TOPICS : Reagan’s legacy lingers in Afghanistan, Pakistan

M B Naqvi

Conservative opinion holds the Great Communicator Ronald Reagan, who died this month at 93, to be a great US president. His greatness largely comprises his ability to convince his country’s people, or a majority of them, that he stood for freedom and democracy and that communism was the worst of evils. He is credited with having brought the East-West Cold War to an end by winning the Afghanistan war that eventually led to the downfall of communism within the Soviets. But a lot of people in South Asia bitterly criticise the legacies that his policies left in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The state of Afghanistan has actually been destroyed and the blame for it lies, to an indeterminate extent, on Reagan’s thoughtless but enthusiastic support to the Afghan ‘jihad’ throughout the 1980s. He fomented and abated the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan that is now threatening this country’s stability. The damage that Reagan caused to Pakistan and Afghanistan exceeds this by far in its effects and aftereffects that still linger on.

For instance, the difficulties that US air forces had in destroying the Tora Bora tunnels and hideouts in Afghanistan during its attacks in late 2001 are due to Reagan’s decision to repair them to their original state and perhaps to improve these facilities for a guerrilla force to use safe havens against the Soviets in the eighties. Although physical damage in Afghanistan has been horrible in those eight years of active warfare, the far more serious damage was political. Reagan’s war destroyed the second Afghan middle class that had grown up under the pro-Soviet regimes in Kabul. In the name of anti-communism, Reagan’s war decimated the entire secular side of the polity that used to be led, strangely enough, by Marxist-led parties in that country. Furthermore, in 1980s, the official propaganda by Gen. Zia ul Haq was that Islam and democracy cannot go together.

During that war, the CIA had hit upon a novel idea of financing it from the sale of heroin from the ample opium crops in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. They set up at least 100 private sector factories to manufacture heroin. A whole culture of smuggling and drug trafficking grew up, creating a fanatical rich group of manufacturers and traders of heroin. The drug mafia sought support from the emerging crime syndicates in Pakistan and in turn strengthened them. Today, the two are virtually married to each other — the heroin and Kalashnikov culture flourish throughout Pakistan. President Musharraf is trying hard to curb extremism by promoting what he calls ‘enlightened moderation’. But his regime depends, like other politicians of shady past, on the ‘mullahs’, the mentors of Taliban. His regime is also promoting pan-Islamism in the name of pleasing the west by preaching enlightened moderation to other members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Musharraf’s political plans are strange: he keeps the pro-west and actually moderate right-of-centre parties out in the cold, but relies on the support of the manufacturers of fanatical fundamentalists. The people of Pakistan are between the devil of Islamic extremists and the deep blue sea of assorted anti-democrats. — IPS