It cannot be denied that much if not most of the western anti-war movement has ignored the plight of Kashmir and in recent years, things have grown worse rather than better in this respect.
The root of this problem has comparatively little to do with India and Pakistan’s role in the Cold War rivalries between China and the Soviet Union, but instead has much to do with the events which transpired in Afghanistan between 1978 and 2001.
In 1978, the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan overthrow the Republic of Afghanistan ruled by Mohammed Daoud Khan during the Saur Revolution. This triggered an internal backlash against the new communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The indigenous backlash then triggered Kabul calling for the USSR to aid the central government against the uprising, whilst the United States firmly backed the Mujahideen rebels by supplying them with weapons, other material goods and high level combat training.
Ironically, many members of the anti-war movement in the west during the 1980s actually remained neutral or opposed the USSR’s entry into Afghanistan. This is due to the fact that while technically, the USSR was acting on the request of a UN recognised government, the American war in Vietnam was likewise technically at the “request” of the government of South Vietnam – a nation that had strong associations with the UN, without ever attaining full membership (incidentally, no Vietnamese state held a UN seat until 1977, by which time the country was unified).
In spite of these legal nuances, the American war in Vietnam was an unmitigated disaster and the Soviet war in Afghanistan likewise proved to be disastrous. It has only been in the 21st century that the next generation of western anti-war activists have gradually come to wrap themselves in the flag of The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. This is the case for several crucial reasons.
After the 9/11 attacks in the US, the anti-war movement was struggling to have its voice heard in an America that became hellbent for military revenge against anyone thought to be behind the attacks. Americans wanted revenge as was understandable, but worryingly, they were willing to get their revenge even against those who had nothing to do with 9/11 (if this sounds like India in 2019, it is because the same logic applies).
Desperate to stay relevant in a country that was overwhelmingly pro-war after 9/11, members of the US anti-war movement began to rehabilitate the People’s Republic of Afghanistan because on paper (key term), it stood for everything those accused of committing the 9/11 atrocity opposed. The People’s Republic of Afghanistan had a secular government that was far-left, anti-religious and opposed to the US backed Mujaheddin. As Osama bin Laden was once a leading figure in the Mujahideen, the US anti-war movement finally had an argument that in theory they could use in order to revive the general relevance of the anti-war movement in a pro-war age. Their argument went as follows: “America helped the Mujahideen in which Osama bin Laden was a leading figure. By contrast, the USSR and the People’s Republic of Afghanistan opposed the Mujahideen and stood for an ideology hated by the Mujahideen. Ergo: America’s support of the Mujahideen led to 9/11 and if the USSR and their communist Afghan allies won the war, there would be no 9/11”.
Although the “logic” employed by such members of the western anti-war movement is simplistic to the point of being a straw man argument, this is actually what many anti-war westerners, as well as many knee-jerk pro-Russian international commentators have said and continue to say when trying to find an ideological/pseudo-strategic link between the events of the 1980s and the post-9/11 anti-war movement. Ironically, modern Russia has welcomed peace talks with the Taliban, whilst perhaps not surprisingly, few in Russia now think that their war in Afghanistan was a good idea and almost no one in modern Russia thinks that the war was properly executed. In this sense, the western anti-war movement sounds a lot more like the old USSR than many scholars and even many policy makers in modern Russia.
Be that as it may, due to the fact that Pakistan was an opponent of People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, many of these same anti-war westerners continue to blame Pakistan for the failure of the supposedly “good” communist Afghan government to beat the Mujahideen. What such people fail to realise is that Pakistan’s support for those opposing the communist regime in Afghanistan had nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with Pakistan’s national survival.
Between 1947 and the present day, literally every Afghan government whether monarchical, republican, communist or theocratic, has refused to recognise Pakistan’s otherwise internationally recognised western border along the Durand Line. As such, Pakistan feared that the revolutionary communist regime next door would act even more vociferously in pursuing Afghanistan’s notorious expansionist tendencies than even previous Afghan regimes. There were several logical reasons which led Pakistan’s leadership to this deduction. First of all, as a country with good relations with the USSR’s main rivals of the time (China and the United States), Pakistan feared that a Soviet victory in Afghanistan would lead an exuberant, emboldened and war hardened Kabul regime to expand its territory at the expense of legally defined Pakistani territory. Secondly, the communist ideology of the Afghanistan after 1978 sought to disguise traditional anti-Pakistan Pashtun ultra-nationalism (aka separatism) in order to create an old fashioned “Greater Pashtunistan” under the guise of “proletarian expansionism”. In this sense, from Pakistan’s perspective, it was better to ally with rebels who supported an Islamic political ideology which in theory would minimise notorious Afghan expansionism aimed at Pakistan, than it would have been to go soft on a secular Kabul regime that was willing to use ethno-nationalism as a means of spreading communism to a Pakistan which had no appetite for becoming a communist state against its will.
As such, Pakistan opposed the communist regime in Afghanistan not only for these practical rather than ideological reasons, but also because domestic terrorists seeking to destroy the Pakistani state were sheltered by communist Kabul, therefore making it clear that Afghanistan was prepared to harbour individuals and groups whose stated goal was the overthrow of state institutions in Pakistan. In this sense, Pakistan was not “in love” with the Mujahideen, but was instead looking to strategically protect itself against a clear threat on what was then, a widely exposed north-western border.
As a Cold War ally of the USSR, India had multiple vested interests in supporting the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. First of all, India’s relations with Afghanistan have always been centred on New Delhi’s desire to gain leverage against Pakistan through the use of hybrid threats originating from or being sheltered on Afghan soil. Secondly, as in the 1980s Afghanistan shared a border with the USSR, a grand Soviet, India, Afghanistan alliance could have helped to economically isolate Pakistan in an age before Pakistan’s all-weather friend China became the economic superpower that it is today. As such, the idea of a northern CPEC lifeline for Pakistan in the 1980s, would have been virtually unimaginable.
And yet, these deeply important details seem to be lost on a western anti-war movement that especially since 9/11, has partly internalised the western far-right and Israel’s Islamophobia. In doing so, many in the western anti-war movement have reached the simplistic conclusion that “secular terrorists and murderous secular regimes are automatically good, whilst anything Islamic is automatically a reactionary and pro-terrorism”.
Whilst this shift in the western anti-war movement towards secular supremacy aimed at Islamic movements or governments with Islamic (particularly Sunni Islamic) characteristics was a phenomenon based on the west’s own post-9/11 mass hysteria, it had the effect of helping India to revive its own seemingly dead Cold War narrative which claims that “secular leftists of the world and Hindus of the world must unite against CIA back Sunni Muslim extremists”. Forgetting the fact that as the 21st century moved on, India grew closer to the US, further from Russia and continues to maintain hostility against China – this narrative continues to poison many otherwise dutiful anti-war westerners against Pakistan.
This is the case because based on their total misreading of events in Afghanistan in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, far too many western anti-war activists think that there is in fact an unbroken alliance of Mujahideen style groups, modern Pakistan and the CIA and that this alliance can only be counterbalanced by a mythical alliance that includes “sometimes Hindu/sometimes secular India”, a Russia that the western left imagines to still be the old USSR and any country in western Eurasia (Syria and Iran in particular) that has dispute with actual Sunni extremists (mainly Daesh) who happen to have nothing to do with Pakistan.
The fact of the matter is that a mixture of the USSR’s rehabilitation among the western far-left, a gross misunderstanding of Pakistan’s position in the 1980s and Indian propaganda that is aimed at both the western far-right and simultaneously at the ultra-secular western far-left, has poisoned the anti-war movement against Pakistan. This is all the more reason why Pakistan needs a 24/7 news channel to help dispel these canards.
Beyond this historical background lies a further contemporary litmus test. As the Palestinian cause becomes increasingly fashionable among the populist left in parts of Europe and North America, many previously ambivalent individuals can be found criticising Israel for its occupation of Palestine. And yet many of these same people have little to say about Kashmir. Even more worryingly, when such people do discuss Kashmir, they tend to parrot Indian propaganda which seeks to paint millions of ordinary oppressed Kashmiris as “terrorists”.
Thus, whilst these self-identified “anti-war” activists are quick to dispel the notion that all Palestinians are terrorists, they have yet to extend this logic to the people of Kashmir, in spite of the fact that there are exponentially more Kashmiris under Indian occupation than there are Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Therefore, the next time one assumes that the moniker of “anti-war” means what it implies, simply ask them about Kashmir. This is the real litmus test for western “anti-war” activists who have become numb to the realities of a changing world.