On 22 March 2018 The Washington Post published Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’ s confession regarding the Saudi Arabian government’s facilitation of the CIA in financing and offering support to an Islamic (read Wahhabi/Salafist/Deobandi or an amalgam/hybrid of these) cultural narrative across the ‘Muslim world’. He was quoted saying the following:
“Investment in mosques and madrassas overseas were rooted in the Cold War, when the allies asked Saudi Arabia to use its resources to prevent inroads in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union”.
Zia Ul Haq came to power in a CIA-engineered military coup in Pakistan in July 1977. He got Pakistan’s first elected prime minster, the socialist-leaning demagogue Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged in April 1979. The rise of the left in Afghanistan which brought its first Marxist Government into power would give Haq the perfect opportunity to exalt himself as the promoter and mentor of the supremacist religious ideology of Wahhabism in Pakistan, Afghanistan and later the Kashmir valley.
On 27 April 1978, a group of left-wing pro-Soviet Afghan military officers staged a popular coup against the government of President Daud in Kabul. BBC correspondent, George Arney who covered Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1986 to 1988 recalls:
“The train of events that triggered the coup began on 17 April. Earlier that day, Daud told close associates that he had finally decided to broaden the base of his regime by including technocrats and liberals into the cabinet’ The same night Marxist party Parcham’s leading ideologue, Mir Akbar Khyber was led out of his house by two gunmen and shot dead in the street. The Daud government laid the blame on Islamic radicals, while the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) accused the CIA.'” (Afghanistan: 1990)
Arney explains how the funeral procession “whipped up by the anti-imperialist slogans’turned into an angry demonstration against the Daud regime” (1990). But the Day of the Jackal came on 27 April, when at dawn Daud sent a truckload of policemen to arrest seven top PDPA leaders. This included Noor Muhammad Taraki, who later was to lead the revolution/coup. It was the arrest of Taraki that sparked the coup against Daud.
At 9pm, as Daud was chairing a Cabinet meeting debating the future of the PDPA leaders, Major Aslam Watanjar was busy gathering ammunition and tanks for the assault on the Presidential Palace. Just before midday, Watanjar ordered the first shell to be fired on the Presidential Palace. By 7pm it was all over. Daud and his family were dead, bringing an abrupt end to the 230 years of uninterrupted rule of the Durrani tribe. Novelist and Marxist politician Taraki was the new leader of Afghanistan, a country formed of a mosaic of tribes from different ethnic groups and Islamic sects.
Taraki visited Moscow in December 1978 and signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation “which empowered Kabul to call on the USSR, if necessary, for military assistance”. (Arney, 1990). Alarm bells tolled in the Pentagon and the White House at the realisation that the buffer zone between the Central Asian communist republics of the Soviet Union and the warm waters of the Persian gulf was now lost to the ‘communists’.
The first attempt to unseat the Kabul government came in on 15 March 1979, when an allegedly Iranian-sponsored Shite rebellion was engineered in the provincial capital of Herat, the third largest city at the time, situated in the fertile valley of the Hari River in Afghanistan. However, one of the leaders of the uprising, Ismail was a Sunni who later became the Amir (head) of the Jamat e Islami in Herat, a religious political party based on Wahhabism. Ismail was later to become a jihadi commander.
There are many interpretations as to whether or not it was a spontaneous act of desperation on part of the feudal classes that were being affected by the socialist land reforms or whether it was a planned coup that took months of preparation. The uprising posed a serious threat to the Marxist regime in Kabul when the 17th Division of the Afghan Army refused orders to quell the uprising and joined it. The city fell and quickly came under the control of the insurgents. After one week, Kabul managed to take Herat back. It was during the Herat uprising that the reactionary alliance between the feudal, military/mujahidin and the Mullah was glued together to fight the communist regime in Kabul. Over a period of 10 months, Afghanistan witnessed similar uprisings that were mobilised through the mosques against what they called ‘un-Islamic’ land reforms and Westernisation of the school syllabus.
Meanwhile, a nervous Kabul government kept begging the Soviets for military assistance. Finally, on Christmas Eve in December 1979, 30,000 Soviet troops that belonged to the 40th Army marched into Kabul. It might be worth pointing out that this occurred in spite of deep Soviet misgivings right across the USSR’s leading cadres and only on the orders of Brezhnev after his friend, Taraki, was assassinated by his Vice-President, Amin. On December 27, Amin was assassinated by the Soviets.
Meanwhile, a new geo-political upset in the region was to become a cause for great concern to the US interests in the region. In 1979, the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty came to an abrupt end with the abdication of the Shah of Iran due to the so-called Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. Up until that time, Iran had hosted the largest CIA operational headquarters in the region. With Haq in power and the Afghan jihad project up and running, Sunni Pakistan now was to replace Shia Iran as the new CIA operational headquarters.
As refugees began to pour into northern Pakistan, UN-led aid agencies began to supply Pakistan with tents and rations which at its highest point were feeding three million people. The CIA had begun recruiting jihadists from uninformed sections of the Afghan populace who had been dumped in the refuge camps on the outskirts of Peshawar.
The CIA was directly involved in assisting the Pakistani ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) with the recruitment and training of jihadi warriors who became the cannon fodder for the Afghan war. American author, Philip Bonosky in his book titled ‘Afghanistan – Washington’s Secret War’ (1985) reveals that, “By December 1979, there were at least 30 fully equipped military camps (in Pakistan)- still pretending to be “refugee” camps’between June and November 1979, it was estimated that 30,000 counterrevolutionaries had received training there. By 1982, over 100 camps were in existence in Pakistan”. (Bonosky: 1985).
War cannot simply be won by military supremacy. It needs an ideological basis that motivates the broader masses and justifies the cause of fighting. This ideological hegemony is constructed and enforced though organs of the official education system and media that help to manipulate public opinion.
The CIA contrived to manufacture a much-needed new cultural narrative. This cultural narrative was dipped in the Saudi version of the (supremacist) Wahhabi sect of Islam. Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistan-based author and journalist, informs us in his book entitled, ‘The Most Dangerous Place’ (2010) that:
“The University of Nebraska had an association with Afghanistan since 1975, when its Afghan Center linked up with Kabul University. In the early 1980s, the university was tasked by the CIA with producing new textbooks that would help inspire Afghans to “jihad” against “infidel Soviets”.
Gul gives us a flavour of the text that was used to indoctrinate a whole generation of Afghans, and later Pakistani and Azad Kashmiris, with Wahhabi religious thought. It made its way into the primary school textbooks in forms like this alphabet song:
“A (is for) Allah; Allah is one.
B is for Father (Baba). Father goes to the mosque
D( is for) Din (religion). Our religion is Islam. The Russians are the enemies
of the religion of Islam
J (is for) Jihad. Jihad is an obligation. My mother went on Jihad. My brother gave water to Mujahedin
P (is for) five (Panj). Islam has five pillars
V (is for) nation (Vatan). Our nation is Afghanistan’the mujahedin made our country famous’our Muslim people are defeating the Communists’the mujahedin are making our dear country free'”
Gul explains that the text for older students was more explicit:
“One fourth-grade mathematics question asks students to use a bullet’s speed and its total distance travelled to calculate the elapsed time before it strikes its Russian target in the forehead (!)”
These textbooks were printed in Peshawar and distributed freely among the schools run by the Mujahedin in t he refugee camps. It is the continuation of the above-mentioned religious cultural supremacist narrative that infested young minds and also infected a once-secular political movement in the Valley of Kashmir, when, during the 1980s, Pakistan began exporting its jihad into Kashmir.
(to be continued)
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This post was written by Amjad Ayub Mirza