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Pakistan Concerned About Afghan War Outcome - 2001-11-24

Pakistan joined the war against the Taleban, but is dubious about the anticipated victory. With U.S. air support, the rival Northern Alliance has taken over much of Afghanistan and is ambivalent about withdrawing. Its intentions may become clear at the upcoming meeting in Bonn of the various groups looking for a place in the postwar government.

As they watched television coverage of newly liberated Kabul, Pakistanis were startled by Afghans shouting, "Death to Pakistan!" It was clear Pakistan was being blamed for supporting the Taleban over the years, and was not about to be forgiven.

Moreover, Pakistan had been jolted by the Northern Alliance's seizure of Kabul after the United States told it not to enter the capital. Some Pakistanis consider this a U.S. betrayal, and Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar calls Kabul an occupied city.

A previous Pakistani top diplomat, Tanweer Ahmad, agrees the war has had a possibly dangerous outcome. "A kind of north-south, Pashtun-non-Pashtun divide has emerged," he says. "There is a risk of Afghanistan splitting up. Its territorial integrity must be assured because, if Afghanistan does not hold together, there will be forces of fragmentation of an uncontrollable nature, which would destabilize this region."

Mr. Ahmad says Pashtuns on both sides of the border could coalesce in a separatist movement. Already many Taleban are fleeing across the very porous border into Pashtun communities, which comprise about a third of Pakistan's population. French analyst Olivier Roy writes in the Wall Street Journal that a radical Pashtunistan could emerge, bent on vengeance.

This is unlikely, responds Tom Barfield, chairman of anthropology at Boston University. He notes no faction of Afghanistan has ever pushed for regional independence or tried to combine with a neighboring state. "They all realize that it is to their own advantage to cooperate together inside Afghanistan, if only to manipulate the outside world," he says. "One fear that the Pashtun Afghans would have in a Pashtunistan is if they were to become part of a greater Pakistan, they would be the tail of a much larger dog."

After the long years of war, says Mr. Barfield, Afghans understand they must cooperate, however grudgingly, to get the best deal for their country. The Northern Alliance may ignore Pakistan, but not the rest of the world. "Every outside country has realized that a stable Afghanistan is to their interest, and none of them seem to want individual bits of Afghanistan," says Mr. Barfield. "They all see the advantage of reconstructing a road system that would link central Asia with South Asia, Iran to central Asia, that Afghanistan really sits at a key crossroads of Asia. So a stable Afghanistan would actually help the regional economy."

Mr. Ahmad notes that Pakistan's rival, India, supports the Northern Alliance, along with Russia and Iran. But he believes the era of the great game is over, the contest for control of Afghanistan by outside powers. "Afghanistan has to be left to itself, and none of the neighboring states, including Pakistan, should interfere in internal affairs," he says. "It has been a very long period of instability, and the whole world in a way has paid a price for it, including the United States, on the 11th of September."

But Mr. Ahmad adds the United States and the United Nations are needed to help form a broad-based government for Afghanistan and to reconstruct the devastated country. That, above all, would be reassuring to Pakistan.