Ashgabat, 5 October 2016 (nCa) — The situation in Afghanistan bring us back to the case of Bilal Sheikh and how the manufactured dependence can dictate the flow and direction of nearly every given scenario out there.
This is where we climb out of the box.
Billions of dollars, actually close to a trillion dollars, have been poured into Afghanistan. What is the outcome?
The money disappears and more money is always required.
A behavior pattern has been established and reinforced over the years. They fight among themselves and the occupiers and donors give them cash and material support in the hope of bringing peace. They overindulge in bribery and corruption and more money is showered on them with the expectation of bringing in some good governance.
All the while, the Afghans feel that peace and good governance will dry up the sources of free money.
To a neutral observer, they are rewarded for bloodshed and fighting. They are rewarded for bribery and corruption. They are rewarded for atrocities.
To Afghans themselves – not the ordinary Afghans but those who enjoy notoriety and influence – they will be punished for peace and good governance because that will cut off the pipelines of free money and leave them to earn an honest buck. This is not an attractive idea to them.
As we saw in the case of talks between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, when they are left on their own, they may be compelled to find some kind of solution, even though such solution will lead to peace after some more bloodshed. On the other hand, when they see ready profit in keeping their difference alive, they will shun peace. A cold shoulder is what they actually need.
What has been done so far in Afghanistan is to teach them the value of keeping the conflicts alive, to profit from carnage and atrocities. They have been conditioned to maintain chaos to live profitably. In turn, they have conditioned their occupiers and donors to keep shoveling free money into their greedy mouths.
Whether this was the intention or not, they have also learned that good behavior doesn’t go unpunished. A farmer who gives up planting poppies will quickly slide to starvation. A girl that decides to get out of her home to do something for her locality will be in danger of kidnap or acid attack. A civil servant who is honest will be sidelines or fired to be replaced by someone who happily cooperates with the corrupt officers and unruly warlords. A district governor who tries to be just will be easy prey for the private armies that abound the land of the Afghans.
This is a vicious circle: Bad guys are rewarded; good guys are punished.
The pivot point is the conditioning of mind, similar the one we see in the case of Bilal Sheikh. For them it is a simplified world, black and white with hardly any shades of grey.
* * *
The day I saw Bilal Sheikh swinging the monkey on short leash and banging it viciously to the ground was the day I started thinking of how and why someone could take pleasure in causing pain to someone.
Since Bilal Sheikh was the obvious subject I could observe, nearly 24/7, I started paying attention to his interaction with everyone around him; how he talked to others, how he deferred to some and condescended to others, his body language, his facial expressions, his way of phrasing his conversation, etc.
In doing so, I was naturally observing everyone else in the ward 18. Except for Fateh Alam, everyone else was in either politics or crime, mostly both.
The first thing that became discernible was the nature of the leader-follower relationship among those people. They were all young; Bilal was the youngest at 19 and Shani was the eldest at 34. They were all exceptionally fit and aware of their physical strength.
Shani and Satti were the leaders; all others were followers of various descriptions. Some for temporary and immediate benefits and some with lifelong devition.
What was immediately noticeable was that the ones with sadistic tendencies, the foremost being Bilal Sheikh, had a big void in their souls. This void craved acceptance, approval, praise; this void sought strong signals, frequent signals, that they were better than everyone else.
It was like addiction. When the effect of praise and approval wore off they craved more. They were constantly in need of quick fix. On top of that, their material needs were being met.
And, this void could only be filled by someone they had accepted as their leader. Praise or approval of anyone else meant nothing to them.
Shani and Satti were probably not much for psychological insight but they knew instinctively the dynamics of this kind of relationship.
When I use the word leader here, it is more than in the conventional sense. In this sort of relationship, the leader is anyone whose approval matters to you, whose words can hurt or heal you, whose ideas can move you to do something or prevent you from doing something.
This would be clear if I quote Stalin, the giant among giants in the realm of sadism.
At the funeral of his first wife, Kato Svanidze, Stalin said, “This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity.”
In that sense, Kato was the leader of Stalin, with the power to soften his heart.
In such leader-follower relationship, the heart can be softened and it can be hardened, depending on where the leader wants to take her/his followers.
This is how a vague monster can be turned into a specific monster. This is how a lost, lonely boy can be turned into a powerful dynamo of atrocity. This is how today’s Afghanistan sees hordes of warlords, Taliban, Northern Alliance and hundreds of lesser evils thriving and multiplying.
Give these young people a sense of belonging, a pride in their own worth, and they are yours.
The top leaders in this kind of structure are demagogues, be it Al-Baghdadi or Donald Trump, and anything in-between. They have a rich palette from which to chose their livery colours, ranging from Hitler and Stalin to Joe McCarthy and Frauke Petry (throw in Marine Le Pen and Norbert Hofer for good measure). The past and present, the history and geography are meaningless here; they are the demagogues first identified by Aristotle. Their medium of influence can be religion, xenophobia, nationalism or whatever else sells best in their particular niche.
Looking at Bilal Sheikh I did not have the clarity of vision back then that I have now. What was clear, nonetheless, was that there is some sick connection between the leader and the followers. In a way, they feed on each other. Pavlov and his dogs were somewhere in the back of my mind as I observed them.
A related question was: Does the leader switch to a reverse role when he is the follower and someone else is the leader? Are they stacked one over another in alternative layers like a Napoleon cake?
Are there closely interlocked subsets where the leaders helps fill the void in the souls of his followers and the followers give him the ego massage, but the leader still remains with the void in his own soul for which he turns to someone else?
I didn’t know who to ask this question. I didn’t even know if this was a valid question.
As it happens, a summer afternoon the answer presented itself out of the blue.
Here is story, of course with real names:
Mahmud Ali was a great man. He was a Bengali from East Pakistan, a province that later separated from Pakistan and became Bangladesh. Since the start of his political career, right before the creation of Pakistan, he was prominent in a big way. He was a provincial minister for revenue among other things until the breakup of Pakistan.
At the time of the creation of Bangladesh, he opted for Pakistan. He was among the few Bengalis politicians who continued to oppose the breakup of Pakistan till the end. In Pakistan he was given great respect and remained federal minister from 1972 till his death in 2006.
He was also the founder and chairman of Tehreek-e-Takmeel Pakistan (Movement for Completion of Pakistan), a kind of think tank that advocated economic integration. He was of the view that regardless of the flag that flies over a piece of land, the economic integration is what can change the fate of the masses. Perhaps, he was vaguely socialist.
He also ran a monthly magazine The Concept.
At one time I was considering the offer to take over as the editor of The Concept. It was a wonderful opportunity asI could see how I could expand the readership by tinkering with the scope of the editorial policy. However, I was worried that I would fall short of the expectations that Mahmud Ali and his close group had formed about me.
I went to meet him at Qasr-e-Naz, the state guest house in Karachi.
Before we could start talking about The Concept, Mahmud Ali said, “I would like you to meet Colonel Rashid,” pointing to a man standing beside him.
I shook the warm, dry and strong hand of Col Rashid. I had to look up as he was quite tall.
“He was among the group of paramilitary and military people who assassinated Mujibur Rehman,” Mahmud Ali said in his steady voice.
Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, also known as Banglabandhu was the founder of Bangladesh. He was twice the president of Bangladesh and he was the premier when shot down together with him family in 1975.
I look at Rashid again. His striking, chiseled face was emotionless, eyes vacant, hauntingly vacant.
I didn’t know how to start the conversation. How do you start conversation with someone who had put a bullet through the founder of his own country?
After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, I asked, “It must’ve been a painful decision.”
“It was, indeed,” said Rashid.
For the next hour and a half, over strong tea and freshly fried samosa, we talked. He spoke in short sentences, carefully chosen words. He spoke in monotone, a man who found too late that he had been chasing a mirage, a man who was lulled to sweet dreams and woke up in the midst of a nightmare.
It was a long conversation and I don’t remember the sequence of the entire dialogue, though it was mostly a monologue. What is etched in my mind is the essence of his story:
Mujib (Mujibur Rahman, Banglabandhu) was a man of great stature. We were in awe of him. He was a fascinating orator, kind of a magician with the crowd. One he spoke, it was as if he was speaking individually to everyone in the crowd. He was our leader.
When he presented his 6 point plan, we embraced it without any question. He said that West Pakistan (now Pakistan) was exploiting East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), we accepted it without any question.
When he said that there should be separate currencies for both wings of Pakistan, we didn’t see it as the first step toward secession.
He was running into the uncharted territory at breakneck speed and we were following him blindly, burning all the bridges behind us.
What mattered to us was his approval, his praise.
He wanted a separate country and we helped him get a separate country.
It was only later that our Banglabandhu slowly removed the mask from his face.
He nationalized all the industries, virtually wiping out the private sector. He abolished all the political parties except of his own. He fiddled with the system so that he could be the president for life.
This was the time we did our own research and found that West Pakistan was subsidizing East Pakistan and not the other way round. It was the time we saw that our Jute was not the mainstay of the economy of Pakistan. Jute and its products were highly profitable but the economy of the remaining part of Pakistan was moving without us.
The eye opener for us was when he dismantled the Adamjee Juit Mills, the largest jute mills in the world, and the Karnafuli Paper Mills, a huge unit of primary industry in our part of the world, and started sending it to India. We were going to be dependent on India for the very products that we were promised would propel us to quick prosperity.
His false words wove a false dream and our bullets exploded that dream. There was nothing inside, just hollowness. We were the net losers.
A small tear trickled slowly down his cheek. He was oblivious of that, lost in his regrets.
* * *
Shani and Satti were doing on a small scale what Mujib did on a large scale. Bilal Sheikh is, consequently, a microcosm through which to understand how extremism of any kind gets nurtured. Mujib dismembered Pakistan through the use of extremist methods, with documented help from abroad. However, whoever else played any part in the creation of Bangladesh, cannot be blamed for making use of the available vacuum. The basic rule is: The destiny of a country is the joint responsibility of the nation.
To be continued . . .