Founder & Editor of Great Game India Quarterly Journal on Geopolitics & International Affairs.
G Raja Sekhar
Post graduate Research scholar in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal University.
On December 16, 2014 seven gunmen affiliated with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) assaulted the Army Public School in Pakistani city of Peshawar. The gunmen entered the school and opened fire on school staff and children. The attack claimed 141 lives, including 132 school children between eight and 18 years of age, with the remaining nine fatalities being staff members of the school. An eight-hour rescue operation was launched by the Special Service Groups (SSG), who killed all seven militants and rescued 960 people. Chief military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said in a press conference that at least 130 people had been injured in the attack.
This was the deadliest terrorist attack ever to occur in Pakistan, surpassing the 2007 Karachi bombing. According to various news agencies and commentators, the nature and preparation of the attack by the militants was very similar to that of the Beslan School crises that occurred in the North Ossetia–Alania region of Russia in 2004.
On May 5 2014, an American FBI agent named Joel Cox was arrested in the Pakistani megacity of Karachi. The charge? Attempting to board a flight to Islamabad with ammunition and knives in his carry-on baggage. The Pakistani media immediately drew comparisons between Cox’s case and that of Raymond Davis — the CIA spy jailed in 2011 after gunning down two Pakistanis in Lahore.
However, Cox’s legal travails, unlike those of Davis, didn’t last long. He was granted bail on May 8, and his case was dismissed on May 19. Cox’s lawyer contended that his client was in Karachi on a “special mission” that allowed him to carry weapons — and a judge concurred.
So what exactly was this “special mission”?
A few years earlier In 2009 it was reported by The Nation that agents of notorious spy agencies were using journalistic cover to engage themselves in intelligence activities in NWFP and FATA. To the surprise and shock of many, top bosses of Federally Administrated Tribal Area (FATA) Secretariat were allegedly feeding these journalists with secret reports and information regarding Pak Army and militant groups operating there. Matthew Rosenberg, South Asian correspondent of Wall Street Journal, had been spotted travelling frequently between Washington, Islamabad, Peshawar and New Delhi. His frequent and secret meetings with Secretary Law and Order FATA Secretariat, Capt (Retd) Tariq Hayat Khan, and Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Habib Khan, have raised several questions.
According to an official of law enforcement agency, who requested anonymity, Matthew was working as chief operative of CIA and Blackwater in Peshawar. The law enforcement agencies, he said, had also traced Matthews links with Israeli Intelligence agency Mosad as well. Matthew has also tried to hire some individuals from Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Mianwali, and on refusal threatened some of them of dire consequences. When contacted, Additional Chief Secretary FATA Habib Khan confirmed that he held meeting with Mathew in his office. Habib said Mathew was interested in getting details of militants, tribes and strategy of Pak Army operation against militants. I refused to share details with him, Habib said. According to former NSA analyst and US navy Intelligence Officer Wayne Madsen, The CIA has deployed at least two operatives posing as journalists in several world hotspots after 9/11. These two operatives, both US Special Forces veterans, were subcontracted to the CIA by private mercenary company Blackwater.
Going back a couple years more in 2007 Pakistani Intelligence traced the source of much of terror in Pakistan to a ‘terrorist’ camp in Helmand province in Afghanistan. The camp was run by Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson. Both of these were British spies ostensibly working with humanitarian organizations.
It was revealed by Intelligence sources in Kabul that Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December 2007. The computer memory stick at the centre of the row was impounded by officers from Afghanistan’s KGB-trained National Directorate of Security after they moved against a party of international diplomats who were visiting Helmand. The computer stick contained a three-stage plan, called the European Union Peace Building Programme. The third stage covered military training.
Afghan government officials insisted it was bankrolled by the British. UK diplomats, the UN, Western officials and senior Afghan officials have all confirmed the outline of the plan, which they agree is entirely British-led, but all refused to talk about it on the record.
The memory stick revealed that $125,000 had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban.
Mr. Patterson, a Briton, was the third-ranking UN diplomat when he was held. Mr. Semple, an Irishman, was the acting head of the EU mission. Officially, the British embassy remains tight-lipped, fuelling speculation that the plan may have been part of a wider clandestine operation.
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) alternatively referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella organization of various Islamist militant groups based in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border in Pakistan. For the uninitiated, it is important to realize that there exists a distinction between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban.
Distinction between the two Talibans
The Afghan Taliban, along with many other Afghans, were the ones engaged in a war against the occupying U.S. and NATO troops, with the objective of driving them away so they can gain control of their land. In other words, these Afghans are ready to fight any foreign troops, be they American, British, Canadian, German or even Indian (whom the interested players want to replace the withdrawing US troops with). But they have no intention of doing harm to others who have not lent troops to the occupying forces. At the same time, the Afghan Taliban would accept help from anyone, including the Pakistani Taliban, or any jihadi group functioning along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Pakistani Taliban, however, are presently involved in breaking up Pakistan on behalf the geostrategic interests of the British colonists. This outfit, besides having a large number of tribes representing Pakistan’s virtually ungoverned Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Northern Areas bordering Afghanistan and the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, is guided by the British MI6. The Pakistani tribal groups, who have never formally accepted Islamabad’s authority, see, in the present situation, an opportunity to carve out a separate nation bordering Afghanistan in the West and River Indus in the East. This objective, however farfetched it may have seemed years ago, is now a distinct possibility, not only because MI6 have chalked out a design for achieving it, but also because of Washington’s reckless approach to taming the Taliban and al-Qaeda at any cost, including undermining of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
The increasing disintegration of Pakistan’s political establishment has added to the threat. The ISI has been deeply infiltrated by MI6, and the Pakistani Army does not have the will to engage in a bloody civil war to prevent yet another break-up, nor does Pakistan’s weak political elite have a clue as to how to integrate the increasingly militant tribal areas with Pakistan.
The only way to comprehend what is happening is to first take a step back, and understand the momentous events that shaped the region and look at the key geostrategic puppet-masters that helped shape it.
The Graveyard of Empires
For nearly a century the two most powerful nations on earth, Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, fought a secret war in the lonely passes and deserts of Central Asia for supremacy over the access routes leading upto India – to eventually possess the Jewel in the Crown for themselves. Those engaged in this shadowy struggle called it ‘The Great Game’, a phrase immortalized by Kipling. When play first began the two rival empires lay nearly 2,000 miles apart. By the end, some Russian outposts were within 20 miles of India. Disguised as holy men or native horse-traders, they mapped secret passes, gathered intelligence and sought the allegiance of powerful khans. Some never returned. The violent repercussions of the Great Game are still convulsing Central Asia today.
With the sudden and dramatic collapse of Communism in 1991, and the breaking up of the Soviet Empire, there sprang up almost overnight five entirely new countries – eight if you include the Caucasus region. At first, even those with long experience of Central Asia had difficulty in familiarizing themselves with this new geographical and political jigsaw puzzle – not to mention getting their tongues around such romanizations as Kyrgyzstan.
At the time the entire region was just called Soviet Central Asia. A single visa, if you could get one, took you from Baku to Bokhara, from Tbilisi to Tashkent, with Moscow and Leningrad thrown in.
Following Moscow’s abrupt exit, Western embassies began to open up in brand-new capital cities, Soviet names were expunged from the map, and history books hastily rewritten, while foreign companies stepped in eagerly to fill the commercial and economic vacuum. For it was no secret that in Central Asia lay some of the last great prizes of the twentieth century. These included fabulous oil and gas reserves, together with rich hoards of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead and iron ore, not to mention crucial oil-pipeline routes. So fierce was the competition that political analysts and headline writers in the West quickly began to speak of a ‘New Great Game’, as rival foreign and multinational companies fought for influence there. Some too had strategic and political agendas.
But the sudden lurch from Communism to free-for-all Capitalism has not been achieved without a heavy toll. Small but vicious conflicts – in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, not to mention in neighbouring parts of southern Russia, such as Chechnya and North Ossetia – have since convulsed this highly volatile region as rival factions jockeyed for power.
Elsewhere on the old Great Game battlefield in Afghanistan, so long at the epicenter of the century-long Anglo-Russian confrontation, bloodshed seems almost endemic. In 1979, the Russians moved in 100,000 troops to support their puppet government. But after a barbaric ten-year conflict, they were humiliatingly forced to withdraw. They left behind them their former puppet President, General Mohammed Najibullah, who four years later fell into the hands of the triumphant Taliban when Kabul surrendered to them. Dragged from the UN compound where he had been given sanctuary, he was brutally beaten, castrated, then strung up publicly. Gruesome photographs of him hanging there were splashed on the front pages of the world’s newspapers.
Next to follow the Russians into Afghanistan, in 2001, were US, British, Canadian, Dutch and other NATO troops. This sprang from fears that further 9/11-type attacks on Western targets might be planned from secret al-Qaeda bases there. As well as destroying these, the NATO-led force was tasked with maintaining an uneasy peace, preparing the way for elections, eliminating the drug barons and helping with reconstruction.
Besides the Americans and Russians, other regional powers, notably China, India and Pakistan, are looking on with intense self-interest and concern. For after the crushing defeat of Victorian Britain and the collapse of Russian rule and now the humiliating exit of NATO troops from Central Asia has tossed the area back into the melting pot of history. Now the same geopolitical players, in order to keep their supremacy in the region; want India to maintain a proxy presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops.
Should India maintain a military presence in Afghanistan for so called ‘maintaining peace and reconstruction’?
Afghanistan – one of the most isolated barren landscapes on earth. It’s difficult to believe that any Empire would want to invade it; and yet it’s become the unlikely target and obsession of some of the world’s greatest empires and superpowers. In 1839 up the city walls above Kabul marched red coated veterans of Waterloo (First Anglo Afghan War), in 1879 highlanders charged to the sound of the bagpipes (Second Anglo Afghan War), in 1979 Russian Special Forces swooped over the same hills in their helicopters (Soviet Afghan War) and in 2001 an American led coalition invaded Afghanistan. Each of these invasions has ended in tragedy and humiliation and each has sparked a fierce Afghan resistance.
Ask anyone who know anything about the history of Afghanistan and they will tell you – the Afghans have never ever liked to be conquered. It’s really easy to get into Afghanistan; it’s just the getting out part that is very difficult. Don’t go into Afghanistan and get whatever you do involved in a Tribal War. It’s not without reason Afghanistan is called the Graveyard of Empires.
Buildup to the Current Crisis
During the Cold War when the Soviets bumbled into Afghanistan with thousands of troops and tanks, ISI and MI6, along with the CIA, joined forces in the early 1980s to recruit mujahideen to fight the Red Army. MI6 turned over to the ISI some of their assests in the London-based organization known as alMuhajiroun, or The Emigrants. This became the recruiting arm of al-Qaeda in London.
Coincidentally, in 1983, the British-based World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), headed by Prince Philip, which often provides the staging grounds for operations of MI6 and other British Intelligence outfits, suggested that two national parks be created in Pakistan’s Northwest, and although rather thin in natural wildlife, the preserves have proved to be excellent for growing poppy, and for training and staging mujahideen incursions into Afghanistan.
But, in the post-Cold War days, and particularly after 9/11, Washington moved closer to India, which went from being a “Soviet puppet,” as it was labeled by some American analysts, into becoming a U.S. ally. Following 9/11, Washington made it a point to seek India’s help in fighting the so called war on terror it helped create in the first place.
There exists a policy agreement between the ISI and MI6. Following the withdrawal of the defeated Soviet Army in 1989, the ISI moved in to arm and train the Taliban. The intelligence agency also brought in alQaeda, and was in the process of developing what is called “strategic depth,” which, it argued, was necessary to protect the country from its enemies.
After 9/11, the scene changed rapidly. The Bush Administration identified Afghanistan, which was under Taliban rule, as the staging ground of al-Qaeda, and invaded the country with the intent of eliminating both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in one fell swoop. Neither the ISI, and by extension, a section of the Pakistani Army, nor the British colonial operatives, wanted these assets, set up over years with the intent of controlling Central Asia, and undermining Russia, China, and India, to be sacrificed. Pakistan’s ungoverned FATA immediately became the shelter of many who were facing Washington’s wrath. In December 2001, Asia Times reported that the former ISI chief and a close collaborator of the MI6, “Hamid Gul, nicknamed the ‘Godfather of the Taliban,’ is believed to be behind moves to help the Taliban establish a base in Pakistan’s autonomous Pushtun tribal belt.”
The added irony, is that Washington’s foolhardy approach involves two of its “best allies”—Britain and Pakistan—who had built up these assets, and were keen to protect them from Washington’s missiles and rockets. The outcome of Washington’s policy is now plain for everyone to see: Having routed the Taliban, and driven them from power within weeks following the invasion, almost more than a decade later, Washington now stands humiliatingly defeated and packing its bags planning for the exit. The credit for this, of course, goes to MI6. Who has now come to realize that not only can the assets be protected, they can be “officially” lodged in a country carved out of Pakistan. None of these developments happened overnight, but are the results of a carefully drafted strategy that laid the seeds to preempt any counter attack from their century old arch enemy.
British Geostrategy for the Subcontinent
The British policy toward South Asia, and the Middle East as well, is uniformly colonial, and vastly different from that of the United States. Even today, when Washington is powered by people with tunnel vision, at best, the U.S. policy is not to break up nations, but to control the regime, or, as has become more prevalent in recent years, under the influence of the arrogant neocons, to force regime change. While this often creates a messy situation—for example, in Iraq, Lybia, Syria —the U.S. would prefer to avoid such outcomes.
Britain, on the other hand, built its geostrategic vision in the post-colonial days through the creation of a mess, and furthering the mess, to break up a country; exactly on the same lines India was partitioned in 1947. This policy results in a long-drawn process of violent disintegration. That is the process now in display in Pakistan, as well as in many other nations where the British colonial forces had hunted before, and still pull significant strings.
When the British left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, it was divided into India and Pakistan. The British colonial geostrategists, coming out of World War II, realized the importance of controlling the oil and gas fields. If possession could not be maintained, the strategists argued, Britain and its allies must remain at a striking distance, to ensure their control of these raw material reserves, and deny them to others.
Here is where the strategic importance of than British India (India & Pakistan) comes into play which the historians and political analysts have forgotten.
Strategic Importance of India & Pakistan
Germany surrendered on 5th May 1945. The same day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an appraisal of the ‘long-term policy required to safeguard the strategic interests of the British Empire in India and the Indian Ocean’ by the Post-Hostilities Planning Staff of the War Cabinet. And, on 19th May, this top-secret appraisal report was placed before him. The central point of this report was that Britain must retain its military connection with the subcontinent so as to ward off the Soviet Union’s threat to the area.
The report cited four reasons for the strategic importance of India to Britain:
1. Its value as a base from which forces located there could be suitably placed for deployment both within the Indian Ocean area and in the Middle East and the Far East.
2. A transit point for air and sea communications.
3. A large reserve of manpower of good fighting quality.
4. From the northwest of which British air power could threaten Soviet military installations.
In each and every subsequent appreciation of the British chiefs of staff from then on till India’s independence that is available for examination, the emphasis was on the need to retain the British military connection with the subcontinent, irrespective of the political and constitutional changes there. Equally, they stressed the special importance of the northwest of India in this context. (Top-secret document, PHP (45) 15 (0) final, 19 May 1945, L/W/S/1/983988 (Oriental and Indian Collection, British Library, London).
It may be noted that the idea of partitioning India in some form, to safeguard British strategic interests, had started to circulate in Whitehall in Churchill’s time. Defense and Security considerations were therefore uppermost in the minds of British leaders as they considered withdrawal from India. However, sufficient attention has not been paid to this vital factor by historians and political analysts, perhaps because security matters were not debated publicly in Britain.
Another reason for not totally evacuating from India, they noted, was that ‘air fields in northwest India are except for those in Iraq, the nearest we have to certain important Russian industrial areas in Ural and western Siberia. They referred to the development of guided missiles that further augmented the menace of the Soviet Air Force operating from Central Asian plateau. They also mentioned the importance of India as an essential air link to the Far East as, at that point of time, ‘few existing types of aircraft had sufficient range for long hops’.
At the end of British rule, Pakistan consisted of East Pakistan and West Pakistan. West Pakistan’s western wing (west of River Indus) bordering Afghanistan and Iran, consisted of Baluchistan, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Tribal areas. North of all these, was the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was a princely state under the Maharaja of Kashmir. Of the three areas, Baluchistan and the Tribal areas had not been brought under the British occupation and were kept instead as British protectorates. This was because the Tribals were ferocious, and made it clear they would not accept British troops within their territories. Moreover, the British crown figured that these areas would act as a buffer with Afghanistan, where the British were worried the Russians would show up.
It is evident that Britain did not want India to have any direct land link either to Afghanistan, or Russia, or Iran. In the North, when the dispute over the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) arose, India’s access to the North was blocked as well. The Kashmir dispute, the handiwork of London, showed what the British were looking for. Using a large number of Mirpuris (Mirpur is a part of J&K) who had migrated to Britain soon after the partition of the subcontinent, the MI6 built up a very strong anti-India lobby in J&K and encouraged the demand for an independent Kashmir. At the same time, MI6 lent a hand to the Pakistani ISI, to implement terrorist acts within the India-held part of J&K which would undermine India’s efforts to stabilize the area. The policy has not worked so far, but a royal mess has been made, thanks partly to India and Pakistan’s misguided policies – the constant infighting working in favor of the colonial players.
Future implications of the current Scenario
The recent attack in Peshawar following the blueprint of the ongoing disintegration of Pakistan is not just a matter of penetration of the military and the intelligence services by forces friendly to the Taliban, but is the direct result of Colonial British Strategy—with the help of U.S.-based co-conspirators—to partition the country into a potpourri of ethnic entities.
The break-up of Pakistan’s westernmost wing is evidently backed by the colonial forces, and their adjuncts; it would establish an unstable state that would depend wholly on Western powers for its survival. That would cut off both India and China, in particular, from land access to the Central Asian oil and gas fields, as well as from Iran. Over a period of time, it would also endanger Russia’s southern flank.
The brutal story of British Empire continues to this day. All around the world, from Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka, the violent legacy of colonialism can still be witnessed.
Many of the present conflicts in the world take place in the former colonial territories that Britain abandoned, exhausted and impoverished, in the years after the Second World War. This disastrous imperial legacy is still highly visible, and it is one of the reasons why the British Empire continues to provoke such harsh debate. If Britain made such a success of its colonies, why are so many in an unholy mess half a century later, major sources of violence and unrest?