Liberating Pakistan

Afghan quagmire: Collapse of Taliban shows Musharraf made the right choice for his country.

November 23, 2001

THE AGREEMENT between the interior ministers of Iran and Pakistan to seek a broad-based regime in Afghanistan was good news for all three countries.

Pakistan should come out of its Afghanistan quagmire a stronger nation.

President Pervez Musharraf will yet be rewarded with popularity for reversing national policy and helping destroy the Taliban. The $1 billion aid that President Bush pledged and the more tolerant terms from friendly bankers at the International Monetary Fund are only the first benefits.

Pakistan was deeply implicated in the creation of Taliban tyranny in Afghanistan in 1996. It was Islamabad's Plan B after the favored warlords had mired in anarchy.

The Taliban's belligerent theology was learned in religious schools in Pakistan that flourished with Saudi and Pakistani money as Pakistan's state schools shriveled. Pakistan was integrating Afghanistan into its national economy, for military and economic rationales that boomeranged.

The goal was "strategic depth" for facing down a stronger India, and also a larger market. Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, ran training camps in Afghanistan for Kashmiri terrorists and linked with the international network that included al-Qaida.

But the land bridge from the Arabian Sea ports to landlocked Afghanistan turned into a smuggling racket in Pakistan that stole revenues, undermined industry and fed organized crime. So did association with the Taliban's drug exports.

The "Talibanization" of Pakistan was ISI blowback. Islamists demanded the return to an imagined seventh century, while rival India was unshackling its people's creativity, modernizing and pulling further ahead.

So when President Musharraf reacted to President Bush's ultimatum to choose the U.S. side or the Taliban side, he chose modern Islam over reactionary tyranny in domestic life. This was not entirely popular. Had he not bet on a winner, he would have been the loser.

Pakistan has legitimate interest in keeping a hostile Northern Alliance from its borders and not replacing the Taliban's Sunni aggression with Iran-backed Shiite aggression. The accord developing with Iran is promising, and should be matched by another with Russia and its Central Asian clients.

Mr. Musharraf must look good to his compatriots today. His policy is liberating Pakistan from its Afghan shackles. Pakistan will be a stronger country internally, and therefore externally, because of it.

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