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IHT: US Confused Where To Go Next - Taliban's Retreat Worries Pakistan
By Nusrat Javeed

22/11/2001 3:49 pm Thu

[When a military delegation from Pakistan went recently to see Mullah Umar to persuade him to hand over Usama bin Ladin, warning that otherwise the Americans would go to war against Afghanistan, he listened to them patiently. When they had finished, he replied: "We have tasted defeat in our long struggle and we may taste it again, but you have never seen victory in your entire life." Then he got up and left the room, leaving his Pakistani visitors speechless.

Zafar Bangash - Muslimedia]

US confused where to go next

By Nusrat Javeed

WASHINGTON: Though extremely pleased with the stunning rout of Taliban, policy planners in the USA are utterly confused where to go next. "Policy papers written in the morning are obsolete by the afternoon," admitted a state department official, working on South Asian affairs, while talking to a noted scholar, Stephan Cohen.

The confusion is so profound that Washington is yet not certain whether Taliban are running for their lives like the "headless chickens." Or, they abandoned city after city with a design. Some analysts suspect the application of well-thought-out "strategic retreat". While the Pashto speaking Afghans appear discreetly "melting with the crowd" or retreating to the security of their ancestral villages and tribes, "foreign legions" of their supporters keep putting a deadly defence on the front lines of Kunduz and Kandahar.

Most of the Taliban's 60,000-strong fighting force and its weaponry in Afghanistan is believed to have escaped with low casualties from the heavy US bombing strikes and the lightning Northern Alliance offensives. Many analysts in Washington strongly feel that not more than 900 Taliban fighters have been killed. And, their arsenals of between 250 and 300 Scud missiles remain intact.

They can still be used against cities captured by the Northern Alliance. Yet, the US is pleased. For, its bombers and the Northern Alliance apparently made greater inroads on groups, perceived as "core units" of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda. Between 2,000 to 3,000 Pakistanis, Chinese, Chechens, Saudis, Egyptians, Yemenis, and Jordanians are estimated to have died while "covering" the Taliban retreats.

Intelligence sources claim that the Taliban command, though ordering its own forces to retreat, instructed Al Qaeda fighters to hold the line, fight until the last man and not surrender, so as to cover their pullback.

Al Qaeda men obeyed the order and most were killed. Still, military sources note that Osama Bin Laden's primary fighting force, Brigade 55, retreated with the Taliban and escaped virtually unscathed, although elements of the brigade remained in the besieged city of Kunduz.

Though wild estimates are made regarding the Taliban losses, no one cares to discuss as to how many troops of the Special Forces of the USA and its allies might have died on the ground.

A firm news blackout has been imposed on the casualty count in Washington. Much more intriguing is the silence Moscow maintains about its role. Most analysts The News talked to in Washington admit that the Russian Spetznaz, Special Forces, and Uzbek commandos spearheaded the Northern Alliance offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif. And, took the greatest number of casualties.

But no one is yet willing to count and admit them. Officially, Washington keeps pretending as if it was caught unaware by the stunning advances of Northern Alliance. Hardly a day before the fall of Kabul, President Bush jointly addressed a new conference with the visiting president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, in New York. His remarks suggested that Washington was not willing to let the Northern Alliance walk over Kabul. He wanted its forces to wait.

Till, the nitty-gritty details of a 'transitional government' for Afghanistan are negotiated under the UN umbrella. Apparently, the anti-Taliban forces didn't care listening to him. But the WorldNet Daily (WND) has claimed Friday that President Bush fully knew what was coming. Quoting "intelligence sources" it reports that moment before the US president was leaving for addressing the UN General Assembly on November 7, Russian President Putin talked to him on the phone. Putin reportedly urged President Bush to let the "Northern Alliance off the leash and signal the attack on key northern city of Afghanistan, Mazar-e-Sharif."

According to WND, the Russian president was confident that anti-Taliban forces can take over Mazar-e-Sharif "within hours" of the American nod. Kabul would then be only a few days away. What Putin had reportedly suggested to Bush ran contrary to all the diplomatic and military planning, the US secretaries of state and defence had done for Afghanistan.

They pursued a cautious, step-by-step, campaign to reach Kabul by the end of winter in April 2002. But WND report insists that "Bush responded with an on the spot decision to go with the Russian plan" without consulting his aides. "Had he done so," says WND, "Rumsfeld would have warned him the new proposal would place at risk all the military preparations, deals and understanding the United States had put together over the past weeks. Powell would have warned him that letting the Northern Alliance go would amount to ditching Washington's chief war ally, Pakistan...and damaging the special relations with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who was then in the USA."

The sudden fall of Kabul was really embarrassing for General Musharraf. Close to his boarding a plane to Pakistan on November 13, he talked to a select group of Pakistani journalists. Too confident he appeared and sounded while insisting, "Pakistan was becoming the real opinion builder regarding Afghanistan." His remarks indicated that Washington and its allies were now willing to assuage Islamabad's concern vis-a-vis Northern Alliance walking over Kabul. Not only that, Pakistan also appeared set to savour a bigger role in setting up the post-Taliban scenario in Afghanistan. His confidence may now appear ill founded. template=articleprint.tmplh&ArticleId=39673

Taliban's Retreat Worries Pakistan

Susan B. Glasser and Kamran Khan

Washington Post Service Thursday, November 22, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan More than a week after the Taliban retreat from the Afghan capital of Kabul and other cities, Pakistan is reeling from the rout of the strict Islamic militia it helped create.

Pakistan remains the only country in the world that still recognizes the Taliban, and it is unwilling to sever those ties. Pakistan also is not on speaking terms with the Northern Alliance, which now controls most of Afghanistan.

According to high-ranking political, military and diplomatic officials, Pakistan has seen its influence in Afghanistan evaporate as the future of the country is being plotted by the United Nations and the Northern Alliance, among others.

Unable to wield power in Afghan affairs, Pakistan fears that it is now sandwiched between two hostile countries: India to the east and Afghanistan to the west. Pakistan's military is on high alert, fearing trouble and instability along the 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) border it shares with Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan enlisted as a key ally in the U.S.-led coalition to oust the Taliban after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even top officials in President Pervez Musharraf's government have expressed alarm in recent days at the outcome of the coalition's efforts.

Television screens here are flashing pictures of angry Afghans shouting "Death to Pakistan!" and Pakistan's regional rivals are advising the new rulers of Kabul. A senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official pronounced his country's policy "a strategic debacle." A top military official called the situation a "quagmire" for Pakistan, while several other senior government figures spoke bitterly in interviews of what they called a U.S. promise to keep the Northern Alliance out of Kabul - a promise that was not kept.

The Northern Alliance, made up of Tajik, Uzbek and other ethnic groups in the northern part of Afghanistan, grew out of the mujahidin who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

After the Soviet pullout, the guerrillas fell into a civil war. In the mid-1990s, Pakistan nurtured and supported the Taliban, whose members are mostly from the large Pashtun ethnic group in the south. Pakistani officials saw the Taliban as a counterweight to the fractious, chaotic rule from 1992 to 1996 of the Kabul government, whose members are now largely back in control of the country.

Despite the enmity, Pakistan has signaled a willingness to open back-door talks with the Northern Alliance through Turkey and Iran, both of which have supported the alliance. Pakistani sources said top Foreign Ministry officials have also told the U.S. ambassador, Wendy Chamberlin, that they would welcome U.S. help in bridging the gap.

Officially, Pakistan supports the creation of a "broad-based, multiethnic government" for Afghanistan and says the Northern Alliance occupation of Kabul should be replaced by an international peacekeeping force. But Pakistan's diplomatic contortions in recent days suggest how tentative and confused the government's policy has become.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar told reporters that Pakistan would allow the Taliban's embassy here to remain open. But he also offered this confusing formula: Pakistan has not decided on the "de-recognition of the Taliban government," he said, but that "does not mean that we continue to recognize it."