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Haven for the Taliban

Haven for the Taliban

Author:
Publication: The Washington Post
Date: November 2, 2003
URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49233-2003Oct31.html

The Pakistani city of Quetta lately has become more than a provincial capital; it might also be described as the new headquarters of the extremist Taliban movement, which ruled Afghanistan and sheltered Osama bin Laden until two years ago. According to one recent report by the respected Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, "Thousands of Taliban fighters reside in mosques and madrassas with the full support of a provincial ruling party and militant Pakistani groups. Taliban leaders wanted by the U.S. and Kabul governments are living openly in nearby villages." Mr. Rashid quoted the provincial government's information minister as saying, "Only the Taliban can constitute the real government of Afghanistan." During a recent visit, The Post's John Lancaster met with a Taliban recruiter who described how he traveled with 14 other Pakistanis across the border into Afghanistan last summer to wage war against U.S. and Afghan government forces. "It's no problem at all to cross back and forth," the recruiter said.

All this is happening in a country whose government claims to be an ally of the United States in the war on terrorism and to which the Bush administration has pledged more than $3 billion in aid -- the down payment on what it describes as a "long-term commitment." The Taliban leaders and their followers are not ensconced in remote caves or dispersed across trackless badlands but operate openly in a major city, where they effectively control several neighborhoods. Local politicians deliver speeches and raise money on their behalf. When they travel to Afghanistan to carry out attacks, they cross not in ones or twos but by the score, in buses that are waved through by Pakistani border guards. In the past several months they have killed more than 400 Afghan civilians and soldiers, along with several U.S. soldiers, in various attacks.

If Afghanistan now is in danger of slipping back into the chaos of civil war, the haven and support found by a regrouping Taliban in Pakistan is a major cause. Yet the Bush administration continues to shrink from demanding accountability from President Pervez Musharraf. Last month, just before a visit to Islamabad, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage hinted at an open secret -- that parts of Gen. Musharraf's army and security forces don't support the war on terrorism. But the army carried out a raid against al Qaeda just before the arrival of the American delegation, and Mr. Armitage pronounced himself "thrilled" by his conversation with Mr. Musharraf. "This is a special relationship to the United States," he said, "one that President Bush treasures particularly."

The Bush administration seems to believe it has no choice but to work with Mr. Musharraf, who is good at promising to combat Islamic extremism -- and at pointing to it as the alternative should his government fail. In late September the administration coaxed its client to sign a written agreement promising to strengthen control over "frontier areas bordering Afghanistan." That's a big job, but it's hard to see why Mr. Musharraf can't at least prevent open Taliban operations in Quetta and other cities. Congress recently renewed conditions on aid to Pakistan and added a provision requiring the administration to certify that Pakistan is cooperating in the war on terrorism. If the United States is to continue supporting his regime, the general must be held to that requirement.
 


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