The King and the Nazis

by Tariq Ali

Some weeks ago, I predicted a rapid defeat of the Taliban . It was obvious that without the military and logistical support of their creators–the Pakistan Army–they would collapse, but the price being paid for this “victory” is unacceptable.

The Northern Alliance is a confederation of monsters. Attaching dissidents to the chains of a tank and crushing them in public view, executing defenceless prisoners, extracting gold teeth from corpses, raping men and women, are all part of a day’s work for these guardians of the heroin trade. Blemishes of yesteryear? No such luck. Much of this is going on today under the approving gaze of US marines, CIA agents and the handful of SAS men that Blair was allowed. And where will the 2000 German troops now be sent? To Iraq? Europe has been spared pictures of most of these atrocities, because the perpetrators are “our friends”, but Arab viewers knew what was going on long before the massacre of Mazar Sharif. The Geneva Convention is being violated every single day.

From being told that they were not allowed to take Kabul, the Alliance have now been promoted to the full status of “our allies”. Just like Osama Bin Laden and his praetorian guard in the glory days of the Cold War. Learn nothing. Forget nothing.

The facts are these: the situation in Afghanistan is inherently unstable. Only fantasists could suggest otherwise. The notion that the Alliance in its present form could last out a few years is risible. Turf wars have already begun in “liberated” Kabul, though open clashes have been avoided. There is too much at stake. The West is watching. Money has been promised. Putin and Khatami are urging caution. But the dam will burst sooner rather than later. Once the Marines depart with or without the head of Bin Laden, the Alliance will discover that there is no money for anything these days except waging war. The boy-scout propaganda that “we’re re-making the world” is designed for domestic consumption. Schools and hospitals and homes are not going to be sprouting next spring or the one after in Afghanistan or Kosovo. And if the 87 year-old King Zahir Shah is wheeled over from Rome, what then? Nothing much, thinks the West, except to try and convince the Pashtuns that their interests are being safeguarded.

Judging from past form indicates that Zahir Shah might not be satisfied with the status quo. His people were in fine fettle at the Afghan summit in Bonn, where they were put up in the hotel where Neviille Chamberlain used to stay. A document from the German Foreign Office, dated 3 October, 1940 (cracked by the Enigma decoder during the Second World War) makes fascinating reading. It is from State Secretary Weizsacker to the German legation in Kabul and is worth quoting in some detail:

“The Afghan Minister called on me on September 30 and conveyed greetings from his Minister President and the War Minister, as well as their good wishes for a favourable outcome of the war. He inquired whether German aims in Asia coincided with Afghan hopes; he alluded to the oppression of Arab countries and referred to the 15 million Afghans [Pashtuns, mainly in the North West Frontier Province —TA] who were forced to suffer on Indian territory. My statement that Germany’s goal was the liberation of the peoples of the region referred to, who were under the British yoke, as well as the restoration of their rights, was received with satisfaction by the Afghan Minister. He stated that justice for Afghanistan would be created only when the country’s frontier had been extended to the Indus; this would also apply if India should secede from Britain…The Afghan remarked that Afghanistan had given proof of her loyal attitude by vigorously resisting English pressure to break off relations with Germany. Today he wanted to present Afghanistan’s wishes as a matter of precaution, but he requested strict secrecy; he called a fulfilment of these wishes a matter for the future.”

The King who had dispatched the Minister to Berlin was the 26-year old Zahir Shah. The Minister-President was his uncle Sardar Muhammad Hashim Khan. What is interesting in the German dispatch is not so much the hatred for Britain, which was normal at that time. It is the desire for a Greater Afghanistan by the incorporation of what is now Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and its capital Peshawar. Zahir Shah’s return is being strongly resisted by Pakistan. They know that the King never accepted the Durand Line, not even as a temporary border. They are concerned that he might encourage Pashtun nationalism.

Islamabad’s decision to hurl the Taliban into battle and take Kabul was partially designed to solve the Pashtun question. Religion might transcend ethnic nationalism. Instead the two combined. A proto-Taliban group, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-i-Shariah- e-Mohammed (TNSM) seized a large chunk of Swat during Benazir Bhutto’s government. It forced women to veil themselves in “burqas”, banned watching television and had a public bonfire of TV sets and videos (in Italy this could be seen as a protest against Berlusconi, but not in Pakistan!) imposed “Islamic punishments” including amputations.

Bhutto was helpless and paralysed, but last week Musharraf imprisoned the TNSM leader, Soofi Mohammed Saeed. Coming on the heels of the Taliban defeat this could create an ugly atmosphere in parts of the country, especially since many Taliban have returned to Pakistan.

Not all the repercussions of this crude war of revenge have come to the fore, but the surface calm in Pakistan is deceptive. With armed fundamentalists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba threatening to “take on the government” if attempts are made to disarm them, the question of how much support they enjoy within the military establishment becomes critical. The inflow of US military aid and the lifting of sanctions has persuaded Musharraf’s opponents within the Army to leave him in place, but for how long?

Add to that the appalling situation in Kashmir with a monthly casualty rate higher than Palestine, where Indian soldiers and Pakistani-infiltrated jihadis confront each other over the corpses of Kashmiri innocents. If Delhi were to use the “war against terrorism” as a precedent and decide to bomb the terrorist bases in Pakistan, the sub-continent could implode.

Tariq Ali, a frequent CounterPunch contributor, is the author of The Stone Woman, just published in paperback by Verso. His new book, The Clash of Fundamentalisms, will be published in March, 2002.

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