What a difference a war makes. Last year, the United Nations mustered barely enough money to keep its basic operations going in Afghanistan, raising pitiful sums to combat a lethal drought affecting Afghanistan and central Asia. This month, it is launching a reconstruction effort projected to cost at least $10 billion. Germany, last month's host to political talks on Afghanistan's future government, has offered $70 million. The U.S. has already pledged more than $100 million in humanitarian aid for the region this autumn. And, of course, there is the $1-billion-a-month cost of the war, including small-print allocations to firm up alliances across the region. As the late Sen. Everett Dirksen remarked during the Vietnam War, "a million dollars here, a million dollars there-sooner or later, you're talking about real money." But beware.
The best politics that money can buy in Afghanistan and among its neighbors may not be good enough to prolong peace. Indeed, some of the relationships emerging between the U.S. and its anti-terrorism allies in South and Central Asia may extinguish democratic hopes. Serious differences of strategy, policy and politics may risk long-term regional security for the appearance of short-term gain, leaving Afghans and their neighbors perilously enfeebled and at the mercy of local strongmen and outside powers.
Take Central Asia: five cash-poor, weak states on Afghanistan's borders, run by blustering authoritarians for whom the current war leases renewed political life. Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov's almost unlimited powers don't help peddle the country's enormous natural gas reserves, held hostage to Afghan wars and the difficult politics of the Caspian Sea region. Niyazov has spent years pursuing Afghan settlements in pursuit of Turkmen profit. But his well-documented habits of treating state funds as his own have made him the scourge of international lenders, and his rights abuses have made him a rogue in a region replete with misbehavior. Until now, that is, when compliance in alliance politics has turned foe into useful friend. Or Uzbekistan, whose President, Ismail Karimov, has catapulted to global importance by offering air bases to the American-led anti-Taliban alliance. Uzbeks have supported elements of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance for years particularly Abdul Rashid Dostum, the commander responsible for the massacre of hundreds of imprisoned Taliban fighters last week. President Bush has now endorsed Karimov's view that his primary political headache, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is a terrorist organization of global reach. The IMU has also contributed to Tajikistan's civil strife, which tore at the country's political identify and almost masculated its bare economy, now overcome by drought. President Imamoli Rahmonov's balancing act Tajik irredentism in Afghanistan against Uzbek territorial ambitions has reinforced his over-reaching powers, and regional chaos is unlikely to loosen his grip. These leaders and their colleagues in central Asia profess to want peace and stability. But they also maintain closed borders and barely disguised antipathies that work against regional harmony, which is a mainstay of a global campaign against terrorism.
America's goal of a broadly based but non-Taliban-government in Afghanistan doesn't easily mesh with Central Asia's interests in carving out spheres of influence that demarcate trade routes and leave room for cross-border weddling. In attitude if not in tactics, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan don't differ all that much from Pakistan, whose long border with Afghanistan has offered its leaders the illusion that Kabul should take political instructions from Islamabad. Equally important, Central Asia's leaders don't seem seriously interested in sharing power with their citizens. Civil strife in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which civic groups attributed to political repression and foreign ministers said was terrorism, long preceded war in Afghanistan. Democracy advocates have been rightly chagrined to watch basic liberties take a back seat to show trials and imprisonments, and recent events underline their dismay.
This week, the leader of Uzbekistan's only credible democratic opposition party, and the only serious challenger to Karimov, was detained in Europe at the behest of Uzbek authorities, after he fled vicious harassment at home. For Central Asia's citizens, the price of the anti-taliban war is therefore high. If America's alliances in central Asia provoke openness in regional politics, then democracy, fairness and justice stand achance. But if the expedient bargains of war simply validate unfair rule, the effectiveness of the alliance will diminish, and so will the international effort to secure Afghanistan and extinguish the roots of terrorism. If the anti-terrorism alliance shows signs of strain even before the fighting stops, its weakest link is Pakistan.
For three decades, Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan has gone hand in hand with its relationships with the West. Pakistan has meddled in Kabul politics to counterbalance its fragile, contentious relationship with India, most blatantly (and with US help) during the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s, and to ensure its place in the queue for foreign aid and diplomatic support. Little wonder that Gen. Pervez Mushareff, who presides over a skidding economy, failing polity and, until recently, pariah diplomacy, was keen to hear Prime Minister Tony Blair affirm Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. The price for Pakistan's support in the war against terrorism is steep, financially and morally: $1 billion in U.S. contributions; budgetary support organized by the International Monetary Fund; trade concessions from the European Union; a convenient amnesia about the military's economic mismanagement; a turned cheek concerning Pakistan's role in supporting the Taliban; and a rosy glass through which to view Pakistan's potential interference in Afghanistan's future governance.
The cost to Pakistanis,
whose military ruler is now likely to hold power indefinitely? Well, that's
another story. Politicians, economists and most
Pakistanis long for a society that is orderly and stable enough to sustain political debate free from threats by thugs, religious groups and private militia that do the army's bidding in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Until recently, this was not the military's agenda, and it's still not clear
thatit is now, either. Pakistan's constitution remains in abeyance, the rule of law is personal and political participation is subjected to the army's interpretation of security and Musharaff's limited version of electoral democracy.
Under these circumstances, Pakistan's capacity to transform itself into a vital, profitable, democratic political conomy is limited indeed. Just like our new friends in Central Asia. Pope Paul VI used to advise those who sought peace to seek justice. For now, however, the U.S. is marching with partners that may be neither agreeable nor reliable and for which justice is a sideshow and peace potentially inconvenient. Dusty customs, dog-eared diplomacy and marked distaste for complexity are unlikely guides for confronting the enormous opportunity that misery has provided us to remove any incentives for anyone to pursueterrorism, anywhere. Surely we can find ways to make theeffort worth the price.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, SUNDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2001