30 November, 2006

Does NATO's failure at Riga mean a wider war?

The International Herald Tribune carries a piece by Ahmed Rashid arguing that NATO's "abysmal failure" at the Riga summit to address effectively its problems in Afghanistan is likely to lead to a wider war, as Afghanistan's neighbours compete for influence.

The Taliban, backed by Pakistan's military regime and encouraged by NATO's inaction, is preparing for a major spring offensive against Kabul and the Karzai government. NATO is unlikely to have the resources to respond effectively to widespread assault.

Pakistani officials are already convinced that the Taliban are winning and are trying to convince NATO and the United States to strike piecemeal deals with the Taliban in the south and east, which eventually could develop into a Pakistani- brokered Taliban coalition government in Kabul.

Such a plan would never be tolerated, however, by the swath of other neighbors who in the 1990s supported the former Northern Alliance in their war against the Taliban. To beat back Pakistan and the Taliban, Russia, Iran, India and the Central Asian states may step up their support for Karzai's government, but they will almost certainly look for alternatives, such as rearming and mobilizing their former allies - the warlords of the north.

As in the 1990s, such a scenario could develop into an ethnic civil war between the Pashtun Taliban in the south and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras of the north. At Riga, NATO demonstrated that it does not have the will to stop such a civil war, which could lead to the partition of Afghanistan along north- south lines.
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