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December 30, 1999
'The state with the closest ties and strongest links to Afghanistan is Pakistan'
Barnett R Rubin, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations,testified on the situation in Afghanistan before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. An excerpt from his presentation:
The state with the closest ties and strongest links to Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan is generally supported in its policy, as it has been for decades, by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs. Afghan nationalism across Pakistan's border and Pashtun nationalism within Pakistan posed one of the threats to the integrity of this relatively new country.
Pakistan's extreme insecurity results from its confrontation with its much larger neighbor, India; the loss of over half its population when its eastern province became the independent country of Bangladesh in the 1971-72 civil war, which ended with Indian intervention; and Afghanistan's historic challenge to the incorporation of the Pashtun areas into Pakistan. Indeed, Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan's admission to the United Nations.
Pakistan saw the war in Afghanistan as a way to reverse its relations with Afghanistan by providing it with a secure border to the west and north, thereby giving it "strategic depth" in its confrontation with India. Hence, successive Pakistani governments, regardless of ideology, supported only Islamic rather than nationalist groups in Afghanistan, as the former opposed nationalist claims against a fellow Muslim state or at least did not raise them so loudly. The deep involvement of Pakistan in the war also helped incorporate many Pashtuns more firmly into its key military and civilian elites.
As a result, the Pashtun question changed for Pakistan. Pashtun elites in the Pakistani state could now exercise clientelistic control or influence over religiously oriented Pashtun groups in Afghanistan. Pashtun rule of the right kind in Afghanistan thus became an instrument of Pakistani influence, rather than a security threat.
The opening of Central Asia added a new dimension to the concept of strategic depth. Drawing on historical memories of political, cultural, and economic links among Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, some in Pakistan saw trade and pipeline routes through Afghanistan to Central Asia as a key to Pakistan's future security and well-being. These would add yet greater strategic depth.
Until over two years after the fall of Najibullah, support for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami remained the main means through which Pakistan pursued the goal of installing a Pashtun-dominated client regime in Kabul. In mid-1994, however, the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto shifted support to the Taleban.
Originally the goal seems to have been limited to clearing the road from Quetta to Qandahar and the Qandahar-Herat highway. The Taleban developed their own ambitions, however, and Pakistan eventually threw the full weight of its support behind them as the future government of Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan signaled a new level of public support in May 1997, when he flew to Mazar-i Sharif with a large delegation immediately after the Taleban's capture of that city, recognized the Taleban government, and announced that all others should follow suit, as the civil war was now over. Pakistan was supported in this policy by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the following year, some different perspectives emerged in the Pakistani government. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief and Army Chief of Staff General Jehangir Karamat (both Punjabis) supported a more neutral policy and a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. The foreign minister (a Pashtun) and the intelligence services (Pashtun dominated) held to a more strictly pro-Taleban line. This line clearly won out after the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998 and led to the Pakistani-supported Taleban offensive of July and August.
But the Taleban's links to Pakistan do not end (and did not begin) with the government. The Taleban derive much of their religious inspiration from the Deobandi movement in Pakistan. Virtually all the Taleban leaders had been refugees in Pakistan for several years and studied in madrasas there affiliated with one branch or another of the Deobandi political party, the Jamiat ul-Ulema-i Islam.
The main branch of this party is run by Maulvi Fazlur Rahman, an important figure in Benazir Bhutto's government, where he was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the parliament. An important offshoot is the one led by Maulana Samiul Haq, which runs two important large madrasas, the Dar ul-Uloom Haqqania in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Jamia Uloom-ul-Islamiya in Karachi. The various Taleban leaders using the name "Haqqani" are not related to each other; they are graduates of Dar ul-Uloom Haqqania. These links remain important and provide new recruits (both Afghans and Pakistanis) to the Taleban.
Samiul Haq boasted that most of his Pakistani and Afghan students had joined the Taleban after the latter's defeat in Mazar-i Sharif in May 1997. He claimed that "Mullah Omar personally rang me to request that I let these students go to Afghanistan on leave since they are needed there."
These same madrasas provided the Taleban with thousands of new recruits, both Afghan and Pakistani, after the take-over of Mazar-i Sharif in August 1998.
These madrasas and the political parties with which they are affiliated are also a political force in Pakistan. Through them the Taleban are linked to more extreme Sunni groups, such as the Sipah-i Sahiba and Lashkar-i Jhangvi, both of which are thought to have been involved in acts of terrorism against Shias in Pakistan. Many of their members are reported to have gained military experience fighting with the Taleban.
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