It is an act of fate that President Pervez Musharraf has to be aboard an aircraft in international air space when monumental events rock his country. As expected the Northern Alliance forces just paid no heed to the statements in New York by US President George W Bush and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. They were not supposed to. When Taliban decided to abandon the Afghan capital, a vacuum could not exist. Events overtook both President Musharraf and President Bush and the world community, represented by the Six-plus-Two Committee, were left dragging their feet, as always happens with lazy diplomats in such fast changing situations. Kabul now has a new administration. Where does these dramatic, lightening and, for Pakistan, catastrophic, developments leave Islamabad and President Musharraf?
What is absolutely obvious is that the United States no longer needs Pakistan for conducting its war against terrorism inside Afghanistan. So this huge lever of being the base camp that Islamabad had is gone. The US forces can now use any of the captured cities, including Kabul, to launch their strikes against Taliban and to dig out Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately for Pakistan the time to test the US promises of a "long haul" friendship has come even before we could start receiving some of the goodies. Whether President Bush and the Washington establishment now stand by their promises of not abandoning us yet again will determine how the domestic situation develops inside Pakistan.
It is also evident that President Musharraf has been put in a very precarious position with the fall of Kabul into Northern Alliance hands. The Taliban, some of their supporters and sympathisers say, have withdrawn under a tactical strategy. That may or may not be true but now they are on the run and the US bombing campaign can now shift to their hideouts in and around Kandahar. There is every likelihood that Taliban may also abandon that city. So where will they go? The obvious and the only place one can think of is Pakistan. If that happens General Musharraf and his military regime will have to make critical decisions that may eventually decide their own fate.
If Pakistan would like to remain a partner in the international coalition, the Taliban influx into out territory will have to be stopped, by military force if need be. Thousands of armed, desperate fighters, who have always seen Pakistan as their ultimate destination for refuge, will have to be stopped and confronted. The initial indications given by President Musharraf are that he would not allow the Taliban to enter Pakistan. He said this in his news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in Istanbul while on his way back to Pakistan. That means Pakistan's security agencies, and even the army, will have to be prepared to fight the returning Taliban and this could turn into a messy situation if casualties on both the Taliban and Pakistani side mount. The treatment given to Taliban will also determine how the other pro-Taliban religious forces will react in Pakistan and their political and military alliance could become a huge headache for President Musharraf.
What happens now in Kabul and how Islamabad handles the new administration is another big issue. President Musharraf is demanding that Kabul should be demilitarised and a UN/OIC force should occupy it until a political agreement is reached on the new set up. But the Northern Alliance has already achieved a major military, strategic and political advantage by taking control of the capital. Now they will dictate their terms to share power, if at all they agree to do that. President Musharraf, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others, who are insisting that no troops, of any side, should take over Kabul and an UN force comprising Turkish and Pakistani troops, be allowed to take control, have now an uphill task at hand. On this count the Taliban have upstaged their political strategy. With NA forces in control of Kabul, it has to be seen how an international force is allowed to take over. It apparently seems highly unlikely, specially the presence of Pakistani troops will never be acceptable to the Northern Alliance.
The next political set up, which has to be huddled together in extreme urgency now, if it has any chance to be brought in, is not an easy task by any means. The Zahir Shah option will be opposed by Iran and possibly Russia. The current visit to Washington by Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks with President Bush has thus assumed an immense importance for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Any differences between the two world leaders would mean indefinite delay in cobbling together the broad-based government. The more time is lost, the lesser would be the chance for its success. So Pakistan's demand, articulated by President Musharraf repeatedly, that Pashtoon elements must be included in the new Kabul government has only an outside chance to be met.
The entire developing scenario means a lot more trouble for Pakistan than anyone could have anticipated in such a short time. The sudden turn of events may mean that the Pakistani demand of an end to bombings during Ramazan would be fulfilled but the way the situation has developed has multiplied Pakistani problems. It is not just sheer bad luck that President Musharraf's red carpet welcome in New York and his super VVIP status did not last for a few hours. If Pakistan does not play its cards smartly, Islamabad, and President Musharraf, may soon find themselves redundant for the outside world, and engulfed in serious turmoil domestically.
Editorial of Pakistan newspaper Jung. True.. things are happening with lightening speed in Afghanistan.