A Norwegian special soldier is among well over a hundred foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Still new reports of kidnappings and suicide bombers come from the war-ravaged country. At the same time, it has exploded in neighboring countries following the storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. During the first three weeks of July, 285 people were killed in suicide attacks in Pakistan. What is happening in the two countries?
- In both places, the fight against the United States and its supporters is spreading to new areas. The Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, for example, has been peaceful in the past. But lately it has also flared up here. The most striking change, however, is the use of suicide bombers. Muslims in Afghanistan do not really believe that you will go to heaven if you commit suicide, and this is also the common belief in Pakistan. That suicide attacks have now become more and more common I think has two reasons. First, there is an overplay of the war in Iraq and the influence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Second, suicide is justified by the fact that more and more people see this as an opportunity for direct attack on the United States and its interests.
The US now suggests that US attacks in Pakistan may be applicable without the consent of the country to crush suspected terrorist groups?
- If the United States enters the border areas of Pakistan, it is like pouring petrol on the fire. Until last year, the tribal areas had no interference from the Pakistani authorities and governed themselves. When the Pakistani army entered the areas last year in an extensive military operation, the army suffered such heavy losses that they entered into a peace agreement with the tribal leaders. The United States is still pushing for Pakistan to clean up the area. But this is political explosives for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who balances finely between the pressure from the United States, an opposition that demands more democracy and militant Islamists in the country.
The US believes they have the right to take Osama bin Laden, who they claim is responsible for the terrorist attacks against US 11. September 2001?
- The Bin Laden ghost has returned because the United States has major problems in Iraq. The only way they can turn this into something positive is by taking bin Laden, who they believe is staying in the tribal areas of Pakistan, towards the border with Afghanistan. The hunt for bin Laden and other terrorist suspects means that the United States is still running its own race in Afghanistan. Through Operation Enduring Freedom, the Americans operate completely on their own in southern and eastern Afghanistan, towards the border with Pakistan. This is the biggest threat to peace in the area. It is the US operations that are likely to lead to the largest civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But there is little knowledge in the Norwegian and international public about Operation Enduring Freedom, because there is no information about what is happening in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When reading the reports from Afghanistan can one get the impression that the Taliban is behind the kidnappings and all opposition to the US and NATO in Afghanistan?
- It is an easy solution to blame the Taliban for everything. They are also blamed for things that happen in the north of the country, where they have not been. I'm not saying that the Taliban are not behind much. But there are other players as well. The warlords run their own races. In many places there are gangs ravaging along the roads. There may therefore be many who are interested in, for example, taking foreign hostages. Recent interviews with truck drivers showed that they were hoping for more control from the Taliban. The drivers' main problem was the police who took charge to let them drive.
How do you think it will go in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
- I fear that the international forces in Afghanistan will appear as the losers, if they do not change strategy. The offensive military operations of Operation Enduring Freedom and parts of NATO's ISAF forces lead to more support for the Taliban and undermine ISAF's peacekeeping efforts. Although it challenges the United States, one should concentrate on peacekeeping and securing trade routes, and rather accept a certain Taliban influence in parts of the country. It will probably still be temporary. The Taliban can provide security, but not development. I am more uncertain about Pakistan. But it will be very hot if the United States attacks the tribal areas of the country. It is important to see the connection between what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At least one-sided military solutions do not work.