Sadly for us all, the gruesome and terrible images coming out of Lahore are now all too familiar. These incidents, and the pictures that come out of them, have almost become white noise to most people- except of course those who are actually involved. Boko Haram just burned children alive- killing a shocking 86 people. Burned. Alive. No doubt you don’t, or can’t, ponder that- 86 children being burned alive- for even a moment. It’s horrific beyond most human imagining. The bombing in Lahore, however, brings a bitter irony to Pakistan because that country is literally both the original source and the continued sponsor of the disease of modern Islamic terrorism.
History is filled with incidents and decisions that seemed insignificant at the time, but turned out to be of incalculable importance. One was the decision by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to pass over six superior officers to appoint General, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq the next Chief of Army Staff- in practical terms to be Bhutto’s second in command. Bhutto had come to power himself five years earlier in the wake of the failures of successive military dictatorships on the promise of returning the country to democracy, a promise that had yet to show any signs of materializing. Bhutto, always naturally fearing the next military coup, made the calculation that given Zia’s deeply held religious convictions he would be less likely to stage one than the rest of the generals. He could not have been more wrong, and Bhutto himself became the first casualty of his disastrous miscalculation.
It’s easy to understand Bhutto’s mistake. Military dictators, as a general rule, are very predictable. They are not ideologues or nationalists and uniformly simply seek personal power manifest in a cult of self. Once they get it, keeping it is all they generally care about. They typically surround themselves with luxury, and dispense it to those around them to maintain their regimes. But most importantly they are risk adverse focusing instead on the conservative and the pragmatic and predictable maintenance of power- which is why they have always been so attractive to Western powers. The United States in particular not only actively sought relationships with military dictators, it used the CIA to facilitate their ascent to power- from Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala (“Operation Washtub”) to Augusto Pinocet in Chile (“Operation Condor”) to the Shah in Iran (“Operation Boot” in conjunction with the British) It should be noted that all three of these CIA operations focused on carrying out the murder of foreign leaders- Arbenz, Allende and Mossadeq- respectively. President Eisenhower justified these murders and operations, in painful irony, because he hoped to avert another world war with “communists” and because dictators are easy to make deals with. They are personally greedy and not generally adverse to selling out their countrymen in trade and natural resource deals, especially when you help keep them in power.
Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, however, was not like other dicators. He cared nothing for luxury and instead subscribed to the most radical, fundamentalist and puritanical Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam. In a historical coincidence, after the December 1979 Soviet attack on Afghanistan, it was to Zia that the United States, and Saudi Arabia, turned with the most powerful weapon they possessed- money. In addition to arms and cash to fight the Soviets, the Saudis chose to spread radical Wahhabi ideology into Pakistan through funding front group “charities” such as the Muslim World League, the International Muslim Relief Organization and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan, always seen by the Pakistanis as their front yard, raised the battle cry “Allah Akbar” (God is Great). Billions of Western dollars funneled through Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) funded schools to teach Wahhabi ideology to the next generation of Pakistani children who would grow up to become the Taliban, which was used to attack and dominate the otherwise moderate Afghan people. The additional financial resources of a Saudi radical named Ossama bin Laden, a new group called al Queda was born, which in turn would spawn its own progeny, ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Boko Haram and others.
What makes this all the more incredible and tragic is that it has continued, unabated. As you read this, the United States and Saudi Arabia continue to fund these radical groups through the ISI, the Pakistani military secret intelligence apparatus. The schools and networks that support the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere- and even ISIS- are still headquartered and anchored in Pakistan, feeding off international aid- even the bulk meant to go to Afghanistan continues to be routed through the ISI.
The reasons for this, even more tragically, are not a “conspiracy theory.” Conspiracies take imagination, planning and work- which is why they are so rare in real life. Instead the very opposite is the reality- bureaucratic inertia. The reality of international interaction is structures and networks of contacts upon which careers, small and large, are built and maintained. They do not shut down easily, especially when they facilitate the transference of billions of dollars passing through a sea of outstretched hands, each set of which develops it’s own network. These networks can’t be turned off without created even more havoc, and that which politicians hate more than anything- uncertainty. And so, they continue, like a heroin addiction.
And so now the people of Pakistan are getting a taste of the horrors their government has spent a generation exporting throughout the Middle East- and most devastatingly to its neighbor Afghanistan who has suffered almost two full generations of torture and murder at the hands of Pakistani operatives. And, most tragically of all- there is no end in sight. Like mass shootings in America, events like this- and their inexorable spread- are simply becoming accepted parts of life in the world. We turn our faces away from ISIS and Boko Haram and listen to politicians and media figures, almost none of whom understand the region, regurgitate useless and facile talking points while “arms” continue to be sold to the worst actors, “foreign aid” checks continue to be written, and literal suitcases filled with cash, continue to be delivered and the bloody cycle grinds on unabated.
Will anything ever change? Yes, eventually, change is inevitable and no one should be more worried than the Saudi Royal Family, because the entire relationship between the West and Middle East- from the CIA, MI6 and Israel’s Mossad- is built upon them and their networks. When the day comes, as it surely will, when the Saud family are the ones getting their heads lopped off by an ISIS type group who ascend to power over all that oil and wealth, the world will indeed change, and in unpredictable ways that politicians so hate.