Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN, Sep 14, 2010
WASHINGTON: As “Taliban’s primary sponsor” Pakistan protected and promoted its client every inch of the way in the immediate days after 9/11 resulting in undermining the US war on terror, newly declassified documents detailing exchanges at that time between Washington and Islamabad reveal.
As current US strategy increasingly pursues policies to reconcile or “flip” the Taliban, the document collection released on Monday show Washington’s refusal to negotiate with Taliban leadership directly after 9/11 and Pakistan’s insistence of the relevance of group it nurtured in order to push for strategic depth in Afghanistan and thwart Indian influence.
According to the documents, on September 13, 2001, US Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin “bluntly” told Pakistani President Musharraf that there was “absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban. The time for dialog was finished as of September 11.”
Pakistan, as the Taliban’s primary sponsor, disagreed. Pakistani Intelligence ( ISI) Chief Mahmoud told the ambassador “not to act in anger. Real victory will come in negotiations… If the Taliban are eliminated… Afghanistan will revert to warlordism.” Pakistan’s primary concern was that the Northern Alliance, backed by other foreign powers in the region, including India, would return to power in Kabul.
Pakistan also backed off from hunting down Osama bin Laden, with Mahmoud, who was present in Washington on 9/11 and later turned out to be a frontman for Taliban, telling the Americans it was “better for the Afghans to do it. We could avoid the fallout.”
As a result, Pakistani tribal areas where Osama bin Laden found refuge, which were momentarily open to the Pakistani Army when “the tribes were overawed by US firepower” after 9/11, quickly again became “no-go areas” where the Taliban could reorganize and plan their resurgence in Afghanistan, a commentary by the national Security Archive that accompanied the documents, notes.
Consequently, according to US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, the 2005 Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan was a direct product of the “four years that the Taliban has had to reorganize and think about their approach in a sanctuary beyond the reach of either government.” This had exponentially increased casualties as the Taliban adopted insurgency tactics successful in Iraq, including suicide bombings and the use of IEDs.
Neumann, the documents reveal, warned Washington that if the sanctuary in Pakistan were not addressed it would “lead to the re-emergence of the same strategic threat to the United States that prompted our OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] intervention” in 2001.
The policy to protect Taliban reached the highest levels of the Pakistani establishment, the documents show. In exchanges between September 14 and November 16, 2001 – Pakistan’s military strongman Pervez Musharraf asks the US to clarify if its counterterrorism mission is against the Taliban or just al-Qaida and repeatedly asks the US not to let the Northern Alliance take over Kabul.
The declassified documents also show that the state department, then headed by Colin Powell, batted hard for Pakistan despite suspicions in the US establishment about its bonafides in the war on terror. In a memo to President Bush, Powell notes that Musharraf’s decision to ally with the US comes “at considerable political risk,” as he has “abandoned the Taliban, frozen terrorist assets [and] quelled anti-Western protests without unwarranted force, ” all dubious assumptions.
Regarding Afghanistan, the secretary appears to push Islamabad’s agenda, telling the president that Pakistan will want to protect its interests and maintain influence in Kabul. “Musharraf is pressing for a future government supportive of its interests and is concerned that the Northern Alliance will occupy Kabul,” Powell notes.
The disclosures came even as the White House began yet another review on Monday of its Af-Pak policy which has so far been based on several questionable premises, including undue sensitivity to Pakistan’s extra-territorial ambitions and concerns mainly relating to its existential insecurity vis-à-vis India.
In a read-out of the meeting presided over by President Obama, the White House indicated that reports of overtures to the Taliban may be overstated. Additional forces deployed in Afghanistan are now at the highest operational tempo to date, and are focused on challenging long-established Taliban strongholds, targeting Taliban leadership, training Afghan Security Forces, and supporting Afghan-led reintegration and local policing initiatives, the White House cited General Petraeus as emphasizing.