- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Abdullah came to Washington recently with a potent complaint: Members of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, and its sympathizers, are regrouping in parts of Pakistan.

Mr. Abdullah didn’t tell the relevant U.S. officials anything they didn’t know. But Mr. Abdullah’s decision to drop his complaint in Washington demonstrates that the Afghan government’s concerns have become more pointed, and top officials feel America is not doing enough in back channels to address the Taliban’s Pakistan-based resurgence.

“There is one clear fact, that the Taliban will not be able to operate outside of Afghanistan without some support from some elements outside Afghanistan,” Mr. Abdullah said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last Thursday. “They have found it easy to operate outside Afghanistan, to hold meetings, to incite instability, to call for jihad in Afghanistan.”

When pressed on which country he was referring to, Mr. Abdullah said diplomatically, “We are engaging with all our neighbors, especially with our neighboring country Pakistan, because most of these people are in Pakistan.”

Mr. Abdullah went on to compliment Pakistan for all its help in Afghanistan. But he also dropped another charged comment, “The reality of the situation in Afghanistan has changed. There is no basis to believe that the development of Afghanistan will hurt any of our neighbors.”

This comment was clearly directed to Pakistani military and intelligence officials who believe that Taliban holdouts should be kept around to someday retake power in Afghanistan and re-establish Pakistan’s pre-eminent influence there. At the same time, Mr. Abdullah sought to reassure Pakistan that it has nothing to fear from Afghanistan and won’t be encircled by neighboring adversaries.

Mr. Abdullah’s concerns should be taken seriously by Washington. America’s foreign policy toward Pakistan will be the decisive factor in determining if President Pervez Musharraf deals seriously with the Taliban in his country. But increased U.S. pressure should be applied only privately to Gen. Musharraf and must be mitigated through a host of other policy actions.

If the Bush administration turns up the heat on Pakistan, then it must redouble its efforts to formally mediate Pakistan’s dispute with India over the territory of Kashmir. India is opposed to granting any foreign party such a formal brokering role, and America would have to offer New Delhi some carrots to convince it to change its posture.

Also, the United States should quickly bolster its training program with the Pakistani military. The program, which was suspended for about a decade due to Pakistan’s nuclear program, is now restricted to about 20 Pakistani servicemen a year. An expanded program would lend clout and greater professionalism to the Pakistani force and would expose Pakistanis to U.S. military values.

By blunting a more forceful U.S. policy, the Bush administration may be successful in securing a wider range of U.S. interests. Such an approach would be welcomed by Mr. Abdullah and the Afghan people.

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