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Pakistani President Musharraf Says Afghanistan Remains Dangerous - 2003-07-01

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's recent visit with top U-S officials was not his first but perhaps his most useful. He received special treatment with an invitation to the Camp David retreat where President Bush praised him for his help in the anti-terrorism fight. He was promised three billion dollars in military and economic aid over the next five years -- a six-fold increase.

But President Musharraf candidly voiced some reservations during his U-S visit. Throughout the week, he spoke of the dangerous situation that remains in next-door Afghanistan. "We reiterate our firm support to the government of President Karzai, which needs to be strengthened. It is important that the world community remains engaged in Afghanistan and lives up to its commitment toward the reconstruction and development of this devastated country."

President Musharraf said local warlords reign supreme in at least a dozen important Afghan centers outside the capital. He fears these leaders have filled the power vacuum left after US-led forces toppled the Taleban government in late 2001.

The Pakistani president said tens of thousands more foreign troops are needed to extend the international security force throughout Afghanistan. The UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force of five thousand peacekeepers provides security only in the capital Kabul.

The US Defense Department agrees with the need to expand the peacekeeping mission beyond Kabul, but pentagon spokesman Marine Lieutenant Colonel David Lapan says the United States cannot do it alone. "The Department of Defense does not have any objection to an expansion of the international security force outside the capital. But to this point we have not seen countries that are willing to provide the forces to make that expansion possible."

The United States already has about 8,500 troops in Afghanistan, many of whom are in pursuit of remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network. This number is small, compared to nearly 150,000 US troops who are attempting to maintain security throughout Iraq.

For the time being, Lieutenant Colonel Lapan says the United States is leading an effort to send out small teams of civilian and military personal to assist in reconstruction projects in the Afghan countryside. These groups are one step closer to providing some stability outside the capital. "An initiative known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams are made up of both U-S and coalition forces that include 50 to 100 people, depending on the team and location. Their mission is to help in reconstruction and civil affairs."

A few of the teams are already working in southern Afghanistan. But with less than 100 members, they are insufficient, says Charles Dunbar, professor of international relations at Simmons College and a former US diplomat who served in Afghanistan. " The size of the units is much, much smaller than what is needed if we are talking about reconstruction. My sense is that those units are nowhere near large enough or of the right mission to fulfill the function of a peace keeping or peace-making force."

Mr. Dunbar adds that more people with specialized skills are needed to help with reconstruction. He believes a robust peacemaking force is essential to protect specialists and restore order around the country.

But some observers say turmoil will persist until the power of the warlords is shattered. Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asian Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, says the best way to attack the warlords is to remove their financial underpinnings with carefully placed peacekeepers. "It's not a matter of just having international forces spread all over Afghanistan, which could be a swamp, but rather concentrating them initially at the customs point to make sure that tariffs are collected in a fair manner and turned over not to local warlords, but to the central government under President Karzai, which would then distribute some of those taxes to the localities through the legitimate government."

But Mr. Starr says that is not happening. He believes international forces must control the borders and warn the warlords that they are prepared to use all necessary force against anyone threatening the authority of the central Afghan government.

Afghanistan's location is at the heart of many trade routes -- both ancient and modern. A substantial amount of government revenue comes from customs tariffs on goods transiting the country.

For example, on the main post on the Iranian border, about one thousand dollars are collected from each used Japanese automobile crossing the border. Mr. Starr says total revenues from that post alone reach nearly one million dollars a day. "It is about using troops in a very surgical way, to guarantee the flow of funds from six or seven key systems points on the border, from there to Kabul. If you concentrate your forces and direct them towards that objective, you will fundamentally transform the situation. You will have created a circumstance where regional warlords, especially at the key border points, where all the money is to be made, will suddenly realize it is better to cooperate and end up with part of the pie than to oppose it and lose it all."

Mr. Starr contends that some of the peacekeepers already in Afghanistan could be moved to the borders to ensure tariffs are passed on to the central government.

However the problem is tackled, the nucleus of the war on international terrorism remains in Afghanistan, insists Professor Dunbar. "If the United States wants to have any chance in winning the war on terrorism, it needs to do much more to focus its efforts on Afghanistan and particularly on Pakistan than it has been doing. I am very pleased that General Musharraf has been here and has been successful. That's a very good start. But all the interest now is in Iraq. People tend to have forgotten about Afghanistan, and I think it is important to remember that Iraq, as far as the war on terrorism is concerned, is an expensive sideshow. The center of the war on terrorism is in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan and in eastern Afghanistan."

During his US visit, Pakistani President Musharraf also expressed concern about the way the war on terrorism is being fought. He compared fighting terrorism with destroying a tree. If a group of terrorists is arrested and eliminated, it is like plucking the leaves of the tree. If an organization like al-Qaida is destroyed, it is like chopping off a branch of the tree. Even so, this does not get to the root of the problem. "Many in the Muslim world feel that only the symptoms rather than the underlying disease of international terrorism are being aggressively addressed," said President Musharraf. "The root causes of this menace are being ignored, leaving injustice, hopelessness, despair and anger to fester into extremism violence and terror."

The president said his government is fully capable of tracking down any remnants of al-Qaida in his country. But he warned the world must remember that the war on terrorism is much larger than Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida.