The Unholy Alliance: Pakistan, the Taliban, and Osama Bin Laden

By Halter, Kristel | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Unholy Alliance: Pakistan, the Taliban, and Osama Bin Laden


Halter, Kristel, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE: PAKISTAN, THE TALIBAN, AND OSAMA BIN LADEN

The Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (CPAP) in Washington, DC hosted an Oct. 17 luncheon briefing by Thomas E. Gouttierre, director of the University of Nebraska Program Center for Afghanistan. Gouttierre first set foot on Afghan soil in 1964 as a Peace Corps volunteer, not returning to the United States until a decade later. In 1996, Gouttierre found himself in Afghanistan once again, this time as a U.N. political affairs officer.

On his first day of duty, Gouttierre was handed a folder on Osama bin Laden and asked to determine whether the exiled Saudi dissident was residing in the country. By day's end, Gouttierre had his answer--Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan's remote mountains.

Today, five years later, the Bin Laden file remains open. At his elusive refuge in the Afghan mountains his capture is proving most difficult to American forces. The capture of Osama bin Laden, Gouttierre said, requires more than military might. It requires a gathering--or, rather, a sharing--of intelligence with countries close to Bin Laden. This, too, has posed a problem, Gouttierre noted, since such countries hesitate to share intelligence with the United States.

During his time in Afghanistan, Gouttierre witnessed the political upheavals that gave rise to new allegiances among Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, the Taliban, and Pakistan. This "unholy alliance," Gouttierre claimed, accounts for the sympathetic stance taken by the Taliban, which refuses to hand over Bin Laden, and Pakistan's initial hesitancy to cooperate with the United States.

Tracing the origins of the "unholy alliance," Gouttierre reminded the audience that Afghanistan underwent a revolution in the late 1970s. In April of 1978, the Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), seized power. The following year witnessed the Soviet invasion. The Afghan government stood on unstable ground, as leaders in Kabul pushed for reforms in accordance with Soviet ideals, and the Afghan people resisted them.

Resistance groups, called the mujahideen (Farsi or Arabic for "warriors"), flourished in the early 1980s. As they grew stronger, the resistance movements managed to make reforms of their own. In 1986, the mujahideen successfully backed Mohammad Najibullah's attempt to replace the PDPA's secretary-general.

Najibullah was elected president in 1987. His power was solidified by the backing of the mujahideen, and strengthened by his role in dispelling the Soviets from Afghanistan.

In 1992, the Najibullah government fell and civil war erupted. Among the pockets of opposition, one individual rose to the attention of the Pakistani government due to his popularity among the Afghans. This man was Mulla Omar, leader of a mujahideen opposition group known as the Taliban.

According to Gouttierre, the Pakistani government's interest in Afghanistan was a product of Pakistan's enduring rivalry with India. Having lost three wars to India, Islamabad sought to develop a strategic depth on its northern border. Pakistan hoped to use Afghanistan as a platform from which to move commercially--and, perhaps, politically against India. …

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