Pakistan Fears Fallout from UN's Afghan Sanctions

A group of Afghan men wait at the gate of the Pakistani embassy in Kabul to collect their visas, 24 May 2001. The recent restrictions by neighbouring Pakistan on around two million Afghan refugees it already hosts have sharply increased the number of valid visa seekers who now need the proper documentation to enter.

Pakistan is coming under increasing pressure over its support for Afghanistan's Taliban militia as the United Nations tightens sanctions against the Islamic regime, analysts said.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq held a private meeting with UN Security Council President Alfonso Valdivieso in New York on Tuesday and later revealed some of Islamabad's concerns to reporters.

"We conveyed the view that sanctions have had an adverse impact on the people of Afghanistan and also indirectly on Pakistan, because almost 200,000 Afghani people over the past few months have moved into Pakistan," he said.

"Most of them are economic refugees who left Afghanistan partly as a result of the drought and partly because of the imposition of sanctions."

But UN officials and others who work with the newly arrived refugees in northwestern Pakistan said Haq forgot to mention the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan, which Pakistan is accused of encouraging.

"The latest refugee influx has been caused by a combination of things like fighting in the north, the drought and the economic situation. But fighting has been a major factor," a UN High Commissioner for Refugees official said in Islamabad.

Analysts said the sanctions were specifically tailored to avoid any humanitarian impact, and Pakistan's repeated attempts to link them to the refugee crisis were a smokescreen.

Pakistan, the only one of Afghanistan's neighbours to have recognised the Taliban regime, is widely accused of providing vital supplies to the militia's war machine, including technical assistance, transport and soldiers.

Officials with the military-led government have complained that a new proposal to deploy monitoring teams to toughen the curbs, which include an arms embargo, would be a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

"In a way (the monitors) put the burden of proof on Pakistan," said Riffat Hussain, defence and strategic studies analyst at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University.

"It also singles out Pakistan because these are Taliban-specific sanctions and Pakistan is one of the three countries which recognises the Taliban government.

"The punitive impact of these sanctions will be felt by Pakistan. If you are trying to close the Pakistan-Afghan border you are trying to hamper the flow of some 2.3 billion dollars in illicit trade."

Analysts said Islamabad's military involvement in Afghanistan can be traced back to the early 1970s, reaching a peak during the 1979-89 Soviet invasion when the United States funneled billions of dollars through Pakistan in support of the Afghan mujahideen fighting on the frontlines of the Cold War.

Most of Pakistan's support has gone to the dominant group in the Pashtun ethnic majority, which is the Taliban in today's scenario. Some analysts believe that without ongoing Pakistani support the Taliban will never be able to pacify rival ethnic groups such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Pashtuns are also powerful in Pakistan with a history of nationalist aspirations and strong connections to the military elite. Many Pashtun tribal groups in northwestern Pakistan are vocal adherents to the Taliban creed.

Key figures in the Taliban leadership, including reclusive chief Mullah Mohammad Omar, hatched their plans for a pure Islamic state during their school days at Islamic seminaries in Pakistan.

Analysts said a friendly Afghanistan also provides Pakistan with "strategic depth", allowing the concentration of its forces along its eastern border with nuclear rival India.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has conceded that Islamabad's support for the Taliban is a matter of "national interest", but earlier this week he flatly dismissed suspicions that the alliance was more than diplomatic.

"The Taliban are the dominant reality in Afghanistan. They control about 95 percent of the territory and cannot be wished away," he said in an interview with a Russian newspaper.

"We feel that the international community should engage the Taliban rather than isolating and ostracising them."

He said Islamabad's cooperation with the Security Council resolutions "would further vindicate our position that Pakistan does not take sides with one or the other Afghan groups."

The Security Council slapped an air embargo on Afghanistan in October 1999 and froze the foreign assets of the Taliban to force the extradition of alleged Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, was indicted on 224 counts of murder in the United States after twin bomb attacks on two US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

In December last year, the council broadened the sanctions to include an arms embargo, and demanded that the Taliban close down military training camps.

"We do feel that the sanctions on the Taliban are not a solution to the Afghan problem. The one-sided arms embargo is a sure recipe to prolong the civil war," Musharraf said, adding that opposition forces received "generous supplies of arms which will encourage them to seek a military solution".


Stephen Coates writes for AFP.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Afghanistan, Conflicts And War, Foreign Policy, Pakistan, Taliban
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