PESHAWAR – Pakistan has been eletrocuted. Up to last weekend it was the epicenter of the New World (Dis)Order. Now it is no more than a startled side player begging the international community to do something about Kabul. And everything happened while President Musharraf – hailed during the UN’s General Assembly in New York as a Great Leader – was literally in international air space.

History may be repeating itself as tragic, ruthless farce – but at MTV-style speed. During the anti-USSR jihad of the ’80s, Pakistan was used by the United States as a frontline state against the “Evil Empire” – and then discarded when the Soviet Empire imploded. Now it has just been used by the US as the frontline state against the “evil doers” – and can be as easily discarded with nothing but a paltry few million dollars to show for it.

A high-level Pakistani intelligence source gleefully points out that “Russia is now winning the war they lost in the ’80s – without spending a single rupee. America did it for them.” He echoes the sentiment of millions of Pakistanis, who know Russia armed and coached the Northern Alliance.

Another high-level source says “Pakistan is left with nothing. The US now does not even need its air bases in Baluchistan anymore. President Musharraf’s limelight in New York lasted for only a weekend.” The source adds that “Now the main issue is not the Taliban, but the Pashtuns. Pakistan’s only option is to side with the Pashtuns.” This would mean that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency will pull out all the stops to ensure a strong Pashtun voice in Afghanistan’s next utopian, UN-brokered “transitional government” proposed in New York by special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The Northern Alliance obviously has other plans.

It does not take Freudian analysis, only simple understanding of the Pashtun character, to figure that the they will certainly deliver a lethal blow to the Musharraf government for what they consider their betrayal in favour of America. And that’s exactly what Islamabad did by delivering Kabul, the big prize, to Pakistan’s enemy, the Northern Alliance, without a fight. Kabulites are now dancing in the streets to the cries of “Long live Masoud, down with Pakistan” – something that must be sending chills down countless Pakistani spines. Russia, Iran and India developed very complex ties over the years with the Northern Alliance, but Pakistan opened absolutely no channels of communication, placing all its strategic bets on the Taliban.

Asia Times Online has learned that the Taliban volcano, though, is far from extinct – as Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB operative himself, is very much aware. The Taliban are regrouping in northeastern Kunar province on the Pakistan border under the command of Kashmir Khan. Their strategy is fully in place: they have already started using the tribal areas as their base for an indefinite guerrilla war. Sources in tribal Bajaur say that thousands of hardcore Taliban and ultra-hardcore Arab fighters have already crossed into Pakistani territory, following direct orders by Mullah Omar – allegedly still in power in Kandahar, and not resettled in Pakistan, as has been reported. Defections in the Taliban ranks are just beginnning to happen.

Soon the Taliban forces massing in Kunar will be joined by none other than Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – former primer minister and head of Hezb-i-Islami. Hekmatyar is coming from self-exile in Iran to ostensibly fight alongside the Pashtuns. But by the time he gets to the tribal areas, what was once “Taliban” will be probably eclipsed by what is “Pashtun.”

The situation in Jalalabad – one of the Taliban’s key strongholds – remains extremely controversial. A great concentration of hardcore Arab-Afghan fighters is hiding in the surrounding areas, according to local sources. The city “has not fallen to the Northern Alliance: it will take time,” says another source with good local connections.

A Pashtun delegation headed by commander Haji Zaman was supposed to have left Peshawar to negotiate a new local government for Jalalabad, or at best the unblocking of the tortuous Torkham-Kabul road at two different points by the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, allegedly encamped on the outskirts of Jalalabad, has offered talks with this delegation – and it has boasted it can capture Jalalabad soon. Most probably local authorities are about to terminate their support for the Taliban – but this does not mean they will start supporting the Northern Alliance.

The fact is the Taliban do not seem to bother to negotiate anything anymore. Since the past weekend they have ceased to be a “government” (which they never were, anyway) and started behaving as a guerrilla force – “mobile defence” units that don’t hold any territory. From now on they will have a “hit and run” modus operandi against any target – be it a Northern Alliance patrol or a city government.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the only option is to pray for a Northern Alliance implosion – something that is less far-fetched than it seems. When you have, among others, the hardcore Tajik communist General Fahim, the hardcore Wahhabi Rasul Sayyaf, the hardcore Uzbek communist gangster Rashid Dostum, and the hardcore Hazara Shia Ustad Mohaqqiq cooking in the same pot in Afghanistan, the mix is definitely deadly. Fahim, the successor to assassinated Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Masoud and former intelligence chief of the mujahideen government in Kabul from 1992 to ’96, is not exactly a paragon of liberalism. But these are cosmetics. There’s no escape: the balkanization of Afghanistan – although informal – is already a fact on the ground.

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