Pakistan's press wary of N. Alliance gains

Media there focus on questions, warnings, in contrast to U.S. papers

War On Terrorism : The World

November 14, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

The faster Taliban soldiers fled, the gloomier the newspaper accounts in Pakistan became yesterday. President Pervez Musharraf may have aligned himself with the United States in the fight over Afghanistan, but his country's headline writers apparently have not done the same.

"Afghanistan may slip into civil war: Pakistan," read a headline in Dawn, the country's leading English-language newspaper.

"Split in Northern Alliance imminent, says Gul," said The Nation, referring to predictions by retired Pakistani Gen. Hamid Gul that the warlords constituting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance would turn on one another as they have often done in the past.

From newspapers in the United States, it looked like a different war:

"Bombs, cheers resound at front line," read a headline in the Chicago Tribune." `We Were in Prison. Now We Are Free' " read a headline in The Washington Post about the Northern Alliance's capture of the northern city of Taloqan.

Most Americans might see the Taliban's flight from Kabul as a swifter-than-expected victory. For Pakistan, one of America's front-line allies in the war against terrorism, the Northern Alliance's taking of Kabul was one of Islamabad's worst nightmares.

Pakistan began backing the Taliban in the mid-1990s in an effort to end Afghanistan's civil war and defeat the warlords who spent more time fighting one another than running a government. When the Taliban forced them out of Kabul in 1996, some of those warlords became the Northern Alliance.

The Taliban also found sympathy in Pakistan because they rose from among the Pashtun tribes in southern Afghanistan. Their ethnicity helped their cause because Pakistan has its own large Pashtun population. In Afghanistan, the Pashtun are the largest ethnic group, making up 38 percent of the population. The Northern Alliance is made up mostly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the United States pressed Musharraf to turn against the Taliban because of their refusal to hand over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Under great pressure, Musharraf reversed seven years of foreign policy and threw his support behind the United States.

Yesterday, Musharraf watched, presumably unhappily, as Islamabad's sworn enemy took control of the capital of Afghanistan, with which Pakistan shares a 1,500-mile border. Many Pakistani news reports seemed infused with a sense of dread.

Dawn, the most objective and authoritative national newspaper, focused on warnings from Pakistan's foreign office that an attempt by the Northern Alliance to set up an exclusive government in Kabul could send the nation back into "civil war and war-lordism."

Both Pakistan and the United States are pushing for a representative government that would include Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras.

Another paper, The News, printed an interview with Ali Awadh Asseri, the Saudi ambassador to Islamabad, who warned that Kabul's seizure by the Northern Alliance could lead to vengeance killings. "We know that there is widespread hatred for the alliance within Afghanistan," Asseri was quoted as saying.

The editorial pages of Jang - Pakistan's best-read newspaper - did not address the issue of the Northern Alliance yesterday. The paper did, however, question whether Pakistan was benefiting from its partnership with the United States.

"Why have we done all this?" read the editorial written in Urdu, the national language. "Why are we bearing all the losses?"

Pakistanis who worry that a post-Taliban government might exclude Pashtuns could turn to Monday's edition of the Frontier Post for a ray of hope. It is published in Peshawar, a city near the Khyber Pass filled with Afghan refugees and political intrigue - a sort of Casablanca with turbans and AK-47s.

The Frontier Post reported that representatives of Afghanistan's former king, who is a Pashtun, are working to form a "Southern Alliance" of Pashtun tribal leaders to sweep through the Taliban's southern stronghold of Kandahar and north to Kabul.

"The backers of exiled Afghan King Zahir Shah are out on a campaign to muster support from these tribal chieftains, this scribe has learnt," reported the Frontier Post, noting that the king's emissaries had $3 million at their disposal. "These Afghan chieftains would be assured about their due share in role in future set-up in the country," the paper added hopefully.

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