Our Fragile Ally

Pakistan Teeters on Edge of Civil War

"We will attack Uzbekistan if any attack is launched from their borders," Taliban radio announced. With a standing militia of followers scattered throughout the region—including many inside the former Soviet states—the Taliban might not need troops from Kabul to do it. The Taliban has threatened to foment another round of civil war in Uzbekistan, and has announced the dispatch of 2000 soldiers to help defend the gateway to Kabul and arrest followers of the old king. Now, Osama bin Laden has challenged the whole Muslim world to take up the cause. No one believes he's really talking about formal governments.

Still, the end seems near for the Taliban, which has long acted as Bin Laden's primary protector. Some of the leadership already has defected from Supreme Leader Mullah Omar. The Taliban's supposed ferocious fighting abilities may yet turn out to be so much hot air. By stupidly opening up on a U.S. drone plane circling over Kabul, the Taliban revealed the position of all their major weapons, which suddenly became very easily identifiable targets for U.S. pilots. If the U.S. knocks out defenses in and around Kabul, then it may just be able to jack up the cutthroats in the Northern Alliance enough that they can make the 30-mile run into the capital. The fall of Kabul will mean curtains for the Taliban.

At that point, the Taliban will head for the mountains—impassible during winter—where they can try to foster small-time revolts around the region over the next 10 years. Osama bin Laden himself is believed to already have headed for the caves of the Pamirs at the eastern edge of the Hindu Kush.

As strikes began again Monday, the Bush administration warned that the war on terrorism might not be limited to actions in Afghanistan. Presumably, he means Iraq could be a target, but he could quickly find himself flying sorties over Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the rest of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia—not to mention the sheer horror of being dragged into Kashmir, where the Taliban clones have been assiduously at work smashing television sets, harassing the populace, and otherwise trying to introduce a Taliban-like regime.

At the nexus of this conflict, of course, is Pakistan, where on Monday Islamabad and other major cities were placed under the control of the police and army. The government banned the display of arms and ordered the arrest of any religious fundamentalists carrying weapons. Yet further clashing between the administration and the people seems inevitable. One Taliban spokesman told a Pakistan newspaper that groups prepared for jihad would unite after any military action, with the common ethic of sparing no American in Muslim lands and the shared goal of countering U.S. designs. "We will call for jihad not only against the U.S. but the Pakistani government, if bases or airspace are used by the Americans for launching any attack against Afghanistan," a spokesman said.

Additional research and translation by Ed Korasani, Ariston-Lisabeth Anderson, Sarah Park, and Meritxell Mir.

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