Afghan Victory Merely Start of New Conflicts
Vol: 2 Issue: 22 Thursday, November 22, 2001
There are already signs that the defeat of the Taliban is setting the stage for a new series of conflicts. The most dangerous is the renewed hostilities developing between nuclear India and nuclear Pakistan. India became the third country, after Iran and Russia, to send diplomats to Kabul, saying it wanted to renew its traditional friendship with the Afghanis. Pakistan, who was responsible for the rise of the Taliban in the first place, finds itself in the middle between a bruised and bloodied Afghanistan and an armed and dangerous India. New Delhi is stepping up its activities in the disputed Kashmir region, and it is likely Pakistan may do the same.
Musharraf’s cooperation with the US has dangerously destabilized his internal power base. One of the principles of successful dictatorship is having somebody to hate, someone for the people to rally against, to keep them from rallying against you. Musharraf may be forced to step up terror attacks against India via Kashmir — or even an outright invasion — in order to distract the population and maintain his grip on power.
India Also Poised For Pre-Emptive Strike
India’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also considering a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, having declared India to be in a state of “zero military intolerance.” Large-scale Indian assault units have been moved in to reinforce its Holding Corps in the Kashmir region. India’s 21 Strike Force, made up largely of the 33rd Armored Division, has advanced toward Akhnoor in the Jammu region, together with two armored infantry brigades and mechanized artillery units. It is also beefing up several units in the Kashmir region with additional infantry and armored divisions to transform them from defensive to offensive forces. In effect, India is on full war alert in the Kashmir region. Both sides are reporting exchanges of fire along the entire international border.
US Has Tied Its Own Hands
The White House has actually pushed the two sides closer to war by taking Pakistan on as its senior partner in the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. India volunteered its services, but was rebuffed by Washington, who chose instead to force Pakistan into the role. In the event of an outbreak of open hostilities, the United States cannot afford to side with the Pakistanis, neither can it side against them and join India, a traditional ally of America. We have stepped into the quicksand and pulling ourselves out will be no easy task.
Terrorists Begin Leaving Sinking Ship
The Taliban’s withdrawal into the mountains is making Afghanistan an ineffective base for militant Muslims. Some have begun quietly slipping out of Afghanistan and back to their own countries. Some 50 Filipinos suspected of training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan have sneaked back into the Philippines through mostly Muslim-dominated islands in the south. A Philippine government source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the suspected terrorists began arriving soon after the Northern Alliance started overrunning Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. Some will be apprehended when they arrive in their home countries, but some will slip through the cracks and resume operations.
Others are staying in Afghanistan for the long haul, refusing to surrender or leave. Known as “Afghan Arabs,” they include not just Arab nationals but also Filipinos, Chinese Uighers, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bosnians and Chechens. Some have lived in Afghanistan since the 1980s while others moved in once the Taliban took control. Estimates of their number range from 10,000 to 25,000.
A similar situation following the Soviet-Afghan war resulted in an exodus of Afghan Arabs to their home countries in the late 1980’s. They formed the core of extremist groups such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front.
Pakistan was the escape route of choice back then. It’s not so easy this time. Pakistan has reinforced its border with 20,000 soldiers and is likely using the recent $80 million in U.S. aid for equipment such as sensors and night-vision gear. The US Navy is patrolling the sea routes out of Pakistan and it is unlikely that more than one or two thousand will actually make it back to their home countries. Or they might make it to one of the traditional shelters, like Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Russia (Chechnya), Yemen, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, western China, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Bosnia, Sudan and Somalia.
But only a handful will be able to slip into each. They aren’t welcome any more, and large scale concentrations of these terrorists in any one country are unlikely. The only places where there are likely to be significant concentrations of Afghan Arabs might be Somalia or Chechnya. They are relatively close to Afghanistan and sufficiently unstable to make possible an influx of larger numbers without detection.
The danger now is that the breakup of al-Qaeda will result in the birth of a new network of Islamic extremists, although it will be more difficult for them without bin-Laden. They are well-trained, motivated and thirsty for revenge, but they are no longer well-funded. But they remain dangerous to the US itself, and US interests and personnel abroad.