A Letter by Our Reader:
Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah came to Washington this week with polite entreaties and restrained vehemence. Yes, Afghanistan needs more money, more peace keepers. But Mr. Abdullah's message had a more unexpected focus: Washington needs to do something about Pakistan, and the Taliban members assembled there.
Mr. Abdullah didn't put it so bluntly. He speaks "Foreignministerese". "We expect our friends to work more with our neighbors," he told me in an interview, when I asked him what role the United States should play in gaining from Pakistan greater action on the Taliban front. "Though we can talk bilaterally [with Pakistan], we think it's also important to have the U.S. involved in this."
Mr. Abdullah described the ease with which the Taliban is able to act in "some" countries. "It is like holding a press conference," said Mr. Abdullah with some irony, in describing the Taliban's press outreach. "It is like holding a cabinet meeting," he said of the high-level conferences they blithely hold. Although Al Qaeda may have lost its base, it appears the Taliban has found its haven in northwest and southwest Pakistan.
Mr. Abdullah also mentioned Pakistani press reports that said militant groups active in Afghanistan were being supplied with motorbikes and VHF radios in Pakistan. "We believe that if activities of such scale are taking place, it would be known to the authorities," Mr. Abdullah said. Mr. Abdullah also acknowledged the political difficulties Pakistani officials face in cracking down on Taliban forces. "I understand the constraints," he said.
President Bush has requested $3 billion in aid for Pakistan, which should buy considerable diplomatic leverage. But Washington faces a quandary in dealing with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Musharraf is trying to secure the uncertain support of mullahs and intelligence forces, while neutralizing opportunities for more mainstream political parties to counter his undemocratic rule. There is great pressure on Mr. Musharraf, and Pakistan, and the country's nukes, could come under the control of more threatening forces.
Still, Washington has brought some of this quandary on itself. Mr. Bush has widened America's credibility gap and made cooperation with Washington more politically risky around the world, thereby undermining Mr. Musharraf’s ability to move against the Taliban and help Afghanistan.
By suggesting Saddam Hussein had a link to September 11 and was on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, the Bush administration has bruised U.S. leadership. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Islamic political parties in Pakistan made unprecedented gains in the 342-seat National Assembly, becoming the third largest political block, and swept the vote in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province that borders Afghanistan.
Mr. Bush has also put considerable onus on himself by making declarative statements, invoking an axis of evil and with-us-or-against-us posture. The policy looks dissonant for much of the world. The president that shakes an accusatory finger at Syria during his "pro-democracy" oratory spares Pakistan and other countries. U.S. forces may have liberated Iraqis, but largely opted out of such a campaign in Liberia.
Overlooking Pakistan's tolerance of the Taliban in order to gain its cooperation hunting Al Qaeda seems a Faustian bargain. But Washington's
foreign policy is rife with contradictions and self-righteous moral relativism. It has little choice but to accept this dichotomy from Islamabad.
And as Mr. Abdullah said in the interview, as militants succeed in hurting coalition efforts in Iraq, jihadis in Afghanistan are emboldened. To a sizable degree, the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq are linked. If America has stretched itself too thin by launching an Iraq campaign while engaged militarily in Afghanistan, the Afghan people will suffer as much as the Iraqis – not to mention our U.S. troops.
Caught in the middle of the struggle between U.S. forces and the militants out to undermine them are the Afghan people, trying to sidestep violence as they go through their daily lives. The United States has an important credibility stake in establishing order in Afghanistan.
Washington should hear Mr. Abdullah's call, and press Mr. Musharraf to bring to justice the Taliban militants in Pakistan coordinating attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. Before it does so, however, it must begin reckoning honestly with the American people and the world, and establish a more consistent foreign policy.
Ximena Ortiz is the 2003-2004 recipient of the Pulliam editorial fellowship. She is writing a book, "The War, Acccording to the World," on the global policy repercussions of the Iraq war.
By Ximena Ortiz