US-Pakistan Ties Strained over Fate of Taliban

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Media reports from Pakistan indicate a growing rift between the Musharraf government and the United States over the fate of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.

Pakistan reportedly has serious reservations about ousting the Taliban by offering assistance to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

A Pakistan daily, The News, quoted a high-ranking military official as saying, "It is unnatural to expect the Pakistan Army to support a military action that may drive the Northern Alliance from their present hideouts in Panjshir Valley to the seat of power in Kabul."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said that foreign military assistance to any warring group in Afghanistan would be a recipe for disaster.

Addressing a press conference along with a four-member delegation of the European Union, Sattar said, "Any decision on the part of any foreign power to give assistance to one side or another would be a recipe for great suffering for the people of Afghanistan."

The opposition Northern Alliance is battling the ruling Taliban in northern Afghanistan, where it reportedly is gaining ground.

According to a report from a French news agency, Northern Alliance troops captured several villages in heavy overnight battles. They claim at least one Taliban commander has defected to their side.

"The fighting continued the whole night and this morning," Northern Alliance spokesman Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem was quoted by the French agency as saying.

The fighting was continuing in three areas in the northern part of the country near the borders with Uzbekistan, where US forces are already believed to be based, and Tajikistan, which is guarded by Russian soldiers.

Media reports said the Northern Alliance is advancing toward the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The Taliban confirmed Monday that the opposition had taken control of a small town (Zari) located on the main road that links Uzbekistan with Central Afghanistan.

Artillery exchanges were also reported Tuesday in the Panjshir Valley region, about 40 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Taliban officials said they have mobilized forces to build bunkers, install anti-aircraft batteries and distribute weapons to defend against a possible U.S. attack.

A top general from Afghanistan's Northern Alliance warned Tuesday that Washington should not try to impose direct rule over the nation, otherwise Northern Alliance forces would attack American soldiers, too.

"If the Americans want to determine our state's policy, we will fight their soldiers," said the deputy defense minister of Afghanistan's government in exile, General Atikullah Baryalay, in an interview with the Russian state's Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

However, he added, "If foreign troops enter Afghanistan under the banner of the United Nations without damaging Afghanistan's sovereignty and preventing its people from choosing their own future, then we have no objections to supporting such an operation."

"Afghans have never admitted and will never admit a dictate from abroad," Baryalay said.

The Northern Alliance is supported and funded by several countries, including Russia, Iran and India.

The Northern Alliance, which has resisted the Taliban since it seized power almost five years ago, is headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is still recognized as Afghanistan's president by the United States and other western powers.

News reports said Pakistan is also bristling over the U.S. financial crackdown on groups with terrorist links. The 26 groups named by the United States include a Pakistani religious trust and a Pakistani militant group.

The Karachi based Al-Rashid Trust and Muzafarabad-based jehad militant group, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, have been named as organizations having connections with terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden's network.

Pakistan has indicated it also wants the United States to get a fresh endorsement from the UN for any military action in Afghanistan. Pakistan said it's not enough to simply involve Muslim nations in an anti-terrorist coalition.