Pakistan uneasy over Alliance gains
By the BBC's Jill McGivering
In Pakistan, local people woke on Saturday to two important developments in neighbouring Afghanistan - news of Osama Bin Laden's claims in The Dawn newspaper that he possesses nuclear and chemical weapons and is willing to use them against the international community. News too that Mazar-e-Sharif has now fallen to Northern Alliance forces.
Pakistan is still recovering from its own crisis on Friday - a day of nationwide strikes and protests across the country which sparked one of the worst clashes between heavily armed police and demonstrators since 11 September changed the political landscape. Four people were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of about 2,000 protesters in central Punjab.
Now the prospect of a nuclear or chemical warfare threat just across the border will do little to bolster public feelings about a military campaign which is already fuelling division and anxiety within Pakistan itself.
The prospect of weapons of mass destruction on its doorstep will only make Pakistan more acutely aware of the dangers of its status as a frontline state - a status it never willingly sought.
The nuclear issue is particularly sensitive here. Pakistan's own nuclear programme and its journey to become a nuclear-capable state has dogged its relations with the international community for some years.
Along with nuclear rival India, Pakistan was penalised with a raft of sanctions because of its nuclear ambitions.
Some Western analysts, including voices from the United States, have expressed concern about the close ties between senior figures in Pakistan's military establishment and the Taleban.
At a time of loosening export controls of sensitive materials and technology, Pakistan's own nuclear capability raised fears of transmission to more volatile regimes or terrorist organisations. In his interview printed in The Dawn, Osama Bin Laden refused to comment on the sources of his weaponry.
As this is debated in the West, Pakistan may find itself the object of uncomfortable questions, despite its new role as responsible friend of the international community.
But Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told the BBC:"Pakistan has an impeccable record for safety of nuclear material...Pakistan's nuclear assets are in complete safe hands and there's nothing to worry about."
The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif may raise other concerns here. Many view the military progress on the ground as frustratingly slow - all the more so because at the start of the air strikes, President Musharraf repeatedly promised his people this action would be "short, sharp and targeted".
It is a promise which has been increasingly called into question as the weeks have passed and evidence has emerged of growing numbers of civilian casualties.
The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif is a definite sign of progress - but it raises other questions.
It throws into relief the frustratingly slow diplomatic moves towards establishing an acceptable political alternative to the Taleban in Afghanistan as a whole.
The Northern Alliance is viewed with suspicion by Islamabad - and as its forces take control of a strategically important city - albeit as a result of US support - Pakistan may feel some unease.
Pakistani politicians are pressing for a multi-ethnic, broad-based political alliance which might have a real chance of bringing to an end the instability and bloodshed which have plagued Afghanistan for so long.
To their mind, it would be an alliance in which the Northern Alliance is not allowed to assume too dominant a role.
Aziz Ahmad Khan, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman, told the BBC: "A future government in Afghanistan should be broad-based and include all the different groups and factions and leaders in Afghanistan. It should be representative of the people."
While the diplomatic progress is complex and unwieldy, the last thing Pakistan wants to see is advancing Northern Alliance troops consolidating their military gains to such an extent that they become able to exploit a growing political vacuum. This is a time of unease for Pakistan.
Many here say they understand their President had little choice but to support the US-led action against Afghanistan - but they are also acutely conscious of the cost they feel they are being forced to pay.
The flow of refugees into their country and the fear of chaos on their borders, the economic slowdown, the damage to Pakistan's international image with protests and violent clashes in the streets - all these issues have caused growing disquiet among the general population. The latest dramatic news from the battlefield will do little to calm it.
|Back to News Archirves of 2001|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).