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Analysis: Pakistani fears for Afghan future - Northern Alliance successes have not been welcomed

Analysis: Pakistani fears for Afghan future - Northern Alliance successes have not been welcomed

Author: Zaffar Abbas
Publication: BBC News
Date: November 14, 2001

As the Northern Alliance continues to consolidate its position in Afghanistan, Pakistan's worst nightmare unfolds.

Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, returned to the country after a week-long foreign tour only to realise that the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan had deprived him of whatever leverage he had for striking a bargain over a future government.

During his trip abroad he met the British Prime Tony Blair and the US President George W Bush, and addressed the United Nations General Assembly, trying to convince everyone of his idea for a broad-based government for the war-torn country.

He had asked for a government in which all the ethnic communities, particularly the largest Pashtun group, were represented.

The world leaders had given their public approval, but apparently could do little to prevent the anti-Taleban, and anti-Pakistan, Northern Alliance forces from marching into Kabul.

While these developments in Afghanistan have made the Pakistani government anxious, the common man on the streets is extremely angry.

Apart from the hardline Islamic parties, who had been opposed to President Musharraf's decision to support the US-led military operation in Afghanistan, many ordinary people feel their country and government have been betrayed by the US.

Amidst this growing anger in the country, the government has been desperately trying to put on a brave face.

President Musharraf has once again called for a concerted international effort to set up a broad-based and multi-ethnic government.

Pakistan was the principal sponsor of the Taleban

And a spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, Aziz Ahmed Khan, said Islamabad would like to see a demilitarised Kabul under a UN peacekeeping force or a multinational force to police the place during the interim period.

President Musharraf's calls are understandable.

Pakistan had been the biggest supporter of the Taleban, but abandoned them once there was pressure from the US in the wake of the 11 September suicide attacks in New York and Washington.

One Pakistani analyst, Kamran Khan, said Islamabad's biggest strategic blunder was to sever all links with the Northern Alliance after the Taleban captured most parts of Afghanistan in the 1990s.

As a result Islamabad now has no friends or allies in Afghanistan. 'Damage control'

However, Pakistan's Afghan experts have not given up hope, and are trying to carry out damage control before everything is lost in Afghanistan. They have already revived links with some of the Afghan Mujahideen groups, who during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan played a crucial role in defeating the communist regime in Kabul.

Almost all these groups represent the ethnic Pashtuns, who are now trying to take control of the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan before the Northern Alliance captures them.

Members of Shura-e-Mashraqi, or the Eastern Alliance, have been operating out of Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar.

Its main leaders have already established contacts with the Taleban leaders in different provinces, and are trying to convince them to transfer power to them before the Northern Alliance takes over.

Shura-e-Mashraqi members say reports from the eastern province of Nangarhar are encouraging, as the Taleban there appear to have agreed to such a suggestion.

Pakistani Afghan experts believe that if such Pashtun Mujahideen groups are able to replace the Taleban in some of the key border towns close to Pakistan, then they can negotiate with the Northern Alliance for a share in any future government.

Since these groups have never been opposed to the Northern Alliance, and still have links with Pakistan, Islamabad will be extremely pleased if such an arrangement is worked out.

Security fears

Islamabad has also been warning the US of the potential danger from the present onslaught by the Northern Alliance in areas that are close to the Pakistani border.

Pakistani intelligence bodies fear that if the Northern Alliance wipes out the Taleban without accepting ethnic Pashtuns in a future political set-up, the Taleban may use the semi-autonomous tribal region of Pakistan to start its own guerrilla war against Kabul.

It happened in the past, during the Soviet occupation of Kabul and when the Mujahideen groups were engaged in internal fighting, and Pakistani authorities believe it may happen again.

It could mean the start of another round of civil war in Afghanistan - something that neither Pakistan nor the US and its allies would like. And this seems to be the only real bargaining chip that Pakistan has been left with.

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