Sunday, August 31, 2003

It's reported that Pakistan is finally cracking down on Taliban movement accross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan. This obvious move comes a week after Musharraf had a meeting with a John McCain led delegation of Congressmen, whom discussed the "war on terror." I have always voiced (not so mild) concern of Pakistan's policy (but not on this blog) of effectively ignoring its Pashtun extremists who are happily enaging in destablizing the war-torn country.

Pakistan being an ally does not mean it will follow everything we wish. Like every other country, Pakistan is acting in it's self interest; like it acted in its self interest after 9/11 to takes sides with the U.S., to avoid being carpet-bombed.

The situation is complicated. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the Chaman area is very complicated. It lies in Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital. Chaman city, which is less than 100 kilometers from Kandahar across the border, comprises mostly shops and markets (it is perhaps the largest market of smuggled and stolen goods in the region, with merchandise flowing from Karachi port in Pakistan, Port Abbas in Iran and even from Europe via Russia). The bulk of the population lives in surrounding villages, which are densely populated. And because of local disrespect for the "artificial" border separating Pashtun areas, many of the villages are located both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. One house even has its courtyard in Afghanistan, and its rooms in Pakistan. Even electricity flows into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the local people generally refer to themselves as "Afghans" regardless of their official Pakistani or Afghan origins. Ethnically, they come from the same Pashtun stock, split into two major tribes, the Noor Zai and the Achakzai.

Two examples of people from the area illustrate the meaningless of the border. Hafiz Hamdullah is a provincial minister in the Balochistan government, but he hails from the Afghan part of the divide. He received a religious education in Pakistan and became a member of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam Fazalur Rahman group, which is how he came to be a minister. Mullah Abdul Razzak, meanwhile, lives in the Pakistani part of the divide, but he took part in the early years of the Taliban movement, rising to minister defense in the Taliban regime.

These geographical realities play into the hands of the Taliban because neither the Afghan government nor the Pakistani government can stop the flow of people (let alone smuggled goods and electricity) from criss-crossing the border. This is why when the two governments a few months ago attempted to restrict movement by imposing visas, the ban became a laughing stock on the both sides of the border. There are several options, but most of them are moot. My suggestion would be either to a) send American soldiers from Bagram aided by fighter jets, although this would be hsrd since the Talibs return to their houses when they flee; or b) send a drone, give them intel and let Pakistan deal with them.


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