As Afghanistan and Pakistan bicker, the U.S. is losing its patience. But without sustained cooperation, the Taliban won't be defeated
President George Bush will host a dinner today for his most important Asian allies in the war on terrorism. And although the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to express their loyalty to America, the two neighbors themselves are at odds. This is threatening relations, causing headaches for politicians in Washington and raising doubts about the effectiveness and integrity of the alliance.
Both Presidents, Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, demonstrate a friendly attitude toward one another while visiting the same foreign capitals. But the moment they part, the accusations and complaints start up again.
The argumentative mood spread even to President Bush, who until now had forced the two to cooperate. Over the past week, the U.S., Pakistani and Afghan presidents hurled so many grievances toward one another, that an unwitting observer would never have guessed they were allies. And unless the three can come to an agreement, the war being waged against the Taliban in Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border cannot be won.
Karzai and Musharraf came to America last week for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. The Pakistani's trip to New York was also to promote his memoirs, "In the Line of Fire," which hit bookstores on Monday.
Right after he arrived in the U.S., Musharraf rebuked Karzai for failing to battle the terrorists in Afghanistan assiduously enough. Karzai responded by claiming that the war against the Taliban and remnants of al-Qaeda would have been over long ago if only they were not given refuge in Pakistan.
Musharraf immediately parried, stating that the crux of the problem is Afghanistan, because Karzai rarely sets foot outside his palace in Kabul and doesn't understand his own country. "If the Taliban didn't have popular support, they couldn't fight so forcefully."
An angry Karzai reminded his neighbor that in the mid-90s, it was Pakistan that assisted in the creation of the Taliban movement, and was one of only three nations to recognize them as the government of Afghanistan. "You wanted to train a poisonous snake to bite others. But a snake cannot be taught. In the end it will bite its teacher, too," said Karzai.
A FIGHT OVER OSAMA
In his memoirs, Musharraf admits that Pakistan supported the Taliban. But it allegedly did so in order to bring an end to the fratricidal strife and lawlessness in Afghanistan and to introduce some kind of order to the country.
In Musharraf's opinion, Americans are also responsible for the emergence of the Taliban, since they supported every kind of fanatic willing to fight the USSR in Afghanistan. "And when the communists had been overcome, the cowardly Americans abandoned Afghanistan, leaving it to its own devices," writes Musharraf in his book.
And as always, the two presidents traded accusations about the hiding places of Osama bin Laden and Sheik Omar, the Taliban leader. Musharraf maintains that Osama is in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, and that Omar is in Kandahar, right under the noses of the Americans. Karzai swears that mullah Omar is safely ensconced in Quetta, and Osama is hiding on the Afghan-Pakistani border – certainly on the Pakistani side.
A FRAGILE ALLIANCE
An interview that Musharraf gave to CBS has become a source of some controversy. In it he said that after September 11th, the Americans threatened to carpet-bomb Pakistan unless he agreed to join in a common war against the Taliban and the terrorists. "We'll bomb you into the Stone Age," former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is reported to have said.
Armitage admits only to having had a "strong conversation" with the director of Pakistani intelligence, during which he reminded the Pakistani of President Bush's famous message: "You are either with us or against us."
In his memoirs Musharraf claims that the U.S. is biased against the Muslim world and that its invasion of Iraq made the world more dangerous. Regarding the invasion of Iraq, Karzai was of a remarkably similar mind; he added that, "Instead of spending $300 billion on the Iraq War, if Americans had put that money into the reconstruction of Afghanistan, our country would not produce drugs today, but the sweetest grapes in the world."
The U.S. President did little to calm the atmosphere when he said on television that if he was given a reliable information of bin Laden's whereabouts in Pakistan, he would send his troops immediately, without waiting for the government's approval. "We would have never allowed it," replied an indignant Musharraf.
"All of this just shows how fragile the anti-terrorist alliance of the USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan is," retired General Talat Massud, an expert on Pakistani politics, told Gazeta Wyborcza.