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Fury at Alleged Pakistani Role in War

Opposition leaders in Pakistan furious over revelations that Islamabad colluded in US bombing of Afghanistan
By Neil Arun

An American military document disclosing the extent to which Pakistan helped the US oust the Taleban regime has incensed Islamabad’s Islamist opposition, who claim President Musharraf hoodwinked the country.

The US military’s Central Command website revealed that’s American aircraft had flown 57,800 missions to Afghanistan using Pakistani airspace, and 8,000 marines had passed through one of the country’s ports on their way north.

Leaders of hard line religious parties said May 20 that this shows Musharraf lied when he said Pakistan would only allow its facilities to be used for American supply and rescue missions.

The document has since been withdrawn from the website.

US military spokesman, Major Brad Lowell, told IWPR May 22 that Central Command merely published information that was “provided to us by individual member countries of the coalition”. He said the details of Islamabad’s involvement were being revised and would be re-posted on the website shortly.

However, the damage to Musharraf’s domestic standing has already been done.

“The hands of our rulers are stained with the blood of Muslims,” said Ameer-ul Azeem, a spokesman for the Jamaat-e Islami, the most powerful of the right-wing religious parties that hold sway in the provinces bordering Afghanistan.

Islamic hardliners from these areas have made fresh calls for Musharraf to step down and threatened to summon their supporters onto the streets in a show of force.

Sympathy for the Taleban still runs deep in the lawless frontier regions of western Pakistan. Pashtuns in these provinces have strong ethnic ties with their cousins across the border, and are regularly accused by the US of shielding Islamist radicals from the ousted regime.

The document withdrawn from the Central Command website also reveals the toll the Afghan campaign has taken on the Pakistani economy. It estimates that the country lost 10 billion US dollars in income from tourism, exports and foreign investment.

However, the Afghan cloud has a silver lining: Pakistan will not have to pay back some of the billions it owes the US and international lenders and, as a result, its foreign currency holdings have reached an all-time peak.

Washington announced this week that President Bush and Musharraf will meet at Camp David on June 24. They are expected to discuss Pakistan’s commitment to the “war on terror”.

Efforts to root out extremism received a setback on May 21, when US paratroopers shot dead 4 Afghan government soldiers after apparently mistaking them for assailants. The Afghans were unloading weapons outside the heavily fortified US embassy when the American soldiers opened fire (see accompanying story).

The American military was also blamed for the increasing risks faced by aid workers operating in the country. Rafael Robillard, spokesman for an umbrella group comprising 86 different aid agencies, told reporters in Kabul this week that US soldiers engaged in reconstruction efforts were endangering the lives of all humanitarian personnel there.

“What you have is people in and out of uniform distributing aid, but the ones in uniform are also engaged in hunting al-Qaeda and Taleban and killing them,” said Robillard.

Having threatened this week to resign if provincial governors continue to withhold revenues from central government (see accompanying story), President Hamed Karzai made another bid at asserting his authority beyond Kabul by ordering the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum to leave his northern stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif.

A government spokesman said May 23 that Dostum had been promoted to the role of military and security adviser, and was now expected to come to Kabul to take up office.

Unless he resigns as he has threatened to do, Karzai’s presidential remit runs out in 2004 – and efforts are now underway to register Afghanistan’s disparate electorate. Officials have announced they want to register at least 10 million voters in time for presidential elections in September next year. They will face a tough task pinning down the sizeable population of refugees and nomads within the country.

In the UK this week, an appeal court overturned the convictions of a group of Afghans sentenced for hijacking a domestic flight and landing it at a London airport in 2000. Judges ruled that the men had genuine cause to flee Taleban brutality at the time.

No such luck, however, for the Afghan prisoners languishing in Guantanamo Bay. The US supreme court rejected May 19 an appeal launched on their behalf by a group of lawyers and clergymen.

Neil Arun is an IWPR contributor.

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