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the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Strangle the Taliban?
Peter Popham, Independent on Sunday (centrist), London, England,
Sept. 16, 2001. Popham is the papers correspondent in Islamabad.
has the power to strangle the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan
without American help. It can cut off its fuel, shut down its bank
accounts, prevent the flow of food, and clamp down on the black-market
trade that is the militias lifeline. These are all measures,
it is reported here, that American officials have asked the Pakistani
government to take.
If the full cooperation President Pervez Musharraf spoke
of means anything, it means doing these sorts of things as well,
America insists, as opening Pakistans skies to American jets
and Pakistans soil to American ground troops, as well (why
not?) as fighting shoulder to shoulder with those American ground
So if Pakistan has it in its power to take these steps if, far more
than any other nation, it is in a position to bring Osama bin Ladens
hosts to their knees, why does it challenge credulity that Pakistan
should do so? The reason is that the Taliban is Pakistans
babya brawling, truculent, maladjusted baby, but flesh of
Pakistans flesh, faith of Pakistans faith. And the power
demanding this act of infanticide is the power that probably most
of Pakistans 140 million Muslims would be happy to characterize
as the Great Satan.
Afghanistans Taliban leadership, whose archenemy Ahmad Shah
Massoud has just been confirmed dead, addressed itself yesterday
to this silent Pakistani majority when talking to journalists here.
If neighboring countries, particularly Islamic countries,
gave a positive response to American demands for military bases,
it would spark off extraordinary danger....It would draw us into
an imposed war....The mujahideen would have to enter the territory
of such a country, said the Talibans ambassador to Pakistan,
Abdul Saleem Zaeef. It is a religious obligation on all Muslims,
he charged, that if there is an attack on a Muslim nation,
they must defend it. If Pakistan threw its full weight behind
the United States, the Islamic world would look on aghast much as
it did when Saudi Arabia consented to be the Wests platform
during the Gulf War. Saudi Arabia survived the loathing it provoked,
but Saudi Arabia is a harsh autocracy, where, once the king has
decided on a policy, no dissent is tolerated.
Pakistan is not a democracy, but it is far more anarchically open
than Saudi Arabia has ever been. It is rife with Islamic zealots,
many of them armed and hungry for jihad, holy war. It is the cradle
of jihad, producing not only the Taliban but also groups such as
Lashkar-e-Taiba who are waging what one analyst here called industrial-scale
jihad against India in Kashmir. Pakistan produces holy warriors
the way other nations produce microchips or MBAs.
They are a squabbling crew, as faction-ridden as Marxists in the
West once were, and include vicious sectarian groups devoted to
bumping off Shiites or other Muslim minorities. No one group commands
broad, nationwide loyalty. The religious groups are very incoherent,
said a Western diplomat here. No single religious leader,
no single religious party, commands wide support.
That is the fact on which President Musharraf must be pinning his
hope. Because if, as a leaked report yesterday suggested, his support
for the United States goes much further than announced, for Pakistan
it will be a leap into the unknown. President Musharraf has been
itching to put the fundamentalists in their box ever since he seized
power nearly two years ago. His hero is Ataturk, who transformed
Turkey from a theocracy into a modern, secular republic. He has
made some progress in curbing the enemies of secularism in Pakistan.
So Musharraf has led a drive to disarm this gun-saturated country;
he banned two sectarian groups and tried to stop others from raising
funds; he is trying to regulate the madrasas, the Islamic schools
from which the Taliban sprang, and oblige them to teach other subjects
besides the Quran.
Progress on all these fronts, however, has been halting, and sermons
preached in mosques across the country on Friday gave an inkling
as to why. This is the wrath of Allah, intoned the imam
of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, referring to Tuesdays attacks.
You Americans commit oppression everywhere, in Kashmir, in
Palestine, and you do not see the blood spilled....But when Allah
catches hold of you, there is no escape.