If we were to draw parallels between the Soviet-Afghan jihad of the ‘80s and the Syrian civil war of today, the Western powers used the training camps located in the Af-Pak border regions to train and arm the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Similarly, the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan are being used to provide training and arms to the Syrian militants in order to battle the Syrian regime with the support of Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies.
During the Afghan jihad, it is a known historical fact that the bulk of the so-called “freedom fighters” was comprised of Pashtun Islamic jihadists, such as the factions of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and scores of others, some of which later coalesced together to form the Taliban movement.
Similarly, in Syria, the bulk of the so-called “moderate rebels” is comprised of Islamic jihadists, such as Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid Brigade, al-Nusra Front and myriads of other militant groups, including a small portion of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army (FSA).
Moreover, apart from Pashtun Islamic jihadists, the various factions of the Northern Alliance of Tajiks and Uzbeks constituted the relatively “moderate” segment of the Afghan rebellion, though those “moderate” warlords, like Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abul Rashid Dostum, were more ethnic and tribal in their character than secular or nationalist, as such.
Similarly, the Kurds of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces can be compared with the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan. The socialist PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria, however, had been allied with the Shi’a regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists for the first three years of the Syrian civil war, i.e. from August 2011 to August 2014.
At the behest of the American stooge in Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, the Syrian Kurds have switched sides in the last couple of years after the United States policy reversal and declaration of war against one faction of the Syrian opposition, the Islamic State, when the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in June 2014.
Notwithstanding, George Santayana presciently said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The only difference between the Afghan jihad back in the ‘80s, that spawned the Islamic jihadists like the Taliban and al Qaeda for the first time in history, and the Libyan and Syrian civil wars, 2011-onward, is that the Afghan jihad was an overt jihad: back then the Western political establishments and their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, used to openly brag that the CIA provides all those AK-47s, RPGs and stingers to the Pakistani intelligence agencies, which then distributes those deadly weapons among the Afghan Mujahideen to combat the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
After the 9/11 tragedy, however, the Western political establishments and corporate media have become a lot more circumspect, therefore, this time around, they have waged covert jihads against the Arab-nationalist Gaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria, in which the Islamic jihadists (aka terrorists) have been sold as “moderate rebels,” with secular and nationalist ambitions, to the Western audience.
Since the regime change objective in those hapless countries went against the mainstream narrative of ostensibly fighting a war against terrorism, therefore, the Western political establishments and the mainstream media are now trying to muddle the reality by offering color-coded schemes to identify myriads of militant and terrorist outfits that are operating in those countries: such as, the red militants of the Islamic State, which the Western powers want to eliminate; the yellow Islamic jihadists, like Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, with whom the Western powers can collaborate under desperate circumstances; and the green militants of the Free Syria Army (FSA) and a few other inconsequential outfits, which together comprise the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition.
Regardless, back in the ‘80s, the Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” did not spring up spontaneously out of nowhere, some powers funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized those militants; how else could such ragtag militants had beaten back the super power of its time?
Then in 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in Libya, those same powers once again financed, trained, armed and internationally legitimized the Libyan militants by calling them pro-democracy, “armed” activists against the supposedly “brutal and tyrannical” rule of the Gaddafi regime.
Similarly, in Syria, those very same powers once again had the audacity to provide money, training and weapons to the Syrian militants; how else could such peaceful and democratic protests had mutated into a full-blown armed insurrection?
And even if those protests did mutate into an armed rebellion, left to their own resources, the best such civilian protestors could have mustered was to get a few pistols, shotguns and rifles; where did they get all those machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks, rocket-propelled grenades and the US-made TOW antitank missiles?
You don’t have to be a military strategist to understand a simple fact that unarmed civilian population, and even ragtag militant outfits, lack the wherewithal to fight against organized and professional armed forces of a country that are equipped with artillery, tanks, air force and navy.
Leaving the funding, training and arming aspects of the insurgencies aside, but especially pertaining to conferring international legitimacy to an armed insurgency, like the Afghan so-called “freedom struggle” of the Cold War, or the supposedly “moderate and democratic” Libyan and Syrian insurgencies of today, it is simply beyond the power of minor regional players and their nascent media, which has a geographically and linguistically limited audience, to cast such heavily armed and brutal insurrections in a positive light in order to internationally legitimize them; only the Western mainstream media, that has a global audience and which serves as the mouthpiece of the Western political establishments, has perfected this game of legitimizing the absurd and selling Satans as saviors.
Notwithstanding, for the whole of the last five years of the Syrian proxy war, the focal point of the Western policy has been that “Assad must go!” But what difference would it make to the lives of the ordinary Syrians even if the regime is replaced now when the civil war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, created millions of refugees, displaced half of the population and reduced the whole country of 22 million people to rubble? I do concede that Libya and Syria were not democratic states under Gaddafi and Assad, respectively; however, both of those countries were at least functioning states.
Gaddafi was ousted from power in September 2011; five years later, Tripoli is ruled by the Misrata militia, Benghazi is under the control of Khalifa Haftar, who is nothing more than the stooge of Egypt and UAE, and the heavily armed militants are having a field day all over Libya. It will now take decades, not years, to restore even a semblance of stability in Libya and Syria; remember that the proxy war in Afghanistan was originally fought in the ‘80s and today, 35 years later, Afghanistan is still in the midst of perpetual anarchy, lawlessness and an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.
It’s very unfortunate that haughty and myopic politicians and diplomats do not learn any lessons from history, otherwise all the telltale signs are there that Syria has become the Afghanistan of the Middle East and its repercussions on the stability of the energy-rich region and the security threat that the Syrian militants pose to the rest of the world will have far reaching consequences for many decades to come.
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.