Strategically, war seems to be disaster for Pakistan

Sense that U.S. failed to keep its promises rife throughout nation

War On Terrorism


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A senior Pakistani official watched in dismay yesterday as the television in his office showed Taliban fighters, streaming out of Kunduz, Afghanistan, to surrender to the Northern Alliance.

"I am sorry to put it in this way," he said, switching off the television, "but [Secretary of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld's been extremely callous."

For two weeks, Pakistan has been mesmerized by the situation at Kunduz.

Amid reports that there were as many as 1,500 Pakistanis in the Taliban garrison at Kunduz and that extremists among the Taliban were threatening to execute any foreign militants who tried to surrender, people across Pakistan feared a slaughter that would reverberate in every mosque in this nation of 140 million Muslims.

When the news reached Pakistan last night that many of the fighters reaching Northern Alliance lines outside Kunduz were Pakistanis, Pakistan's worst fears appeared to have receded. Now, the concern will shift to the safety of prisoners in the hands of the alliance, which Pakistan doesn't trust.

Still, few here seem likely to forget that when Pakistan appealed for American intervention with alliance commanders to work out arrangements that would save the Pakistanis from being slaughtered in an alliance attack on Kunduz, Rumsfeld responded by saying, in effect, that the Pakistanis would have to face the fate of all defeated soldiers in war, surrender or death.

The Kunduz drama has captured the frustration and anger of many Pakistani officials who entrusted their interests in Afghanistan to the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the Bush administration demanded that Pakistan join in the war against terrorism or face being treated, for its past support of the Taliban, as a nation that sponsored terrorism.

The corollary, as repeated many times by President Pervez Musharraf, was that if Pakistan sided with the United States and abandoned the Taliban, Washington would see to it that Pakistan's essential interests in Afghanistan were protected.

From the American perspective, the war has gone a long way toward achieving its objectives, with the Taliban driven from power in all but one city, Kandahar, and al-Qaida terrorists on the run. But from the Pakistani perspective, things have gone badly wrong, and the Americans have not delivered on their promises.

Only 10 weeks after Musharraf pledged his "full support" to the United States, enraging Islamic militants in Pakistan and Islamic hard-liners in the officer corps of the Pakistani army, the sense that the United States has failed to keep its side of the deal is rife, everywhere from the bazaars of cities to the offices where senior aides to Musharraf ponder how to extricate Pakistan from the problems the war has caused.

To be sure, Pakistan's gains from the alliance have been substantial, especially in financial terms, with the removal of economic sanctions, fresh aid and help in debt payments. But strategically, the war, as seen by most Pakistanis, has been a disaster.

After being promised by President Bush when the two men met in New York two weeks ago that the Northern Alliance would not be allowed to capture Kabul, Musharraf returned home on Nov. 13 just in time to see alliance troops pouring into the Afghan capital.

On Tuesday, the United Nations will convene a conference in Bonn, Germany, at which Northern Alliance leaders will sit down with opposition leaders from the Pashtun tribal group that dominates southern and eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistanis have low hopes for that meeting.

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