Pakistan, the Battleground of History?

By Soroor Ahmed

That Pakistan is in turmoil does not make a big news now as it has often been so in history. The region, which forms the present-day Pakistan, especially its northern half, has always worked as the battlefield for all the invading forces on way to Delhi. Sometimes in the history the conquering army had to retreat after stiff resistance, especially west of river Indus. The marauding Moghuls right from the 13th century to 15th century dreamt of reaching Delhi, but they failed. Only Taimur, though not a pure Mongol, succeeded in capturing Delhi in 1398. But then he returned to his country after pillaging and looting. Possibly he had too big an empire to handle. Taimur has the rarest distinction in the history: the only emperor who had captured both Moscow and Delhi. His empire spread from the western China in the east to Ankara in Turkey and Damascus in Syria in the west––with Samarkand as its capital. And it is this region which is passing through a tumultuous phase now.

After Taimuir it was Babur who managed to overcome the battlefield of western India, that is Punjab, to reach Delhi. He was a different man. He wanted to settle and establish empire rather than go back, though he was also from Samarkand. After him conquerors like Nadir Shah in 1739 from Persia and Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1761 from Afghanistan came all the way down to India’s capital. They too were not interested in establishing empires.

Post-1761 the Indian sub-continent did not face any invasion from the Khyber Pass. In fact effort was made to reverse history––conquer Afghanistan from the east. The British tried more than once, but succeeded only partially and had to pay a huge price for this misadventure.

However, in 1979 the then Soviet Union tried to rewrite history. It sent over one lakh army to capture Afghanistan and put a figurehead, Babrak Karmal, as the ruler. Russians were not much interested in Afghanistan, nor were they––unlike the other invading armies of the past––looking towards Delhi. In contrast they were eyeing Baluchistan with the aim to utilize its ports––Gwadar and Makran. These ports, along with Karachi, are now being used by Chinese as transit points for trade with the Middle East and Africa.

The Russian action alarmed Pakistan and it started helping the Afghan Mujahideen against the invading army. After the loss of about 13 lakh Afghans and thousands of Russian soldiers the latter had to withdraw. Initially the United States––bitten in Vietnam as late as 1975––was shying away from supporting any such Afghan groups. However, when they observed that the Mujahideen are putting up a brave front the US did supply some arms to them but that was at much later stage. In fact volunteers from38 Muslim countries converged to the border of Pakistan to fight the war against the Russians in Afghanistan.

The rout of the then Soviet Union and its subsequent dismemberment gave the United States an opportunity to boast that in fact all this was possible because of it. The truth is that the United States had little to do with the whole operation in Afghanistan and not a single US soldier died in defeating the Russians. The US did not want to give credit to any one else for the defeat of Communist empire. So all those books and articles claiming US involvement in Afghan Jehad are sheer exaggeration and distortion of history. Most of these writers are paid to write such absurd pieces as it would show the US in a good light.

The West saw the reversal of history in the defeat of Russians. Seldom had the invading forces from north of river Oxus––border between Afghanistan and the then Soviet Union and now Central Asian Republics––been beaten back. without reaching the western part of the Indian sub-continent. And seldom in the history had any part of the sub-contnent managed to control Kabul. Even the British India failed in this objective though it tried four times.

This reversal of fortune was too much for the West. But the lack of poor political sense and myopic policy of those who matter in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the latter years once again changed the course of the battle-game.

Since Islam was used as a rallying point to beat back the godless Communist Russia in 1980s the new emerging powers of the West tried to use the same slogan to fish in the trouble waters of the land of five rivers––Punj-ab––of Pakistan. This notwithstanding the fact that those indulging in these acts have nothing to do with Islam. In between several side-shows also went on which too contributed to create mess in the region.

Now an impression is being created that those indulging in terror attacks in Pakistan are planning to turn their heat towards India. An exaggerated fear is being whipped up among the common masses and ruling elite by the media.

What appears tragic is that the whole situation has been given a new twist. If India is kept in the grip of fear it would be in the interest of the same western powers. Their arms sale would boost and India would go further deep into their camp. And this is happening. With Afghanistan destroyed and Pakistan thrown in turmoil it is natural for India to look for help. This development would certain limit the space for China to manouvre.

As per plan things are going on well for the western powers. While the invaders of the past always had an eye on Delhi and further east and south, the Russians in 1979 wanted to reach the warm water of Indian Ocean so that they could control the Middle East Oil Theatre. They did not want to disturb friendly India and look beyond Baluchistan in Pakistan.

In contrast the present occupants of the land west to Khyber Pass never want to conquer the sub-continent physically. They only want to extract maximum economic gain by keeping the pot boiling. The upheaval in Pakistan is certainly the direct fall out of their action. And they are pleased to see that India too is, of late, not free from trouble. The challenge posed by the Maoists may have nothing to do with them, but then they may end up being beneficiary. After all weak governments in the region is always in the interest of this distant masters of the region.

Call it an accident of history or a well-planned design, the truth is that perhaps never in 62 years of history both Pakistan and India have faced identical challenges from the armed groups.

(Soroor Ahmed could be contacted at


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