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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 18:33 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan's vested interests
Pakistan has a major interest in Afghanistan's future
Pakistan has a major interest in Afghanistan's future
By Terence White

The US bombing of Afghanistan has yet to topple the Taleban or to kill Osama bin Laden, but already there has been much heated discussion - particularly in neighbouring Pakistan - about a future government for Afghanistan.

In my five years' experience as a journalist living in Afghanistan I witnessed many attempts by Pakistani politicians, religious leaders, army generals and military intelligence officers (ISI) to influence Afghans and the formation of their new governments - and in this endeavour the Pakistanis were never altruistic.


The Northern Alliance is hardly likely to accept any recommendations coming out of Pakistan-based forums

In 1993, Pakistan's ISI brokered an Afghan peace agreement called the Islamabad Accords which was contrived to accommodate one mujahedin warlord in particular - their Pashtun protege, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar had been rocketing Kabul in an attempt to defeat his arch-rival Ahmad Shah Masood, but without success. So ISI engineered the Islamabad Accords to get Hekmatyar onto the prime minister's seat and to evict Masood from the powerful defence ministry.

In an interview with Masood about these accords he scorned Hekmatyar, candidly calling him "a madman", to which he added the grievous Afghan insult, "he is a man without religion".

Although these bold remarks outraged Hekmatyar, I was the one who had to answer for them.

The Pakistani mediator between Masood and Hekmatyar, a former ISI boss, came to Kabul and accused me of "single-handedly sabotaging the chances of Afghan peace" by releasing my interview with Masood.

The ISI boss demanded that my internationally-published interview be retracted but it was too late for that. And despite assurances from then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif that the Islamabad Accords were sanctioned by God and therefore inviolable, five months later Hekmatyar resumed to his grim shelling of Kabul.

Shifting loyalties

Ironically, some years later Hekmatyar did become prime minister and joined forces with Masood. But by that time the Pakistanis had already dropped him in favour of the Taleban religious militia that emerged from the southern capital city of Kandahar.

Pakistan supported the Taleban throughout their military campaigns to conquer the whole of Afghanistan, a programme which failed only due to the resistance of Masood, who finally met his end at the hands of suicide-assassins just two days before the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

The sole country that recognises the Taleban regime in Afghanistan today is Pakistan, despite pledges of support from President General Pervez Musharraf for the US in its bid to topple the Taleban.

If contradictory, the dual nature of Pakistan's Afghanistan policy does afford the ISI political leverage. It exerts this by attempting to persuade the US that the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance forces should not be allowed to capture Kabul ahead of the creation of some kind of interim Afghan government.

The Northern Alliance (which itself goes by the name of United Front) was essentially Masood's ethnic Tajik army until recently when an Uzbek warlord returned from exile in Turkey to join forces in the battle against the Taleban around the key northern capital city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was Pakistan's Pashtun protege
In western Herat province the alliance has an important ally in veteran mujahedin commander Ismail Khan, a recent returnee from exile in Iran.

Other ethnic factions in the alliance include the Hazara (from central Afghanistan where the occupying Taleban earlier this year destroyed two giant, world-famous ancient Buddha statues) and some Pashtuns in eastern Afghanistan.

Although not an alliance member, Pashtun commander Abdul Haq who was recently captured in Afghanistan and executed by the Taleban, met with Masood four months ago to discuss plans for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan.

The ethnic Pashtun majority of Afghanistan are still nominal followers of the Taleban, whose "dogged" ability to defy defeat after weeks of bombing might has baffled some Pentagon officials apparently not accustomed to such impudence.

It leads one to wonder if plans for a post-Taleban government in Afghanistan are not a little premature at this stage.

Nevertheless, various councils for potential leaders from the significant Afghan population of exiled and refugee Pashtuns have been hosted in Pakistan. Little progress has been made, even for those in favour of a return of the former king, Zahir Shah, a neutral if largely powerless figurehead.

Suspicion

The Northern Alliance is hardly likely to accept any recommendations coming out of Pakistan-based forums, not only because of their Pashtun bias but also due to suspicions of hostile ISI influence.

A more acceptable venue for an Afghan council to discuss a post-Taleban government would be a liberated Afghan city, either Mazar-e-Sharif or Herat, although neither has fallen yet.

Former Afghan king, Zahir Shah,
Little progress has been made towards restoring Shah to power
The Northern Alliance has issued a desperate plea for the US and its allies to supply them with heavy weapons and ammunition needed to dislodge the firmly entrenched Taleban and their Arab, Pakistani and other radical Islamic foreign followers.

This munitions problem poses a dilemma for the US, because deliveries of superior weaponry might enable the Northern Alliance to unilaterally seize control of the country, or to be in a position to bully an internally convened interim government. Pakistan would not like that either.

On the other hand, without a clear Northern Alliance victory in the offing the US and its British allies might be obliged to field their own infantry, an unpalatable proposition even without taking into consideration the bloody lessons learned by the former USSR in their failed 10-year occupation of Afghanistan - a country that has offered foreign invaders nothing but contempt and excessively high casualty rates.

Terrence White was a correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Afghanistan from 1992-1997

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Americas
Profile: Donald Rumsfeld
25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Rumsfeld: 'We'll get Bin Laden'
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
US strikes key Taleban positions
04 Nov 01 | Middle East
Taleban 'offered Bin Laden to Saudis'
04 Nov 01 | Americas
CIA office 'lost in terror attack'
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
More US soldiers sent into Afghanistan
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan outlines unease
04 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blair hosts mini-summit
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