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by Dr. S. Amjad Hussain

Taliban Rewinning Afghan Hearts And Minds

(PNS) KHYBER PASS -- The rocky gorges that guard and protect this famous mountain pass on the crossroads of Asia looks just about the same as it has through history. But the apparent tranquility of this harsh mountainscape is misleading. The geopolitical turmoil that is causing so much misery in the Middle East also permeates the lives of the people living on both sides of these 1000+ miles of rugged and at places ill-defined border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In these mountains and beyond, the so-called Great Game of the British era is still being played and Pakistan either by default or by design has become part of it.

Despite rather successful elections, much of Afghanistan remains unsecured and there is an increase in the influence of the Taliban in the Afghan countryside. The writ of the government is severely limited and is for all practical purposes confined to the capital Kabul and its environs and to a lesser degree in some of the major urban centers of the country. The climate of uncertainty where loyalties are at best temporary and prone to shifts has been a perfect milieu for the Taliban resurgence.

Reliable Afghan hands, businessmen and journalists in Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier town, paint a discouraging picture of a losing war against the Taliban. At this time the Taliban insurgents have an almost free run of many of the southern provinces including Helmund, Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni and Paktika. Even the birthplace of President Hamid Karzai, the town of Panjwai near Kandahar, is dominated by the insurgents. The situation in the province of Uruzgan is typical of the situation in most of the south.

Just a year ago the province was in firm control of Hamid Karzai's supporters but not any more. According to reports reaching Peshawar and collaborated by a recent report in the New York Times, the Taliban are showing increased presence, at times in full public view, in most of the province. Even the governor Moulvi Abdul Hakim Munib admits to the deteriorating conditions. The people either through intimidation of the insurgents or because of tribal loyalties (or both) pay lip-service to the government and instead help the insurgents. Added to the mix is also the rising resentment of the occupation.

On a recent visit to the area the commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan General Karl Eikenberry found this out for himself. During the day the people, the army and the provincial officials act as if they are loyal to Kabul but at sunset the facade disappears and insurgents call the shots. With the impending departure of the American forces from the south of the country and their replacement by the British-led NATO peacemakers the insurgency is bound to increase. The NATO peacemakers, according to the New York Times, have repeatedly said that they are not going to fight the insurgents.

The failure of the coalition forces in Afghanistan has put added pressure on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf who has been under increasing pressure by the U.S, both in public and in private, to eradicate the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants from the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Pakistan army has been, for the past two years, carrying out operations in the tribal areas of Wazirstan that adjoins Afghanistan. Even this low intensity campaign has infuriated the tribal areas to the point where they have declared a de facto war against the Pakistan army. In recent months tribal leaders suspected of collaborating with Pakistan army have been killed.

President Musharraf is a courageous man. It took courage to abruptly change the pro-Taliban policy in the aftermath of 9/11. It took courage to align his reluctant people with American interests in this part of the world. And it took courage to carry out military operations in the tribal areas against the wishes of the majority of his countrymen. Today he is caught between the opposing objectives of what the U.S. dictates and what his own people want. So far he has walked the tight rope with finesse and determination.

Time magazine has called Pervez Musharraf the West's best bet for peace. It may, for the sake of his own people, turn out to be so. But at this time as he tries hard to maintain a precarious balance the U.S. keeps adding to his burden. His fall will throw the whole area in a tailspin.

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Albion Monitor   June 19, 2006   (

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