As the United States prepares for possible military strikes against Afghanistan, a Geneva-based expert on Afghanistan warns that an attack could play into the hands of Islamic extremists, and destabilise Pakistan, a nuclear power with a population of 130 million.
Edward Girardet of Media Action International told swissinfo that the US risked plunging the region into crisis, if it attacked Afghanistan.
His comments came shortly before the head of Pakistan's Islamic organisations said they would join in a holy war, or jihad, if the US attacked Afghanistan.
The country's ruling Taliban movement was unlikely to hand over Osama bin Laden, whom the US has identified as the chief suspect in last week's attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he said, because to do so would be an unacceptable loss of face.
Girardet added he was not convinced that the country's Taliban leaders had it in their power to hand over bin Laden, in any case. "Even if the Taliban do decide to hand him over, I'm not sure they're capable of doing so."
Dangerous, unintended effect
Moreover, a US attack would only convert more people to the cause of radical Islam, and produce a new generation of suicide bombers and hijackers, Giradet said. He pointed out that this is a danger not only within Afghanistan, but also in the Middle East and in Pakistan, which already supplies a large number of the Taliban's fighters.
"It could open up a whole new arena and have a destabilising effect on Pakistan," Giradet said.
He said bin Laden has his own sizeable army of fighters, who are a "law unto themselves". The Saudi-born dissident has managed to "buy off" a large number of tribal leaders, he said.
Giradet, who spent many years working as a journalist in Afghanistan, said the US should take the opportunity to "finally put an end to the [civil] war in Afghanistan by including all the regional partners in a settlement."
A limited operation
"Unless they do that, you're looking at many more years of instability in the region," he said.
The least risky approach, Girardet said, would be a limited operation by special forces against the bases of bin Laden's Arab fighters. The Americans must avoid targeting ordinary Afghans, most of whom have nothing to do with the Taliban or terrorism, he said.
Even if the US were to succeed in undermining the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan, Giradet said it is not clear who might succeed them.
At the moment the Taliban enjoys little grassroots support outside the Pashtun areas of eastern Afghanistan, Giradet said. But equally, the former government, currently holed up in scattered pockets in the north of the country, would struggle to find significant support in the Pashtun-dominated eastern part of the country.
"Again, the Americans have to look closely at the situation. I don't think the opposition is an alternative government.
"To have peace, all Afghans will have to be involved. The Taliban would have to be included in any final settlement. You will probably see some of the less radical Taliban elements in any future government," he added.
by Roy Probert