“You have wrought a miracle. I can give you nothing worthy of your achievements. Only God can reward you”, said General Zia-ul-Haq to General Akhtar Abdul Rahman in July 1988.
Pakistan is a young nation in historical terms. In our short life, we have had our defeats and our successes. But without a doubt, one of our nation’s greatest, and ironically least known successes, is the military victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. Not only were the Soviets defeated, but were brought to their knees. In the face of an overnight Soviet onslaught of Afghanistan, with their superior military forces and equipment, there was not a soul who believed that the military might of the Soviets could be driven out. Even the US initially believed Afghanistan was in the Soviet sphere of influence so there was nothing that could be done about it. The only man who believed that the Soviets could be driven out was General Akthar Abdul Rahman.
He was the head of the ISI from 1979 to 1987 for an unprecedented eight years. He was the spearhead of the insurgency and the mastermind behind the Jihad. This was a real Jihad; Islam was threatened and the ruthless Soviets were nonchalantly massacring the Afghan people with no respect of the dignity of their nation. After Afghanistan, Pakistan would be the jewel in the Soviet crown as it had access to warm waters, something that was widely known to be a great desire of the Soviets. Had the Afghan War been lost, the nation of Pakistan might have died. The gravity of this war was greater than that of any other previous war with India. A General of our army orchestrated the war, and won.
General Akhtar devised a strategy of guerrilla warfare. Pakistan was provided arms from the US and Saudis and they used these to train the Mujahideen in military camps. His widely commended strategy is written in the book “The Bear Trap.” During the entirety of the war Pakistan’s sovereignty was not compromised. No foreign power, including the US had any troops in the country. The fighters were exclusively Afghans. The US, the Saudis, or any other country for that matter, had no say. They only provided intelligence (satellite imagery) and arms. The only US intelligence personnel allowed inside the country was William Casey, Head of the CIA. Compared to the contemptible way in which we are handling our sovereignty today, we should learn from the way we protected our sovereignty during the Afghan War.
Before his death, hardly anyone knew of General Akhtar. But the Soviets certainly did as he was top on the KGB hit list. But General Akhtar was a different creed. He did not seek the limelight, partly due to his nature and partly due to the sensitivity of his job. Against all odds, he alone believed that the Soviets could be defeated. He is the only General to have taken on the Soviet superpower after WW2, and win.
On August 17, 1988, General Akhtar along with General Zia, died when the C-130, which he was not supposed to be on, crashed in Bahawalpur. He had wanted a Mujahideen Government in Afghanistan, but other forces, especially the US, did not. John Barron and Edward Jay Epstein are two of the few people who have comprehensively investigated the crash. Their analyses are concurrent and they can be easily found on the internet.
Successful nations honour their heroes. It is a source of inspiration for the youth, and it allows us be proud of who we are. It is a source of pride for Pakistan that a General in its army fought a war against the greatest power on earth and defeated it. General Akhtar is the first military General in Pakistan to gain international acclaim for his achievements. But political gains by ruling parties may have caused national acclaim to be suppressed. After all, the PPP would be loath to approve of anything remotely to do with General Zia’s regime.
General Akthar’s story has all the ingredients of a fantasy tale. He lost his father at the age of four, rose to prominence in the army, maintained unmatched moral cleanliness, defeated the strongest army in the world, and was betrayed by one close to him ending in his martyrdom. After all, this Jihad was initially a fantasy that no one believed in. Pakistan should honour its heroes and particularly this one, for had it not been for the man who believed that the Soviets could be defeated, we might not have been able to celebrate our beloved Pakistan’s 71st anniversary.