For Pakistan, Afghanistan is core issue - by Najam Sethi Back   Home  
The travails of the Afghan people and the turmoil in Kabul under the Taleban continue to cast their shadow over Pakistan. But the Islamabad establishment refuses to account for the mounting costs of this relationship to Pakistan, apart from mouthing inanities about some sort of “strategic depth”.

Some weeks ago, we reported a high-powered Taleban “delegation” in the Mohmand agency of Pakistan. Among other things, the Taleban were advising the local people not to fret about getting Pakistani ID cards because they would be provided Afghan ones in time to come. The political agent of the area was helpless in the face of such audacity by our “guests”. But Islamabad remains quiet about the Taleban’s refusal to accept the Durand Line and claim chunks of Pakistan.

This is nothing new. Every Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul has rejected the Durand Line and demanded it should be redrawn at Attock. Indeed, the stronger the Pashtun regime in Kabul, the more aggressive has been its ethnic-nationalist territorial claims on Pakistan. But for the Taleban to embarrass us so openly should be doubly difficult to swallow, considering just how much they owe us in terms of their very origin and continued existence. Yet Islamabad shows no sign of reviewing and changing its failed Afghan policy. But that is not all.

The Taleban are hosts to Osama bin Laden, a hero to a few and a terrorist to most countries. They are the destroyers of the Bamian Buddhas, symbols of peace for the many and idols of oppression for a few. They seek to keep their women in chains while the rest of the world celebrates their growing freedom. They are determined to take Afghanistan back to the 7th century even as we all rush to embrace the new millennium.

The United Nations has long advocated a broad-based and moderate government in Kabul. But the Taleban have been able to spurn that advice because Pakistani support for the war against the ethnic Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north is still assured. Indeed, the Taleban can shrug away all manner of international advice or criticism as long as Islamabad is solidly behind them. But the price of camaraderie with the Taleban is rising by the day for Pakistan.

In the old days, Pakistan was able to house and feed millions of Afghan refugees because the western powers were eager to give money to Pakistan. In fact, many Pakistani and Afghan mujahids were flushed with cash because their jehad was the same as the Western cause. But times have changed. Now we are driving them not just back to war-ravaged Afghanistan but beyond the seas to the southern hemisphere in search of refuge. More worryingly, the UN has slapped sanctions on the Taleban and determined to send monitors to Pakistan to make sure that Kabul is not so blatantly propped up as before. This has raised the stakes for Pakistan and created a precipitous situation.

If Pakistan is seen to defy the sanctions on Kabul, it is likely to crumble under the burden of fresh economic and political sanctions itself. If it doesn’t, the Taleban will be slowly strangulated out of their intransigence and Pakistan’s foreign policy will be shown to have been a disaster. So what should Islamabad do?

The Taleban’s “advisors” have countered with a cunning “strategy” to maintain the status quo. First, they have cobbled a private-sector jehadi front in Pakistan which is threatening to kill the UN monitors should they land in Islamabad. Second, the Taleban have taken a leaf from the early days of the Khomeini regime in Iran by taking Western hostages under the pretext of illegal Christian proselytizing. It is thought that this two-pronged approach will lead to greater leverage for both Islamabad and Kabul vis a vis the West. How’s that?

Pakistan faces three layers of American sanctions. Since nothing can be done about those related to crossing the nuclear red-light in 1990 and those related to the coup in 1999, the Americans are to be persuaded that they should lift the nuclear-testing related ones in 1998 as soon as possible after India is reprieved on the same front as well as the IMF lifeline going. What better way to get this done than as a quid pro quo for Islamabad’s quiet intervention to get the Shelter Now hostages released after they have been convicted and pardoned by the Taleban? The jehadi threat against the UN monitors should also lead to a postponement of their mission, thereby averting serious problems with Pakistan.

This strategy may seem terribly clever but it is all too obvious. At best it will prolong the painful economic status quo and stunt Pakistan’s rebirth as a creative and modern nation. At worst, it might hasten the Talibanisation of our country and precipitate a showdown with the West when its patience runs out. If Pakistan expects the world to support it in terms of its core dispute with India, it should not snub the world in terms of its core concerns about Afghanistan under the Taleban.
This is an editorial witten by Najam Sethi in the Pakistan magazine FridayTimes. True two troubled nations making their troubles even worse with their attitude!