Acknowledging our mistakes; a step in the right direction

A small headline made its way to the newspaper today. Mian Nawaz Sharif admitted that the proxy policies that Pakistan pursued in Afghanistan during the 1990s were wrong and destructive for Afghanistan. He realizes that “’Our policy in the past has failed. Neither will such a policy work in future. We have a centuries-old relationship, and we can maintain this relationship only when we remain neutral and support the government elected there with the desire of the Afghan people.”

In between bleak and despondent atmosphere that comes from reading Pakistani news, we tend to forget our land is still governed by a working democracy, free press and free judiciary. While we never cease to malign the very leaders that we elect (and they do leave a lot to desire at times with their short sighted actions), we have two major parties that have worked together on charter of democracy, NFC accord, and are in general agreement against the scourge of religious based extremism that has morphed into a existential threat for Pakistan itself.

For the first sixty three years of our existence, we are still in the process of finding our footings. Our geographic location is a mixed blessing as we found ourselves right in the midst of the great conflict that raged between the Red Russia and the ascendant West. The Muslim nationalism that formed the basis of our existence did include our religion as one of the major influences. As the twentieth century rolled on and more Muslim countries gained independence from the colonial rules, Islam-as-a-political-system ideology started finding proponents in the Middle East and the Indian Sub Continent. Pakistan as a new state gained for Muslims fell progressively to the vague and undefined relationship that Muslim nationalism and Islamic theocracy engenders. In the absence of a prescient leadership, Pakistan never was able to segregate the role of religion from its political system. The confusion morphed into a full blown infection as decades rolled on.

The future generations will probably view the Afghan Jihad in context of the religious fervour that was increasingly becoming synonymous with the Pakistani leadership. At the core, it was an epic struggle between a teetering communist superpower, and the capitalist USA that was still smarting from its own defeat in the South Vietnam.

While Pakistan’s participation in a proxy war against an invading Soviet Army was unavoidable, Pakistan’s subsequent actions in Afghanistan once USSR and the USA had withdrawn turned out to be grossly irresponsible. As Pakistani decision makers strived to create a strategic depth by fusing Pashtun nationalism with religious fanaticism, they opened a Pandora box of religious fanaticism that Pakistan itself hardly understood. The policy resulted in lost decade for Afghanistan where more civilians were killed in a few years of the early 1990s than the total casualties in the whole of the 1980s decade.

This thoughtless and irresponsible strategy resulted in the backing of some of the most despised and ruthless Afghan commanders like Hikmatyaar and Haqqani who feuded and bombed their previous allies. Cities were destroyed as Pakistan continued backing one horse after another. When Pakistan settled with the illiterate and fervently religious Taliban who were manufactured en masse in the teeming madrassahs in the Pakistani cities and towns, Pakistan had finally betted on an increasingly paranoid short term strategy that sacrificed Afghanistan’s future and even Pakistan’s own long term interests in the name of the strategic depth.

There were no easy policy choices in Afghanistan. Yet Pakistani policies in the 1990s were being criticized by prescient observers like Eqbal Ahmad, right as they were being implemented by the decision makers in the mid 90s. Eqbal questioned the decision makers who were entrusting the uncouth religious seminary students with the future of a neighbouring country. He rightly predicted that Taliban and their Arab “guests” would make the only big news in the coming years. Eqbal passed away in 1999, before he could see his correct analysis played out not just in the west, but in the very streets of Pakistan. The carnage had found the real destination: the so called “Islamic fortress” where those Jihadis were originated in the name of the poorly contrived “strategic depth”.

One of my Afghani friends told me that what is happening in Pakistan can be explained quite easily.” What goes around, comes around”. He quietly remarked.

Nations learn from their mistakes. When they introspect their past, they ensure at least one less mistake to make in the future. Mian Sharif admittance here is heartening. These are just a few words that he has spoken; but a center right leader to admit to a failed policy sends a small message that the blinkers in the name of religion are slowly being lifted in Pakistan. We take heart from the small positive developments generated by a rather open democracy in Pakistan. We realize that the road is long, tortuous. Our destination is still a while away, and we may not reach there in our lifetimes. But we are taking very small steps towards a democratic Pakistan where the state works for a just and equitable society for the Pakistanis. We yearn for a Pakistan that provides its citizens protection of their life, property and honour. Where our resources are channelled first and foremost towards providing all of us with education, healthcare and a free society where any of us can go out and explore his or her talents and potential. Religion is an important part of our private lives, but at a state level, anyone’s faith is none of state’s business. We look for a Pakistan where we work with our neighbours to resolve our geographical conflicts to live in a peaceful South Asia. Neither us, nor our neighbours are going anywhere. We might as well live together as progressive and prosperous nations.

And while we disagree with Mian Nawaz Sharif on many fronts, we laud him for this statement. There are far too many negatives in Pakistan. But we hold on to this headline as an indication of a small but an important step towards an introspective Pakistan that is willing to accept responsibility for its past mistakes.


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan should stop trying to influence affairs in Afghanistan, the opposition leader said Tuesday, while admitting that the pro-Afghan Taliban policy he pursued when he was prime minister in the 1990s was a failure.

Nawaz Sharif’s comments come as he tries to gain political traction and deflect criticism that his party is beholden to extremist elements. Just last week, he pushed the government to open talks with elements of the Pakistani Taliban, and the ruling party agreed to his proposal to hold a national conference on stopping terrorism.

The remarks also come as Pakistan tries to weigh in on reconciliation efforts between Afghanistan’s government, the US and the Afghan Taliban.

In an interview with Pakistan’s Dunya TV that aired Monday and Tuesday, Sharif appeared to renounce a policy he pursued with vigor while twice prime minister in the 1990s.

”Pakistan should abandon this thinking that Pakistan has to keep influence in Afghanistan,” said Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. ”Neither will they accept influence, nor should the pro-influence-minded people here insist on it.”

”Our policy in the past has failed. Neither will such a policy work in future. We have a centuries-old relationship, and we can maintain this relationship only when we remain neutral and support the government elected there with the desire of the Afghan people.”

It was unclear where Sharif would stand on the reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

The PML-N has been criticized in recent months for not going after militant outfits in Punjab, a stance analysts say is driven by its reliance on banned militant groups to deliver key votes during elections.

While proposing Saturday for peace talks with militants in Pakistan, Sharif said Islamabad should take the initiative instead of waiting for directives from Washington. But he also said the negotiations should be with militants ”who are ready to talk and ready to listen.”

The government has brokered peace deals with Taliban fighters along the Afghan border in the past, but they have usually collapsed and have often given the militants time to regroup and consolidate their control.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced later Saturday that he’d agreed to Sharif’s proposal that an all-parties conference be held on ways to defeat militancy. No date has been announced, and the potential impact is unclear. At least one past such gathering has already been held. – AP



Filed under Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Army, Islam, Islamabad, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, Pakistan

16 responses to “Acknowledging our mistakes; a step in the right direction

  1. Raza

    Excellent post and article.
    In my opinion it is far more important that Nawaz Sharif who represents conservative constituency makes such admission. He can hopefully have some sway over his vote bank also and I hope that his current statement may be a reeflection of some change in his vote bank.

  2. Mehak

    Well done. Now how about acknowledging the mistakes commited on the other side of the border?

  3. chacha

    Good analysis….however we should also acknowledge our mistakes in 90’s so-called freedom movement in Kashmir ……and when we had to withdraw our proxies from Kashmir in 2004 we lost control on them and these people, who by that time had become highly indoctrinated jihadis, formed many groups and explored fresh scope in TTP and sectarian outfits for the activities in which they were best trained..
    We must crush them by whatever means possible…otherwise our fragile socio-political structure has all the possibilities of crumbling ….the threat we now face is the most dangerous we ever had in this country during more than six decades of our history….
    Kharjis are, and always were, the most fundamental among Muslims, but all rulers right from Hazrat Ali to Abbassi kings/sultans fought against them … is thus the sunna of Sawad-e-Azam Muslims to reject these groups and support state to eliminate them.

  4. karun1


    dont count on that.

  5. Mansoor Khalid

    Very true. This is what we did. At first we did not accept that giving enough space to terrorists in Swat was a bad move. But later on we realized. Not only we admitted but we made up for it by conducting an operation. This is how nations learn from their mistakes and thrive.

  6. Farukh Sarwar

    @Mehak: Well said, the mistakes on other side of the border are never acknowledged and only our government and agencies are blamed.

  7. Sahal

    It was us who started this mess and it will be us who end it.

    I am feeling optimistic that we have learned from our mistakes and are ready to move on.

    I look forward to seeing this become a reality.

  8. androidguy

    Let’s discuss when the Army chief admits, not a mere politician,no matter how high profile he may be.

  9. Anil Sharma

    Travelling in a Delhi local bus, probably sometime in the late nineties I had as a co-passenger a man with Middle Eastern looks. He identified himself as an Afghan, living in Delhi. He had just come from the Fruit Market where he worked as an auctioneer.
    In course of our conversation, I asked him about the Afghan problem. His composed face abruptly grimaced, and he said “Bai Sahib, Muaf karna. There is no Afgan problem, no Kashmir problem. There is only one problem, and that is the Pakistan Problem.”
    I thought he was a communist associated with the former regime who had taken refuge in India. He replied, “I am not a communist. In fact, I have no political views at all. I am a trained engineer, a Pathan, and was working with the different Afghan governments, even the Taliban. I could have continued staying in Kabul with the job I had. But I have two daughters whom I want to be educated, and the Taliban do not permit that, so I have come here. Since I belong to an area where there is plenty of dry fruit, my knowledge thereof enables me to work as an auctioneer of dry fruit in the Azadpur Market. I go there for a few hours which enables me to earn enough for my needs. I am here only for my daughters’ education. Varna kaun apna vatan chod kar yahan rehna chahega”.

  10. Kaalket

    Anil how can Pakistan be a problem? Pakistani people are the most peaceful people, highly educated and expert in religion. The biggest proof of their peaceful way is that they wish peace to everyone including kaffirs millions of time a day . The problem is caused by either Indians or Jews or crusaders. Look at South Korea, they made all the economic ,social progress following the advise of Pakistan. India too flourished under Pakistani Mughals. Pakistani teachers even provided the education to your PM singh .Peace will prevail in South Asia if India gives Kashmir and East Punjab to Pakistan and admit the supremacy of Islam , Afghanistan must accept Pakistani suzernity and West must provide 30-50 Billions a year in aid and China can easily afford to building civil, industrial infrastructure in Pakistan free of charge . Saudi must help in education and energy sector and Iranian in supplying free gas. After all Pakistan is a front state in fighting Islamist terrorists and has occured the loss of 1600 Billion dollars in economic activities. As protector and promoter of pure Islam ,Gulf and ME states must admit one memeber of Pakistani Ulema in royal household to guide the rulers on just path and Indian Muslims must be given the first right over kuffar sources as they follow the true deen . You dont expect martial people of Pakistan to endure the above injustices and not to get angry and do jihad if above just demands are not fulfilled.

  11. Mohsin

    Kaalket, are u high on nasvaar or afeem or something. I thought u’r kidding.

  12. Rabia

    it is indeed a welcome statement from Nawaz Sharif. People tend to get carried away with his right wing reputation and forget his record of pursuing peace with India.

  13. P. Vengaayam

    The Political system in Pakistan is subservient to the Army, as history has repeatedly demonstrated. Let the Army speak in the same voice and shut down the LeT and its anti-India affiliates and then Pakistan would have turned a corner. Talk is cheap, as our politicians remind us so often.

  14. Sadia Hussain

    Rightly said! Acknowledging our mistakes is indeed the very first step. It is positive to see right-wing conservative politicians such as Nawaz Shairf taking a firm stance against extremism in our society. One can only hope that leaders like Munawar Hassan and Imran Khan will follow this suit and come out the state of denial.

  15. Tilsim

    “Majority of the people wants an Islamic Shura in the country[which is a thorn in the heart of indians,jews and western powers].”

    If you did n’t notice we already have Sharia Courts. However this does not solve our problems – they multiply because of our own multiple ethical failures and wrong priorities, not because we don’t already have sufficient Islamic law in our lives or because of those evil evil foreigners.

    The majority of the public are not worried that there is n’t enough Islam in their lives, they want their basic problems solved.

    We should stop dreaming and focus on practical application. Islamists should focus on improving their own knowledge and ethics and those of other muslims rather than dreaming of grabbing more and more power through any means.

  16. Ammar Zafarullah

    We need to examine the reasons that are causing militancy. At the policy level we need to develop an inclusive counter terrorism strategy based on an understanding of beliefs, frame of mind, background, common aspirations and motives of extremists.

    The government also needs to chalk out an official framework for dealing with the problem of extremism. Such a framework should focus on deterrence, then engaging the militants who are ready to repent in a dialogue and lastly rehabilitate those who can turn back. Nawaz Sharif statement is commendable as the policy makers can now distinguish between friends and foes