Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Pakistan vs. Afghanistan

I wonder how it would affect the War on Terror if Pakistan and Afghanistan declared war on each other.

I mean this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, because I don't think that will happen, but the most recent RFE-RL Afghanistan report continues a troubling tale of tension between the two neighbors who are the key to our strategy for defeating the Taliban-al-Qaeda "remnants" in Central Asia. There was always room for trouble here: Pakistan has historically aspired to control of Afghanistan, and many elements in Afghanistan dream of the annexation of all "Pashtunistan," which includes a rather large chunk of Pakistan. But in recent weeks Pakistani troops have crossed the border into Afghanistan, where they have engaged in firefights with several wounded. According to these reports, artillery fire was continuing along the border as recently as a week ago, and Reuters takes it up to last weekend.

This was the context for Hamid Karzai's big foreign policy speech discussed in the RFE-RL report, which correspondent Amin Tarzi read as laced with veiled threats against, Pakistan, which I think holds water. Pakistan's intelligence helped create the Taliban, and Karzai has regularly accused Pakistan of continuing to harbor terrorists, as I have blogged about several times previously. I may have taken these reports too much at face value, because Karzai may have motives to raise a row with Pakistan - specifically, the rivalry between the two nations caused by their conflicting historical claims and Karzai's own 2004 re-election campaign. Some reports have said that Karzai's brother marched in an anti-Pakistan protest, though I can't find that now to link to. In Afghan culture, that kinship tie will be noticed.

I'm not too worried about the radicals, especially on the Afghan side: Most Afghans are probably sane enough to realize that they should probably rebuild their own country before taking parts of other peoples'. But with Afghanistan justifiably threatening to take strong action unless Pakistan withdraws from Afghan territory, observers should note the fact that both the rhetoric and conduct of the war in that region is becoming caught up in these regional disputes. And as Tarzi's main article closes: "There is a feeling held widely among Afghans that was illustrated by Karzai: that Afghanistan will be delivered to the will of Pakistan. As Karzai has rightly warned, the international community should 'not repeat that mistake again.' "


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