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Two Shootings in Karachi

By David D. Newsom. David D. Newsomformer undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs at the University of Virginia. / March 22, 1995



ON March 8, two officials of the United States Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan, were killed by still-unidentified gunmen. As the bodies of the two victims were returned home four days later, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto made a statement that will be ill-received by many Americans:

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''At the time of the Afghan War, the entire West landed over here and helped create holy warriors whose job it was to go into Afghanistan and fight the 'Holy War.' When the war ended, the West packed its bags and left countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and Algeria to pick up the pieces and deal by themselves with these warriors they trained who wanted new wars to fight.''

Ms. Bhutto was, of course, referring to support from the West -- especially the United States -- for the Afghan resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In that action, the US cooperated with Pakistani intelligence, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to provide arms and training. Islam was the rallying philosophy of much of that effort; the Pakistani-supported leadership came largely from militant Muslim groups. Aid to the Afghan resistance was seen as the supreme effort of the Reagan doctrine to support guerrillas against Soviet advances in the cold war. This doctrine was applied elsewhere, too -- in Nicaragua and Angola. Fortunately, a political solution emerged that stopped the bloodshed in Nicaragua. In Angola, a fragile cease-fire prevails, but the land remains devastated.

Afghanistan has been the least fortunate. At least three groups continue to wage a struggle for power, using weapons that flowed in during the Soviet occupation.

Prime Minister Bhutto is right that, after the Soviet collapse, the nations supporting the resistance ''packed their bags and left.'' They left behind scorched lands, arms, and fighters trained in guerrilla warfare. In an ironic twist, these men have reappeared as threats not only to the Islamic countries that originally encouraged them, but also to the US. Former Afghan ''freedom fighters'' have been identified among those involved in the World Trade Center bombing in New York and other terrorist incidents.

Although the US has continued to use its influence to bring peace to Angola, Washington has walked away from Afghanistan. Aid has ceased and the US does not appear to be involved in the United Nations effort to bring peace to the country.

Those who supported the Reagan doctrine will insist not only that it was a key element in winning the cold war, but also that the US cannot be responsible for devastation that resulted originally from Soviet aggression. More years of historical perspective will be necessary before judgment can be rendered on whether US support for anticommunist movements in Central America, Africa, and Asia hastened the collapse in Moscow. What is clear today is that Washington would prefer not to be reminded of the mess that has been left behind.

Wars have unintended consequences. No one can adequately control the enormous arsenals that remain when the first conflict ceases or predict what will happen to those trained in the art of killing. It is clear already that the hotter aspects of the cold war -- those fought in poor third-world countries -- have left residues that will haunt the nations involved for many years to come.

Ms. Bhutto has chosen an unfortunate time to relate this residue of the Reagan doctrine to the tragic killings in Karachi. The Pakistani government was a willing partner in the struggle in Afghanistan. She should be seeking the help of those who shared the objectives of that struggle, rather than distributing blame. It is hard to deny, however, that her remarks have some substance. The seeds of current problems lie at least in part in the arms and training provided with the best of intentions during the cold war.