Meanwhile, the army is attempting to deal with the domestic backlash from the Afghan conflict. The government has held three rounds of talks with the Taliban in an attempt to stop the massive cross-border smuggling of consumer goods, fuel and foodstuffs between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Such smuggling has amounted to US$ 2.5 billion dollars in 1998 and has created a massive loss of revenues and industrial stagnation in Pakistan. Meanwhile Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has pledged to disarm the Pakistani population, curb military training in the country's thousands of madrassas
IMPLICATIONS: All these measures remain partial and piecemeal. The military has still not undertaken a major review of its policy towards Afghanistan. Despite increasing public calls for a review of Pakistan's ''Jehadi'' foreign policy in Kashmir and Afghanistan and considerable pressure from the United States and other close allies of Pakistan to wind down its support for the Taliban, General Musharraf has been reluctant to do so. The reason is that the army remains sharply divided over this issue.
Senior generals who form the core group of advisers (junta) around Musharraf and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are united on Musharraf's agenda for domestic economic and social reforms. But they are profoundly divided on policies towards the Taliban and United States demands for the curbing of Pakistan based terrorism. Musharraf himself is heavily dependent on several neo-fundamentalist generals who helped him during the coup and who believe in maintaining the foreign policy status quo. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry is reluctant to order a policy review until the army gives the signal that it itself is willing to do so.
Since his visit to Iran, Musharraf has hardened his stance on support for the Taliban. He told journalists in Lahore on 24 December that he has “given several proposals to Iran and urged Iran to talk to the Taliban. These proposals include a methodology for a settlement but they have to understand that 90% of the ground is held by the Taliban and the other forces only hold 10%, and you have to accept that reality.'' Musharraf also appeared to rule out United Nations or Western mediation in the conflict. He stated, ''There are only four parties that need to get together--Iran, Pakistan, Taliban and the Northern Alliance. There is no need to include the Six-Plus-Two or the Five-Plus-Two or any other such (international) group. They should be cut out.'' This statement was in reference to United Nations initiatives.
CONCLUSIONS: Pakistan’s hardline generals and the Islamic parties, who are resisting any policy change, have only been further emboldened by India's hostile attitude toward Pakistan and its demands to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Without an overall strategic change in policy, the army's piecemeal attempts to curb smuggling or the madrassas cannot succeed. In fact the Taliban, confident of continued Pakistani support, have rejected all Pakistani proposals to end smuggling while the campaign to contain the madrassas is on hold. Moreover, many fundamentalist leaders in Pakistan’s army do not want to antagonize Pakistan's fundamentalist Islamic parties who support the Taliban. Should a widescale clampdown on madrassas go forward, they might very well weaken Musharraf’s support within his junta.
Pakistan's renewed tensions with India in the aftermath of the Indian Airlines highjacking, coupled with United States claims that the hijackers were supported by Pakistan, will indefinitely delay any major review of Pakistan’s foreign policy. The Taliban's recognition of the Chechen government will also strengthen Pakistani Islamic parties support for the Chechens in the form of military supplies, funds and fighters. The Taliban now provide a direct link to Chechnya. Hundreds of Pakistani militants fought in Chechnya during the 1994-96 war and continue to do so. Thus, there will be no immediate change in the military's support to the Taliban. Both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance are marshalling supplies from their regional allies and preparing for a renewal of the spring fighting season. Fighting could start as early as March with a major Taliban offensive against Ahmad Shah Masud's forces north of Kabul.
AUTHOR BIO: Ahmed Rashid has covered the war in Afghanistan for 20 years. He is Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia Correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism? His latest book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia has just been published.
Copyright 2000 The Analyst
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