Revolution #157, February 22, 2009

From A World To Win News Service

Some background on the connections between Pakistan and Afghanistan

The following is from the A World To Win News Service article “Pakistan and the Occupation of Afghanistan,” February 9, 2009.

It is true that the connection between Pakistan and Afghanistan did not emerge out of the blue. There is a whole history behind that, especially in the last three decades. Certain trends have been developing for a long time.

In 1980, in the middle of the Cold War between two rival imperialist blocs, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a strategically important country. The Western imperialists saw the opportunity to convert this area into a battleground against the East bloc. In fact, given the importance of this region to their geopolitical designs, the West could not do otherwise. They turned Pakistan into a rear area for the Afghan Islamic fundamentalist mujaheddin fighting the Russians across the border. In general, Pakistan became a new and vital front in the Cold War between the West and the East. The Western imperialist powers poured money and arms and most importantly provided political support for the mujaheddin, and, with American encouragement, Saudi Arabia also sent money and ideological backing for their coreligionists. All of this was funneled through the Pakistani government and especially the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence).

There are various distinct but convergent reasons for the rise of this kind of religious fundamentalism in the region, but this support, at a certain point, played a decisive role. Without the ISI’s direct role in organizing and training the mujaheddin in camps in Pakistan and without all that came through its pipeline, these particular fundamentalists probably would not have been able to wage a successful war against the Soviet invasion.

Pakistan was eager to play such a role to boost its position in the region and cut off the possible Indian influence in Afghanistan, (the USSR and India were allies at that time). Moreover, increased Pakistani influence in Afghanistan would be a bonus in its contention with India.

The other reason for Pakistan’s eager involvement was the particular importance of Islamic fundamentalism for its ruling classes.

For the U.S. and the other Western powers, Islamic fundamentalism was a weapon to be used against the “godless” Soviet communists. (The USSR had long ceased to be socialist and its ruling class was no more aiming to build communism than the Western rulers, but they kept the name “communists” as a weapon in their arsenal.) Since this was the main ideological weapon the mujaheddin used to mobilize the people, the West did its best to promote that ideology. At the same time, it suited both the CIA and the fundamentalists to paint the war not as a struggle against national oppression but as a religious conflict. They preferred not to awaken the consciousness of the masses, but instead to rely on ignorance and backwardness. This also made it possible to mobilize Muslims from all over the world, especially the Arab countries, to be trained in Pakistan and then sent to fight in Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, however, the religious issue was not just a good idea. It was an existential question. General Zia ul-Haq who had taken power through a coup and already launched the country’s Islamization, had every reason to welcome the opportunity to promote this ideology. For one thing, it would project Pakistan as a world center of Islam, in this way challenging Iran, where the Islamic clergy had hijacked a revolution and instituted a theocratic regime. More importantly, it was advantageous to Pakistan, in its confrontation with India, to consolidate the internal forces around a more rigid Islam. Since what brought Pakistan into existence was the British decision to carve up their colony of India on religious lines to thwart the impact of independence, religion has always been the main glue holding it together and its rulers have always been sensitive to this fact, but this was another leap in that direction and an opportunity that Pakistan’s rulers and their imperialist sponsors could not afford to miss.

The result was that Pakistan did become a center for Islamic fundamentalism and has been enjoying the particular influence over Afghanistan’s affairs it gained through the anti-Soviet war. When in the early 1990s, following the Soviet retreat and the subsequent civil war, it became apparent that the mujaheddin warlords could not rule Afghanistan in the way that Pakistan’s rulers and the U.S. needed, the ISI switched its backing to a different Islamic fundamentalist movement, the Taleban. It is no secret that the ISI training, military and logistical backing and money played a key role in bringing the Taleban to power. It is also no secret that the U.S. put up no objections at that time.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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