Flawed policy in Afghanistan
Restoration of democracy in Pakistan and reduction of tensions in Indo-Pakistani relations will be high on President Clinton's agenda during his meeting later this month with Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan's destructive policies on Afghanistan should be emphasized as well.
Senior administration officials recently announced American support for yet another Pakistan initiative to resolve the Afghan conflict. Mr. Musharraf has also sought Iranian and United Nations cooperation for the initiative. Unfortunately, these efforts are foredoomed.
Giving another U.S. green light to Pakistan to mediate the Afghan conflict will only further postpone the day when the United States must adopt a more effective policy to deal with the international Islamist extremist network centered in war-torn Afghanistan, but also well entrenched in Pakistan. The network includes the Taleban; the Pakistan government's military intelligence arm, the Interservices Intelligence Bureau (ISI); a number of Pakistani religious parties and their paramilitary forces engaged with ISI support in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban; Osama bin Ladin's terrorist web; and a growing medley of militant extremist groups operating in North Africa, the Middle East, the Northern Caucasus, and Central Asia.
In the last 15 years, this extremist network has developed a subterranean religious, financial, intelligence and communication infrastructure that operates across national and regional boundaries. ISI and bin Ladin play prominent coordinative roles. CIA Director George Tenet, in his Feb. 2 testimony in Congress, speculated that the Islamist threat based on Afghan territory would likely escalate from bombings to chemical and biological attacks.
There are several reasons why the United States can simply no longer afford to defer to Pakistan to resolve the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan:
* Any game plan by Pakistan will inevitably seek to retain the increasingly unpopular Taleban, an active participant in the Islamist network's international crusade. The growing domestic Afghan opposition to the Taleban will not accept a Taliban led coalition.
* Pakistan and Iran's geo-strategic goals in Afghanistan will continue to clash. Islamabad supports the Taleban's Sunni extremism to realize strategic depth against India. Tehran opposes the anti-Shia Taleban. Iran has attempted to build corridors of Iranian influence through Persian-speaking northern Afghanistan to Kabul, and through Afghanistan into Central Asia.
* The great majority of Afghans view the Pakistani military and the ISI as the fox in the chicken coup. They will conclude that Pakistan's initiative, however clothed, will favor the Afghan Muslim extremists like the Taleban against moderate Afghans, who comprise a majority of Afghanistan's population.
* Mr. Musharraf, for domestic political reasons, cannot deliver a solution to the Afghan problem. The international Islamist network is now too well established in Pakistan religious and political circles, the Pakistani military, and the ISI. It is also an important Pakistani vehicle to apply military pressure on Indian-occupied Kashmir.
* Russia and the Central Asian Republics will view Pakistan's mediation initiative as "Old Wine in New Bottles," pointing to the most recent Pakistan-assisted Taleban spring offensive just launched inside Afghanistan. They will continue their support for anti-Taleban Afghan groups, fueling continued, inconclusive warfare in Afghanistan.
It is noteworthy that past Pakistani initiatives supported by the United States have all been pro-extremist and have failed: the 1988-92 Afghan Interim Government established in Pakistan by the ISI; the 1993 ISI-engineered Islamabad Accords which selected Burhanuddin Rabbani as Afghan "President" and Gulbudin Hekmatyaras Afghan "Prime Minister" (the anti-American Hekmatyar and Rabbani both publicly supported Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf war); and the 1996 ISI-created Taliban.
What is needed at this time is a U.S. diplomatic initiative, not another doomed, Pakistani initiative supported by the U.S. Only the U.S. will be able to mobilize international support for ending the outside interference in Afghanistan by Afghanistan's neighbors.
An American initiative should emphasize that only the Afghans and not outsiders are able to mediate their differences. Afghan groups will be unable to negotiate a consensus so long as foreign troops, militia, advisers, weapons and money flow to Afghan extremist elements like the Taliban and Rabbani. A downsizing in foreign assistance to all Afghan groups will force Afghans to search for an internal Afghan consensus on a broad-based Afghan leadership. An intra-Afghan dialogue to convene a national Grand Assembly, or Loya Jirga, has been under way among mainly Pashtun groups for more than a year. The announcement by the mostly non-Pashtun Northern Alliance in Paris on Feb. 24 that it would support a representative Loya Jirga to achieve an all Afghan consensus was an important intra-Afghan step toward peace.
A more effective U.S. policy could encourage forceful action by the United Nations Security Council to compel the outside powers interfering to step back from Afghanistan. The Security Council's five permanent members should respond positively. All suffer from increasing security, narcotics, and international terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan. One diplomatic objective could be an international treaty, like the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which would grant international recognition of Afghanistan's neutrality, sovereignty and borders. The international community could make clear to governments sponsoring Afghan surrogates that no Afghan regime will be recognized as legitimate until it reflects an internal, broad-based Afghan consensus.
Early in the last century, the great Urdu poet, Iqbal Lahori, described Afghanistan as the heart of Eurasia. He predicted that when the heart is in pain, the continent will suffer. It is time for resolute U.S. diplomacy to reverse the dangerous trends in Afghanistan created by Islamist extremism. The United States must deal decisively with these growing threats now, and not through Pakistan. Or it will contend with an ever larger Islamist extremist challenge to regional and global stability in the future.
Peter Tomsen, special envoy to the Afghan resistance with the title of ambassador, 1989-1992, is ambassador in residence and a professor of international studies and programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
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