled to India carrying the proposal of signing a strategic pact with that country, Hamid Karzai (a man who has better knowledge about India) supported the suggestion but at the same time asked me that “what do you think. Will the Indians accept this suggestion…? I insisted on signing of the agreement. A few days later Indians cautiously agreed to ink the pact. When Javid Ludin, the former political deputy of the Foreign Ministry, shared the idea of signing a security and strategic pact with India, me and Ludin after discussing the draft of the pact, shared the issue with the former president. Once again, he accepted our suggestions but with hesitation, because he knew that cautious Indian policymakers would become concerned about the suggestion. And the fact was the same. We submitted our wish list to India and we received response after the end of our tenure. I revealed the facts here to tell Afghans that there is no “proxy war” in Afghanistan. Neither India nor any other country was ready or is ready to accept danger for security in our country. And this is a good thing. We should learn that how to use the possible cooperation for defending the country. Our people should know that the country is under direct invasion by Pakistan. What does this country say is just excuses. Our people should know that the US, our main ally against Pakistan, is pursuing a soft policy against this country. Our people should be aware that the policies of the colonial powers of the 19th century and modern day pose serious threat to us. Their strategies for some of the European countries are considered as part and parcels of their foreign policies for their security however they are a biggest security threat to our independence and national integration.

People should once again know that the big powers are not trying to implement the values like democracy, human rights and citizens’ rights, therefore our international relations is a kind of struggle to pursue our national interests. The current situation in Afghanistan is the continuation of the colonial prescription however its shape has just changed. People should know that India is our friend and we should respect this friendship. Nevertheless, India looks more cautious. It will not go beyond the limits that create problem for it. And India like Afghanistan and any other country has its own priorities. We should not be confused in this regard because no problem is expected from India even if it has more active presence and cooperation in Afghanistan.

The last word:

We need relationship and friendship with entire world including Pakistan, but based on our national interests and on the basis of sovereignty, good neighborhood and no-interference in affairs of each other. We should not forget that our existence finds meaning in our independence. Freedom and independence of a state in establishing friendship and cooperation with another state doesn’t mean it is against other states.

We know that different nations were obliterated from the pages of history. We should give the highest importance to independence as a main factor for existence of nations. It didn’t change with the onslaught of “globalization”. Several economic and cultural relations didn’t change.

Even in the face of globalization, national governments are the key forces of international laws. And these national governments despite their dependence on each other, they enjoy independence and national sovereignty. They need to be independent. Finally, the independence is safeguarded where the people are well capable.

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