KARACHI, PAKISTAN — With most of Afghanistan virtually under the control of the Northern Alliance, which is no friend of my country, an acute sense of insecurity prevails in Pakistan’s defense establishment.
Political observers here agree on one thing: Pakistan, in its immediate past, has never been so isolated from the regional geopolitic as it is today. Now representatives of all the major power players — the U.S., Iran, Russia, the Northern Alliance, the Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns, even India — are meeting in seclusion in Bonn, Germany. Pakistan must pin its hopes on the Pashtuns, though their loyalties are uncertain.
When Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul chanting “Death to Pakistan,” a chill passed through Islamabad‘s well-guarded intelligence compounds which had been overseeing Pakistan’s overly ambitious Afghan policy. In a repeat of history, the invaders looted Pakistan‘s embassy in Kabul, which had been abandoned at the start of the war on terror. Five years ago, it was retreating Northern Alliance troops who torched the same embassy; in 1996, with the Taliban emerging victorious, the tide was against the Northern Alliance.
But don’t blame Pakistan‘s predicament on the Northern Alliance. It is my country’s own miscalculations that have cut it off from all non-Taliban Afghan ethnic and regional groups. Pakistan‘s prejudiced Afghan policy emerged from our obsession with border security and dealing with the imminent threat from its neighbor India, with which Pakistan has fought three wars, which resulted in the loss of much of its territory in 1971, with the creation of the new state of Bangladesh.
Before September 11, an anti– Northern Alliance posture was an important plank of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. This is because of a deep-seated view that the religious Pashtun population of Afghanistan is more loyal to Islamabad‘s interests than are other ethnic groups. Many times before September 11, Pakistan brushed aside the approaches to reconciliation made by senior Northern Alliance leadership.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf relentlessly supported the Taliban until September 14, when he threw his weight behind the war on terror in an effort to keep Pakistan off the U.S. hit list. As Musharraf described it, “The Taliban were bigoted, reckless, rigid or whatever off-putting adjective you choose to describe them. But be assured, with them in command of Kabul, we didn’t have to deploy a single soldier at our western border.” (Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell disclosed that within 24 hours of the September 11 attack, he telephoned Musharraf and asked him to support U.S. efforts or prepare for war.)
One of my military sources poses this worry: What if a future Afghan government is as unfriendly to Pakistan as were previous Afghan governments, before the Taliban takeover? He stopped short of suggesting Pakistan come up with its own protege for Afghanistan. Amir Mateen, a political commentator, observed in The News, a newspaper circulated throughout Pakistan, that “Islamabad‘s predicament is compounded by a decade of flawed policy where it has antagonized virtually every single group in the last decade. Even the good old Taliban loathe us for stabbing them in the back.”
For many years, Pakistan played the role of power broker in Afghanistan. Given the fact that 4 million Afghan refugees and 20 million Pashtun now live in Pakistan, it will be impossible for Pakistan to remain on the sidelines. But Pakistan should heed the call of common sense and not repeat past mistakes by interfering with Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The Taliban, after all, were the product of Pakistan‘s frustration with warring Afghan Mujahedeen factions who fought a bitter civil war for the control of Kabul from 1992–1996, after the fall of communist regime in Kabul. And how much blame does Pakistan share with the rogue Taliban in hounding and confining its own people? Without a shred of doubt, the Taliban, in the name of Islam, and Pakistan, in the name of strategic interests, did a grave injustice to the people of Afghanistan. Certainly Pakistan cannot escape from responsibility and the price its past follies. Today, most Afghans hold Pakistan accountable for their miseries — and rightly so.
“After September 11, many Americans asked why the USA was so hated in parts of the Muslim world,” wrote Ayaz Amir, a columnist for the Pakistan daily Dawn. “We should ask ourselves why we have come to be so hated by the Afghans.”