14 Sep 2006
In trying to wade off accusations that Pakistan was not being tough on the Taliban insurgents harassing NATO troops in Afghanistan, Pakistani President General Musharraf denied the allegations that Pakistan was acting like a sanctuary for these Islamic militants. He said among other things that Pakistan had deployed 50000 troops along her own side of the border to prevent militant infiltration into Afghanistan and that Pakistan and the West should accept collective responsibility [for breeding terrorism] by bringing in thousands of Mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the eighties. “We launched a Jihad, brought in Mujahideen from all over the Muslim world, the US and the West and us together. We armed the Taliban and sent them in [Afghanistan].” “In 1989 everyone left Pakistan with 30000 armed Mujahideen who were there and the Taliban who were there.” These pronouncements seem to echo the statement accredited to a former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto cautioning Americans about their dangerous romance with Islamic extremists. The Americans had been obsessed with their ideological struggle with the Soviet Union to the extent that they actually went out of their way to encourage and even finance the breeding of Islamic extremists (in Pakistani Madrassas) to fight the Soviet Union. “You have created a Frankenstein’s monster” Benazir reportedly told the senior Bush as the Americans were jubilating when the Islamists had the upper hand over the Soviets.
According to other sources, Jihadists including Osama Bin Ladin came from over forty countries to do battle with the Soviet occupiers whom they usually referred to as “infidels”. When the Soviets were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Najibullah regime they left behind did not last long before it was swept from power. A succession of civil wars culminated in the Taliban eventually emerging as the final victor that controlled most of Afghanistan except certain areas that were tenaciously held by other warlords.
While many countries shunned the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for rather being strange and aberrant, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (America’s key allies in the region) went ahead to establish diplomatic relations with them. Feeling that their goal of chasing away the Soviets has been achieved, the Americans turned to other issues like discussing about a proposed pipeline and other business deals. Meanwhile little attention was paid to the thousands of armed ex-combatants that were recruited with the help of the CIA to combat the Soviets. It appears, at the onset the Americans underestimated the danger posed to modern society by such an austere Islamic regime in Kabul. Bin Ladin used the sanctuary provided by his Taliban hosts and the thousands of war hardened armed people roaming the country to form his own type of army. All conditions were favorable. Bin Ladin had the charisma, the zeal and the finances. The host was enthusiastic and the country was awash with thousands of armed young men willing to answer to the call. Bin Ladin used Afghanistan to plan and launch successive attacks on U.S targets culminating in the September 2001 attacks on the Wall Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Following these attacks, the U.S succeeded in assembling a coalition to wage war and dislodge both the Taliban and Bin Ladin from Afghanistan. As if nothing was learnt from the past, the Americans prematurely declared victory in Afghanistan and proceeded to Iraq to start a very unpopular and costly war that took some of the heat off the remnants Talibans and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Iraqi war has bogged down the US army and has sapped quite some energy out of it. The Talibans have taken advantage of the situation and regrouped and are now again posing a serious threat to stability in Afghanistan and beyond. Musharraf now says that, “the center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from Al Qaeda to the Taliban.” According to him, this new element is more dangerous because the Taliban has its roots in the people in contrast to Al Qaeda that did not have that link.
Not everyone may agree with Pakistani president’s analysis but it is unwise not to listen to him. After all, no other nation outside Afghanistan has been more closely associated with both the Taliban and Al Qaeda than Pakistan. I believe that Pakistan certainly has the key to solve at least the Taliban problem. All they may need are some incentives and assurances that Pakistan itself will not be allowed to slide into instability as a consequence of trying to solve that problem.
Njei Moses Timah