Ten weeks before he was incinerated inside an C130 military transport, blown up by still-unknown assassins, General Akhtar Abdul Rehman Khan, architect of the long war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, unveiled the climax he had scripted. “An Islamic Afghan Republic”, the Pakistan military’s chief of staff explained to his American guests, “could be expected to join with Pakistan, Turkey and an Iran come to its senses, in an Islamic league to oppose southward Soviet expansion.”
This was, in one of its many shifting variants, the doctrine of Strategic Depth: an Islamic Bloc, scholar Dietrich Reetz has explained, stretching from the Urals to the Arabian Sea. This alone, General Akhtar argued, could defend Pakistan against the Soviet “historic desire to expand toward the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea”.
In the margins of the diplomatic cable recording the conversation, America’s ambassador to New Delhi, John Gunther Dean, scrawled a single, hand-written word: “Nonsense”. The erudite Ambassador knew, as do historians but not Generals, that neither Russian Czars nor the Soviet Union sought to expand to the Arabian Sea; the idea was manufactured by Imperial Britain, part fear, and part self-serving myth.
As the world marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11—and the rebirth of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which was levelled in its wake—many explanations have been offered for the birth of the dystopian ideas which drove the tragedy. The Afghan jihad and al-Qaeda all had a part, but the road to 9/11 was paved among other things by a myth, birthed by colonialism and reared by military despotism.