|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
4 - 10 October 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Readying for battleThe pieces are falling into place for a US-led war against Afghanistan, reports Khaled Dawoud from Islamabad
Pakistan, a crucial US ally in the anticipated wide- scale assault against Afghanistan to hunt down Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect in the New York and Washington bombings, has radically shifted its policy towards the ruling Taliban movement in Kabul, and declared that their days are "numbered."
WHO IS THE ENEMY? Soviet occupation, Taliban brutality and, now, the possibility of an imminent attack by US special forces (like those, right, training for war at a California camp) -- even the most innocent of Afghans may soon suffer for the crimes of others
Meanwhile, recent reports in Pakistani newspapers suggest that military bases in Peshawar and Quetta, bordering Afghanistan, have been emptied in preparation for military action.
Following the 11 September attacks Pakistan sent two official delegations to the headquarters of the Taliban movement in Kandahar, in an attempt to convince them to hand over Bin Laden. Both delegations returned to Islamabad empty-handed.
In an interview with BBC television on Tuesday, President Pervez Musharraf appeared to have given up hope. Asked whether the Taliban's days were numbered he replied: "It appears so. It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan. We have conveyed this to the Taliban."
Foreign ministry spokesman Riaz Mohamed Khan repeated the message a few hours later. "We told them that they did not have much time left [to respond to US demands for the extradition of Bin Laden and his close associates]."
Conscious of an increasingly volatile domestic situation, with pro-Taliban Islamic parties holding daily rallies, Musharraf said he hoped any US attack against Afghanistan would aim at eradicating terrorism and would not target the Afghan people. Extremist political parties have said they will defy a government ban on demonstrations and more anti-US and anti-Musharraf rallies are expected on Friday, a traditional day for protests in Arab and Muslim countries.
"I only hope that it's not months and years, and that whatever action has to be taken is very, very short, followed by very good rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan," Musharraf said.
He dismissed reports that extremist political parties posed a threat to the future of his government, claiming that a majority of Pakistanis supported his decision to cooperate with the US by opening airspace and providing logistic and intelligence support.
Following Musharraf's statements on Tuesday, Pakistanis braced themselves for war, believing it would begin in a matter of hours. However, a Pentagon announcement late Tuesday that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would visit Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan during a four- day tour was seen as a signal that war was not so imminent. "No war will take place with the defence secretary out of Washington," said a Pakistani analyst.
Preparations for war continued, though, alongside the formulation of strategies to deal with any post-Taliban government. Ensuring a friendly government in Kabul remains a precondition of Pakistan's participation in the US anti-terror campaign. Its opposition to the Afghan Northern Alliance that has been fighting the Taliban over the past six years and is expected to play a major role in any US plan to topple the Kabul regime, was reportedly one stumbling block in talks between Islamabad and Washington.
Pakistan is also extremely concerned about the arrival of Afghan refugees at its border. UN agencies estimate that a million refugees are likely to flee to the border. There are over 2.5 million Afghans already living in Pakistan.
UN agencies this week started transporting hundreds of tons of food aid to Afghanistan for the first time since 11 September. Officials estimate over four million Afghans depend on food shipments, and have repeatedly expressed fear of famine should food aid not be allowed in.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Khan announced yesterday that his country had for the first time received evidence from the US on Bin Laden's involvement in the New York and Washington bombings, though he refused to discuss the nature of this evidence. "You don't expect us to jump to the guns. We need time to examine this evidence," he said.
Washington's initial reluctance to provide proof of Bin Laden's involvement has been a sticking point between the two sides and the provision of evidence will certainly help President Musharraf sell his decision to cooperate with the US to his own people.
The Taliban movement has remained defiant, despite an offer of direct negotiations with the United States made by its ambassador to Islamabad, Mullah Abdel-Salam Zaeef. Zaeef, who asked Washington to provide evidence on Bin Laden's involvement, also dismissed threats by Washington and its allies to topple the Taliban regime. "Only Allah changes the regime," he said.
Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Obaidullah exhorted his soldiers to be ready. "Fight hard against attacks, defend your country," he said during a visit to troops near the Pakistan border. "If your enemy is strong, God is stronger."
Pakistani newspapers have spoken of splits within the Taliban's own ranks, with tribal elders reportedly critical of the leadership's refusal to hand over Bin Laden and his associates.
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