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Analysis by Sanjay Suri

Taliban Rule Unchallenged in Pakistan Mountains

(IPS) LONDON -- Military forces from Western powers are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it is the policies of these very governments that is boosting the Taliban, going by several indications over recent days.

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif spoke of these "double standards" at a meeting he held in London March 21 with Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister of Pakistan. The Pakistan Muslim League of Sharif and the Pakistan People's Party of Bhutto have come together in an Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy to challenge the military rule of Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf.

Western powers "praise the democracy in India on the one hand and support dictatorship in Pakistan on the other," he said following the meeting.

Sharif told IPS he plans to return to Pakistan and challenge Musharraf's rule. He did not specify a time frame; elections are due in Pakistan towards the end of this year or early next year.

Afghanistan comes into the question of democratic rights for these formerly elected leaders in view of what Benazir Bhutto called the "Talibanization of Pakistan." To the extent that Pakistan is being Talibanized, it is also steering away from any democratic path, Bhutto said.

The recent instances of violence in Pakistan are the work of "pro Taliban and pro al-Qaeda elements," Bhutto said, which have government backing. "We oppose the Talibanization of Pakistan. We are looking for fair elections; democracies don't go to war with other democracies, and they bring in policies that undermine terrorism."

As the two leaders saw it, Western powers are complicit in encouraging the Taliban through their backing of Musharraf rather than support for democratic choice.

Sharif said he will not look to the United States to change any policies that could enable the exiled opposition leaders to return to face an election. His return, he said, "will not be a U.S. decision, it will be my decision, I am not going to ask anyone."

But in the face of heavy U.S. support to Musharraf's regime, Talibanization could become a bigger issue for Pakistan as it is becoming for Afghanistan. Much of northwest Pakistan is in the hands of the Taliban, or Taliban-like groups.

Within Afghanistan, the Taliban have come bounding back faster than anyone anticipated -- and with unintended Western assistance.

"Support for the Taliban has increased dramatically," Norinne MacDonald who carried out a study for the Senlis Council, an independent group monitoring developments in Afghanistan told IPS. "The results of our survey were chilling; 26 percent of the 17,000 Afghans surveyed openly said they support the Taliban; a couple of years back such support was three percent."

Increased poverty is translating directly as increased support for the Taliban, she said. "People are unable to feed their families, and the lack of development aid from the United States has made people angry."

The Taliban now have an al-Qaeda element that is based in Pakistan, and also simply youngsters "who don't like what is happening." It is only if the United States and its allies "win the battle against poverty can they think of dealing with training for Taliban groups within Pakistan."

Through the lack of development and a counter-narcotics policy that has impoverished people the U.S. is only "strengthening its enemies." These policies are putting the military forces of the U.S. and its allies at a disadvantage, she said.

Support for the Taliban could actually be more than the survey suggests. "People are normally cautious in answering such questions, and there could be a lot more support for the Taliban," Gulalai Momand from the Senlis Council told IPS.

Momand, who is based in Kabul, said that faith in the Hamid Karzai government propped up by the United States is "fading gradually compared to the last year and the year before." An earlier report from the group showed that 90 percent of aid money for Afghanistan has gone into military operations rather than development aid.

In Afghanistan, in Pakistan, U.S. policies are emerging as the primary U.S. enemy. In both countries the United States has propped up artificial presidents. It has then encouraged, even dictated policies that support the individuals in the posts while weakening their legitimacy. And it has backed -- and funded -- policies that will and are arming only its enemies.

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Albion Monitor   March 21, 2007   (

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