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ur "Saintly" "Misunderstood" Friends in Pakistan



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Worry About Afghan People as Well as Sculptures

Flora Lewis Flora Lewis  Friday, March 9, 2001 - Int. Herald Tribune

PARIS "We're only breaking stones," Mullah Mohammed Omar said,
expressing
surprise that his order to smash Afghanistan's ancient statues of Buddha

should be provoking such protests of outrage around the world.
.
In a way he has a point. The Taleban, "students of the Koran" who now
dominate Afghanistan, have already destroyed the country's educational
system, excluding girls and limiting boys to religious schools where for
the
most part they chant Koranic verses. They have already destroyed hope
and
all opportunity for women, who are banned from any paid work even if
they
are war widows with young children, and are shrouded in virtual airless
tents if they must go outside their homes.
.
They have already destroyed most of their country's scarcely developed
economy, making traffic in opium, which they profess to disapprove of
but
profit from nonetheless, their country's chief money-earner. Afghanistan
is
a failed state now, and with the added distress of recurrent drought its

people are hungry and frightened. Some 2 million have trudged to refugee

camps across the borders, carrying children and the elderly and hardly
anything else. One way or another, about one-third of the population has

gone away or been displaced.
.
But it is the deliberate destruction of the giant statues carved into a
moutainside about a millennium and a half ago that brings resounding
denunciations. Not a lot is heard about the fate of the people, proud,
rugged mountaineers by tradition, rather like the Kurds.
.
In the northeast corner of the country the generation-long war continues

with a relatively small rebel force led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was
bombarded out of Kabul by the Taleban in 1992. Given Pakistani and Saudi

Arabian support for the Taleban, he has been unable to make a return.
.
The war has a complicated background - a religious element,
fundamentalist
versus secular, Sunni versus Shiite, but also a strong ethnic component.
It
has a strategic history dating back to the 19th century Great Game
between
Britain and Russia that continues today in the determination of the
United
States that the pipeline needed to bring oil from Turkmenistan to market

should not go through Iran but through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The
Taleban
have succeeded in imposing themselves in 90 percent of the country.
Their
harsh discipline bans music, alcohol, pictures and images (even Buddha,
as
well as any living person) and requires that everything stop for prayer
five
times a day. But it has brought a degree of relief after so much war and

overwhelming destruction. In part, their solidarity when factional
fighting
was devastating the country enabled them to establish forceful control.
But
basically they owe their position to the military clique who run
Pakistan's
intelligence service and whose prime concern is the rivalry with India.
These officers see Afghanistan as essential strategic depth for their
own
country. They rely on fellow Pashtun tribesmen across the border, and
provide financing largely through the opium trade. From their point of
view,
an adamant Islamic movement with its base in Pakistan is the needed
bulwark
against an independent Afghanistan receiving support from Russia and
India.
Mr. Massoud and his supporters are Tajik. The third ethnic component is
the
Hazaras, about 15 percent of the population, caught across the center of
the
country between the other forces; they are of Mongolian origin. As the
ethnic hostility deepens in a tribal country, the chance of any kind of
reconciliation vanishes so long as the competing sides can draw on
foreign
aid.
.
Michael Barrie, a consultant to Unesco who has closely followed Afghan
affairs, says that if outside aid is at last withdrawn there is a
possibility that Afghanistan will go the way of Yugoslavia, divided into

ethnic parts.
.
But there is no real hope to bring the war to an end or to give the
people
 as well as what may be left of their historic treasures) surcease from
suffering except to cut off foreign interference. The Taleban will
simply
collapse, Mr. Barrie is convinced, if Pakistan withdraws from its
involvement. The United States enabled Pakistani intelligence to take
the
dominant role when it was organizing resistance to the Soviet invasion.
But
Washington did not foresee, or was not concerned with, what happened
when
Moscow pulled out.
.
Now it is first of all Washington but also the rest of concerned
countries,
including Islamic states appalled at what is being done in their name,
who
need to persuade Pakistan as sternly as necessary that it must stop
interfering. The Buddha statues and museum pieces are part of the world
cultural heritage, not just stones, and the people are human beings, not

just pawns.



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