Pakistani journalist attacks Afghan policy

UPI, March 28, 2001

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 28 (UPI) -- A leading Pakistani journalist has attacked the Islamabad government's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, charging it has made Pakistan disliked by ordinary Afghans, isolated in the world and impaired vital domestic programs.

In a speech before the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a non-governmental organization that met in Lahore, Ahmed Rashid, author of the highly regarded book, "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," asserted that, "For the past 10 years, every single ministry in Islamabad, every single domestic policy program, even our desperately needed economic revival are partially being held hostage by our Afghan policy -- whether it is trying to encourage foreign investment, dealing with the sectarian issue (of differing Islamic groups), promoting modern educational program or ending our diplomatic isolation."

Rashid, who writes for the Daily Telegraph of London and the Far Eastern Economic Review, as well as the Lahore newspaper, was making his acceptance speech on March 25 as recipient the annual Nisar Osmanli Award for Courage in Journalism. Rashid has covered war-wracked Afghanistan for the past 23 years, often at great risk to himself.

The following is a shortened version of his acceptance speech:

"Much as I respect and admire the Afghan people, as a Pakistani I can only want, first and foremost, the best for my own country. For too long we have all stood as silent spectators and watched as Pakistan's political and economic development and progress is sacrificed on the altar of a foreign policy wanting to support one or other Afghan faction and committing excesses of interference, which has only encouraged other neighboring states to step up their interference in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan played a heroic role in supporting the Afghan people's resistance to the invasion by Soviet troops in 1979. At great risk to its own integrity Pakistan hosted millions of Afghan refugees, allowed its soil to be used for Western military supplies to the Afghan Mujheddin and internationally advocated the territorial independence and integrity of the Afghan state. Why is it today that every ordinary Afghan you speak to has not a kind word to say about Pakistan?

"In fact, since Kabul fell to the Mujheddin in 1992, our policies have created a wave of criticism and even hatred for Pakistan amongst many Afghans. The majority of Afghans blame us for being the single biggest contributor to the continuing war in their homeland. Today we stand isolated in the community of nations due to our Afghan policy. We stand isolated in the region as all our neighbors condemn our policies, while they send munitions to opposing factions in Afghanistan.

"Let us not beat around the bush here. For the past 10 years successive elected and non-elected governments in Islamabad have poured munitions and logistic backing in support of first one, and then another, Afghan faction. Quite separately during the past seven years, between 50,000-60,000 young Pakistani militants have gone to fight in Afghanistan. Many have died there never to return, many have participated in the worst ethnic and sectarian massacres that have taken place in Afghanistan history. Pakistani interference has contributed to the enormous human suffering in Afghanistan.

"Pakistani munitions have helped destroy Afghan cities and villages and given the justification for other neighboring countries to do the same. I ask you here today, with such policies have we embraced the Afghan people or have we created more hatred for ourselves and tension in the region? As Afghanistan s largest neighbor, should Pakistan have a policy and a role as a peace maker by treating all Afghan ethnic groups equally, or should we continue to take sides in their war?

"Today Afghanistan is utterly destroyed, there is no functioning state, the humanitarian crisis there is the gravest in the world, the country is the center for the export of Islamic extremism across the region, terrorism, heroin and weapons. The reason is not the fault of the poor Afghan people, but the ambitions of a handful of ambitious warlords and the continued interference of outside powers who fuel this war. I can safely tell you, cut the supplies of military equipment to all sides and the war machines will dry up within months.

"What has been the result of these policies for Pakistan's internal dynamics? In the 1980s we suffered from the spread of what was then called the kalashnikov culture. Today I do not need to tell you that the situation is much worse. For the past 10 years every single ministry in Islamabad, every single domestic policy program, even our desperately needed economic revival, are partially being held hostage by our Afghan policy -- whether it is trying to encourage foreign investment, dealing with the sectarian issue (of differing Islamic groups), promoting modern educational programs or ending our diplomatic isolation.

"Why are we pursuing such policies? We are told that we need a friendly regime in Kabul so that we can acquire strategic depth

In the 1965 war against India, Iran provided us true strategic depth by allowing our warplanes and ships to use their ports and air bases, but today Iran is bitterly antagonistic to Pakistan because of our Afghan policy. Today the Central Asian republics (Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) are busy extraditing all Pakistanis, be they businessmen, traders or students, accusing them unjustifiably in most cases, of promoting radical Islam and unrest in their countries. India has now fully jumped into the Afghan fray by providing military equipment to an opposing Afghan faction (the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Mas'ud that opposes the Taliban). I ask you, is this the way to make friends or create new export markets for our goods or tame the dangers of sectarianism and religious extremism or promote democracy?

"How can a country like Pakistan faced with such monumental economic, ethnic, sectarian and political problems justify its policy of involvement in the war next door? This has only been possible because of the total silence and acquiescence of Pakistan's politicians, the partial silence from civil society and the media and the insistence of the military in maintaining the status quo while refusing to consider policy alternatives. What is desperately needed today is courage by all Pakistanis to question where these policies are taking us and to demand information and debate of what they mean for us and the future of our children.

"I would like to end now, but not before offering an apology. In my personal and humble capacity I would like to apologize to the brave Afghan people for the consequences of Pakistan's recent policies in Afghanistan. I would like to unconditionally apologize for the deaths of countless Afghans, which have been caused by Pakistani interference. I would like to apologize for the part that we have played in the destruction of your cities, your culture, your traditions and your freedom to choose your own government. As a small tribute to the Afghan people, I would like to return this award of Rupees 100,000 ($1,660) to the HRCP, with the stipulation that they use it for the benefit of Afghanistan's suffering women and children."

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