Speaking to Afghan Mujahedeen and flanked cheerfully by Pakistan’s former director-general of Inter-Service Agency (ISI), General Hamid Gul - a man deemed the architect of designing Pakistan’s intelligence policy to use the extremists, including Al-Qaida and the Taliban, as the main instrument of defense and security policy since 1979 – US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski famously said that, “ we know of their deep belief in god- and that they are confident that their struggle will succeed… because your cause is right and god is in your side.”
Brzezinski’s statement was made during the peak of the Cold War, reflecting the United States’ foreign policy of supporting Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan to defeat the Soviet Union. In his book, For the President’s Eyes Only, Christopher Andrew quotes Admiral Stansfield Turner, CIA’s director since 1977 to 1981, saying that, “the president- Jimmy Carter- was determined to make the Russians pay a heavy price for the Afghan War.” (P. 448).
With the death of 15,000 Soviet soldiers and around 800,000 Afghans in a decade since 1979 to 1989 and complete disintegration of Afghan state following the civil wars, Brzezinski and Hamid Gul successfully implemented the project of transforming the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan as a disastrous decision - one that general-secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev called “the bleeding wound” of the Soviet Union in 1985. The U.S and Pakistan used desperate Afghan refugees, particularly children and youths, to form a large and invincible army to spur resistance against soviets in Afghanistan. According to a Washington Post Report, the U.S “spent millions” of dollars, channeled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to supply books to schoolchildren indoctrinating violent interpretations of Jihad and providing technical military training to those them.
While the Brzezinski-Hamid Gul’s project smashed the Soviet Union’s once formidable military muscle, the two men failed to calculate a future where extremists and ungrateful children are radically transformed to an uncontrollable violent force, turning their ideologies and weapons against the former allies and civilians, wrecking the region, particularly Pakistan and Afghanistan at the moment.
With the end of the Cold War in which the U.S emerged as the sole conqueror and global organizer of a capitalist political word order with particular emphasis on liberal democracy, the virulent extremists remain the most complicated and immediate threat to this order. Sweeping aside dreadful terror stories that takes human toll every day, the recent cases of the Landt Café at the heart of Sydney, the brutal massacre of more than 148 schoolchildren in a military-run school in Pakistan, attack on the French Cultural Center in Kabul by a 16-year old teenager that killed 4 people and wounded 23 others and the very last storming of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris that killed at least 12 people, have signaled that terrorists ubiquitous, capable of hitting their targets globally. The new wave of global offensive has also imparted some important conclusions. .
It is important that certain countries, among them, the United States and Pakistan, demonstrate moral courage to acknowledge “dirty hands” in utilizing impoverished children and extremists as weapon of war. The urgency of the current situation calls for a robust and globally unified response to fight the current and future generations of extremists. In other words, as terrorists continue to expand their territories in the Middle East, South and Central Asia and Africa and identify their targets with considerable precision at the hearts of Europe and Australia, the question of how to defeat terrorism is more important than who created them as this will save more lives.
Second, terrorism has become globalized through immigrations and radicalization of the first and second generations of immigrants who failed to overcome the cultural shock of integration into new culture and community. This can be seen in terror-ridden and politically crisis-prone countries in the third world like Afghanistan, Pakistan and now the bulk of Arab countries and Africa.
Although the 9/11 attacks and the following major episodes of terrorist maneuvering, including the 2004 Madrid bombing and London terrorist attacks of 2005, have seriously raised the terror threat level and changed the traditional approach to homeland security and threats, preemptive measures adopted by major powers have, at best, reduced more than fully diminishing the terrorist activities. For instance, the United States has spent more than $791 billion dollars since 9/11 attacks through the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Yet, homegrown terrorists like those involved in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 or the Fort Hood rampage of 2009, show that the new generation of terrorists are able to bypass even the stringent security radar to realize their goals.
Third, the U.S and Pakistan’s infamous use of extremism as instrument of defense and foreign policy during the Cold War, proved extremely counterproductive and created a self-destructing alliance. This is evidenced by the United States’ difficult experiences around the world, particularly Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab crises and Pakistan’s explosive sectarian situation. The brutal and indiscriminate massacre of children in a military-run school in Peshawar should not only be considered a heinous act of crime against humanity, but also a clear message that Pakistan’s military and intelligence are no more capable of controlling the extremists allies that have enjoyed their support for decades now. At a time when Pakistan’s relation has sharply deteriorated with its nuclear rival, India, any provocative act by uncontrollable terrorists using territory in Pakistan can plunge the region into crisis.
In the shadow of the current global declaration of Jihad by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups once allied with the US, the US and Pakistan must face hard realities that they have lost holds on these groups.
After more than 15 years of active military war against terrorism, the ultimate victory is still elusive, and no one, including US policy-makers and Pakistani military officials, knows how the war will end up. What everyone shares however are the painful facts that the policy to support extremists as weapon of war was erroneously miscalculated and that the misperceived and practically unrealistic ideal of establishing a far-reaching Islamic Caliphate will continue to inspire misguided extremists to kill more innocents. The current ailing strategy on the war on terror will continue to backfire unless a genuine global consensus is achieved and major stakeholders like the U.S and Pakistan decide to fundamentally modify their defense and foreign policy doctrines.
Ali Reza Sarwar is a Fulbright Graduate Fellow at Texas A&M University, Bush School of Government and Public Service where he completes a master on Intelligence and National Security. Reza graduated from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) where he was also in charge of the university’s enrollment management plan.