Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Afghanistan’s Taliban are appealing to the United Nations, the European Union and the Red Cross to stop President Hamid Karzai from carrying out executions of people on death row, many of them their fighters.
They don’t think the Afghan judicial system is fair, according to a statement by the hardline Islamist group. The UN and the EU have asked Karzai to halt the executions.
Obviously, the irony is inescapable. During their years in power, the Taliban carried out summary trials followed by public executions or amputations of limbs for lesser crimes such as stealing.
I happened to visit the soccer stadium in Kabul in September where the executions were carried out and witnessed by men, women and even children. The caretaker told me there was a belief that so much blood had spilled onto the grounds and seeped into the soil that they had difficulty growing the grass again.
The war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is really the central front in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama kept saying throughout his campaign, and within hours of his famous victory, he seems to have been thrown a challenge.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said 40 people had been killed in a U.S. air strike in the southern province of Kandahar, most of whom were members of a wedding party, according to other officials. The Afghan leader, who is facing his own election next year, demanded that Obama stop the killings of civilians which this summer have mounted as overstretched U.S.-led coalition forces faced with a resurgent Taliban step up air strikes.
The rows of bombed-out and upturned Soviet era-planes that littered the ground at Kabul airport are gone. Gone also is the confusion that used to reign in the small immigration control office or over at the baggage belt in a dark corner of the damp building. You are quickly waved through, the bags have arrived and you are whisked off in Kabul’s crisp early morning air.
Returning to the Afghan capital after five years is both reassuring and a little bit disconcerting. Traffic clogs the dusty streets, people crane their necks out of cars hollering at each other to give way, smiling school girls in twos or threes wait by the roadside for a ride home in the crowded cabs. Mobile phone shops have sprung up everywhere, and everyone uses the phones. You even have shalwar-clad men standing at street corners selling Afghanis for dollars in one hand and pre-paid calling cards for your phone on the other.
Some people have begun to voice what has been for some time an unspoken fear in Pakistan - that of a U.S. attack.
What would happen if there were to be another big attack on the United States that is traced back to militants holed up in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border?
So which troops is Afghan President Hamid Karzai going to send to Pakistan to make good his threat to hunt Baitullah Mehsud and his men, and stop cross-border attacks? The Afghan National Army, the Afghan national police ? Aren’t they already too stretched trying to cope with the Taliban inside Afghanistan to worry about them across the border ?
Indeed Karzai spoke barely a couple of days after 1,150 prisoners, an estimated 400 of them militants, escaped Kandahar jail after it was stormed by the Taliban in what must be one of biggest jailbreaks, even by Afghan standards
It would be hard to think of a more complex web of problems. Pakistan and Afghanistan face, in very different ways, severe domestic political crises which are being exacerbated by soaring prices and food shortages. Both blame each other for failing to crack down on the Taliban and al Qaeda. And now tensions are rising over attempts by Pakistan, the traditional supplier of food to Afghanistan, to curb its wheat exports to make sure it can feed its own hungry population.
For an idea of how significant this is in Afghanistan, it’s worth reading this piece in the Chicago Tribune. “Western officials – including officers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force – say the food crisis is potentially more destabilizing to the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai than the insurgency itself,” it says.