Seeking Islamic allies for war on terrorism

The good fight: A broad partnership must include nations with conflicting allegiances.

October 03, 2001

THE GOAL of U.S. coalition-building against terrorism must be to bring the Islamic world along. Most Islamic regimes are terrorism's targets.

Avoiding a war against Islam is essential to the U.S. national interest. But maintaining the coalition will be difficult. Several of the regimes are at cross-purposes with each other, with the United States or with their own people.

The trickiest is Pakistan, whose intelligence service helped put the Taliban in power in Afghanistan and may have supported Osama bin Laden.

President Pervez Musharraf wisely joined Pakistan to the anti-terrorism side. But use of its bases and air space may test his ability to bring the people along. Many identify with the Taliban.

Complicating this is Pashtun ethnicity. More than half these people live in Pakistan, where they are a poor minority. Fewer live in Afghanistan, but are its dominant group, always providing the rulers.

Pakistan objects to the U.S. tilt toward the Northern Alliance fighting inside Afghanistan. The alliance is made of all ethnicities but Pashtun. It is backed by regimes that oppose Pakistani dominance, notably Russia, India, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Iran is a co-belligerent with the United States, but no ally. It supports terrorists and opposes U.S. influence. It also despises the Taliban on ethnic and theological grounds. It arms the Northern Alliance while threatening to destroy any U.S. warplane in its airspace.

Afghanistan did not commit terrorism. All the identified terrorists are Arabs, revolutionaries in their own countries, which are U.S. allies or clients. But the Taliban regime gives sanctuary to al-Qaida and is beholden to it. Some 12,000 Arab fighters are the Taliban's enforcers. The two groups are linked.

Osama bin Laden's support may reach deep into the ruling classes of countries allied with the United States, notably Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. That helps explain difficulties of cooperation.

Two Arab regimes that sponsored terrorism, Libya and Sudan, have shown signs of coming in from the cold. Each would expect reward for cooperation.

None of the Arab regimes that support (or subvert) the U.S. effort is a democracy. Dissent is suppressed in all, provoking violent opposition.

In welcoming allies, the United States embraces uncomfortable bedfellows, including the dictatorships of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Iran and Syria might be welcome if they dropped support of terrorism, but they retain objections to U.S. policy.

Should the United States manage to capture Osama bin Laden, dismantle al-Qaida and depose the Taliban, most in the Islamic and Arab worlds would breathe easier. Many find it hard to say so.

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