Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Taliban Re-Emerge in Afghanistan, Musharraf and Karzai Visit White House

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

As Taliban Re-Emerge in Afghanistan, Musharraf and Karzai Visit White House

Article excerpt

IN AN OCT. 16 letter to the editor of The Washington Post, retired foreign service officer Edmund McWilliams challenged an Oct. 7 op-ed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld entitled "Afghanistan: Five Years Later." The Afghanistan Rumsfeld had described "does not exist," observed the former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan in 1988 and '89. "The Taliban and their allies are stronger and exacting greater casualties among NATO (which is now in command there) and U.S. personnel than ever before."

While Rumsfeld may refuse to agree, McWilliams' assessment more or less tallies with recent press reports coming out from Afghanistan. Pakistan hotly denies Afghan President Hamid Karzai's charge that it has not been doing enough to curb Taliban border crossings into Afghanistan. Islamabad instead blames instability and the Karzai regime's weakness for the continued trouble along the border between the two countries.

Adding to the charges and counter-charges, an Oct. 17 Associated Press report quoted British Army Gen. David Richards, now leading the NATO forces in Afghanistan, as attributing the Taliban's resurgence to a premature withdrawal of troops in 2001. "The Taliban were defeated...and it looked all pretty hunky-dory," Richards said, but "the task was not fully done."

The current approach is to seek the help of tribal elders to identify and destroy Taliban fighters in the border area. As part of this strategy, British troops withdrew from the southern Helmand province, and NATO dropped 500-pound bombs on a known Taliban hideout in Helmand's Khod Valley, sending a signal that it would tolerate no violence in the area.

The NATO-led coalition hopes that if the attempt to gain the support of elders in Helmand succeeds, the policy may be extended to other parts of Afghanistan. It is not clear, however, where the loyalties of the tribal chiefs lie-especially in the poppy planting season before winter sets in. After all, the vast fertile lands these tribal lords control have made them very wealthy.

Clearly, in order to consolidate his rule Karzai must fight on many fronts. Despite U.S. support, however, he so far has not been able to extend his control beyond the capital city of Kabul.

Musharraf's U.S. Visit

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf began his 18-day mid-September visit to the United States with an address to the U.N. General Assembly, reassuring its members of his continued fight against terrorists. While in New York he met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and successfully pressed for a revival of bilateral talks to further the Confidence Building Measures between the two countries.

In Washington he met with President George W. Bush, who later invited both Musharraf and Karzai to dinner in an effort to cool down differences between the two leaders. The diplomacy through dining approach seems not to have been a complete success, however, since the two neighbors have continued to accuse each other of facilitating the Taliban's resurgence.

Extending his stay in the U.S. in order to launch and promote his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, Musharraf created a furor when he told CBS' "60-Minutes" on Sept. 17 that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had threatened to bomb Pakistan back "into the Stone Age" if it did not cooperate with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. With Armitage denying that he made the threat, Musharraf proceeded to duck all subsequent questions, saying he was "honor bound" not to discuss the book until it was released. …

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