(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer) I was living in New York City on September 11, 2001, and in response to that stunning assault I returned to college to study journalism. After graduating, I accepted a job on the other side of the world, as a reporter at the Kashmir Observer.
Why would a reporter driven into journalism by the 9/11 attack - perpetrated by al-Qaeda, a terrorist group led by a Saudi and dominated by Arabs, and followed by American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - go to Kashmir for answers? Is he lazily putting all persecuted Muslims into a box marked“potential terrorists”? Fair question, but the two are closer than they appear. I've already mentioned the 1995 kidnapping of Westerners in Kashmir by anti-American Islamist radicals. That's just the tip of the glacier.
In November 2002, Osama bin Laden published a letter to the American people in which he explained why he had attacked the US. He mentioned American support for Israel's fight against the Palestinians, then went on:“You supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon.”
This might be dismissed as PR - the leader of the world's top Islamist terror outfit looking to expand his base and ranks by claiming to fight for all major Muslim causes. Yet Osama's were not empty words.“I, myself, drove three Arab fighters into the center of Kashmir,” jeep driver Nasir Ali told US journalist Philip Smucker in July 2002, referring to al-Qaeda militants arriving from Afghanistan.“Hundreds have entered Kashmir in the last several months.”
The regional chief of
Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence agency (ISI),
Mohammed Muslim, told Smucker there was no al-Qaeda presence in Kashmir and denounced what he saw as an American war against Islam.“The US government destroyed the World Trade Center so that it would have an excuse to destroy Afghanistan,” Muslim said.
Many in the Muslim world pushed this conspiracy theory in the years after 9/11, and still today it's heard in some circles. Even back then I was confident the U.S. did not attack itself, killing thousands of its own civilians, and did not intend to destroy Afghanistan. But my country was partly to blame for the most successful terrorist attack of all time - and, I have come to learn, for the intensity of the insurgency in Kashmir.
Among the handful of books I brought to Kashmir in 2006 was Steve Coll's Read Also An American Journalist Lays Out Lively Kashmir Journey Desiccated Land – An American in Kashmir
Ghost Wars, which had won the Pulitzer Prize a few months prior. Coll details how the United States funneled weapons and money, via the ISI, to the Afghan
to help them battle the Soviet Union. In 1980, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spent $100 million shipping weapons to the jihadis. A few years later that number hit $700 million, marking the US' priciest covert action of the Cold War.
Yet U.S. support of Islamic elements in Pakistan had begun long before. In the early 1950s, the US Information Agency, part of the State Department and abolished in 1999, sent an official to Lahore to ask respected author Saadat Hasan Manto to pen a contribution to its magazine. Over the next few years, Manto, who was of Kashmiri heritage, wrote nine“Letters to Uncle Sam”, as he called them. In one he suggested the U.S. fund elements of extremist Islam as a counter to the Soviets.“Our mullahs are the best antidote to Russia's communism,” Manto wrote in 1954.“The purpose of military aid, as far as I understand it, is to arm these mullahs...If this sect of mullahs is armed American-style, then the Soviet Union will have to pick up its spittoon from here.”
However sardonic, Manto's prediction came to fruition in the 1980s, with the US' funding of Pakistani and Afghan mujahideen to fight off the invading Soviet army.
Ghost Warsdetails the subsequent growth of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, flush with U.S. funding and weapons, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and after the Russians retreated. Robert Gates, deputy CIA director in the 1980s before serving as Obama's Secretary of Defense, later acknowledged the mistake the U.S. made in walking away from the
mujahideen. US funding helped create the Taliban and led to the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993, and later to 9/11.“I feel a certain sense of personal responsibility,” Gates told Congress in 2007.“If we abandon these countries, once we are in there and engaged, there is a very real possibility that we will pay a higher price in the end.”
Through its ISI middlemen, the U.S. similarly helped arm militants in Kashmir. By the summer of 1988, when Kashmiris began turning to militancy, the ISI's main foreign backers included Washington.“ISI enjoyed an ongoing operational partnership with the CIA...with periodic access to the world's most sophisticated technology and intelligence collection systems,” Coll writes.“The service had welcomed to Pakistan legions of volunteers from across the Islamic world, fighters who were willing to pursue Pakistan's foreign policy agenda not only in Afghanistan, but, increasingly, across its eastern borders in Kashmir, where jihadists trained in Afghanistan were just starting to bleed Indian troops.”
When the insurgency exploded in 1989, Pakistan was ready, thanks in part to the CIA.“Inspired by their success against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani intelligence officers announced to [Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir] Bhutto that they were prepared to use the same methods of covert jihad to drive India out of Kashmir,” writes Coll:
ISI organized training camps for Kashmiri guerrillas in Afghanistan's Paktia province...The Kashmiri volunteers trained side by side with Arab jihadists. The Kashmir guerrillas began to surface in India-held territory with Chinese-made Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons siphoned from the Afghan pipeline. The CIA became worried that Pakistani intelligence might also divert to Kashmir high-technology weapons such as the buffalo-gun sniper rifles originally shipped to Pakistan to kill Soviet military officers. The United States passed private warnings to India to protect politicians and government officials traveling in Kashmir from long-range sniper attacks.
Think about that. Not only did the United States finance the training of Kashmiri insurgents - terrorists in the view of its ally in New Delhi - it provided weaponry that was so advanced it felt compelled to warn India.
The US' failures of omission were nearly as bad. Several observers have argued that President George H. W. Bush may have been able to end the insurgency shortly after it began had he been more focused on resolving Kashmir rather than avoiding another India-Pakistan war.
Yet no real effort was made, continuing President Harry Truman's policy of non-interference in response to the initial emergence of the Kashmir question.
After presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all tried and failed to resolve Kashmir, war avoidance, rather than dispute resolution, became the default U.S. position. Neither the first President Bush nor his successor, Bill Clinton - who at one point declared Kashmir the most dangerous place on earth - made any real attempt to move Pakistan, India and Kashmir toward resolution. Following the December 2001 attack on Indian parliament and the May 2002 Kaluchak Massacre, the second president Bush stepped in to keep India and Pakistan from going to war. Again the United States had a chance to shape a peaceful future for Kashmir.
Instead, Bush stepped back, handing the reins to India and Pakistan with his assertion that the United States could not force nations to agree.
That had never stopped us before. The US helped nurture the insurgency and bore some responsibility for its crushing impact. But rather than working to end it, America let Kashmir burn.
“The unwillingness of the U.S. government to take a strong stand on Kashmir not only makes the dispute that much more difficult to resolve,” Peter R. Lavoy argued in April 2006, shortly after writing a book on the 1999 Kargil conflict. Lavoy would later serve as an advisor to presidents Obama and Trump on South Asian security.“It also could have the unintended consequences of exacerbating political tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad,” he added,“possibly producing greater instability inside Indian-held Kashmir.”
Kashmiris merely wanted“azaadi”, or freedom - a goal that seemed to align with Bush's repeated calls for global freedom't American exceptionalism about encouraging the spread of our ideals?
President Abraham Lincoln described the US as“the last best hope of earth”.
Franklin Roosevelt, during World War II, talked of the US'“divine heritage”. Richard Nixon said the US was not meant to have freedom for itself,“but to carry it to the whole world”.
As in several of the world's troubled regions, Washington twisted itself up in its own ideals when it came to India and Pakistan.“Bush's counter-terrorism advisers decided that Kashmir-focused jihadi groups posed no direct threat to the U.S.,” writes Coll, adding that over the years the Bush administration gave Pakistan nearly $10 billion in counter-terror funding with no oversight. Meanwhile, Delhi talked the US-style talk on terror to garner support for one Kashmir crackdown after another. In June 2002, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that for India to stand down Pakistan would have to stop infiltrations and dismantle”the infrastructure of terrorism” - echoing Bush's words about al-Qaeda. For maybe a decade, US leaders saw Kashmiri militants as terrorists when talking to Delhi and as freedom fighters when talking to Islamabad. While encouraging Pakistan and India to resolve Kashmir, the United States did a great deal to ensure failure.
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