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FEER: The War - Easy to Start, Hard to Finish
By Ahmed Rashid

11/10/2001 1:46 pm Thu

[Rencana ini, antara lain, memaparkan strategi Amerika untuk menawan Kabul (dulu) sebelum memburu Osama. Banyak negara Islam begitu curiga dengan tindak-tanduk dan niat Amerika kerana sejarah merakam Amerika lebih banyak membunuh mereka yang tidak berdosa. Perhatikan betapa kacaunya rantau sebelah sini akibat campurtangan Amerika dan bagaimana PBB tidak mampu berbuat apa-apa untuk mengikat Amerika dari bertindak seikut suka. PBB seperti menjadi tempat terakhir, bukannya mula-mula dalam sebarang krisis getir dunia. Tidakada sidang tergempar dan kata putus sebulat suara. Apabila telah lumat dan berkecai dikerjakan oleh Amerika barulah PBB menjadi penting pula.. - Editor]

Easy to Start, Hard to Finish

The U.S. claimed success in its first round of attacks, but a long-term political solution for Afghanistan is not yet in place. Now the coalition faces potential chaos as it pursues many goals on many fronts and faces fears of violent retaliation around the world

By Ahmed Rashid/LAHORE

Issue cover-dated October 18, 2001

THE WORLD HAD WAITED expectantly for 28 days for the United States to begin its attack on Afghanistan. Then, on the evening of October 7, U.S. and British forces delivered some 50 cruise missiles and dozens of laser-guided bombs on 31 military targets around the cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad--largely hitting airports, anti-aircraft defences, aircraft, radar and the empty training camps once run by Osama bin Laden. The attacks also hit the Taliban Defence Ministry in the centre of Kabul, killing some 20 people.

Just minutes after the first wave of attacks began, Qatar's Al-Jazeera television network aired a video prepared by bin Laden, sending a chilling message to the American people. He pledged more terrorist attacks in America. "I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Mohammad," he said, shaking a finger at the camera.

Suddenly, the war is in full swing.

But the overwhelming force of the U.S. assaults did not disguise the fragility of the U.S.-led coalition, nor did the 37,500 food packages dropped by the U.S. Air Force into remote areas of Afghanistan ease the anxiety of neighbouring states. Instead, what was highlighted on the first night of the latest Afghan war was the complexity of the multi-purpose, open-ended role that the U.S. has defined for itself in its global battle against terrorism.

Unlike the 1991 Gulf War, with its clearly set military priorities, the U.S. now wants to achieve several goals at once: destroy the Taliban and bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, feed the Afghan population, stabilize neighbouring states with economic aid and prepare the ground for a post-Taliban Afghan government. Meanwhile, the U.S. must also enact massive security precautions at home and develop its plans to take on targets in other countries.

The first attacks came from an air base in the U.S., American aircraft carriers and British submarines in the Arabian Sea, and the U.S. base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean--a reminder that no Arab or Muslim state had granted permission to the coalition to bomb Afghanistan from its own soil.

Moreover, no Muslim ground troops have joined the coalition. Iran has declared itself neutral and refused to allow U.S. aircraft to use its airspace; Saudi Arabia has refused the use of its U.S.-built air command centres; and the Gulf states provided no military support. Even Afghanistan's pro-coalition neighbours--Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan--have provided only limited facilities. They have all refused to allow U.S. ground troops to launch attacks from their territory. An expansion of the U.S. attacks to other countries--specifically Iraq--could quickly erode the coalition.

The coalition will also be tested by violence around the region, most significantly in Pakistan, which could become the next front for violent retaliation by the Taliban and its supporters. The day after the first U.S. strikes, violent protests erupted in all of Pakistan's cities, though the demonstrating Islamic students and mullahs were not joined by the general public. In Quetta, bordering Afghanistan, some 15,000 protesters burned down cinemas, a shopping plaza and United Nations offices. "To all Muslims: prepare yourself for jihad," Maulana Noor Mohammed, the provincial head of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ullema Islam party told the angry crowd.

On a second day of protests in Quetta three people were shot dead when rioters stormed a police station. Hundreds of Pashtun tribesmen are reported to have crossed from Pakistan into Afghanistan to join the Taliban army.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, insisted at a press conference that "I know the people of Pakistan are with my government," even as the army deployed nearly 200,000 men across the country to maintain law and order. Two Jamiat Ullema Islam party leaders and a third pro-Taliban Islamic leader have been placed under house arrest in Pakistan. And in a note of desperation Musharraf asked Western companies not to cancel export orders from Pakistan and for Western companies to send back their executives.

Musharraf's task of holding his government together and stemming popular unrest is only the most poignant example of the kind of battle taking place around the region. As countries that express support for the U.S. begin to fear violent retaliation on their own soil, it is clear the war will be fought on many fronts. Indonesian protesters faced off with police and threatened to drive Americans from the country. In southern Thailand, a policeman's murder brought accusations against Muslim separatists. In the Philippines, troops killed at least 21 members of the Abu Sayyaf, which is featured on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.

In the authoritarian Central Asian republics that neighbour Afghanistan, emotions were running high--not for fear that the Taliban would be destroyed but for fear that it would retaliate. "The government is fearful of terrorist attacks by local Islamic militants who are loyal to the Taliban and bin Laden," says a diplomat in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is following its own battle strategy at home. As their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar left Kandahar with senior aides and headed for the hills, the Taliban remained defiant. "We have also worked out a strategy for fighting, we will fight the Americans the way we fought the Russians," Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef told a press conference.

The U.S. strategy in Afghanistan began by targeting the Taliban's limited air power, communications and command and control centres. The initial attacks appeared likely to be followed by lower-level bombing of tanks, armoured vehicles, trucks and artillery--and intensified special-forces operations to track down bin Laden. Washington also continued to dispatch additional ground troops to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Washington knows that once it attacks Taliban armour, Taliban units will most likely fragment, paving the way for the opposition United Front to take major cities, including Kabul. That could create even greater chaos. The United Front is divided into four main factions which loosely represent the major ethnic groups in the north--Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara--and the Persian-speaking Heratis in the west of the country. The danger is that if each faction takes a major city, they will set up separate administrations--replicating the warlordism that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1992. And in the Pashtun-dominated south there is not even that alternative for the moment--just the danger of spreading anarchy amongst the tribes as the Taliban fragments. Needless to say, this situation will not make it easier for the U.S. to find bin Laden.

This is the scenario as long as there is no alternative transitional government in place. The only legitimizing factor in Afghan politics is the country's 86-year-old former king, Zahir Shah, who on October 1 set up a supreme council for national unity from exile in Rome. The 120-man council must now distribute seats between all the factions, which include all ethnic groups, with seats set aside should Taliban representatives choose to join. The process among the divided Afghans could take weeks, even months. Only after the composition of the council is agreed can an interim government be chosen from among members.

A major worrying factor in everyone's calculations, especially for the Afghans, is Pakistan. "An ideal operational scenario is a short, sharp targeted action followed as fast as possible by a very balanced political dispensation and rehabilitation effort," Musharraf told a press conference on October 8. Musharraf wants a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. He has repeatedly emphasized that both U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have promised him that a government "friendly" to Pakistan would emerge in Kabul. The Western promises could be a short-term tactic to maintain Pakistan's support or a genuine long-term concession to Islamabad. If the latter, it would be alienate many Afghans.


Musharraf has strongly rejected a major role for the United Front. This in turn has promoted intense United Front criticism of Pakistan's "continued interference." Says Mohammed Eshaq, the United Front representative in Washington, "If Pakistan is allowed to play a key role in shaping the future of Afghanistan, it will play a spoiler's role." Moreover, any dictation by Pakistan as to who is to be included and who is barred will fuel immediate opposition from Russia, Iran and the Central Asian republics, which support the United Front and have always detested Pakistan's fundamentalist proxies in Afghanistan. Such tensions could split the already fragile military coalition.

One way out of this dilemma is for the U.S. and Europe to go back to the UN Security Council and pass a new resolution that would mandate the UN to help form an equitable broad-based government in Kabul. Zahir Shah has said that the UN should copy its model for Cambodia in the 1990s.

The UN is already preparing for such an eventuality. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed the highly experienced former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi as overall coordinator for the UN's humanitarian and political strategy. Brahimi has many things going for him: He is a Muslim, a political player on the world stage who knows Western and Arab leaders well, and as the former UN mediator in Afghanistan he has considerable experience inside the country.

However, Brahimi cannot operate until the international community and especially Washington gives him a mandate. "The fear is that the Americans will not mandate the UN to help the Afghans make a new government, but at the end of the war they will still dump the whole issue into the UN's lap," says a senior UN official in Islamabad.