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Afghanistan and Pakistan: Time to close old chapters

By Jamal Khashoggi, Arab News

JEDDAH, 11 October — Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf warned in a recent press conference against Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance exploiting US attacks against Taleban to strengthen its position. The Northern Alliance’s response was to say that Islamabad’s interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs was the main reason for their country’s problems. Here then is the need for American intervention to bring together its principal allies in the current conflict.

The Northern Alliance is the only strong Afghan force that the Americans can depend on to control territories lost by the Taleban. The northerners can also play an important supplementary role in completing the work done by US and British bombers and cruise missiles. It is clear that the Americans, having learned from Russian mistakes, do not want to fall into Afghanistan’s quagmire. The US Special Forces, estimated to number only a thousand in Uzbekistan, is not enough to occupy the country.

It seems that for many reasons the Americans are reluctant to announce their alliance with the Northerners. First of all, they don’t want to scare Pakistan. Islamabad opposes any move that strengthens the Northern Alliance and its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani. The US has so far taken a cautious approach to the Northern Alliance, as Washington believes that at the end of the day, they too are fundamentalists.

Rabbani, with his pragmatism and political experience, realized how the wind was blowing. Before the Americans requested it, he sent Younus Qanuni, a prominent politician, to Rome to meet the aides of Zahir Shah, the former Afghan king. The meeting in Rome was successful in setting up a kind of legitimate political alliance to take power in Kabul after the fall of the Taleban.

The proposed political alliance comprises the principal ethnic groups in the country — Tajiks in the north represented mainly by the Northern Alliance and Pashtun in the south represented now by the monarchists. Other minorities such as Uzbeks and Hazaras will also be included. The new alliance will also have positions for those who break away from the Taleban, the moulavis (Islamic scholars), local and tribal leaders. And " retired " Mujahedeen leaders.

The new alliance was formed principally to avoid a vacuum following the Taleban’s downfall. The feeling is that once that happened, there would be chaos and confusion in the country with events possibly spinning out of control. An interim government of the new alliance is ready to assume power for a limited period. It will be followed by the formation of a larger Afghan council, which they call Loya Jirga (grand assembly) which will set up a broad-based government and satisfy the majority.

This scenario should quell Pakistani fears of a rival government’s emergence in Kabul. According to Islamabad, Northerners cooperated with India during the Taleban era. The Northerners, however, talk about the alleged role of the Pakistani Army in Rabbani’s downfall. These arguments and counterarguments hint at chapters from painful books of history, and should be closed.

In spite of the pain and suffering caused by events in this unfortunate land for more than a quarter of a century, there are hopes for a happy ending. The present military campaign against Afghanistan may create a situation for the country’s salvation by establishing real peace within the country and with its neighbors. Here comes the significance of the courageous roles that Pakistani and Afghani leaders must play to overcome their past mistakes, and in the end Afghanistan will be closer to Pakistan —in terms of geography, religion and race — than to India.

Just a quick reminder on the latter point. When the Tajik University professor named Burhanuddin Rabbani needed a refuge in 1973 to escape communist crackdown, he found it in Peshawar, Pakistan, not India. He only looked to India when he heard Pakistani generals directing Taleban’ fire against him in Kabul. But once again this chapter should be closed.

Copyright © 2001 ArabNews All Rights Reserved.

-- Swissrose (, October 11, 2001

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