As the US war on Afghanistan intensifies, a motley collection of warlords and bureaucrats is being assembled to take over from the Taliban. The 86-year-old ex-monarch, Zahir Shah, in exile in Italy since 1973, has been brought out of mothballs and dusted down to lead a “moderate” coalition of Afghans. A national council was set up after a meeting in Rome on October 1. Four days later general Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, sent a personal letter to Zahir Shah, inviting him to send a representative to Islamabad for talks on the future of Afghanistan, according to the daily Dawn (Karachi, October 5). Zahir Shah has responded positively and announced that his representatives will visit both Islamabad and Tehran to discuss Afghanistan’s new government.
A vicious propaganda campaign has been under way against the Taliban in the western (especially American) media for several months, yet the US’s new Afghan allies hardly inspire confidence either. The Taliban need not be one’s favourite group but what is being touted as a “US-friendly” coalition is no better. It includes such people as the Uzbek militia of general Abdul-Rashid Dostum, who was allied to Najibullah, the last communist ruler of Afghanistan. When Dostum changed sides and joined the late Ahmed Shah Massoud in 1992, it brought the mujahideen to power in Kabul. From 1992 to September 1996, when they were driven out, Massoud and Dostum’s men wrought havoc in Kabul. Rape, theft and pillage were widespread; in one particularly vicious incident in October 1994, a mother and daughter were raped by one of these ‘valiant commanders’. It was the disgust of ordinary people with these warlords that enabled the Taliban to sweep almost the entire country within two years.
After assuming control in Kabul in September 1996, the Taliban restored law and order, much to the chagrin of those who preferred chaos. Despite the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam, the people welcomed their stern ways to control lawlessness. They also disarmed the people, a herculean task in a country where every child is born with a gun in his hand. These achievements won the Taliban the support of even those who disagreed with their policies on other issues. The attempt to overthrow them is fraught with danger and will not lead to stability in Afghanistan. It also has serious implications for Pakistan, which has been forced to change its policies by intense pressure from the US.
Deep cracks have already appeared in the new coalition. For instance Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister of the Northern Alliance, which controls less than 5 percent of Afghanistan, has said that Zahir Shah will not be acceptable as a “compromise” leader, yet Haron Amin, a representative of the alliance in Washington, told CNN on October 7 that the former king would be welcome. Similarly, the Northern Alliance includes such figures as Abdul-Rasoul Sayyaf, who is as rigid about women as the Taliban. So what could the coalition achieve even if the Taliban were toppled? The Taliban represent some 60 to 65 percent of Afghanistan’s population, the Pushtuns, while the Northern Alliance comprises various minorities who agree with each other about little or nothing. There would be no ‘stability’, a point which seems to have escaped Pakistan’s government in its haste to avert the wrath of the US.
It was these tactics and American pressure to give detailed intelligence that were probably the cause of Lieutenant-General Mahmood Ahmed’s resignation as director of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the military shake-up in Pakistan on October 8. The ostensible reason for his resignation was that he was superseded by two junior generals, but in fact general Musharraf was planning to get rid of his benefactors — generals Mahmood and Muzaffar Usmani — who had brought him to power, because the US demanded it. The third general, Aziz Khan, has been ‘promoted’ to the largely ceremonial post of chairman of joint chiefs of staff, which means that effective command of troops is now out of his hands. These generals were seen as “too Islamic” and close to the Taliban. Musharraf has acted to secure his own position — a day earlier he extended his tenure as chief of army staff, which had been due to end on October 8, indefinitely — and to get western approval, rather than serve Pakistan’s interests. In return Pakistan has got little but the perils of the Afghans’ enmity.
It would be well to bear in mind that, after Pakistan had hosted, supported and financed the mujahideen for more than 15 years, these same mujahideen attacked and ransacked the Pakistani embassy in Kabul in September 1995. One embassy staffer was killed, and the ambassador and military attache were beaten by members of the Northern Alliance, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, then president of Afghanistan. Even while Pakistani diplomats were being attacked Rabbani’s own family was living in a villa in Peshawar. Nor would it go amiss to recall that it was during Rabbani’s presidency that rape and pillage were widespread in such cities as Kabul, Jalalabad and Qandahar.
Equally important is the fact that the Taliban cannot be eliminated completely even if their leadership is wiped out. They are a reality that must be dealt with, albeit not through the US. When the US flees Pakistan will be left to deal with yet another set of problems in whose creation it has become an accessory. Islamic Iran, by contrast, despite its differences with the Taliban, has flatly refused to join the “anti-terrorism” coalition and said that it will not join in any attack on a neighbouring Muslim country.
There are millions in Pakistan, and indeed in most of the Muslim world, who resent American policies. Those who side with the US are also seen as enemies of Islam and Muslims. Many Arab regimes have been circumspect in their support of the US for this reason; not so Musharraf. As the US’s war on Afghanistan continues, it is possible that Usama’s supporters will strike at American targets in different parts of the world. The US has already announced that it is closing its embassy in Saudi Arabia. The US has never been restrained by the deaths of innocents; “collateral damage” is how it describes such casualties itself (provided that those casualties are not white Americans, of course). The US has gone mad over 6,000 American deaths on American soil, but there is no sympathy or concern for the deaths of 6,000 to 8,000 Iraqis every month as a result of the US-led economic sanctions against Iraq, which attrition has gone on for more than 10 years.
While bombs are being dropped on Afghanistan, noisy propaganda is under way to highlight food drops for Afghan refugees. The refugee crisis has been created largely by US threats, and now the attacks on Afghanistan. There are reports of some 7.5 million Afghan refugees on the move. Given the three-year drought in Afghanistan, which has affected at least two million people, the new exodus of refugees will create a nightmare for Pakistan because no government in Afghanistan, however constituted, is likely to have the ability to deal with such a catastrophe.
Given Afghanistan’s history, the region is likely to be in turmoil for decades. The consequences of this tragedy will be borne mostly by the countries bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan in particular. The US is notorious for washing its hands of the problems it creates. Regardless of whether or not it achieves its objectives in Afghanistan, when it has had enough the US will simply walk away, leaving Pakistan to deal with the mess. Pakistan’s additional problem is that it is a nuclear state; this alarms both Zionist Israel and Hindu India. Once the Americans have used it, Pakistan will be ditched as quickly as it was abandoned after the Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan (1989). In the process they eliminated general Zia ul-Haque and most of the top military leaders with him. One cannot help wondering whether general Musharraf has taken any of this into account while listening to the blandishments of Tony Blair and Colin Powell in Islamabad.