20 June 2003

Iran muddies Afghanistan's waters
The Asia Times again reports US/Taliban negotiations.

KARACHI - With the ground situation in Afghanistan expected to deteriorate even further in the coming weeks, Pakistan will once again serve as a back yard for US military and diplomatic initiatives to contain the spreading guerrilla warfare.

At the same time, Iran, which is steadily being pushed against the wall by the United States, still has a few cards left to play in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq, in an attempt to tie down harassed US forces further in those countries and divert attention from itself.


The decision for these operations follows the breakdown of tentative talks among the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban. A first contact was dismissed out of hand by the Taliban because the go-between was former Taliban leader Mullah Ghous, who had been expelled from the hierarchy when the Taliban were still in power in Kabul. Another round of talks with a more acceptable intermediary was held in Quetta, Pakistan, but they failed to make any headway.


And the re-emergence of the Taliban movement suits some elements in Pakistan, who hanker after the days when Pakistan, through its support of the Taliban, wielded much influence in Afghanistan - for example, the former director general of the Inter-Service Intelligence, Lieutenant-General Mehmood Ahmed. Mehmood was chosen by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to talk the Taliban into a peaceful solution to the Afghan situation after September 11, 2001, when Pakistan, under US pressure, renounced its support of the Taliban. Instead, though, Mehmood prepared the Taliban to fight the United States. He was removed from his post when the US attacked Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, and placed under house arrest. He has now been released, and serves as managing director of Fauji Fertilizer (a production unit owned by the Pakistani army).

Such hawkish elements in the army and among Pakistan's militant groups are just waiting to make Afghanistan their playground once again.

Unlike Saddam, the Iranians are unlikely to sit and wait for the US to come to them. Unlike Saddam, the Iranians control a cohesive and powerful state that has not been wrecked by years of sanctions and bombings. The US armed forces are stretched thin covering Afghanistan and Iraq. I am almost prepared to bet that we will soon be told the way to relieve the military pressure in Afghanistan and Iraq is to take out Iran.

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