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December 15, 2001
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September 12, 2001

For the second time in three days surrender talks between the anti-Taliban forces and the so-called Al-Qaeda fighters holed up in the Tora Bora mountains have broken down and the US warplanes have recommenced bombing their hideouts. The only pre-condition for surrender was the presence of UN representatives or the diplomats of the countries to which these fighters belong. Considering the terrible fate that overtook those who had surrendered in Kabul and then Kunduz and were transported to Qala-e-Jangi, it is hardly surprising that the Tora Bora fighters are not keen to give themselves up to their opponents, Afghan or American. It is not clear, therefore, why UN presence could not be arranged to facilitate the surrender and avoid another bloodbath.

This is particularly surprising since the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has now given indications of accepting the handing over of foreign fighters in Afghanistan to their respective countries under the guarantee of a trial and befitting punishments. Rumsfeld even indicated that he was interested in capture of these fighters to interrogate them. The US is more interested in catching the big fish, an endeavour in which it has not so far achieved any major success. Consequently, speculation in the media is mounting about the whereabouts of the Al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden.

There has been far too much human suffering in Afghanistan already and the sooner the unequal military campaign is brought to a close the better it will be for the US-led coalition, Afghanistan's neighbours, the traumatized public opinion in the Muslim world, the relief-agencies and, above all, the wobbly interim Afghan administration which is scheduled to takeover in a week's time. Crafting a modus operandi to encourage the surrender of the Al-Qaeda fighters and the humane management and final disposal of all prisoners taken by the anti-Taliban forces would be a big step towards bringing the hostilities to a close and, ultimately, restoring order in Afghanistan. It should also allow the US to concentrate on locating the elusive Al-Qaeda leadership. It ought, therefore, to be a priority issue.

The obvious way forward seems to be for the UN to take the lead in supervising the surrender and assuring the fighters that they will not be massacred. The US-UK would need to provide logistical support for holding the prisoners until they are identified and categorised and, finally, their respective countries will need to take steps to obtain their custody for a final disposal. Unfortunately, no move in this direction is evident and the US seems content to go back to bombing. The UN as well as the countries whose fighters are said to be involved, appear also to have abdicated the initiative to the US. The onus for providing the lead, therefore, shifts to the US which needs to follow up its recently expressed consent to the transfer of these fighters to their home countries with concrete steps to that end. Otherwise, the world may soon hear of another horrific bloodbath.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, December 15, 2001

The slaying of 37 fleeing Arab fighters by anti-Taliban tribal forces south of Kandahar adds yet another gory chapter to the litany of war crimes in Afghanistan. Travelling in a convoy with their wives and children, the fighters were waylaid by anti-Taliban forces. The men were singled out and shot dead in front of their wives and children.

The surrender of Kandahar was negotiated by none other than Hamid Karzai, the chief of the interim authority, and one would have thought that some semblance of order would have been in place by now. This does not seem to be the case. If the new administration is serious about gaining the trust of the Afghan people and if it wants to present itself as a unifying authority, then it must ensure the rule of law. Mr Karzai must unequivocally speak out against such atrocities and his forces should try to apprehend and punish those who murdered those 37 men.

- Editorial, Dawn, December 15, 2001

Except for the core troika in the Northern Alliance represented by Mr Abdullah Abdullah (foreign minister), Mr Younas Qanooni (interior minister) and General Mohammad Fahim (defense minister), no one in Afghanistan is particularly pleased with the power-sharing formula hammered out in Bonn. The "troika" has hogged all the important posts and is now manipulating internal and external policies with a view to influencing the Loya Jirga when it meets six months down the line to construct a longer-term government. Forget about the majority Pakhtuns who have been given no more than a token representation in the form of the prime minister, Hamid Karzai. Even old NA allies like the Uzbek warlord, General Rashid Dostum, in the north and the former president of Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani, are grumbling.

It is, of course, the fate of the Afghan Pakhtuns that concerns Pakistan for many reasons. The Pakhtun south is predictably split. If that seems to be an unfortunate Pakhtun characteristic, the contrast in the political behaviour of the other ethnic communities of Afghanistan is quite remarkable. In the old days when everyone was fighting the Russians, the Uzbeks stuck together and General Dostam was able to sway all incoming governments in his favour with his 40,000 strong army. He was available to the communists of the PDPA for "use". Then President Mujaddidi made him his own top general. The Tajiks also stuck together and created the second largest army of Afghanistan under commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. In contrast, the majority Pakhtuns tended to split into separate parties and behaved as if their Pakhtun identity did not really matter. Although this characteristic made them amenable to their ISI and CIA "handlers", this kind of divide and rule strategy yielded no permanent loyalties and everyone knew that everyone was in the game for his own dirty purpose. Indeed, Pakistan may have played it domestically as a holy jehad but it was a cruel dog-eat-dog game on the ground. Therefore when the Taliban entered the arena and united the Pakhtuns in 1996, the situation gradually slipped out of Pakistan’s control and the tail began to wag the dog. Over the years, the heady feeling that Pakistan finally had Afghanistan as its own backyard while no other country could even sustain an embassy in Kabul became a soporific that closed Islamabad’s eyes to the future.

If the fear of a "Pakhtun split" once again is real, nothing else on the ground is what it was when Pakistan went in with the Taliban and thought it had the field to itself. All the foreign embassies are soon going to be back in Kabul. The UN is going to be more influential than in the past as Bonn has demonstrated and its clout will be felt just as soon as British, European and Turkish "boots are on ground". Above all, a lot of international money is going to be spread around, not so much through the biased parties in the Kabul interim government as through international agencies that are likely to concentrate on humanitarianism and social development rather that politics. The hope is that as this money is funnelled to the grassroots, it might lessen the intensity of the potential Pakhtun splits in the south of Afghanistan. In the event, this would contrast sharply with what happened to the money when it was given to the ISI for distribution among the mujahideen during the war against the Soviets.

Pakistan’s bugbear in Afghanistan has been India. But that policy of seeing red every time any Afghan is seen shaking hands with the Indians must be given up and a new non-ISI policy initiated to work on the emerging Tajik leadership on the basis of the transit trade facility that Pakistan can always use as leverage. India will remain marginal even after the end of the war. Its entry in the Afghan arena was a kind of tit-for-tat for the flanking move the ISI was making in Bangladesh, a flawed policy based on the assumption that Mrs Hasina Wajed was pro-India. In fact, India’s role in the new Afghanistan is bound to subside as Kabul will be inclined to act more and more in light of the advice offered by those who fund it. The biggest counter in Pakistan’s favour and against India is that India has exclusively backed the Tajiks while the stage must inevitably be set for the Pakhtun majority to reassert itself through the Loya Jirga next year.

Ironically enough, the fact that Afghanistan has gotten out of Pakistan’s stranglehold should go in favour of Pakistan. A large number of countries contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan should prevent it from becoming a battle-field for India and Pakistan. Therefore the sooner Pakistan recognises this reality, the better. It is the consolidation of internal rather than external control that should matter to us. A policy shaped passively on the belligerence of Islamic extremists posing as friends of the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan is a bad policy. India’s undue interference in Afghanistan can best be countered by aligning with the international community whose clout will be focused on keeping Afghanistan away from fundamentalist terrorism.

-- Editorial, The Friday Times, Lahore, December 14

Kandahar fiefdoms

The newly ‘liberated’ city of Kandahar has been divided into fiefdoms by local rival Pushtun commanders.

Gul Agha Sherzai, a former governor of the city, is in control of the Governor’s House and city hall.

Mulla Naqibullah has taken a cantonment to the north of the city containing major military installations, including the residual Taliban arsenal with tanks and heavy weapons.

Haji Bashar, another local influential, has command of the police and city security facilities.

Factional clashes have taken place, apart from firefights with the remaining armed Taliban in the city.

This tense and dangerous situation reflects the vacuum of power created by the surrender of the Taliban in Kandahar.

The surrender, however, has gone far from smoothly.

Hamid Karzai, the head of the new interim administration, agreed that Naqibullah should take the surrender.

But this annoyed other factions, which has led to criticism of Karzai’s handling of his first major test in managing a post-Taliban dispensation.The only hopeful sign so far is that the rival factions have decided to set up a Shura to try and resolve their differences.

The Shura includes Karzai who is expected to enter the city soon to participate in its deliberations.

If the Pushtuns of Afghanistan want their claims to being adequately represented in the new government to be taken seriously, they will have to demonstrate unity, cohesion and maturity to handle the myriads of problems still being faced by the country and its long suffering people.

It is for the sake of that suffering alone that the different factions will have to modify their ambitions to control ‘their’ territory in favour of power sharing arrangements arrived at through mutual consultations.

The track record of these mujahideen organisations in coming to grips with their country’s needs at various critical junctures does not inspire confidence that they have the ability and understanding to abandon attempts to unilaterally impose their preferences and wishes on all other parties.

Lacking the sense to compromise for the greater good of their ravaged country in the past, the local Pushtun commanders will have to make an extraordinary departure from their history to allow the new order to take shape.

If they fail, the will of the international coalition may well deprive them of even their legitimate share in power.

Karzai has to play a mediatory role and conduct a sensitive balancing act to get these recalcitrant and undisciplined elements on board, if the Pushtun south is to have any chance of negotiating its way into the process of institution building which is about to begin from December 22, when the interim administration is scheduled to take over in Kabul.

Amidst the chaos and confusion that has attended the takeover of Kandahar from the Taliban, large numbers of their fighters, instead of surrendering, fled the city with their weapons.

These fleeing forces have been roundly attacked by the US forces from the air as well as on the ground.

The marines based outside Kandahar have seen such action for the first time since their deployment.

The confusion surrounding the city and its environs includes rumour and counter-rumour about Mulla Omar’s whereabouts.

Some reports say he is still in Kandahar in the ‘safe’ custody of Khalid Pushtoon, another local commander.

Other reports confidently assert he has fled the city before its surrender and taken off in an unknown direction, possibly the mountains of his home province of Uruzgan.

Karzai continues to repeat his instructions to his forces to seek out and arrest Mulla Omar.

Perhaps this situation will be cleared up once the local commanders sort out their own differences and concentrate instead on the task of clearing the city of the remnants of the Taliban.

That cleaning up exercise itself could give some leads as to Mulla Omar’s location.If and when he is captured, in the interest of peace and reconciliation so badly needed in Afghanistan, he must be safely kept in custody in anticipation of being brought to trial, perhaps in an international court of law.

No rough justice can be allowed to continue in a country torn apart by civil war and the vendettas it has spawned.

In the new Afghanistan, no matter how heinous or serious the crime, every citizen must be assured of due process and the safeguarding of his right to a defence.

Let the new rulers of Afghanistan set an example for their country’s entry into the civilised comity of nations.

-- Editorial, Frontier Post, Karachi, December 10, 2001

With Friday's surrender at Kandahar, the Taliban's five-year rule in Afghanistan has passed into history. The surrender at Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul was merely a formality, for the Taliban rule had all but come to an end in most of Afghanistan in the second week of November when Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Kabul fell in rapid succession.

Since then, what had been going on in south-eastern Afghanistan was merely a tortuous prolongation of an avoidable agony for Afghan men, women and children caught in crossfire or falling victim to American bombing by the hundreds. Full credit goes to Hamid Karzai, the chosen head of the new Afghan administration, for securing the surrender.

His presence in the battle zone testifies to his courage and sagacity. He and his associates were instrumental in making the Taliban realize that further resistance would merely mean unnecessary bloodshed, for their fate was sealed. That Mulla Omar and other top Taliban commanders were able to realize this truth deserves to be acknowledged. One wishes they had displayed this wisdom much earlier.

There are lots of lessons one can draw from the Taliban's spectacular rise to power and their equally dramatic collapse. There is no doubt they gave a measure of peace to Afghanistan after defeating the anti-Soviet mujahideen, who had thrown the country into a debilitating civil war. However, what alienated them from the world and from their own people was their narrow and obscurantist interpretation of Islam.

Compassion - which is a cardinal principle of Islam - was ignored by them as reflected in the harshness with which they enforced the penal code of Islamic law. Women were treated with special cruelty: they were denied the right to education and work, and in some cases were hit in feet and hands for using nail polish. Besides, all avenues of legitimate entertainment were banned.

Their philosophy had no concept of ethnic and cultural plurality, and their narrow horizons were incapable of visualizing, much less giving, Afghanistan the apparatus of a modern state even in a most rudimentary form. That all this was done in the name of Islam served only to cast Islam itself in a bad light throughout the world.

No wonder barring three countries, including Pakistan, the entire Muslim world turned its back on them. More important, they did nothing to improve their people's lot, to build schools, hospitals and roads or to improve agriculture. Instead, most of their energy was spent on "jihad" against fellow Muslims. The scenes of joy witnessed by millions throughout the world testified to the relief the common man felt over the end of the Taliban's repressive regime.

The Taliban's fate also holds some lessons for Pakistan. While Islamabad has every right to see a friendly government in Kabul, interference in that country's internal affairs has cost Pakistan dearly. By relying - in fact, patronizing - one section of Afghanistan's population, Islamabad earned the ire of the other ethnic and political groups.

Worse, by arming the Taliban and letting them open and run recruiting and training centres in Pakistan, Islamabad helped create Frankenstein's monster. Undoubtedly, religious militancy in Pakistan drew sustenance from the fact that the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan. Gradually, religious parties with armed militias became a state within state and defied Islamabad's authority with contempt.

Now that a new Afghanistan could come into being, Pakistan should extend a helping hand to the new regime - as already pledged by President Musharraf. What Afghanistan needs is lasting peace, internal reconciliation and an era of economic reconstruction. Pakistan and all of Afghanistan's neighbours should help in this.

Yunis Qanooni's highly provocative statement in New Delhi and such other irritants should be ignored by Pakistan in the larger interest of peace in Afghanistan and the region. Instead, Islamabad should coordinate its effort with its friends in the US-led coalition to ensure that the new Afghanistan has a government that is truly neutral and friendly.

- Editorial, Dawn, December 9, 2001

Accord at last

After nine days of exhausting discussions, the four Afghan groups at the Bonn conference arrived at an accord for the future setup in their country.

The agreement stipulates the taking over of power in Kabul on December 22 by an interim administration for six months, to be followed by the convening of an Emergency Loya Jirga, which will appoint a transitional government for 18 months, after which elections will be held.The deal gives the Northern Alliance three key ministries amongst others in the 30-member cabinet, i.e.

Defence, Interior, and Foreign Affairs.

The current incumbents on these posts, General Fahim, Younus Qanooni, and Abdullah Abdullah respectively will continue to hold office.

The interim administration will be led by a chairman, Hamid Karzai, a gesture towards finding the right ethnic balance, Karzai being a Pushtun who is close to the ex-king Zahir Shah and also enjoys the confidence of all the factions at Bonn.

The cabinet includes two women, one of whom has been appointed one of the five vice chairpersons empowered to take cabinet meetings and represent the administration in the absence of the chairman.

Zahir Shah has been given the symbolic role of chairing the Loya Jirga.

A UN Security Council-mandated international security force will be deployed in and around Kabul and other urban centres if required (Kandahar after its fall comes to mind as the next possible location for such a force).

The size, composition and deployment of the force will be decided by the Afghans themselves.

British troop deployment has been turned down, having become redundant after the accord in any case.

The international security force will probably remain deployed until Afghan security forces and a new national army are brought into existence.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, admitted in his speech at Bonn that the accord was far from perfect, since the signatories were not fully representative of the Afghan polity.

But perhaps this was the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.

Professor Rabbani seems to have been sidelined, although he may find a role in the bodies to follow the setting up of the cabinet.

Pushtun representation, although taken account of, remains to be adequately provided for.

The agreement was considered crucial for getting billions of dollars of potential reconstruction aid for the country.

Positive signals have been put out by the new chairman Hamid Karzai as well as President General Pervez Musharraf to turn over a new leaf in cordial relations and cooperation between Pakistan and the new dispensation in Afghanistan.

The history of acrimonious relations between Pakistan and the Northern Alliance should now pass into history along with whatever remains of the Taliban.

Karzai has indicated he would be amenable to offering amnesty to any Taliban fighters who lay down their weapons.

This has particular resonance for the fate of the siege of Kandahar, where reports of contacts between Karzai’s forces and the defending Taliban garrison, apparently with Mulla Omar’s blessings, are being received.

This does not, it seems, sit well with the Americans who have expressed their unhappiness at the idea of an amnesty to any of the Taliban.

The text of the accord speaks of it being the first step towards the establishment of a broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, fully representative government.

That implies that there will be room for filling in the Pushtun representation to a satisfactory level in future steps.

The Special Independent Commission of 21 members being set up within one month to convene the Emergency Loya Jirga will be composed of people conversant with international law and traditional practice in Afghanistan.

The accord restores the 1964 Afghan constitution, subject to compatibility with the provisions of the accord itself.

A Supreme Court will be established, and the judicial system put back in place.

An Independent Human Rights Commission will oversee human rights norms and investigate and set up mechanisms to deal with violations.

Although there may well be many a slip yet, given the considerable difficulties still attending the setting up of a unified administrative system in war-torn Afghanistan, the Bonn accord represents a good beginning.

The UN’s success in bringing about this consensus, with hindsight, only became possible after the overthrow of the antediluvian rule of the Taliban.

Afghanistan now has a good chance to emerge into the light of day in the 21st century.

  • Editorial, The Frontier Post, Karachi, December 7

The US marines have finally landed at a place near Kandahar to ensure they get a taste of actual action without much loss of life before it ends. One could never be too sure after Vietnam. In any case an American 'fought' war without the Marines would have been a travesty of history. But this time the game was different. With Afghanistan being a land-locked country, their traditional beachhead was left hundreds of miles to the south and they had to do with a landing by air in an already badly battered country and occupy a remote airstrip. The initial force quickly built up to 1200.

The Marines were originally expected to join the conflict, but it was never clear when or in what capacity. Bush administration had never committed itself on an exact role for the US armed forces till the very end and whatever American participation there was, involved special services personnel. Even at present it is not known what the Marines will do because it seems unlikely that they will join in the final assault on Kandahar and suffer heavy casualties, President Bush's declaration that Americans are ready to accept losses notwithstanding. The Northern Alliance had to pay a price after they failed to negotiate an end. There are suggestions that the Marines will help in catching the two most wanted men and Al Qaeda operatives and whatever other persons there are on US list.

But, even running a dragnet along Pakistan border and combing the countryside will be a temporary task which again does not quite answer the question for the Marines' deployment. Their prolonged presence, even if it is meant to provide logistics support for whatever stabilising force is put into place will be a source of concern for the neighbouring states. They could become handy targets for ambitious Afghan political groups to rouse popular emotions. Foreign occupation armies always incite anger, hostility and extremism among locals. More so for the Americans who carry an exceptionally heavy baggage of global animosity. For Pakistan any sort of disturbance across the border in a country still to stabilise will be pregnant with danger. With a large number of Afghan refugees who are unlikely to go back for a long time, there could well be forays across the 'porous' border with dire consequences for Islamabad.

A UN peace force will be a better option to maintain law and order in the country till the Afghans are able to manage their own affairs. The Marines could not possibly contribute much in bringing political stability to Afghanistan without opening a Pandora's box. Their role would end when the last of the troublemakers was rounded up. They should then hand over their duties to the Blue Berets.

-- Editorial, The News, November 28, 2001

While one hopes that the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan will be friendly towards Pakistan, it is difficult to share President Pervez Musharraf's optimism on this score. In his interview with PTV on Monday night, the president said he was not unduly worried over the existence of a Northern Alliance government in Kabul at the moment, because "Pakistan has its own importance with regard to Afghanistan." To a certain extent, one may agree with the chief executive here, because the Northern Alliance government is a temporary phenomenon.

Talks have already begun in Bonn, and sooner or later Kabul will have a multi-ethnic and broad-based government enjoying the confidence of all sections of Afghanistan's population. In fact, the delegates to the Bonn conference have no choice but to work out the modalities for the establishment of a broad-based government. Without such a set-up, they know and the world knows, Afghanistan will again relapse into a new era of anarchy and fratricide.

The big question is whether such a government will be friendly towards Pakistan. The president thinks it will be, but the logic he gives is too simplistic. Afghanistan is a landlocked country, the president said, and thus "whatever government comes into being in Afghanistan will be friendly towards Pakistan." History does not bear this out.

Afghanistan has always been landlocked, but there were quite a few governments in Kabul that were not only not friendly towards Pakistan, they were quite hostile. Notwithstanding the fact that all of Afghanistan's import and export trade goes through Pakistan, Kabul has seldom taken this into account.

In fact, Afghanistan was the only country that cast a negative vote on Pakistan's membership of the United Nations. Side by side, in concert with Moscow and New Delhi, Kabul carried on a virulent campaign against Pakistan on the Pakhtoonistan stunt.

Zahir Shah's overthrow made no difference to the situation, because governments led by Dawood, Taraki, Hafizullah Amin, Babrak Karmal, and Najibullah continued to maintain a highly inimical posture towards Pakistan. Thus, to assume that the next government would be friendly simply because Afghanistan is a landlocked country and dependent upon Pakistan for essential supplies is to assume too much.

If Islamabad wants friendly relations with Afghanistan, it should let the new government settle down and help it clear the debris of war. Events have proved that Pakistan's policy of getting involved too deeply in Afghanistan's internal matters has backfired.

Relying too heavily on one faction to the exclusion of the others was a short-sighted policy that in no way advanced Pakistan's long-term interest of having a friendly government in Afghanistan. The fall of the Taliban regime and the possibility of a new broad-based government coming into being give Pakistan a chance to start a new relationship with Afghanistan.

While Pakistan's desire to have a friendly government in Kabul is quite legitimate, on no account should Islamabad expect to have a puppet government there. By words and actions, Islamabad should convince Kabul that it has no favourites in Afghanistan and that it believes in a policy of mutual non-interference in each other's affairs. At the same time, Pakistan should join the international community in helping Afghanistan re-build itself. This would also make it possible for the millions of Afghan refugees to go back home. Pakistan and Afghanistan have so much in common. Both can benefit from peace and economic cooperation if the two decide not to repeat mistakes.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 28, 2001

Even as the Afghan war gradually reaches an end, and the element of regular US troops has been added to the theatre, it continues to exact a high toll of human life despite the assurances from the winning players that the vanquished will not be harmed. Reports of US casualties have also surfaced, but strongly denied, though in a war zone, casualties are nothing abnormal. But the killing of hundreds of Taliban prisoners, which included a sizeable number of foreign fighters, in a fort in Mazar-e-Sharif by Rashid Dostum's forces, purportedly as the result of a revolt by the prisoners, shows how fragile assurances can be. The full details of the clash from an independent source are still not known which makes it difficult to knowledgeably comment on the issue, but it appears that either the Uzbek soldiery was trigger-happy or the prisoners made an error of judgment or it was a mixture of both. The result is that hundreds died who did not deserve such an end when they had already experienced the worst of the war and surrendered. The death of a US special forces personnel in the mayhem gives it a sinister twist that was least needed.

The fears that the Northern Alliance and other fronts and groups besting the Taliban will indulge in reprisal killing, particularly of the non-Afghan fighters, to avenge the treatment they allegedly received under Taliban rule, had already been globally voiced. The student militia's period was not without its bloody side when not only human rights but human life itself was not respected. The winners in the war blame the foreigners to a great measure for their miseries and had already voiced their determination to subject them to similar treatment. There have been incidents in the less publicised segments of the conflict when the victors extracted full payment, in kind, for what they had paid. Bamian was identified as the scene of a massacre for the second time. The first time it happened when Taliban occupied the area.

It was wrong to expect that this war would be fought according to the rules of whatever conventions there are on making a war more humane. War essentially is an application of violence designed to kill people, not to merely deprive them of their weapons. Prisoners are relative to the nature of the conflict, their identity being established only by the successful side if it deems it as such. When a battle is fought to the bitter then no prisoners are expected to be taken, even if they are there. The sad truth is that the Afghan war which was given a moral lamination by the United States as a strike against terror, is being fought at the ground level with a strong element of revenge. Mazar-i-Sharif was a reflection of that spirit. Since more surrenders and more killings are almost inevitable, it is imperative that the US and the UN send out a loud and clear message to all the parties to keep the carnage at the bare minimum level.

-- Editorial, The News, November 27, 2001

A fog of confusion still shrouds the mayhem at a fortress holding Taliban prisoners outside Mazar-i-Sharif. According to conflicting reports, the number of prisoners killed in the shootout on Sunday range between 100 and 700. The captives, mainly foreign Taliban fighters, had surrendered to Northern Alliance forces in Kunduz on Saturday following a prolonged siege of what was the last Taliban-held city in northern Afghanistan.

According to Northern Alliance spokesmen, the violence was sparked off by a riot at the fortress controlled by local warlord Abdur Rashid Dostum. According to this version, the instigators were the hard core Chechen, Arab, Uzbek and Pakistani fighters whom the US views as the elite force of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

A fierce shoot-out took place when the prisoners managed to disarm the guards and sieze weapons from them. The Pentagon, however, claims that the prisoners had somehow managed to smuggle weapons into the fortress. When the riot could not be quelled, some reports say that US planes were called in to provide support to the Alliance, and heavy bombardment of the prison compound followed. In the ensuing chaos, a large number of prisoners are believed to have died. According to unconfirmed reports, one US advisor was also killed while directing the operation from the ground. Eyewitnesses claim that a number of plain-clothed US personnel were present during the shootout.

After the dust settles on this gruesome episode, a number of important questions are likely to be asked. One fear being voiced is that the massacre may have been deliberately instigated or allowed to go out of control, a charge that the Northern Alliance strongly denies. While no direct evidence is available, the intense hatred among the Alliance for the foreign fighters is more than obvious.

Senior US spokesmen have also maintained that the foreign Taliban were legitimate targets because of their links to al Qaeda. During the siege of Kunduz, it had become clear that the foreign Taliban were not likely to be treated with the kind of magnanimity displayed towards their Afghan counterparts. The foreign fighters expressed reservations about surrendering to the Alliance because they feared for their lives. Many foreigners had earlier been lynched or severely beaten up following the withdrawal of the Taliban from city after city.

Bowing to international pressure, acting president Burhanuddin Rabbani announced in Kabul that foreign Taliban prisoners would not be harmed and would be handed over to the UN. However, in the chaotic conditions prevailing in Afghanistan, what is decreed in the capital need not automatically prevail in other parts of the country held by different warlords.

The Pakistan government, already wary about the intentions of the Alliance and under public pressure to press for the release of its captured nationals, has strongly condemned the massacre and stated that it contravenes UN Security Council resolutons urging respect for the Geneva Convention. The Northern Alliance as well as the US-led coalition must immediately launch an inquiry into the terrible events in Mazar-i-Sharif if they want to restore the victors' credibility in the eyes of the world. With the fall of the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar imminent, the authorities will have to move swiftly to quell fears for the safety of the thousands of foreign fighters in the city.

Editorial, Dawn, November 27, 2001

With the surrender of at least 2,000 of the Taliban garrison in Kunduz, including some 600 foreign fighters, all but the spiritual capital of Kandahar has been lost to anti-Taliban forces.

Some 2,500 Uzbek troops of General Rashid Dostum are already inside the city, while 2,000 troops of the Tajik forces under General Mohammad Daud east of the city will probably have entered it by the time these lines appear in print.

There will be relief all round that the threatened massacre has been avoided.

Ultimately, the combined air and ground assault on their positions proved too much for the defenders of Kunduz to withstand any longer.

Relief is also being felt at the prospect of the foreign fighters in Kunduz being turned over to the UN, rather than being ‘dealt’ with by the Northern Alliance forces themselves.

All in all, a satisfactory denouement from all accounts.It must be conceded that the Northern Alliance leadership has confounded all its critics by behaving extremely responsibly.

Their past record, which had been trotted out repeatedly in recent days to underline the threat of a humanitarian disaster in Kunduz, may have helped persuade them that this is not 1992.

They have managed to rise to the occasion and shown unexpected political maturity.

This is a good omen for a new beginning in Afghanistan.

Horrendous reports of mass graves of massacred opposition fighters in areas held until recently by the Taliban have been coming in.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat (the Shindand airbase) and elsewhere, a pattern of summary executions is discernible.

Many of the bodies showed sign of torture before they were executed.

It is interesting that since the tide of battle began to turn, a whole panoply of international humanitarian and human rights organisations have been expressing concern about the possibility of massacres by the Northern Alliance troops of captured Taliban prisoners.

Remarkably, there has only been the odd case, in Kabul after its fall for example.

The undeniable proof of Taliban mass atrocities on the other hand, does raise questions about where these keepers of the world’s conscience were when the Taliban were up to these horrendous acts.

One wonders whether the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity will ever be brought to book.

In the last remaining Taliban redoubt of Kandahar, reports that Takhtapul on the Kandahar-Spin Boldak road to the border with Pakistan has been taken by forces under a local tribal chief have been strenuously denied by the Taliban.

In strategic terms, it is hardly of any consequence.

The Taliban are clearly on their last conventional military legs.

How much strength they have left to resist in unconventional ways, remains to be seen.

As anticipated in these columns, heroin has started flooding into the European (and perhaps other?) market through, it is alleged, Pakistan.

If the Taliban are to have any chance of fighting a protracted guerrilla war, given their internal and international isolation, it was almost inevitable that they would restart the heroin trade to finance their resistance.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

In this case, it is rumoured that the much vaunted ban on poppy cultivation by the Taliban when they were in power, had less to do with a moral edict and more with the reported glut in the international heroin market, which had caused the street price to fall.

The Taliban are said to have enormous stores of heroin, perhaps for just such ‘emergencies’.

One dead giveaway of their intent would be if poppy cultivation emerges again in the countryside of Afghanistan, most likely in the southern areas still nominally under their control.

This would be easy to detect by the US’s technological intelligence gathering capacity.

Now that the Taliban rule is drawing to a close, it is time to take stock of the human rights violations by the fanatical Taliban regime.

If the perpetrators can be identified and are in captivity, a mechanism to bring them to justice must be set up under international supervision.

And if they intend to finance their continuing resistance through the heroin trade, that only lends more ammunition to their critics and throws them open to deserved retribution.

- Editorial, Frontier Post, November 26

The families of hundreds of Pakistanis missing or trapped inside Afghanistan are understandably worried about what is in store for their near and dear ones. In Kunduz alone, according to reports, there are several hundred Pakistanis and other foreigners, mostly Arabs, Chechens and some Indonesians.

While the Northern Alliance's warlords have hinted at offering amnesty to the Afghan Taliban, they have not shown the same degree of compassion towards the Taliban's foreign comrades. Astonishing as it may appear, the Pakistan Foreign Office has done little to stir itself on the matter.

Obviously, Islamabad has no line of communication with the Alliance leadership. Which is a sad commentary on its Afghan policy: its total support to Taliban in the latter part of the last decade gave it enemy status with the Northern leadership. For this reason, worried Pakistanis are using satellite telephones or sometimes venturing to go into Afghanistan themselves to rescue, or to know the fate of, their relations.

More important, the issue has domestic political implications for Pakistan, since some tribal groups have hinted that they would take non-Pakhtoon Afghan refugees hostage. This is a grim scenario and could lead to a bloodbath if the Alliance leadership shows recklessness in dealing with foreign volunteers, including Pakistanis.

Unfortunately, the US has not shown the kind of responsibility that was expected of it. Perhaps, it would be more fruitful if Pakistan got in touch with Tehran and Ankara because of their contacts with the Northern leadership.

Understandably, Kofi Annan, too, has not displayed any zeal to save the lives of non-Afghan Taliban because of American indifference. It is time Pakistan informed all permanent members of the Security Council of the gravity of the situation and used its clout with Beijing and western capitals to avert a bloodbath.

-- Editorial, Dawn, November 25, 2001

THAT Professor Rabbani and General Dostum have contacted President Musharraf is to be considered a welcome development by all. Even more welcome is the assurance by both that they do not want to establish a Northern Alliance administration in Kabul, but were committed to a multi-ethnic and broad-based government. That the initiative for establishing contact should have come from the Alliance is a reflection on the mindset of Pakistan's Foreign Office, which is characterized by lack of initiative and drive. It should now avail itself of the opportunity to improve relations between the two sides which have deteriorated seriously during the last six years.

That Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan has been recognized by Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi also. This requires Islamabad to enjoy at least some goodwill among all significant Afghan political forces. Two factors have stood in the way so far. First were the efforts made by certain countries jockeying for influence in Kabul, particularly Russia and India, which have all along tried to encourage anti-Pakistan sentiment among various political forces and sections of Afghan society. Second came inflexibility and lack of imagination on the part of our policymakers who have over the years put all their eggs in one basket. One can only hope that both countries would be wiser after having burnt their fingers. What is needed in the meanwhile is a more dynamic approach by the Foreign Office. Of all outside parties, Pakistan has the greatest interest in a stable government in its neighbourhood. Whatever the outcome of the Bonn process, and whatever shape the Pushtoon representation takes, Pakistan has to accept that Professor Rabbani and General Dostum, no matter how devious the former, and how thuggish the latter, will play leading roles in Afghanistan's immediate future. Therefore, any improvement in relations with these two is sensible, and also provides an opportunity to Pakistan to rectify its past Pushtoon tilt. Pakistan will always have greater affinity to Pushtoons because of the crossborder tribes, but that does not mean the other ethnicities must continue to be ignored.

Stability in Afghanistan can only be guaranteed by a truly broad-based and multi-ethnic government. Further, the interim set-up being visualized in the Bonn process needs to be bolstered by a multinational force. This is required for three purposes: to establish the writ of the new government, to discourage infighting among rival groups, and to demilitarize Kabul. Professor Rabbani and General Dostum need to understand that unless Kabul is demilitarized, doubts about Alliance intentions, created by recent statements by some of its leaders, will remain. The best way to inspire confidence among all groups is to request OIC members to contribute a joint force.

When dialogue goes on with the Alliance, it must be made to understand that Pakistan has got to take into account Pushtoon sensitivities. Pakistan should also persuade the Alliance leadership, particularly General Dostum, that a humanitarian approach to the Pakistani members of the besieged Taliban garrison in Kunduz will strengthen attempts at creating goodwill.

-- Editorial, The Nation, Lahore, November 24, 2001

The world seems to be more interested in the fate of Kunduz than in what happens after the Taliban surrender. While the dateline for the Taliban to surrender has been changing, concern is mounting about those who will surrender. The Taliban garrison defending Kunduz consists of both the native (predominantly Pakhtoon) Afghans and foreign volunteers - mostly Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens and some Indonesians.

What is worrying is the attitude of the Northern Alliance's military leadership. From what has appeared in the press, it seems the NA generals are making a difference between Afghan and non-Afghan defenders of Kunduz. While they have said nothing specific about how the Afghan Taliban would be treated, they have dropped dark hints about the fate of non-Afghan fighters.

Prisoners of war in modern times are treated according to the Geneva conventions. Taken prisoner whether during the fighting or after a formal surrender, the PoW is entitled to certain privileges. These include humane treatment, proper food, adequate medical treatment, the right to receive letters and gifts from his home and international relief agencies, and safe return home after the war is over.

The only exceptions are those PoWs who are held guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity: they are tried, given the right to defend themselves and ultimately punished or set free according to norms of justice. However, reports coming out of Afghanistan portray a dark picture, for certain elements in the Northern Alliance militia seem to discriminate between Afghan Taliban and non-Afghan combatants.

Shocking as it may appear, the US, which normally would uphold Geneva conventions in other cases, is ominously silent on the fate of non-Afghan Taliban. In fact, some of Donald Rumsfeld's statements on the issue are highly disturbing, for the US defence secretary has avoided coming out categorically in favour of adhering to the Geneva conventions. While the US has every right to pursue its war aims in Afghanistan, it has to do so in a responsible manner, without allowing the process to be vitiated by a spirit of vengeance or spite and without any discrimination between one group of adversaries and another. In fact, as the leader of the world coalition against terrorism, Washington has to use its influence with the anti-Taliban Alliance to prevent the massacre of non-Afghan volunteers after the Taliban holed up in Kunduz give up arms.

Pakistan has to realize the gravity of the situation. Immediately after the war began, thousands of Pakistanis crossed over into Afghanistan. That Islamabad did not wish them to do so or was unable to stop them is beside the point. Those who went to join what they believed to be their sacred duty included not only tribesmen but many other groups of Taliban enthusiasts. In Kunduz alone, the number of foreign volunteers varies from 1,000 to as high as 10,000. Clearly, when the hostilities end, they are as much entitled to a safe passage as native Afghans.

One hopes Pakistan will take up the issue of safe passage of the non-Taliban elements in Kunduz with the US and Britain and ensure that they remain unharmed. The safe return of foreign volunteers in no way runs counter to the world coalition's aim of punishing the terrorists involved in the Sept 11 carnage. While those against whom there are specific charges should be dealt with accordingly, other combatants must be treated according to the Geneva conventions and allowed to return home safely.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 24, 2001

The race is on for Kabul. Mr Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Jamiat-e-Islami leader recognised by the UN as the legitimate president of Afghanistan but debunked by Pakistan, is back in the capital, pruning himself for re-anointment. He is a Tajik. Mr Zahir Shah, the deposed king of Afghanistan long spurned by Pakistan and now baited by the West, is waiting for a nod from the Unites States to stake a claim to the throne. He is a Pashtun. Meanwhile, Moscow, an old Indian ally which despises Pakistan, has thrown its weight behind Mr Rabbani. Not to be left behind, India is straining at the leash to play a significant role in Afghanistan now that the Taliban are gone and the Northern Alliance which it partly funded and trained is back in the saddle. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are supporting the NA Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and Iran’s NA protégé is the Persian-speaking Gen Ismail Khan. Pakistan is unfortunately nowhere in the scene with its proclaimed band of loyal Pashtuns.

Next Monday, the UN will herd into Berlin nearly 40 military commanders and politicians claiming to represent one segment or another of the people of Afghanistan. Their job is to agree on a special governing committee to oversee the transition to an interim government approved by a loya jirga or tribal assembly until general elections are held in a couple of years in Afghanistan. This moot follows an implicit US warning to the NA that it won’t be allowed to fly solo, not least because its control over most of Afghan territory following the rout of the Taliban is due largely to US military might but also because it doesn’t represent the dominant Pashtun community of the country.

The UN, prodded by the US, wants to move fast in order to stop the country from sliding into another bloody round of civil war. Despite its high sounding name, the triumphant NA is riven with ethnic and military rivalries which make it volatile. The three generals who captured Mazhar i Sharif — Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek; Atta Mohammad, a Tajik; and Ustad Mohaqqik, a Haraza — are at loggerheads. Gen Ismail Khan, who has established control over Herat and the western territories, has serious differences with the NA group holding Kabul. In Jalalabad, the Pashtun commander Haji Abdul Kadeer, (brother of commander Abdul Haq who was executed by the Taliban) has become governor and is pushing Pashtun interests. In Kabul itself, even as the pro-Russia and pro-Iran Rabbani bills himself as president, effective power remains in the hands of Tajiks like Younus Qanuni (interior minister), Dr Abdullah Abdullah (foreign minister) and Gen Mohammad Fahim (army chief) who are all inclined to look to the US just as much as to Russia and Iran. The internal challenges within the NA also come from the Shia Hazara fighters of the Hizbe Wahadat party that is demanding a stake in governing Kabul because of a strong Hazara presence in the city.

Worse from the point of view of a quick peace plan, the deal between the NA and Zahir Shah, struck with some fanfare last month, is all but off. Former Taliban commanders in the south of the country have bolted from Kabul-Kandahar’s central command and become Pashtun chieftains bent upon staking and exercising control over large swathes of territory in their own right. And renegade, armed groups and roaming bandits are once again the order of the day. With no one in a commanding position in Afghanistan, the potential for internal strife has increased alarmingly. In this difficult and unsure situation, what should Pakistan do? How can it protect its national interests?

Some analysts think that continuing political and military chaos may not be such a bad thing after all from Pakistan’s point of view. If every major player turns out to be a loser and a vacuum persists, Pakistan might be able to exercise some leverage in the southern and eastern Pashtun belts by default. The geographic contiguity that has condemned Pakistan to embrace Afghanistan might, it is argued, also give it the advantage of re-engaging Afghanistan after the other players have thrown up their hands in despair or exhaustion. Thus this line of thinking suggests that Islamabad should bide its time while ironing out its differences with Iran, another country geographically placed to play a long-term role in Afghanistan.

Alternatively, and more realistically, Pakistan could become pro-active and reach out to Zahir Shah, who has full Western support, may be eventually acceptable to the power-brokers in the NA and is potentially the least objectionable or undesirable person to temporarily lead and represent the Pashtuns. In fact, Pakistan’s interest lies not only in an Afghan state that is friendly and sufficiently Pashtun-led but one that is united and stable. Continuing chaos could lead to the Balkanisation of Afghanistan along ethnic lines which would eventually spill over into Pakistan by rousing its Pashtuns into violent sub-nationalism and separatism. The worst policy, of course, would be one of sulking indifference to key players and regional developments or brash confidence in one’s own indispensability in the order of things, which has unfortunately been the case so far.

- Editorial, The Friday Times, Lahore, November 23

President Pervez Musharraf has assured his cabinet, and through it the rest of the country, that Pakistan's stand on the future Afghan government has been adopted by the rest of the world. "Everyone now talks of a multi-ethnic and broad-based representative government," the President said expressing a large measure of satisfaction. Is this satisfaction justified is another question because the reality is that everyone seems to be giving a different meaning to the same set of words. Worries and uncertainties are multiplying over many things. The UN-convened conference in Bonn is a case in point: are the groups invited to it really representative of all Afghan ethnicities? Who precisely and how many are going to represent the largest Pashtun largest group of Afghans? What will be the UN's own role in Afghanistan. The experience for Pakistan so far has not been very encouraging. Pakistan first desired that Northern Alliance (NA) troops should not enter Kabul City. That did not happen. It also wanted this capital city to be demilitarised and be run presumably by the UN itself. Nobody paid any attention to this suggestion. On the contrary, all of Islamabad's fears came true when NA troops entered Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat; the atrocities committed by NA are likely to be remembered long. These have besmirched America's name for so many.

Pakistan government has now made representation to the UN that it should ensure that humanitarian law is not violated by those besieging Kunduz where a great tragedy is about to unfold. The possibility of a mass slaughter of Taliban and their foreign supporters looms large, although some signs are now visible that the Afghan Taliban may be allowed safe passage but thousands of foreigners, including Pakistanis, will have to perish there or be taken prisoners, that is if the NA took that trouble. Except for one uncertain voice of a NA commander, there has been no indication that those who would surrender, or be taken prisoner, would be treated like prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention on the subject. Northern Alliance has so far been insistent that its amnesty offer would not apply to non-Afghans. What would be the future of thousands of Pakistanis and Arabs holed up in horribly bombed city? Although no one would sympathise with what these armed goons did to Afghanistan and the world community for years, yet they are human beings and the civilised world is expected not to behave like these criminals.

Other uncertainties include the composition of the envisaged new Afghan government. The fact of the matter is that many interested powers are jousting for influencing judgment of the US administration on the question. What they actually aim at is the inclusion of their favourites in the government-to-be. Those keenly interested in the matter include Russia, Iran and India. Some of them are quite obstreperous. Clearly, Northern Alliance is the general favourite of all and even former Taliban are going to be kept out. In terms of hard facts of life, after being defeated in war it shall have no place in the next government. It is understandable. But that should not mean that the entire Pashtun community should be excluded. It is possible that some lightweight Pashtun non-entities may be taken in as show boys in the new set up. Up to a point, this is true for all ethnic entities. But the chosen Pashtun men have to have some standing and gravitas even for conferences. It could be asked as to which Afghans attended the US-convened conference in Washington that was intended to draw up the sketch of the brave new Afghanistan that the international Coalition wants to build.

Pakistan had been given many assurances that its 'valid' concerns about the future Afghan government will be respected. This was specifically conceded by the British prime minister Tony Blair who otherwise acts as a peripatetic Ambassador Extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Bush Administration. Americans too have been giving assurances to Pakistan of all manner. Yet the questions that need to be asked now are: Is anyone listening to Islamabad? Were any of the assurances honoured? The US decision-makers did what they had planned from the beginning or what the logic of the situation demanded. Keeping Pakistan's interests in mind or to redeem the implied or explicit pledges has remained elusive so far.

As for Islamabad ruler's self-satisfaction over having been vindicated in their formulations, it should be seen for what it is. It is a merely verbal acceptance of a vague, undefined, generic formula. Every power that feels concerned can produce a distinctive 'broad-based, multi-ethnic and representative' government of all major ethnic groups, but will others accept it. What is Pakistan's bottom line to accept any such formula? Will we be happy if a couple of Pashtun names are included in the list of ministers and given portfolios of say sports or tourism? Let us not make premature declarations of satisfaction. Pakistan's role cannot be minimised in the new set of things and we must keep our goals and direction sharply focused.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, November 23, 2001

President Pervez Musharraf is right when he says that images in the western media of extremists protesting in the streets of Pakistani cities do not represent an accurate picture of the public opinion. The president wants the silent majority - those who do not support the extremists - to make its voice heard. However, this is easier said than done. The best way to do this would be to hold rallies, and some have been held, albeit with relatively low turnouts. But it is not as simple as that.

The extremists, who spew fire and venom, see things in black and white: America represents evil, the Taliban are good, and, thus, an attack on Afghanistan becomes an attack on Islam. However, those who oppose the extremists do not necessarily read the situation through a black-or-white lens. For them, opposition to the extremists does not necessarily mean support for the government stand, primarily because the latter would involve condoning the bombing and the civilian deaths.

Having said that: even if the moderate and tolerant were to come out in the streets or decide, as the president put it, to stand up to a mosque preacher who spreads hate, will the law be there to protect them if matters get out of hand? Unfortunately, experience has shown that past governments, and perhaps slightly less so this one, have often gone out of their way to appease extremist elements. And when it came to protecting those from the silent majority who would like to stand up, the government was hardly ever there.

Since Sept 11 and after the bombing, the government has given considerable leeway to the organizers of the Pakistan-Afghan Defence Council to hold rallies, knowing what their street power is. However, the same sort of flexibility was not forthcoming when it came to allowing citizens' groups to hold rallies - rallies that would have attracted far fewer people, no doubt, but would have served to restore some balance to media coverage. If the president wants the silent majority to speak up, the least he could do is to send an appropriate message to elements in the state apparatus who tend to look at civil society with suspicion and derision.

- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 19, 2001

Amid conflicting reports about the fate of Kandahar, the headquarters of the Taliban movement and the last important city still in their control, the need for diplomatic moves to install a broad-based government in Afghanistan has acquired even greater urgency. With the Taliban exodus to the hills beginning in the south and pro-Taliban forces hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded by hostile forces in Kunduz to the north, the writing is very much there on the wall for the Taliban.

The beleagured Taliban are soon likely to be left with no territory of any worth in Afghanistan. Given this backdrop, it is gratifying to know that Pakistan is getting positive signals from all sides with regard to the formation of a broad-based post-Taliban government. A number of diplomatic moves are afoot and, though a consensus has not yet emerged, the diplomats, mercifully, are not working at cross-purposes.

On Thursday, America's special envoy, James Dobbins, met President Musharraf and others to discuss the government-making issue in Afghanistan. He has already met exiled former king Zahir Shah in Rome. Also on Thursday, Iranian Interior Minister Mousavi-Lari met the president and apprised him of his government's view on the Afghan situation.

Earlier in the week, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal had unveiled a joint Saudi-Pakistan peace plan for a broad-based government in Kabul. Meanwhile, on Friday President Musharraf had a telephone conversation with the Chinese President who also supported the moves to set up a multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan. Significantly, the Russians, too, seem to have softened their support for the Northern Alliance, with a senior diplomat stating that Pukhtoons should play a prominent role in any future government. All these plans do not go against, but seem in harmony with, the Security Council resolution passed on Wednesday.

The Council resolution reaffirmed that the UN should play a "central role" in establishing a transitional council that should pave the way for a broader government acceptable to all sections of Afghanistan's population. Earlier, press reports said Pakistan had received positive signals even from the Northern Alliance through Islamabad's friends in Ankara and Tehran.

This means virtually all sides agree on the need for moving with speed to ensure a UN presence in Kabul. In fact, by the time these lines appear in print, some peacekeeping troops might already have moved into Kabul. This peacekeeping force has the world body's blessings, though it will not be wearing the UN's blue helmet.

Indications are that it will be replaced by a UN force consisting of troops drawn from some Muslim countries. There is a need now for calling a meeting of different Afghan factions at the earliest. There are hints that Qatar, as the current chairman of the Organization of Islamic Conference, might be willing to host such a meeting. Given the consensus that appears on all sides, one hopes the Afghan factions and diplomats from Afghanistan's neighbours and other members of the US-led coalition will get the process going. The aim should obviously be to ensure an honest implementation of the UN plan that visualizes giving Afghanistan a government that would truly reflect its ethnic and cultural mosaic.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 18

Political situation that is resulting from the American war on Taliban with its ugly fallout is dangerous. All the polarisations that characterised Pakistan's political life are so much more threatening today. The most serious one remains the one between the modernists and pro-Taliban Islamicists. This is an old one the history of which can be traced back to earliest years of Pakistan. None of the other polarities has gone away either. Indeed they are so much more intense. There was and is a major controversy between strong centre wallahs and regional nationalists who swear by true federalism. There was also the wide gulf between the rich and the poor. It is wider today. A subsidiary to the former division between modernists and hard Islamicists is, in addition to the older leftists versus rightwingers, the one between those who support the military regime and those who want undiluted democracy.

As the pressures from the US to cooperate with it on its own terms are growing, it is matched by Indian growls of hot pursuit of cross-border terrorists in Kashmir. The Indian intentions cannot be assessed as good by anyone. It is also a time when the feeling is growing in the country that the US and its close allies are perhaps deliberately neglecting their moral duty to stabilise and strengthen Pakistan's balance of payments even as the economic situation is growing worse.

It is obvious that, irrespective of what the military regime thinks it can do, the situation is clearly beyond its capacity to tackle all problems alone. All political parties have to join their heads and hands to cope with the multifarious challenges that are staring Pakistan in the face. PML is now in so many bits and pieces that its effectiveness is under serious doubt; in any case what its leaders' capacity is for producing alternative solutions produces even greater uncertainty. PPP leaders appear to be mainly interested in the release of Asif Ali Zardari and guarantees for the safe return of Benazir Bhutto; actual solutions to the pressing problems are not engaging their immediate attention. Much the same can be said for the MQM, the third largest party. And so on. One suspects that most parties think that since a military regime has taken over, which wants to go it alone in all things, we'll let it solve all the problems as best as it can.

This, unfortunately is not patriotism. The delusion of the military that it has the panacea for every trouble has to be seen for what it is. But Pakistan comes first. It is time for all the parties to sit together and see whether they can produce alternatives required amidst a heap of failed policies. It is a challenge all Pakistanis have to meet.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, November 16, 2001

Pakistan has done well to ask the UN to ensure the observance of human rights in Afghanistan following the entry of Northern Alliance troops in Kabul and elsewhere. Islamabad's fear of a possible deterioration of the human rights situation is justified, given Afghanistan's history of the last more than a decade.

When the victorious Mujahideen entered Kabul to oust Najibullah's government, there were mass executions, besides widespread looting and plunder. Later, when the Taliban assumed power in most of Afghanistan, human rights were violated under the cover of religion. Whole villages were razed, orchards were destroyed, political enemies were summarily executed, and a new code of conduct, especially harsh on women, was enforced. The fall of Kabul has been welcomed by the populace. But there are reports of grave human rights violations and summary executions in Kabul, while in Mazar-i-Sharif, 200 Taliban soldiers who had surrendered were slaughtered.

Obviously, the Northern Alliance forces are there by courtesy of the US-led military forces which facilitated their advance west and southward by destroying the military power and by putting them on the run on the northern frontlines. However, now that their occupation of Kabul and some other cities is a fact, there is need to remind them that their role is temporary. What the world expects of them is to maintain peace and security till a UN peacekeeping force takes over.

Once this force assumes control, the UN's five-point plan can be put into operation. The key elements of this plan envisage a meeting of the representatives of all Afghan factions, the formation of a provisional council, the convening of a Loya Jirga and, finally, the induction of a broad-based government. Any deviation from this course is full of hazards. Mercifully, indications from the Northern Alliance quarters are that they are aware of the need for a government in which all communities will have a representation. One hopes that, till such time as a UN force moves in, NA commanders in areas under their control will ensure that no human rights violations take place and that they uphold human rights during the interim period.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 16, 2001

AFTER 20 years of high-cost Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan, it must have grieved every Pakistani to watch TV footage showing Kabulis raising anti-Pakistan slogans and bodies of reportedly Pakistani volunteers lying in the streets. It is also ironic to see policymakers eating crow by courting ex-King Zahir Shah or anxiously seeking the formation of a broadbased government, on the need for which they had failed to persuade the Taliban when Kabul was under their control. The strategic depth pipedream has vanished into thin air, as all illusions are ultimately bound to. It must have been equally embarrassing for policymakers, both civilian and military, to find they have no working relationship with Kabul’s new masters, the Northern Alliance, let alone a semblance of leverage.

With every passing day, the Alliance attitude is hardening. Its interior minister Younis Qanooni has started believing that the Taliban had retreated not because of the US bombing but the courage of his forces, and that Professor Rabbani is still President. While the entry into Kabul had earlier been justified on the ground that the Alliance wanted to ensure law and order in the abandoned city. Alliance ministers have started occupying government offices, implying they intend to administer the country. How the Alliance conceives of the shape of things to come can be gauged from its Foreign Minister’s proposals. A broadbased interim administration will be set up, he says, after the Taliban are sorted out, which might take months or even longer. He sees a role for the UN only after the Afghan groups have reached an understanding between themselves, implying that the exercise would be conducted under Alliance auspices. The interim administration would then hold countrywide elections after two years. While the US gives priority to getting Osama and Al-Qaida, forming a government under Professor Rabbani seems the principal Alliance goal. Meanwhile the media is reporting killings and looting in Alliance-controlled areas. UNICEF relief convoys have been confiscated by Alliance commanders and Pushtun drivers killed. In the Pushtun South and East, chaotic conditions are being created by warlords trying to take over. The longer the situation is fluid, the greater the difficulties of those deciding, rather belatedly, to undertake nation-building.

One hopes General Musharraf will deal with the situation with realism and urgency. Continuing to harbour the illusions which have characterized our Afghan policy will be extremely harmful. Pakistan must resist the temptation to take sides in another country’s domestic politics, even if opportunities are available. The government has to interact with the US to make the latter fulfill its promise to keep Kabul demilitarized until a broadbased government is in place. The Alliance has to be convinced that it must tone down its anti-Pakistan rhetoric, and not overestimate its position. Just as it is now necessary for Pakistan to establish a good working relationship with whatever government takes over in Kabul, the Alliance and other Afghan factions must realise that friendly relations with its crucial neighbour are in their own interests.

- Editorial, The Nation, Lahore, November 16, 2001

World diplomacy is moving fast to ensure a neutral and broad-based government in Afghanistan in the wake of Kabul's fall. The Northern Alliance ignored the world community's wishes that it stay out of Kabul pending a final settlement. However, the United Nations and world capitals have made it abundantly clear that they consider the Alliance's occupation of the Afghan capital a transitory phenomenon. In Istanbul, after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, President Pervez Musharraf outlined his plan for a broad-based government: all forces should be withdrawn from Kabul, which should be declared a demilitarized city; there should be a UN force - drawn preferably from Muslim countries - and this should be followed by a consensus on a formula for giving the country a multi-ethnic government acceptable to all sections of Afghanistan's population. Similar calls for a consensual approach to government-making have come from Washington, London and other European Union capitals.

Mercifully, the Northern Alliance, too, has shown an awareness of the need for a consensus. As Abdullah Abdullah, its foreign minister, told a news conference, the Alliance forces were there to ensure security, and there would be no unilateral attempt to run the country. He invited other Afghan factions to come to Kabul for talks and remarked that an Afghan government could not be formed by "foreign forces." More welcome, however, was his remark that a UN presence was necessary. This means the Northern leadership would be willing to go by the five-point plan presented to the Security Council by Lakhdar Brahimi on Tuesday.

The essence of the UN plan lies in inviting the various Afghan factions to talks with a view to forming a provisional council, which will rule for at least two years at the end of which it would call a Loya Jirga to give the country a permanent government. Kofi Annan seemed to be aware of the need for moving fast when he urged the Security Council to take "urgent action" to prevent a political and security vacuum.

At the same time, while Colin Powell was calling for a UN force consisting of soldiers from Muslim countries, America's special envoy in Afghanistan, James Dobbins, was in Rome to meet the former Afghan monarch, Zahir Shah. This was in keeping with President Bush's remarks after his meeting with President Musharraf (when Kabul had not fallen yet) that the US wanted "a peaceful and stable" neighbour along Pakistan's western border, and this was possible only when "power arrangement is shared with the different tribes within Afghanistan." This means the entire world now stands for a government that would symbolize the plurality of Afghanistan's demographic reality.

One issue is where the representatives of different Afghan factions would meet. Qatar is said to be willing to play host to a meeting of the various Afghan factions and help facilitate a consensus among them on a broad-based, representative government for Afghanistan. However, other venues, too, can be considered. Where the meeting takes place is less important; what is more important is that all Afghans realize that in their hands lies the future of their country.

Their country has suffered so much over the last two decades that only a heartless warlord would quibble over petty matters. The country needs peace and reconstruction - besides the rehabilitation of millions of Afghan refugees who would like to return home when fighting ceases. One hopes all Afghan leaders and the outside powers helping them would move with speed to install a peacekeeping force in Kabul as a prelude to a lasting arrangement.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 15

The way the Taliban administration and its fighting militia, for it may not be proper to call it an army, disappeared from the scene, main Afghan cities including Kabul, without even a whimper, has surprised many. When the US started bombing in early October, the Taliban leadership had gone underground, and understandably so. But now it appears its military strength was more of an inflated balloon than real fire power with any policy, strategy or tactical depth. A deeper look at how it was created and sustained may provide more logical clues to its sudden collapse. It started off as a student movement in Kandahar controlling traffic. When military strategists in Pakistan and the West saw some potential of using its appeal against bitterly feuding warlords all over Afghanistan, these motivated students were armed, trained and physically supported to start capturing territory. The Afghan eagerness to strike deals helped them buy, force and conquer warlords and commanders and the movements started looking like a movement. The crucial administrative, economic, logistic and diplomatic support by Pakistan and ISI, made these students, with not even rudimentary knowledge of governance, polity or international diplomacy, look like a government in control. They were admirably propped up by seasoned civil and military officials, both active and retired, and they created and maintained the facade of a ruling functioning state.

Enter Osama Bin Ladin and his band of Arab mercenaries who were loitering around in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some Arab countries with nothing to do after the Soviet collapse. Some went to fight in Kashmir, as they could do nothing else but fight, anyone, anywhere, to make a living. Most remained and rallied around Osama and smoothly the Mulla Omar-Osama nexus became so strong and effective, the Taliban started feeling the need for distancing themselves from Pakistan and even defy Islamabad at times. At least this is what Osama and his men practically forced them to. Soaked with Osama's dollars and still backed by Pakistan against any military threat from their northern rivals, they also got into forays of human rights, women's rights abuses and spreading a very narrow brand of religious extremism all around. That was until September 11.

The world changed and so did Taliban's fate. Pakistan pulled out its support and that was one huge dent that Taliban could never recover from. Still they did not get the message. By this time their inner cadres and strength had dissipated so much, the leaders were isolated and living in their own mythical world of security in caves and hideouts. With the US carpet bombing, the rank and file just disappeared, as is evident from Mulla Omar's exhortations to his men to obey their commanders. Now they have gathered in Kandahar and its surroundings and it is just a question of when, probably any hour, any day that they are smoked out of their caves, as President Bush had initially promised.

These fighters are now going to spread out in droves, with weapons, to all neighbouring countries. Governments around Afghanistan have to gear up to this threat as it may take any shape, any dimension and any intensity. The raw religious students who left the madrassas in Pakistan five years ago are no longer immature, misguided children. They are now trained fighters who will roam around as headless chicken, as Mulla Omar himself put it in his desperate last message. Those who created the Taliban must now learn some hard lessons of such misadventures and prepare to "welcome" these chicken, coming home to roost.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, November 15, 2001

With the entry of the Northern Alliance forces into Kabul on Tuesday, the entire military and political situation in Afghanistan has undergone a total transformation. The northern and western provinces, including the cities of Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif having already fallen into the hands of the Alliance forces earlier, the fall of Kabul is a devastating blow to the Taliban.

In fact, the Taliban did not choose to fight. The Northern commanders ignored the restraint that was expected of them. They had been told by the US-led world coalition not to enter Kabul, for that would only complicate matters. While it is true that they fought the ground battle, they owed their easy victories to America's air offensive. Without America's carpet-bombing of the Taliban's front-lines, the Northern forces could not have achieved the easy victory they have won. The fault perhaps lay with Washington and Islamabad for being unrealistic: no victorious commander would deny him glory and halt before a capital city if it were ready to fall to him.

However, now that the Northerners' occupation of Kabul is a fact, Afghanistan's neighbours must obviously feel concerned about what lies in store for the Afghan people. The Northern Alliance is an entirely non-Pakhtoon grouping, while the Taliban are wholly made of the Pakhtoons. Thus, neither is in a position to give the country a stable government that would command support and allegiance all around and begin Afghanistan's post-war reconstruction.

Like the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, too, does not have a very enviable human rights record. In fact, their entry into Kabul last time was marked by widespread looting, plunder and summary executions. Given the fact that Kabul is a predominantly Pakhtoon city, its indefinite occupation by the Northern forces could produce a severe backlash from the Pakhtoons, not all of them necessarily pro-Taliban.

It is time the US-led world coalition acted with speed to avert what could turn out to be a recipe for disaster. On Monday in New York, the foreign ministers of the Six Plus Two Group issued a declaration, reaffirming support to UN Representative Lakhdar Brahimi's efforts for a broad-based government in Kabul. The declaration believed that the new government must also satisfy the urgings of the Afghan citizens, protect human rights, bring peace and stability to the country and the region and meet Afghanistan's international obligations, such as those relating to drugs.

It is obvious that a government which enjoys the support of all of Afghanistan's ethnic communities, can alone come up to the international community's expectations.The immediate need is to devise a mechanism whereby a neutral force could take over from the Northern Alliance forces and manage Kabul till a broad-based government is formed.

No such scheme exists at the moment, and if there is one, it has not been made public. But hints have appeared in the western press that a UN force drawn from some Muslim countries - Bangladesh and Turkey, for instance, - could be entrusted with the task of keeping peace pending the installation of a multi-ethnic and broad-based government.

With the military reverses suffered by the Taliban, there is also now a fair possibility that non-Taliban Pakhtoon leaders would be willing to play a role in the new set-up. Until now they were lying low out of fear. One hopes the Six Plus Two governments would now speed up consultations and develop a consensus on a new government. It must be realized that continued occupation of Kabul by the Northerners could only complicate matters and lead to terrible bloodshed.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 14

President General Pervez Musharraf's first meeting with US President George W Bush seems to have gone very well with Mr Bush promising one billion dollar in aid and conceding a major point by agreeing to stop the Northern Alliance from taking over Kabul from the Taliban. Whether the US will actually be able to physically apply the brakes if the Northern Alliance went on a roll and came close to taking over Kabul is highly doubtful as the basic flaw in the US strategy is that it is not using its own ground forces and will be depending totally on the strength of the Northern Alliance troops. Pakistan can sense that danger and no amount of sweet diplomatic words would be enough to change the ground situation.

According to any sane military strategist, if the enemy is on the run and about to fall or destroyed, the onslaught should never be stopped. General Musharraf, who himself is an army chief, knows it better than many. That would provide the Taliban an opportunity to regroup their forces, energise their ranks and put up stiff resistance. It is also not clear what arrangement would be made to dislodge the Taliban from Kabul, if Northern Alliance is not to enter the capital. The situation is fraught with serious consequences for Pakistan and President's Bush's promise should be taken with a pinch of salt as ground realities do not follow the high sounding diplomatic promises in cushy summit halls.

It was in this context that General Musharraf's suggestion to put in place a "fallback political strategy" to avoid a vacuum from developing in Kabul becomes critically important. Pakistan is understandably concerned about the manner of the transition of authority that will take place and has already made its position clear on the kind of government it would like to see take over in Afghanistan.

Besides this cause for serious concern for Pakistan, General Musharraf's has done otherwise well in New York. His address to the UN General Assembly was possibly the first effort by a Muslim leader to comprehensively deal with terrorism especially in the context of the mischievous attempt to link it to Islam. In correcting this flawed notion, he referred to the fact that the sufferers of most of the unresolved issues and those that have emerged in recent times due to political developments are Muslims, which gives a religious tinge to political disputes. An indifferent and at times unsympathetic world has contributed towards constructing a violent image of Muslims, although terrorism has no religion. The President specially mentioned Kashmir dispute and Palestine, both issues that have remained unresolved for over half a century by the UN. The President's prescription for eliminating terrorism was to strike at its roots by removing the political and economic grievances of the wronged people.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, November 12, 2001

As international criticism of the intensified US bombing of Afghanistan and its questionable utility is mounting, the US has also begun taking casualties with its somewhat woolly objectives appearing no closer to achievement. Thus, the tough talk by President Bush can be ascribed at least in part to offsetting the cumulative pressure. But, even so, its contents are dangerous. Addressing via a video-link the Central European leaders, corralled together in Warsaw, he likened the Al-Qaeda terrorists to the "fascists and totalitarians before them" and accused them of trying to impose "their radical views through threats and violence." The comparison is obviously hyperbolic. While violence is reprehensible, the half-baked ideas emanating from Osama Bin Laden presently find few takers and his capacity to impose these on any country, much less the world, is rather far fetched. Such over dramatisation by the President of the world's most powerful country can, thus, be counter-productive. In fact, if over worked, even the hitherto dreaded word "terrorist" could well lose its pungency as "fundamentalism" has done before it.

President Bush also cautioned the Warsaw gathering that the Al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear weapons and the US will not wait for it to succeed and cause more innocent deaths. Coming in the midst of the anthrax alarm in the US, for which also Al-Qaeda is being fingered even while conceding that no evidence regarding the origin of the germs has been unearthed, this threat of a preemptive nuclear strike becomes very ominous. There is, it needs to be recalled, still no credible evidence even to establish the existence outside Afghanistan of the supposedly omni-presence of Al-Qaeda. In fact, the US is having difficulty even in locating it within Afghanistan. Neither is there evidence of its quest for weapons of mass destruction. Yet, the threats of a preemptive nuclear strike are being hurled freely.

As stressed earlier, this is too horrendous an option to even be considered. Apart from the destruction it would cause, in the currently charged atmosphere, the powerful symbolism of a nuclear or chemical strike against Muslims will cause ripples to turn into waves. Moreover, the US intelligence agencies, which have suddenly become so efficient as to forecast specific threats to the bridges in the Bay Area of San Francisco, were totally clueless about the catastrophe that struck the US on September 11. Much of what has been unearthed by them ever since is also unconvincing, forcing the US not to fulfill the promise of publishing a white-paper linking Al-Qaeda to the attacks on USA. The alarm about the nuclear ambitions of the alleged terrorists being put out by these very agencies could well be intended to deflect the calls for their own accountability.

It is, therefore, essential for the US leadership to tone down the scary rhetoric to let normalcy return to the US and indeed to the world at large. The impression of lashing out in desperate anger will only blur the focus on specific and known terrorists. Just as innocent people must not die in the US, they must also not die elsewhere. Otherwise, the entire effort against terrorism would backfire.

-- Editorial, The News, November 8

Ever since the air strikes against Afghanistan began, parties opposed to the government's policy of support for the action have been staging rallies regularly. The opposition to the air strikes is not confined to the religious parties alone; many non-religious parties and groups have also held demonstrations and staged marches to voice their opposition to the Anglo-American air strikes.

Barring some exceptions, most of these rallies have been quite peaceful. Certainly, every party has the right to express its views on such a vital question as Pakistan's decision to go along with the US-led world coalition against terrorism. Initially, the rallies were quite emotional and violent. For instance, three people were killed in Quetta, and in Karachi, too, there were cases of arson and attacks on property. Since then, things have definitely been relatively quiet. This goes to the credit of both the government and the parties holding anti-war rallies.

However, one fails to understand the reason behind the call for a countrywide "wheel-jam" strike next Friday. In addition, there is to be a sit-in at Islamabad for a number of days. It is not clear what purpose would be served by this form of protest.

Blocking traffic and forcing a closure for long periods cause inconvenience to the public, and it is the national economy that suffers. When overdone, it is the parties behind such strikes and sit-ins which invite the suffering public's opprobrium. That the religious parties should adopt this tactic is indeed unfortunate.

Religious leaders are supposed to counsel patience and tolerance and teach their followers how to press a point peacefully and without bringing life to a grinding halt and without causing widespread disruptions. While one hopes that the government would use tact, restraint and persuasion to end the sit-in and keep the traffic going, the parties giving such a call should reconsider the matter in the interest of public peace and order. Inconveniencing the people at large and, in some cases, tormenting them in cases where there is a medical emergency are a bad strategy for serving any cause.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 7

One must take with a pinch of salt the US defence secretary's claim that the military campaign in Afghanistan is making "measurable progress." Talking to newsmen in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld referred to a three-phase operation against the Taliban, the first focused on the Taliban's air defences, the second on their broader military infrastructure, and the third on the Taliban forces facing the Northern Alliance. The plan was conceived this way, he said, because America did not have any ground troops in Afghanistan, "and we do have now some." Yet, going by the situation on the ground, it appears difficult to accept Secretary Rumsfeld's claim that the campaign is making "measurable progress".

Today, the US completes its fourth week of incessant air strikes against Afghanistan. While it is true that the Pentagon has not yet unleashed all the offensive power at its command, its bombing has, nevertheless, been very heavy and lethal. Considerable damage has been done to the Taliban's command and control systems - such as they have - and their military capability must have been badly mauled.

Nevertheless, their infantry is intact, and there is no indication yet that the Taliban in any way feel shaken or demoralized. In fact, by resisting the American onslaughts and by beating back several Northern Alliance attacks, they have thrown into doubt many of the possibilities and outcomes which the US-led allies had taken for granted.

When the aerial strikes began on Oct 7, it was assumed that it would be too much for the Taliban to stand the superpower's air strikes; that either they would sue for peace or there would be defections in their ranks - if not in days then in weeks. In the latter case, a non-Taliban Pakhtoon leadership would be in place which would fill the vacuum once the military campaign was over. However, nothing of the sort has happened. The Taliban leadership has not panicked, and there is not even the remotest of indications that large-scale defections are about to weaken their ranks.

One wonders whether the original aim of the war has been allowed to be blurred. The aim of the war was to capture Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept 11 bombing, destroy his al-Qaeda network, and punish the Taliban for harbouring terrorists. It seems punishing the Taliban by bombing has overshadowed the other two aims.

It is another matter, though, that the aerial strikes have served less to punish the Taliban and more to cause heavy civilian casualties. In a way, the continued bombing has helped the Taliban, because large sections of opinion in the world, including the West, are calling for a halt to the bombing. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, too, has pleaded for an end to the bombing so that relief goods could reach the Afghan people.

The truth is that the intensity of air strikes has not been matched by any initiative on the political front. Last month's moot at Peshawar bore no fruit, and the proposed assembly of various Afghan factions in Turkey has been delayed. Also, for some reason, the move to present Zahir Shah as a unifying force has failed to attract much attention. This makes the continuation of the air strikes an end in itself. No sane mind would accept this. It is time the American strategists focused on the war aims rather than on a continuation of air strikes with their concomitant collateral damage. The Taliban are firmly in control, and the Pentagon and the state department seem to be groping in the dark to discover a focused strategy for achieving the war aims against a country already in ruins.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 4

With the Anglo-American air strikes on Afghanistan having entered the fourth week, there is no evidence yet that the world coalition is anywhere near realizing its war aims. Both militarily and politically, the air strikes have failed to yield results.

While it may be argued that three weeks are too short a period in which to expect results in a country of Afghanistan's territorial and organizational disposition, one would have expected at least some visible progress in that direction.

The lethality of American weapons and their firepower cannot be doubted. Still, they have failed to make the Taliban bend. In fact, the Taliban remain as defiant as ever. It is, of course, obvious that the air strikes have "eviscerated" the Taliban's command and control centres, crippled their communication system, and destroyed or damaged their ammunition depots and fuel dumps. Nevertheless, the Taliban's ground forces are fully intact and ready to give battle if and when the ground war begins.

However, apart from the acknowledged fact of the landing of a certain number of commandos in the northern part of Afghanistan, there is no evidence yet that the Anglo-Americans are anywhere close to beginning a major land operation.

Politically, the US-led allies seem to be groping in the dark. With the Taliban still in control, no alternative government is conceivable at this stage, and the formation of a broad-based government has run into serious trouble.

The Peshawar moot, organized by Syed Pir Ahmad Gilani, was boycotted by the Northern Alliance, and King Zahir Shah did not send his representatives to participate. This means the holding of the Loya Jirga is nowhere in sight. The silence with which the summary trial and execution of Commander Abdul Haq has been treated on all sides speaks volumes about the world coalition's total inability to comprehend, much less influence, the intricacies of Afghanistan's tribal politics.

In the midst of all this, the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan is assuming catastrophic proportions. The bombings are interfering with UN relief work, and supplies cannot be taken to the hungry. Their number is in millions. No wonder, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for a halt to the military operations, especially the air strikes so "that we can begin to move in our supplies."

To the world, including large segments in the West, the air strikes now seem useless. All they are doing at the moment is to increase the civilian death toll, since very few of the Taliban military installations are left to be destroyed. Clearly, the ground operations should have begun long ago.

Air strikes alone cannot defeat an enemy; ultimately, it is the infantry that must occupy and hold, making it possible for the real objective of the operation to be pursued, namely the capture of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda operatives who are supposed to be behind the September 11 carnage in New York and Washington.

Action against the Taliban is justifiable only to the extent of their culpability as protectors and harbourers of bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network. Washington also does not seem to realize that a continuation of air strikes with their concomitant "collateral damage" is making the task of the world coalition's Muslim members difficult. The more the civilians get killed, the greater becomes the difficulty for Muslim governments to explain their policies to their people. At any rate, with no significant military obstacle to remove and the holy month of fasting only a fortnight away, the aerial strikes must come to an end soon.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, November 2

Has the supercharged US military-intelligence machine got bogged down in Afghanistan? Despite the bombs and high-gadgetry homing devices poured over Afghanistan, the "tenacious" Taliban seem unrepentant. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden has gone underground, literally, but not before threatening to ignite the ground under the feet of the "aggressors". Americans are therefore bracing for another terrorist attack.

Critics argue that the American carrot-stick strategy of trying to bomb and bribe the Taliban has failed to bear fruit. Further evidence of failure relates to the CIA’s botched attempt to stir rebellion against the Taliban via commander Abdul Haq who was armed only with satchels full of greenbacks before he was betrayed, captured and executed. It is therefore concluded that this war or campaign is going to be a long and nasty one, with some people apprehensive about a right-wing military coup against General Pervez Musharraf. Leading this pack is the irrepressible American journalist Seymour Hersh who says that special American troops are rehearsing how to "take out" Pakistan’s nuclear programme should General Pervez Musharraf be ousted from power.

Like many others, General Musharraf had hoped that the American military campaign would be short, swift and sharp, leading to the installation of a friendly broad based government in Kabul before public opinion turned irrevocably hostile in Pakistan. But this hasn’t happened. In fact, local religious parties have swelled their ranks and are flexing for a showdown with the government, with a few actually trying to subvert the army. This has prompted General Musharraf to sweep the decks and bring moderate and pragmatic army officers into positions of responsibility in place of the more ideological or politically ambitious ones who originally installed him in power. The prospect of a longer than anticipated war with rising "collateral damage" (what a callous phrase!) and an attendant popular backlash in the country has also fueled speculation that he might seek to mend fences with certain politicians in the national interest of Pakistan.

But General Musharraf is reasonably sanguine that he has taken the right decision and the storm will pass. He is hoping for positive results in Afghanistan even as he digs in for a longer haul. Is his guarded optimism justified?

As everyone knows, two salient facts stand out about the American campaign against OBL, Al Qaeda and the Taliban so far. First, the Americans have said from Day-One that this is the beginning of a multi-faceted and prolonged war against Al-Qaeda and its ilk. So if there are any qualms about the lack of progress until now, people should be patient. Second, the Americans have merely tried to "soften" up the Taliban rather than seriously finishing them off. They are concentrating on knocking out the Taliban’s logistical support and heavy weapons instead of indiscriminately carpet-bombing their troop concentrations. There are two reasons for this: the Taliban’s heavy armour and logistical bases must be knocked out before the Americans can establish a couple of secure bridgeheads for "boots on ground" and intelligence operations; and the NA has to be kept at arms length from Kabul until a broad based government acceptable to Pakistan and the rest of the regional players has been cobbled and installed in the capital. What are the prospects of that happening soon?

Pro-Taliban commentators say the Taliban will never surrender to the Americans. But might they not switch in sufficient numbers if the conditions were right? General Musharraf’s rather coy remark recently of impending switches and defections among the Taliban should not be ignored. Perhaps the hiatus in the war provided by Ramadan will be a cover for achieving this objective. Voices in the American establishment are already saying that Washington may have missed the import of the Taliban’s early statements suggesting that they would have no serious objections if the Americans could "take out" their honourable guest without direct reference to them.

A couple of days ago some American soldiers and advisers were attached to contingents of the NA facing Mazhar i Sharif. This significant development suggests that further pressure will be brought to bear on the Taliban’s front lines by a targeted dose of carpet-bombing while propelling the NA’s ragtag army into effective military action. Equally critically, the presence of the Americans is meant to make sure that the NA’s troops do not commit atrocities after they capture the city. The same sort of pressure on the Taliban and restraint on the NA may be evident along the Kabul front in weeks to come. In fact, the Americans may be preparing the ground to hold the NA in check while readying a UN sponsored military force to occupy Kabul as soon as possible.

Fortunately, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are still much less than originally anticipated. But these will surely mount as the war is extended. Islamic passions are bound to be further inflamed. That is why the Americans and Pakistanis must extract maximum mileage from the onset of Ramadan. The sooner the political essence and organisational structure of a new government in Kabul is agreed upon between the contending powers, a roadmap, as it were, the quicker the Taliban can be swept aside and the bombing brought to an end.

-- Editorial, The Friday Times, November 1

In two separate yet related incidents of law and order lies the greatest challenge to the authority of the state: the gathering of thousands of jihadi volunteers on the Durand Line wishing to cross over into Afghanistan to fight along side the Taliban, and the blockade of the Karakoram Highway by religious zealots in the Kohistan district.

Both incidents have rightly caused anxiety and concern in Islamabad, especially as innocent young men are being forced into conscription of sorts, or incited to violence, by a band of bigoted zealots who only represent a marginal fringe of society. Yet, these incidents are a dangerous reminder that it takes only a few thousand defiant and determined people to hold a nation of 140 million hostage to their whims and caprices.

The two acts in question are anything but rational - much less guided by an enlightened spirit of religious commitment. Clearly, if the government has to take action to disperse the jihadis camping on the Pak-Afghan border or those blocking the KKH, the onus of any ensuing violence will lie squarely on those who have incited and set these people on such a course of action.

It is indeed deplorable that the sponsors of such defiant acts should choose to hide behind the mask of religion. For the millions comprising Pakistan's Muslim majority, this certainly is not the face of religion they would like to identify with. Many will indeed argue that Islam is being presented in a wrong light by these acts of zealotry.

The so-called leaders who have incited the young and simple mountain people to embark on this dangerous course of action, must be held accountable. What is it if not an act of terrorism to send thousands of young armed men to block a highway or to cross over into the war zone of Afghanistan? The government must do all it can to tackle the two situations firmly but as tactfully as possible.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 30

The US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld's hint that nuclear weapons may be used in Afghanistan to overcome Taliban resistance is an irreprehensible idea that should not have even been considered. In an interview with CNN the American leader talked about a plan for using 'small' nuclear weapons if the strategy to drop 5,000 lbs bombs did not produce the desired results. He did not specify what he meant by 'small' nuclear weapons, but this is immaterial as the use of nuclear weapons whether small or big are weapons that will push the world a few steps closer to doomsday.

The conflict in Afghanistan which has been upgraded from a clash between unequal opponents into a war by deploying high tech weaponry and twenty first century military strategy, specially should not even be treated as an ideal theatre for utilising nuclear weapons. As it is the unending bombing has already caused more damage than what can be sustained by the ill-starred state, nuclear weapons will all but totally annihilate it. Although Mr Rumsfeld did not mention what impact the nuclear weapons could produce, there can be no doubt that high on the list of the kinds of effect these weapons will have, will be the count of the level of radiation that will be produced.

Pakistan foreign office rightly voiced the national reaction when it said 'We firmly and categorically reject even the thought of using nuclear weapons tactically or otherwise.' There could be no other way of looking at a proposal that could force the anti-terrorism coalition members to reconsider their support. Fighting the human form of terrorism with conventional weapons might be an acceptable option in the difficult circumstances, but injecting an element of nuclear warfare into a conflict that is already producing too much death and misery is unconscionable. Neither the Pakistan government nor the people will be able to acquiesce to such an idea.

The Bush administration would do well to immediately contradict the Rumsfeld proposal as it could have serious political repercussions on the member states. It will be difficult for the governments to contain the strong emotions the idea could arouse not only because of its terrible effect on the Afghans but its likely fall out on neighbouring states.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 30

The capture and execution of Commander Abdul Haq by the Taliban indicates that the United States is investing in the expertise of former mujahideen warlords to help in attaining its miscellaneous objectives in Afghanistan. This might be considered an appropriate policy in an effort to build a credible Pashtoon anti-Taliban alliance with whatever manpower was available, but there is no certainty it will succeed, although President Pervez Musharraf has come out with the strong opinion that Commander Haq's death would not damage the efforts to put together a broad-based government of Afghans. It appears too much is being put in store by relying on warriors of yesteryears whose 'success' was achieved only by the quirk of political history, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Afghanistan was abandoned.

The next phase of the struggle demonstrated the mujahideen leaders at their best when they ruthlessly fought among themselves over the spoils of war. This was the worst period which witnessed the most lawlessness, death and destruction. The last phase involved foreign intervention, regrouping among the squabbling warlords and the emergence of two identifiable opponents - the victorious Taliban and the northern alliance tenaciously holding onto a small slice. Commander Abdul Haq was allied with the latter. The Americans now intend to use the services of these 'key' mujahideen guerrilla leaders to pull its chestnuts out of the fire.

The exact circumstances in which the former commander secretly slipped into the Taliban hinterland are not known, but his loss comments poorly on the strategy and intelligence of the anti-terrorism coalition. It is difficult to see how the efforts to incite anti-Taliban revolts in various areas will take off when the guerrilla groups tend have a short shelf life. The fairly obvious reluctance of the two leading coalition partners - US and UK - to deploy their forces in combat roles will discourage their Afghan supporters from doing likewise.

In spite of President Bush's declaration that the Americans are reconciled to accept losses there appears to be no move to initiate ground action. The extensive and now totally aimless bombing of Afghanistan by the coalition forces with heavy collateral damage is not troubling the Taliban, only leading to longer protest processions in foreign countries. But what was specially bizarre was the decision to change the target from Bin Laden to the Taliban three weeks into the operation, shaking the faith of other coalition members in American leadership. Evidently the Vietnam experience still heavily influences American ability to translate commitment into practice. Afghanistan with its history of successful resistance against foreign invaders must be only strengthening that reluctance.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 28

Going by the number of resolutions passed and the size of the assemblage, the two-day convention of some 1,500 Afghan elders, tribal leaders, mujahideen commanders and notables at Peshawar can be taken to have been a notable success, but it was not, for the simple reason that it was ill-timed. What is more, despite the sizeable attendance, the meeting lacked a representative character which alone could have invested its proceedings with the force of a worthy lead to the future political dispensation in Afghanistan. Barring that, the convention went through the usual motions of debates, discussions and consensus-building. As expected, the resolutions passed at the meeting cover a wide range of issues concerning Afghanistan and understandably focus on the need for accelerating the political process for tackling the Afghan situation.

One resolution correctly points out that the Anglo-American military action may result in the fall of the Taliban regime, thereby creating a political vacuum which may lead to further anarchy and violence. For that reason, the convention appealed to Afghan factions to stop fighting and called upon the US and its allies to halt the military operation in order to pave the way for a political solution. Organized by the Assembly for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan (Apnau), the convention sought the help of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Conference in convening a Loya Jirga to help produce a truly representative future government for Afghanistan. It also asked former king Zahir Shah and other "moderate" leaders to play their due role in a post-war Afghanistan.

It now remains to be seen what impact the Peshawar proceedings have on the elements and sections of opinion that matter. As noted earlier, a basic limiting factor is that the convention did not have a truly representative character. None from the Northern Alliance was there, nor anyone from among the "moderate Taliban." More important, Zahir Shah did not choose to send his representative to the conference. This makes Apnau's claim to be a representative gathering of the Afghan people unrealistic. In fact, one of Zahir Shah's unnamed supporters, now in Quetta, termed the Peshawar gathering as a meeting of "fundamentalists and terrorists." In view of this, one wonders what practical purpose the convention served in relation to the objectives outlined in its resolutions.

It is significant that the US had tried to discourage the holding of such a convention. As Colin Powell informed a House committee, Pakistani officials had been told that such a meeting would not be wise at this stage. On the other hand, he pointed out that a more important Afghan meeting was to take place in Istanbul, and that it was to be attended, among others, by the representatives of the Northern Alliance. In fact, one reason for America's reservations about the convention was the absence of any Northern Alliance representatives at Peshawar.

It is time Pakistan realized the hazards of trying to unduly influence the course of events in Afghanistan or the process of government formation there. Ultimately, only a government which enjoys the support of all major sections of the Afghans themselves will prove viable. This presupposes a consensus not only among all Afghan factions but also among Afghanistan's neighbours. So far, very little has been achieved in this direction. A prolongation of the military operation without a concurrent political effort is hardly likely to bring peace to Afghanistan or end the miseries of its people. Wisdom demands that Pakistan should monitor the Istanbul moot carefully and coordinate its efforts with Turkey with the common objective of giving Afghanistan a truly broad-based and neutral government that could fill the post-Taliban vacuum, ensure peace and initiate the process of reconstruction.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 27, 2001

Having killed and maimed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Afghan civilians and caused dislocation and unimaginable misery to many more, and while continuing with the increasingly indefensible bombing campaign, US officials have all but knocked the bottom out of their avowed policy in Afghanistan. The top US priority was to get Osama Bin Laden ('dead or alive'), eliminate his Al-Qaeda network and demolish the terrorist camps. Removal of the Taliban was added on when the militia refused to hand over Bin Laden without first seeing reliable evidence.

Now US defence secretary Rumsfeld, the ultra-hawk leading the US charge, tells us that Bin Laden may never be found! America's Enemy No 1, he said, has there sources to disappear among his many supporters in many countries. How has this wisdom now dawned on the Pentagon wizards? Did they expect him to be sitting atop a mountain, waving to the first smart-bomb? Why was the indiscriminate bombing started without first gathering reliable intelligence? Or, is there substance in the view that Bin Laden is only a pretext and the US, in fact, seeks a pliable regime in Afghanistan and a permanent presence in oil-rich Central Asia?

To confound the confusion, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem of the US military operations directorate informed the press that the so called Al-Qaeda network would continue to work even if Bin Laden was "gone tomorrow." Why, then, is the US destroying Afghanistan? How will the civilian carnage help its strategic interests, whatever these may be? Unless the Rumsfeld bombshell is intended to throw Bin Laden off guard, which seems unlikely, it has made it very difficult for US-supporters to answer these questions and to defend its blood-soaked Afghan campaign. It must also add to the discomfiture of US allies, like Pakistan, where the mounting death toll in Afghanistan could rapidly erode public acceptance for the bombing campaign.

On top of that, the US is beginning to admit that the Taliban are proving to be harder nuts to crack than anticipated. They have neither been cowed by the daily doses of bombs nor bought off by the money-bags that must be going around. In fact they have sent a chilling and stunning message to all pro-Zahir Shah activists by the summary execution of one of the opposition leaders, Commander Maulvi Abdul Haq, who ventured into Afghanistan seeking defectors in Taliban ranks. All this makes a mockery of those entrusted with the task of crafting a post-Taliban outfit for Afghanistan. As the Zahir Shah-sponsored Loya Jirga waxes and wanes, the US is obviously finding it difficult to juggle the conflicting interests and changing positions not only of the Afghan factions but also of its neighbours and regional powers. The UN representative, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, will surprise many by conjuring up a consensus. There simply are too many fingers groping for the Afghan pie and beyond. Understandably, therefore, the US leadership is covering its political flanks by preparing the Americans for an indefinite war. But this puts it at odds with frontline allies like Pakistan which cannot sustain the heat if civilians continue to die in Afghanistan. Secretary Rumsfeld's confession, thus, becomes a vote for a timeout to rethink US tactics and strategy in Afghanistan.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 27

Islamabad has done well to ask the Taliban government not to allow or encourage Pakistanis to join the Afghan forces or acquire training there. This has come in the wake of reports that a number of Pakistanis had been killed in the American air strikes. While the Foreign Office's advice to the Taliban government is welcome, one must ponder the reasons why the situation has reached a point where the concern on this score has to be taken up officially with Kabul. Basically, things have come to this pass over a period of more than two decades, which have seen a gradual erosion of state authority vis-a-vis the activities of elements operating across the Durand Line. This state of affairs proved to be of advantage to the militant parties and groups which had played a key role in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

An additional factor in that context was the overwhelming US interest in seeing the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the massive pressure, prodding and material help it pressed into achieving this objective. In the process many lines of distinction and differentiation between state authority and the diverse elements drawn into that conflict got blurred and many others ignored. In any case, it was a zero-sum game, and the ultimate loser has been state authority vis-a-vis religious militants. Helping the people of Afghanistan in their freedom struggle was one thing; letting some religious organizations run the show themselves quite another.

The man who created this frankenstein was Ziaul Haq. He let them open training camps and recruit Pakistanis for the 'holy war' against the Soviet Union without realizing that one day these groups and organizations would become a government within a government. As time passed and the military dictatorship gave way to democratic regimes, the militant outfits went completely out of government control.

In fact, at one stage, some religious parties were running their own Afghan policies and were in a position to defy the government because of the strength and self-righteous spirit and approach of their militias. Whatever little bit of sanity was left in our Afghan policy ended when some intelligence agencies became deeply involved in the Afghan civil war and began encouraging madrassah students to drive out the warring Mujahideen factions in Afghanistan and capture power themselves.

Since then, encouraged by the Taliban victories in Afghanistan, jihadi organizations in Pakistan have attempted to assert their power. This showed in the display of arms, in arming the students of the madrassahs and in using them as militias to browbeat opponents and defy the law enforcement agencies. They also openly collected funds for the Taliban, ran training camps and recruited Pakistani youths to fight the Taliban's war against the Northern Alliance. While doing this they cared little for what the government of the day thought, said or did.

In the present situation, too, Pakistani volunteers have continued to cross into Afghanistan. Obviously, the situation cannot be reversed immediately, especially at this time when emotions are running high over the happenings in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the government has taken some sensible steps and their effect is already visible. For instance, the anti-government rallies have been - barring some exceptions - quite peaceful.

Similarly, arms are no more on display at the rallies. This gradual assertion of governmental authority and the process of reining in the militias should continue. Some of the religious parties involved in the anti-Soviet war may be quite well-meaning, but many of them have tasted the heady brew of street power and on occasions feel strong enough to defy the government's writ.

Faced with such tendencies and the possibilities that they portend in certain configurations of factors and circumstances critically affecting the state of civil society and rule of law, the government has perforce to act and assert its authority. It is a difficult task, but no one should be allowed to entertain the notion that he was above the law and that it is the writ of the government that shall prevail.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 26, 2001

Proposals for a broad-based Afghan government in the post-Taliban period are being made left, right and centre. There was an assemblage of some Afghan notables in Peshawar the other day that was meant to pave the way for ex-King Zahir Shah to help unite and preserve Afghanistan. This meeting was notable for who did not attend rather than who did. Even representatives of the ex-king were not there.

The foreigners are not lacking in enthusiasm for pitching in with their own ideas. That these reflect the larger purpose of each power goes without saying. However, US secretary of state Colin Powell has made it quite clear that the next government of Afghanistan cannot be dictated into existence by Pakistan or any of the other neighbours. He has told a Congressional Committee that the new government has to come into existence because of the will of the Afghan people, the deposed king has a role to play, and the Loya Jirga will have a role to play in due course.

Mr Powell conceded that Pakistan has more than a passing interest in what that government might look like, because it is so proximate to it and has to bear the burden of a couple of million Afghans in Pakistani refugee camps. According to Mr Powell, President Pervez Musharraf recognises that he cannot and Pakistan cannot do it the way it was done in the past. It has to be an internationally blessed process, and it has to involve the UN and involve all the Afghan people, not just who they might favour at a particular moment to put into power in Kabul.

Dignitaries from the UK and other foreign countries are arriving in Islamabad in fairly large numbers carrying their own proposals. Among them are the Turks, the Saudis, the UN and many others. That makes for the danger of confusion being confounded.

Doubtless Pakistanis have their own interests because they are the closest neighbours of Afghanistan with far too many commonalties, including divided tribes and families straddling the frontier. Shorn of verbiage, Islamabad would now like a part of the next Afghan government to include some 'moderate' Taliban, representing the Pashtoons. Americans and British have verbally conceded this 'right'.

It might tie up with some of their purposes, though it is being made to appear as if a favour was being done to Pakistan, despite the expression being used: 'Pakistan has a legitimate interest in the new government.' In the plethora of interests by other powers, hard facts need to remain in focus: First, the decisive say shall remain with the US and secondly, US will make any concession, only if it serves its larger interest. In this second category are included the rights of the Afghans themselves.

The Chinese have perhaps made the best suggestion, that the Afghans be granted the right of self-determination. For all democrats, this is unexceptionable. But it clearly involves the primacy to the Afghans and their perception of their own interests--if only these can be satisfactorily ascertained--over everyone else's strategic and other purposes. Suggesting primacy to the ideas and purposes of the Afghans by outsiders is one thing and what the military victors--or those who perceive themselves as the victors--do is quite another. Wars are generally all about subordinating the interests of the vanquished to those of the victors. Would this war be an exception to this rule only coming events will show.

There is almost a global consensus that the war against both terrorism, and specifically Taliban's Afghanistan, be conducted under the UN leadership, the assumption being that the UN would at least be one step removed from purely American political and strategic purposes. Ideally the UN should have been a democratic organisation that it is not, because it happens to have become a handmaiden to chiefly the US interests. But the world has to deal with what it has, relying mainly on international opinion. The US seems to have accepted some of the commonly suggested notions of an international peace force under UN banner, comprising only Third World Muslim countries like Turkey and Bangladesh.

This is good insofar as it goes. Finally, everything will depend on the small print that will eventually determine the overall objectives that these troops will be required to achieve. Which is where international opinion again comes in to influence the US purposes for accommodating as much of the Afghans' self determination right as possible. This is the only hope.

- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 26

Amid apprehensions that the US is losing its way in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials remain adamant that their bombing campaign is going according to the plan. This is obviously not true because causing a civilian carnage cannot be a part of the US game plan. Yet, according to news reports, the civilian death toll has already crossed the thousand mark. The US officials continue to declare the Taliban claims as "outright lies" and later, while disputing the number of dead but without giving any alternate body count, blame the bloodbath on "stray bombs." "Regrets" are also offered.

Unfortunately, too many deadly "errors" have occurred in less than three weeks of bombing to be swept aside so easily. The ICRC and UN's de-mining offices were hit in Kabul early on. Then an entire Khouran village near Jalalabad was wiped out, at the alleged cost of nearly 200 mostly women, children and old men. Now other villages near Kandahar are reported to have been blasted, killing over a hundred people and wounding others. In addition, one hundred patients, doctors, paramedics, etc are said to have died when a hospital near Herat was struck. After the initial denial, the Pentagon manufactured the bizarre explanation that a stray bomb, which fell in a field, "may have" struck an "old people's home." Anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan would know that it has never had any such "homes." Outlandish explanations like this not only erode US credibility but also make people in this part of the world wonder whether America's gung-ho warriors know anything at all about the country and the society they are demolishing and planning to build anew.

There being few independent sources of information, the exact number of civilian dead and wounded may be less or more. But this number crunching cannot obfuscate the hard fact that the human cost of the bombing is becoming unbearable. For the US officials to say that they are not targeting civilians does not diminish the tragic fact that they are dying, and in large numbers. The images of little bodies being wrapped in shrouds are leaving behind indelible emotional scars. And we cannot even begin to imagine the agony of those whose children they were. If the whole world's remorse and regrets could not lessen America's pain at the loss of innocent lives in New York and Washington DC, the callous regrets of US officials can certainly not diminish the pain of the Afghans.

The US bombing campaign is in deep trouble indeed. It is neither bringing the alleged terrorists to justice nor taking justice to them, as was vowed by President Bush. It is, instead, compounding the Afghans' misery by destroying their homes and the already meagre civic facilities. It is also killing far more civilians than the alleged terrorists. If it continues much longer, the US and UK will never be able to repair the emotional damage being suffered by the Afghans even if they rebuild their country and polity. And who knows how many young minds are being seared across the Muslim world by the unfolding Afghan tragedy?

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 25, 2001

One major question that must occupy the minds of the leading figures of the world coalition against terrorism is the kind of government a post-Taliban Afghanistan should have. Given the country's history in the wake of the Soviet pullout, the question assumes crucial importance and is directly related to the aim of the current military campaign against terrorism.

When the Soviets left, the victorious Mujahideen leaders failed to stick together and give Afghanistan peace and a stable government. Instead, the erstwhile Mujahideen leaders turned into feuding warlords, each fighting ferociously for his and his factional share of power and land. The resulting fratricide killed thousands of more civilians, ruined Afghan cities, worsened an already impoverished economy and forced hundreds of thousands of Afghans to seek shelter in Pakistan.

The emergence of the Taliban on the scene in the mid-nineties and their amazing military victories brought most of Afghanistan under their control, but the Northern Alliance, confined to a pocket, has till today continued its war on the Taliban. The result has been more misery for the Afghan people. A study of the causes of this fratricide is of direct relevance to the situation in the region now.

Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country. While the Pashtoons are the largest ethnic group, the minorities taken together form an overall majority. Under the royalty, the government was stable, because it gave representation to all of the country's ethnic groups. A major weakness of the Taliban regime is its predominantly Pashtoon character, for the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara groups are not represented in it. The result has been an unending civil war.

A foreign office spokesman in Islamabad has done well to make Pakistan's position on the issue clear. While Islamabad does have some reservations about the Northern Alliance, it has shown realism by affirming that a post-Taliban government must include some Alliance nominees.

Similarly, Pakistan made it clear that such a government should also have Taliban elements in it. More important, Islamabad pointed out the unwisdom of imposing a government from the outside. As history has shown, the Afghans will never accept a government in whose making they do not have a hand. For this reason, the convening of a Loya Jirga deserves the world coalition's attention. While it is not an elected forum, it is a grand assembly of tribal leaders.

Traditionally, a decision by a Loya Jirga has invariably been accepted by all sections of the Afghan people. In the situation now obtaining in Afghanistan, a Loya Jirga alone can play a decisive role in giving the country a stable government. Such a government will be the Afghan people's own and will command the loyalty and support it will need to restore peace and stability.

As Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan has a stake in the kind of dispensation Afghanistan will have after the military operations are over. In case there is instability or a continued civil war, Pakistan will invariably be drawn in - a prospect that Islamabad cannot view with equanimity. As a front-line state and as a vital member of the world coalition against terrorism, Pakistan must make its viewpoint on the issue clear to the United States and its principal allies. The good thing is that Washington has shown a proper understanding of Islamabad's concerns.

Without doubt, only a broad-based government representing all the ethnic communities can bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and start the task of post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 25, 2001

The high-level meeting held in Quetta on Saturday to reiterate the federal government's policy not to allow fresh Afghan refugees into Pakistan evidently was totally ignorant of the ground situation. Even as the provincial governor was chairing the meeting, it is quite likely that refugees could be pouring into the country, specially in Balochistan through the Chaman gateway. The print and electronic media almost daily carry reports of the unending human flood. The federal government has still to enunciate its policy on Afghan refugees in clear language, as different from the vague declarations that are not respected even by the government departments. The occasional random steps to close the gates at Torkham and Chaman to all fresh arrivals are not expected to last beyond the time it takes the UNHCR to set up new refugee camps and stock up provisions for the inflow at the doorway. The difficulties Pakistan faces are not only its commitment to uphold the various international conventions it has signed, but realisation of the humanitarian disaster in making on the other side of the border.

But, while Islamabad's compulsions are understandable, what also needs to be realised is that Balochistan, which seems to be receiving the bulk of the refugees, is in no position to bear the burden. It has still not fully recovered from the effects of the prolonged drought which translates into very limited water and other resources. Besides, unlike other provinces, Balochistan lacks sufficient infrastructure to cater to the needs of the new arrivals much less its own population. Encumbering the limited resources will only lead to making life more miserable for all.

Another issue that needs to be taken into consideration is that the delicate population ratio of various communities will be disturbed with serious consequences. Most of the Afghans who entered the province during the 1980s have shown no interest in returning to their country with the Taliban in power. Their numbers will swell with the fresh arrivals who will be even less inclined to go back to a country which has been pushed back at least two centuries in time. This definitely means upsetting the existing Baloch-Pashtun population ratio.

The centre apparently is unable to fully appreciate the physical and political problems the Afghan refugees create in the province. While the politicians remain sidelined, the existing set-up which comprises a governor and a clutch of civil and military bureaucrats cannot reflect the views, opinion and thinking of the locals which goes by default. The abject lack of raucous political opinion can be misread as popular support with the result that even well-meaning decisions can have an adverse impact.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 22, 2001

A resentful population and an unstable government in Afghanistan is Pakistan's worst nightmare. To obviate these, President Musharraf has been emphasising a brief and well-targeted bombing campaign and, simultaneously, a fast-track crafting of the political alternative. But the way things are shaping up, a relentless and sometimes wayward US-UK bombardment, mounting civilian casualties, an alarming humanitarian crisis and no sign of the "broad-based" alternative to the Taliban, Pakistan's nightmare may well come true. The latest shock was administered by Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, the newly re-appointed UN representative for Afghanistan. The UN Security Council is reported to have agreed with him that there is no quick-fix to the Afghan crisis, the UN should not rush in with its troops and administration and extreme care must be exercised in finding the "least bad" option for the unfortunate country. Mr Brahimi would prefer to bring the warring Afghan factions together to hammer out a solution and let the UN do whatever is then necessary in the light of their government.

Mr Brahimi has extensive experience of Afghanistan and his insight into the Afghan psyche cannot be faulted. History is witness that the Afghans will not accept an imposed solution. But, unfortunately, they are also notorious for not agreeing on one for themselves. The immediate question this raises is about the bombing campaign. The US seems confident that its continuation is necessary to degrade the Taliban's fighting capabilities. But with no political alternative in sight, it is not even willing to facilitate and advance by the opposition Northern Alliance. This dilemma is compounded by increasing international criticism of the bombing which has caused unimaginable misery to the Afghans. While the international relief agencies have called for a break in the bombing to let them deliver food supplies before winter snows close off distant villages, Muslim members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation have used the Shanghai meeting to call for an early end to the bombing. The misery of the Afghans is indeed fuelling resentment in the Muslim world, especially because the US has been unable to rein in Israel and to knock sense into India.

In addition to a welling popular resentment, Pakistan's precarious economy is hit by a slackening trade and an increasing Afghan influx. The annual loss is estimated at 10 billion dollars. Yet, the immense political and economic risks taken by the Pakistan government in supporting the anti-terrorism campaign have not found a commensurate quid pro quo. The US, European Union and Japan need to realise that what will turn the silent majority is whether a debt-write off is forthcoming or not. While better trade opportunities and loan rescheduling are important, to the people nothing less than a debt write-off will signal sincerity. If this does not come about, the government will find it very difficult to carry the people much longer. Meanwhile, the US-UK need to halt the bombing to let the relief agencies distribute food and medicines in Afghanistan. This moratorium can also be used for finalising the elusive political alternative

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 20, 2001

Musharraf’s battle to reshape Pakistan is a lonely one", says Time magazine. "No political party backs him: he has consistently poured scorn on the parties’ established leaders. His anti-corruption drive, his jailing of politicians for abuse of authority, his categorical statements that he wants to introduce a new political class at the expense of the old, have all alienated established politicos who see him only as a threat".

Time magazine is half right. General Musharraf is attempting to navigate "the toughest job in the world" at the moment without an effective political crew. But not all established politicos see him as a threat. For whatever it’s worth, the anti-Nawaz PML is clutching at his coattails. But its members are more anti-Nawaz than pro-Musharraf. They are also fractured and leaderless. Many are still too ideologically straitjacketed for comfort in the daring new dispensation. Nor have they risked their necks in publicly denouncing the Taliban and welcoming the international intervention in Afghanistan against extremist jihadi elements. In fact, all have dithered, demanding "evidence" of Osama bin Laden’s complicity in the September 11 attacks. And not one has stood up to admit that Osama bin Laden long ago confessed his enmity with America and vowed to wage jihad against " civilian and military targets in America".

The stunning exception is former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. She has not prevaricated or minced her words. Long before this crisis burst upon Pakistan, she was openly rebuking the Taliban and urging General Musharraf to change course in Afghanistan. Indeed, she is the one Pakistani politician who has braved public sentiment at home by openly calling Osama bin Laden a terrorist. Now she has lent unconditional support to General Musharraf and parted company with many colleagues in the ARD who are either sitting on the fence or openly condemning General Musharraf. She says she has put aside her personal predicament "in the national interest" – the Musharraf regime is seeking to oust her from politics, albeit unsuccessfully, while her husband has been in prison for five years without a conviction. Like her, General Musharraf has also risked his all for the sake of Pakistan. It may be recalled that when, in a meeting with senior editors last month, one self-righteous "guardian of Pakistan" advised him to "be a hero and defy America", General Musharraf shamed him into silence by saying he would rather be an anti-hero and save Pakistan.

Therefore much the same sort of reasoning should now nudge General Musharraf away from the "accountability policies" that have politically isolated him in the country. In fact, he should quickly build a viable political coalition in order to shield himself and his new policies from attack by misguided, confused, bigoted or vested interests.

The Friday Times remains fiercely opposed to corruption and abuse of power in government. It targeted former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto and paid a price for its principles. It is still stoutly pro-accountability. But there comes a time when the principal contradiction in the life of a country should be identified and resolved while shelving all other considerations. And that moment has arrived. The core contradiction today is not between corruption and accountability. It is not between dictatorship and democracy. It is between fundamentalist national isolation and liberal global outreach. And in this context, Ms Bhutto and the Peoples Party, despite their misdemeanours and misjudgments, are natural allies of General Musharraf. Therefore they should be politically rehabilitated as soon as possible in the national interest.

Of course, people will advise General Musharraf to spurn political alliances and go it alone, counting only on his army and new-found friends in the West. But that would be a grave mistake. Recall the exits of Sadaat of Egypt, Zia of Pakistan, Noriega of Panama, Pinochet of Chile, Suharto of Indonesia and countless other dictators who could not be "saved", or were abandoned, by the West when the chips at home were down. But there is a yet more compelling reason to play politics urgently.

In 1996, President Farooq Leghari sacked Bhutto and singled her out for accountability. Result: Nawaz Sharif obtained a two-thirds majority, got rid of Leghari and went berserk. In 1999, General Musharraf seized power and forced Sharif and Bhutto into exile. Result: political isolation at home. But general elections are within sight. If mainstream moderate politicians and parties are sidelined, a dangerous vacuum will be created. Pakistanis might then vent their rage at America by sweeping the fundamentalists and anti-West elements into office. Then the Pakistani army and its chief will find themselves in the same untenable situation as Algeria and Turkey without the will or inclination to act in a forceful and overtly secular manner. That would spell a greater national disaster than the disaster General Pervez Musharraf has just averted.

General Pervez Musharraf says elections will not be postponed. That is good because there is no alternative to democracy. But it would be heartening if he were to cobble an alliance with liberal, forward-looking politicians so that his daring and patriotic national initiatives can lead to a free and progressive Pakistan.

-- Editorial, The Friday Times, Lahore, October 19, 2001

The drama of unprovoked firing staged by the Indians across the LoC and the working boundary for the last two days in which one woman died carried a message, not for Pakistan but the US, that India had declared war on 'infiltrators' in Kashmir. At the same time the newly re-appointed Indian defence minister George Fernandes extended a strong warning that India will deal ruthlessly with 'infiltrators.' The shelling was understandably timed to coincide with US secretary of state Colin Powell's visit to the region. The first incident took place the moment the American leader stepped on Pakistani soil. The next when he reached India, the firing taking place in spite of US President Mr Bush's request to India and Pakistan to 'stand down' after the first occurrence.

While Pakistan has done well to send a clear message to India that no nonsense will be tolerated and has put its armed forces on high alert, it is not clear what Mr Colin Powell read in the shelling. But it is unlikely to divert his attention from his mission to the region to get the two quarrelling neighbours to focus their attention on Afghanistan. America can ill-afford the luxury of another serious collision in South Asia when it is already heavily involved on the periphery of the region. But this would not imply that the two incidents were staged in vain, as Delhi needed some sort of a platform to enunciate its position on its part of occupied Kashmir. The recent happenings, one of which was particularly condemnable has rocked the defence and security establishment raising calls for meaningful action.

Introducing an element of provocative conflict in the existing tension along the LoC and working boundary is evidently India's solution to the Kashmir dispute. But it is unlikely that such a prescription will do anything beyond pushing the two sides to a war-like situation. This is the moral provided from earlier occasions when local clashes were allowed to graduate into a virtual war. It is to be seen how far Delhi will go in the present complex international situation. It is not only Pakistan but also India which has meekly rallied to America's side in its "war against terrorism" and is expected to follow the rules till the "war" continues.

It would be better if India moved a little further than its present rigid position on Kashmir and opened a dialogue with Pakistan. As even sworn enemies are known to talk when the need arises, there is no reason why the two neighbours cannot meet again like they did at the Agra summit only a few months ago.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 18, 2001

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell came to Islamabad on Monday, negotiated with Pakistan government matters of mutual interest and went on to do the same in New Delhi on Tuesday. His main purpose was to strengthen the anti-Osama and anti-Taliban alliance that the US Administration has cobbled together. He had other subsidiary objectives in view as well.

Powell wanted and received a positive reply from President Pervez Musharraf on re-establishing Pakistan-America ties on a more permanent and stable footing. That will boost mutual cooperation. Military-to-military ties between them are to be restored. Pakistani military officers can again be trained in American military schools and training establishments. The US has always laid emphasis on training foreign military cadets and personnel in the US military institutions because many of them are expected to go on to play leading roles in the governance of their respective countries. Nationalistic cynics have made snide remarks that that sort of relationship enables the US undercover agencies to recruit useful moles and informers. Any way much else is a part of this: long held up military supplies might start flowing again; many, not all, sanctions will be, or are being, lifted and one can almost hear the inaudible and unsaid promise of military aid if, say things go on improving.

Powell dwelt on the need for shoring up Pakistan economy. He mentioned a specific figure of $393 million. He belied the much expected prediction that he would unfold an attractive aid package when the two delegations meet. But, apparently in a restrainedly positive frame of mind, he has promised that once back home he would ask the relevant departments and officials to examine what can the US do for Pakistan both directly and through the military agencies. In this context he showed he realised how serious is the burden of debts on Pakistan economy. They will seek to reduce it through more credits and debt rescheduling, though there was no mention of debt write-offs, which is the only real way of giving a breathing space to Pakistan economy to restart the engines of growth. This only shows the extreme caution with which the Americans are treating Pakistan. They would draw up the aid package after they consider Pakistan President's reply regarding their future ties. We hope the aid package will break some new ground because old aid packages, especially of 1980s have left a taste of sand in Pakistani mouths. The American dignitary also realised how serious is the refugee inflow in Pakistan and how necessary it is that the new, hopefully temporary, hosts are helped who are hard up themselves.

But it is on political questions that Pakistanis have been left guessing, the diplomatic nuances of the statements made apart. On the future set up of Afghanistan, Mr Powell, with practiced ease, had already laid down the limits of what his hosts need expect from him and what might be unrealistic to hope through a well-timed press briefing in his aeroplane that brought him to Islamabad on Monday evening. The US, Powell had authoritatively declared, has not given Pakistan or India a veto on what sort of next government for Afghanistan is to be. True to this policy, Powell did not commit himself on either some sanitised Taliban becoming a part of the new 'broad-based' government or whether the US will or will not militarily help the Northern Alliance to win. All this is the domain of the Boss (US); smaller fry (Pakistan) need not worry. But Mr Powell was eloquent about what a broad-based Afghan government should imply and verbally he seemed to concede what many wanted to hear. But alas! There was no commitment to any particular proposition.

Some Pakistanis are likely to become rapturous over President George W Bush's brusque ukase to India and Pakistan to "stand down in Kashmir" while the US is engaged in its "activities" in Afghanistan. Powell also said so many sweet things on Kashmir, including a resolution of the problem according to the wishes of the Kashmiris and that Kashmir was the central issue. His homilies on human rights could only touch the right chord in Pakistan hearts. But what precisely is Powell going to say in New Delhi?

Doubtless it is in US interest to see the military tensions in Kashmir subside and Pakistan and India resume their talks. These are the inherently dangerous implications of an old and bitter dispute between two nuclear powers. Doubtless, Powell will urge upon PM Vajpayee and a restored George Fernandes to cool it and not come in the way of the Bush campaign in Afghanistan. To what does all this amount? The US is after all an outside power that dare not offer mediation to New Delhi. The American concern about Kashmir subsides when it comes to annoying the Indian establishment. We see no reason why should Pakistanis go gaga on Powell's concerns about Kashmiris' human rights violations. Let them worry more about the limits, if any, of the real cooperation America desires and what will happen if Pakistanis were to extend it?

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 17, 2001

Monday was yet another day of shut down… This was a part of continuing protests against America's war over Afghanistan on a call of religious parties, some Jihadi organisations and the recently formed Defence of Afghanistan Council … in equal measure a protest against the Musharraf regime… To protest … is a valuable fundamental right. No government can be justified in cancelling or abridging it. Nor do we recommend … While the citizens' right to protest is sacred, its rational defence and the pre-conditions on which it can remain secure, need to be realised both by the citizens and the leaders.

… In Pakistan's shut downs, ordinary persons belonging to weaker sections suffer horribly. Don't the leaders know that Pakistan's rulers do not suffer as much embarrassment as they think? … Can't our leaders learn how protest marches and rallies are organised in democracies without undue losses or inconvenience to most people?

As usual there were incidents of unnecessary rowdiness… Both protestors and police show an undesirable tendency to violence at the slightest provocation. It is sad that there are so few 'hartals' and protests where tyres are not burnt on thoroughfares and police does not wield the stick.

This occasion required, from the viewpoint of those who mistakenly but passionately side with the Taliban, to register protest. But it is obvious that the distinguished visitor, in this case US Secretary of State Colin Powell, should get the full message without unbecoming disorder … We in Pakistan claim to be inheritors of an old civilisation… Representatives of foreign powers need to be extended a modicum of personal respect and citizens should convey the necessary messages regarding popular feelings on matters of high import. We do not recommend unnecessary obsequiousness or timidity. A spade must be called a spade. But, Pakistanis should not be seen as crude boors who, in the name of protest, bring out their baser instincts.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 16, 2001

America's rejection of the Taliban's offer to hand over Osama bin Laden to a third country is both hasty and abrupt … even more unfortunate is that Washington does not seem to have taken note of a definite shift in the Taliban policy on the Osama issue… [Reading] Taliban deputy leader's remarks [will help] … realize that a conciliatory approach is clearly visible there. The remarks, surprisingly, reflected a bit of nostalgia, for Maulvi Abdul Kabir asked Washington to remember the days when Afghanistan and the US were allies against Soviet occupation.

The offer … over Osama … also indicates a change in the Taliban's previous stand, which had restricted the handing over only to a Muslim country. In fact, in their latest policy pronouncement on the issue, the Taliban have not ruled out any possibility … Kabir said, "It can be negotiated provided the US gives us evidence that the Taliban are assured that the country (to which Osama would be turned over) is neutral and will not be influenced by the United States."

This is by no means an unfair demand where the question of justice is concerned. This naturally cannot be ensured in the prevailing atmosphere of hatred and prejudice in America... Yet, a White House spokeswoman … [said]: "The president has made it clear there will be no negotiations."

… if talks are not the recognized method of resolving a dispute or differences, what else is? This rigidity of approach is most unfortunate [especially] … since … the Taliban have resiled from their original position… Today, they are offering to hand over Osama to a third country not necessarily Muslim and also hold talks on this and other related issues. Why must, then, the US insist that Osama be handed over to it only? … a fair trial … will surely be served better in a country other than the US.

There is the example of the Lockerbie trial. After years of refusal to hand over the suspects to Britain, Libya finally agreed that the trial be held in a country other than Britain. Finally, the trial was held in Holland. It was a trial open to all, including the media, and the suspects were given a fair chance to defend themselves. Ultimately, they were convicted. The same process can be followed in Osama's case too.

Handing over Osama to the US runs the risk of the trial turning into a media circus. Besides, trials in America are conducted by a jury consisting of common citizens with no knowledge of law. Moreover, so much has been said and written against Osama that an American jury is unlikely to maintain the fairness and impartiality expected of it in a trial like this. Clearly, if America's aim is a fair and impartial trial, then in the given circumstances a country other than the US is the logical option for meeting the ends of justice.

The trial should be open, and, of course, the prosecutors would be Americans, because they alone are in possession of the evidence needed to establish culpability in the Twin Tower and Pentagon bombing cases. The third country would not necessarily provide judges; it would merely be the host. The judges could come from some other countries. For reasons of justice and fairness and to avoid further military action, the US would do well to reconsider its position on the offer made by the Taliban and make a positive response to it.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 16, 2001

Eight days after unleashing a relentless barrage of bombardment on Afghanistan, the US-led anti-terrorism coalition remains curiously silent about the number of casualties involved in these attacks … US spokesmen claim… not to have any reliable information. Most western television networks and news agencies have also failed to provide any reliable statistics, relying chiefly on Taliban sources for their information.

This virtual silence has been deeply unsettling for those seeking independent accounts … According to the Taliban, more than 250 civilians have so far lost their lives in the bombing …

As usual, US spokesmen denied all knowledge of any casualties during this particular {Jalalabad] raid, only stating that if any civilian deaths did occur they were accidental and regrettable. A categorical confirmation or denial, however, was not forthcoming. The Taliban, meanwhile, were able to gain political mileage out of the incident and accused the US and its allies of a callous attitude and of deliberately targeting civilians. The coalition needs to answer some pertinent questions about its policy of silence on this vital issue.

It is somewhat strange that with all its sophisticated know-how about the location of terrorist camps and hide-outs, the US is unable to assess the damage done by its raids. It cannot be unaware of the possibility that large civilian casualties could undermine the entire operation by alienating important sections of its painstakingly built coalition. Rather than encouraging the growing belief that they are engaged in a cover-up, it would be wiser if the US and its allies came clean about the precise number of casualties… The anti-terrorism coalition should realize that in the absence of hard news, wild rumours and speculation will fill the vacuum.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 15, 2001

Mr Vajpayee's threat that India intends to step up its offensive in occupied Kashmir … cannot but cause widespread concern … at Varanasi, the Indian prime minister said that an offensive might be launched after "considering all options." …

The Sept 11 carnage in the US has changed the world environment the way few incidents in recent times have. With evidence pointing to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda … the world community had hoped that the Taliban regime would turn over the suspects … However, the Taliban's refusal to do so has left the US-led world coalition with no option but to take military action. Pakistan, being Afghanistan's neighbour, is a key member of this world coalition against terrorism.

… Pakistan offered to cooperate fully with the international community for the fight against terrorism … to share intelligence with the US and Britain and to provide logistic support… This Pakistan did in spite of opposition from Islamist hardliners within the country… Apparently, India has been peeved by the fact that, while Pakistan is now the focus of world attention, India has been sidelined and ignored. The hurt seems to be deeper because, even before anyone had asked for it, India had offered logistic support to the US-led coalition.

India also seems frustrated over the world community's refusal to link Islamabad to the terrorist attacks in the US and to see a parallel between what happened in New York and Washington and what has been going on in Kashmir over the last eleven years or so. The Anglo-American leadership has clearly told the Indian leaders that whatever was going on in Afghanistan had nothing to do with the Kashmir issue. No wonder, then, that in desperation India should try to raise the level of violence in Kashmir to draw the world community's attention to its supposed plight … The world coalition will not allow India to divert its attention from the pursuit of the war… Whatever mischief India may do in Kashmir, it will not find any helpers. Besides, as a Foreign Office spokesman said on Thursday, Pakistan is ready to face any situation and repulse aggression. One hopes New Delhi would not attempt any mischief while Islamabad and the world community are engaged in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 13, 2001

… In a joint statement issued on Wednesday at Doha, the foreign ministers of the OIC… came out strongly against a possible expansion of the current US-led campaign against terrorism.

… to include some other states. Who these other states can be is obvious - they will be Muslim, especially those that America has labelled "rogue states." No wonder, the foreign ministers' emergency meeting rejected the idea that any other Muslim country be targeted "under the pretext of the fight against terrorism." … the Iraqi foreign minister told the meeting that the US may use the occasion to "take vengeance against the Iraqi people."

An enlargement of the present military offensive against Afghanistan is too frightening to visualize. Its consequences would be terrifying in terms of a massive outbreak of anger and fury all over the Muslim world, besides putting the unity and cohesion of the world coalition against terrorism under severe strain. America and Britain should know that many Muslim states have agreed to join the fold as a matter of principle despite stiff opposition from large sections of their populations.

In Pakistan, specially, Islamic hard-liners have been vocal in their opposition … to … support … the US. The same is true of many Muslim, specially Arab, countries … Already, the US is highly unpopular in the Arab world because of its support to Israel on the Palestinian issue and its tacit approval of Tel Aviv's policy of ruthless suppression of the Palestinians.

… In Afghanistan's case, however, the Muslim peoples have by and large shown a commendable understanding of the American position…

Like Pakistan, most Muslim states have hoped that the action against Afghanistan would be short, swift and targeted… the US and Britain would help in the country's post-war reconstruction and ensure a neutral and broad-based government there. However, voices threatening an extension of the scope of the war have the potential to disrupt the unity of support … and antagonize people and governments, especially in Muslim countries… Indeed, any full-scale move against Iraq, Syria or Lebanon may make the entire region go up in flames and hurt the western world's long-term interests in the Middle East.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 12, 2001

Pakistan president took the initiative to ring up Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee … and invite him over to carry forward the Agra process. Next day… Abdul Sattar invited his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh to visit Islamabad… Neither's schedule apparently permits any priority being given to calling on Islamabad. Instead there was strange speculation in the Indian media about why Pakistan has thought it necessary to invite Indian government leaders. They seem to have concluded that American pressure must have motivated Islamabad to make the move.

… If two members have friction between themselves, as India and Pakistan have, the US interests demand that that friction be removed. … Powell has let it be known that he would talk about Kashmir with both and it might not be entirely about 'cross-border-terrorism'… he is likely to go on asking his hosts in New Delhi to resume the dialogue with Pakistan… with Pakistan calling it freedom fight of Kashmiris.

… can afford to disdain talking, no matter how unamiable to each other the representatives of the two states may have become. The two as well as their friends clearly recognise and say that there is no alternative to go on patiently negotiating their differences. They just cannot resort to the argument of force--with nuclear weapons in each other's arsenals.

… it is a fact that, while no other foreign power can do anything about this Indian stance, no one has felt good about it. Every state recommends that the two regional nuclear neighbours should go on talking in earnest. So does Pakistan. The difficulties arise from the Indian side who think there is no substantive issue about Kashmir to be discussed, except the insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistani officials and media have continued to assert about the totally unacceptable human rights violations by India's security forces of Kashmiris who want unambiguously and vociferously their freedom from India. They were clearly asking for their right to decide their own future status. No legal sophistry can convert this freedom struggle into simple terrorism, to be met by India's state terrorism.

… Powell will neither mediate nor adjudicate… he will certainly urge the India not to return such a frosty answer to Pakistan's invitation… the Indians might reconsider and look again at their calendars. They might yet find time for Mr. Singh to visit Islamabad earlier than they had thought. It is hoped they actually will. Much rides on this dialogue.

-- Editorial, The News, October 12, 2001

As America's war against terrorism focusing on Afghanistan stretches to the fifth day, some positive developments are emerging in the geopolitical scenario of the region. These could lead to greater stability and peace in South Asia, provided the war does not drag on indefinitely and the fighting in Afghanistan does not escalate. One key factor will be the role the US decides to play to help normalize India-Pakistan relations… Powell will be visiting [Islamabad and New Delhi] … to address their worries about how the Afghan crisis can impinge on their relationship. The second important development has been the move by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee to revive the Agra process…

… the promise of a new turn in bilateral equations in South Asia is most encouraging. Although … Powell will not be mediating between the two countries, it [US] has conceded that [he] … would try to work with both to reduce tension in the region… The fact is that without the good offices of a third party it is not easy to sort out the differences between the two countries, especially when they have been locked in this [Kashmir] intractable dispute for over five decades. Only an outside power which has an evenhanded approach to the regional issues and enjoys the confidence of both interlocutors can facilitate a peace process. The present circumstances have placed Washington ideally for a facilitator's role…

It is an encouraging sign that India and Pakistan have also thought it prudent to … ease the strains in their relations. Of late the Line of Control in Kashmir has also been remarkably peaceful ... The environment is thus right for fresh initiatives to move the peace dialogue forward... New Delhi tried to win Washington's backing against Islamabad on the ground that it was harbouring many terrorists who were operating in Kashmir. By adopting an evenhanded stance, the US has managed to keep the equilibrium in the region. It is now expected to move forward and exercise a moderating influence on the two sides and persuade them to sort out their differences…

However, for any such initiative to bear fruit, it is also important for both India and Pakistan to approach the question of their bilateral problems more flexibly and with greater accommodation than in the past. In fact, in the given context, they should see the wisdom of conducting themselves more maturely and responsibly on their own in dealing with these issues… A good starting for India would thus be to reduce the scale of repression in occupied Kashmir and for Pakistan to put militants operating across the LoC under stricter restraint.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 11, 2001

A militant backlash was the most easily foreseen fallout of the government's decision to side with the international community in fighting terrorism… leaders of the religious parties were unlikely to be persuaded to call off street protests … it was also apparent that the protests could turn violent. Finally, it was known that the bombing of Afghanistan would exacerbate the situation. The subsequent events have unfolded exactly to this script.

The law enforcement agencies thus had ample warning to gear up for the challenge… Maintaining this critical balance [preventing violence and minimal and judicious use of force] may not be very easy in the face of a mob… The slightest over-reaction on their part would play straight into the hands of the militants.

The official performance thus far has been mixed... There are some signs of panic as well. The DIG Quetta, for example, is reported to have been transferred for failing to arrest any of the 18 persons fingered as troublemakers. While responsibility does accompany command, the more immediate failure seems to be of the district police chief and the lower operatives. Lastly, the death by police firing in Quetta of four persons, including a child, has heightened tensions.

Needless to emphasise, the country is passing through a very sensitive phase where maximum efficiency and caution are needed…Yet, the police seem to be displaying all their traditional failings and none of the benefits of the much-trumpeted reforms. Worst of all, there is an obvious disconnection between the district police and the district Nazim, on the one hand, and the district and provincial governments, on the other. News reports indicate that some instructions have been issued to make the police more answerable to the district Nazims. How far this will increase their efficiency remains to be seen. But a greater role for the Nazim in law enforcement does open up the possibility of a policy conflict with the provincial government. Since the coming days will test the police more severely, the provincial governments would do well to get their acts together quickly and avoid mid-crisis reforms and panic-driven decisions.

-- Editorial, The News, Lahore, October 11, 2001

The report that the US has informed the Security Council that it could take action against "other organizations and other states" as part of its fight against terrorism has a disturbing note about it. … one would expect Washington to be mindful of the full implications of opening up a wider front against terrorism simultaneously with the on-going move against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, shortly thereafter.

… Since evidence has shown Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group to be the prime suspects in the Sept 11 suicide bombings, the world community has by and large agreed with the American decision to take military action against the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan… President Bush made it clear that America's war was not against the Afghan people but against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda network… So long as Washington sticks to this course of action, there is no reason why the international coalition, including its Muslim component, should not stay united.

However, there is a serious possibility of fissures developing within the world coalition if the US decides to widen the scope of its military action … Of all the countries declared "rogue" by the US, only two - Cuba and North Korea - are not Muslim; all others are. This means, should the US decide to widen the scope of its military action, it is the Muslim countries which will be targeted on grounds of "terrorism."

The country that comes to mind immediately is Iraq… The other Muslim states whom America would want to be put on the mat would be Syria and possibly Lebanon (even though it has not been officially declared a "rogue" state), besides Sudan, Libya and possibly Yemen. Should the hawks in the Pentagon prevail, the world coalition would come under severe stress …

Already, the Muslim world feels deeply hurt by Washington's carte blanche to Israel for its genocidal policies against the Palestinian people. Add to it Washington's persistently hostile policies toward … Syria, Iran, Libya and Sudan and one at once detects a strong anti-Muslim slant in American policies. Should Washington choose to extend its military action to include all or any of these countries, the Muslim world could witness a sweeping wave of anti-American anger and rage it has never experienced before. It may also sweep aside those moderate Muslim regimes which are now on America's side. The end-result would not only be war and chaos in the Middle East; the fight against terrorism may degenerate into a worldwide conflict on religious lines. This could throw the world back into mediaeval times. It is important for America to fully realize the consequences of such an eventuality.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 10, 2001

… War is finally on Pakistan's doorstep … Pakistan had all along tried to use its leverage with the Taliban government to seek a peaceful solution … and used diplomatic channels as well as informal contacts to prevail upon them to hand over Osama … Taliban refused to oblige.

They failed to realize that they were totally isolated, and that the entire world, including most Muslim states, was fully supportive of the Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to punish the perpetrators of the Sept 11 carnage as well as those aiding, protecting or harbouring them. The Muslim world also realized that the bombing of the World Trade Centre in which thousands of innocent civilians were killed was in no way a deed that could further any worthwhile cause… The Taliban's failure to grasp this simple fact and their resort to emotive slogans failed to cut ice with the Muslim world or with their own people.

… How long will the military campaign last? What will be its scope? Will it be an open-ended and all-out war? What will be the shape of things after the immediate objectives have been achieved? Pakistan has vital stakes in answers to these questions, because this country has once again become a front-line state in the context of Afghanistan. Not only that, Pakistan has vital interests in Afghanistan, given the two countries' geographical proximity and the economic, cultural and ethnic relations that bind them together. Without doubt, whatever happens in one country affects the other.

[Musharraf sought and got the assurance that] …. the air strikes are and will continue to be only against Al Qaeda's training camps and the Taliban's military installations.

This is of vital importance, because indiscriminate bombing could result in huge civilian casualties which would politically recoil on the world coalition against terrorism…. high civilian casualties, can have a negative impact on Muslim countries which at the moment are fully behind the US-led world coalition.

At his press conference yesterday, the president dwelt at considerable length on two more vital points. One was his warning that the Northern Alliance should not be allowed to exploit the post-Taliban vacuum. The Northern Alliance, he said, "must be kept in check", otherwise Afghanistan could return to anarchy… Any government formed by them would not be acceptable to the Pakhtoons who are the single largest ethnic group … Afghanistan need[s]… a "balanced" government …. Pakistan had sought and received assurances from the US and UK that the post-Taliban government would be a Pakistan-friendly government… Pakistan cannot give open-ended support to the former king, because once he was a zealous supporter of the Pakhtoonistan bogey.

President Musharraf also emphasized the need for building Afghanistan when the war ended … Obviously, it is the people of Afghanistan who need the world community's support and help and not the warlords who have played havoc with their country in a mad lust for power…. Knowing its financial and other limitations, [Pakistan] cannot afford to let millions more [of refugees] to pour in. Islamabad has, thus, correctly decided to limit the numbers by letting in only the infirm and the sick. One hopes the military action that began on Sunday night would soon achieve its immediate objectives, with attention and efforts directed then towards the formation of a broad-based government acceptable to all sections of Afghanistan's population. Only such a government can play a meaningful role in the infrastructural rehabilitation and economic reconstruction of the country with the help of the international community.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 9, 2001

America is at war once again, in the battle-scarred Afghanistan, in what could be seen as a coup de grace to destroy the last vestiges of civilisation and human dignity. It is a calculated action designed basically to break the will of the Taliban but also to show to the American people that its leadership can go to any length, literally, to take revenge. The main objective on the war agenda, however, is to capture Osama…

Afghanistan lost its sovereignty over two decades ago when it became a battleground of two world powers. Several years later a re-shaped alliance has appeared ... But, it is unlikely that the Americans will be able to achieve the targets … The conditions are not conducive for a conventional war as Afghanistan has little by way of strategic targets. There will, therefore, be no quick, decisive strikes that will bring the Taliban to their knees. The leaders are digging themselves in for a prolonged confrontation …The qualities of resilience and survivability, therefore, will determine the outcome of the battle.

The war, however, will extract a heavy price from the civilians … but this never translates into pressure on the leaders to capitulate. …The Alliance leaders have spoken about ensuring that the collateral damage would be kept at the minimum … it lacks validity … Non-combatants die in greater numbers specially when bombs or missiles come whistling through the air. The highly sophisticated ordnance the Alliance is using... will not be able to distinguish between civilians and non-civilians, the good and the bad.

The reasons for the conflict have yet to be declared. … The American nation demanded it as initial reparation for the senseless murder of over 6000 persons in the September 11 strikes. That too lacked a reason, but it was considered just by those who perpetrated the criminal act. An almost similar logic is encouraging a recourse to war. The talk is of punishing the evildoers, whoever they are. Vietnam took the lives of thousands of young Americans for causes that still need to be identified.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 9, 2001

Even as … Bush and … Blair go about passionately declaring an Infinite War against terrorism, people in many countries of America and Europe have been … demonstrating against the imminent war. These protesters demand that the warriors make their aims of war clear. What do they mean by terrorism against which they are going to fight and kill … the aims, as stated, are too general and inadequately defined. Osama Bin Laden and these Taliban can surely be accused of terrorist activities and of protecting terrorists; we also hope that adequate evidence exists for individual indictments, particularly of Osama and his men…

But there remains the question of adequately defining terrorism. The war has to be against all manifestations of terrorism and… must root out the causes that produce terrorists, including the establishment of the culpability of those who create the condition in which people lose hope and begin to despair… For many the war against terrorism includes a great deal of social and economic reconstruction in all underdeveloped countries and this purpose cannot be equated with blindly hitting out with deadly military means... The support is for the creation of just and egalitarian societies everywhere.

The purpose requires societies where oppression, intolerance and dire poverty amidst plenty should not be there. There is the question of the credibility of… defined aims. People … protesting … do not buy the stated purpose of the western governments: The suspicion [is] … the outrage against the terror attacks … has been utilised for sordid realpolitik and strategic purposes. They relate the contemplated … war with the historic Great Game being renewed… securing … Anglo-American interests in the Gulf region by more forward deployments in South and Central Asia, making the American power structure extend from Israel to at least Oxus River, if not beyond. Replacement of the Taliban … by... [the] Zahir Shah regime comprising warlords … would enable the Americans to play a strong hand throughout Central Asia and also perhaps further on. Scope for China's manoeuvring would be thus limited.

These realpolitik purposes seem to be implicit in the kind of enterprise… There is no sympathy with any realpolitik games… The kind of oppression that the west… has imposed on the Middle East, could only result in horrible consequences to… Palestinians… Lebanese and…Syrians. This has been a powerful force for producing suicide bombers. This horrible oppression must end first if war against terrorism has any meaning. Taliban like fundamentalists are primarily a thereat to Muslim societies and the latter have… to fight them. The west can usefully help them… These guiding principles must be applied to Afghanistan and Taliban regime. One does not stand for preserving the latter. Let all the Afghans be involved in creating a broad-based government; let it not be nominated by big powers or by the international free masonry of international spooks that is emerging and stalking Pakistan and Afghanistan.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 3, 2001

With the unanimous adoption of the Security Council resolution … all UN members now stand duty-bound to help in the world community's fight against terrorism. Failure to do so means the international community can use force to flush out terrorists in a given country… a country failing to discharge its responsibilities runs the risk of total international isolation… [Though] … the word "terrorism" has not been defined, the resolution embodies the resolve of the world community to combat the menace ... From denying bases and harbouring terrorists to preventing them from collecting funds, the resolution makes it obligatory on UN members to assist in criminal investigations involving terrorists. Moreover, it authorizes the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the implementation of the resolution on "a continuous basis."

… the resolution … concerns Afghanistan the most … because it harbours Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network… Pakistan, because of its close ties with them, has been urging the Taliban to hand him over to a third country. But they have refused… the Taliban have also contradicted themselves.

First they said that Osama had disappeared … and they did not know his whereabouts. The latest, however, is … he was under their protection. Having done that, they have no option but to … hand over Osama for trial. Their failure to do so would mean the international community will be within its right to use force to secure Osama bin Laden's custody.

As a UN member, Pakistan has perforce to discharge its obligations under the resolution. In the past, it has upheld UN sanctions against Afghanistan… Under the present situation, Pakistan must redouble its efforts to make the Taliban see reason and cooperate… Should the Taliban persist … defiance, they would invite serious trouble for themselves and their country. … Thanks to continuous fighting [Afghanistan] is in ruins, while millions have fled the country to seek refuge elsewhere…

Today, the sole concern of their government should be to alleviate their suffering. Cooperation … will not only avert the unpredictable consequences of an invasion of Afghanistan; it may also spare the Taliban the immediate danger of retaliatory action for non-compliance. Indeed, they could make things somewhat easier for themselves by being amenable to the formation of a broad-based government acceptable to all sections of the population. Such a government alone can help establish peace and concord in the country on a durable basis.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, October 2, 2001

Something very confusing is going on and no one is able to explain it. We know that the US is preparing to retaliate … that the US will attack Afghanistan, and more precisely the terrorist camps inside that country…

that Pakistan has taken the side of the international coalition and the US… The US has lifted almost all the sanctions... So why then is everybody running out of Pakistan? Why have almost all the international airlines stopped their flights to this country? Why have insurance rates been pushed up? Why have we been blockaded bringing our trade and commerce to a trickle?

Desperate economic managers have been trying to bring this fact out… international electronic media want action as reporters wearing war jackets wait for bombs to … produce a repeat version of the Gulf War and capture audiences…

… "This is not a conventional war" Mr George W Bush has been repeating but the hundreds of media warmongers are still hopeful … they have scared away whatever little investor confidence and presence that was left in Pakistan. Nobody is telling the world Pakistan is not going to be a target of any cruise missile…

It was perfectly understandable that President Bush needed to divert the attention of a stunned and demoralised American public from the terrorist catastrophe by shouting "America at War" … But there was no enemy in sight and no targets to attack. Pakistan, thus became the obvious focus of that huge war effort... "America at war" turned to "War against terror", a secret war of sorts.

Have the Americans ever thought about how much damage they have inflicted on this country in the process? …. does he know his war hoopla has scared away millions of dollars worth of normal trade and commerce? … The minimum he can do is to tell the world Pakistan is not a "war zone". This country is not at risk so business should go back to normal.

He can even remind the world that in the major Afghan war of the 80s… not once was Pakistan blockaded in the way it has been now, unannounced but very practical.

-- Editorial, The News, Islamabad, October 1, 2001

In the wake of the US government’s freeze order against the assets of 27 organisations and individuals suspected of complicity in terrorism… Pakistani officials, in collaboration with foreign experts, are also gearing up for an extensive probe to track down their assets, investments, bank-accounts and even ‘Havala’ [transfer of money through illegal channels] money-transfers. The probe is intended to unearth suspect transactions, including those related to drugs and foreign currency, and link them to their real beneficiaries … the banned outfits.

This probe is, of course, important because two of the organisations have relevance to Pakistan and one of these is known only for charity work. Their credentials must be beyond doubt in so far as allegations of complicity in international terrorism are concerned. However, the probe also carries within itself greater potential benefits for Pakistan’s internal security and its unequal fight against mega-corruption and international money laundering.

… some religious and ethnic organisations receive foreign funding. Some of these have, hence, been suspected of fighting proxy wars on Pakistan’s soil. However, such allegations and ingrained suspicions have never been proved mainly because the money transfers could not be unearthed and linked to the suspect outfits… the National Accountability Bureau has made little headway… even when news reports have linked many prominent persons to specific assets abroad… these assets could only have been bought with money stolen from Pakistan. Yet the failure of the NAB, and of course the ever-present standard excuse that the expertise needed for tracing international money flows is not indigenously available.

The imminent terrorism money-probe provides … just the opportunity to acquire such expertise and … craft fool-proof systems to minimise, if not eliminate, such shady transactions. Of particular importance is the need to bring the virtually untraceable ‘Havala’ transactions under normal banking controls.

Finally, the money-probe also carries an important lesson for the West. … since the stolen money was fuelling Western economies, … laments had fallen on deaf ears. Now that money laundering has been linked to terrorism, perhaps the West will realise that the offshore havens cut both ways and do something about them.

-- Editorial, The News, Lahore, September 30, 2001

The meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference … on Oct 9 should help the Muslim world come up with a unified response to the Sept 11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath… all Muslim countries have condemned the terrorist attacks … because their faith abhors such abominable acts. … the vast majority of Muslim countries have decided to take an active part in the international community's fight against terrorism.

… there are three problems that the Doha conference should address … the need to intercede with the Taliban … to ensure the handing over of Osama bin Laden ... Pakistan has tried both officially and unofficially to persuade the Taliban …but to no avail.

However, it will be a different matter if the OIC decides to send a high-powered delegation to apprise the Mulla Omar government of the consensus in the Islamic community ... however, adequate guarantees must be sought for fair and impartial trial of the accused persons and the Taliban government and Bin Laden assured of the presence of an OIC-designated team of legal experts and jurists to witness the trial. One hopes … the OIC… will have a positive effect on the Taliban and a war could be avoided.

Another matter that deserves the OIC's immediate attention is the current anti-Muslim wave in the US and some western countries … large sections of the western media had started blaming Muslims for the suicide bombings. … the western world in general and the US in particular have seen a wave of anti-Muslim attacks. ... despite appeals from western governments… that all Muslims should not be blamed for the crime of a few.

The task before the OIC is to make its viewpoint clear to the western electronic and print media and seek the cooperation of church leaders and NGOs to call a halt to the attacks on Muslim lives and property. Many leaders of public opinion in the West have deplored the anti-Muslim wave. It is with such groups that the OIC should seek liaison … By and large, Muslims throughout Europe and the US have conducted themselves well and contributed to the cultural enrichment and economic prosperity of the countries of their residence. This point must be brought home to common Europeans and North Americans.

… an equally greater task … is to inform friendly governments in the West about the cause of resentment in the Muslim world against the West in general and the US in particular. The issues … are Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir. Here the West, particularly the US, has been guilty of partisanship, blind animus, political expediency and double standards. … the US has … has shown utter indifference to the brutal violation of human rights in Palestine and Kashmir…

It is also significant that a majority of the countries declared "rogue" by the US are Muslim. So long as the US practises this patently unjust policy and ignores the misery of Muslim peoples … there will continue to be resentment…. against the US. The OIC … should seriously address these issues and problems and, perhaps, devise a strategy for seeking a revision of American policies toward the Islamic world. Without a definite improvement in such policies, there will continue to be deep resentment against the West and the US in the Muslim world.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, September 30, 2001

… Kofi Annan has re-emphasised the old UN effort … for rough hewing a broad-based interim government of all relevant Afghan factions. Meantime, Pakistan authorities are trying their best to hunt with the hound and run with the Taliban hare. At length, Islamabad too appears to have re-accepted the notion of a broad-based interim government of which Taliban should also be a part. … it seems pointless to go on looking for a black cat in a dark room in a pitch dark night.

What is required is a government for Afghanistan that can stick on the ground and can achieve something… It should be obvious that a government nominated by foreigners would neither stick nor work, much less be respected.

Indeed, it is impossible to produce an interim arrangement that would satisfy all of the factions that have guns … no hodgepodge government, nominated by foreigners, can command consensus or credibility … If the UN's 6+2 mechanism has failed to produce a credible interim government for over ten years, it is unlikely to do so in the next few weeks…

Irrespective of the concessions … from [the] Americans by way of including some Taliban as a minor component of the government-to-be, their future seems to be doomed. … US would feel forced to dump the Taliban and nominate its own men. The UN would find it difficult to nurse the illusion of being relevant. But it is for the UN to mobilise world opinion and actually become a factor. The UN Secretary General should recall Cambodia … Wasn't it that devastated country which the UN took over forcibly; set up an administration; disarmed the various militias; held a census and prepared a voters list; allowed the people to express themselves freely on political issues; and finally held a free election.

… Why should any international busybody choose Afghans who in his opinion would command respect of the 15 million Afghans. The mere notion is untenable. A lot of unnecessary hopes are being attached to the frail and aging King Zahir Shah.

… The Afghan people have had traumatic experiences. Nobody ever remembered him as a Messiah or a nation builder. … Afghanistan ... run by Zahir Shah again, with his old world charm, experiences and ancient tribal alliances, is a non-starter. It is time that a measure of justice is shown to the poor hapless Afghans. … Let them elect a government with UN assistance for their own reconstruction. The world owes them that much, plus some help.

-- Editorial, The News, Lahore, September 29, 2001

… the US … said things that seem to suggest a lot of awareness of Pakistan's genuine concerns about Afghanistan. … Washington would keep Islamabad's sensitivities in mind with regard to the Northern Alliance. …

… the State Department … said that Afghanistan needed "a broad-based and representative government." Even more significantly, he said governments "can't be made from the outside."

… one of Afghanistan's greatest misfortunes has been the absence of a broad-based government acceptable to all sections of the population. Regrettably, the unity that various Afghan factions showed during the anti-Soviet struggle evaporated when the time came for them to work together in peace and harmony …

… the Taliban, once in power, made no attempt to seek a consensus. Their unilateral policies and actions succeeded in uniting all those who were erstwhile enemies in opposition to them. Also, their orthodox interpretation of Islam and their cultural policies alienated large sections of the Afghan population and led to the country's isolation from the world. In turn, the Northern Alliance, which controls about five per cent of the country, has shown no signs of conciliation and has continued its war on the Taliban, their sole aim being to capture power. To make matters worse, the Northern Alliance has been receiving military aid from a number of countries, including India.

… any attempt to replace the Taliban … would only add to Afghanistan's internal and external problems. If brought into power by foreign governments, a Northern Alliance government would go after all those who supported the Taliban, adding to the problem of violence, strife and instability.

It would also inevitably turn against Pakistan ... Pakistan, thus, rightly fears that propping up the Northern Alliance militarily and helping it capture Kabul would only worsen Afghanistan's problem … the US is duly aware of this and also recognizes the fact that governments cannot be imposed from outside. One hopes the close cooperation that has characterized the relationship between Pakistan and the US since the Sept 11 tragedy will continue... The aim … should be … a neutral and broad-based set-up that comes into being as a result of a consensus among all major Afghan ethnic communities and tribes. That alone can bring lasting peace and stability to this war-battered country.

-- Editorial, Dawn, September 29, 2001

Conspiracy theorists apart, many commentators have assumed that the United States will bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, thereby provoking a dangerous blowback for America and its Muslim allies... Some argue that it will be "a war without end" in which the tenacious Afghans will defeat America ... Others fear that thousands of innocent Afghans will perish, triggering widespread anti-American riots in Pakistan that could lead to the overthrow of … Musharraf regime. America’s Muslim allies therefore want "credible evidence" of OBL’s complicity in order to "neutralize" the rage of their people.

The basic assumption in these scenarios, however, may not be true. Far from exacting revenge … US strategy may be more calibrated by focusing on OBL, his Al-Qaeda … and the core Taliban leadership. … President Bush… [said] … the best way to bring those responsible to justice … was " to ask for the cooperation of citizens within Afghanistan who may be tired of having the Taliban in place".

This suggests that the US may seek to ally with the Northern Alliance ... It would entail beefing up the Northern Alliance and "softening" up the Taliban... by high-altitude target bombing. This assessment is reinforced by … Rumsfeld who … pointed out that not all Taliban members agree with the their leader’s decision to "create a hospitable environment for Al Qaeda", adding … certain tribes … might be persuaded into joining the anti-Taliban coalition. … [The] visit of Britain’s foreign secretary… to Iran may also be read in this context.

But … the Northern Alliance would not be acceptable to Pakistan and [can] create severe strains in the budding US-Pakistan relationship. That is why, perhaps, … Bush … is seeking "justice" and "isn’t into nation-building" — … the US will not go so far as to install a Northern Alliance led government … hostile to Islamabad. This scenario is a far cry from the crude one assumed by some commentators.

Other assumptions also need to be scrutinized… for example, that the north-west frontier province is bound to "explode… in favour of the Taliban. … this assumption completely disregards the complex interplay of tribal interests within the Pashtun matrix. For instance, … Taliban are primarily part of the Ghilzai-Durrani tribal federation … while the main Pashtun tribes which proliferate in Pakistan are the Wazirs, Mahsoods, Mohmands, Afridis, Khattaks, Bangash, Orakzais, Yusufzais, etc. Many among these tribes are in the "pocket" of the federal government … and there is no reason to believe that they cannot be dissuaded from supporting the Taliban …

Similarly, the premise that the people of Afghanistan are bound to line up behind the Taliban ... Indeed, the opposite may be truer, since the Taliban have not provided any institutional justice or prosperity to the Afghans. In fact, many of the local commanders who acquiesced in Taliban rule … may be tempted to switch sides once the writing on the wall is clear and the Pakistani props have been removed.

The assumption that Afghanistan is bound to become a "graveyard" for the Americans … is also dubious. … In the war against Russia, their powerful patrons were the Americans. Today, however, their sole patron Pakistan has been neutralized while the world powers are forcefully arraigned against them…

Finally, the argument that the US should provide "credible evidence" of OBL’s role … may be good for purposes of assuaging public opinion in Muslim states but is a non-starter as far as radical Islam’s jehad against America and Israel is concerned. OBL … declared such a jehad more than once and Afghanistan under the Taliban has become a veritable base area for all the jehadis of the world. If some jehadis have now attacked America because they perceive it to be their enemy, rightly or wrongly, America has returned the compliment by targeting their base area and leaders in Afghanistan.

… the fundamental truth remains ... The United States must strive to remove the root cause of Muslim rage if it seeks to end the scourge of "terrorism". That means it must seek justice for the oppressed peoples of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, etc, and end its indiscriminate support for the state terrorism of Israel.

-- Editorial, The Friday Times, Lahore, September 28, 2001

… American and Pakistani approaches seem to be diverging [on] … the future of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. … Sattar has warned … that the attempt to topple the Taliban regime by aiding the Northern Alliance is fraught with dangerous consequences. His reference was obviously to the ethnic composition … Taliban supposedly represent 70 per cent Pashtoons while the Northern Alliance represents other ethnic and sectarian minorities. There are other complications too. Moreover, the US appears keen on somehow containing and, if possible, neutralising Taliban's friends inside Pakistan. Islamabad does not approve of the perceived American objective of imposing a non-Taliban government over Afghanistan.

… why did the Americans take the trouble and incur expense of assembling an international coalition and mobilising a formidable force in the first place. … it is ostensibly for capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden. But if Islamabad thought that the entire western fraternity was uniting to fight only one person it was mistaken. The rush of events alone would itself point to … larger ends, beginning with replacement of the Taliban regime. All would agree that what the US has undertaken would be a long haul after despatching the Taliban. Beyond which point non-military means are likely to be employed. The Americans would do whatever it takes to get rid of Taliban and contain and counter their friends wherever they be.

That puts Pakistan on the spot … Musharraf government appears unwilling to ditch Taliban. That is understandable because of the invisible umbilical chord connecting them. But having agreed "fully" to cooperate with the US, the dye was cast. True concern of all Pakistanis, however, is for Afghan people, not necessarily the Taliban regime or the politics they represent. It is time that Afghans are spared the ordeal of being an international football for big boys to kick around.

… time has come for … the General Assembly and not the … Security Council, to look after and run Afghanistan for a suitable number of years. It should, in a transparently democratic manner, produce a new set of representative Afghans. It is hoped that eventually the Afghans, with their well-known love for independence, would keep all foreigners out and stay free. For Pakistan to remain fascinated with Taliban is now atavistic. … Whatever weight [Pakistan] … might still have should now be used to initiate the processes of justice and fairplay for all the Afghans, without any state acting as Afghanistan's Big Brother.

-- Editorial, The News, Lahore, September 27, 2001

Pakistan has done well to caution the world against the hazards of arming the Northern Alliance. … Sattar ... said … Any decision to arm them… would be a recipe for disaster…

… Pakistan knows Afghanistan the way no other country does. For the last two decades especially Pakistan has been closely involved with happenings in Afghanistan...

In the post-Soviet period also, Pakistan not only watched but also got involved in the in-fighting among Afghan factions for power. This vicious fratricide has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. Millions have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighbouring countries... The Northern Alliance came into being after the Taliban captured Kabul and, then, imposed a harsh brand of theocracy on their people. [It] … since then has waged a relentless struggle to recapture Kabul… causing widespread death and destruction.

The Sept 11 terror attacks … and the American resolve to punish the Taliban … seem to have given the Northern Alliance a fresh opportunity for a renewed bid for power. Now they expect the US to give them military help … so that they can defeat and dislodge their adversaries. … doing so would be a great mistake. The Northern Alliance is seeking power for reasons of self-vindication ... They think that they were the ones who had waged the jihad against the Soviets and won and, therefore, … they … are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. This view, however, is not shared by all sections of Afghanistan's polyglot population.

… US-supported Northern Alliance … would hardly be in a position to bring peace and stability to the country. At present, it is receiving military aid from a number of countries, including India ... What prompted New Delhi to aid the Northern Alliance was Pakistan's close relationship with the Taliban. If the Northern Alliance comes to power, it is unlikely to maintain a neutral posture vis-a-vis its neighbours, especially Pakistan. This could lead to further instability and bloodshed. The US would, thus, be making a great mistake if it tried to install the revenge-seeking Alliance in power in Kabul.

The best solution … is … a neutral and peaceful Afghanistan, and this will be possible only when the US regards its campaign less a national retaliatory move and more a UN-led international campaign. As … Kofi Annan … [said], any rash action that the world could not understand would be wrong and that only the UN could give global legitimacy to a "long-term struggle against terrorism."

The retaliation against the terror attacks, he said, should not make the international community oblivious to its other responsibilities - cooperation and partnership. Placed as Afghanistan is, there is no other solution except … a broad-based government acceptable to all of Afghanistan's factions and tribes and to all of Afghanistan's neighbours. Any government lacking such a broad-based and neutral character would hardly be in a position to make itself acceptable to the people ... The last thing Afghanistan needs is a partisan and factional government in power in Kabul.

-- Editorial, Dawn, September 27, 2001

Pakistan has yet to calculate the economic cost of having landed once again in the unenviable position of a front-line state in another international war... Sandwiched between two wars, the one … in Afghanistan … and the other … in Indian occupied Kashmir … Pakistan is already paying a very heavy socio-economic price.

The country, as a result, is suffering from a long bout of deep recession. … As a consequence, unemployment has reached an all-time high while physical and social infrastructure has almost bottomed out in recent years.

… there is hardly any economic room left in Pakistan to bear the consequences of a long drawn-out world campaign against terrorism for the present focusing on Afghanistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. The country would inevitably face an extremely difficult economic situation as the impending battle against terrorism in this region and elsewhere drags on - as it would seem most likely to do.

Pakistan is certainly not asking for a price for its 'services' to the US-led world coalition against terrorism. But it does need help to remain in reasonably fit condition economically to play its part as a key member of the alliance. … Pakistan owes as much as $ 15 billion out of a total debt of $ 32 billion to various bilateral donors.

This could perhaps be written off immediately … multilateral aid agencies … could reverse the net outflow of resources by enhancing the inflow of concessional assistance under their various programmes… increased inflows could then be aimed at improving capacities in water, power, oil and mineral sectors. ...

In the longer run, Pakistan would need help of the richer world to enhance its ability to trade with it. We in Pakistan understand that it was not the fault of the donors that we find ourselves in a mess despite having received generous assistance in the past. We frittered away much of it in our futile efforts to substitute imports. There is no question about repeating the mistake. But for us to enter the world export market in a big way, we do need free access to rich markets ... we would also need foreign investment and know-how. Economic stability … would also help in bringing much needed political stability in the region and turning it into [a] peaceful place …

-- Editorial, Dawn, September 24, 2001

General Pervez Musharraf is correct [:] in arguing that Pakistan is facing its most critical crisis since … 1971 … listing the strategic and economic dangers facing the country should its leaders and people succumb to rage and passion … warning India to "lay off"… demanding… Pakistanis should demonstrate the will and courage to put the interests of their country above everything else ...

This is not the time to apportion blame on leaders past or present… certain factors have contributed to it and we should highlight them [for] finding a comprehensive solution…

First: … relationship with America… left .. two major sores: a dependent economy and an anti-American backlash. Therefore, as we strive to rebuild our economy and rethink our relations with the United States, we should be wary of the sort of quick-fix-solutions that have brought us to this pass… in this case there is clearly an opportunity to set many things right – but let us not get carried away into believing that a "strategic realignment" with the US along the old client-state parameters is either necessary or possible in our own best interests.

Second: … so-called process of "Islamisation" of state and society … has planted the seeds of recurring instability in our nation-state. The "reassertion" of such fundamentalist impulses has hurt many human rights causes, fueled violent sectarianism and created economic confusion. … it has revived the notion of jihad across the geographical boundaries … and pitted [Pakistan] against other nation-states. Yes, we are all Muslims … but let us not retreat into a raging clash with all the infidels of the world …

Third: … "intervention" in Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster, leading to our current "critical" circumstances. … we [also] replaced our requirement for a friendly state in our backyard with an obsession for a client state … supporting favourites … engineering civil strife, making enemies of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities and driving them into the lap of neighbouring powers. When all failed, we propped up the Taliban … Now we are being held accountable for befriending them and being made to count the costs of ditching them. Yes, we must have a friendly government in our backyard, and yes, it must be dominated by the Pashtuns, but the radical Islamicist Taliban have to go and Pakistan’s establishment must learn to live with an autonomous, moderately Muslim, broad based national government in Kabul.

Fourth: … war with India over Kashmir has burdened our economy, led to the dismemberment of our country and brought us to a nuclear impasse. … jihad is threatening to disrupt civil society in the valley. But a larger writing is on the wall already. Despite any short-term concessions to Pakistan for reasons of exigency, like ignoring the Pakistan-sponsored jihad in Kashmir for the time being, America’s war against "terrorism" … is bound to bring the various domestic and foreign Lashkars and Mujahids in its sights after the Taliban and Afghanistan have been "sorted out". Therefore if India is to be pressurized to "lay off" Pakistan today, Pakistan must expect to face pressure to "lay off" India tomorrow. Thus it would be a good idea for both to start talking again …

… The Taliban will attach unacceptable conditionalities on the extradition of Osama bin Laden which America will spurn contemptuously. America will ask Pakistan to provide overt and covert logistical support … for military operations against the Taliban. After the Taliban leadership has been eliminated, America will seek to establish a new, broad based government in Kabul … Throughout … Pakistan will remain in the eye of the storm. But if it plays its cards right, it could come out a winner in the end…

-- The Friday Times, Lahore, September 21, 2001

"The grim tragedy America suffered… In its severity and dimensions, it is clearly the worst carnage continental America has suffered since the Civil War...

… the casualties were all civilians - innocent human beings - men, women and children - going about their day's business… [and] had nothing to do with the policies of the American government. Only a criminal mind would, thus, think of killing them to make a point to the world and to those who run the US administration...

…Within minutes, thanks to the electronic media, the tragedy and grief had spilled over beyond New York and Washington or even America. In no time, this had become a world catastrophe… For millions around the world, this was something happening nearby, as if in their own cities. Without a doubt, only fiendish minds could have thought of this crime and executed it with cold-blooded precision.

… Without a shadow of doubt, the crash of the planes into the towering structures was carried out by the hijackers themselves. More important, the targets selected spoke of the political motive behind the operation: the end-result was spectacular for all to see; the targets were not only to be destroyed, the attacks were intended to paralyze America's economic life and cripple the nerve-centre of its military machine.

… By attacking and destroying or crippling the two symbols of America's economic and military power, the terrorists proved the point that America was as vulnerable as any other nation. No matter what security arrangements the US government takes, its enemies can still manage to strike at will and at a place and time of their choice.

Very commendably, the American government and Congressional leaders, and even large sections of the media, have avoided rushing into blaming any country or group for Tuesday's criminal attack so far… President Bush… said … it was freedom itself that was attacked and that "freedom will be defended." As for the perpetrators of the crime, he refrained from naming any particular country or group and observed, "Make no mistakes: the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts."

… the government and people of Pakistan … endorse what President Musharraf said in his message to President Bush: "We share the grief of the American people in this grave national tragedy. We strongly condemn this most brutal and horrible act of terror and violence."…

The big question surrounding Tuesday's tragedy is: who could have plotted this carnage? Before someone could accuse Osama bin Laden of the crime, Taliban spokesmen in Kandahar and Islamabad denied that the Saudi exile was involved in the crime. Their ambassador in Islamabad condemned the attacks and said his government would not allow Osama to use Afghan territory for terrorist attacks in another country.

More specific was the Taliban's official spokesman in Kandahar, who said only a government could carry out the kind of operation that was seen in America on Tuesday and that it was beyond the power of an individual to do so. Suspicion may also fall on some Middle Eastern groups, whose main complaint against the US stems from Washington's acquiescence in Israel's genocidal policies against the Palestinian people. However, so far no Middle Eastern group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.

There is no doubt that circles close to Israeli and Indian lobbies in America would like to implicate Muslim groups in the attacks. However, it is unlikely that the American government would believe these insinuations in the absence of hard evidence. One may recall the atmosphere that gripped the United States when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown up in Oklahoma in April 1995. Some sections of the media began supplying "evidence" of Arab involvement and theorizing that the terrorist job was done by some Middle Eastern groups. However, later investigations proved that the bombing was done by an American, McVeigh, who was recently executed. This time, too, one cannot rule out the possibility of some American anarchist or hate groups, or even some militant opponents of the US-led globalization process being involved in Tuesday's carnage.

There are white supremacist groups in America whose main complaint against the federal government is that, by its policies, it had handed over American cities to blacks and non-whites and that they had permitted immigration from non-European countries, thus threatening America's Christian character and way of life. Obviously, such theories and those linking the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon to Muslim groups will need to be weighed against hard evidence that emerges. Given the American intelligence agencies' world-wide network and the sophistication of their technology, there is no doubt truth will be established sooner or later. Once this is done, the long arm of the law will doubtless reach the masterminds and the perpetrators of the crime and bring them to justice. We also have no doubt that world governments will cooperate with the American government in the investigation and help it track down the criminals.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, September 18, 2001

The military government is doing the right thing by trying to develop a consensus on how to face up to what indeed is a grave international crisis in which Pakistan has become a key player…

The issues facing Pakistan are momentous, and the decisions taken are bound to have a far-reaching bearing on the country's future. The decisions concern Pakistan's stance vis-a-vis the world coalition that is in the process of developing to punish the perpetrators and supporters of last Tuesday's terrorist attacks in America. The details of the American request ... As confirmed by President Musharraf himself, … include Pakistan providing docking facilities to American naval ships. Press reports have also spoken of American ground and airborne troops seeking logistic help... However, officially neither side has confirmed this.

… from the point of view of Pakistan's national interests, Islamabad has to take a clear stand in line with the international community's resolve to fight terrorism. Pakistan's positive response in this respect has been appreciated by American leaders... Of special importance here is a Pakistani delegation's visit to Kandahar… to persuade the Taliban leadership to hand over Osama bin Laden, the 'prime suspect' ... It is doubtful if the Afghans will do that since the Taliban leadership insists that Osama is not involved in those attacks. … the Taliban not only seem prepared to take on the whole world; they have also threatened action against any neighbouring country which helps America in its military action against Afghanistan.

On the domestic front, too, the situation is not very helpful either. The country has a large number of Taliban supporters. There are also a couple of religious parties which have backed the Taliban to the hilt and agree with their extremist interpretation of Islam. These parties also have armed supporters who are quite capable of stirring up trouble inside the country. In case the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan takes hostile action against Pakistan, it would be difficult to hold their Pakistani supporters in check. In fact, Islamabad may be caught in an extremely difficult situation if, while fending off the Afghan militia on the border, it also has to deal with an internal situation of violence and strife. Surely, no patriotic Pakistani would like to see the country being caught in such a scenario.

It is precisely to guard against such a possibility that President Musharraf called the meeting with the political leaders, ulema and newspaper editors. … Some religious parties, however, reportedly opposed the government's support to America's planned military action. Undeniably, it is good that the parties have expressed dissent within the confines of the conference hall. Frankness in such matters is better than concealed anger which may explode in the streets. We no doubt have religious parties, that, despite having a soft corner for the Taliban, would look at the crisis from the point of view of Pakistan's national interest and realize the hazards of following a policy that goes against the United Nations, the international community and the US. The crisis facing Pakistan calls for a hard-headed approach, which alone can see the nation through the coming storm.

-- Editorial, Dawn, Karachi, September 16, 2001

"The 11th September terrorist attack[s]… could become a defining point for Pakistan, if not for the rest of the world. The US is ready to declare war… This will have profound implications for the world order in general and certain "rogue" regimes and their friends, associates or supporters in particular. The "terrorists", "freedom fighters", "jehadis" — call them what you will – chose their targets specifically for their symbolic value... Together, they define the soul of the USA, one that has now been bruised beyond American reckoning…

… elsewhere in the world certain battered groups, communities and countries – ranging from the angry jehadis of the Islamic world and the displaced Palestinians in the Middle-East to sanction-burdened Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Afghanistan, and even Pakistan – strain to hide their true emotions: " the bully on the block has met its comeuppance… Western commentators, politicians and even philosophers are straining at the leash to join in a "clash of civilizations" by starting a "hunt" for Osama Bin Laden and his Islamic jehadis in those countries like Afghanistan that are accused of harbouring or facilitating him.

… once the shock of the tragedy is replaced by the rage of wounded American pride seeking a swift and terrible retribution, the politicians and generals will start pushing buttons and all hell will break loose. Saner voices, explaining the origins of rising anti-Americanism in patently unjust American policies in certain situations and countries, and advising restraint, dialogue and diplomacy, are likely to be drowned in a wave of raw human passion. In the longer term, also, we should not be surprised if some democratic freedoms and common rights that are taken for granted in the West are visibly circumscribed in the host countries for people with certain religious or ethnic or national backgrounds.

… Pakistani policy makers might be advised to take urgent stock of the situation… The Taliban’s military victories provide illusory strategic depth to Islamabad, but one false move by Osama Bin Laden could provoke the wrath of the big boy in the White House and make Afghanistan a millstone around our neck.

…. Islamabad… refuses to account for the mounting costs of this relationship {Pakistan-Taliban] to Pakistan, apart from mouthing inanities about some sort of ‘strategic depth’…This strategy may seem terribly clever but it is all too obvious. At best it will prolong the painful economic status quo and stunt Pakistan’s rebirth as a creative and modern nation. At worst, it might hasten the Talibanisation of our country and precipitate a showdown with the West when its patience runs out.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, that patience may have finally run out on 11th September…The US will then expect the Pakistani government to stop playing both sides and stand by, if necessary with men and materials, to assist American action against Kabul. If… General Musharraf agrees, that could be the beginning of the end of its Afghan and Kashmir policies because its "Islamic" jehadis will turn irrevocably against it. If it refuses, the US may have few qualms about embracing India and turning the screws on Pakistan, plunging it into economic ruin and political anarchy. In that event, Pakistan could not remain sanguine that its nuclear program would survive the tumultuous developments in the region, the armed forces would be destabilized and General Musharraf’s personal and political survival could not be taken for granted.

… the situation will henceforth remain perilous for Pakistan because Washington is not likely to ignore the continuing threat from Islamic jehad and will jump the gun sooner or later. Domestic economic confidence is thin. The political leadership is alienated or thwarted. Therefore visionary leadership is necessary to steer Pakistan to safer waters. This is no time for domestic prevarication or international bluff. General Pervez Musharraf should stake the country’s future on right and rationality rather than on pride and passion. "

-- Editorial, The Friday Times, Lahore, September 14, 2001.

…. The bombing of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and the subsequent US resolve to retaliate have put Pakistan sharply into focus. In a hurry to act it may be, the US nevertheless is taking time to mobilize support and prepare for striking at the objects of its mad fury which are as good as known by but which have not been officially specified yet.

… Without doubt, Pakistan is caught between the devil and the deep sea. On the one hand is the US and its determination to get at the elements and organisations behind last Tuesday's terrorist attacks. On the other are those sections of the domestic opinion which have a soft corner for the Taliban and do not consider them the devils that some of their actions make them out to be. The situation at hand involves for Pakistan the predicament of tight-rope walking between the two.

Denying cooperation to the US would mean going against the Security Council resolution, against the world public opinion and against the government's own public stand on terrorism, which it has branded an "evil." On the other hand a carte blanche to the US entails the risk of a domestic backlash which the military regime may not be in a position to face up too easily at this critical hour.

Clearly, some of the American demands are easy to fulfil. For instance, sharing intelligence on Osama is something that Islamabad should not find difficult to do. However, cutting off oil supplies and providing logistic support are a different matter. In matters of logistic support, it is not clear what precise form the Americans have in mind. The use of air space is an enormously ticklish issue.

However, the last time the US decided to carry out a missile strike against Osama bin Laden's hideouts in Afghanistan in August 1998, it just went ahead and did it without seeking Pakistan's permission for the use of its air space whose violation was very much involved. With American aircraft carriers and other men of war in the Arabian Sea waiting for the word 'go' to unleash their lethal load, they may act any time, any day without waiting for the formality of our assent.

It is not yet known whether the Americans want to use Pakistani air bases and facilities for stationing ground troops. These are matters that would need careful examination. Tajikistan, one of Afghanistan's neighbours, and Russia have already refused to let NATO troops in. Whether Pakistan can extend these facilities will depend largely on how convincing the American case for these are in the context of the plan of action they have in mind and how effectively Islamabad can secure public support on this score. In all this, the need clearly is for Washington to take Pakistan into confidence about the precise nature and extent of the military operation they are contemplating and also show a proper understanding of the constraints and limitations impinging on Pakistan's efforts to provide support and cooperation in that context.

-- Special Supplement, Kainnat, Karachi, September 14, 2001, (English translation from Urdu language)

If there could be a doomsday, short of a full-fledged nuclear attack, it was the Black Tuesday yesterday in the United States…

…What is instantly clear, however, is that every American today feels he or she is vulnerable, no matter how many hundreds of billions of dollars are spent by their government in the name of security worldwide. The American psyche has changed forever today and henceforth every one would want a resolution of the disputes which have brought death and destruction right into the heart of their life in a way they would never have imagined, or forget… Those who could keep their thinking process intact, after watching the horror, were not sure whether the anti-terrorist policies of their government all around the world, were producing any result, far less more security for the American people.

… The desperation of the attackers, whoever they may be, reflects that some individuals, groups or organisations, were so strongly driven and fired up against the Americans that they not only stopped caring for their own lives, they did not consider claiming the lives of hundreds and thousands of other innocent victims of these attacks...

President George W Bush has already said the attackers would not be allowed to get away. "Freedom will be preserved," he said… Any attempt to give currency to Hollywood versions of arch typal enemies of the United States should be resisted. Many a time in such previous smaller incidents, Muslims have been prematurely blamed and targeted. Unless some credible evidence emerges that any particular group or organisation is responsible, indiscriminate retaliation must be avoided. Sweeping, aimless reprisals would only add to the hatred that America has already earned around the world, for some in such a degree that they had to resort to a cataclysmic bloodbath to serve their cause.

For the rest of the world it is time that a policy review is undertaken on all major world flashpoints, Middle East being at the top of that list, followed by South Asia where Kashmir and Afghanistan provide the justification to hundreds of thousands of militants to adopt violent ways to seek justice, after having lost all hope that they would ever get their rights through peaceful negotiated means. Apart from the many reasons for the culture of violence, it also has its roots in frustration born of injustice. Unless the world leaders put their heads together and seriously try to find a way to end this bloodletting, repeats of the Black Tuesday may continue, making lives of people round the world insecure. If ever there was a wake-up call for the world to resolve simmering issues, this one has been the loudest and the costliest.

-- Editorial, The News, September 12, 2001







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