Hardly a way out

The discussion about action against the Taliban in Afghanistan has fueled the situation in the region

They are only rumors so far, but they persist stubbornly. Several thousand Pakistani sympathizers of the Taliban are said to have signed up for the militias of the holy warriors in the north of the country. Such a development was foreseeable. Differences between radical Islamic groups in the region are increasingly fading in the shadow of a looming military strike by the U.S. and its allies.

Western politicians now want to do some persuasion work. According to unconfirmed reports, British Prime Minister Anthony Blair is to travel to Pakistan later this week to lend NATO support to his counterpart Pervez Musharraf. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has already arrived in Saudi Arabia and will visit Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan in the coming days. This is said to be mainly about intelligence information.

For Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, this does not make the situation any easier. Under prere from Washington on the one hand and Taliban-sympathizing Islamic groups in his own country on the other, the military ruler is trying to postpone a decision. He offers to negotiate with both sides, knowing that if he fails, there will be little left to oppose the military conflict.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, warned the U.S. against attacks on states in the region, referring in particular to the option, not ruled out by Washington, that Iraq could also be a renewed target of broad attacks. "Such a move", said Amr, "Was going to bring a very serious situation and contradict any declaration of intent by the United States to cooperate internationally." The climate of distrust against the USA and NATO is visibly growing in the Arab world. The reason for this is the U.S. President’s full-throated announcements of his intention to retaliate and the subsequent appeasement from his Department of Defense.

There is a lot to be said for the fact that neither Washington nor NATO have yet reached a consensus on a successful course of action. One hopes, perhaps, that the Afghan Northern Alliance will take care of the problem. But this could prove to be a fallacy. In the last few days alone, the Pakistani security forces have reportedly "Northwest Frontier Province" Thousands of new fighters have rushed to Afghanistan to join their brothers in the jihad.

This has cleared up at least one uncertainty. Military strikes are by no means a welcome occasion for certain Taliban units to throw away their weapons and begin a disorderly retreat. The threat alone has attracted the units of the God warriors. Meanwhile, CNN reports on offensives against the Northern Alliance. Their defense minister hastens to minimize the impact.

Klar ist, dass der schwelende Konflikt um die Taliban-Herrschaft wieder entbrannt ist und im zunehmenden Mabe auf Pakistan ubergreift. The northern Pakistani town of Chitral, about two hundred kilometers north of Peshawar, now openly serves as a retreat for the Taleban. But even in the refugee camps around Peshawar, the Taliban are finding new recruits. A phenomenon that will intensify as aid for the tens of thousands of people who have fled since 11/11 becomes available. The lack of a new humanitarian crisis in the wake of the September arrivals from Afghanistan.

Over two million Afghan refugees already live in Pakistan. In the event of an escalation of the war, another million refugees are expected to arrive. A burden Pakistan simply cannot bear alone. The UN already characterizes the problem as "humanitarian crisis", which can become not only a humanitarian but also a political disaster.

Pakistan is threatening to become a threat to what it has itself created. It has nurtured the Taliban in Pakistani madrasas and now does not want to abandon its coreligionists. It cannot and will not participate directly in foreign military action against Afghanistan. That would trigger serious unrest in Pakistan, possibly leading to the jihad announced by radical Islamic parties and, in the worst case, to the overthrow of the government.

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