Winning hearts, minds outside Afghanistan

Other countries: The prize to win or lose is the future of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

October 31, 2001

PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is calling for a quick windup to bombing in Afghanistan and for a strategy to prevent anarchy and atrocity.

Saudi Arabian leaders call for a quick end to bombing that punishes civilians.

And these are our allies in the effort to fight terrorism by extinguishing the al-Qaida network and deposing the Taliban government harboring it.

It's not surprising.

Each country has a complex, layered, ambivalent connection to the enemy. The Sept. 11 terrorists were mostly Saudis, albeit revolutionaries against their rulers. The Wahabi school of Sunni Islam supported by Saudi Arabia is strong in Afghanistan. Private Saudi money has flowed to al-Qaida.

The distinction between contributions from sympathy and extortion for protection is not easily made.

Private Saudi money also flows to the madrassas, Islamic schools that inculcate a fierce extremism in the hearts of young Afghans, including those who became the Taliban.

Those schools are in Pakistan. The Pashtun people never much recognized the border.

Pakistan's ISI intelligence service largely created the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, after the warlords it first favored tore the place apart. ISI had contact with al-Qaida, which is inextricably intertwined with the Taliban.

In putting Pakistan quickly on the U.S. side, General Musharraf was responding to an ultimatum from President Bush. He rearranged his generals to support his choice.

Saudi Arabia denounced terrorism but ostentatiously forbade U.S. planes to attack Afghanistan from Saudi bases. However, it quietly allows them to be commanded from one.

In short, the struggle with al-Qaida and the Taliban is really for the soul of those two major countries.

Ostensibly, U.S. war aims are simple and modest: Capture Osama bin Laden, dismantle al-Quaida and depose the Taliban. The real stakes are greater.

What bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar seek is for other Islamic nations to fall into their orbit. Washington must be preoccupied with preventing that.

For the enemy to win, all they need do is survive.

The longer the war goes on, the more comparisons will be made to the Soviet occupation or the Vietnam War.

The United States must prepare for a long war, seek speedy victory but not create expectations of it that may not be met.

Washington should play to public opinion in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to convince people who do not enjoy democracy that their leaders chose the right side, in their own interest.

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