Haq execution a blow to anti-Taliban efforts
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The reported execution of Afghan opposition figure Abdul Haq dealt a sudden, sharp blow to U.S. efforts to build a broad-based post-Taliban government in Afghanistan, U.S. analysts said.
"It would be a loss for those who believe in that effort, for those who believe in a broad-based government for Afghanistan," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.
The challenge for the Bush administration and others opposed to the Taliban is to convince the Pashtun -- Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group, which includes about 40 percent of the population -- and other ethnic and tribal groups to support a new government. Haq, a longtime mujahedeen commander during the Soviet-Afghan war, was an important player in an ever-evolving U.S. strategy to form a government to replace Afghanistan's ruling Islamic militia.
"It was a devastating blow to Afghanistan, currently and in the future, because this was one of the very few people who was trying to bring about a sensible cohesion for the future of the country," said author Kurt Lohbeck, a friend of Haq and author who has written about the conflict with the Soviets.
A former U.S. government official who helped Haq arrange and finance his return to Afghanistan said his trip was coordinated with U.S. intelligence to improve fighting capabilities and coordination of opposition forces and to try to persuade some Taliban forces to lay down their arms or defect to the opposition.
"We need Afghans who will occupy territory and drive out or kill al Qaeda," said Anatol Lieven, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "If we can't find Afghans that will do that, then we've got to do it ourselves on the ground and that would be a terrible business lasting a very long time."
Some of Afghanistan's neighbors -- Iran, Russia and India -- have supported opposition factions from different ethnic groups, and President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have tried to move everyone to the same page in recent days.
"It's a great game for very small stakes, actually -- or at least it was until the 11th of September, which raised the stakes enormously," Lieven said. "It's pathetic in a way. Afghanistan is one of the poorest societies on Earth."
The Taliban said they captured Haq near the Afghan capital, Kabul. He and two associates were arrested Friday morning, tried Friday afternoon on charges of spying for the United States and executed by day's end, Taliban officials and independent sources in Pakistan said.
He had lived in exile in Pakistan for the past few years and made no secret of his desire to rally Afghans against the Taliban.
But Haq was not the only figure in the U.S. strategy. Another exiled anti-Taliban leader, Hamid Karzai, is believed to be on a similar mission to undermine the Taliban near Kandahar. Karzai, like Haq, is a prominent Pashtun.
The country's exiled king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, has become a rallying force. Haq was working on the former king's behalf when he was caught Friday.
The Northern Alliance has been battling the Taliban in northern Afghanistan since 1996, but it is mostly made up of the country's ethnic minorities -- Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Hazara and Aimak. Northern Alliance forces have been unable to hold more than 10 percent of the country, but U.S. airstrikes in the past week have been aimed at helping them advance.
Pakistan supported the Taliban and remains the only country to recognize it as Afghanistan's government, even as it aids the U.S. antiterrorist campaign. Its leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Haq's reported execution was unlikely to have "any effect whatsoever" on attempts to replace the Taliban.
"Whatever is going on, whatever the ethnic groupings and power struggle, power equation in Afghanistan, he did not feature enough in any one of them," the Pakistani president said.
However, other Pakistani officials contradicted Musharraf's position, saying Haq's death would be a big setback to the U.S.-led effort.
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