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October 17, 2001

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M Ziauddin

'Pakistan has suffered most due to Afghanistan's chaos'

Pakistan's decision to join the US-led coalition against terrorism was made for it largely by its geographical compulsions, partly because it had no other option and justified completely by the unholy haste with which India moved and is still moving to have it declared a terrorist state.

Once the US had identified Osama bin Laden as the 'prime suspect' and located him in Afghanistan, there was no way Pakistan could have escaped joining the coalition.

Six countries ring land-locked Afghanistan -- China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. For its own reasons, the US would not have asked China and Iran for the use of their air space, logistic support and information exchange. The three Central Asian countries are still too foreign to the US to enter into such close collaboration. Moreover, all five had their own respective grievances against the Taleban and, therefore, had kept themselves at a safe distance from Kabul, reducing their value for the coalition, at least in the information exchange aspect.

So, Pakistan with its 2,500km long porous border with Afghanistan, its perceived political closeness with the Taleban government and Kabul's overwhelming economic dependence on Islamabad selected itself automatically as the frontline state in the world's war against terrorism.

Nevertheless, the decision to go along with the US-led coalition in its war against the very Taleban it had helped come to power was not an easy one, even for the all-powerful military regime in Islamabad. But the Indian haste to exploit the situation against Pakistan provided the regime the domestic room and the justification to rush into the coalition without wasting any time. Moreover, the hope that once again unencumbered dollars would flow into the country as a reward for fighting one more war for the rich countries was too persuasive an argument for a people groaning under all kinds of sanctions and rising levels of poverty.

But the immediate consequences of joining the coalition appear too horrendous for Pakistan. Perhaps for the first time in its post-Bangladesh history Pakistan seems to have been caught with all its contradictions out in the open. It has joined an international coalition at war with a neighbouring Islamic country, where, in the opinion of many Muslims inside and outside Pakistan, Islam is practised as it should be.

Islamabad finds itself once again on the side of the US, a country that in the eyes of a majority of Pakistanis has betrayed Pakistan more than once. Pakistan's religio-political parties, which had never enjoyed any degree of mass popularity but who were always on the best of terms with the country's permanent establishment, are suddenly in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the same establishment while the masses seem forced to empathise with the position taken by these parties, though from a safe distance.

It would not be possible for the coalition to walk away from the region after it has taken care of Osama and his protector government in Kabul without first doing something for establishing permanent peace in south and central Asia. For this the coalition would need to encourage the formation of a government in Kabul which would be friendly with all six capitals of the countries surrounding it. Since this is easier said than done, especially because of the tribal state of Afghan society, some experts have suggested that Afghanistan should be placed under UN trusteeship for at least the next 10 years, and UN troops made up of the armies of Muslim countries should be stationed in that country for as long as the population is not completely disarmed and their energies diverted towards peacetime activities.

Pakistan has suffered the most from the tribal politics of Afghanistan and its unending chaos. It was the only country to have opposed Pakistan's entry into the UN. For almost 20 years it kept claiming a large part of Pakistan's NWFP on the grounds that the Durand Line dividing the two countries was an artificial line drawn up by the colonial power for its own convenience.

During the Afghan war the country was burdened with over three million Afghan refugees. More than two million are still living in Pakistan. The incoming refugees brought with them the culture of guns and drugs. Since 1947, smuggling via Afghanistan has taken a heavy toll on the country's economy.

The formation of an obscurantist Sunni government led by the Taleban was encouraged by the US in 1994-95 to stop what it perceived at that time as attempts by a Shia Iran to export its 'Islamic' revolution to other Muslim countries. This has resulted in a running proxy war within Pakistan between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the shape of escalating sectarian violence. So, for Pakistan it is very important that there is peace in Afghanistan and that the future government in Kabul fully appreciates Islamabad's vital economic, political, social, religious and ethnic concerns and does not give any cause to deepen these concerns.

It would be na´ve to expect that what is happening today in the region would have no impact, one way or the other, on what is happening in the Indian state of Kashmir. Freedom struggles cannot be wished away by defining them as terrorist activities. Even if it is accepted that Pakistan's 'infiltrators' are responsible for the bloodshed across the LoC and effective steps are taken to stop this 'infiltration', India would still have on its hands a situation that it would need to tackle in consultation with the 'genuine' representatives of the Kashmiris and Pakistan.

One only hopes that the two neighbouring countries would make use of another opportunity history has offered them to bilaterally come to some kind of a settlement over the issue before a decision is imposed on them from outside.

M Ziauddin is resident editor of the Dawn newspaper in Islamabad.

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