08 February 2012

The Bear Trap - A review

Date: 6th February 2012

Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf was the chief of Afghan Bureau of ISI from October 1983 to August 1987. He was effectively the commander-in-chief of the Afghan guerillas fighting against Red army of USSR. In 1992 his book “The Bear trap” was published which is his account of the war. Major Adkins a reputed military author has assisted him in writing of this book. Many books have been written on Soviet-Afghan war but this book is the only one written by someone directly involved in the war at an influential position. This book is probably the most authentic documented work on that war. I have written this review of the book on its content not on the way of writing. I am not equipped to review the language and pattern the book is written. I will not call the war a Jehad and the fighters Mujahideen, I will call them Rebels or Guerillas. The history and revealed facts have proved that it was just an American proxy war and certainly not a Jehad.

This book contains 14 chapters Prologue and a postscript. In the prologue Mr. Yousaf has described the crash of President Zia’s plane. He has given his account of what had actually happen. He has stated some facts for the first time about the crash. He has negated the theory that sabotage was done in Bahawalpur airstrip, according to him it was most probably done on Chaklala Airbase Rawalpindi. He has hinted towards some of possible culprits but due to lack of evidence He has not pin pointed anyone as the confirmed culprit. He has also highlighted the apparent cover-up of the issue by American and Pakistani governments for mysterious reasons. His account of entire event is a daring one for someone who has served in an Intelligence Agency. Major Adkins has used his writing skills to write the whole account in a very expressive way and attractive manner.

In the 14 chapters He has described all the events from the entrance of Soviet troops in Afghanistan to their withdrawal. The military operations that He has discussed are of the period from 1983 to 1987, when He was heading Afghan Bureau of ISI. He starts his first chapter from the explanation of the events from the Saur revolution in April 1978 till the start of invasion on 27th December 1979. Whatever He has written in the initial chapters is a reliable and concise insight on the beginning of invasion and can be used as reference in any literary work about Afghan war. Then in next chapters he has described the Afghan guerillas and the soviet troops in detail. He has also explained the structure and working of his bureau. All these information is very interesting for specially those who like Spy fiction or James bond. However what He has written is purely non-fiction.

This book talks about making Afghanistan another Vietnam, particularly in one chapter and generally in all. The prime motivating factor for Americans to help the Afghan Rebels was to avenge their miserable defeat in Vietnam. Russians were primarily responsible for help the Viet Cong, Communist guerilla fighters of Vietnam who defeated America in Vietnam. There are a lot of references to Vietnam in different chapters and this war has somewhat been explained in contrast to the Vietnam War. Then there is detailed text on the role of CIA in the Afghan war. This war was codenamed Operation Cyclone by CIA. CIA provided all the hardware and monetary resources to the Bureau of Mr. Yousaf, A fact that he has acknowledged without any hesitation. This was not possible during the war when neither America nor Pakistan Diplomatically acknowledged their role in aiding Afghan Guerillas.

There is a treasure of information on how the entire operation was run by ISI. Author has explained in detail how the funds were collected and transferred to ISI, How and from where the weapons were bought and distributed to Afghan commanders through ISI. The route of the weapons termed Pipeline by author has been explained in detail. Weapons reached Karachi seaport and then through Rail Route these were delivered to weapons depots in Quetta and Rawalpindi. Author’s headquarter during his time At ISI; Ohjiri Camp in Rawalpindi was the primary weapons storage facility during the entire war. In early April 1988, 10,000 tons of weapons exploded in Ohjiri Camp killing more than 100 people. Mr. Yousaf has stated his theory about the explosion and admitted that all weapons and ammunitions were stored in Ohjiri camp with complete disregard to basic precautionary measures.

The seven Afghan party leaders who were controlling the rebels are also under focus in many parts of the book. There is reference and discussion of all such leaders most prominently Gul Badin Hekmatyar who was the most controversial leader of that time. Even today He is leading his group against ISAF in current afghan war. Author has described in detail his encounters with leaders such as Hekmatyar. It’s also been revealed that there was a military committee comprising of the party leaders which were used to coordinate and control the war in Afghanistan. Author has also thrown light on the way Guerillas were trained by ISI and how the special operations were planned and coordinated. Mr. Yousaf has also admitted that Pakistan Army officers also went inside Afghanistan with Rebels as Advisors. It can be said that the performance of Afghan rebels and ISI officers has somewhat been exaggerated. Mr. Yousaf was describing his work so it’s natural that He has ignored his mistakes and unnecessarily focused on certain qualities which were non-existent on most of the occasions.

Mr. Yousaf has dedicated the book to General Akhtar Abdul Rehman, who was the chief of ISI from 1980 to 1987. He also died with President Zia in plane crash. Mr. Yousaf’s choice of General Akhtar means that he respected General and was very much found of him. General Akhtar is the undisputed Mastermind of Afghan war and this dedication was Mr. Yousaf’s way of paying tribute to him. This book has showed great generosity when explaining the actions of General Akhtar and clearly acquitted him from any crime whatsoever. However this book has criticized General Zia for transferring General Akhtar from ISI. General Zia was also criticized for trying to be the hero of Afghan War and trying to deprive General Akhtar of this privilege. Brigadier Yousaf has discussed in detail the inability of Afghan rebels to operate in daylight due to Soviet gunship helicopters. He has also glorified the entry and use of Stinger missiles to target Soviet Aircrafts and Helicopters. He has supported the theory that Stinger missiles shifted the momentum of war in favor of guerillas. However he has not mentioned a single word about alleged corruption of selling Stingers to different countries.

This book is treasure of first hand information. Mr. Yousaf has described how the soviet prisoners of war were kept inside Pakistan. He has described an incident when more than two dozens of Soviet prisoners died after an explosion in an ammunition depot near prisoner’s camp. According to the book once a Major General of red army was flying in a plane to heart and his plane was shot down with a stinger missile. The soviet general safely landed but was captured and eventually shot by rebels. This is first time such information has been made public by someone in power of influence. In the last chapters Mr. Yousaf has described the premature attack on Jalalabad in March 1989 as the reason due to which Afghan rebels lost all the successes of last nine years. This is debatable whether this was the real cause or not but after all the opinion of a person such as Mr. Yousaf carries weight. This book explains the Ohjiri Camp explosion of April 1988. However there is no mention of the theory that Ohjiri Camp ammunition dump was exploded in order to conceal the corruption in selling stingers to other countries. He just ignored it as nothing such possibly ever happened but many analysts believe that concealing corruption was the reason behind Ohjiri camp explosion.

If we talk about what’s missing then there can be few such things. This book not once mentioned Usama bin Laden. Usama was one of the most motivated Arab financers of this war and He himself participated in this war but Mr. Yousaf has ignored him. Now it’s an open secret that people from as many as 19 countries participated in the war but this book states that only people of Afghanistan fought this war. This is not correct history. Brigadier Yousaf has proudly described the damage inflicted on Soviet army establishment and has not mentioned around two million afghan people who died in this war. There is also no talk of the help provided by Israel. Only the purchase of weapons from Israel is mentioned. In reality Israel provided much support including Mules for transporting weapons and intelligence against soviets. Mr. Yousaf in this book has simply ignored the alleged corruption of General Akhtar as chief of ISI, Zia’s dictatorial regime. Many people are certain that many people attained monetary benefits from this war and on the top of the list is General Akhtar. Brigadier Yousaf has not written a single word about his ex-boss’s corruption.

In my humble opinion the war in Afghanistan was not a Jehad. It was the proxy war of America against Soviets. General Zia served American interests in order to strengthen his grasp on the reins of power. For one man’s interests entire Pakistani nation was dragged in this war. Even today all the explosions and extremism is result of that policy. Since Brigadier Yousaf was a part of Zia’s regime he calls this war a Jehad for obvious reasons. The name of Jehad was an illusion a sham and fa├žade to attract people from entire world to join the war against soviets and serve the interests of America and General Zia at the detriment of people of Pakistan.

This book is a great and bold peace of literary work. The way the book is written is no wonder very good and absorbs the reader in its content. The content can be divided in two parts the operational details of war and the ideology of the war. First part is still very much authentic and must to read for students of military history. As far as the second part is concerned, it’s based on misleading and diversion from true history. As a humble student of history I believe that the information about the ideology of war in this book is completely wrong as proven with passage of time. In the end I also appreciate Mr. Yousaf for writing this book and revealing many unknown facts despite pressure from the Army not to publish the book. Keeping aside few things this book is worth praising and must to read for students of history.

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