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Guest Opinion: Recognise Taliban and Negotiate

Stop Bombing Afghans, Recognise Taliban and Negotiate
By Brigadier (retd) Usman Khalid, Leader of Al-Ansaar

Before the US invasion of Afghanistan, I pleaded with President Bush and General Musharraf not to invade that country because it would be illegal, immoral and unwise to do so. But the invasion started three weeks ago. It has since been held to be illegal by every expert in international law. A war cannot be justified on grounds of self defence when the offence has ceased.

Furthermore, this war has been waged on those who had no part in the offence. It is also wrong because the offence was allegedly committed by a non-state (Al-Qaeda) and by non-Afghans. The whole world is asking, why is the Afghan state and the Afghan people being targeted for such vicious bombardment? It has since turned out that the war on Afghanistan is not just unwise, it is also un-winnable?

The US Officials have been saying for some time that the war would be long and waged in a manner unparalleled in history. The objectives of the war have not been revealed partly because these are yet to be fully formed and partly because these are too diabolical to be made public. General Clarke, ex Supreme Commander of NATO, now advisor to CNN on military matters, has been doing the round of TV studios to say what official Washington is reluctant to say.

He said that the target of war on terrorism is the entire Muslim World; those countries that are unable or unwilling to control anti-Americanism, would all be targets. That reveals the truth behind 'either you are with us or with the terrorists'. The heads of governments in Muslim countries either act as American puppets or they would be replaced - by electoral process if possible, by war and violence if not.

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The Emir of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammed Omar, kept his cool (unlike Saddam who resorted to bombast) and was willing to negotiate the extradition of Osama bin Laden but the USA rejected his offer. It became clear that the Americans do not want to bring the guilty to justice, their objective are more sinister and are constrained only by the prospects of success at the cost.

Their future objectives would also be determined by the chance of success at a cost they can afford. America has unlimited wealth to consume in pursuit of war but the cost in lives it can afford is very low. Its strategy, therefore, relies on air war and use of proxies. General Clarke said in his TV interview that the US would not commit its ground troops but use the forces of the Northern Alliance and any Pashtoon tribes it can get to join them.

If the momentum of US operations falters, as it appears to be happening, it may suspend operations in Afghanistan and attack an easier or more lucrative target. A resource rich country with an internal or external enemy willing to act as US proxy is a likely target. The opposition in Iraq has been under US patronage and protection for some time.

They are, therefore, genuine liberation fighters and Iraq is the next most likely country to be subjected to carpet bombing. However, the pundits agree that the main targets in the war on terrorism are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is considered an easy target because India is an ever ready proxy to be used against Pakistan. The USA believes it can bring Pakistan to its knees while continuing to maintain the farce of being its friend and ally.

The long war of America would entail a number of Muslim countries being attacked one after another. This can only be stopped if America does not win in Afghanistan. The chances of that are very good. The four pillars of American strategy are:

1) ravaging Afghanistan and starving its people by air war,
2) forming a broad based Government under UN aegis for Afghanistan,
3) capturing Kabul with American forces assisted by those of Northern Alliance capture and installing the UN sponsored Government,
4) hunting down Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

The USA has been partially successful in the first pillar of its strategy but the second and the third pillars are shaky. With the execution of Abdul Haq, it is uncertain if a UN installed administration would survive let alone establish control over the country that is needed to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

The strategy is a poison pill for Pakistan. The security of Pakistan is a three legged stool that needs all its legs to stand up. The support of a super power is one leg; but we are fortunate in having China as an alternative to USA. At least one, preferably two, friendly neighbours (other than China) is the other leg. Support of the majority in Pakistan is the third and the most important leg. Iran is not friendly but Afghanistan has not yet become hostile; the second leg is barely standing up.

The majority, albeit threadbare majority, supports the stand that Pakistan would benefit economically and from staying in the loop if it goes along with the USA. But if the war becomes long or involves attacking other countries, all the three legs of the security stool would collapse suddenly.

Wisdom lies in acting in time. Pakistan is in the loop, but the American military strategy is failing and the US needs our help to develop the diplomatic option. Diplomacy has a public face and a discreet face. To have some respect and credibility, the public position of Pakistan needs two changes.

1) The idea of a broad based Government has become dubious. Mullah Mohammed Omar, having been endorsed by the Shoora, is a legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. Anything about Afghanistan would have to be negotiated with the Taliban. Their Government must be recognised and attack on Afghanistan stopped immediately to give diplomacy a chance.

2) The air war is ineffective against a country as primitive and as devastated as Afghanistan. The ground war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban would be the continuation of the war that made that country a wasteland. A war between tribes and ethnic groups can serve no good purpose or end. The effect of both is to allow starvation and weather to empty the land of people. America deserves no support if it pursues that bestial form of terror against Afghans? It could only result in the Middle Eastern anger and frustration to spread to South, Central and South East Asia?

The message of discreet diplomacy is that support to war on Afghanistan is collapsing. The Muslims believe it to be war to re-colonise their countries. The implication of the statements of Western Leaders that the war would go on for years even decades is not lost on them. They believe that the purpose of coalition making process is clear; it is to set brother against brother and to destroy one Muslim country at a time - Iraq a decade ago and now Afghanistan.

The people are angry and are more likely to set upon the governments that join the American coalition. Richard Perle is taken seriously when he says that the USA does not need a coalition to strike its targets. It needs the coalition to stop them from uniting against American threat. The peoples, therefore, feel that if they have to hang, let us hang together rather than hang separately.

America can have a long war if it wants. But in a long war the side on the right always wins. The Muslim world has no conflict of interest with the West. But it has a territorial conflict with Israel and a civilizational conflict with India and a dispute with it over Kashmir. In both, the Christian West should have been on our side. But it is not. It has chosen to support the wrong. The right would indeed win. If Israel is right in Palestine and India in Kashmir, the West would indeed win the long war. But it is wrong and it would lose.

The Muslim world, particularly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, do not want a conflict or confrontation with the West. The war on Afghanistan is wrong; it must stop. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia together can negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan that is honourable and acceptable to all sides.

It would involve the acceptance of Mullah Mohammed Omar as legitimate head of government. It would entail backtracking by USA as well as Pakistan. But the ego of leaders is of little importance; saving innocent lives - in hundreds of thousands, of the poorest, the weakest and non-combatants - is more important. Starvation and weather could indeed take heavier toll than bullets and bombs. But is that what the war against terrorism about?

The time of posturing over the crisis is now past. It is now time to say what is right and do what is right. The people of Pakistan are not a party to the constraints accepted by President Musharraf. They will help their brethren in Afghanistan with food, with shelter and join them in war against the USA if it sets foot on Afghan soil or helps the Northern Alliance attack. The people are quite clear; this war is on Islam and its fortress - Pakistan. If the Government cannot defend it, they will.

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